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Do we owe gratitude to the universe? by Jonathan Blake

October 30, 2011
Allegory of Fortune

Should we be grateful, even though our existence is but the gift of Fortuna, goddess of chance?

image: Allegory of Fortune, by Anonymous

The universe can be a scary place, as terrible as it is beautiful.  So is it right to express gratitude toward it?  Jonathan Blake challenges us to rethink how we relate to the cosmos.

Gratitude begins with the recognition that something we value or enjoy could have been different. For a practically infinite number of reasons, I might never have been born, ranging from cosmic circumstances like if the Earth had formed a little farther away from or closer to the Sun, to details like if my parents had decided “not tonight.”

Gratitude begins with the ability to imagine the world counterfactually.

Just lucky?

I can easily feel this kind of gratitude when regarding the cosmos.  I feel “lucky” that I’m alive, but is that gratitude?

When I think of gratitude, I usually think of it as something more than just feeling lucky.  I think of it as warm feelings for someone else for doing something that I value that they didn’t have to do.  They could have done something else, but they didn’t, so I feel grateful to them.

I feel like I owe them something because it is human nature to try to reciprocate good or ill that comes our way.  If nothing else, I give them my feelings of gratitude.

Gratitude toward the universe?

My life exists on a razor’s edge. As I mentioned, there are so many reasons why I might never have been born. There are almost as many reasons why I might have died since then. So I feel grateful that I exist at all, but my gratitude is not directed to the universe.

As far as I can tell, the universe is impersonal and therefore indifferent to my existence. The universe hasn’t conspired to give me life and sustain it. Life for me and my ancestors has always been a hard fight against an indifferent universe to eek out a living. If anything, I feel like I have everything I value in spite of the universe.

Yet I wouldn’t have the things I value without the universe.

However unwitting, the universe is the ground in which the beauty of my life has grown. So I feel grateful for the universe, but I don’t give any gratitude to the universe.

This is one reason that even though I can see myself as a pantheist, I don’t see in myself a perfect reflection of the devotion that theists express to their gods.

I feel more awe and fear toward my god than devotion, and yet I still feel gratitude for the cosmos.

The author

Jonathan Blake

Jonathan Blake

Jonathan Blake: Born into a Mormon family who had followed railroad work to the Mojave Desert, Jonathan Blake struggled with religious doubts from early childhood but went on to serve as a Mormon missionary in upstate New York and to marry his first love during a secret ceremony in a Mormon temple. With the birth of his two daughters and a growing sense of responsibility for their welfare, he sought greater certainty about his religious beliefs and more knowledge about Mormon history. What he learned caused his faith in Mormonism to fall away and his eyes to be opened to a world with more freedom and beauty than he had imagined. He now seeks to live according to the dictates of his own conscience and to learn as much as humanly possible about the cosmos. Still living in the Mojave, he recently completed a Master of Science degree in computer engineering and earns his living as a data warehousing professional.

This work published under a Creative Commons license

Creative Commons License Do we owe gratitude to the universe? by Jonathan Blake is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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60 Comments leave one →
  1. October 29, 2011 10:36 am

    It’s a lot to wrap the mind around, and I see the distinction that you make.

    For me personally, as a pantheist, I am grateful both for and to the universe. Because if nature didn’t exist for me to become a part of, then I wouldn’t be experiencing this life. Nature is the cause, even if that process didn’t include a conscious ‘thought’ on the part of some abstracted deity. Even though nature doesn’t care if I live or die.

    So while I’m thankful for nature, I give thanks *to* it as well. Knowing full well that my life is just a random occurrence in the whole history of everything.

    • ryanspellman permalink
      October 30, 2011 6:06 pm

      When it comes to the impartial universe as a whole, I don’t feel the need to show gratitude to it either. I do, however, show gratitude to various manifestations of it – for example (much like what I think Lynn was getting at), I give thanks to the land I garden on, the woods I hike and camp within, etc.

      Ways of expressing the gratitude are many for me. Some purely psychological for my benefit and some (mostly) as a direct way of giving back in some form or another.

      I agree that nature is indifferent as well, but we interact with it on such an intimate level that I think gratitude is a natural exchange between us and “it”. On that level I guess I do express gratitude to the universe, but not as a whole.

      Sorry for rambling…

      Good thoughts!

      • Jonathan Blake permalink
        October 31, 2011 11:52 pm

        Isn’t it curious that we feel comfortable expressing gratitude to particular parts of the universe but not to the universe as a whole? Is this a case where the whole is less than the sum of its parts?

        • ryanspellman permalink
          November 1, 2011 2:37 pm

          It certainly is! I think it could be such a case. Even though the sum of the parts that we show gratitude for are less than a fraction of the whole, it is the intimacy that counts.

          • Jonathan Blake permalink
            November 1, 2011 6:08 pm

            Great point. As humans, it seems most natural for us to feel affection for things that we are intimately familiar with. Perhaps the universe as a whole is something too big to feel intimate with, at least without something to change our natural inclinations.

        • November 2, 2011 9:26 am

          As you are part of the universe, when you look at an object, it is the universe looking at itself.

          You might think in parts to better understand the cosmos, but each it is no less the whole. Everything is connected regardless of how we think of it and therefore, when we do anything to any part, we are doing something to the whole.

  2. Wes Isley permalink
    November 1, 2011 11:43 am

    I still struggle with “whom” I’m actually thanking, but more and more I do find myself thanking the universe for all sorts of things. But it isn’t that I necessarily believe those things could be taken away. Probably, as you say, it’s that I simply realize everything could be completely different if only 1 thing changed. So I’m grateful when the weather is pleasant and when I have a tasty meal and when people are kind to me. I don’t know if the universe cares or not, but I think being grateful just for the sake of being grateful makes us better humans.

    • November 1, 2011 12:31 pm

      >being grateful just for the sake of being grateful makes us better humans

      Well said!

    • November 2, 2011 9:29 am

      “I think being grateful just for the sake of being grateful makes us better humans.”

      very good words that I certainly agree with.

  3. November 1, 2011 11:54 am

    I agree that, as pantheists, our relationship with the cosmos is not one of duty, such that we might *owe* the cosmos anything. Duty is a social creation and makes no sense in a non-theistic world. You mentioned feeling gratitude for the universe and feeling awe and fear toward your god (the universe?) — all of which are things that I feel. But you contrasted the awe/fear with the devotion of theists. To me devotion implies love. And love, I think, still makes sense in a non-theistic context.
    I’m wondering, do you feel love for the world? I don’t mean do you love everything about it. In the same way you might love a person, but not every detail taken out of the context of the whole person. But do you love the world? Do you love life? I ask because this is something I struggle with myself. As a naturalist, I believe this is the only life I have. As a romantic, I have an intuition that I need to learn to love the world and life, or I will be missing out. But I have an overly-intellectualizing and escapist personality that often keeps me from truly falling in love with the world. One of the focuses of my spiritual practice has been trying to develop a devotional attitude toward the world.

    • Jonathan Blake permalink
      November 1, 2011 6:17 pm

      I do feel affection for certain aspects of the world, but if I consider the universe as a whole, I confess that my feelings feel flat. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that theistic devotion is better or more authentic than what I feel. I’m still adjusting to the idea that I don’t have to feel love for the entire universe to be a worshipful pantheist. Or do I?

      Am I missing something because I don’t feel love for the entire cosmos? Or is it more appropriate that I face the cosmos as it is and trust in my hatred for parts of it? Is it okay to have mixed feelings about the universe? Or am I defective or less than someone who has learned to feel love for the cosmos? Is this a goal that I should be working toward?

      • November 1, 2011 8:53 pm

        I am wondering the same things about myself.

      • November 2, 2011 10:09 am

        Wow, a great many good questions.

        I honestly wouldn’t know how to really answer them and agree with John’s response in that I am now wondering the same things myself.

        So the following is me thinking out loud in figuring out how I feel about this.

        I think that since you are a part of the cosmos, and everything is interconnected within it, if you feel love for anything at all, you are feeling love for the cosmos. As without the cosmos you wouldn’t have existed to even begin to feel that love, let alone feel love for something that is a part of it.

        I think it is perfectly healthy to have mixed feelings about the cosmos, as it as beautiful as it is dangerous to life.

        I personally don’t think that ‘Love for the entire Cosmos’ should be a goal, but if you feel that it should be, the more power to you.

        __________________________________________

        I don’t think I’ve heard of pantheists on this blog before now. It is not surprising, but I am a bit confused as this blog is non-theistic/naturalistic, yet pantheism is quite theistic, or is it? If it isn’t, then why the theism?

        • Jonathan Blake permalink
          November 2, 2011 10:55 am

          I certainly feel grateful to be alive and that the cosmos made my life possible, but how am I supposed to feel when the cosmos makes it possible for a child to be abused or to go hungry? Examples like these are why I’m not sure complete love for the universe as a whole is a worthy goal.

          We could say that we can’t have the good without the bad, that contrast is necessary to experience the good life, the lotus blooming in the muck, and so on. I can’t shake the suspicion that the world could have been better than it is, which leads me to feel the opposite of gratitude. Also, if I feel grateful for everything in the cosmos, what is my motivation for changing it for the better?

          • November 2, 2011 12:05 pm

            The Cosmos is indifferent in the grand scheme of things, it just is. Morals are a product of man’s concept of how the world should be. Therefore what normally just is, has in our minds become good or bad. Everything that happens is simplified in our minds so that we may be able to function within it.

            For example, Death. It is everywhere and happens all the time, even though we are unaware of it. But if it happens to someone we care about or who we feel responsible towards we view it much differently. But it is no less different from any other lifeform that has passed.

            Things that we may consider harmful acts done onto others is a common occurrence between organisms. It happens, whether it is good or bad is up to individual interpretation. But the cosmos is indifferent and cannot be separate from what is considered good or bad. The cosmos cannot ‘make’ things possible or not possible, that would suggest it has control over things. Things either are possible or are not. I am one entity within it and as an entity I have perception. With perception I have a way of making decisions to promote better circumstances for my entity to continue to exist and am aware that I have influence on other entities. That is as far as control (as well as morality, good/bad) goes – Entities, not Cosmos.

            I don’t feel grateful for everything in the cosmos, so I wouldn’t know how one who would feel cosmosically grateful could be motivated to make anything better.

            “I can’t shake the suspicion that the world could have been better than it is”

            How could it be better? Maybe that should be your goal?

            • Jonathan Blake permalink
              November 2, 2011 12:29 pm

              I don’t think we disagree. When I say the cosmos makes things possible, I mean it in the same sense that a football field makes a football game possible. Without the cosmos as it is, my life wouldn’t be.

            • November 2, 2011 12:38 pm

              I still wonder how the world could have been better?

            • Jonathan Blake permalink
              November 2, 2011 12:51 pm

              A random example: it seems that it would have been better if mosquitoes had never evolved.

            • November 2, 2011 1:20 pm

              So you eliminate mosquitoes, leaving the predators and plants that depend on them to follow suit, which would cause a bit of an imbalanced environment, even if temporarily (how long is temporary?). And if the niche was filled by other organisms, which ones? Would it mean other blood suckers anyway? Are you just replacing one with another, maybe even have new problems with it?

              Entomologist Joe Conlon, of the American Mosquito Control Association in Jacksonville, Florida. “If we eradicated them tomorrow, the ecosystems where they are active will hiccup and then get on with life. Something better or worse would take over.”

            • Jonathan Blake permalink
              November 2, 2011 1:26 pm

              As the entomologist said, whatever replaced mosquitoes could be better than mosquitoes.

              It’s not really hard to imagine ways the world could have been better. No sexually transmitted diseases? An innate inability to harm our children?

        • Jonathan Blake permalink
          November 2, 2011 11:05 am

          Also about pantheism, this could be an entire separate discussion topic, but pantheism is not theistic, if we define theism as the idea of a transcendent God who stands outside the universe, creating it and intervening in its natural laws. Pantheism holds that the Divine is utterly immanent, that there is no divide between creator and creature. This leads to very different theologies.

          Richard Dawkins described pantheism as “sexed-up atheism” because it is hard to distinguish the two in practice. I think of atheism as a prerequisite to pantheism because pantheism requires a rejection of theism.

          • November 2, 2011 11:20 am

            So…Deity or no deity???

            • Jonathan Blake permalink
              November 2, 2011 11:52 am

              Depends on how we define deity. If a theist an a pantheist sat down to compare notes about their “deities”, they would probably discover that they have very different ideas about what a deity is.

              Personally, I avoid god-language because “god” is such an overloaded word that it obfuscates rather than clarifies understanding.

            • November 2, 2011 12:07 pm

              Then how would you re-phrase this?
              “I feel more awe and fear toward my god than devotion, and yet I still feel gratitude for the cosmos.”

            • Jonathan Blake permalink
              November 2, 2011 12:22 pm

              I used “my god” there only to compare the object of my “worship” with the object of theistic devotion. I would simply substitute “cosmos” otherwise.

            • November 2, 2011 12:35 pm

              Does your perception of a deity have control in any way?

            • Jonathan Blake permalink
              November 2, 2011 12:46 pm

              Does the law of gravity have control? :)

            • November 2, 2011 1:04 pm

              My meaning of control is something that has a conscious decision behind it. Not a force of Nature.

            • Jonathan Blake permalink
              November 2, 2011 1:11 pm

              Then by your definition my “deity” doesn’t have control, except that we as part of the deity do have control, so in that way the universe does have control since we are expressions of the laws of nature (or at least I as a naturalist believe so).

              I’m curious: does something with little or no consciousness like a bacterium or virus have control?

    • November 2, 2011 9:46 am

      “I’m wondering, do you feel love for the world? I don’t mean do you love everything about it. In the same way you might love a person, but not every detail taken out of the context of the whole person. But do you love the world? Do you love life?”

      Very excellent questions. I may have to ponder that answer for myself for a time.

      One of the focuses of my spiritual practice has been trying to develop a devotional attitude toward the world.

      I felt a need to do something in response to being life and how, as a life form, have a great impact on other lifeforms around me and that sustain my existence and the existence of other life forms. Without other life, we couldn’t possibly live. So I began Ehoah as a way to be involved and take action for a balanced environment that sustains life and promote awareness of our connections within Nature. I guess it is my way of showing devotion to Nature.

      I hope you find a way to develop a devotional attitude toward the world. It is a worthy cause.

  4. November 2, 2011 9:19 am

    I feel much the same way, but I personally see no consciousness behind Earth. Since I don’t see there being a consciousness I don’t feel grateful to Earth and the life it holds. I therefore feel grateful for it. That is why I couldn’t consider myself a pantheist.

    “Life for me and my ancestors has always been a hard fight against an indifferent universe to eek out a living. If anything, I feel like I have everything I value in spite of the universe.”

    “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” – Carl Sagan

    In other words, without the universe you wouldn’t have anything of value to begin with.

  5. November 2, 2011 1:40 pm

    @Jonathan Blake (Your comment box doesn’t have a reply button, so I am responding here)

    “As the entomologist said, whatever replaced mosquitoes could be better than mosquitoes.

    It’s not really hard to imagine ways the world could have been better. No sexually transmitted diseases? An innate inability to harm our children?”

    So do you want things slightly better or completely as the best it could be?

    Predators, diseases, or other hindrance to life like old age will exist. Could there be an ecosystem at all without them? I don’t think so. So without an ecosystem all life would perish. The ‘good’ cannot exist without the ‘bad’. Life begins and at some point, must end. I don’t like suffering, but I see that suffering is something of mandatory when it comes to death, and death is a necessity. There will always be suffering in the world. But I do believe that there can be much less of it. In that way I agree with you in that things could be better. But many of these solutions have slippery slopes and morality would play a big role in such things.

    I don’t see the use of “what if” when it comes to things completely out of your control. So what I cannot control I accept, what I can control and have any influence on, its acknowledged and I consider my role on how I can have a positive influence. But I don’t concern myself in too many things, otherwise I’ll burn out and be useless all together.

    • Jonathan Blake permalink
      November 2, 2011 1:53 pm

      I mostly agree. I can imagine a universe where all conscious beings exist forever without suffering and without a need for ecosystems, for example, but that isn’t our universe and wishing it were so doesn’t help me live a good life here, but it does explain why I have a hard time feeling gratitude to the universe when it includes gratuitous suffering.

      • November 2, 2011 2:53 pm

        I don’t know. I think its kind of an ‘All or Nothing’ sort of thing. I am grateful for the cosmos, yet I also do not like much of it either. Can’t I have all these feelings for it at the same time?

        • Jonathan Blake permalink
          November 2, 2011 3:11 pm

          I think so. :)

  6. November 2, 2011 2:41 pm

    @Jonathan Blake (Your comment box doesn’t have a reply button, so I am responding here)

    “Then by your definition my “deity” doesn’t have control, except that we as part of the deity do have control, so in that way the universe does have control since we are expressions of the laws of nature (or at least I as a naturalist believe so).

    Parts of the cosmos have control. But it would be misleading to say, ‘we are the cosmos and therefore the cosmos has control.’ We are a small specks in the cosmos and have very little influence on the whole. So little that it may be considered irrelevant.

    I’m curious: does something with little or no consciousness like a bacterium or virus have control?”

    It could depending on the bacteria or virus. Some do have conscious control, and some don’t have control – they just are.

  7. November 3, 2011 4:13 pm

    Here is something Relevant – <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalistic_pantheism&quot; Naturalistic Pantheism There seems to be many labels for the same sort of thing.

      • November 4, 2011 11:07 pm

        Pantheism actually seems to be one of the largest segments of Spiritual Naturalists currently out there. The World Pantheist Movement (WPM) has pretty high membership numbers, and there’s also the Universal Pantheist Society (UPS). The former tends to be more scientific and secular, while I hear the latter is more open to different kinds of religious-sounding language. Paul Harrison of WPM has a short book called Elements of Pantheism that is really quite good.

        • November 5, 2011 11:20 am

          “Pantheism actually seems to be one of the largest segments of Spiritual Naturalists currently out there.”

          and I find that quite interesting, because The World Pantheist Movement (which I agree with their approach in most every way) is not Theistic from its description and wonder if calling themselves Pantheistic is misleading? If not, then what does the word God mean then?

          • Jonathan Blake permalink
            November 5, 2011 12:45 pm

            I think it would be better to let go of the word “God” when trying to understand pantheism. A better question would be “What does the divine or the sacred mean to a pantheist?” From that perspective, pantheism that lacks a personal deity begins to make more sense. Or maybe thinking of it in terms of the ground of all being makes more sense to you.

            In any case, it’s important to recognize that pantheism isn’t another form of theism. Both have a concept of the sacred, but their god concepts are so radically different that it’s hard to find any similarities. Levine’s book about pantheism is subtitled “A Non-Theistic Concept of Deity”.

            • November 5, 2011 3:10 pm

              so pandivinism or pansacerism then?

            • November 5, 2011 3:20 pm

              Pandivinism (All Divine), Pansacerism (All Sacred)

            • Jonathan Blake permalink
              November 5, 2011 9:14 pm

              To-may-to, to-mah-to. :)

              Some pantheists would say they worship God, so they wouldn’t want to let theists have God to themselves.

            • November 6, 2011 12:14 pm

              Yet you say that you don’t, if I’m not mistaken. So wouldn’t you consider yourself more Pansacerism for example?

            • Jonathan Blake permalink
              November 6, 2011 4:32 pm

              I don’t know for sure what you mean by pansacerism. You seem to want to remove theism from pantheism because its god-concepts don’t match theism’s. If that helps you to understand pantheists better, then that’s fine by me. Right now in my life, pinning down my beliefs onto a cork board above an accurate Greek name has a limited appeal. :)

        • ryanspellman permalink
          November 5, 2011 5:35 pm

          Even though they are more scientific and secular, WPM is actually where I first discovered the term “naturalistic paganism”. They have a nice write up about it on their website here: http://www.pantheism.net/pagan.htm (Just thought I’d share that in case anyone had overlooked it. It’s a good article and pretty relevant to what is developing here, I think.)

          Never heard of the UPS, I’ll have to look into them when I get the time.

          • November 6, 2011 12:15 pm

            Thanks for the link! I never heard of UPS till now either.

  8. November 7, 2011 9:04 am

    “pansacerism. You seem to want to remove theism from pantheism because its god-concepts don’t match theism’s.”

    A theism is a god concept and if a path doesn’t have a god involved then it isn’t a theism. Perhaps an -ism, but not theism. These names are designed to convey what is meant and to ensure understanding. If you mean one thing and the path means another, then a different name would be more appropriate.

    My background is heavy with studying taxonomy and needing to know the right names. If new information comes around that disputes the current taxonomic placement of a species then it is heavily debated on where the species should be located and then placed where it should rightly be. So I do have a big interest in names and the accuracy of those names.

    “Right now in my life, pinning down my beliefs onto a cork board above an accurate Greek name has a limited appeal.”

    Aye. It would have a limited appeal. Yet, for others who wish to understand a person’s position it would cause great confusion and misunderstanding to have a misleading label. Many pagans in general have this problem and have great difficulty conveying what their path is about because of all the other connotations associated with the pagan label. Like magic, seances, devil worship, sacrifices, etc. (not saying that all pagans do these things, just that outside perspectives associate the pagan label with that and being such a broad label each association I mentioned is true to one path or another). To the point where some have left the pagan label and instead have a label that is more specific to who they are and what they do. Which has lead to much less confusion and more understanding from an outsider’s perspective. And for those who have done this find it much more rewarding for themselves and their community. And that is the appeal to having an accurate name.

    • Jonathan Blake permalink
      November 7, 2011 10:32 am

      I’m sure the pantheism name originated as a contrast to theism to show that they were different philosophies regarding the same thing: theology. This is just the same as atheism which is about the lack of certain gods, originally the lack of the Greco-Roman gods. So I don’t see it as so strange that they all are -theisms.

      I understand the appeal of having an accurate label, a bumper-sticker for our beliefs. In my experience, however, labels usually end conversation rather than beginning it. Each person walks away believing they have communicated not realizing that the labels have hidden deep misconceptions.

      Labels may even stop a person from contemplating their own beliefs or warp their beliefs to what they think their beliefs should be. “I am an X, therefore I believe Y.”

      I try to avoid labels, holding to them only lightly. I’m an atheist, naturalist, agnostic, physicalist, apatheist, materialist, pantheist, etc., but I’d rather explain my beliefs longhand than let a set of labels do the talking (or thinking) for me.

      So for example, I believe that if anything is sacred, then everything is sacred, but that is basically the same thing that pantheists have said, so according to historic usage, this is a pantheist position. However, this is just a small part of pantheism, so to label my position as pansacerism seems too reductive. I’ve explained my thoughts, so I don’t feel the need to distill them down to a label which will tend to distort them.

      • November 7, 2011 11:36 am

        I get your meaning for pantheism likely being a contrast to -theism like that of atheism, which would make sense. Yet, as atheism is straight to the point of the matter, being without god, pantheism meaning All God leaves a lot to the imagination.

        In that way I suppose Richard Dawkins would be right to say that pantheism is ‘sexed up atheism’. So therefore is only related to -theism by way of atheism and really isn’t truly an All God philosophy.

        “In my experience, however, labels usually end conversation rather than beginning it. Each person walks away believing they have communicated not realizing that the labels have hidden deep misconceptions.”

        In my case it is what starts the conversation, mostly because the label I use is not well known. Even so, it also doesn’t lend itself to having different interpretations as to what its meaning is.

        This goes back to proper labels as a means to avoid the deep hidden misconceptions. The purpose of any label is to correctly inform who ever is reading the label on what the contents are. Poor labels lead to misunderstandings which could even cause harm. Like labeling rat poison as a pest deterrent.

        “Labels may even stop a person from contemplating their own beliefs or warp their beliefs to what they think their beliefs should be. “I am an X, therefore I believe Y.””

        This confuses me to some degree. Shouldn’t it be that if you believe Y, then you are X? How would a label stop a person from contemplating their own beliefs? How do labels warp someone into thinking what their beliefs should be? If a label does these things to someone, then they are a very impressionable person.

        “I’m an atheist, naturalist, agnostic, physicalist, apatheist, materialist, pantheist, etc., but I’d rather explain my beliefs longhand than let a set of labels do the talking (or thinking) for me.”

        If you consider yourself an Apatheist then how can you consider yourself a pantheist? Please do give me a long hand explanation because I am getting further confused as to what your position is.

        If you associate with different labels but have different outlooks than what those labels are, then how would you even have any label? You might as well have no labels and just say your position straight up if that is the case or coin a new term for the kind of stance you have. You wouldn’t be the first to do that.

        “I believe that if anything is sacred, then everything is sacred, but that is basically the same thing that pantheists have said, so according to historic usage, this is a pantheist position. However, this is just a small part of pantheism, so to label my position as pansacerism seems too reductive.”

        Okay, so you are saying you associate with pantheism more than just with the All is Sacred aspect of it? Alright, so what else in pantheism do you agree with?

        • Jonathan Blake permalink
          November 7, 2011 1:41 pm

          A simple label is always too short to capture nuance and diversity. Even in taxonomy, a species designation is rarely clear cut. Two individuals in the same species can be very different. Taxonomists can have protracted debates about whether closely related individuals should be lumped together in a species or or split into two. It’s a somewhat arbitrary system imposed on reality.

          Labels have some value as a shorthand, especially in the scientific world where they can have precise definitions. In other situations, being known by a label usually means being misunderstood or understood only shallowly.

          You’re right that a person should label their philosophy based on their beliefs. It often happens in reverse order. In my own life, I have believed things because “I’m a Mormon.” I’ve seen others make similar choices based on their self-identification as a Buddhist, Christian, Pagan, or what have you. We often choose our beliefs to fit in to our community. I want to remain independent. That’s part of my reluctance to be known by a label.

          An apatheist doesn’t care whether God exists. A pantheist believes that the cosmos is God, or in my case, that if anything deserves to be called God, then it’s the cosmos. They aren’t mutually exclusive labels. Depending on how you define God, you might even get me to admit to being a theist.

          Pantheism can take many forms. Some pantheists include monism in their philosophy, which makes sense, but not all pantheists. Some believe that God is in some sense a creator, but not everyone. With a tradition that can include some of the Presocratics, the Stoics, Spinoza, Bruno, Advaita Vedanta, and so on, there’s going to be a diversity of ideas.

          • November 7, 2011 3:05 pm

            Ah, I have much more understanding now. I admit, you may be better off just sticking to the longhand version.

            Yes, a simple label is always too short to capture nuance and diversity. Yet I don’t think people can operate without labels in any form. So at times, even incomplete labels are often better than none so there at least would be some understanding.

            Somewhat arbitrary systems imposed on reality are the only means in which we can understand our world. I mean, without such systems I don’t think there would be science or even civilization as we know it. How else are we to understand our world?

            “being known by a label usually means being misunderstood or understood only shallowly.”

            Yes, that can very well happen. This is what I would call poor labels, in which case it would be better without one.

            I can relate to being one label and believing things because I was raised in that label. I had no means at the time to learn otherwise. Once out of the home that sheltered my mind from all else I fairly quickly found my true bearings. Took a fair bit of mental beatings to have myself realize I was not of the label I was raised to believe I was.

            “We often choose our beliefs to fit in to our community.”

            Yes, that is a common occurrence and it often is sadly out of need because of threats.

            “I want to remain independent. That’s part of my reluctance to be known by a label.”

            Understandable. As I often find myself feeling the same. But it can get awful lonely. Which makes it a real pleasure to find folk of like mind just to have someone else understand you. That is the biggest attraction to labels I think – as a beacon to others of like mind.

            I honestly never expected to see the day when the definition of God was something that can be disputed. Which leaves me more dizzy with words and meanings. I want labels, but I want them to be straight forward just to make some sense in this crazy world. Not only God now, but pantheism too is now going to be added to my misfits pile with Pagan among others for their meanings being so convoluted. And to think there was a brief time where I once called myself pagan and pantheist. Not for me anymore, and you can keep it!

  9. jennifer permalink
    April 22, 2013 11:16 am

    I always find the entire concept of the universe itself absolutely fascinating. I think(whatever your beliefs may be) it is important to thank the universe & I will try to explain why in a moment. We live on a planet where what we need to live & prosper is given to us.However,the thing here is really about the intention of the cosmos/God/creator/universe/?/. I’ll try to explain what I mean. I will choose a random holiday such as Thanksgiving Day or any holiday you choose to use as an example.When watching a weather report for Thanksgiving/any holiday-I always find it funny how if it’s going to be sunny & clear,the weather person will say “God(universe) has CHOSEN to give us a good holiday weatherwise.If however it is cloudy & stormy,they’ll say something like-”God (universe) didn’t CHOOSE to give us the weather we wanted today”. My major point being the following: IT IS WHAT IT IS! These weather people are ridiculous assuming that God/universe is “choosing” to give us any particular type of weather. The universe just gives the weather-period! It does not think “Oh,it’s a holiday today,so,I’ll give everyone a clear day”-It DOES NOT work that way! The universe does actively decide what type of weather we get-the weather patterns have been set in motion over millions & millions & millions of years,so,people should not get mad at the Universe/God/Mother Nature if they dislike the current weather because absolutely noone CHOOSES to create this type or that type of weather.The weather just happens.It’s an automatic process that was set in motion long ago.Going back to what I said earlier about it being important to thank the universe-it is very important to thank the universe for what we are given. The Universe may not provide all we need out of some big cosmic plan ,or, out of love for each of us,but,( and here is the important part) the universe provides what we need just the same and I choose to be thankful for that aspect of it. “EXISTENCE PRECEEDS REASON”

  10. jennifer permalink
    April 22, 2013 11:21 am

    *universe does NOT actively decide what type of weather*-sorry

Trackbacks

  1. Gratitude toward an uncaring, unconscious universe? « Irresistible (Dis)Grace
  2. Upcoming work « Humanistic Paganism
  3. Upcoming work « Humanistic Paganism
  4. How do you give thanks in ritual? « Humanistic Paganism
  5. What if the universe doesn’t love you back? | Humanistic Paganism

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