Today a new colleague asked what she should fill in the field of "employers religion" on her tax from. I warned her that if she admits to be catholic or protestant, 8% church tax will automatically be deduced from her salary. This, apparently brought her into a mind conflict between her christian faith, as she was raised in a traditional Italian families with catholic values, and her wish to spend this extra tax other things. As an alternative I recommended her to write "Pantheism" on the form, so nobody could deduce tax for this.
I remembered this very sophisticated faith, which fascinated me after reading Baruch Spinoza for an essay I once did at University. Funny enough, I first learned about this great philosopher through Karl Marx, whos works were obligatory part of the University curriculum. Spinoza, of jewish descendants and therefor trained to discover Gods will and identity came to the conclusion, that the whole world is an emanation of God, but that humans are not his preferential creature, without any dedicated mission. With such revolutionary concepts, Spinoza soon found himself in the center of mis-credit not only by his own Jewish community, but strangly by a joint oppresion of the Jewish leaders and the political authorities of his country (than the Spanish Netherlands). The Jewish religious authorities issue against Spinoza an excommunication (Cherem, expelation from the Jewish community). About 30 years after Spinozas early death, the english freethinker and rationalist John Toland became influenced by both Spinozas "Ethics" and the ideas of Guirdano Bruno, the astronomer and researcher who a centrury before insisted that the entire universe of the stars and planets move without any devine will or power. For these thesis the Vatican sentenced him to death on the autodafe.
Toland used the terms 'pantheist' and 'Spinozist' interchangeably and in 1720 wrote a book "Pantheisticon: or The Form of Celebrating the Socratic-Society in Latin, envisioning a pantheist society which believed, "all things in the world are one, and one is all in all things ... what is all in all things is God, eternal and immense, neither born nor ever to perish.
After pope Pius declared Patheism as an erroneous beliefe in 1862, in the 20th century it was often declared to be the underlying theology of Neopaganism. The dogmatic and conservative pope Bendict renewed the official catholic condemnation of Pantheism for its denial of human superiority over nature and "seeing the source of man's salvation in nature" (Papal encyclia 2009 and New Years address 2010).
Since Pantheism considers the entire physical world, both the living and the not-living as filled with devine spirit, it repeatedly attracted philosophers and scientist. Among others, Walt Whitmann, Ralph W. Emmerson, Coleridge, J.W.Goethe, Abraham Lincoln, H.D.Thoreau and Albert Einstein became pantheists. Einstein, in a letter to friend wrote in 1954 "We followers of Spinoza see our God in the wonderful order and lawfulness of all that exists and in its soul ["Beseeltheit"] as it reveals itself in man and animal..."
Scientist are very often undecided about the question of faith or pure materialism/rationalism. Sure, the vast majority of scientists have an issue with any organized religion, and usually consider their rules and rites as primitive, useless and rediculous. But on the same time they feel a deep devotion to the imense beauty of nature, and fascination by the perfection of the natural laws. Although they never see any requirements for a divine creator in the logic and relationships of the universe, they always miss a satisfactory explanation of who and why the world exists and what is their purpose.
Pantheism, therefor should have much more followers today, not only as an easy way to avoid church tax.