Divinity vs. the Sacred

“Well, you’re a pantheist, then.”

I get this now and then, after describing my cosmology and Atheopagan path to other Pagans.

And there’s nothing wrong with it. Pantheism is a perfectly fine way of looking at the Cosmos: to see Divinity in everything. Many pantheists don’t believe in deities as individual, communicative entities with agency and personalities, and I don’t, either, so I can understand why some might mistake Atheopaganism with pantheism. But it IS a mistake; I’m really not a pantheist.

In some ways, I am the utter antithesis of a pantheist, because I don’t see Divinity in anything.

Divinity is described as a quality, something with which a thing or a process or an entity is imbued. Like being magnetic, or radioactive, or orange: it is a trait which pantheists and theists alike ascribe to whatever they think is divine. In the case of the former, it’s everything; in the case of the latter, what is considered Divine may be limited to their conceptions of gods, spirits or other disembodied powers.

But I don’t think that quality exists. A rock doesn’t “have Divinity”, nor does a tree, nor a lion. There is no means by which a special “field of Divinity” in or around such a thing could be detected. In my opinion, such a quality is simply imaginary.

What those things do have, in my opinion, is Sacredness. And that is an entirely different matter.

What is Sacred is, at root, an opinion. It’s not a claim about a characteristic of a given subject; it is an ascribed description with which one chooses to categorize—or not—those objects, symbols, phenomena, processes and/or creatures which one has decided are or are not Sacred.

Here’s an example from my essay, “How I Became an Atheopagan”, for instance: the cross.

You can take two pieces of 4×4 lumber and fasten them at right angles, and to Christians, you suddenly have a symbol which is Sacred, while to me, the arrangement of that wood is not particularly significant in any way.

You see? An opinion. Not a magical fluid or aura or attribute. Just an opinion.

I happen to believe that pretty much everything is Sacred. Only a small number of things are not, and it is because they are blasphemous. The tools of war or genocide are not sacred. Chemical pesticides and nerve gas are not sacred. Instruments of torture are not sacred.

In my opinion.

I wish all good fortune to pantheists and theists alike, but I am neither. I look out at the insensate but magnificent Universe, and I see no divinity.

Only the Sacred, off nearly to infinity.

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23 thoughts on “Divinity vs. the Sacred

  1. I strugle with this dicotomy myself. I to prefer the concept of sacred over divintiy. For me sacred is a statement of value indepenent of itself. I even use the term The Sacred in place for / or instead of the pantheist “God” as the universe (or in my case the cosmos). I find myself more-and-more drawn to pantheist thaught, but like my draw to deism, I strugle with some of the vauge language used to describe the cosmology, including the word God.

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    • Yes. I just remain clear about one thing, which is that Divinity is something believed to be “out there”, while a decision about what is Sacred happens *in here*–inside us, in our minds. It’s a rather big distinction when you think about it.

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  2. Well, many Pagan theologies emphasize immanence of divinity (rather than transcendence) but I’m guessing you’re already familiar with that distinction. Pantheism is pretty close, but I’m one for respecting how people self-identity, so long as its not harmful. Personally I have noticed that many atheists and agnostics I’ve known have a sense of what I’d call sacred or holy (even if they didn’t use the term) I like your defintion of things which are *not* sacred as well (profane) Connection, meaning, purpose, commemoration, these are *human needs* regardless of belief.

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  3. Interesting piece and opinion. I’d submit that a rock is more than sacred and is in fact divine. The fact that nearly everything regardless of its use, is made of a relatively small collection of compounds suggests that they are divinely linked. Nothing can be sacred without our consciousness so nothing is sacred unless it is only sacred to you. Opinion is not something that will alter my impression the magnificence of the universe.

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    • Well, okay, that’s your opinion. I simply do not share it. I see the magnificence of the Universe, and to do so, I do not need to ascribe some invisible Quality called “divinity” to it. The fact that it is made of a relatively small collection of elements (and, for that matter, that these elements are made of an even smaller number of particles) is a reflection of the fact that they emerged from the same process and follow the same laws. No divinity is necessary in order for this to be true.

      Things are sacred because we decide that they are–or aren’t. Groups can–and do–agree on what is sacred, so the idea that sacredness is only an individual ascription doesn’t really hold up.

      We agree on one thing, though: the Universe is magnificent.

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      • nothing can be sacred without divinity by definition. You are right that there is no evidence of “divinity” apart from what is sacred. If you believe the magnificence of the universe is sacred why would you not call that divinity?

        Simply put you cannot call the universe sacred and the birth of a child sacred. Without the universe a birth of a child could not take place. The universe must have a separate definition and this could be best described as divinity or god or whatever you please. If you decide that everything is made up of the same thing as the universe then everything is in fact godly.

        I also disagree that groups can and do decide on what is sacred.

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      • I simply disagree. I believe in no divinity; I choose to consider nearly everything in the Universe to be sacred. Divinity implies consciousness and agency–I don’t believe the Universe has either.

        *I* have decided what is sacred to me. So it clearly is a choice. I don’t consider a star of David to be a sacred symbol, but Jews do. I see no logic in your claim that it is impossible to call both the Universe and the birth of a child sacred–that is an arbitrary assertion, and without basis.

        As for “godliness”, NOTHING in the Universe is godly. So I believe.

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      • what is your definition of sacred without divinity? Something that you like? I’m a Pantheist and see no implication of consciousness in my belief that the universe is so magnificent it could be described as godly or divine. I can see that your claim is that you would rather call something sacred rather than divine and you don’t believe that there is a “god” which is fine. I’m just interested in how you then decide on what is sacred?

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      • I just decide. The same way anyone else does. You decided the Universe was sacred, so it is to you. Again: divinity implies consciousness and agency, and the Universe has neither. It appears we simply have different definitions of the words, but in either case, what is sacred to you is so because you decided that it was; it was nothing intrinsic in that which you find sacred which makes it so. You could decide that black holes weren’t sacred but the rest of the Universe is, and it would be no less arbitrary than deciding that the whole thing is.

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      • Not sure that follows. But the fact that you made a choice to believe something means that there is, indeed, a choice to be made. I choose to make my choices in such matters based on available, verifiable evidence. Your mileage clearly varies.

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      • I understand that that is what you believe. However, I don’t see any reason to join you in that. I don’t believe in divinity–I’ve never seen any evidence that it exists. Whereas I can make ANYTHING sacred simply by deciding that it is. We will simply have to disagree on this point.

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  4. Another way of describing the difference between divinity and sacredness is that each exists in one of the “two realities” I described in “Language, Reality and the Inner World”.

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  5. I agree that divinity does not exist, especially not in the Christian approach to that word. I like the sacredness approach. Great post!

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  6. Words are funny things, aren’t they? Each of us interprets them differently. I ran away from the word “sacred” because it seemed -to me- to be too rigidly theistic (“sacrosanct” or “sacred cow”)

    I’m enjoying your writings and other than a slight disagreement about what word best describes the qualities that imbue natural wonders, I don’t see any difference between Atheopaganism and my religion, Scientific Pantheism.

    “That emotional response has two primary elements. One is a sense of awe, wonder, reverence and acceptance of the natural universe, based on its power and beauty and mystery. This sense is the basis for some pantheists’ use of words such as “god” “divine,” though these words are never used in their traditional Western theistic sense of a creator being. However, most scientific pantheists prefer to avoid theistic words because of they evoke in most people the idea of a personal judging creator god.”
    Source: http://www.pantheism.net/paul/beliefs.htm

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    • Scientific Pantheism is very similar to Atheopaganism, but not quite the same. We share a cosmology (naturalism), but Atheopaganism specifically involves Pagan ritual celebration of the turning seasons and other life passages. Being a Scientific Pantheist doesn’t necessarily involve a ritual practice. But yes–we share much! Glad to have you participate here.

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