I'm an atheist who believes in God.
This isn't illogical. Or a contradiction.
I just define "God" differently than religious believers do. Which is pretty much how Paul Harrison does in his book, "Elements of Pantheism: A Spirituality of Nature and the Universe."
The word Pantheism derives from the Greek words pan (="all") and theos (="God"). Literally, Pantheism means: All is God. In essence Pantheism holds that the universe as a whole is worthy of the deepest reverence, and that only the Universe and Nature are worthy of that degree of reverence.
The statement "Nature is my god" is perhaps the simplest way of summarizing the core pantheist belief, with the word "god" here meaning not a supernatural being but the object of deepest personal reverence.
Pantheism is a spiritual path that reveres and cares for nature. A spiritual path that joyously accepts this life as our only life, and this earth as our only paradise, if we look after it. Pantheism revels in the beauty of nature and the night sky, and is full of wonder at their mystery and power.
Pantheism believes that all things are linked in a profound unity. All things have a common origin and a common destiny. All things are interconnected and interdependent. In life and in death we humans are an inseparable part of this unity, and in realizing this we can find our joy and our peace.
I learned more about Pantheism after I got an email from a man who said:
I live in a rural area. A conservative area. I am 70. I become more and more cynical about organized religions with each year. Too much emphasis on the afterlife. Too much emphasis on accepting things on faith alone (like the afterlife or the Bible.) But I do believe in a supreme being I call God.
I suppose if I lived in a large metro area I could find a group - maybe even a brick and mortar organization - of persons who are fellow cynics about these things. But I don't, so I turn to you for guidance! Is there a cyber-group I could consider joining. I'd really like some interaction on other persons' non-traditional "religious" beliefs.
Thank you for any suggestion.
Here's part of my reply to him.
You’re sort of unusual — and that’s a compliment. I mean, believing in a supreme being yet not being religious. Well, maybe this isn’t all that unusual. I recall reading about polls that show quite a few people have a similar point of view. I guess the key is what is meant by “God.”
You might want to take a look at this Pantheist site. I just took the quiz (link at top of page) and learned that I’m a Scientific Pantheist. Which seems to be a pretty good description. It’s easy to take the quiz. Maybe you’ll get some insights into what word describes your point of view.
Well, actually the quiz is in the right sidebar on that page. The link at the top takes me to Harrison's book on Amazon. (But maybe this is because I've already taken the quiz.)
Regardless, you can find the quiz here. Title: "Are you Atheist, Agnostic, Pantheist, Deist, Pagan, or what?"
That web page is pretty cheesy looking -- like something out of the Dawn of the Internet -- as is the World Pantheism site. But if you ignore appearances and focus on the content, there's some interesting stuff here.
I ordered Harrison's book after taking the quiz. I've taken similar quizzes before, as noted in a 2010 post, "John Burrough's appealing scientific pantheism."
Whenever I take one of those quizzes that tell you what religion/ philosophy melds best with your beliefs, pantheism always ends up close to the top. That makes sense.
I've got a naturalistic view of the universe, but I also have a powerful sense of awe when I contemplate the cosmos -- either in its incomprehensibly vast totality, or the mystery of how a single flower has come to be.
Awe, in fact, is the quality that Harrison says distinguishes Pantheism from Atheism.
Critics of Pantheism often suggest that in this case "God" is simply an extra and unnecessary name for the Universe. However, when pantheists refer to the Universe as their "God," what they really mean is that they feel the same profound sense of awe and reverence that other believers feel towards their gods.
To call the Universe "God" or "divine" is not at all meaningless. Although it does not tell us anything extra about the Universe, it expresses the powerful emotions that pantheists feel towards the Universe. It is similar to using the word "beauty" of a natural landscape.
"Beauty" is not just another word for the landscape, it expresses our positive aesthetic feelings towards it.
...It is quite possible for an atheist to regard the universe as absurd and hostile and human life as depressingly meaningless. Clearly, this approach is emotionally very distant from Pantheism.
Of course, you can feel wonder and awe when contemplating the Universe without calling that feeling "Pantheism."
But to me it does no harm to use that word. After all, that's what we humans do: use words to describe things that otherwise would remain indescribable.
I agree with Harrison that "atheism" has a more negative connotation that "pantheist," even though atheism and pantheism are completely compatible. In fact, atheism is the foundation of pantheism.
Pantheists just flip over the coin of unbelief in God, revealing the side that displays a positive sense of feeling at home in an awe-inspiring cosmos.
On the whole, I embrace the World Pantheism Movement's statement of principles. Here's a few that particularly resonate with me.
We revere and celebrate the Universe as the totality of being, past, present and future. It is self-organizing, ever-evolving and inexhaustibly diverse. Its overwhelming power, beauty and fundamental mystery compel the deepest human reverence and wonder.
There is a single kind of substance, energy/matter, which is vibrant and infinitely creative in all its forms. Body and mind are indivisibly united.
We honor reality, and keep our minds open to the evidence of the senses and of science's unending quest for deeper understanding. These are our best means of coming to know the Universe, and on them we base our aesthetic and religious feelings about reality.
Every individual has direct access through perception, emotion and meditation to ultimate reality, which is the Universe and Nature. There is no need for mediation by priests, gurus or revealed scriptures.