A Pantheistic America- Culturology with Kevin MorrisJan 11, 2021
Eastern Pantheistic Monism is not a well known worldview in title, but its influence has permeated the western world in everything from the universities to the Beatles Rock band. But how does this worldview relate to Christian theism, and how should this worldview of the eastern culture be engaged in America? This is Culturology with Kevin Morris.
A Pantheistic America (Transcript)
"When one considers the trajectory of western philosophical thought and worldview systems, it is evident that the progression from theism to deism, and naturalism finally descends to a dead stop at nihilism (Sire 144). Logically, meaningless nihilism does not satisfy the longings of the human heart, since all worldviews seek to define the meaning of life in the material world. Thus, the dead stop of nihilism results in a tendency to stop seeking road signs and turning lanes to modify one’s worldview journey. Instead, the viable decision is to start the journey from a different direction altogether. It is here that people seek an enlightenment of a very different kind from that of 18th century European enlightenment.
This enlightenment is sourced from the east, specifically from the Asian world. Herein is the worldview known officially as eastern pantheistic monism. It is difficult to determine whether eastern pantheistic monism’s growing influence is a result of Asian culture’s intersection with the western world, or vice versa. In fact, when assessing the trend of worldview adaptations in the West, it becomes likened to the chicken and the egg question. Which came first, western adherence to eastern pantheistic monism (hereafter EPM) or Asian culture as a growing authority in global conversations? This paper seeks to determine the significance of this dichotomy by critiquing Eastern pantheistic monism as a viable worldview and suggesting a way forward culturally.
Dr. Ligon Duncan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Mississippi suggests that the West’s exposure to EPM came in part from the Beatles rock band (Worldviews Summer). During the 1960s the Beatles enjoyed worldwide influence and spoke regularly of their so-called enlightenment as a result of their travels to the East. While the Beatles were certainly not interested primarily in hosting worldview seminars, they were willing to advocate their practice of eastern thought, namely Hare Krishna. Although Hare Krishna is different from the traditional category of EPM (147), this example does represent an initial exposure of eastern thought to western culture, which paved the way for the reception of EPM by the western world.
From an academic perspective, the influence of EPM has occurred as a result of scholarship. According to Sires, “by the 1960s Eastern studies had filtered down to the undergraduate level. Indian gurus have been crossing and recrossing the United States and Europe for several decades” (146). It is not difficult to determine how this relates to modern politics and global conversations. The undergraduates of the 1960s are now at the end of their professional careers in technology, politics, and liberal arts. Those careers were spent alongside coworkers, with decades of abstract and practical opportunities to consider EPM within western society. In other words, EPM was exposed in concentrated amounts in the 1960s and subsequently dispersed throughout all forthcoming disciplines to the present day.
This of course is not to suggest that EPM has been secretly indoctrinating the minds of the western world for the last sixty years by some type of secret organization. Rather, this analysis is simply communicating how EPM has progressed from that which was foreign to that which now is familiar. This progression is described by Sires in like manner: “Knowledge of the East is now easy to obtain, and more and more its view of reality is becoming a live option in the West” (146). Now that the way in which EPM has been briefly explored, the analysis of EPM as a worldview can be done.
One thing must be stressed at this point; it is unnecessary to suggest a dichotomy between Asian importance and EPM as a growing worldview in the West. EPM can be thoroughly critiqued without resulting in a diminished importance of Asians, or an attack on the culture at large. In order to do so, EPM will be briefly analyzed by the worldview questions typically used to understand other worldviews, especially those alive and well in the western world.
First and foremost, the traditional categories of worldview do not fit directly into EPM with the same ease as that of theism or even naturalism (147). This has to do not only with the different vantage points between the east and west, but more so with the starting points. For example, the progression from theism to naturalism still starts with theism. Deism is a modification of theism, especially with the character of God. Naturalism is the outright rejection of God. And finally, nihilism is the conclusive hopelessness to a life without God. What is clear is that God is still the starting point in each of these worldviews. The difference is whether He is affirmed or denied.
The starting point of EPM is much different because the creator/creature distinction present in the previous worldviews is totally absent. This in fact is the meaning of pantheistic monism when considering the terminology employed. Pantheism describes the all-ness (pan) of God (theism). Yet, the mistake must not be made in understanding this theism as being the same as that of other worldviews. Instead, the concept of God or theism is qualified by the other term, monism. Monism qualifies God as being of the same source by eliminating the distinctive nature between creature and creator.
From the very outset, it is not without warrant to assert that EPM has an entirely different category for humanity than other worldviews. In fact, by definition, EPM eliminates the concept of category, since there is not distinction. Further, not only is there no vertical distinction between God and man, there is no horizontal distinction between man and other forms of life. This is explicit in the concept of reincarnation found in EPM. Reincarnation in EPM is the view that all souls are eternal and will eventually find their way back to the One, yet reincarnation also requires that the death of individual and person is the end of that personality or individual (156-158). Thus, person or individual are fleeting terms to describe what is an alarming practical implication of EPM: a soul which at one time manifested itself as a butterfly and later as an English bulldog. There is no intrinsic value in the human being, only in the impersonal soul which is and always will be identified as the One.
As Sire points out, most people from the West look to EPM because the quest for meaning was rejected in the expression of theism or in the hopelessness of nihilism. Ironically, the West’s journey to the East merely finds another way to be disappointed (158). To put it another way, the West rejects their culture in hopes that the East proposes something more enlightening, only to find a different impeding worldview expression.
Perhaps at this point, it would seem as though the West can only presumably reject EPM because it is a foreign way of thinking from traditional western categories. That is to say, in the transaction from foreign to familiar, those who reject EPM do so because they have not yet been enlightened to a familiarity to EPM. Moreover, if that is true, it could also be suggested that rejecting a long, established Eastern worldview tradition is in fact a racism of sorts. This would be viewed as a racism towards the value of Asian culture.
Yet by maintaining the results that come about from embracing EPM, the opposite proves true. Christian theism demands that every human being is made in the image of God and therefore has value and worth. This is worked out in ethics, politics, society and culture for anyone maintaining a theistic worldview.
Based on that presupposition, only those who reject EPM can uphold the value of Asian culture and personhood. This is why it is a false dichotomy to suggest that one must embrace Asian importance by embracing EPM. On the contrary, Asian importance can only be maintained by rejecting EPM. No doubt, there are vast ramifications to global and individual ethics when this embrace/reject option is considered. The East is saturated with a dominance of both atheism and pantheism, yet the political and cultural structure of these worldviews are strictly reinforced by expressions of communism and socialism, such as the People’s Republic of China. This is one example of the consequence of worldviews. But it is a clearer example of why Asian importance can only continue to grow as a good ethical cultivation by an equal distancing oneself from EPM."
Are you ready to go deeper?
Join The BBR Community today for ongoing study in courses, articles, bonus podcast episdoes, and a community of like-minded learners. Let's get better, one day at a time!