Jon Hoskins

Pantheism, Part 2

February 26, 2017 in Views

A follow up I wrote to “Pantheism, a collection of quotes”

I shared part 1 widely and quickly realized that what I had meant as a simple introduction to the philosophy seemed to create at least as many questions as it attempted to answer. I submit “part 2” as an attempt to elaborate on some of the apparently more elusive concepts.

“Is pantheism just another label for atheism?”

That depends on how you define “atheist”. The dictionary very simply states that an atheist is “a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.” As pantheists do not subscribe to a belief in anthropomorphic “god” concepts or that of holy information revealed by supernatural powers, then indeed, atheists and pantheists are much alike. But is atheism also a denial that there is anything divine or worthy of ultimate reverence? Pantheists believe that nature, the entire universe, is an object most deserving of such feelings of humility, awe, wonder, and reverence.

ALL humans have the *capacity* for such feelings. That does not mean that all humans actively seek these feelings or that they attribute any special significance to the experience of those feelings, as of having importance in their lives.

Certainly some do. Certainly many more must have such experience at varying times throughout their lives. Perhaps pantheism provides an objectivity in regards to such experience; a target for which we may *chose* to aim. A goal to consciously and actively pursue.

Atheists have a lack of belief in god or gods, but is this also a denial that such belief is a fundamental attribute of human nature, of civilization, and that even today it may hold some intrinsic value for people?

For true atheists, no, it shouldn’t be. A failure to appreciate this attribute of the human experience, or even outright denial that it exists at all is more in line with anti-theism, which is a conscious and deliberate opposition to theism.

While the anti-theists may occasionally make a good argument, especially when viewed in the context of centuries of human bloodshed that has been committed in the name of religion, there are still reasons beyond desperate longing for answers and ignorance in the ones that are given why someone might feel compelled to make room in their lives for a personal, spiritual aspect of themselves.

Human spirituality has been with our species long before the first church was built and the first holy revelation was committed to papyrus or stone. From the most primitive superstitions and instinctive fear of things that go “bump in the night” to the modern social networking to be found in organized religion, spirituality has arguably been one of the key building blocks of society, written language, and in establishing a code of ethics. To the group it can provide a commonality upon which a sense of communal well-being may flourish. To the individual, the benefits of being part of such a community can be expressed in better health, more opportunity, and a mutual sense of inclusiveness…

And yet it’s true that many modern theists seem all too ready to impose the social values of their particular communal spirituality upon those of their neighbors, even going so far as to lobby legislation, or even to committing violence against those who’s beliefs (or lack of) disagree with their own. That many conventional “faiths” are based in infallible scriptures only makes things worse, for a believer is typically asked to put the ‘word’ above logic, beyond question, out of the reach of compromise and mutual understanding.

As a pantheist I acknowledge a spiritual facet to the human experience, often manifested historically through religion. I recognize a perennial value in this, if at the very least as having value in terms of social survival. Pantheism is an organizational philosophy that strives to assist one in experiencing and growing the spiritual aspects of life, that is elastic and transparent, and yet offers the suggestion of guidance… and most importantly, without any insistence that one follow it.

For myself at least, it is an awareness that by actively cultivating such experiences, through exploring a hunger for deeper understanding of the universe and the natural world as expressed by science, for pantheism is perfectly and completely compatible with science, that my capacity to develop feelings of awe, reverence and even love for that which I find, becomes stronger, more resilient, and easier to access in my day to day life.

In a nutshell, pantheism is the cross-training regiment I use to strengthen my ‘spiritual’ muscles. I use insight as revealed by science, logic and reasoning, to refine and cultivate a personal sense of spirituality.

Perhaps the simplest way to think of it is pantheism as being atheism with direction, with a purpose; to help one actively develop this spiritual aspect. The most diaphanous of philosophical frameworks and yet, at least for the pantheist, much more than having none at all.

“A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”

― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot (1994)

This meme was used as a counterpoint to mine, in a discussion that devolved into a debate about atheism vs pantheism:

I love that quote! And it’s true! Further it’s the reason that some scientists are pantheists and vice versa. What is lost in that sentiment is the reality that most “scientists” devote a majority of their time in the study of a narrow field.

I know I make generalizations when I say this but while a botanist may find joy in watching a flower bloom is that same joy to be found, for him/her, in the growth of a crystalline lattice? Does the oceanographer, full of awe and reverence at being far out at sea, seek the same experience in a string of ants crossing the sidewalk under his feet?

A layman with an interest in science in general has the luxury of sampling any and all scientific discoveries and may even find a devotion in doing so, without the prerequisite of any serious expertise.

Many pantheists view scientific knowledge and discovery through a broader lens than the specialist because the pantheist seeks what all the different fields, all the different aspects of nature have in common. Reveling in the same understanding as the secular layman, the pantheist exercises a spiritual facet of human nature deliberately, and becomes stronger.

Can a layman experience this as well? Of course! But the secular layman, uncertain or unaware of any potential personal growth that may be obtained, may not pursue it so vigorously. And the theistic layman (theism other than pantheism anyway), may be held back by a discomfort in finding such emotional fulfillment outside of their proscribed faith… perhaps even bordering on cognitive dissonance.

Pantheism, for me, is all the benefits of actively pursuing a sense of spiritual growth, much like a ‘religion’, without the baggage of belief in supernatural beings, places, supernaturally obtained knowledge, or the divisiveness that inevitably comes along when one infallible belief conflicts with another.

Pantheism, a collection of quotes

February 26, 2017 in Views

I wrote this a year ago as a sort of introduction to Pantheism for a group I belong to, of mostly non-pans.

I am a PAN-THEIST, from the Greek roots πᾶν (pan), meaning “all, of everything” and θεός (theos) meaning “god, divine”… or “all” = “god” 🙂

Richard Dawkins infamously called pantheism “sexed up atheism” and because pantheists do not believe in an anthropomorphic “God” concept or divinely revealed information, he’s perhaps partly right. But it’s the “sexed up” part that’s important! More true to form, pantheism creates a sort of spiritual, emotional and philosophical grounding that is often missing from plain, vanilla (true) “atheism”.

Pantheism is the view that the natural universe is divine, the proper object of reverence; or the view that the natural universe is pervaded with divinity.

To quote Paul Harrison, a contemporary author that I respect very much:

“When we say that the cosmos is divine, we mean it with just as much conviction and emotion as believers say that their god is God. But we are not making a metaphysical statement that is beyond proof or disproof. We are making an ethical statement that means no more, and no less, than this: We should relate to the universe in the same way as believers in God relate to God. That is, with humility, awe, reverence, celebration and the search for deeper understanding.”

(“Divine Cosmos, Sacred Earth,” from Harrison’s Scientific Pantheism website.)

Whether they self-identified as “pantheist” or not, the words of many great scientists, poets and philosophers are often cherished as pantheistic in nature; going as far back as the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180), and all the way into modern times with poets like William Blake and scientists such as Albert Einstein and Carl Sagan:

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived. God is the indwelling, and not the transient cause of all things.”
― Baruch Spinoza, Ethics (1677)

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.”
― William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

“When we contemplate the whole globe as one great dewdrop, striped and dotted with continents and islands, flying through space with other stars all singing and shining together as one, the whole universe appears as an infinite storm of beauty.”
— John Muir

“The whole story of the universe is implicit in any part of it. The meditative eye can look through any single object and see, as through a window, the entire cosmos. Make the smell of roast duck in an old kitchen diaphanous and you will have a glimpse of everything, from the spiral nebulae to Mozart’s music and the stigmata of St. Francis of Assisi. The artistic problem is to produce diaphanousness in spots, selecting the spots so as to reveal only the most humanly significant of distant vistas behind the near familiar object. “
— Aldous Huxley

“I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”
― Albert Einstein

“A religion old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the universe as revealed by modern science, might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. Sooner or later, such a religion will emerge.”
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot (1994)

Prayer, meditation, and the nature of being conscious.

January 17, 2017 in Views

Recently I’ve been involved in several threads (and debates) based on such ideas and decided to write a short note to help keep my thoughts on the topic(s) in memorandum.
In defense of the above meme (yes, I thrive on being offered the chance to play the devil’s advocate!), I have claimed that no one, not even Sigmund Freud, has a complete understanding of the human psyche.

Prayer, as described in the meme, may set certain sub-conscious mechanisms to work through sheer intention and a willingness, at least for a moment, to take a deep breath and simply “surrender”. Yes, it can be thought of as a form of meditation with similar benefits. But sometimes, the very act of coming to peace with the idea that you do not have all the answers and would *appreciate some guidance*, pushing the ego out of the way for a moment, can produce a state of mind better equipped to realize opportunity, to reconsider preconceptions (and anxiety), and to develop a different perspective on circumstances. Whether or not there is actually a God to hear you is irrelevant and besides the point.

Do consider: An appeal to something greater than oneself (imaginary or not) can remove self-imposed inhibitions, freeing up the reserves of will and fortitude that most would not have normal access to.

As biological creatures we actually have autonomous limitations designed to preserve the integrity of our bodily functions. Long distance runners, deep water free divers, and other athletes can hone a skill set to overcome these. A sense of “prayer” may enable access to the same sort of reserves for many, especially in time of great need. Human literature has as one of it’s historic key stones the accumulation of many stories of those pitted against all the odds and yet prevailing, and they often include incredible perseverance and even feats of unusual ability.

As thinking creatures we have mental inhibitors as well, often contributing a sort of color to our egos. Self-doubt, low self-esteem and confidence, negativity perceived as coming from others, fear of the unknown and untried, and even instinctual ones, again designed to preserve your life and limb.

Can prayer be useful in overcoming these useless weights in time of need? I think there is a mountain of historical evidence to support that it might.


It is my belief that the common paradigm of “OK, there is the brain, from that comes consciousness.” is science reduced to the level of gross over simplification.

Research in brain science has developed what is now commonly referred to as the “Global Workspace” (or “GW”) theory of consciousness [1] which follows evidence that much of the activity of the brain goes on behind the scenes of subjectivity; lending itself well to the metaphor of self-aware, subjective “consciousness” being like the actor under a spot light, on stage, while the vast majority of the theater staff of rope pullers, prop setters, musicians and so on are out of site in the darkness.

fMRI studies have found that several parts of the brain exchange information as long as several seconds BEFORE a studied volunteer consciously decides to press a button with either their left OR their right hand [2]. You think “you” just decided to choose one hand or the other but in most cases, the rest of your brain was far ahead of you in that choice.

Modern explorations in how anesthesia actually *works* in regards to consciousness, a field that still holds many mysteries, is full of interesting revelations as well [3]. In general, most modern anesthesia seems to produce a form of reversible coma-like state in the brain but some parts of the brain actually become more excited during treatment rather than less. Ketamine, a drug frequently used to start and maintain anesthesia, can actually induce unconsciousness from OVER stimulating parts of the brain, even to the point of inducing hallucinations; one reason why it has a value on the recreational drug black market.

University of Arizona’s Stuart Hameroff (and many others), an anesthesiologist and professor there known for his studies of consciousness, has suggested that the brain is like many voices all shouting to be heard, each with their own agenda, and that subjective consciousness emerges or “bubbles up” from that cacophony. Anesthesia is like all of those voices suddenly being made quiet, like an office space where everyone spontaneously begins to meditate. George Mashour, a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan Medical School, has said “sensory networks in the brains of unconscious people remain locally functional, but intrabrain communication has broken down. The neighborhood’s lights are on, in other words, but the Internet and phone lines have all been cut.”[4]

Schizophrenic patients are typically unable to filter sensory stimuli and may have enhanced perceptions of sounds, colors, and other features of their environment… is one or more voices simply screaming over the top of all the others?

Death, afterlife, before life? What’s the difference?

December 22, 2016 in Views

A long post I wrote in a debate about consciousness, life, death and the afterlife.  Posted here for posterity.  Read it if you wish:


I don’t fear death any more than I feared birth. What’s to fear? Dying painfully, maybe. But even under the worst conditions that is still a brief segment of time, compared to the extent of things.  Do we value a “before life”?  Should we value an “afterlife”?  Do either have any meaning outside of the singular context of simply being alive?  Cells die all the time within our “bodies”, and most of them aren’t even human cells!  Should we regard these with each passing?

Earlier I posted an excellent link about caterpillars becoming butterflies. I think it’s relevant. The caterpillar literally digests itself, including almost all of it’s brain, leaving tiny traces of it’s organized “self” behind and a soup (with tiny, rolled up framework for wings, etc.) that eventually reassembles into a butterfly (or moth). A microscopic speck in this caterpillar soup seems to contain at least some of the “memories” of it’s life and the butterfly can retain some of them but how relevant is the life of the caterpillar to the butterfly, once it has hatched? They don’t move the same way, they don’t live the same way, they don’t eat the same things, their lives are completely different.

Bearing this in mind, how relevant would our “consciousness” be to something that was no longer us, in our physical form? Our senses, our diet, our sleep cycle, everything is only relevant to who we are as living, breathing, humans… including the experience of finite life spans and the knowledge that one day these will end. Only… relevant… to… living humans. And in the context of the human experience, this is what comprises the experience in the first place. Growth, pain, love… impermanence. It is the core, the value, to being a human that is alive, not only for ourselves but for those around us.

That tiny speck of caterpillar memories? Our genes are passed on to other generations, we live in the memory of those whose lives we have touched; some may even be able to envision us, hear our voices, “know” what we might have offered as advice in a given situation.

Chemically we are all an assemblage of stardust, perhaps from many different stars, that all formed, “lived”, and then died. Without them, billions of years ago, we would not be possible. Once your heart stops beating and that assemblage is in one way or another decomposed (meant literally, not “rotting”, etc.) that stardust will remain for billions of years, almost eternally. The only exception is when it too might one day be transformed to energy. Will that stardust still be yours, be “you”? Will that energy? Was it yours, “you”, billions of years before it assembled in your particular form? I think the answer lies in how you truly define “you”. 😉
My meat machine? As I said earlier, it’s comprised of cells that “live” for a much shorter time than I have, being constantly replaced, replenished. A common meme is that most every cell in your body has been replaced approximately every seven years. Is this a new “me”, then, every seven years? Why don’t I fear the death of every single cell in my body, especially as it occurs so regularly? Are the cells not “me”? Further, consider that of the 100 trillion cells or so, in the human body, perhaps only one in ten of those is actually “you”. The vast majority are made up of bacteria (perhaps thousands of different strains), viruses, and other microorganisms. Do I fear their death? Do they feel concern about my death? Are they also “me” or not?

Even what we think of as our “consciousness” is forever changing. It’s easy to say “it comes from the brain” but that’s reductionist almost to the point of being useless. What part(s) of the brain? At what particular moments of time? The old idea of “voices in my head” may be closer to the truth than we imagine. In fact it would seem that modern general anesthesia works by suppressing all this chaotic chatter from various regions of the brain, almost hypnotizing them into a sort of mostly silent introspection. The drugs work by imposing order on the chaotic disorder that is what our “conscious”, wakeful state of mind bubbles up from. So when you are put “under”, do you die? Are you dead?

Last but not least is the realm of the unknown. It’s perfectly possible that our “consciousness” operates on a quantum level and may be impressed upon sub atomic matrices in a way that may not be entirely dissolute after ‘death’. I firmly believe the universe wastes absolutely *nothing*. Does that mean I expect to die and find myself in some heavenly meadow surrounded by all my beloved pets and family members that have deceased before me? Nope.

Much better, I think, to start anew, without memories of any past configurations, and in that case what is the difference between having no previous “lives” or having no *memories* of previous lives? To me, it makes no difference. The outcome is the same.

Perhaps the butterfly incorporates these tiny flecks of caterpillar memories into it’s behavior. But then again, don’t we all incorporate the experiences of those who came before us, genetically, mematically from those that came before us as well?

I find comfort in simply knowing that I am not only the universe but that at least for this brief moment of time, I am the universe made *aware of itself.* As it is said that neurons in the brain “fire”, so I think it is with universe and us.  That like dolphins porpoising above the waves for a moment of free flight, through the air, that so too the universe is “conscious” and very much aware of itself. For me, that is enough.

Finding my religion…

December 12, 2016 in Views

I originally wrote this in response to seeing this quote by Thomas Merton posted in group I belong to. I had commented earlier, to effect, that five years wasn’t enough for me. I decided to elaborate in a later comment and what follows is that comment, edited slightly for context:

Thirty years ago I was 19 years old and in a very topsy turvy reality where everything I had “planned” was turned completely upside down, like being caught in a tornado. I didn’t know which way I was going, when I might touch the ground again (if ever), or if I’d even have the strength to put my feet under me again when that happened. It was in the darkest times though that I felt something stirring deep inside, like an ember slowly being coaxed to life with an occasional breath or a shaving of tinder. I had never felt this before but for some reason I found hope in it’s unexpected discovery. Well… OK, I had felt something like this once before, a decade earlier, but that’s for a different post 😉

A couple of years later I knew my first marriage was ending in divorce and I was busy learning to drive 18 wheelers (across the country), without killing myself or others. I saw the Aurora Borealis over the badlands of Montana, tornadoes in Iowa, supercells in Texas, blizzards in New Mexico and I watched the sun rise over the Atlantic and the sun set over the Pacific.  I watched maples drop their leaves in the fall and the first green sprouts of spring wheat and corn. I met people of nearly every faith, color, and circumstance; and I tried to learn from all of these things.

Those first few years exploring the highways was the added breath and tinder needed to help that tiny ember develop into something consistent.  I still wasn’t sure exactly what it was but it was there, and mostly reliably at this point.

Twenty years ago I kept that ember in a special place.  I knew now that it was a part of me, as much as my right hand or left leg were. I found strength in it but most importantly it teased me by never telling me it’s name.  It was a game I knew quite well by this time…  Look under a rock, in the lyrics of some song, in the flash of lightning during a storm. “Can you tell me my name?”

pantheism-teacherIt put me in a perennial state of mind where I took nothing to be what it first seemed and I learned to question everything.  I learned to look everywhere.  I learned the “here and now” of Buddhism and the grace and wonder of Taoism, so I could be a better player of that game.  I read books of science, philosophy, and fiction; for a dream, even someone else’s dream, might hold the answer.  I learned to be a stalwart debater. I learned to play “the devil’s advocate.”

Ten years ago I was still trying on different ideologies like one might try on different pairs of shoes, to see which one fit best.  I self-identified as a pagan, wiccan, neo-pagan and even atheist for a short time in that period.  All, in their own way, fed that flame and provided a sort of hearth for it but none felt exactly right.  That’s when I really, REALLY started to consider pantheism.  Of course I also had to examine the philosophies presented by the deists, the panentheists, and the cosmodeism hypothesis of Mordechai Nessyahu, et al.  But the name game was complete without there ever being a clear winner.  And I was OK with that.

Five years ago I was already pretty established in where I wanted to be in life; physically and spiritually.  I would be pleased that I’ve somehow managed to maintain my goals.



Skip to toolbar