Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pantheism for the Present

Arthur Schopenhauer writes: “The chief objection I have to Pantheism is that is says nothing.  To call the world 'God' is not to explain it; it is only to enrich our language with a superfluous synonym for the word 'world'.”  

This objection would certainly be correct if all language did was to denote.  Then the difference between God and world in Pantheism would be the same as the difference between an automobile and a car.  But language does more than denote, it also connotes.  So at the very least, there is a difference in connotation between God and world, as there is a difference in the connotations of being frugal and being miserly.  But I think that the difference cuts deeper than this.

To see the world as God is to see the world from a different perspective than simply to see a material world.  I would suggest that it is to see the world as a gift rather than the merely given.  We value a gift not only for what it can do for us, but what it means to us.  A highly valued gift becomes a sacred possession. 
Both the theist and the atheist see the world as the merely given – the one sees it as given by a God separate from the world, the other given by some kind of accident.  But in either case, the world is not seen as a gift.  For the theist, the real gift is not of this world, but the world we enter after death.  For the atheists there is no gift but what one person can give another.  In either case, the world has no meaning beyond what it can do for us.

To say that “the World and God are one and the same,” I suggest, is an invitation to perceive and value the world in a whole new way, and also to understand the concept of God in a whole new way.  I will conclude with a rather stale pun (and ask forgiveness for it):  to accept the world as a present, is to be present to it.  The possibility of being completely present to the world is the world’s great present to us.  Such “present-ness” is the essence of Pantheism.