Category Archives: Pantheism

What Is the Pantheist Answer to Evil?

The universal human experience of evil is a problem for all worldviews, not just Christianity. Philosopher Norm Geisler, in his book If God, Why Evil?: A New Way to Think About the Questionexplains that there are three main views on evil that come from the “big three” worldviews of pantheism, atheism, theism.

Pantheism affirms God and denies evil.

Atheism affirms evil and denies God.

Theism affirms both God and evil.

In a previous blog post, I explained why the existence of objective evil is a devastating problem for the atheist worldview, but why is the pantheist answer to evil also problematic? Geisler explains:

In general, pantheists believe God exists but deny the existence of evil. They believe God is good, God is All, and hence there is no evil. Mary Baker Eddy, founder of Christian Science, held this view, maintaining that “evil is an error of [the] moral mind.”

Most people, however, find it difficult to accept this answer. The old limerick summarizes their conundrum well:

“There was a Faith Healer of deal

Who said ‘Although pain isn’t real,

If I sit upon a pin,

And it punctures my skin,

I dislike what I fancy I feel!'”

So why is this a problem for the pantheist view?

In short, if evil is not real, then why does it hurt so badly? If pain, suffering, and death are not real, then how do we explain where the illusion came from? And why does everyone have it? Further, why is the illusion so persistent? Why can’t we make it go away?

When we wonder whether we are dreaming or awake, we can pinch ourselves. We know we have been dreaming because we wake up. But we don’t wake up from suffering, which always surrounds us and often invades us. We can tell an illusion because there is always a backdrop of reality by which we know it is an illusion. But evil is part of the backdrop of life itself. How then can it be illusory?

The pantheist is then left with claiming that the pervasive, universal phenomena of human suffering is unreal, an illusion. Rather than explaining what evil is, the pantheist has simply denied its existence. On top of that, I can guarantee that every person that claims evil and suffering are illusions, act every day as if they are real. The pantheist view of evil is simply unlivable and incoherent.

Do Eckhart Tolle’s Teachings Contradict Christianity?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Recently I learned that a local church was hosting “Bible studies” based on Eckhart Tolle’s teachings.  So, does Tolle agree with the teachings of Christianity?  Is it appropriate to promote his beliefs in a Christian church?

First, let me admit that I have not read his books personally, but I have certainly read about them (if anyone would like to correct any errors I make in the following analysis, please do so by commenting).  According to Dr. James A. Beverley, in  a 2008 article written for Christianity Today, Tolle definitely does not adhere to the essential beliefs of Christianity.

Here is a brief list of anti-Christian beliefs promoted by Tolle:

1.  God and man are one (pantheism).  Christianity teaches that God is distinct from man, that He created man.

2.  The human self is an illusion (Buddhism).  Christianity affirms the existence of the human self, but laments its corruption by sin.

3.  Death and the human body are illusions (Buddhism).  Christianity affirms that both are real.

4.  Jesus is not uniquely God, since everyone is God. Christianity denies that everyone is God, and claims that Jesus is the unique human manifestation of God.

All of these teachings directly contradict Christian beliefs.  I’m sure Tolle’s teachings contain some wisdom, but his overall worldview is obviously not Christian in any meaningful way.  The fact that we have a local church promoting Tolle’s beliefs is another clear indication that Christian education is woefully inadequate (I’m assuming that the persons leading these studies are ignorant, not purposefully trying to undermine Christianity).

If you know of any other links that discuss Tolle’s beliefs in comparison to Christianity, feel free to post them in the comments section of this post.

Avatar: An Apologetic for Pantheism

Post Author: Bill Pratt

About a month ago, columnist Russ Douthat wrote a brilliant column about pantheism, the religion of Hollywood.  Pantheism is the belief that the world is God and God is the world.  The pantheist God is not personal, but is Nature itself.

Douthat notes that this view of God has been popular with Hollywood for many years.

It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”

James Cameron’s wildly popular Avatar revisits pantheism with its portrayal of the nature-worshiping Na’Vi, a race of people who pay homage to Eywa, the “All Mother.”

Why is pantheism so popular with Hollywood?  One reason is that there is no personal God making moral demands.  Nature doesn’t tell you what to do; it just is.  As Douthat explains, “For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.”  C. S. Lewis once described pantheism as “all the thrills of religion and none of the cost.”

Douthat, however, questions whether nature deserves a religious response:

Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

He continues, “Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms.”

This is what has struck me about pantheism.  None of its adherents really take it to its logical conclusion.  In practice, we all believe in good and evil.  We all think that death is bad and that life is good, but these positions are incoherent under pantheism, because death is just part of the natural cycle.  There is nothing bad about it, under pantheism.

Ironically, even James Cameron couldn’t go all the way.  In a scene just before the final climactic battle between the rapacious earthlings and the peaceful Na’Vi, the turncoat human hero prays to the “All Mother” that she would give victory to the Na’Vi over the humans.  As he concludes his prayer, his Na’Vi companion tells him that the “All Mother” does not take sides, a classic pantheistic position.

Cameron, of course, cannot follow through.  (Caution: if you have not seen the movie, what follows is a spoiler!!)

As the humans are about to win the battle, the “All Mother” joins the fray in the form of the indigenous animals of the planet.  The animals attack the humans and help the Na’Vi to victory.  The “All Mother” doesn’t take sides?  Evidently she does, and with a vengeance.

Cameron understands good and evil like anyone else and he must ultimately override Nature in his movie, providing a great illustration of the practical unreality of pantheism.

Does God Know What I Will Freely Do? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

Yesterday, I posted on the issue of free will and God’s knowledge of of human free acts in the future.  This is an area the church has grappled with for centuries.  But how do other major worldviews deal with this issue?

Most atheists think they can avoid the issue by denying that God (or divine fate) exists.  Unfortunately, once you banish an ultimate mind as the source of the universe, you are only left with impersonal physical laws operating on matter and energy.

So free will, for the atheist, is just an illusion that our highly evolved brain gives us.  Fundamentally, we are completely determined in our actions and choices by chemistry and physics, by the mechanistic movement of atomic particles .  Free will, under atheism, does not exist.  So the atheist does not really solve the problem of fate and free will.  He just rids us of both, thus denying that the problem is real.

Monistic Pantheists argue that all of earthly life is just an illusion, that we are actually part of one ultimate, impersonal being.  When we realize that we are part of this one ultimate being, the illusion of our individual lives ends as we merge with the ultimate being.

In this sense, our individual free will is also an illusion because we, ourselves, are an illusion.  The only thing that really exists is this ultimate, impersonal being.  Their solution to the problem is to affirm divine fate at the complete expense of human free will or even true human existence.

Oddly enough, even though the theistic God seems to cause problems with the existence of human free will, without a personal God, free will cannot exist!

The Christian concept of God allows for mind to precede and transcend matter, which allows human free will to exist, in opposition to atheism (who only believe matter exists).

Christians also recognize that individual people exist apart from God, in opposition to pantheism.  The concept of human free will cannot exist without individual humans truly existing.  This the Pantheists deny.

Even though we Christians struggle with this doctrine, as do other theistic religions, at the end of the day a personal God is the best ground and source for free will.  Get rid of God, and free will quickly vanishes.

Is the Natural World Part of God?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Sometimes Christians say things like, “When I see a beautiful flower, I see God.”  It is a common experience, when witnessing a thing of great beauty, to comment that it reminds one of God.  In fact, this sense of God’s presence is part of the blessing of being a Christian.

However, Christians need to be careful about what we mean when we wax eloquently about God and nature.  The Bible teaches that God created the world and is distinct from the world.  God is not identified with the world.

Pantheists (e.g., Hindus and New Age believers) believe that God and the world are actually one and the same.  God is the world.  The world is God.  The whole world is composed of God, so God is not distinct from the world.

Christians reject this idea of God being identified with the world, because we believe he transcends the world.  He is above, beyond, other than, and more than the world.  If God is identical to the world, then he cannot be infinite in being because he would be limited by space, time, and matter – the things that constitute the world.

Although we believe that God is intimately related to the world and present to all parts of the world equally, we reject the idea that God is the world.  This idea is completely foreign to Scripture.