Loving life as a Pantheist

In the third installment of his four-part series, Paul Harrison explains Pantheism's "vibrant affirm

One of Pantheism’s greatest attractions to me is its vibrant affirmation of our bodily life. Many of the world’s religions tend to view the main priority as the peace or eternal fate of the soul. Life in a physical body, on this physical Earth, is seen as merely a prelude and gateway to Nirvana or Paradise. A best the body is seen as a distraction, at worst as a temptation and a torment.

There are other paths that endorse very positive attitudes to living, such as Western Zen Buddhism or the Creation Spirituality of Matthew Fox. But I much prefer Pantheism, because it doesn’t encumber me with the terminology or metaphysics of traditional religions. I don’t have to worry about squaring my beliefs with Christology or the Tripitaka.

Pantheism is probably the only spirituality that fully embraces and celebrates our physicality. The body is not God’s temple - it is your own temple, in and through which you celebrate life, Nature and the Universe. This is a religion for anyone actively concerned about their mental and physical health and fitness. It encourages careful thought about diet and exercise – because the spirit is the body and nothing else, exercise becomes a spiritual activity. Since food is one of the most meaningful ways in which we interact with Nature and each other, eating becomes a way of communion.

Pantheism bears not a trace of the Christian guilt about sex, but instead offers a powerful endorsement of this most natural of acts and most transporting of Nature’s gifts. There is no condemnation of any particular gender or sex preference, but a joyful acceptance of any non-harmful options. There is no veto on mind-altering substances – it’s a personal choice.

Pantheism is a religion for all who live primarily in the present rather than in the past, the future, or the imaginary. It’s a religion of exuberance for surfers, rafters, sailors, divers, climbers, skiers, sky-divers – for anyone who gets their kicks from fitting their muscles and minds to the dynamics of waves, whitewater, snow, air, rock. It’s a religion for naturalists, one that encourages patient attention to the detail of nature: the shapes and colours of bark and rock, the cadence of birdsong or of ocean waves.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.