A spirituality to suit the times

Paul Harrison wraps up his four-part series by explaining the complementary relationship between Pan

One of the strongest attractions of Pantheism for me is that it seems perfectly attuned for our times. We are living in world where scripture-driven fundamentalists from the three Western monotheisms are threatening international security and peace. A world where human neglect of nature and the environment has reached the point where it threatens all our livelihoods and lives.

What we need at this time is a spirituality of Nature and environment. This current is growing in all religions, as they re-interpret their core writings in line with the needs of our crisis. But Pantheism, from square one, places Nature at their very centre.

We need a spirituality that is not afraid of science, that doesn’t seek to deny science, nor to gradually withdraw into a hidden corner of untestable claims that can’t be investigated. Pantheism is possibly the only spiritual path that fully embraces science and the scientific method (that doesn’t mean we embrace all the technological products of science). It’s also possibly the only path that is utterly at home in space, in the Universe revealed by the Hubble telescope.

There’s no doubt that the numbers of self-described Pantheists is growing – we recently counted more than 10,000 separate members on WPM and related email lists. There’s also a vast number of “Pantheists who don’t know it yet” - people who don’t believe in supernatural beings but who do revere Nature.

The prospects for Pantheism as an organized religion are less certain. The World Pantheist Movement has made the strongest shot at it so far, but it is not easy to encourage people to form local groups. One reason is that Pantheists are non-conformist by nature, and many have been turned off all organized religion by bad experiences with traditional religions. Pantheists also tend to be secure in their beliefs – we believe in what’s in front of our eyes, and we don’t need the confirmation of group gatherings to reassure us that our beliefs are not crazy. Nor does our “salvation” or peace of mind depend on recruiting others to our beliefs.

If you simply revere Nature and the wider Universe, then there is no one correct way: ceremony is a matter of personal expressions and taste. So Pantheists vary widely in their interest in ceremony, and differ over what to do when they do meet. In a large survey, we found that 14% of Pantheists dislike ceremony and avoid it. At the other extreme 15% enjoy rituals such as dressing up, group chanting, or symbolic “props.” The rest of us are somewhere in the middle, not uncomfortable with group meditation or using natural objects for contemplation.