Shuck and Jive

Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sexed Up Atheism

Richard Dawkins defined pantheism that way in his book, God Delusion. I found some fellow travelers over on this site. Now, you are a fellow traveler even if you are not a sexed up pantheist. You are all fellow travelers and I love you all tulips and hugs. No matter your God-ism or A-God-ism, you are good with me.

But, you might be a pantheist and just didn't know it! Here is what the site says about pantheism:

So what's the difference between Atheism and Pantheism? As far as disbelief in supernatural beings, forces or realms, there is no difference. World Pantheism also shares the respect for evidence, science, and logic that's typical of atheism.

However, Pantheism goes further, and adds to atheism an embracing, positive and reverential feeling about our lives on planet Earth, our place in Nature and the wider Universe, and uses nature as our basis for dealing with stress, grief and bereavement. It's a form of spirituality that is totally compatible with science. Indeed, since science is our best way of exploring the Universe, respect for the scientific method and fascination with the discoveries of science are an integral part of World Pantheism.
As much as I enjoy the smarky snark of Dawkins & Company, he is a bit hostile towards religion (and he knows it). You get the feeling he doesn't quite have an appreciation for any of it. I suppose it is a matter of personal taste. Is there a place for religion? According to this website:
Religions are not just a confidence trick on the part of prophets and preachers, or a self-destructive aberration on the part of believers. They have had social survival value in the past, and they continue to provide individual and personal benefits today, and these benefits are the source of their continuing numerical strength.
  • Religions provide communities of mutual support.
  • They overcome existential isolation and alienation, giving people a meaning for their lives and a sense of their place in the universe and nature.
  • They provide remedies for grief at the death of loved ones, and for the fear of one’s own death.
  • They combat the feeling of helplessness in a threatening world full of crime, conflict and disaster.
  • These benefits show up in the form of better health and longer life.
Most conventional religions come with a price tag of supernaturalism, implausible (if not ridiculous) belief systems, patriarchy, homophobia, and political conservatism. That price is way too high for many of us. The good folks at World Pantheism ask:
But is it impossible to get the benefits that conventional religions offer, without giving up one penny of the value offered by reason, science, and progressive respect for the human rights of everyone? Don’t we need approaches that offer the same range of advantages as supernatural religions – but without the costs?

Can there be such a thing as a religion without god, an atheistic religion or a religious atheism?
Who knows? But it is fun to try!
  • Today we welcomed seven new members.
  • We opened with wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh.
  • Our yoga teacher led us in a meditation to become empty.
  • I threw a bunch of baptismal water on the kids to honor the baptism of Jesus.
  • The choir wowed us with Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols (Latin and Middle English!)
  • We read our mission statement.
  • The Eight Points were printed in the bulletin.
  • We closed with Emily Dickinson's poem, Love's Baptism, which is about letting go of childhood religion and becoming part of something much larger.
  • Smiles all around.
The point of this play by play isn't just to advertise my church. The point is that there are religious communities all over the place (if you can find one in NE Tennessee you can find them anywhere) that are not oriented toward superstition. Even though many of the elements come from our past that was steeped in supernaturalism, nevertheless, we are not worshiping the supernaturalism as such but are honoring the creative artistry and wisdom of the human spirit. At least I am anyway. I don't hook everyone up to a belief-o-meter.

I do long for liturgy, hymns and choral anthems, and so forth that sing of the glories of natural selection for instance. Seriously. Hymns to the cosmos and to the trees are what are needed. This is the exciting opportunity before us today.

The via creativa is creativity in service to Earth and all the little critters in its choir. This may be the way of religion's future.

If we are here for any good purpose at all...I suspect it is to entertain the rest of nature. A gang of sexy primate clowns. All the little critters creep in close to listen when human beings are in a good mood and willing to play some tunes. --Gary Snyder

Call me a sexed up Presbyterian Pantheist.

And give me some love.

21 comments:

  1. Oh, how fun! This post caused me to reread Pope's Essay on Man.

    "All Nature is but Art, unknown to thee.
    All Chance, Direction, which thou canst not see.
    All Discord, Harmony, not understood.
    All partial Evil, universal Good."

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  2. Hymns to the glory of Natural Selection--I love it!!!!

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  3. Wow, sounds like a perfect church service. I'm on 3 days break and hope to map similar ground for travel in my journey as a presbyrev. I love you JS, and the spirit you represent. (I sang in the "Ceremony of Carols" twice as a child).

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  4. Hmmm. . . . well a "sexed up pantheist" might have a lot of fun, but a sexed up "panENtheist" might be more inclusive.

    Pantheism traditionally means Everything is God, which leads to separate spirits living in earth, air, fire, water. So we might end up worshiping the fire or the rock or the tree, and not the creator of all of them.

    PanEntheism (Matt Fox's term) means that the nature of creator (god/dess, source, spirit of life) is revealed in the natural world, and in the nature of the universe. Here is where we can begin to speak of the "cosmic Christ."

    It's a small difference in spelling (2 letters), and a very large difference in meaning, interpretation, and ultimately result.

    We humans have a hard time with a Source God/dess spirit that cannot be seen. The ancient Jews started all of it by reminding us that Yaweh is Ruach . . . spirit . . . and to quote John's gospel (also a tricky thing), John's Jesus reminds us that "The wind (spirit) blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes." John 3:8.

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  5. I think you have to give the Process Theologians the credit for the term Panenetheism. Hartshorne maybe?

    + Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + www.abundancetrek.com love, john + www.abundancetrek.com + We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

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  6. OK. I went to Wikipedia and found this at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panentheism

    "The German philosopher Karl Christian Friedrich Krause (1781–1832) seeking to reconcile monotheism and pantheism, coined the term panentheism ("all in God") in 1828. This conception of God influenced New England transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. The term was popularized by Charles Hartshorne in his development of process theology and has also been adopted by proponents of various New Thought beliefs. The formalization of this term in the West in the 18th century was of course not new; philosophical treatises had been written on it in the context of Hinduism for millennia."

    So, my Hartshorne guess was pretty good, huh?

    + Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + www.abundancetrek.com + "The day will come when, after harnessing space, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, humankind will have discovered fire." -- Teilhard de Chardin

    Beginning in the 1940s, Hartshorne examined numerous conceptions of God. He reviewed and discarded pantheism, deism, and pandeism in favor of panentheism, finding that such a "doctrine contains all of deism and pandeism except their arbitrary negations." Hartshorne formulated God as a being who could become "more perfect": He has absolute perfection in categories for which absolute perfection is possible, and relative perfection (i.e., is superior to all others) in categories for which perfection cannot be precisely determined.[7]

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  7. @snad -- there's a pope i could hear in church

    @SouthernBeale -- maybe I'll write one (if I can't find one for Evolution Sunday)

    @Paxhope -- how nice of you! Thanks for the good words. Ceremony of Carols was gorgeous (as was Snad who sang a solo in it!)

    @SeaRaven -- the last time I tried to evangelize for pantheism I was told that panENtheism was better. That is where Fox and Borg are. It even makes the Creation Spirituality 12 point creed thing.

    You are right, the EN makes a big difference. I don't insist but for me the EN is too much difference. The universe is enough, I don't need anything more.

    I am not sure if there is a creator of a rock or a tree. I am not sure i understand panENtheism. What I think it means is that "God" is in everything but not contained by everything.

    My skepticism is about what God is when God isn't the universe. I don't think it is meaningful. I don't think God has any reality outside the universe. That is why I am probably an atheist or a pantheist.

    I think worshiping rocks and trees is a good thing and I wish spent more time doing it! I don't know if worship is the right word if it implies supernatural spirits within them. Rocks and trees are good enough without their spirits. I try as Jesus said to "consider" them! Thanks!

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  8. @John our paths crossed. Thanks for that. PanENtheism...

    "doctrine contains all of deism and pandeism except their arbitrary negations."

    What are arbitrary negations?

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  9. I think worshiping rocks and trees is a good thing and I wish spent more time doing it! I don't know if worship is the right word if it implies supernatural spirits within them. Rocks and trees are good enough without their spirits. I try as Jesus said to "consider" them! Thanks!

    Consider and celebrate, maybe, over worship.

    Thanks for the compliment. It felt like we celebrated it well enough - we certainly considered it long enough!

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  10. By the way, I'd love to read some Pope during worship, if you have a place where it fits!

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  11. For a few years now, I've been trying to get rid of the word 'luck.' It's not been that easy. But it's led me to wonder about randomness and chance and all that. Been thinking about how to incorporate randomness into spirituality. Is the -theism' part of all this a way to stay off the fact of randomness? I've run across several religions that start by some super dude vanquishing chaos. (Marduk smites Tiamat, Babylonian Genisis; Score one for us.)

    Another Popism about 'man.' "soul judge of truth, in constant error hurled, the glory, jest, and riddle of the world."

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  12. Hey Mike!

    In God Delusion, Dawkins says again and again in regards to life on Earth, the choice is not between Design by a Creator/God one hand and Chance on the other. The answer is natural selection. In terms of cosmology perhaps there is something analogous to natural selection at work.

    One of the reasons for religion is to manipulate the odds one's favor. You sacrifice to certain gods in certain ways so they won't be so capricious. As Christianity evolved into belief perhaps believing in an unchanging purposeful god helped people come to terms with change and chance even if they couldn't manipulate the randomness of life through intercessory prayer and other rituals. "It is God's will" is a way to resign oneself to whatever happens.

    An interesting couple of novels on this theme are by Octavia Butler. The Parable of the Sower and the Parable of the Talents. Dystopian novels about our near future. The main character starts a new religion. She writes her own scripture. Her belief is God is Change. Her religion is Earthseed. It even has a wikipedia entry!

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  13. A couple of comments:

    I think the idea of an immutable God comes from Greek philosophy into Christianity. In the OT God seems to change God's mind. An example: God gets angry at the Hebrew people in the desert and basically says, "Stand back Moses, I'm going to let them have it and I'll start a new people out of you." And Moses says back, "Now calm down, God. What would the Egyptians think?" Well that isn't an exact quote but it's close.

    As for natural selection I can see that as a description (or at least a partial description) of what happens on earth AFTER there is life. But we guess about how life began. We don't know for sure. Did life come to earth on solar winds from elsewhere? Was it the right collection of chemicals with the right amount of energy at the right time that started DNA? Or was it something else? I'm suggesting that after life began natural selection takes hold. Is there randomness in the very beginning of life? And if we say there is not are we making a decision about how life began with little or no evidence?

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  14. I think it is quite impressive first off that natural selection covers all of life from its origin to now. That is quite an accomplishment--no god needed.

    Origin of life is a big question. But I see no reason to fill that gap with god because we don't have a naturalistic theory yet.

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  15. John

    Please note that I didn't mention God at all when talking about natural selection. I was only speculating as to whether the beginning of life actually deals with natural selection. I can see how a form of life landing on earth from some place else is a form of natural selection. Is the original formation of life from chemicals into DNA natural selection or not? I'm asking what may be a scientific question or may be a philosophical question.

    As for my reference to natural selection being a partial description I meant a comet hitting the earth. On further reflection I suppose that a form of life living through the results of a comet hit IS a form of natural selection. After all if some geologists are correct the dinosaurs didn't survive such a strike but small mammals did. Natural selection, yes? And for that matter if you happen to be where the comet hits, if it hits land that too is a form of natural selection!

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  16. What I find most interesting in Dawkins' quote is this:

    “So what's the difference between Atheism and Pantheism? As far as disbelief in supernatural beings, forces or realms, there is no difference.”

    What exactly does “supernatural” mean here? For example, are spirits, demons, and angels considered to be supernatural? I ask because pantheism is a popular perspective among pagans and witches. In many respects I would consider them to be the best representatives of both. Although I tend to like Dawkins, it seems that his tying the supernatural to the theistic perspective is a gross mistake.

    By the way, thanks for posting an entry that made my brain hurt as I tried to work out my own articulation of where I'm at. It started as a reply, and ended up as a blog entry. I hope you don't mind me dropping in a link.

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  17. @irreverence thanks for the link! A fun blog you have! It depends upon what a person means when they use the word pantheism. The way Dawkins and the link I referred to would not include angels or demons.

    @Bob I am not sure where you are going with this.

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  18. John

    I'm not going anywhere. I just said what I had to say.

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  19. John: I like your Eight Points. Did you write them?

    Great entry. Makes me feel like a big ol' conservative, but that's ok too (I think, in your cosmology!).

    Pax, C.

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  20. Cecilia, you are definitely ok in my cosmology! : )

    The eight points are on the website The Center for Progressive Christianity.

    Great website with lots of helpful resources.

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