If your mind was erased of everything you knew about religion and modern explanations of existence, and you were released into the forest to make sense of it, you would likely be overwhelmed by your surroundings. Even if you were able to retain your general knowledge of nature, the beauty of everything around you would strike you with some sense of humility and awe. You may be inclined to suspect that the myriad intricacies of the natural world you were witnessing were all moving together, like one living body. Your suspicions would lead you to an understanding of pantheism. Pantheism is the belief that the universe is not vast collection of individual entities, but one connected substance or being.
Beliefs in pantheism are believed to be older than many other religious systems, and over the ages several manifestations and variations in pantheism have developed. Early pantheism was in essence a sense that everything was as equally a part of God as God was a part of it. There was no distinction between deity and nature, or between creator and creation. In many cases, pantheism does not suggest God to have an identity or personality, but to exist as one form energy or force, or an all encompassing spirit. The individual elements of existence in pantheism are no more important or significant than the universe in its entirety.
More recently, a form of pantheism has developed that excludes the concept of a living or supernatural element, rendering the natural universe both absolute and singular. This new form of pantheism, sometimes known as scientific pantheism, is appealing to people who find themselves unable to believe in the supernatural. Scientific pantheism gives people who emphasize the rational and empirical a place to express their awe and wonder for the great universe around them.
Pantheism is often and easily confused with a few other types of religion that offer a closely similar explanation of God as everything. The differences are subtle, but with pantheism, the absolute sameness of the deity is what sets it apart. A belief in a God who has his or her own identity, but pervades every part of existence is not quite pantheism, because God has an essence outside of the whole. This close cousin of pantheism is called panenthiesm, and is a characteristic of Taoism, Buddhism, and many Native American belief systems. Pantheism is also sometimes associated with pandeism, which is similar to panentheism in that God is its own entity that permeates creation, but this permeation is more complete. Basically, with pandeism God came first, created everything, and then became one with it. True pantheism does not offer room for one to have come before the other. The concepts of supernatural and natural are inseparably intertwined into one existence, from its origin to its end.
Some famous people who are believed to have subscribed to pantheism include Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, just to name a few. With the popularity of scientific attempts to explain our existence, it is doubtless that scientific pantheism will add significantly to the ranks of believers in pantheism in the coming years.