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James F. McGrath

Hi John! Happy new year, and thanks for the interaction. I interacted a bit with Dawkins' descriptions of pantheism and deism a while back, and I'm not inclined to agree with him that there are only two categories with variations - although if he's right, why anyone would choose "atheism" over "sexed-up atheism" is beyond me. :)

Be that as it may, I'm not persuaded that Avatar merits the designation "pantheist". In the movie [SPOILER ALERT for those who have not yet seen it] it doesn't seem to me that a universal divine reality is posited. It is rather than the moon Pandora is itself a meta-entity that unites and encompasses all life on that globe. But while many organisms on that world have evolved those thingies that allow them to connect and communicate, there is nothing that suggests that Eywa is a universal deity encompassing the whole of the cosmos.


I understand, but I prefer Dawkins' attempt to group hypotheses according to family resemblances. If I were you, I would cut your losses and concede that if it's sexy, it's fine with you. Just joshing.

My favorite Dawkins' bon mot is the one in which he self-identifies as a cultural Christian.

Maybe it's better to be a cultural Christian within a cognitive framework that has no place for God than a cultural atheist within a Christian framework that is full of "Lord, Lord, how I love thee!" but nothing to show for it.

James F. McGrath

That's an interesting comparison at the end. On the one hand, we have stories of those who said "Lord, Lord" and yet are told "Depart from me, I never knew you" while on the other hand we have the parable about those who will be told they did know Jesus and care for him in times of need, and they'll ask When?! And so if nothing else, thinking seriously about atheists (and there are very different sorts of atheists - including the early Christians as the Romans saw them!) is useful for Christians trying to reflect on what is and isn't most important.

But then again, I may just think that because its sexy to do so... :)


Sentient rocks? Wouldn't this be panENtheism? I appreciate your post! Just wanted clarification.


Hi Irobyn,

I wish I knew. It's all a muddle if you ask me. It is said that Moltmann self-identifies as a panentheist, but I doubt he believes in sentient rocks.

Christian panentheism should be rigorously distinguished from pan(en)theism in which the theos is not a person but a mood or something else at the same level of incoherence and non-articulation.

K. Mapson

Here's a riddle for you: why are theists seen "debunking" both pantheism and deism, but never pandeism? Answer: because they can't; pandeism is unlike the others in that, by combining their strengths and discarding their weaknesses, it subsumes and fully accounts for all forms of theism, becoming unassailable to theistic objections.


And what is pandeism, pray tell? The credo of Baruch Spinoza, "native Americans," and process theologians?

As a traditional Christian, I think I can learn from all these strands of thought. But I'm not about to think of pandeism in and of itself as anything other than a comforting wish-projection. How does pandeism handle evil? What is its response to suffering? On what basis does it identify a summum bonum? It seems like little more than an empty container unless it is combined with a more robust set of premises.

K. Mapson

Pandeism is well enough known that I'll allow you the pleasure of discerning its meaning; but the response to evil and to suffering, and the summum bonum you seek, are easy enough to address; all things are part of the Creator, which has become the Universe in order to share in our experiences, and learn from our response to the kinds of limitations that it can not face because of its very power. And so, everything that one person does to another, every good or evil, every pleasure or suffering that one person directs towards another, that person directs also towards his own Creator -- and, if it is indeed our destiny to one day return to conscious oneness with that Creator and share in its knowledge of all of the experiences of the world, then each person shall suffer exactly that suffering that he inflicted upon others, and so shall each person enjoy every happiness that he gave to others. Which is, naturally, a somewhat more reasonable consequence than damnation of those who merely eat a forbidden food, tread on the wrong "sacred" patch of Earth, recreate on the wrong "holy" day, or make love to another consenting adult without some doctrinal blessing.


Thanks for the explanation.

You make pandeism sound like an attempt to come up with a theory of everything so vague and so devoid of content that nothing that has happened or could happen would be able to confirm or disconfirm it.

Pandeism is unable and unwilling to ground either a history or an ethics with the result that pandeists are chameleon-like in these areas. It's nice to know that you fellers have ethical opinions of the kind that will make you welcome at cocktail parties in Manhattan and Hollywood; not so much everywhere else.

If pandeism does not ground a communal ethic or a calendar or cultivate a set of particular memories, if it has nothing but the vaguest generalities to say about the gap between what we are as human beings and what we want to be, its so-called faithful must blend into their environment in these areas and/or look down their noses so primitive to have such things.

Color me unimpressed.

K. Mapson

I'd surely rather have a theory born from logic which could not be disconfirmed over the inconsistent and incoherent mishmash of the theistic faiths. If you seek a faith grounded in history, worship Zeus; if you are unable to see the ethics of avoiding the injury you would inflict on your own Creator, then perhaps it is best that you imagine a nanny-deity laying down arbitrary rules to keep you in line, so long as some of those rules keep you out of the business of others.

Odd, isn't it, how your objection has nothing at all to do with what is logical, rational, or provable, and only with your irrational and emotional reaction towards defending a faith which you already know in your heart to be a collocation of non-truths.


Fun discussion.

I definitely prefer Zeus to the washed out stump of a god pandeists excogitate. Life is extraordinarily beautiful and painful at the same time; it is full of tragedy, the felt need for atonement, catharsis, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Greek paganism gets more of this than the rational religion you espouse.

Pandeists and pantheists do not even have words for these things, unless they borrow them from elsewhere. Life and death are themselves indistinguishable.

Pandeists and pantheists don't seem to notice that if you reduce God to a principle of logic, you reduce humanity to a brain on a toothpick. I prefer a faith that connects with every dimension of my being, reason, emotion, kinesis, sexuality, procreation, eternal life, the whole nine yards.


Wolfhart Pannenberg - panentheist
David Ray Griffin - panentheist (as are many other process theologians)
David Bentley Hart - panentheist (as are most Greek Orthodox)

This should be enough to show that panentheism hasn't been clearly defined enough to have any real meaning since the three conceptions of God are so radically different.


All Christians are bound to be panentheists in the sense that Ephesians teaches it. As a doxological expression in the context of the gospel, panentheism has impeccable credentials.

Christocentric panentheism is one thing. The panentheism of Spinoza or Griffin (based on what little I've read of him) is quite another.

K. Mapson

I'm afraid your concerns speak more of an ignorance of pandeism than a defect in its qualities, given the richness of discussion of its moral and physical worlds -- going all the way back to the philosophers (not the mythwriters) of Ancient Greece. Given your announced preferences you should instead worship the deities manufactured by JRR Tolkein in The Lord of the Rings books, since they so deeply connect to your emotional needs, which can better be fulfilled by a sufficiently poetic fantasy story than by that which logical examination of the Universe reveals to be a more probable model.

And to your point on the widely different interpretations of panentheism, that can not in the slightest compare to the exploding waterfall of interpretations of theism -- and even within every one of the cults of "revelation" within theism.


Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, pioneer of the Kabbalah, had this to day:

"Do not attribute duality to God. Let God be solely God. If you suppose that Ein Sof emanates until a certain point, and that from that point on is outside of it, you have dualized. God forbid! Realize, rather, that Ein Sof exists in each existent. Do not say, ‘This is a stone and not God.’ God forbid! Rather, all existence is God, and the stone is a thing pervaded by divinity."

So there. M'lo kol ha-haretz kvodo!


Hi Vincent,

The passage you cite from Isaiah 6 is an excellent example of biblical panentheism. Unless logical distinctions disinterest you, you will note that that is a far cry from pantheism rightly so-called.

I don't know enough about the Kabbalist you cite to know for sure, but my guess is that he was a strict monotheistic panentheist.

For comparison's sake, I might point out the eschatological monotheistic messianic panentheism of Ephesians 1:9-10, "making known to us the mystery of God's will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in the Messiah, a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."

In short, it is misleading to suggest that Isaiah 6 and Ephesians 1 are pantheistic. The same is true of Kabbalah. But if you think otherwise, you are free to argue your case. I would welcome it.

Steve Pable

Amen to your distinction, John! Irenaeus would be proud.

(nice to see you're still around-- you've had some of your readers concerned, myself included!)

Quentin Clover

Far out man!

So what is hte diffrence between pantheism and panentheism and pandeism? Is there a panendeism too?


Hi Steve,

I'm around a little bit too much these days to be honest, as in "away from my desk." I've come into a pastorate in which for years the policy was, "Let sleeping dogs lie." Now that I am waking them up, my hands are full.

Hi Quentin,

Keep in mind that words are like wax noses. Always be prepared to define your terms.

So here's my go at it. Pantheism rightly so-called obliterates the distinction between worshipper and worshippee, good and evil, what is animate and what is inaminate. That's really hard to do, so pantheists, even if they assert that everything is equally divine, deny the force of their own words at various practical levels.

Panentheisn comes in all sorts of flavors. It is usually prescriptive rather than descriptive. Just as someone will say that "man is born free but is everywhere in chains," when it is pointed out that individuals are born with all kinds of chains upon them, not to mention 50K per capita of national debt, the reply, "I know, but man should be born free and should be free of chains." Fine. So what most panentheists are saying is that God (however defined) should be all in all, even if God isn't.

As many people use it, the distinction between theism and deism is that with the former, some version of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is intended, whereas with the latter, a washed out God of the philosophers is intended. For the distinction in greater detail, one might start with Pascal.

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