Meeting spiritual needs naturally

Pantheist Paul Harrison explains how we are all capable of fulfilling our own need for deeper meanin

Atheists are best known for slamming traditional religions – especially Western monotheisms. In a similar vein, Pantheists may be just as critical about the consequences of dogmatism, acceptance of scriptural authority, intolerance, or the focus on imaginary worlds and beings.

We, however, tend to be more open-minded about the human need for “spirituality” of some kind. By “spirituality” I don’t mean anything supernatural – I mean our deepest feelings about values and meanings. It’s not just accident, folly or conspiracy that over 80 per cent of humans follow one kind of religion or another. Religions meet profound human needs - especially the needs for community, mutual support, a sense of place in the broad scheme of things, and therapeutic ways of dealing with pain, grief, anxiety and death. In today’s globalized, uncertain and increasingly threatening world those needs are stronger than ever - and that’s why traditional religions and new supernatural religions are resurgent.

Unfortunately, most religions sell their benefits at the cost of abandoning reason, denying evidence and often limiting legitimate human freedoms. Pantheists believe that you can get (almost) all the benefits, with none of the costs. Community support, with its attendant health benefits, is the easiest – any close social organization will give you that, regardless of what it believes.

Pantheism can’t relieve stress and anxiety by offering help from magic or from gods – but a running stream, the rustling of leaves in a forest, or a clear view of the Milky Way can place all our personal problems in perspective and give us inner peace, even euphoria. Meditation is a wonderful stress reliever for any faith or none – and can be experienced more deeply if you feel that your body is one with your mind, rather than some inconvenient distraction. The mystical feeling of oneness with everything is easiest to sense when you know that your body is, as physical fact, a part of everything.

Grief and death are hardest to confront. Most humans dislike the idea of personal extinction and oblivion. Naturalistic Pantheism doesn’t offer the promise of eternal life or reincarnation - nor the fear of hell or lowly rebirth. But for ourselves and our loved ones Pantheists can look forward to a more realistic “afterlife” – we know that we will persist in the genes of our families, in the memories of those who are touched by us, in the effects of our actions and creations, and in the recycling of our elements in Nature.