Four main beliefs about the nature of God:
Deism, Panentheism, Pantheism & Theism
In this essay, we will use the term "deity" in a very broad, generic,
gender-neutral sense to refer to a male God, or a female Goddess, or a group of
Gods, or a set of Goddesses, or a pantheon of Gods and Goddesses -- that is, any
form of one or more supreme beings in which followers of a particular faith
The name(s), gender(s), and structure of deity:
According to David Barrett et al, editors of the "World
Christian Encyclopedia, there are 19 major world religions which can be
subdivided into a total of 270 large religious groups, and many thousands of
smaller ones. 1 One is struck by the diversity of mutually
exclusive beliefs about deity which are firmly held by followers of
these thousands of faith groups. Many, perhaps most, believers in a given religion
believe that their particular concept of deity was taught to humans through divine revelation.
Thus, they often regard their belief system as the only true one. Many, perhaps
most, believe that the founders and theologians of other religions are in error;
their deities were created by
Obviously, since no religion is followed by a majority of the world's
population, most people are simply mistaken in their beliefs.
Most religions define deity according to one of the following four theological belief systems.
In alphabetic order, they are:
Very brief description:
||Deity created the universe, started it functioning, but is
no longer actively involved in it.
||Deity is the inner spiritual essence of everything in the
universe, but it exists beyond the universe as well.
||Deity is the inner spiritual essence of everything in the
||Deity created the universe and continues to actively participate in the world's activities and
in human history.
Each of these four systems will be defined in greater detail later in this
Theism can be subdivided into various types, according to the number and
relative ranking of the deity or deities:
||Duotheism (a.k.a. Ditheism, Bitheism; belief in the existence
of precisely two deities who are often approximately equal in power),
||Henotheism (belief in a main deity accompanied by many subservient
||Monotheism (belief in a single, usually male, deity),
||Polytheism (belief in a pantheon of many deities, usually male
and female), and
||Trinity (belief in three persons within a single deity; a
version of monotheism).
Opposing Theism are three main religious beliefs:
||Agnosticism (indecision about
whether deity exists),
||Atheism (possessing no belief in
||Strong Atheism (actively disbelieving in deity's existence).
||Most Christians are Theists who believe in the Trinity -- a "God
in Three Persons," consisting of Jehovah, the Father; Jesus, the Son; and
the Holy Spirit. Since they believe in a single composite God, they generally
regard themselves as monotheists. However, many followers of other
religions, like Islam and Judaism, dispute this stance.
||Most Muslims and Jews are also Theists. They are pure monotheists,
since they believe in a single, indivisible, male deity.
||Wiccans are often
considered Theists. Because of their belief in both a Goddess and a God, theologians generally
refer to them as Duotheists or Ditheists or Bitheists.
The foundational concepts leading to beliefs in deity:
Some theologians regard the opposing concepts of transcendence and immanence
to be the basic building blocks from which are formed the four different theological belief systems: Deism,
Panentheism, Pantheism, and Theism:
||"The term 'transcendence' derives from a Latin word meaning 'to
go beyond'." 2 It refers to deity
as existing above, outside of, or beyond creation. It is generally a different and higher
order of being than are humans and other living entities. For example, the
ancient Hebrews viewed God as seated on a throne
in Heaven above the firmament, 3
where he could smell the delicious fragrance of meat cooking on temple
altars below. |
||"Immanence" is also derived "from Latin, but conveys the
polar opposite sense of 'indwelling' or the quality of 'within-ness'."
2 Deity is seen as being within the
universe, perhaps an "...inner presence and Power that permeates,
saturates, or infuses the universe and everything in it..."
4 For example, Taoists believe that the Tao a formless, unchanging
and self-sufficient form of energy, which was present before the universe existed.
continues to be present in all things. |
||Often confused with "immanence" is the unrelated word "imminence"
which means "nearness." For example, many Christians expect that the
return of Jesus to earth in the Second Coming
is imminent -- they believe that it will happen in the near future. |
||Unfortunately, both "transcendence" and "immanence" are used in two
||In a "strong" or "ontological" sense to refer to the being,
nature, or essence of deity.|
||In a "weak" sense where|
||"transcendence" can means elusive, or beyond perception.
||"immanence" means activity by the deity in the
This is in keeping with a widespread religious tradition of often assigning a
single word to serve many different and often mutually exclusive
meanings. The result is often chaos and an inability for persons of
different faith traditions to enter into dialogue.
Transcendence and Immanence within the four theological systems:
||Deism was a byproduct of the
Enlightenment during the 17th and 18th centuries. It
became a major belief system among European intellectuals, such as Lord
Herbert of Cherbury, Rousseau, John Tillotson, John Toland, and Voltaire.
It was imported into America and adopted by John Quincy Adams,
Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison Thomas
Paine, George Washington and many -- perhaps most -- of the leaders of the
American Revolution. Deists assert that:|
||God exists: God created the universe, and its scientific and
moral laws, in a state of perfection. Thus, after he set the universe in
motion, his main task was completed. Since his creation was perfect, it
did not need continual interference by God to keep it functioning as it
was designed to operate.
||God is transcendent: He is separate from, and above, his
||God is not immanent, except at the time of creation. Deists
see no evidence of God currently working in nature. They believe that "Only an
inept God would have to step in to fix a faulty world....The God of
deism had made a world precisely as it as supposed to be, and it
functioned very nicely without divine intervention." 5
||Miracles do not happen, either in biblical times or at the
||Prayer is not useful. Even if God were listening, he would
During the 19th century, Deism lost much of its popularity.
However, it is currently experiencing a surge in numbers.
||Panentheists assert that:|
||Deity is immanent: As noted above, it "is an inner
Presence and Power that permeates, saturates, or infuses the universe and
everything in it (including the world and humanity, nature and human nature)
||Deity is also transcendent: In addition to infusing the
universe and everything in it, there is some aspect of deity that
is external to the universe.
||Agree with Panentheists that deity is immanent, and permeates
||Assert that deity is not transcendent. It has no aspect that is
beyond the universe.
||Deity may be permanently beyond our ability to perceive and
||Visualize deity as transcendent, being separate from
creation. A common expression is that "God is not the universe and the
universe is not God."
||Believe that deity is immanent in the weak sense of the term:
deity initially created the universe, and remains active in
||Generally believe that deity suspends the laws of nature from
time to time in order to generate miracles.
||Generally believe in prayer as a means of personal communing with the
deity, offering thanks, and asking for special favors.
||Often assign infinite attributes to deity, such as omniscience,
omnipotence, omnipresent, and all-loving. This inevitably leads to the
apparently unsolvable problem of theodicy: how can an all-good,
omnipotent deity tolerate the presence of evil and suffering?
David Barrett et al, "World Christian Encyclopedia: A comparative
survey of churches and religions - AD 30 to 2200," Oxford University
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Paul Laughlin, "Remedial Christianity: What every believer should know
about the Faith, but probably doesn't," Polebridge Press, (2000),
Page 42. Read
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- A firmament is a rigid dome which was believed to exist a few hundred feet
above the earth, and which separated the waters of heaven from the earth's
- Op cit, Laughlin, Page 55.
- Ibid, Page 50 & 52
Copyright © 2003 to 2008by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2003-MAY-12
Latest update: 2008-MAR-11
Author: B.A. Robinson