Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Theology From The Plain Part Three - Pantheism, Panentheism and Double Meanings.

This entry is longer than I wanted it to be, but this is convoluted territory for me, admittedly.  I appreciate the thoughts of any readers. Obviously, this is a process of working through thoughts, so feedback is essential.  And for anyone reading who does not prefer God-language, hopefully I will have some entries soon that rely less on this terminology, but still deal with basic questions and thoughts we all have about existence.

Last time I wrote that God cannot ultimately be separate from creation -  after all, can God create, and therefore be the explanation for, something that is ultimately not-God?  If so, where did the not-God elements come from?  
So I am a pantheist, believing that God is identical with creation?  Or am I a panentheist, believing that creation is contained within God?  
One way to characterize the difference is this:
Pantheism - God is the whole.
Panentheism - The whole is in God.
I am sure there are several versions of both of these positions that are very interesting.  I think I could be either one depending on how one defines “the whole.”   Is the whole this cosmos?  Or is it everything that exists at all?  Or maybe this distinction isn’t even that important?  For even this cosmos, this creation, surely has elements that are quite beyond our comprehension and perception.  How is are these intangible elements distinct, in any practical sense, from elements of God that are supposedly “beyond” this cosmos?  
I suppose I like panentheism a bit better, because it seems to imply a God that is beyond the part of the whole which we, as limited pieces of the action, are able to experience or to conceive of. Surely pantheism implies the same, but panentheism seems to make this sense more primary in its definition.  In other words, the actual whole, all that is, is greater than the whole that we can experience or conceive of.
I realize that some may differentiate between an idea like “the whole” and “creation”, but I have pointed out how I think that ultimately creation must be considered an extension, a reformulation, of God Himself.  
So perhaps I like a phrase like, “All is in God, and God is all.”    The first phrase implies that all creation is a part of God, and the second part implies that this creation cannot be ultimately separated from God.
So, if God encompasses all, then does it do any good to talk about God?  All things are a part of God, so nothing can be distinguished as more Godly than this or less Godly than that, right? me it depends.
I think we can communicate about God in two ways, depending on our purpose and chosen perspective.  “God” can have a double-meaning. The first meaning of God is the all, and reflects a focus on the ultimate.  This meaning seems fairly uncontroversial, as most people probably believe in “the all” even if it is just a concept.  Some people may reject the word “God”, but that is another subject.
The second meaning of God refers to the portion of the all that reflects the ultimate purpose, direction and character of the all. This meaning pertains to the elements of our experience which reflect our faith in what God’s ultimate purpose is.   
Another way to think of it is this:  I am included within God.  I am a part of God and part of His ultimate purpose which is also my ultimate purpose.  But I am limited and far from perfect.  However, there may be a part of the whole of God which is unlimited and perfect - or at least as close to those states as possible, or at the very least, much more than I - that knows and seeks to enact the ultimate purpose of this creation, while not overly interfering with creation (which would probably spoil the whole point of it, but more on this later).
This view of God is a lot more controversial.  It is the God of faith, and even though a person can and should have good reasons, the only truly compelling reason to believe in this God is if one wants to.  I plan to write more about that later, but for now the two elements of faith would be first, that there is a purpose, a directionality to existence that makes some sort of sense. And second, that there is a portion of this existence now that reflects this ultimate purpose, that guides the universe, however slowly from our point of view (two steps forward, one step back), through the experience of creation, which is a series of similarities and contrasts with this ultimate purpose.
I am agnostic about this second view of God, but I choose to have faith that something/someone like it exists.   Can one be agnostic and still have faith?  Actually, I think faith as a concept is completely contingent on being, to some extent, agnostic.  If I had anything close to certain knowledge, then there would be little room for faith.
So is this idea of the double meaning of God a cop out on my part?  Am I trying to have it both ways?  For God to be all, yet also a part of that which exists?  Can God be a part of the whole and ultimately the whole at the same time?
Consider other words and concepts which have double meanings.  How about “physical”?   When I am not feeling well, a friend might ask me if the problem is physical or emotional.  I know what she means, even though ultimately the physical encompasses both.  
What about the word “nature” or “natural”?    When a person speaks of nature, I know what she means - things which exist apart from humans -  even though all things are ultimately encompassed by the word, including humans.  Humans are certainly a part of nature.
Have you ever wrestled with your own will?  What is it exactly that is wrestling with your will?   Yet, I know what you mean.   There is a portion of your will which you are temporarily separating and labeling “your will”, and a portion of your will that you are labeling “I”.   
I will get more into why God would possibly create - why He would re-imagine Himself into separate limited parts.   But I think the term “God” can mean the all, and can also mean a portion of the all which reflects the ultimate purpose and character of the all. Which meaning we use depends on our “level of zoom”.   
When you say or think “God” are you thinking in ultimate terms, so that the term must encompass the all, or are you speaking of God as the portion of creation which reflects all that is good - a kind of perfect awareness (at least compared to us)?  Do you switch back and forth?   Does this way of thinking make any sense to you?

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