Thursday, January 01, 2015




"There is a thing inherent and natural which existed before heaven and earth. Motionless and fathomless, It stands alone and never changes; It pervades everywhere and never becomes exhausted. It may be regarded as the Mother of the Universe. I do not know its name. If I am forced to give It a name, I call it Tao, and I name it as supreme." Lao Tzu

We meditate on the power of that which has created the universe and which guides our understanding ~ Gayatri Mantra (English translation)

Panentheism by Stephen Nuttall

“Divinity is the enfolding and unfolding of everything that is. Divinity is in all things in such a way that all things are in Divinity.”
Nicolas of Cusa (1401-1464)

Panentheism is a noun that has a marvellous ring to it, but very few people are sure of exactly what it means. Strangely, you will be hard pressed to find it in any contemporary dictionary even though the word has been in use since the early nineteenth century. It was in 1828, to be precise, that the German thinker Karl Christian Friedrich Krause originally coined the term in order to clearly delineate his own philosophy and since that time it has been retrospectively applied to a fairly wide range of philosophical schools.

Panentheism has its linguistic roots in the Greek words pan, en and Theos, and therefore literally means All-in-God. Krause qualified his overall perspective with the assertion: “Everything is in God and God is in everything, but God is more than everything.” According to this outlook, God is an essence that contains the entire universe within itself but is not exhausted by it.

Put simply, it is the premise that divinity includes the cosmos as a part though not the whole of its being. And, to one extent or another, this concept can be found at the heart of belief systems as seemingly diverse as Creation Spirituality, Gaudiya Vaishnavism (a form of Hinduism), Kabbalah, Process Theology, Shin Buddhism, Sikhism and Sufism, as well as certain kinds of Neopaganism. Moreover, although as a world-view panentheism outwardly appears to be an emerging new theology, it can actually be traced back to times prior to recorded history. Archaeological findings indicate that nearly all of the ancient hunter-gatherer societies developed a panentheistic culture. Correspondingly, modern anthropologists have discerned that the panentheistic mind-set was manifested by way of Goddess worship.

Throughout our own epoch, stretching back two millennia, Western culture has been chiefly influenced by a traditional Christian theology that always stressed the transcendence or apartness of God. Despite this, many notable Christians over the centuries – including the likes of the great medieval women theologians, Hildegard of Bingen, Mechtild of Magdeburg and Julian of Norwich, plus Nicolas of Cusa and, closer to our own time, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and John A T Robinson – were convinced of divine immanence in all worldly phenomena. In other words, like the pantheists, they recognised that the material universe was pervaded by the very presence of deity itself. In fact, in keeping with all this, Bonhoeffer aptly described God as “the Beyond that is in our midst.”
Today, Panentheism – an ism that was almost forgotten – is enjoying something of a renaissance. Not only, as previously stated, can this sublime axiom be perceived within most of the major faiths, but also it is evidently playing a role in the ongoing dialogue between science and religion.

Viewers of The Panentheist will likely be aware that contemporary scientists often speak of a quest for the Theory of Everything. Such research, succinctly described by New York University’s Center for Cosmology and Particle Physics as being at “the intersection of particle physics, astrophysics and cosmology,” ultimately leads to what has come to be termed the New Science.

Regarding what he often refers to as Neoscience, philosopher and writer Frank Parkinson has pertinently opined:

“The connection between the emerging new science and religion lies essentially, but not entirely, in the fact that the former is telling a creation story which forms the basis for a new theology and, together with evolutionary biology, provides us with a new awareness of what it means to be human. This is not a passive understanding, for in offering us a view of where the universe and the human species have come from it forces upon us a decision about where we want the species, and ourselves, to go.”

Notwithstanding this, it is important to note here the ingrained influence of theological precepts on the scientific mind. Quoting Russian physicist Andrei Linde, science writer Margaret Wertheim (New Scientist, vol. 156 issue 2102, p. 28) observed:

“He (Linde) believes that the whole of modern cosmology has been deeply influenced by the Western tradition of monotheism. "When scientists start their work," he says, "they are subconsciously influenced by their cultural traditions." In particular, the central idea of modern cosmology - that it must be possible to understand the entire Universe through one ultimate Theory of Everything - is an outgrowth of belief in one God. Thus cosmology has itself become a sort of religious quest: a search for "God" in the form of an equation.”
Seemingly then, the relationship between religion and science is, and always has been, a symbiotic one. Sallie McFague, Distinguished Theologian in Residence at the Vancouver School of Theology, is certainly one person who firmly believes that panentheism is in accord with science. She says, “Science is describing the process of creation while theology is suggesting the meaning of creation.”
Moreover, McFague attests, “God is seen not only as the agent that started the big bang, but rather as the continuing creator who is the source and power of life and love in the universe.”
A final point about panentheism worth consideration is the fact that being a holistic philosophy it refutes the notion of objective evil. For panentheists, what is deemed evil is simply a product of human subjectivity. As the renowned 20th century Unitarian theologian, Alfred Hall, remarked: “All that we mean or can mean when we say a thing is evil, is that it falls below our standard or idea of good.” The inference of this opinion is that human imperfection is but a stage both in the evolution of our species and, in a wider context, the unfolding of the cosmos.

One could argue that it is the essential integrity of panentheism, with its profound intimations of wholeness, that is probably its most inspiring feature.

The esteemed medieval Sufi mystic Kabir once sagely noted: “All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop.”
While this still basically remains the case, evidence of the reappearance of the panentheistic viewpoint on the spiritual and intellectual horizon is definitely there for all to see. If, in time to come, this wonderful philosophical tradition proves to be a bridge between science and theology on the one hand and people of differing faiths on the other, then it will surely serve a noble purpose, not just in the search for ultimate truth, but perhaps more importantly in the cause of a much desired global harmony.

Stephen Nuttall
© 2011

First published in The Inquirer, December 2006

The Wayfarer

The wayfarer,
Perceiving the pathway to truth,
Was struck with astonishment.
It was thickly grown with weeds.
"Ha," he said,
"I see that none has passed here
In a long time."
Later he saw that each weed
Was a singular knife.
"Well," he mumbled at last,
"Doubtless there are other roads."

Stephen Crane (1871-1900)


"I do not believe in God and I am not an atheist." Albert Camus

"Anybody can observe the Sabbath, but making it holy surely takes the rest of the week." Alice Walker

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Mahatma Gandhi

The Panentheist Circle

The Panentheist Circle was formed in October 2005 with a view to laying the foundations for a new type of movement that, while being primarily spiritual in its ethos, would seek to develop a libertarian social agenda. The Circle is influenced by what has come to be termed the New Science - i.e. "the intersection of particle physics, astrophysics and cosmology" - and finds basic accord with belief systems as seemingly diverse as those of Ebionitism, Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Kabbalahism, Shin Buddhism, Sikhism and Sufism, as well as certain kinds of Neopaganism.

Panentheist Circle © 2011

Declaration of a Global Ethic

We are interdependent. Each of us depends on the well being of the whole, and so we have respect for the community of living beings, for people, animals, and plants, and for the preservation of Earth, the air, water and soil. We take individual responsibility for all we do. All our decisions, actions, and failures to act have consequences. We must treat others as we wish others to treat us. We make a commitment to respect life and dignity, individuality and diversity, so that every person is treated humanely, without exception. We must have patience and acceptance. We must be able to forgive, learning from the past but never allowing ourselves to be enslaved by memories of hate. Opening our hearts to one another, we must sink our narrow differences for the cause of world community, practising a culture of solidarity and relatedness. We consider humankind a family. We must strive to be kind and generous. We must not live for ourselves alone, but should also serve others, never forgetting the children, the aged, the poor, the suffering, the disabled, the refugees and the lonely. No person should ever be considered or treated as a second class citizen, or be exploited in any way whatsoever. There should be equal partnership between men and women. We must not commit any kind of sexual immorality. We must put behind us all forms of domination or abuse. We commit ourselves to a culture of non-violence, respect, justice, and peace. We shall not oppress, injure, torture, or kill other human beings, forsaking violence as a means of settling differences. We must strive for a just social and economic order, in which everyone has an equal chance to reach full potential as a human being. We must speak and act truthfully and with compassion, dealing fairly with all, and avoiding prejudice and hatred. We must not steal. We must move beyond the dominance of greed for power, prestige, money, and consumption to make a just and peaceful world. Earth cannot be changed for the better unless the consciousness of individuals is changed first. We pledge to increase our awareness by disciplining our minds, by meditation, by prayer, or by positive thinking. Without risk and a readiness to sacrifice there can be no fundamental change in our situation. Therefore we commit ourselves to this global ethic, to understanding one another, and to socially beneficial, peace-fostering, and nature-friendly ways of life. We invite all people, whether religious or not, to do the same.

Mahatma Gandhi

Reprised at the Parliament of the World's Religions, September 4th 1993, Chicago, IL


"Degrade not truth by forcing it upon unwilling minds." H P Blavatsky

"Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present." Albert Camus

"All know that the drop merges into the ocean, but few know that the ocean merges into the drop." Kabir

Divine Silence

"Empty yourself of everything. Let the mind rest at peace. The ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return. They grow and flourish and then return to the source. Returning to the source is stillness, which is the way of nature."
Lao Tzu

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