I keep going back to a theory that keeps circulating around in my thoughts:
That one’s religion does not necessarily formulate one’s concept of God. But rather, one’s concept of God informs one’s religious philosophy, including theology and use and interpretation of scripture.
Concepts of God
Pandeism is a theological doctrine first delineated in the 18th century, combines aspects of pantheism with aspects of deism. It holds that a creator deity became the universe and ceased to exist as a separate entity (deism holding that God does not interfere with the universe after its creation).
Panendeism is a belief in a god who contains all of the universe, but who nevertheless transcends or has some existence separate from the universe, who does interact, but does not necessarily intervene in the universe, and that a personal relationship can be achieved with it, in as much as a person can have a relationship with his/her own rational thoughts contrasted from panentheism in that the existence of, and relationship with, the creator god (or prime mover) is determined from observance of nature, not rationality and thought.
The Christian idea of God is derived from mainstream Judaism; however in Judaism any attempt to visualize God in an image is forbidden. But two books in in the Tanakh, Ezekiel and Daniel, do offer up ideas on how to visualize God that Christians have adopted. Ezekiel has a highly detailed description of God, as blinding light, on a throne chariot that is virtually impossible to visualize, let alone draw as a picture. That doesn’t stop Christians from trying to convert this idea into God as an old man sitting on the chariot throne (see above picture). In Daniel God is imagined as “The Ancient of Days” and the coming of the “Son of Man” riding on the clouds. As seen below Christians tend to visualize the Ancient of Days as God as an old man, with the Son of Man becoming Jesus the man. Both take purposefully vague written descriptions into anthropomorphic images of people. God is not a person!
Perhaps the best Jewish concept of God is the concept of the Ein Sof, which in Kabbalah, is understood as God prior to any self-manifestation in the production of any spiritual realm. Ein Sof may be translated as unending, there is no end, or infinity. Of the Ein Sof, nothing (“Ein”) can be grasped (“Sof”-limitation). Ein Sof is the pregnant “nothing” from which the universe emanates. It is the origin of the Ohr Ein Sof, the “Infinite Light” of paradoxical divine self-knowledge, nullified within the Ein Sof prior to creation. In Lurianic Kabbalah, the first act of creation, the Tzimtzum self “withdrawal” of God to create an “empty space”, takes place from there. In Hasidic Judaism, the Tzimtzum is only the illusionary concealment of the Ohr Ein Sof, giving rise to monistic pandeism.
Pandeism is a theological theory proposing that instead of the traditional notion of an external God-entity creating our Universe wholesale and then observing it from the outside, our Universe is more logically explained as the product of a Creator wholly becoming it, with principles in place from this becoming which allow its structure—including life within it—to arise organically within it as part of its experience. The history of this idea reaches back to the earliest etchings of human history. In the beginning, human beings created a God who was the First Cause of all things and Ruler of heaven and Earth. He was not represented by images and had no temple or priests in his service. He was too exalted for an inadequate human cult.
Notions of beasts and trees and rivers and thunderclouds having a spiritual existence all their own, combined with the idea that people’s own deceased ancestors had spirits that lingered on in this world—some more powerfully than others—led to the first progression of religion, the belief that the more powerful spirits had ultimate authority over some domain, such as one spirit with power over the flow of all rivers. In due time, ancient mythologies came to express the idea of a world created from the physical substance of a destroyed deity, a necessary predecessor idea to the philosophy of Pandeism. An example is the 5000-year-old Sumerian myth of young god Marduk slaying elder goddess Tiamat and creating the world from her body: Marduk stood over Tiamat’s vast corpse and decided to create a new world: He split her body in two to form the arch of the sky and the world of men; next he devised the laws that would keep everything in its appointed place. Order must be achieved.
Perhaps the most pandeistic of these early ideas comes from the Georgia and Society islands of the South Pacific, whose people provide the tale of Ta’aroa, “a primal idea of divine unity,” a lone godhead, far above the other denizens of his polytheistic pantheon. A poem by those holding Ta’aroa as their Creator expounds:
“He was; Ta’aroa was his name; he abode in the void. No Earth, no sky, no men. Ta’aroa calls, but nought answers; and alone existing, he became the universe. The props are Ta’aroa; the rocks are Ta’aroa; the sands are Ta’aroa; it is thus he himself is named.”
Each of these myths presents the god-made world in its most visceral, physical sense—in some, our globe is the flesh of a god, the stones and mountains are bones, rivers and seas are blood. These myths, developed by people unaware of the true scope of our Universe, may fairly be posited to describe the creation of the ‘entire world’ from the body of one being.
Religions With Monotheistic/Pantheistic Thought
The first foray into the next progression, from these polytheistic ideas to monotheism, happened nearly three and a half millennia ago, in Egypt, under the reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV. The idea of primary matter derived from an original spirit as found by the ancient Egyptians to be an early form of Pandeism. And this pharaoh in particular believed there was but one true and supreme deity, of which all others were simply pale reflections, and this was Aton (or Aten), originally God of the Sun-Disk. In worship of this one true deity, Amenhotep changed his name to Akhenaton, which means “beloved of Aton”‘. Akenaton created an entire city, Amarna, in which to celebrate his newfound monotheism. The area of Amarna today is an extensive Egyptian archaeological site containing the remains of what was the capital city of the late Eighteenth Dynasty. The city was established in 1346 BC, built at the direction of the Pharaoh Akhenaten, and abandoned shortly after his death in 1332 BC. The name that the ancient Egyptians used for the city is transliterated in English as Akhetaten or Akhetaton, meaning “the horizon of the Aten”
Akhenaton not only changed his own name to incorporate Aton into it, but decreed that the names of other ‘false’ gods were to be scratched out, their images destroyed. Atonism was enforced for two decades by decree of the Pharaoh, but the whims of man denied this newfound cult life beyond that of its progenitor. After Akhenaton’s death, those left in power quickly abandoned the belief. But the influence of the cult of Aton may well have been preserved and passed on to other cultures in the region, as evidenced by the word Adonai—today a chief name of God in Judaism. Many scholars trace the Jewish monotheistic belief back to Akhenaton’s followers migration to the east into the area of future Israel.
Before we fall into the common trap of assigning the origin of all thought to the Western world, we must be mindful that the Rig-Veda and its successor, the Upanishads, the divine texts underscoring Hinduism, may themselves have been hundreds, possibly thousands, of years old by this time. The Vedas were born from a clash of early civilizations some thirty-seven centuries ago. Inhabitants of the Indus valley, who had established themselves earlier than 2000 BC, encountered the Aryans, of what would later become Iran. The Upanishads, commentaries on the Vedas, did evolve a distinctive conception of godhood that transcends the gods but is found to be intimately present in all things.
The Bhagavad Gita, described by many scholars as the deepest scripture in the world, is the most famous chapter of the Mahābhārata, one of the two major Sanskrit epic poems. Here, the great warrior Arjuna, accompanied by his charioteer Krishna, is engaged in an epic battle of the Kurukshetra War between the Kauravas and the heroic Pandavas. A brilliant archer, Arjuna knows he will easily slaughter many of his evil cousins on the battlefield. But, tired of battle, he desires to give up violence altogether. Krishna persuades Arjuna against retiring from the fight, for it is a predestined cleansing of evil. To persuade Arjuna, Krishna reveals his true self, Viśvarūpa, the unity of all things all beings, in all times, and all places. All things are shown to Arjuna to be one, and to be part of the Creator, which has itself become a great and universal idea played out through our lives. Arjuna is part of the Creator, and so he is the same as everybody whom he is fated to kill. This too echoes the primary thrust of Pandeism, the Creator of our Universe in fact becoming our Universe, rationally motivated by a need to share in the experiences of beings coming to exist therein.
Thirty-two centuries after Akhenaton, on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, it was the polytheism of the Greek world which was under attack. Thales, the first chronicled to have attempted to explain the nature of our Universe by natural means alone, discounted supernatural influences. Thales was revered by his contemporaries among the Milesian philosophers who followed his efforts, and it is this which launched the philosophical direction which twentieth-century philosopher F. E. Peters would later credit in this way: “Pandeism…is the legacy of the Milesians.”
The possibility that our Universe might be made of yet another substance—‘God’—was the proposition of Xenophanes. Here Xenophanes envisioned a god unlike man or anything else, but encompassing everything: “One god greatest among gods and men, not at all like mortals in body or in thought.” This declaration suggests his belief in a single, overarching, conscious divine power. He characterizes this highest god as “conscious and perceiving with the whole of itself, capable of moving all things by exercise of mind and thought, able to accomplish all things while remaining itself unmoving.” Xenophanes spoke as a Pandeist in stating that there was one god which “abideth ever in the selfsame place, moving not at all” and yet “sees all over, thinks all over, and hears all over.” Xenophanes influenced the pandeistic bent of other great thinkers of later generations, including Heraclitus, who developed a unique conception: the Cosmos as a divine and ever-changing energy.
Xenophanes influenced the pandeistic bent of other great thinkers of later generations, including Heraclitus, a philosopher known for the complexity and intricacy of his views. Seeking an understanding of our Universe which was rational, logical, and isolated from myth and legend, Heraclitus developed a unique conception: the Cosmos as a divine and ever-changing energy.
Heraclitus’ cosmology contains four remarkable and prescient observations: 1. That the Cosmos is itself not an illusion; 2. The “flux doctrine” that reality is not being but becoming; 3. That “fire is the ultimate reality; all things are just manifestations of fire”; 4. And, at last, the fire itself is the thing called the Logos. The ancients had no conception of the modernly known “Big Bang.” That fire, of sorts, might have offered a sufficient beginning and end of the divine, the logos which contained all which was necessary to the plan of our Universe—that would suffice for Pandeism.
Heraclitus would influence two further groups of followers, the Stoics and the Eleatics. Pandeism reflected in the ideas of Heraclitus, and of the Stoics, who were immanentistic pantheists as well. Their natural fondness for Heraclitus and his fiery logos matched their estimation that it was reason—the logos—pervading our Universe as divine fire.
Unmistakably pandeistic concepts are conveyed in the New Testament, especially in the Gospel of Matthew 25:31–46, popularly known as the ‘Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.’ In declaring to the blessed, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” and to the cursed, “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me,” Here Jesus presents a vision of God which conforms to the view that God has become our Universe, and wherein all things—including all people—are part of God. And so, Jesus tells us, everything which one person does for the benefit of another is in actuality done to God, as it is directly experienced by God. And in the same vein, whatever one person fails to do for another (or even whatever harm one person does to another) is directly experienced by God.
Again in Matthew, Jesus responds to a prodding Pharisee’s inquiry as to which is the greatest commandment: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” In identifying the second claim as ‘like unto’—the same as—the first claim, Jesus demonstrates that there is, upon piercing the veil of distinctness, no difference between loving God and loving one’s neighbors, or truly even one’s self. This is best explained by finding that the neighbors are God, the self is God.
Then there are the ninth-century works of Johannes Scotus Erigena, who derived a pandeistic formula which answered some of the riddles surrounding the Christian God. Erigena was among the first to propose not only that God became our Universe, but—in an even more revolutionary arc—that God did so intently in order to attain knowledge which otherwise remained beyond its grasp. Erigena wrote: “When we hear that God makes all things, we should understand nothing else but that God is in all things, i.e. is the essence of all things. For He alone truly is, and everything which is truly said to be in those things which are, is God alone”.
Also: “Since God is not a being, he is therefore not intelligible” This means not only that we cannot understand him, but that he cannot understand himself, as well. Creation is a kind of divine effort by God to understand himself, to see himself in a mirror.” Erigena’s view of God is revolutionary….. in the broad physical sense, God is changeable, able to undergo a complete transformation through which one form is utterly (if temporarily) abandoned in favor of another.
Erigena’s account of the “God/world” relation is ultimately ambiguous. The world is created by God and so is other than God. The world is also eternal, for it is not outside God: its logos and primordial causes are in God, it participates in God, and God participates in it, and it will ultimately be assumed back into God when God will be all in all.
We come, then, to Giordano Bruno. Born in 1548 he was not precisely a Deist, but he was influenced by the writings of Erigena to become a Pantheist. Believing as he did in a “sort of Stoic God who was the soul, origin, and end of the universe,”. And a century after Bruno, Baruch Spinoza would take the argument the further step to explain that we were in the body of God, an immanent God, but that God had been existent when our Universe had not, and so God was transcendent as well as immanent—God was the logos, and at the same time maintained an existence beyond the logos, and since God was infinite, each existence was infinite. Spinoza fared better than Bruno for his efforts. Bruno was burnt at the stake, his tongue nailed to the roof of his mouth to prevent him from uttering further heresies. Spinoza was only excommunicated, his death coming from a lung disease attributed to his work with glass.
Sir Isaac Newton, contemplating the nature of our Universe, was concerned in that, “Was not space itself somehow divine, possessing as it did the attributes of eternity and infinity?” Newton answered this question in an essay, De Gravitatione et Aequipondio Fluidorum (On the Gravity and Equilibrium of Fluids), likely produced around 1670.
“Since God is infinite, he must exist everywhere. Space is an effect of God’s existence, emanating eternally from the divine omnipresence. It was not created by him in an act of will but existed as a necessary consequence or extension of his ubiquitous being. In the same way, because God himself is eternal, he emanates time. We can, therefore, say that God constitutes that space and time in which we live and move and have our being”.
The possibility that our Universe itself is both boundless and exclusive, that it fills up all that may exist, then gives rise to Pandeism. What the deist sees as distinct substances, the pantheist regards as modes of a single substance.
Benjamin Franklin and the Deist political leaders and theorists of the American Revolution and Enlightenment believed in a Creator whose works were accessible by reason, rather than revelation, and a Creator who has not predetermined our world and does not intervene in it, thus rendering human action rather than prayer efficacious.
One of the most interesting—and perhaps unlikely—applications of principles of Pandeism was set forth in 2001 by Scott Adams, then best known as the comic strip author of Dilbert. But in 2001 Adams produced something in a very different vein, publishing God’s Debris: A Thought Experiment. There, Adams surmised that an omnipotent God annihilated itself via the Big Bang, because such an entity would already know everything possible except its own lack of existence, and paradoxically would need to end its existence in order to complete its knowledge. Wondering whether such omnipotence would include “knowing what happens after he loses his omnipotence,” Adams proceeds to the following analysis:
A God who knew the answer to that question would indeed know everything and have everything. For that reason he would be unmotivated to do anything or create anything. There would be no purpose to act in any way whatsoever. But a God who had one nagging question—what happens if I cease to exist?—might be motivated to find the answer in order to complete his knowledge…The fact that we exist is proof that God is motivated to act in some way. And since only the challenge of self-destruction could interest an omnipotent God, it stands to reason that…. we are God’s debris.