Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Wishful thinking on Pandeism and Barack Obama

Second-tier "social conservative" political blogger Mark Finkelstein recently wrote a blog where he suggested (more or less) that Barack Obama's "true faith" is Pandeism.... I say more or less, since it becomes quickly obvious that Finkelstein really has no idea what correct definition of Pandeism is.... the blog critiques a New York Times column by Gail Collins, which is why it is titled "Happy Pan-Deism Day From Gail Collins".... Collins, so Finkelstein observes, noted the coincidence of Easter and Passover falling in the same week (hardly a surprise since the crucifixion itself was timed from Passover), and quotes the observation from Collins that "Americans with less religious inclinations can look forward to the upcoming Earth Day celebrations, when the president is planning to do something as yet unannounced, but undoubtedly special, and Arbor Day, when rumor has it that he will not just plant a tree, but personally reforest a large swath of the nation of Mali".... following from this Finkelstein relates that "environmentalism has essentially become a religion, and Earth Day effectively a religious holiday. Yesterday's pan-deists, who worshiped trees and brooks, have become members of various environmental groups doing much the same thing.  People like Al Gore others, and perhaps the reforesting Obama, have become their latter day shamans."

So, in short, what Finkelstein is saying is that Obama (and Al Gore, and other environmental group members) are pandeists -- and based on his political pedigree, it's pretty clear he means that as an insult (his next comment is "These are the same people who tend to demand the strict separation of church and state. Yet they would have teachers indoctrinate children in their modern-day Church of Gaia in our public schools").... This is irksome on a number of levels.... first off, Finkelstein gets it wrong on several fronts, reducing the reasoned and logic-derived belief that the Creator became the Universe entire to 'worshipping trees and brooks' -- which is in fact doubly wrong.... for one thing, pandeists do not "worship" anything; if we are all part of the Deus, then is useless to worship because the deus is unconscious and wouldn't respond to worship even if it was conscious; and since we are the Deus too, we'd only be worshipping ourselves, which is silly.... and second of all, what we do express a spiritual sentiment of awe towards is not limited to things in Earth's nature, but to the entire Universe, and the delicate balance of physical laws and forces that underlie the greatness of the whole of it.... and yes, we do appreciate trees and brooks, they are often lovely things, and the world would be worse off for their absence from it!! I imagine Finkelstein picturing pandeists joyously dancing naked around a campfire in ceremonies intended to invoke some ancient pagan gods (perhaps even that Greek god, Pan).... well I can assure you, when we do joyously dance naked around a campfire, it's for the inherent fun of it, not to invoke any sort of mythical being, whether the mythology is Greek or Christian.

Now Obama, naturally, is no pandeist.... I seriously doubt Al Gore is either.... it would be great if either of them was, despite my own political differences with both of them, since that would perhaps influence their thinking more in my direction, and more importantly that would bring some much deserved public attention (and no doubt some support) to a belief system that has long been discussed mostly by philosophy professors (and in Germany at that!!), and even among them, often only at the highest levels of the discipline.... I can't tell you how many times someone has described their belief system to me and made clear that Pandeism was what they in fact have long believed without ever knowing it had a name and a community behind it.... more likely, there has never been a pandeist in any high political office -- sure, many among the founding fathers were Deists, the scientific knowledge that justifies Pandeism had not yet been developed and Deism and Pantheism were thought to be philosophies at odds with one another....

Worst of all, and more so than the obvious misconceptions, is the tone which suggests that Finkelstein intends to insult Obama by call him a Pandeist, as though this is some contemptible faith to hold.... I find this odd coming from someone who begins his blog by speaking of the Seder that he will be attending -- after all, why does Finkelstein choose to reject the "divinity of Christ" which marks the mindset of most who share his political orientation? Does he not find the idea of God sending his own son to be sacrificed to absolve mankind of sin (but only those who accept said divinity story) to be equally silly? Does he agree with Ann Coulter's assessment of Christians as 'perfect' and Jews as 'needing to be perfected'? I see now how annoyed Muslims must get when Internet chatter labels Obama a secret Muslim, as though that faith by itself is a shameful thing to belong to.... unreasonable, perhaps -- but shameful? No more than being a Christian, at any rate.... ;)