In 1785 a major controversy began between Friedrich Jacobi and Moses Mendelssohn, which eventually involved many important people of the time. Jacobi claimed that Lessing's pantheism was materialistic in that it thought of all Nature and God as one extended substance. For Jacobi, this was the result of the Enlightenment's devotion to reason and it would lead to atheism. Mendelssohn disagreed by asserting that pantheism was the same as theism.
This article distinguishes between three divergent groups of pantheists:
The vast majority of persons who can be identified as "pantheistic" are of the classical variety (such as Hindus, Sufis, Unitarians, neopagans, New Agers, Etc.), while most persons who self-identify as "pantheist" alone (rather than as members of another religion) are of the naturalistic variety. The division between the three strains of pantheism are not entirely clear in all situations, and remains a source of some controversy in pantheist circles. Classical pantheists generally accept the religious doctrine that there is a spiritual basis to all reality, while naturalistic pantheists generally do not and thus see the world in somewhat more naturalistic terms. Confusion between the concepts of pantheism and atheism may be an ancient problem in linguistics. Rome referred to early Christians as atheists, and the explanations of this semantic phenomenon vary, one of which refers to the confusion between these two concepts.
Not all pantheists accept the idea of free will, with determinism being particularly widespread among naturalistic pantheists. Although individual interpretations of pantheism may suggest certain implications for the nature and existence of free will and/or determinism, pantheism itself does not include any requirement of belief either way. However, the issue is widely discussed, as it is in many other religions and philosophies.
Perhaps the most significant debate within the pantheistic community is about the nature of God. Classical pantheism believes in a personal, conscious, and omniscient God, and sees this God as uniting all true religions. Naturalistic pantheism believes in an unconscious, non-sentient Universe, which, while being holy and beautiful, is seen as being a God in a non-traditional and impersonal sense.
The viewpoints encompassed within the pantheistic community are necessarily diverse, but the central idea of the Universe being an all-encompassing unity and the sanctity of both nature and its natural laws are found throughout. Some pantheists also posit a common purpose for nature and man, while others reject the idea of purpose and view existence as existing "for its own sake."
It is generally asserted that Hindu religious texts are the oldest known literature that contains Pantheistic ideas. In Hindu theology, Brahman is the unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is the Divine Ground of all things in this Universe, and is also the sum total of all that ever is, was, or ever shall be. This idea of pantheism is traceable from some of the more ancient Vedas and Upanishads to later Advaita philosophy. All Mahāvākyas(Great Sayings) of the Upanishads, in one way or another, seem to indicate the unity of the world with the Brahman. Chāndogya Upanishad says "All this Universe indeed is Brahman; from him does it proceed; into him it is dissolved; in him it breathes, so let every one adore him calmly". It further says "This whole universe is Brahman, from Brahman to a clod of earth. Brahman is both the efficient and the material cause of the world. He is the potter by whom the vase is formed; He is the clay from which it is fabricated. Everything proceeds from Him, without waste or diminution of the source, as light radiates from sun. Everything merges into Him again, as bubbles bursting mingle with air-as rivers fall into the ocean. Everything proceeds from and returns to Him, as the web of the spider is emitted from and retracted into itself.. In the hymns of the Rigveda, a pantheistic strain of thought may be discernible in the tenth book (10-121).
This concept of God is of one unity, with the individual personal gods being aspects of the One; thus, different deities are seen by different adherents as particularly well suited to their worship. As the sun has rays of light which emanate from the same source, the same holds true for the multifaceted aspects of God emanating from Brahman, like many colors of the same prism. Vedanta, specifically, Advaita, is a branch of Hindu philosophy which gives this matter a greater focus. Most Vedantic adherents are monists or "non-dualists" (i.e. Advaita Vedanta), seeing multiple manifestations of the one God or source of being, a view which is often considered by non-Hindus as being polytheistic.
Pantheism is a key component of Advaita philosophy. Other subdivisions of Vedanta do not strictly hold this tenet. For example, the Dvaita school of Madhva holds Brahman to be the external personal God Vishnu, whereas the theistic school of Ramanuja espouses Panentheism.
Biblical Judaism asserts the origin of the Universe was brought forth by the Torah law of nature. Thus the original Torah is found not within the writing of Moshe, but within nature itself. "Reading" the Torah of nature is seen as equivalent to "reading" the Torah of revelation and theoretically will agree with one another in the end [as illustrated for example in the discovery of the Big Bang in 1965]. Rabbinical Orthodoxy viewing this as a discrepancy, in order to maintain the written Torah above that given first in nature, has argued that written Torah preceded creation, and it was from the written Torah that God "spoke" creation. A view rejected by Biblical pantheists.
Maimonides, though Orthodox, reflected the sentiment that the Torah of nature and the Torah of scripture were equivalent and found its logic inescapable, in his comments on the reconciliation of science with scripture. These instructions no doubt served as background for the development of Baruch Spinoza's later views.
Other sources include Process theology, Creation Spirituality, the Brethren of the Free Spirit and some would claim its presence among the gnostics. The idea has had adherents within segments of Christianity for some time.
Some Christians look at the Trinity in this sense: that the Holy Ghost holds together the Universe, and personifies itself as the Father, who personifies Himself as the Son inside this Universe (meaning the Father is outside of the Universe, Time, and Space). Also held is that the Holy Spirit is conscious and usable, and thus is used by God to bless people with the Gifts of the Holy Ghost. All supernatural powers are believed to be possible by the Universe/Holy Ghost as well.
Christian pantheists, who appeal to its Biblical form, assert its origin is found throughout the scriptures, from the Old Testament to the New Testament and reconciles the difficulties which Roman theologians erroneously attempted to "solve" in the Roman councils concerning both the Trinity and the Nature of Christ as the Logos. As only pantheism provides both an expression of Christ as the "Logos" of God, and the unity of Monotheism.
The Biblical equation of God to acts of nature, and the definition of God within the New Testament itself, all provide the basis of appeal to this belief system.
It is maintained by Christian pantheists, that the Catholic definition of God was heavily influenced by non-biblical sources and was dominated by Neo-platonism, rendering the definition of God as something which "exists" outside of "existence", thus rendering the definition of "God" as something which "does not exist". That is, a non-existent God. It is this basic definition of God into Neo-Platonic non-existence that Christian pantheists find unbiblical and objectionable.
Augustine rejected pantheism on the following grounds:
as well as:
In the Gospel of Thomas (considered by Christians to be non-canonical), Jesus said: I am the light that is over them all. I am the All; the All has come forth from me, and the All has attained unto me. Cleave a (piece of) wood: I am there. Raise up the stone, an ye shall find me there.(77)
Sufism can be divided into the following categories:
Pantheism may be randomly found in any of the above groups as Sufism, unlike majority orthodox Islam, is very diverse and emphasizes personal and individual spiritual experience and understanding. The sources of pantheistic interpretation would differ in each case according to the tradition it follows. Indigenous Sufism would be obviously influenced by eastern texts, Hadith Sufism would be influenced by Islamic scholars from Sulaiman period, and Quranic Sufis would see the Quran itself as the continuing revelation and interpret personification linguistics is the same manner as consistent with previous Biblical prophets. Most Ismaili Muslims are pantheistic, or to be more precise, panentheistic.
Pantheism is an integral concept in many New Age religions and philosophies; it is supported most specifically by the Seth readings given by the psychic Jane Roberts (1929-1984). Seth, the "entity" whom Roberts purportedly channeled, said that God is composed of mental energy, that God's mental energy is the formative substance of all beings and things, and that God's consciousness is carried on this energy, thus making God's consciousness omnipresent. Seth frequently referred to God as "All That Is" and said "All faces belong to God." Seth described God as a gestalt of all the individuals within it; he said that God knows itself as itself, yet also knows itself as each individual. However, this teaching has more in common with the related concept panentheism.
There are many elements of pantheism in some forms of Buddhism, Neopaganism, and Theosophy along with many varying denominations and individuals within and without denominations. See also the Neopagan section of Gaia and the Church of All Worlds.
Many Unitarian Universalists consider themselves pantheists.
While the term is rarely used, and is most often simply a synonym for Pantheism, this unusual philosophy has been used rather differently, but in all cases, the feeling was that God was something created by man, perhaps even an end state of human evolution, through social planning, eugenics and other forms of genetic engineering.
H. G. Wells subscribed to a form of Cosmotheism, which he called the "world brain" (from a book of essays by the same name he printed in 1937, one of which details the creation of a Library-encyclopedia hybrid), and detailed even more in his book God the Invisible King (in which he proscribes mankind to set up a socialist system, structuring itself on social and genetic statistics, education, and eugenics, ideally someday equating itself and possibly even merging with and conquering the Pantheist god itself. See: Omega Point) and there were also some sections of his work Outline of History, which reflected this belief and his finding it in the teachings of Jesus and Siddhartha. His book Shape of Things to Come (and the 1936 film Things to Come) also reflects this, in which mankind, surviving an apocalyptic war and an extended Feudal period, unites to form a collectivist Utopia.
In modern Israel, Cosmotheism was described by Mordekhay Nesiyahu, one of the foremost ideologists of the Israeli Labor Movement and a lecturer in its college Beit Berl. He felt that God was something which did not exist before man, and was a secular entity which the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem had an instrumental role in "inventing".
In the 20th century United States, William Luther Pierce, a white nationalist associated with the American Nazi Party and founder of the National Alliance also utilised the term "Cosmotheism". In his eyes (similar to H. G. Wells'), God would be the end result of eugenics and racial hygiene (See: Nazism, Francis Galton and Theosophy).
Vladimir Vernadsky's and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's "Noosphere" could be referred to as a description of the Cosmotheist deity, as does Emile Durkheim's Collective consciousness and Carl Jung's collective unconscious.
However, some pantheists hold that the pantheist viewpoint is the most ethical viewpoint, pointing out that any harm done to another is doing harm to oneself because what harms one harms all. What is good and evil isn't the mandate of something outside of us, but as a result of the way we are all interconnected. Instead of good choices being based on fear of divine punishment, it comes from a mutual respect from all things.
Traditional forms and definitions of pantheism, would however, refer to their classical bodies of sacred texts and teachers for definitions of ethics.
Neo-Pantheistic ethics are based on the belief that any action initiated resonates throughout all of existence. What is good and evil is not mandated from something outside of us, but is a result of our interconnectedness. Instead of consideration based upon fear of divine punishment or hope of divine reward, the better Pantheistic ethical decision comes from an awareness of mutual interrelation.