Mythic-like pantheist gods and goddesses are supposed to govern particular territories and/or states of being (peace, compassion, war, destruction) and are venerated and honored to gain their favor. Pantheistic religions are highly individualistic; one’s spiritual growth is entirely dependent on what one does. The Buddha taught – “By self alone is evil done, by self alone does one suffer…. Salvation and Perdition depend upon self; no man can save another.” Wrong actions result in bad karma, which is unredeemable outside of reincarnation and, in some cases extreme good works.
In some pantheist traditions even the concept of evil is meaningless; things simply are and thus are beyond dualistic categories.
The spiritual practices of pantheists include prayer, chanting, meditation, trances, pilgrimages, the study of various religious texts, veneration of deities, and the worship of ancestors. The ultimate goal of pantheism is to either become absorbed into the universal spirit called Brahman (Hinduism) or become nothing, thus entering the state of Nirvana (Buddhism). To do this, one must overcome desire, which Buddha determined caused all suffering. If we desire nothing, we will not suffer for its lack. This is one of the major differences between pantheism and Christianity.
In Christianity right desire is essential to knowing and loving God and knowing and fulfilling our destinies to tend the earth and be our brother’s keeper; it is the foundation of our life purposes. Wrong desire is also recognized as a source of sin and evil in Christianity but actions springing from wrong desire(sin) are taken to the Lord for both forgiveness and the transformation of desire itself. (1 John 1:9). Suffering is a fact of life, on this side of eternity. God can use our suffering to reveal/advance our life purposes and mature our faith.
Both pantheists and Christians believe that there is a spiritual reality that goes beyond the physical laws that govern the universe and the natural laws of human flourishing. The dramatic rise of Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity (now twice the size of other evangelical adherents) is a response to the secularization of Christianity in the West.
While not always popular in mainstream evangelicalism, today’s younger generations tend to believe there is a spiritual realm that transcends the material and the secular. They have grown up with books and films that feature the “spiritual” prominently and thus many are drawn to pantheist alternatives.
Though I had grown up going to church as a child, I walked away once I got to college, not understanding what I was leaving. I was soon seeking more exotic but less demanding “spiritual” spaces. While I was surfing the spiritual net (from 21 to 41), I called myself spiritual but not religious. What I meant was that, unlike Christians, I did not need a God in order to be good. So many, even in my generation, sought peace and happiness through New Age seminars, transcendental meditation, Buddhism, and the less rigorous forms of Westernized pantheism. We thought we were “good” and that we were connecting to the universal spirit.
A recent study of over 7,000 people in England looked at three groups of people – the religious (mostly Christian), the spiritual but not religious, and non-believers. They found the “spiritual but not religious” group had the most mental health problems (depression, drug dependence, anxiety, eating and other neurotic disorders) and the least education. The religious were less likely to abuse drugs or have mental health problems and more likely to have post-secondary education than either group.
Many “spiritual but not religious” people believe that all religions lead to the same place, however different religions are no more compatible than conservative versus liberal secular values. In an interviewregarding whether one could be Christian and Buddhist, the Dalai Lama replied, “Once a certain degree of realization has been reached a choice between the two paths will become necessary.”
The lack of understanding of the spiritual realm has led to a dangerous naiveté in the West. For example, earlier this spring, a student group at Harvard announced it would hold a Black Mass, a satanic mass that mocks Jesus and the Mass of the Last Supper. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston was first to condemn the plans. Even the president of Harvard called it “abhorrent” but added that the university must uphold the “values of free expression.” The group tried to find another venue and cancelled the event, bemoaning that they were “marginalized members of society.”
Though there was extensive discussion of this in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the discussion threads primarily condemned the Catholic Church. There was no real discussion of the fact that satanic masses expose young people to the demonic.
In a culture where secularism reigns and all religions are viewed the same, spiritual discernment is lost and people are unable to suggest that something actually might be evil. Dallas Willard predicted such dangers when he pointed out the loss of moral knowledge in our universities and culture.
There are many spirits and spirit guides in the various forms of pantheism but no single Holy Spirit – the one true, perfect, good, holy and just Spirit. Thus our culture uses the word “spiritual” to mean “good,” without realizing that the “spiritual” can also be evil.