Pantheism! The horror…….

Boulder-bear-sculptureRecently I was walking with some family members down a river-walk in town.  One of these members is a Protestant/Fundamentalist and someone with whom I cannot talk about anything serious, especially anything that may challenge his preferred worldview.  But he’s also the temperament that doesn’t stop him from offering his own opinions off-the-cuff.

Standing alongside the trail is a boulder with a carving of a bear emerging from the rock.  Upon seeing this carving, my companion decided to say something to the effect of, “See that carving?  That’s pantheism.  Life—like this bear—emerging out of the earth and rock.  Eeesh…”  This statement was, of course, accompanied by an annoyed shake of the head.

The comment took me by surprise and as I sought to formulate a thought the conversation moved on to other things.  However, it didn’t stop me pondering and, since I didn’t get a chance to tell my walking companion, I will now give these thoughts to the internet.

Pantheism?

How terrible, really, is the image of the bear emerging from the rock?  In hindsight as I write, I’m actually glad to see art that actually looks like something and is not simply the chaos known as modern “art.”  The bear is recognized as a bear.

At the time though, my thoughts went to how mankind in Genesis was created out of dust.  How is it less weird to imagine man emerging from dust than bears emerging from rock?  What is rock except really hard dust?

Upon further inclination, I looked up the creation account in Genesis and, lo and behold, what should I find?

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:24)

Let the earth bring forth beasts??  Such imagery certainly fits the bear emerging from rock.  The irony here is acute.  Even according to my relatives’ Protestant “Bible alone” mentality, the bear emerging from rock still fits the Judeo-Christian creation account.

So is the imagery really so pantheistic?  Or is there some seed of truth within even pantheistic worldviews?

I tend to side with men like G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis who believed every culture, even the pagan and pantheistic, hold seeds of truth that point to God and find fulfillment in Christ.  We need not disregard something simply because the pagans or pantheists used or believed it.  Or put another way, something is not automatically false simply because non-Judeo-Christian cultures believed it.

Pantheists did not have the book of Genesis and yet still sensed this imagery of life emerging from the earth.  There was a seed of truth within them that they did not ignore.  And this makes sense!  If we really are made in the image of God, if we all have a “divine spark” within us, then why wouldn’t even pantheistic people stumble upon some truth since Truth is God Himself in whose image we are made?

Protestant gnostic tendencies

I’ve found that Protestantism, especially the puritan/fundamentalist variety, tends toward a gnostic point of view on many things.  For the gnostic, the material is bad and the spiritual is good.  This tendency is why many Protestants prefer not to use religious imagery like statues and icons in their worship.  The Catholic embrace of religious imagery is why many Protestants accuse Catholicism of being pagan.

Such disregard of the material is why many fundamentalists reject the imagery of Christmas and Easter or even refuse to celebrate those holidays.  (For more on that, see my blog post here.)  My family member does not go that far, but his very worldview has little to justify his moderation.  The fact that he sees only pantheism in the sculpture, and no hint of Christianity, suggests that he ought to follow through to rejecting Christmas trees and Easter eggs.

Father Dwight Longenecker recently said[1]

“…pagans had certain traits that modern men don’t have. They had a sense of the supernatural welling up within the created order. For the pagans the hills were alive with the sound of centaur’s hooves. The skies were alive with the gods of planets and of stars. The trees danced as dryads and the waters danced as naiads. The pagans were cruel and bloodthirsty, but they were also noble in a Stoical kind of way. They were earthy and lusty and violent, but they were also vibrantly alive.”

A sense of the supernatural welling up within the created order!  What a beautiful and vibrant belief!  Things mean things.  The material gives us insights into the spiritual.  This used to be the Christian worldview too, and it is why it made sense to pagan cultures which quickly embraced Christianity within a couple centuries.  Then along came Protestantism which “had to purge Catholicism of all that ‘worldly stuff’ like statues and art, music and architecture, festivals and processions, sacrifice and priests, incense and flowers and settle instead for bare whitewashed preaching barns.”[2]

Such divorcing of the material and spiritual led away from the old belief that everything meant everything and into the modern belief that nothing means anything; that it’s all chance and there’s no cosmic Dance.[3]

Such divorcing of matter and spirit also affected our sex life.  Sex eventually became what we see today, a biological function and nothing more; a body is simply a body to be used and enjoyed and not a holy marriage of body and spirit, a human person made in the image of God and carrying a weight of glory.[4]  As Christopher West recently pointed out, when the puritan said “Keep your sex out of my holiness” it was only a matter of time before the world said “Keep your holiness out of my sex.”[5]

Become good pagans

C.S. Lewis remarked “First let us make the younger generation good pagans and afterwards let us make them Christians.”[6]  Modern man, including myself and many modern Christians, need to rediscover the old so-called “pagan” worldview of looking at matter and learning something of the spirit;  to stop viewing matter and spirit as competing realities; to see the supernatural welling up within the created order.

It’s difficult sometimes, at least for me.  I often feel at war with my material body.  But God created the material world and called it very good—it is fallen and wounded, but it is still very good.  It was through the earth that He brought forth man and beasts.  We are earthy beings and there seems little sense in ignoring such origins.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

———————————————-

[1] “C.S. Lewis on Puritans and Pagans” https://dwightlongenecker.com/c-s-lewis-on-puritans-and-pagans/

[2] “C.S. Lewis on Puritans and Pagans” https://dwightlongenecker.com/c-s-lewis-on-puritans-and-pagans/

[3] For more on that, read “Chance or the Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism” by Thomas Howard. https://www.ignatius.com/Chance-or-the-Dance-2nd-Edition-P345.aspx

[4] See “The Weight of Glory” by C.S. Lewis. “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.”

[5] The Patrick Coffin Show.  “We Are Hardwired for Beauty” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-WBmqefAZsk

[6] Letter to Don Giovanni Calabria, 15 September 1953; found in the book “The Latin Letters of C.S. Lewis”

 

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2 thoughts on “Pantheism! The horror…….

  1. Keep writing man. We see it the same way. The seed of truth, wherever found, sprouts. The spark of the Divine flashes especially bright in darkness!

    I saw hints of gnosticism in my PCA world. The Gospel seemed to be a rigidly held, narrow theory of the cross, even if it was a 16th-century novelty and even if it did damage to other truths.

    Good job.

    • Thanks for the encouragement, dude! This post was a culmination of things slowly coming together in my mind. I think I’m only just beginning to understand the gnostic tendencies I was raised with and how such a worldview affects how we live. It’s been a struggle to right my thinking but hopefully I’m getting there.

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