Page images
PDF
EPUB

substance, and explanation of nothing—existing merely as a notion.1

In our English speech pantheism has been sung by Shelley, preached by Emerson, and recommended in loose rhetorical fashion by various writers, but it has not yet been presented in the form of a carefully reasoned theory.2

1 See Appendix Xu [ i'S^ s 5 See Appendix XLI.'^O , &'$<S LECTURE X.

PANTHEISM.
I.

WHEN we observe how widespread pantheism is, and has always been, we are naturally led to ask, Why has it proved so attractive? The consideration of this question may be combined with that of another equally important: Does it deserve to be as attractive as it has actually proved to be? These are the two questions which I shall keep before me in the present lecture. While endeavouring so far to answer both, I shall consider them, as I have just indicated, not apart, but in connection. Thus viewed they are practically equivalent to the single question. What are the real and apparent merits and defects of pantheism?

Let us, in the first place, seek an answer by judging of pantheism as a response to the purely and properly religious wants of human nature.

Now, obviously, pantheism is in this reference incomparably superior to atheism. In every form it gives some answer to our religious cravings. In every form atheism gives none. Pantheism always presents at least a little sustenance for the spirit, and sometimes a comparatively rich supply. Atheism yields nothing whatever which can satisfy the higher appetites of a human being. It pronounces everything a vanity except what is finite and fleeting. It is most natural, therefore, that the general mind and heart of humanity should never have hesitated when the alternative presented to it was pantheism or atheism to prefer the former.

Then pantheism has a decided advantage over polytheism in virtue of its emphatic affirmation of the unity and infinity of God. It responds, in consequence, to imperative demands of reason which polytheism contradicts. Hence while the human mind has always found itself compelled, as soon as it began to philosophise, either to assail polytheistic beliefs or to interpret them in a way which changes their entire character, it has, on the contrary, been always led by speculation to adopt pantheistic tenets. It is just when polytheism begins to pass into pantheism that philosophy makes its appearance; and, in fact, it is the philosophy which accounts for the transition. Further, pantheism has the power of rendering polytheism subservient to its advancement. It can provide it with a basis of intellectual principles; it can devise plausible reasons even for its most extravagant details; it can make itself indispensable to it; and by doing so it can secure the assistance of all the forces of faith and superstition possessed by polytheism. This may be a source of enormous influence, as the example of India convincingly shows.

Further, pantheism has a certain marked superiority over every doctrine or system which leads men to think of creation as independent of the Creator, or of God as withdrawn from His creatures. Where theism has degenerated into deism, or Christianity into a mere intellectual creed, it is not unnatural that pantheism should prevail. In such a case its spread may serve a providential purpose as a counterpoise to the opposite extreme of error. It is the expression of a sense of a Divine presence in the universe. It insists on the all-pervading activity of God. It is belief in Him as One

"Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the hlue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, which impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things."

In the possession of this truth it has nothing which a true theism, such as we find in the Bible, has not also, but it has a truth which the human soul needs, which theists have often not prized enough, and which many professed theists have virtually forgotten altogether.

Pantheism likewise ministers in some degree to devout emotion and affection by centring all in, and even by sacrificing all to, the one absolute Existence. It teaches men to rise both above the good and the evil of the visible and temporal world, and to yearn after eternal rest in the world of immutable being. It teaches them to sacrifice egotism, and to glory in being parts and particles of God. That many minds can find a certain satisfaction and strength in this teaching the wide prevalence of pantheism in religion abundantly proves. It pervades all Hindu religion, and elicits and sustains in many a Hindu mind a piety which concentrates the thoughts and energies with such wonderful intensity and exclusiveness on eternity, that time and the things of time appear only the delusions of a dream. It has in every age of Christian history presented itself either as the rival and opponent of Christian doctrine, or with the claim to be its highest and truest expression; and many great and elevated minds have been found to listen to it, and to look to the absorption in the Infinite which it promises as their highest good.

Pantheism, however, falls far short of giving such satisfaction to the religious wants of man as a true

« PreviousContinue »