In this essay, I would like to briefly discuss how I became a pantheist—or more specifically, how I went from being a theist to agnostic, to an atheist, and then finally to a pantheist.
You might find it interesting that I became a pantheist many years before I even knew the word pantheist existed. I didn’t even know there were others who shared the view that the entire universe is God. Even now, when I search the term pantheism on the Internet, it seems to be a very untapped subject in comparison to atheism, deism, Buddhism, and so on.
Several years ago, back when YouTube was first created, my older brother was discussing some of my philosophical views with a YouTuber he had just met online. The YouTuber expressed in a video response that it all sounded like pantheism. Shortly there after, my brother told me about it and asked me whether or not I considered myself to be a pantheist. At that time, I had no idea whether I was or not. The term pantheist was completely new to me. It almost sounded like a bad word or like some satanic label. The YouTuber provided his loose definition of pantheism, which all sounded good to me. However, I wanted to research it further just to make sure there weren’t any other undesirable meanings attached to it, so I looked it up in the dictionary and said to myself, “Well yes, for the most part, I guess I am a pantheist.” I also searched the term online and of course came across Baruch Spinoza, who greatly helped to spread pantheism and who has now become one of my favorite, classic philosophers.
Like most of us, I started out believing what my parents believed and viewing the world as they viewed it. Both of my parents were raised as Christians and actually first met one another during church services. However, it wasn’t as though they were completely obsessed with the religion as some are. For the most part, they attended church simply because it was more of the norm back then and more expected of their generation. The church gave them a sense of community and provided them with a social network. This of course predates all the online social networks now so available on the Internet. Sociologist have claimed for years, based on studies, that social networking is one of the main reasons most people do attend church or why they join a religion—it allows them to feel a sense of belonging.
Fortunately, my mother and father never pushed their religious beliefs onto me or forced me to go to church. In fact, as a family, we attended church services off and on for only a brief time during my childhood. I remember my father would play tic-tac-toe and hang-man with me and my brothers and sister during services to help pass the time. So, it wasn’t long before we stopped going to church altogether. I think my parents just finally became too busy and stressed trying to earn enough money in a failing economy, during the Reagan years. But thankfully, they allowed me the freedom to explore on my own, in all directions, the entire subject of God and existence, which I am eternally grateful for. I wish more parents would allow their children the same freedom.
An early memory I have of questioning the Christian religion was during Sunday school class. I was about 6 or 7 and my Sunday school teacher just got through discussing how Jesus had walked on water. I politely asked her, “How do we know he really walked on water?” She immediately gasped in disbelief. I instantly thought I was in trouble, so I quickly came back with, “Never mind.” I never again felt comfortable enough to ask such questions inside the church. I uncomfortably discovered that day that church was the last place to debate theology. People go to church to worship their religion not to debate it.
The day I probably first started to really question the actual existence of God was when I was about 8 years old. I remember it quite vividly. My father and I were driving in the car, I was crouched down onto the floorboard of the passenger side, and I asked him, “Who created God?” He paused a short while and then replied, jokingly, “Another God.” Of course I came back with, “Then who created that God?” And again he replied, “Another God.” This went on a few more times before I caught on to the endless cycle and then became clever enough to ask in slight frustration, “Well, who created the very first God?”
To my surprise, this gave my father some pause. He didn’t seem to have an answer. But he finally spoke those three infamous words, “I don’t know.” I have to commend him for his ability to admit this, which is never easy. If only more people could do the same the world would be in less need of repair. I continued to think about the Christian religion more and more, but most of it just seemed very illogical to me.
So, around the age of 9 or 10, I became very unsatisfied with the answers provided by the Christian religion. I also became very uncertain as to whether there was a God or not, and therefore, I naturally became agnostic. For the time being, I stopped believing in the traditional Christian God and started seeking some other explanation to our existence. I would think about it off and on as I grew up. I even once had a long discussion with a junior high school friend who truly believed and defended the idea that heaven was a place of clouds, laden with golden objects. But it all just sounded too silly to me, like something out of a fairy-tale.
The possibility that the Christian god existed entered my head only two more times, and that was when I was in high school. In the tenth grade, a friend of mine invited me to go on a church retreat, which was basically camping out with a group of young Christians. I reluctantly agreed. While there, I had the opportunity to ask a priest why he believed in the Christian God. He explained how the complexity of the eye impressed him so much that he believed there must be a God, as described in the Christian Bible. But when it came to the complexity of the eye, I felt just the opposite. I thought it was far too complex and incredible for some god to have designed and created. Of course I didn’t tell the priest this.
About a year later, I was in my bedroom trying to draw a picture of what I thought God might look like if He actually did exist. For the most part, it turned out to look like the traditional personified image of an old man with a white beard. I had also tried to establish the right expression for him, but I never could seem to settle on just one. I did not think of Him as merely happy or sad, nor angry or disappointed. So I ended up trying to fit in all human emotions, carefully intertwined. I think it turned out okay, in terms of a traditional depiction of God. But it quickly became apparent to me that if there was a god, He or It would be much more than any personified version. And I didn’t just want to know what God looked like, but I wanted to know what God was.
I decided once and for all to try and figure out whether or not there was a god. I also remember thinking to myself, If God does not exist, then How do I exist? and What’s it all about? I became determined to find the answers to all these questions. But it wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I had enough time to give it my full, undivided attention. A good friend of mine would often drop by the house in the evening and we would drive around for hours philosophizing about anything and everything. We once stayed up all night, lying in lawn chairs in his backyard, discussing all sorts of philosophical topics like the nature of the universe, time, existence, and how a nation should be governed, until we literally saw the Sun come up. There finally came a time, during one of our night-time drives, when he asked me point-blank, “So what does it all amount to?” I paused a moment and then answered almost instinctively, “Balance.”
Our philosophical night-time drives unfortunately became more and more infrequent though because my family and I had moved further away from the city to a quiet small town. It was a big change for me because I was accustom to being very social. I now found myself basically out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but time on my hands to contemplate the great mysteries of the universe. I now look back on that free time, when I had few distractions and few responsibilities, as priceless to my development. It was my time in the wilderness so-to-speak, which everyone should have—a time and place where one can just sit still and think about it all. During this time, I also took some college courses. I was an average student and started out a little slow. I was so burned out on school and wasn’t yet ready to take my college education seriously. But in time I grew to love it and I eventually became a very good student.
About a year later, my brothers and I moved out of my parents house and into a house of our own, just a couple of blocks down the street. There, I continued to ponder the deep mysteries of life, and for the first time, I started to consistently write down my ideas and conclusions. My younger brother would visit often and soon became my new philosophical partner. Even back then he was quite brilliant and had a great philosophical mind of his own. In time, our discussions matured. He really helped to keep me on course because he is more of a left-side thinker who thinks in more logical, mathematical terms, whereas I am more of a right-side thinker, an artist by nature. Thankfully, my quick-minded brother wouldn’t let me get away with anything. In fact, he humbled me on several occasions by calling out my errors in reasoning and therefore helped to keep me in check. He has always helped me with the fine details and I have always helped him not to get lost in the details. So together, we make a good pair. As a matter of fact, all my brothers and sister are sharp minded and have always helped to keep me on my toes.
It was around 1993 when I had one of my greatest epiphanies and that was that the whole universe is, in one way or another, connected into a single whole and that anyone of us can view him or herself to be that whole. Anyone of us can say “I am the universe or I am the All.” Philosophers and Spiritualists have been saying something along these lines for centuries. Hippies were definitely known for saying such things during the late 60s and early 70s, but most of us never gave it much attention or took it too seriously. It was usually just something a hippie often said to sound philosophically deep or spiritual. The truth is though, I don’t think most hippies even truly knew just how accurate they were. In most cases, they were just parroting what they had heard some other hippie or spiritual guru saying. But the big surprise to me was when I discovered, for myself, that the expression, I am the universe was not just some poetic metaphor, but that it was actually the case. I now deeply believe that I am literally, in every sense of the word, the universe and so is everyone else. Because it requires the whole universe in order to exist.
I recently toyed with the idea of coming up with a new term that could express this view of being one with the universe. I first thought of using the word panoneism, to mean all is one, but that was a little difficult to say, so I then came up with panmeism, to express, all is me. And one who believes in panmeism would be a panmeist.
During this time of my life I had many other powerful insights. For example, I wanted to know what was responsible for my existence and/or the existence of the universe. I instinctively felt that the universe couldn’t have all just been some random accident or some one time event that sprang from some singularity point—whatever that is—and which will simply end one day in a cold shiver or Big Crunch, never to re-emerge. That just sounded too cheap and problematic. To me, the universe seemed more profound than that. It’s all about something. So after countless hours of deep reflection, I came to the conclusion that the universe could not have been created but had to have always existed and always will exist. It was now impossible for me to ever go back to believing in any traditional God of creation.
I now considered myself to be a spiritual atheist, because I still thought of myself as a spiritual person—one who felt the universe held some higher meaning and purpose. One day, as I was sitting on the steps of my front porch, I looked around in awe of it all. I saw an incredible order to the universe, even in places that seemed chaotic, for even this disorder is a part of the overall program that has always been in place. I understood then that the universe, as I have described it, was the closest thing there will ever be to a God.
Now many of you can quickly deduce that since I also view each of us to be the universe that I believe each of us can view him or herself to be God—as I define God that is. Even though that is true, I almost always refrain from expressing that point of view because it’s too ego-driven and would not be easily understood by most others. In other words, a pantheist, who views the universe as God, can at the same time consider himself to be a panmeist, as long as he can also view himself to be the universe.
But I was not exactly a pantheist yet. I was more in the habit of viewing myself as the universe and not the universe as God, even though I knew both were equally true. Aside from the fundamental laws of the Yin and the Yang, I didn’t quite yet understand the full magnitude of what the universe or God was. It would take about another 10 years before I would feel comfortable enough or have reason enough to regularly refer to the universe or this Allness as God.
But during this time, I was flooded with excitement. Christians probably would have described it as being filled with the Holly Spirit. I felt like I knew some deep secret that no one else knew. I couldn’t wait to somehow share it with the world. Unfortunately the Internet did not exactly exist as it does today. And of course I would later learn, after reading up on Buddha, Parmenides, and Spinoza that there were others who had come before me who had also glimpsed these truths. I sure wish someone had introduced these philosophers to me at a much earlier age. It would have saved me over 20 years of deep contemplation! On second thoughts, I take that back. It was actually more rewarding having struggled to discover many of the same philosophical concepts on my own. I actually enjoyed the experience of coming to many of the same conclusions on my own.
Now I just desperately needed to find a way to express these views. Since I had an interest in art, I decided to try and illustrate the concept of oneness in a huge oil painting—8 feet by 10 feet. Unfortunately, I never got to finish it and realized I would need a bigger canvas anyway to do it justice. Something in the neighborhood of 30 feet by 30 feet. So I would have to wait until I could find a large enough space to hold such a huge canvas.
I was also eager to share all these insights with my father, who has always had a love for philosophy and has always been a very spiritual person, and has always been open to new ideas. We’ve always enjoyed long philosophical discussions about life, and so there were times when I would try and share these exciting views with him, but he didn’t quite understand them or wasn’t quite ready to take them all in, or perhaps he wasn’t ready to accept the judgment of a 20 year old. However, years later, my father would become more and more open to these ideas, which I’ll get back to explaining soon.
Anyway, in 1994, my family picked up and moved again—this time states away—and there wasn’t an adequate university nearby, so I decided to take a break from school and eventually jumped into the family business, which was remodeling old houses. While scraping and painting old doors and windows though, I would find time here and there to work on my art and to think about my personal philosophy.
In the year 2000, I had returned to college to major in Graphic Design. I began to experience for the first time the excitement of learning in a classroom. This was a new experience for me because I had always hated school growing up and was usually a C student. I spent most of my early school years day dreaming and was always off in my thoughts. I guess I had a predisposition for inner contemplation. But to my surprise, I slowly became obsessed with learning. I wanted to absorb all the book-knowledge I could. So I took all the meaningful courses I could like The Nature of Mathematics, The Physical Universe, State and Local Government. I took several art courses, excelled in literature, and took various Political Science courses. Some of my favorite subjects were Psychology, Sociology, and Social Psychology. I even managed to do well in Marketing and in French, which were tough courses. College really helped to refine all my self-taught knowledge, which I had spent years acquiring—primarily through my personal experiences and personal insights. Thanks to college, my personal philosophy was more polished now.
After graduating, I created my own online illustration business and started paying off my school loans. It was around this time I started referring to the universe as God on a regular basis. At first I did so out of convenience. It helped me to avoid uncomfortable conversation with others who were devout Christians. But eventually I began to prefer this label, because I started to learn that the universe was much more than just a mechanical thing.
It was when my younger brother started asking me about the perception of red. He has always had a strong interest in Artificial Intelligence and was trying to determine whether it was possible to get a robot to not just detect the color red but to actually perceive it. He wondered if the experience of perceiving the color red could be explained purely on a physical level. I too have had similar questions about Artificial Intelligence and so we discussed it for hours. I tried to explain to him, in a variety of ways, how the perception of red must ultimately be a mental assignment due to the physical interaction of light waves and the eye. Of course he already knew all this and knew more about the anatomy of the eye than I did, but he was still unsatisfied with those answers. He was trying to probe even deeper and wanted to know how the mind ultimately causes this experience of perceiving red. I finally had to end the conversation by letting him know he may be trying to stare too deeply into the light of truth. He reluctantly agreed for the time being, but later concluded that red was simply an element of the mind that could not be fully described in physical terms alone. of physics.
A few years later, I was reading about the Greek philosopher Plato, who spoke of indestructible, Ideal Forms. Like Socrates before him, he tried to discover the true universal meaning of abstract entities like courage and beauty, which were independent of space and time. He too believed that objects of beauty for instance, though temporary in time and to our senses, had a real timeless existence beyond the physical realm. Though Plato took the baton from Socrates and really ran with it. He generalized the concept in terms of all reality. He claimed that all things in this decaying and changing world, as it is perceived, are really just inferior, physical expressions of their true perfected Forms. This lead Plato to a two-world view, one which was physical, temporary, imperfect, and false and one which was non-physical, permanent, perfect, and true. The first being accessible through our senses and the second being accessible only through our intellect. It seemed to be somewhat similar to what my brother had been trying to get at with the color red, that is, an existence beyond the physical. Right then and there it all clicked for me. I now saw an aspect of the universe I never had before, and a majesty.
This final epiphany sealed the deal for me as far as viewing the universe as God-like. It also helped to open a whole new philosophical door for me, inspiring me to expand upon Plato’s Ideal Forms, which I now usually refer to as Eternal Concepts or Eternal Ideas to denote some additional meaning. Plato mainly focused on the timeless perfection of things that was essentially hidden from our senses. But I wanted to pick up the baton and go even further with it. I was less concerned with the perfection of things and more interested in the fact that there was an underlying, conceptual existence to all physical and non physical things which defies any form of creation. I started thinking how all facets of life, from simple verbs like the act of running to the essence of elaborate works of literature like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, are all eternal concepts that go beyond creation or evolution. This even includes eternal concepts of imperfection like cancer or a broken leg. The very concept of these things couldn’t have evolved, nor been invented by man, nor created by some god. They are eternal. Mathematics has to be one of the most obvious examples of this. I now had proof that at least certain aspects of the universe must have always existed and always will. I saw how all these concepts worked in concert to provide a universal guiding force that serves to push us towards a balanced path. I realized there was an entire purposeful, program in place that provides everything we know. And I understood how the universe was not only eternal, but had a specific, unchanging, complex identity. I finally felt like I had good reason to call the universe God. I simply had to redefine the term God to separate it from much older conceptions. Anyway, that’s how I became a pantheist. Keep in mind though, I also still consider myself to be what I have termed a panmeist. One doesn’t have to negate the other, much the way I can be both a male and a human at the same time.
Looking back, I can now see how the right ingredients were in place for me to become a pantheist. Putting aside countless other variables like my genetic predisposition, my public education, my social upbringing, my long hours of contemplation, and many other environmental factors, my parents knowingly as well as unknowingly provided me with the right conditions. My mother was the more logical, scientific and pragmatic one—though she has always had a big heart—whereas my father was the more spiritual, poetic, and philosophical one—though he has always had a strong practical side too. You may notice that between the two, they balance each other out quite nicely. And since I am a fusion of the two, I think it gave me a very balanced view. I have a huge appreciation for science and the scientific method, which has helped me to see the mathematical and mechanical side of the universe, but I am also a right side thinker, an artist at heart with a strong appreciation for literature, art, and philosophy. I think my artistic side has given me the ability to step back and see the bigger picture and not get lost in the numbers or the details so-to-speak. So it’s no surprise that pantheism, as I’m sure most would agree, is very much a balance between theism and atheism. It is the missing link that is needed.
As I mentioned earlier, my father did eventually adopt some of the views I’ve discussed. Being an avid reader, he came across a book titled “The Power of Now,” by Eckhart Tolle. He immediately fell in love with it. Around 2007 he read another popular book by Tolle, titled “A New Earth,” where Tolle mentions some of the ideas regarding oneness with the universe and the identification of oneself as God. Since my father greatly respected Tolle’s writings, he was able to take in and understand these views of the universe and of the self more readily. As a result, he has now moved beyond the traditional views of Christianity. Not to imply he no longer views himself as a Christian. Just that he now has an expanded view of God and a better understanding of Jesus, thanks to Tolle’s writings, which carefully weaves the classic Eastern ideas of the Now, of Presence, of Being, and ancient Greek Stoicism with Christianity. I don’t agree with all of Eckhart Tolle’s views, but I think he has helped to comfort many readers who may have felt spiritually lost. He has also helped to awaken them, and has placed them on the road towards truth. So I tip my hat to him.
Even though I stopped believing in the Christian religion, long ago, and though I know Christianity has its downsides and can even prove to be harmful at times, I still continue to have a lot of respect and appreciation for many of its teachings, like Thou shalt not kill, of course, or Thou shalt not bare false witness, or Thou shalt not steel. And even though I view Jesus to be no more or less than a human being, I think he was one of the greatest philosophical teachers and spiritual guides in our history. I think many of his teachings reveal timeless truths about life, and I think he spoke many words of wisdom like “Love thy neighbor.”, “Forgive those who trespass against you.”, “Do not cast your pearls before swine.”, and “Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s important to note though, these same expressions can essentially be found in most other reputable religions, only expressed a little differently.
Now according to the bible he performed a lot of miracles like healing the sick, turning bread into wine, feeding a multitude with a couple of fish and a few loaves of bread, and rising from the dead. All pretty neat but I prefer to focus more on the words Jesus reportedly spoke and not on the idea that he actually walked on water. And keep in mind, whether or not a man named Jesus actually spoke those words is not all that important to me either. It’s what he represents that matters. Many of us like the idea of what the myth of Jesus stands for—piece, love, and forgiveness. Fact or fiction, he became one of the world’s first super heroes. He was one of the first hippies and he was basically the original John Lennon.
Most would consider me to be an atheist, as far as Christianity goes. Even so, I do enjoy reading many of the bible stories like Noah and the Ark, Exodus, the Book of Daniel, and the story of Christ. In fact, bible movies like Joseph, The Ten Commandments, Jesus of Nazareth and the King of Kings are among some of my favorite movies to watch. I enjoy these bible movies and stories, not for their literal value but for their literary value. They also give us clues about our History. They’re entertaining and communicate great moral lessons, which is one of the main reasons they have endured throughout the ages. In the same way, I enjoy watching Superman even though I know he is just a fictional character. As long as a story is well written, fun and exciting, and by the end allows good to triumph over evil, then it’s worth knowing and preserving.
My family and I still celebrate Christmas, which for many families actually has very little to do with celebrating the birth of Christ. I’m almost embarrassed to admit, I didn’t even realize Christ had anything to do with Christmas until I got much older. People use Christmas as an opportunity to celebrate family and giving, which we can all enjoy. Perhaps, December 25th should be used as a day of celebration for people of any and all religions, as well as no religion. I mean whether you’re a theist or an atheist, or simply agnostic, who wouldn’t enjoy listening to music next to a fire—hopefully with loved ones, or eating a fine meal, or giving gifts and opening gifts, especially as a child who counts the days.
When it comes to prayer, many may think that pantheist don’t have that luxury—that God, as described by pantheist, can’t be prayed to. I strongly believe one can pray to the universe, or rather the universal being, and be better off for it. I believe our prayers are at least heard by our own ears and even felt by our own hearts, and therefore are heard and felt by God, since I believe each can view him or herself to be at the center of all things, and in essence is the universe, which is God. In other words, our prayers are at least internalized through our own being. How far the effects of praying spreads through out the universe in a meaningful way to help what we view as our local selves, I don’t know. But studies have shown that adrenaline and endorphins can be released during prayer, which can help boost the immune system and help heal the body, or give one the strength to overcome certain obstacles, even in the case of a mere placebo effect, for those who strongly believe in the power of prayer, whether there is any real spiritual communion with a higher being taking place or not. The act of praying also comforts many on a psychological level and can produce a calming effect, which again can lead to physical healing.
I’ve never really been one to pray a lot. However, when I was much younger I did pray from time-to-time, especially when I became very ill, as many of us tend to do, even atheists. Even now when I get sick or desperately need help, I find myself praying to some conscious entity, hopefully other than myself, that may be listening in, hoping the universe or some higher being can hear me or know of my suffering in some way and can somehow come to my aid. Even if I’m the only one who hears my prayers, it sure seems to calm and comfort me. So if I’m wrong, then it’s the one thing I prefer to remain ignorant of.
I think the need to pray is deeply rooted in all human beings. What’s interesting is evolution here on earth must have selected those who felt that need to pray, to help insure our survival and to have the story of life unfold in the way that it does. I’m sure evolution always does this on any planet where advanced humanoid life is allowed to develop. When we pray, maybe it allows us to leap to some quantum reality where our needs are at least partially fulfilled without violating the rules of cause and effect. Perhaps nature does make necessary adjustments based on our desperate pleads, our spiritual desires, and our respect for the supreme being that is the universe. I do believe our inner voice and inner desires do play a significant role in fulfilling our destiny. So for all you atheist, and those who are agnostic, if you feel the need, go ahead and pray. Who knows, maybe the universe is in some meaningful way listening and will in some small, microscopic way help you.
I would like to sum up by explaining that even though I don’t believe in the traditional Christian God, I do believe the universe provides a guiding force and that there is an inherent, eternal goodness in the world. However, I also believe there is an inherent, eternal badness, which I view as a necessary evil. I realize you can’t have one without the other. I believe there are consequences to our actions, good and bad. And I believe we should all try to preserve life, as long as it doesn’t cause a threat. Overall, whether I view myself to be the universe or the universe to be God or both, I believe in striving towards balance, because I believe balance is the synopsis of the universe and of God.
By Guyus Seralius, 2011.