Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Pantheists are Atheist?

The Portable Atheist now turns to a preface in a book by Benedict de Spinoza. I've already commented on this choice of author before, but I am still stumped as to this selection. Lets looks at some definition of terms:
  1. universe and human beings are only manifestations: it involves a denial of God's personality and expresses a tendency to identify God and nature.
  2. any religious belief or philosophical doctrine that identifies God with the
The belief that God, or a group of gods, is identical with the whole natural world; pantheism comes from Greek roots meaning “belief that everything is a god.” (Link to definition)

  1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
  2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.
atheism [(ay-thee-iz-uhm)]
Denial that there is a God. (Compare agnosticism.) (Link to definition)
They look different. In fact I think they are mutually exclusive. I didn't think you could be a pantheist and an atheists. But in 1998 the Atheist Community of Austin said that you can be (page 2-6). Their definition of pantheism rejects the idea of the supernatural and they say the dictionary definition of pantheism is "the belief that equates the Universe with God." Hitchens also defines pantheism as God being part of what he creates and is "everywhere and nowhere". Personally I think there is a difference between the terms "everywhere" and "nowhere". I may look those terms up in a dictionary later to see if they mean the same thing...

Even though Spinoza said that God was a necessary being, he very much disliked religion. He saw the hypocrisy of the people:

...one can only pronounce a man Christian, Turk, Jew, or Heathen, by his general appearance and attire, by his frequenting this or that place of worship, or employing the phraseology of a particular sect - as for manner of life, it is in all cases the same. (page 24)

I think he has a point. If the church isn't any different than the world then it has nothing to offer. It should be loving and helping, if not then it has failed to do its job, and there are churches that have. There are of cause many other churches that do help the community, who do reflect God's love for other people. I guess that's the danger of painting everyone with the same brush. (I'm also not saying that if you had a bad experience with a church that its your fault- if the church didn't listen to you and meet you were your at, then your hardly at fault.)

Spinoza offers a correct critique of the church and I think offers a few warnings. The church shouldn't turn their services into a show, the people should be genuine in their faith and the church should be outward looking, (which incidentally are all biblical principals):

Every church became a theatre, where orators, instead of church teachers, harangued, caring not to instruct the people, but striving to attract admiration, to bring opponents to public scorn, and to preach only novelties and paradoxes, such as would tickle the ears of their congregation (page 24)

...if they had but one spark of light from on High, they would not insolently rave, but would learn to worship God more wisely, and would be as marked among their fellows for mercy as they now are for malice; if they were concerned for their opponents' souls, instead of for their own reputations, they would no longer fiercely persecute, but rather be filled with pity and compassion. (page 24-25)

You can read the preface (and the first 5 chapters) to Theologico-Political Tretise here.