Emotional Pantheism: Where the logic ends and the feelings start, by Áine Órga

Logically, I am an atheist. Emotionally, I am a pantheist.

I am the kind of person who does not really believe in anything unless it can be empirically proven in some way. I do have a lot of scope for entertaining theoretical constructs that can be logically laid out – I have an imaginative analytical brain, and I love to theorise and philosophise. And certainly, not everything that is even self-evident can be properly accounted for empirically. The universe as we know it and experience it is not by any means fully understood. But although there are theological and philosophical theories and intangible concepts that excite me and are meaningful to me, I’m not sure that I could be said to believe in divinity in any real way.

But when it comes to how I resonate emotionally, I have very strong pantheistic feelings. Although I may not see divinity as something that can even be defined, let alone proven, I feel as though the universe is divine. It is not something I believe in the way that I believe in science and physics and the physicality of my day-to-day existence. But it is something that I feel at my very core. It is an emotional response to awe, to beauty, to mystery. And that emotional response is very strong in me.

My spirituality is built on emotion.

I’ve come to the understanding that this emotion is what is most important to my spiritual practice. My need for ritual and a spiritual practice and belief is reinforced by my logic and intellect – the mysteries of the universe are certainly awe-inspiring to even the most sceptical. But its seed is in emotion, in an inherent response that is so natural as to be almost a reflex.

My beliefs and therefore my practice are certainly naturalistic. I leave room for the unexplained, and engage in practices that might seem empty or pointless to some naturalists or atheists. But I don’t take many leaps of faith intellectually, everything is based in reason. In this way I am a naturalistic Pagan.

Where I do take those leaps of faith is in the emotional sphere. By engaging in this spiritual practice, I open myself up to experiencing things beyond the mundane. In many ways, it is in exercise in allowing myself to feel without judgement. My spirituality is my way of allowing my pantheism a space in my life.

I have chosen to not choose between naturalism and theism.

I am aware of a certain amount of paradox within this spirituality that I am carving out for myself. I could be accused of being, illogically, a theistic atheist – of holding onto the two concepts or labels. As I’ve previously pointed out, the two are semantically opposed.

But I am comfortable with this duality within my personality and within my spirituality. I think sometimes we get too bogged down in trying to narrow ourselves into one particular fit – we try to pare away the inconsistencies in an effort to build up an ego that is simpler and less challenging. But we are too complex as individuals to ever hope to accomplish this. Paradoxes will always abound, and I’m learning that it’s important to embrace the difference facets of your personality, to incorporate it all into your life.

So when I perform ritual – when I light my altar candles and utter words of dedication and devotion – I am not merely marking a changing season or an astronomical event. I am, emotionally, reaching out the divinity that I see in the Cosmos.

The author

Aine Orga

Áine Órga:  I practice a spirituality that is very much earth-based, and the wheel of the year I follow is for the most part the same as that of modern Paganism.  My self-identification as a Pagan has been gradually solidifying over the past year, and so too has an uneasy balance between my emotional pantheism and my rational atheism.I seek a connection with the divine Cosmos on an emotional level, but I am sceptical by nature, and have a tendency to believe only in what can be proved or at least somewhat backed up by modern science. My spiritual practices are therefore largely metaphorical. However, I feel that religious or ritual observance and meditation is an important aspect to human nature, and find it emotionally and psychologically beneficial.

This post was first published at The Spinning of the Wheel.

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10 Comments on “Emotional Pantheism: Where the logic ends and the feelings start, by Áine Órga

  1. I also consider myself a Pantheist, but like Spinoza I am a Pantheist based on reason and experience, rather than emotion. There are lots of flavors of Pantheism and thus lots of ways the word might get defined, but ignoring all the subtleties, Pantheism can be defined as the belief that the Universe and God are one and the same.

    The philosopher Schopenhauer made the rather obvious complaint that if the two words “God” and “Universe” (for which I will use the word “Nature”) are one and the same, why have two words, why not just use the one word Nature?

    When that question was first posed to me, I answered that “Nature is the sensible aspect of God, and God is the un-sensible aspect of Nature.” I was rather pleased with this answer, though I wasn’t quite sure what I meant by it at the time.

    The statement, of course, is fundamentally ambiguous. Each undefined term is defined in relation to the other undefined term – Noah Webster would not be pleased! Yet, the ambiguity is one of the things I like about the statement. The term “God” refers to something beyond category, beyond analog, and thus beyond understanding. Words by their very nature put limits on that to which they refer – the word “God” attempts to bound the boundless. God is mystery, God is ambiguity. Any attempt to define God should be mysterious and ambiguous, and thus I find the ambiguity of my statement to its credit.

    What do I mean that “Nature is the sensible aspect of God”? Nature is the empirical world. It can be sensed by our five senses or by tools through which we enhance the power of our senses, like radio telescopes or x-rays. That is the direct meaning of “sensible,” but I also intend the other meaning of sensible – Nature behaves lawfully (at least at the aggregate level).

    What do I mean by “God is the un-sensible aspect of Nature”? The word “God” refers to what is not available to our senses. At the cosmological level, God is what happened before the Big Bang. God is how the parameters of Nature got fine-tuned; God is how a universe given to entropy (like a battery slowly but surely losing its charge) got charged up in the first place. God is the mystery of the origin, a mystery that thoroughly penetrates the sensible world if we only keep ourselves open to it.*

    God as the mystery of the cosmos is also un-sensible in the other sense. Presumably space/time came into existence at the Big Bang. All laws of nature are stated in relation to space and time. At the singularity where space and time disappear, no law can be formulated, it is lawless, which is to say, utterly un-sensible.

    At the psychological level, God is the mystery of our sense of being. I can sense another person’s body, but I cannot sense another person’s direct experience, just as others can sense my body, but not my experience. My inner experience is simply un-sensible to another. Most important to this idea of God as the un-sensible aspect of Nature, is that these two poles, the cosmological and the psychological, are integrally related; what relates the two is nothing less than the whole of sensible Nature.**

    To experience the inner as God, the deep unbounded mystery, is to approach the Kingdom of Heaven, and to know that it is within you. To experience the inner as Nature is to wander like Adam and Eve in the world of good and evil, the world of oppositions and the conflict of oppositions. Some people say that in the Biblical tale of Genesis, there were two trees – the tree of life and the tree of good and evil. I suggest that there was only one tree that had two aspects like the two aspects of God/Nature.

    To know the Tree of Life is to live from the Kingdom of Heaven within; to know the Tree of Good and Evil is to inhabit Nature. Pantheism thus offers something like a path to salvation, a path back to the mythical garden where the Tree of Life and the Tree of Good and Evil are one and the same. To say the same thing from the perspective of Buddhism: Nirvana and Samsara are one and the same.

    * Often, when people argue for the absolute mystery of God, they do so only as a place holder; their intention is to exchange that idea of mystery for their own pet metaphysics. This is the philosophical equivalent of “bait and switch.” As I use “mystery” here, I don’t use it as a place holder for something else. I just mean mystery – the mystery of the origin. The Tao Te Ching, using the word “darkness” for mystery, states the whole idea presented here particularly well: “Free from desire, you realize the mystery. Caught in desire, you see the manifestations. Yet mystery and manifestations arise from the same source. The source is called darkness. Darkness within darkness. The gateway to all understanding.” (Mitchell Translation, chapter 1.)

    ** This notion has something in common with the idea, prominent in the Middle Ages, that God was “an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” Nicholas of Cusa suggested that the center and the circumference were connected by Nature, which is even closer to the idea here.

    • I’ll third that – this is a wonderful concept. I think I have touched on a similar concept myself, but for me Nature is Creation/Manifest/Order, and God is Destruction/Unmanifest/Chaos. I’ve written a post on polarity within my practice, and one on the Creation aspect, and I’ll be writing one next week on the Destruction aspect. I may quote parts of this comment, if that’s ok! Great food for thought here.

      • The pairing of Nature/Creation etc. and God/Chaos etc. is interesting. Have you ever read Octavia Butler’s *Parable of the Sower* (or the sequel *Parable of the Talents*)? It describes a near-future state of post-industrial decline where a young girl creates a new religion among a small group of refugees. The central tenant is “God is Change. Shape God.” (I wrote more about this here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2012/03/28/god-is-change-shape-god/ ) Interspersed throughout the books are little verses of the group’s scripture. One in particular reminded me of what you wrote above:

        Darkness
        Gives shape to the light
        As light
        Shapes the darkness.
        Death
        Gives shape to life
        As life
        Shapes death.
        The universe
        And God
        Share this wholeness,
        Each
        Defining the other.
        God
        Gives shape to the universe
        As the universe
        Shapes God.

        The author pairs (a) Darkness, Death, and God against (b) Light, Life, and the Universe. The pairing of God with Darkness and Death caught my attention. But what’s really thought provoking is that Butler’s proverb suggest that the relationship between God and the Universe is analogous to the relationships between darkness and light and between death and life. In other words, they are complementary opposites, like yin and yang.

        • Thanks for sharing, John – I’ve never read that book, but it sounds wonderful! That verse really strikes a chord with me, I’ll have to read it.

      • Aine, your write “but for me Nature is Creation/Manifest/Order, and God is Destruction/Unmanifest/Chaos.” I have been collecting people’s ideas about God for a long time, and this is a new one for me. The aspect of destruction and chaos are sometimes included in the idea of the divinity, as it is with Kali or Maya, or to some extent the demiurge of Gnosticism, but your idea of God as the pole of destruction and chaos is a new one for me. Do you see this as your emotional reaction to the idea of God, or do you have a more reasoned take on this? If so I would be interested in hearing it.

        • It’s not so much that I see the destructive aspect of nature as being God – I see the divine as a polarity of both creation and destruction. This post goes into more detail on this: http://spinningofthewheel.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/divine-polarity/.

          Personally, I feel the divine in everything – in the All. But I associate the idea of the unmanifest, of the latent, with the power of darkness and destruction. Through destruction, that which is manifest returns to the All. My idea of devine encapsulates both your God and your Nature, I guess is what I’m trying to say!

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