Naturalistic pantheism is a form of pantheism that holds that the universe, although unconscious and non-sentient as a whole, is a meaningful focus for mystical fulfillment. Accordingly, Nature is seen as being God only in a non-traditional, impersonal sense. Also known as Impersonal Pantheism and Impersonal Absolutism.
Adherents feel that naturalistic pantheism might best be understood through the teachings of Spinoza, and the Universal Pantheist Society (UPS) and World Pantheist Movement (WPM) today.
Although the UPS is the older of the two, it has seen decreased activity in recent years. The WPM (founded by former UPS vice-president Paul Harrison), on the other hand, has expanded more considerably due to its promotion of "scientific pantheism", which many critics claim is essentially no more than "atheism for nature lovers"[. This charge seems to stem from the fact that scientific pantheism is not only naturalistic, but avowedly materialistic as well, with little tolerance for any reference to traditional theological concepts. Despite a history of controversy ignited by the WPM's appearance as a sect within the UPS and its eventual secession from that organization, the WPM approach has met with some acceptance, even while critics claim it may not actually constitute any strict or authentic or classical pantheism.
Although the Universal Pantheist Society ostensibly accepts pantheists of all varieties, in practice, it too tends toward the modern (naturalistic) pantheism. To understand this, it must be re-emphasized that the theological concept which the term "pantheism" was originally intended to describe (the equivalence of the traditional God concept with nature) is considered to be essentially obsolete by many naturalistic pantheists. It is often maintained that the intent of such individuals in describing themselves as "pantheist" is chiefly to identify themselves as adherents of a naturalistic spirituality by using an established religious term.
Opponents of naturalistic pantheism allege that it constitutes an intentional misuse of terminology, and an attempt to justify atheism by mislabeling it as pantheism.
Naturalistic pantheism places little emphasis on the concept of God. This raises the concern that it is really no longer pantheism at all, but something more like "spiritual naturalism" or "feel-good atheism". After all, these critics ask, if you remove the concept of God from your philosophy, what is the purpose of using the term "pantheism?" It is charged that the etymology of the word reveals it is inappropriately used in describing an anti-theist philosophy. In answer to this objection, naturalistic pantheists maintain that the "pan-" prefix modifies the "-theism" suffix to such an extent that pantheism in fact has little to do with traditional theism.
Critics regard this modern pantheism as simply a more reverent and naturalistic form of atheism, since this unusual conception of God is seen as bending the traditional definition so far as to make it meaningless. In the view of some modern adherents, this objection to using the historical term "pantheism" for the naturalistic interpretation is essentially valid, and these adherents usually admit that the term is maintained only for the sake of convenience.
Recognizing this, some naturalistic pantheists are willing to concede that the term may in fact be more appropriate for other spiritual views than for themselves, and there is currently some discussion over possible alternative terms for this worldview.
An argument intended to show that the term "pantheism" remains appropriate for the modern, or naturalistic interpretation of pantheism is that the contemporary pantheist sees the term "God" as a synonym for "nature". If nature is equivalent to the theological concept of God, then saying "all is God" (pan-theism) is the same as saying "all is nature". Accordingly, this is the way that many pantheists choose to view the term "pantheism" — all is nature, nature is all. Pantheism, then, is (in this view) essentially a form of spirituality based on nature rather than on supernatural entities such as deities. Accordingly, it is widely accepted that the modern interpretation of pantheism is essentially naturalistic, and therefore constitutes a form of naturalistic spirituality.
In addition, a number of modern (naturalistic) pantheists further identify themselves as "mystics", although the debate over this has been somewhat less heated than that over other terminology. It is widely (although not universally) accepted that the essence of mysticism within the context of pantheistic thought lies in a direct knowledge or a direct experience of God, which is in their mind readily attainable by the pantheist, considering that his or her god is all that exists.
General acceptance of naturalistic pantheism has been undermined to some extent by the existence of considerable disagreement within their community as to whether or not ideas such as "spirituality" are truly applicable to a naturalistic worldview. Although a clear conclusion has not yet been reached, the rough consensus currently holds that within a pantheistic framework, spirituality can be meaningfully and consistently interpreted as "the human relation to the numinous", as Carl Sagan and some others have suggested.
Pandeism is a kind of naturalistic pantheism, holding that the universe is an unconscious and nonsentient God, but also that God was previously a conscious and sentient force or entity that designed and created the universe. In pandeism, God only became an unconscious and nonsentient God by becoming the universe. Other than this distinction (and the possibility that the Universe will one day return to the state of being God), pandeistic beliefs are identical to the above pantheistic beliefs.