I recently came across three concepts that have guided humans in their quest to understand the universe. The first I had heard about many times, especially growing up in New England: Transcendentalism. One had known something about: Pantheism. The third was new to me: Panentheism.
Opening the door to these alternative ways of relating to the universe might be helpful to you. Many are searching for more in their spiritual core. They have found traditional religions either to be restrictive or irrelevant to how people are living their lives today.
This philosophy originated in eastern New England in the early 19th century. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Henry David Thoreau (of Walden Pond fame) were three of the most famous and influential Transcendentalists, along with Margaret Fuller who was an early pioneer of feminism. They promoted nonconformity, self-reliance, free thought, confidence, and the importance of nature, much of which ran afoul of the prevailing religious traditions of the day.
The fundamental beliefs and principles of Transcendentalists will explain more:
- They embraced a higher reality of ideas, in a metaphysical realm of spirit that is obscured by the material world.
- They believed that individuals are capable of generating completely original insights with little attention and deference to past masters.
- They taught a radical idealism that people are inherently good but that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual.
- They understood that subjective intuition was more important than objective empiricism. Knowledge comes from within, either from the human spirit or from God who supplies the human spirit.
- They were clear that people are at their best as independent souls and not a part of organized religion or politics.
- They promoted a deep gratitude and appreciation for nature, not only for aesthetic purposes, but also as a tool to observe and understand the structured inner workings of the natural world, and therefore of God.
This is an ancient belief that equates God with the forces and law of the universe. It tolerates worship of gods of different creeds, cults or peoples and does not ascribe God as having an individual personality.
In Pantheism, the universe is conceived of as a whole, as an impersonal yet immanent God. In being immanent, God is present in all and through things. God didn’t make the earth or define gravity but rather, God is the earth and gravity and everything else in the universe.
Panentheism should not be confused with Pantheism. Panentheism views God as both immanent and transcendent. This means that while the entire universe is a part of God, God also exists beyond the universe. God can be a personal God, a conscious being that manifested the universe, with whom humans can have a personal relationship.
Panentheism generally emphasizes God’s presence in the world without losing the distinct identity of either God or the world. Yet specific forms of Panentheism, drawing from different sources, explain God in a variety of ways and come to different conclusions as to how the world and God are related.
The majority of the contemporary expressions of Panentheism involve scientists and mostly Protestant theologians or philosophers. Even so, we find elements of Panentheism among feminists, in many theologies and spiritualities in the Roman Catholic tradition, in the Orthodox tradition, and in religions other than Christianity.
What elements of your personal way of relating to the universe do you find here? How are you able to live out these values in your daily life? What practices have you found that match how you wish to live?
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