Next I will test pantheism and examine how this belief system answers the problem of evil.
Pantheism is the belief that god is all and all is god (pan = all and theism = god). The chair you are sitting on is god, the world is god, and we are god. Pantheistic beliefs are at the heart of Hinduism and sects of Buddhism. Today there are many new age believers who are pantheistic. Christian Science, Unity, and Scientology all attest to the belief god is all and all is god. Monotheistic belief systems (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) say God is the creator of the universe and is transcendent or separated from the creation. Pantheism says the creation is god and there is no separation. The god of pantheism is an impersonal god.
Pantheism struggles mightily with the problem of evil. If evil exists and all is god then evil is god. Therefore, cancer is god, all diseases are god, and pollution is god. This poses a major problem for the pantheist. One escape route believers take is to say evil is an illusion. Questions immediately arise, if evil is not real, what is the origin of the illusion? If it’s an illusion why have people experienced it for so long, and why does it seem so real? Why do people who believe evil is an illusion, die from this illusion? How can evil arise from God who is absolutely and necessarily good? Pantheists have wrestled with these questions and their answers are inadequate to most people.
CS Lewis addresses pantheism in his book, Mere Christianity:
“If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God. But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that. You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will. Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, ‘If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realize that this also is God.’ The Christian replies, ‘Don’t talk damned nonsense.’ For Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks that God made the world—that space and time, heat and cold, and all the colors and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God ‘made out of his head’ as a man makes up a story. But it also thinks that great many things have gone wrong with the world that God made and that insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again.”
Lewis calls Christianity a fighting religion is because it takes evil seriously and fights to make it right. The pantheist insisting evil is an illusion will not work hard to correct it. He says if you see a slum this is god. If the pantheist believes that, he would have little to no motivation to help the people living in the slum. Why help someone fight cancer because the cancer is also god. Christianity believes evil is real and fights hard to correct the wrongs of this world. You can see why Lewis’ anger is justified.
If all evil is an illusion, then there is no such thing as good and evil actions and that all morals are relative; there is no ultimate right or wrong. What difference would it make whether we praise or curse, counsel or rape, love or murder someone? If there are no final moral differences between those actions, absolute moral responsibilities do not exist.
The following story, told by a Christian missionary, will help bring perspective on this problem:
“One day I was talking to a group of people in the digs of a young South African in Cambridge. Among others, there was present a young Indian who was of Sikh background but a Hindu by religion. He started to speak strongly against Christianity, but did not really understand the problems of his own beliefs. So I said, ‘Am I not correct in saying that on the basis of your system, cruelty and non-cruelty are ultimately equal, and that there is no intrinsic difference between them?’ He agreed…The student in whose room where we met, who clearly understood the implications of what the Sikh had admitted, picked up his kettle of boiling water with which he was about to make tea, and stood with it steaming over the Indian’s head. The man looked up and asked him what he was doing and he said, with a cold yet gentle finality, ‘There is no difference between cruelty and non-cruelty.’ Thereupon the Hindu walked out into the night.”
Here we see the difficulty of living out pantheism. Even though evil is an illusion, pantheists experience pain, suffering, and eventually will die. They move when they are going to be burned by boiling water. Even pantheists double-over in pain when they get appendicitis. They jump out of the way of an on-coming truck so as not to get hurt.
I have a close relative who is a pantheist. We have had many discussions and he admitted he has no good answers to the problem of evil. He said to me, “Steve my belief system is not as advanced or as systematic as yours. I am still working out a solution to the problem of evil.” He told me this many years ago and it is likely he still doesn’t have a good answer. He doesn’t buy the idea evil is an illusion. He is left believing evil is god, which is something he struggles with. A Pantheist either believes evil is an illusion or evil is god; both answers are unsatisfying to anyone who takes evil and suffering seriously.
Both atheism and pantheism struggle giving answers to the problem of evil. What answers does Christianity have for the problem of evil? I will answer over a series of posts.
 Lewis, CS “Mere Christianity,” Macmillan Publishing Co. NY 1943 p. 33
Looking for something?
Or visit the Site Map