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Panentheism (Greek words: pan =all, en =in and Theos =God) is the view that God is immanent within all creation and that the universe is part of God or that God is the animating force behind the universe. Unlike pantheism, panentheism does not mean that the universe is synonymous with God. Instead, it maintains that there is more to God than the material universe. In panentheism, God maintains a transcendent character, and is viewed as both the creator and the original source of universal morality.

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Panentheism in Christianity

The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches have a doctrine called panentheism to describe the relationship between the Uncreated (God, who is omnipotent, eternal, and constant) and His creation that bears surface similarities with the panentheism described above but maintains a critical distinction.

Most specifically, these Churches teach that God is not the "watchmaker God" of the Western European Enlightenment. Likewise, they teach that God is not the "stage magician God" who only shows up when performing miracles. Instead, the teaching of both these Churches is that God is not merely necessary to have created the universe, but that His active presence is necessary in some way for every bit of creation, from smallest to greatest, to continue to exist at all. That is, God's energies maintain all things and all beings, even if those beings have explicitly rejected Him. His love of creation is such that he will not withdraw His presence, which would be the ultimate form of slaughter, not merely imposing death but ending existence, altogether. By this token, the entirety of creation is sanctified, and thus no part of creation can be considered innately evil except as a result, direct or indirect, of the Fall of man or similar active rebellion against God.

This Orthodox panentheism is distinct from the "hardcore" panentheism described above in that it maintains an ontological gulf between the created and the Uncreated. Creation is not "part of" God, and God is still distinct from creation; however, God is "within" all creation, thus the Orthodox parsing of the word is "pan-entheism" (God indwells in all things) and not "panen-theism" (All things are within/part of God but God is more than the sum of all things).

Process theology and Creation Spirituality, two minority Christian views, also encorporate a panentheistic worldview.

Panentheism in Judaism

When Hasidic Orthodox Jews first developed as a movement and a theology, their theology was essentially panentheistic, even though they themselves did not use this word. Non-Hasidic Orthodox Jews viewed this theology as heretical. However, after the schism between Hasidic and non-Hasidic Orthodox Jews closed in the mid 1800s, panentheism became an accepted way of thinking in Orthodox Jewish theology. While not the mainstream point of view, panentheism has become more popular in the non-Orthodox Jewish denominations like Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism through the writings of rabbis like Abraham Joshua Heschel, Arthur Green, Wayne Dosick and Lawrence Kushner.

Panentheism in Hinduism

Some interpretations of Hinduism can be seen as panentheistic. Certain interpretations of the Gita and the Shri Rudram support this view. The panentheistic view of Hinduism has been termed by some scholars as monistic theism.

Opposing views

Some branches of ancient Gnosticism hold the inverse idea of panentheism: they regard matter as evil and ultimately flawed, and thus not a part of God. This rigid dualism is seen most clearly in the teachings of Manichaeism.

Gnosticism claims that matter came about through emanations of the supreme being, and to some this event is held to be more of an accident than of being on purpose. To other Gnostics, the emanations are akin to the Sephirah of the Kabbalists—description of the manifestation of God through a complex system of reality.

Pandeism shares with panentheism both the concept that God created the universe, and that the universe is composed of material physically derived from God. The belief systems part, however, on the point that pandeism asserts that everything that was God before the creation of the universe was incorporated into the material universe, providing for no separately existing God.

See also


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