Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thoughts on Pantheism

Libertarian pantheist philosopher Tony Flood (check out his blog) thinks that God is real, but that s/he is completely feckless, a blob of intense compassion and nothing more. Flood has said,

“I have come to accept that the all-knowing and all-loving lure of the cosmos lacks any coercive physical power. For me, asking why God couldn't prevent an earthquake is almost like asking why you couldn't. (Almost, because you at least have some coercive physical power [albeit insufficient for preventing tectonic shift], but God has none [not even enough to lift a pebble].) If mainstream theists cannot imagine worshiping such a deity, that says more about them than it does about what it takes for something to be God.”
This is an interesting notion, but to me this perspective on God and pantheism is simply too abstract to be compelling. I am not a pantheist, as I seem to more identify with philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s notion that the “universe is stupid”. In a sense, this view could be considered the exact opposite of pantheism, as the pantheist’s central claim is that the universe and God are one and the same. But I cannot believe the universe is all-knowing and all-loving, an infinite sink of love and mercy. The universe is not compassionate, nature is not merciful. Like Bertrand Russell said, the earth will one day be engulfed by the sun, and every human endeavor will be wiped away without a trace. Forever gone, and the universe will care not a whit. Pantheism, said Dawkins, is a “sexed-up atheism”. And in a way I see his point. The modern liberal, positivist (pantheist?) project wishes for people to place their faith and good works into solving global warming and reversing environmental destruction, erasing cultural identity and superstition so that people may worship the scientific truth of nature, restoring the external, non-human world to its natural state, unmarred by grubby human hands.

How can Tony Flood consider himself both as Rothbardian anarcho-libertarian and pantheist? Doesn’t the pantheist worldview require one to give up his individualism for the good of the universe? If the universe is God, are you not beholden to protect her? Do not the ends (protecting God) justify the means, even if the means involve crushing human individuality? Or is God so feckless and abstract that any amount of ecological destruction and warfare is beyond his purview? In which case, I don’t really see the point of even believing or caring about this God.

On the other hand, if the universe is stupid as philosopher Slavoj Zizek claims, and all human works will one day be destroyed for all eternity, all memories wiped clean, what is the point of living? I take comfort in Arisotle's notion that we are put on earth for the purpose of fulfilling our human potential.  We must live to our potential, flourish as best we can, live out our lives as it must be lived according to the rules we accept for ourselves. Whatever God is, his spirit lives inside each one of us. When the human story is over, when vertical cultural exchange is no more, then God is dead. But we would do well to cherish every moment that God is with us. We would do well to fight for our own ability to flourish as human beings: to have relationships, conversations, raise children, choose our own irrational loves.

Many tea-partiers tend to favor a reduction in the power of government because they would rather obey their God (in the form of organized churches and parishes) instead. I do not belong to any organized religious group, yet I strongly subscribe to this same argument. If God is just an abstract notion of the aggregate of individual human spirits, coercive bureaucracies are in direct opposition to God.

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