Lesson 10: Pantheism and New-Age Mysticism

Lesson 10: Pantheism and New-Age Mysticism

Pantheism

Pantheism teaches that the universe and all it contains is God. That’s why it’s called pantheism — everything is part of God. The word Pantheism derives from the Greek words pan (all) and theos (God). Thus, pantheism means All is God.

In essence, pantheism holds that the universe as a whole should be regarded with religious reverence, and that there is nothing that truly merits the name God other than the universe and nature. The Cosmos is divine, and the earth sacred. Pantheists do not propose belief in a deity; rather, they hold nature itself as a creative presence. Pantheists believe in Divine Immanence, i.e., that God is present in all things. To the Pantheist, divinity does not transcend reality; it surrounds, and is within. All share divinity. This leads the pantheist to personal ethics of tolerance and understanding.1


Natural or Scientific Pantheism has much in common with religious humanism, religious naturalism and religious atheism, as well as with philosophical Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and symbolic paganism. Scientific Pantheists take the real universe and nature as their starting point, not some preconceived idea of God. Scientific Pantheists feel a profound reverence and awe for these, like the reverence and awe that believers in a more conventional God feel towards their deity. Natural/scientific pantheism reveres and cares for nature, accepts this life as our only life, and this earth as our only paradise, if we look after it.

Natural/scientific pantheism does not require faith in miracles, invisible entities or supernatural powers. It does not regard this life as a waiting room or a staging post on the way to a better existence after death. It has a healthy and positive attitude to sex and life in the body. It teaches reverence and love for nature.2

Pantheism is built on the philosophical idea called monism. Monism teaches that all reality is unified, i.e., everything is part of the same big system. All things are ultimately and absolutely united. Reality is indivisible. Differences are simply illusions. There is one solid, eternal indivisible ball of being. Since everything is part of everything else, everything that exists must be God.

Probably the most well known pantheistic religion is Hinduism.

Pantheism asserts the following:

  1. God is non-personal. God is not a person; God is the oneness of all things, the single reality that encompasses all things. God has no self-consciousness. God is an It, not a He.

  2. God is absolutely infinite and unknowable. We can say what God is not but not what God is. Logical reasoning is incapable of comprehending God.

  3. Because God is not a person, one cannot have a personal relationship with God. The disciple’s goal is to be unified with God, to converge with God’s oneness. One achieves this unity by turning away from the physical world and focusing on the soul. It is only through meditation and mystical intuition that one leaps beyond the physical and is united with the One.

  4. God is the source of all being. Everything is rooted in God and springs from God.

It’s obvious even to the casual observer that pantheism is in sharp disagreement with Christianity. Note some weaknesses of pantheism:

  1. If all being is unified, then no individual existence is possible. It’s self-defeating to assert that individual existence is not real. If one’s individual conscious existence is merely an illusion, then the idea that “all is one” is an illusion, too.

  2. Pantheism and monism assert an idea that cannot be proven, i.e., that all reality is part of the one. However, different kinds of beings may exist, namely, finite (man) and infinite (God).

  3. Pantheism cannot distinguish good from evil. Both good and evil must necessarily be part of God if everything is one.

  4. An impersonal God is no God at all. The idea of God as a personal, loving father is foreign to pantheistic thought. In fact, pantheism differs little from atheism. They both assert that the universe is all there is.

  5. The pantheistic God is incomplete without creation. If nothing material existed, the pantheistic God would not exist.

  6. It’s impossible to say for sure what the pantheistic God is. If all is God, then even two contradictory statements about it would both be true, which is logically absurd. One can say nothing meaningful about the pantheistic God.

  7. To claim that God is unknowable is illogical, for it is claiming to know something about God, i.e., that he is unknowable.

The Bible clearly asserts that God is a Person, not the unity of all things. It’s man’s depraved mind that worships and serves the creation rather than the creator (Rom 1:17f). God exists separate from His creation. Created beings do not share in the divinity of God. God is knowable and the information we have about God is true, logical and meaningful. The Bible contradicts pantheism on almost every point.

When dealing with pantheists, the best attack is to present the gospel in the most clear and positive terms. Further, believers must show pantheists how illogical their system is.

The New Age Movement

The New Age Movement is largely based on pantheistic notions. The New Age Movement is not a unified system of thought, but a loosely-knit association of ideas and philosophies, most of which are incompatible with Christianity.

The New Age Movement, unlike most formal religions, has no holy text, central organization, membership rolls, formal clergy, geographic center, dogma, or system of beliefs. The New Age is a free-flowing spiritual movement; a network of believers and practitioners who share somewhat similar beliefs and practices. Seminars, conventions, books and informal groups replace sermons and religious services.

Recent surveys of US adults indicate that many Americans hold at least some New Age beliefs:

  • 8% believe in astrology as a method of foretelling the future.

  • 7% believe that crystals are a source of healing or energizing power.

  • 9% believe that Tarot Cards are a reliable base for life decisions.

  • about 1 in 4 believe in a non-traditional concept of the nature of God which are often associated with New Age thinking:

  • 11% believe that God is “a state of higher consciousness that a person may reach.”

  • 8% define God as “the total realization of personal, human potential.”

  • 3% believe that each person is God.

New Age teachings became popular during the 1970’s as a reaction against what some perceived as the failure of traditional sources to provide spiritual and ethical guidance for the future. Its roots are traceable to many sources: Astrology, Channeling, Hinduism, Gnostic traditions, Spiritualism, Taoism, Theosophy, Wicca and other Neo-pagan traditions, etc. The movement started in England in the 1960’s where many of these elements were well established. The movement quickly became international. The movement has become established a stable, major force in North American religion during the past generation. New Agers expect their movement to expand, promoted by the social backlash against logic and science.3

Basic New Age ideas:

  1. God is an impersonal energy or force. The New Age idea of God is very pantheistic—everything is part of God. People must come to realize their connection to God. Everyone is divine.

  2. Death initiates another life. New Agers generally believe in reincarnation, the idea that after death they come back and experience another life. One accumulates wisdom from one life to the next, and eventually one may be released from the cycle of life and death.

  3. Release from the reincarnation cycle depends on one’s karma, i.e., works. Good works build up good karma; bad works build up bad karma. If at the end of life one has accumulated enough good karma, he may be reincarnated at a higher level of life. But if one has accumulated enough bad karma, he may come back at a lower level and suffer for his “sin.”

  4. Those who break out of the cycle by accumulating enough good karma experience Nirvana, the state of nothingness, the absorption into the One.

  5. The New Age Movement has a low regard for logic or rational thought. An important part of the system is a mystical, transcendental form of meditation in which one seeks unity with the One. Such an experience is not rational. The emphasis is on experience rather than logical thought. A mystical, trance-like state is required to experience unity with the One. This is achieved through various means, such as hypnotism, drugs, yoga, meditation, dreams, visualization, chants, dancing, and various other rituals. Achieving “cosmic consciousness” will supposedly unleash hidden powers and assist in the exploration of the “universe within.”

  6. Some aspects of the New Age Movement are returning to pagan religious rituals like sun and moon worship, ancestor worship, god/goddess worship, magic, the use of crystals, channeling, witchcraft, etc.

  7. Because there is no personal God, there can be no absolute standards of right and wrong. New Agers are relativists, except when it comes to environmental issues, where they want to be more objective. They refuse to make moral judgments because they have no basis to make such judgments. Note: this obviously contradicts the whole idea of karma. But that doesn’t matter to a New Ager—he can live with all sorts of contradiction. Generally, such people make up their own standards of karma.

  8. Personal Transformation: A profoundly intense mystical experience will lead to the acceptance and use of New Age beliefs and practices. Guided imagery, hypnosis, meditation, and (sometimes) the use of hallucinogenic drugs are useful to bring about and enhance this transformation. Believers hope to develop new potentials within themselves: the ability to heal oneself and others, psychic powers, a new understanding of the workings of the universe, etc. Later, when sufficient numbers of people have achieved these powers, a major spiritual, physical, psychological and cultural planet-wide transformation is expected.

  9. Ecological Responsibility: A belief in the importance of uniting to preserve the health of the earth, which is often looked upon as Gaia (Mother Earth), a living entity.

  10. Universal Religion: Since all is God, then only one reality exists, and all religions are simply different paths to that ultimate reality. The universal religion can be visualized as a mountain, with many sadhanas (spiritual paths) to the summit. Some are hard; others easy. There is no one correct path. All paths eventually reach the top. They anticipate that a new universal religion which contains elements of all current faiths will evolve and become generally accepted worldwide.

  11. New World Order: As the Age of Aquarius unfolds, a New Age will develop. This will be a utopia in which there is world government, and end to wars, disease, hunger, pollution, and poverty. Gender, racial, religious and other forms of discrimination will cease. People’s allegiance to their tribe or nation will be replaced by a concern for the entire world and its people.

Logical problems with the New Age Movement:

  1. If there’s no personal God, then it’s impossible to tell what is “good” karma and what is “bad.” If all is part of the same universal One, then there can be no distinction between good and evil.

  2. It’s impossible to tell when one has accumulated enough good karma to reach Nirvana. How much is enough?

  3. Most people don’t remember their (supposedly) previous lives, so how can they carry any wisdom from one life to the next?

  4. According to the New Age system, those enduring suffering are probably being punished for their accumulation of bad karma from a previous life or lives. Hence there is no reason to try to help them or to decrease their suffering.

  5. It’s illogical to think that all religions are equally valid, each one a separate but legitimate path. When two religions contradict each other, they cannot both be right.

A Biblical Response:

The New Age Movement clearly rejects biblical revelation. What does the Bible say about New Age ideas?

  1. God is a person, not a force or the unity of all things.

  2. There is only one physical death, and after that is the judgment. There is no such thing as reincarnation. See Heb 9:27. The second death, not another life, awaits those who reject Jesus Christ.

  3. Nirvana is not synonymous with heaven. Believers will enjoy eternal conscious existence in a place of happiness and fulfillment (John 14:2-3); they will not be absorbed into “the one.” Unbelievers will be punished with everlasting, conscious torment.

  4. Believers are complete in Christ (Col 1:28, 2:10). We need no special mystical experiences to enjoy a relationship with God. All saved people have access to the same benefits from God. It is not necessary to experience a mystical trance or altered state of consciousness to commune with God.

  5. The New Age Movement is really just another version of salvation by works. The Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9).

  6. The created universe is not part of God. God exists independently from the universe. He is self-existent and needs nothing.

  7. Faith in Jesus Christ is the one and only means of salvation. All religions that deny this are false.

As with any pagan, the best method of reaching a New Ager is through a simple presentation of the gospel. New Agers tend not to value deep logical or rational arguments, so it may be difficult to engage them in a rational discussion. Just proclaim the gospel and call the person to repentance and faith.

Conclusion: Both pantheism and the New Age Movement are particularly hostile to Christianity. They directly contradict biblical claims and are seemingly impervious to logical argumentation. Their belief systems are so vague and broad that they can encompass all sorts of odd doctrines. Christians must show such people the error of their ways by proclaiming the gospel to them and calling them to faith and repentance.

Discussion:

  1. Define pantheism? The belief that All is God.

  2. How is pantheism similar to naturalism? Both claim that there is nothing beyond nature, nothing “outside the box.”

  3. What is monism? The idea that all things are part of the absolute One.

  4. Why is it self-defeating to say that God is unknowable? Because you’re saying something that you know about God.

  5. Why can’t a pantheist or New Ager distinguish good from evil? Because they accept no absolute standard or Law Giver. Also, since everything is part of the same One, good and evil are the same.

  6. Explain reincarnation, karma, and Nirvana.

1 Universal Pantheist Society, http://www.pantheist.net/

2 World Pantheist Movement, http://www.harrison.dircon.co.uk/wpm/index.htm

3 http://www.religioustolerance.org/newage.htm

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