What is PanenDeism?
Original PanenDeism Article

What follows is a reprint (edited for space) of the original article I published on the internet introducing "PanenDeism" to the world in 2001.  LC

A New Direction for Spirituality:

Introducing PanenDeism 

 

Larry Copling

(c) 2001, Larry Copling

  

Most American religious institutions are aware of a very real problem. Major denominations all over America have been experiencing a nagging "leveling off," if not an actual decrease, in the membership and attendance numbers of their particular organization. It is no longer uncommon to hear about the kind of story that was recently reported by the official news source of the United Methodist Church:

 

AMEZ, CME Churches Move A Step Closer to Possible Union

By the United Methodist News Service, July, 2001

 

 

Two historically African-American Methodist denominations are making progress toward possible merger, which could become a reality in 2004.

 

Representatives from the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) and the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) churches met May 29-30 of 2001 to begin a process of defining and detailing areas in a proposed plan of union. If the top legislative bodies of both denominations approve the plan, a new Christian Methodist Episcopal Zion Church with more than 2 million members could be created.

 

…The AMEZ Church has 1.2 million members and the CME Church has 886,000. The AME Church, with 2 million members, is the largest African-American Methodist denomination.

 

…The two black Methodist denominations originated through acts of exclusion or discrimination by white Methodists in the 18th and 19th centuries. The two are exploring possible union with the United Methodist Church through a Commission Pan-Methodist Cooperation and Union.

 

A Telling Clue
 

The 32,000-congregation United Methodist Church (UMC), along with almost every other mainstream Christian denomination, has experienced in recent history the vicissitudes of rising and falling attendance numbers as they have endured splits, mergers and competition from other religious denominations and movements. One United Methodist member who works at one of the 14 United Methodist Agencies ("headquarters") told me recently that the membership of the UMC, "…has been falling for years in the U.S., but is actually on the rise overseas in places like Africa."

 

To combat this ominous state of affairs, some U.S. denominations, like the above-mentioned United Methodist Church, have initiated massive national advertising campaigns in order to spur attendance and to increase "name recognition" among America's better-educated young adults. On September 4th, 2001, the United Methodist Church launched "Igniting Ministry," a TV, Radio and Newspaper campaign that will attempt to put a "softer face" on the traditionally stoic image of the denomination. The launch was interrupted by the events of September 11, 2001, but was relaunched late in 2002.

 

The focus of the "Igniting Ministry" campaign is a series of commercials and Public Service Announcements (PSA’s) that are currently airing on radio and television. The bulk of the TV spots are airing at various times on no less than 15 national cable networks and channels, including CBS, CNN, CNN Headline News, A&E, TNT, VH-1, BET, Discovery, History, Lifetime, MSNBC, Odyssey, TBS, Univision, USA and the Weather Channel! No non-profit "business" invests that kind of money just for fun. This action points to a much deeper problem.

 

A more common approach to repairing dropping attendance numbers (also far less expensive to implement) is demonstrated by the recent trend of "modernizing" worship services. All over America, churches with traditionally "formal" worship styles, like the 15 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, are "revamping" their Sunday morning worship services with the very same thing that they had condemned other churches for (i.e. Pentecostal churches) in the past- contemporary worship services.

 

Complete with drums, guitars and hand-clapping singers, these former organ-and-hymnal-based services are quickly being replaced with pop bands, "come-as-you-are" dress codes and modern audio/video projection systems. The young, "hip" preachers of many denominations have scaled back the "hellfire-and-brimstone preaching" and have clearly become more tolerant in their publicly stated social views (with the unfortunate exception of Southern Baptist preachers, who seem to be headed the wrong way!). Leaders of churches throughout the nation are starting to realize the cold economic fact that, if you don’t stay "up with the times" in your form of worship and positions on social issues, your local religious enterprise will eventually go the way of the 8-track stereo system.


What's Going On Here?
 

Is religion dying in America, or is something else going on "under the surface?" With well over 2000 religious denominations and groups represented within America’s borders alone, Deism has been enjoying a resurgence of interest among some spiritual thinkers. The details of what Deism is, as well as each of the other standard conceptions of God, will be discussed shortly. Suffice it to say here that recent advances in science, philosophy and Internet technology have had an impact on all spiritual disciplines and Deism is no exception. The advantage that "classic" Deism offers over more traditional religious thought systems is their reliance on human reason and rationality for spiritual insight, rather than "revealed truth" of 2000 year-old scripture.

 

"Classic" Deism was not successful in continuing its domination of 18th century spiritual thought because, among other reasons, it lacked an "emotional depth." The strong interest in a rational basis for spirituality, while solving many of the contradictions and inconsistencies of "revelation-based" religion, often left the devoted follower feeling intellectually satisfied, while emotionally empty. Deists of that day did not understand the psychological necessity that the average human has for a fulfilling religious experience. Classic Deism offers no "personal relationship" with the Creator, and, even more importantly, no "teleology," (an understanding of a possible purpose and direction for Creation).

 

I would like to offer for consideration a new version of Deism that I call "PanENdeism" (emphasis mine). Combining ideas of "Panentheism" (explained in a moment) and classic Deism, PanenDeism offers a view of spirituality that actually embraces rationalism, while retaining a strong experiential component. This synthesis of old and new, East and West, is the basis for a spiritual insight that truly represents a brand new conception of God.

 

I began using the term "PanenDeism" in early 2000 while working on the "Natural Evolutionary Theology" component of a new ideology I am developing known as "Ionianism." Ionianism is defined as "...a unifying philosophy of creative process."

 

Nature of God "101"

 

In order to intelligently ponder the direction in which religious thought might be headed, and where PanenDeism might play a role in that movement, we need to come to a clear understanding as to where the real controversy lies in modern religious thought. It has been estimated that over 95% of adult Americans profess to believe in God. A large percentage of modern scientists, especially in the fields of quantum physics and microbiology, are now very hard pressed to deny the evidence of "design" that is apparent in nature. The hot topic of discussion these days is the idea of a possible "theory of everything;" a kind of "unifying Pantology" that would claim to bring us all together. Ionianism is a proposed model of such a "Consilient Pantology." The question is no longer, "Do you believe in God?" For many, that issue has been settled. The question today is, "What KIND of God do you believe in?" Or, put into a more philosophical form, the question becomes, "What must God be, in order to be at all? It is the answer to this question that we must explore more deeply.

 

One caveat- Any discussion on the nature of Deity (God) will usually lead to the debate between "Creationism" and "Evolution." It is beyond the scope of this discussion to speak to that debate, other than to say that PanenDeism offers a beautifully rational none of the above response to that discussion. Embracing a modern version of "Creative Evolution," as well as other concepts that introduce a real "emotional depth" to the spirituality, PanenDeism stands ready to finally quiet that debate once and for all.

 

Traditionally, there have only been four conceptions of God available to answer a "nature of God" query. Fortunately, understanding these concepts will only require the grasp of a very small handful of relevant terms.

 

The following terms refer to WHERE God is:

 

Immanence

Transcendence

 

The following terms refer to WHEN God is:

 

Eternal

Infinite

 

And, to complete the list, the following terms refer to WHAT God is:

 

Theism

Pantheism

PanENtheism

Deism

 

Of course, a discussion on the nature of Deity can get very detailed, technical and even controversial. Understanding these few terms, however, will easily provide us with a "Socratic foundation" by beginning with an "agreement of definitions" before exploring PanenDeism’s possible place in the spiritual arena of ideas.

First, the WHERE…

 

 

 Immanence:

 

The idea of Immanence involves the belief that God exists within all nature, creation or humans. This is not to be confused with the idea of Pantheism, which we will return to in a moment. Immanence refers to where God’s actual location is believed to be. More importantly, to those who embrace Immanence, the idea is that there exists no separation between God and God's creation. As one modern "New Thought" denomination puts it, "There is no spot, where God is not."

 

Transcendence:

 

Transcendence is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary (4th Ed.) as, "Being above and independent of the material universe." This is the accepted position of traditional Christianity. God is posited to exist as a male being with a body resembling humans, located "out there somewhere" apart and separate from His creation. Notwithstanding the philosophical contradictions involved in this ancient viewpoint, the pertinent point to remember here is that the idea of Transcendence entails the concept of God's physical separation from Creation.

 

Now that we have a handle on the competing ideas of WHERE God must be, in order to be at all, let's examine two commonly misunderstood terms concerning God’s nature as it relates to the concept of Time. Let's examine the WHEN…

 

Eternal:

 

This word has to be one of THE most misused terms in all of traditional "Christendom." Eternal is defined as, "Being without beginning or end; existing outside of time." (AHD, Ibid) The Creator, Deity (or God), truly is eternal, because It exists "outside" of the Time that was created to be integral to physical reality. ("Outside" is a bit of a misnomer, however, in a conception of God that embraces "Immanence." "Outside" would probably be better rendered as "distinct from.")

 

The question as to whether or not you and I are "eternal" will require a deeper discussion of what our nature truly is. Panendeism has much to say in that regard as well. The point here, however, is that philosophically, it is impossible for one to become, or to cease to be, eternal. We often heard as a child that God "always was, and always will be." That’s what eternal is!

 

One cannot "become" something that "always was" any more than one can cease to be something that "always will be." Contrary to what we might hear in a typical protestant revival service, a person cannot actually "receive eternal life." The phrase is philosophically meaningless.

 

Infinite:

 

The term Infinite is often used as a synonym for Eternal and is also not clearly grasped by many religious followers in this country. The word "Infinite" is defined as, "Having no boundaries or limits. Immeasurably great or large; boundless." (AHD, Ibid) This is an important concept to digest. "Having NO boundaries" means that God, being infinite, is "everywhere present," or put another way, an infinite Deity exists in a state of no separation from It’s creation. Most people are fine with this idea until they realize that, in order for the Devil to exist, he must exist, just like everything else, within the Creator! Imagining a God that is "possessed" of the Devil is a very uncomfortable idea for most people.

 

Finally, in our attempt to better understand the nature of God, we turn to the WHAT…

 

Theism:

 

Technically, each of the other "what" terms that follow can be included in the general idea of Theism. Theism simply means, "The belief in the existence of a god or gods, especially the belief in a personal God as creator and ruler of the world." (AHD, Ibid). Other terms that you might be familiar with that involve the word "theism" all stem from this general definition. Monotheism is the belief in only one god. Polytheism is the belief in more than one god, and Atheism is the belief in no god.

 

As used in respect to the nature of God, however, Theism is usually referred to as Traditional or Classical Theism. Again, traditional Christianity would be referred to as a "classical theistic belief system." Classical Theism teaches that God exists as a male Being that sits (or will sit) on a great white throne; separate (or transcendent) from Creation. God is believed to have directly created (without evolution) the universe in six days, is directly involved in the moment-by-moment happenings of the universe, and directly controls moment-by-moment events. Traditional Christians believe God to be everywhere present (Omnipresent), all-powerful (Omnipotent) and all-knowing (Omniscient).

 

As a side note, it is also believed by classical theists that the future of the universe is "closed." In other words, God, who is all-knowing, already knows what will ultimately happen with everything and everyone. This obviously creates an inconsistency with their belief in a "free will" for human beings, but that is a topic for another discussion.

 

Pantheism:

 

The idea of Pantheism is predominant in eastern religions. It is the belief that God is equal, or equivalent, to the material universe. Put another way, the universe (and all that is in it) is God's "body." Every rock, tree or human does not just contain God, but IS God. In this conception, there is no place separate from the universe where God "lives," because God actually is manifested AS the universe.

 

PanENtheism: (emphasis mine)

 

I would like to spend a little extra time on this important conception of God, because it represents a near "state-of-the-art" in spiritual philosophy. We will be returning to this concept later, so we want to be sure and grasp the idea firmly.

 

S. T. Franklin, in his web-published article on Panentheism, describes Panentheism as "…A doctrine of God that attempts to combine the strengths of classical theism with those of classical pantheism." PanENtheism says that all that is, exists within God, and that God exists within all that is. In other words, God is all that is, and more.

Having first been "coined" in 1828 by the nineteenth-century German philosopher Karl Friedrich Christian Krause, Panentheism presents the idea that the Infinite is present in every part of the finite, which, in turn, is itself but a phase, manifestation or 'mode' of the Infinite, and that "Nothing exists outside of God."

 

The point here is that the ideas that eventually coalesced as Panentheism, while being a relatively unknown modern concept, can easily be traced back to the 19th century. Some say that those ideas can be traced back even further. Panentheism is supported by what we are now discovering to be true in quantum physics and microbiology, and solves many of the inconsistencies and contradictions of Classic Theism.

 

Of course, some of the inconsistencies found in the ideas of Classic Theism have diluted what Panentheism could have been, but that is to be expected when you attempt to interject a system of thought with beliefs and superstitions that were developed in the Iron Age. A theology severed from the anchor of Classic Theism and based on Reason is mandated, which leads us to our final term.

 

Deism:

 

Sometimes referred to as "America's forgotten religion," Deism is a conception of God that reached its popular peak in the 18th century. It was developed during the "Age of Reason," or the period known as "The Enlightenment." In an effort to accommodate all of the wonders of science that were being discovered during that most intellectually stimulating of times, as well as to combat the oppressive teachings of the theistic church of that era, Deism offered a theology that gave spiritual hope to the intellectually curious. It offered a conception of God that a "thinking man" could easily embrace.

 

Classic Deism teaches that God does exist, but that He created the universe, set things in motion and then "stepped back" to allow Creation to grow and to evolve unhindered by the moment-to-moment control of the Creator. As free will creatures, mankind was allowed to freely use and evolve his collective intellect in order to manipulate his environment to his liking and to create a life for himself that was free of any irrational moral restrictions. For many classic Deists, rationality became their new "god", to the exclusion of a spirituality that could actually be experienced.

 

During the mid-1700's, and to it's great credit, the ideas of Deism were directly involved in the formation of the single most successful social experiment ever undertaken in world history- American Democracy. Most of the founders of our country were not "traditional Christians;" they were Deists!

 

A New Iteration- PanENDeism:

 

Having gained a better understanding of the four major conceptions of what "…God must be in order to be at all," we can now detect an "upgraded" conception of Deity that combines the best ideas of PanenTheism and Classic Deism- a term I call PanenDeism. Retaining the idea found in PanenTheism that Deity is "all that is and more," PanenDeism recognizes that Deity is not A being, but IS Being; a creative "life force" that is everywhere present and is the compelling "Divine Attraction" that has drawn all life forms forward in evolution towards a "Divine Ideal" since the very beginning.

 

Missing in Panendeism are the scientific inconsistencies and historical contradictions inherent in the philosophically flawed theology of Classical Theism.

 

PanenDeism honors the sacred truths found in all religious texts, including the Christian Bible, but is very suspicious of any one organization's interpretation of "divine revelation" as the only source of spiritual Truth.

 

PanenDeists do not take literally the modern explanations of ancient concepts such as "original sin," "Heaven and Hell" and "God vs. Devil." PanenDeists believe that there is plenty of room for rational thought in all areas of knowledge, including spirituality, and has little tolerance for the popular practice of "Word worship;" the Christian veneration of 2000 year old sacred writings that are thought to be an infallible source of Truth, to which nothing else can ever be added.

 

Final Thoughts:

 

As we continue to move forward in time and in technology, our understanding of the nature of Life and of the universe also move forward. Just as Divine Order seems to be in strong evidence no matter where you look, rationality demands that we make adjustments in our underlying belief systems from time to time. What we observe and experience should very closely match what we believe to be true. And what we believe to be true should always be based (as much as is practical) on what we can observe or rationally deduce.

 

As we learn, we grow. As we grow, we continue to learn. And this cycle continues ad infinitum; driving evolution forward in time toward some distant goal for humanity. It should be the goal of any viable spirituality to honor the heritage of it's past, while constantly striving for a "more perfect" future.

 

As we continue to move farther and farther away from the restrictive spiritual ideas of the Middle Ages, I believe that it will become increasingly more difficult for traditional Christian organizations to fend off the rational thinkers of society. Traditional Christian organizations are quickly approaching a critical mass of disillusionment within their own ranks as each generation of better educated and socially sophisticated young people vote with their feet and abandon the religion of their youth.

 

Our society has begun the slow process of the "demythologization" of its religious belief systems. There are already signs of compromise in the traditional Christian church. Some members and organizations are now beginning to warm up, for example, to the ideas of evolution and to a non-literal explanation of the devil. The old battle of "Christian vs. Atheist" has quickly become "Reason vs. Revelation." This will continue to happen as traditional churches face the dreary prospect of either answering the call of Rationality, or going out of business.

 

Deism, or perhaps, a more modern version of it like Panendeism, stands to benefit greatly from this intellectual move away from mythology. Based on the time-proven foundation of the scientific method, Deism confidently approaches the jungle of our unknown and open future; skillfully brandishing the sword of Reason to clear a path for all. As Madame Curry once said, "There is nothing is life to fear, only to understand."

 

Spirituality in America is not dying, it’s growing up.

 

 

(c) 2001 Larry Copling 

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