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Is God All Things? Are All Things Really One? 

May 16, 2024


You may have heard of the idea that “we are all God” or “God is you, me, the tree, the rock, and all existence” or that “all is one.” This view that all reality is one, that the distinctions between things are mere illusions, is sometimes called “monism.” In the East, the Hindu philosopher Shankara represents this view. In the West, the Greek philosopher Parmenides holds that reality is one unchanging Being. If “all is one,” multiplicity is a deceptive appearance. Should we accept this idea that all reality is really just one?

If our senses are even minimally accurate, it is clear that all reality is not one. When the lion eats the lamb, the lion gets nourished and the lamb gets destroyed. When your hand gets burned by the stove, two different realities interact. So, one of the costs of monism is the rejection of all the information that we gather from our senses. 

Virtually no one consistently rejects all the information that comes from the senses. In eating, we distinguish the fresh-off-the-grill cheeseburger from the shards of broken glass found in a dirty dumpster. When we walk, we avoid heading into traffic or off steep cliffs. So, adopting monism produces a fundamental inconsistency between theory and practice. Monism drives a Mack truck between one’s philosophy of life and one’s living of life. Anyone who lives as if “all reality is one” does not live long.

Another cost of the belief that all reality is one is the denial of change. Let’s say you get out of a chair and walk across the room to get a glass of water. That change in bodily location is only possible if there is in fact a difference between your current location and your future location. But if all reality is really one, then this difference in location is just an illusion, so you cannot change location. This is hard to believe.

Anyone who lives as if “all reality is one” does not live long.

Change involves an actualization of a potency. When you change location, you move from actually being in one place towards where you potentially could be. When you get a tan, your skin goes from actually being one shade to realizing its potency to be a darker shade. But if all reality is one, then there is no difference between actuality and potentiality. But that means that no change is possible. 

But if no change is possible, then it is also impossible to change your mind. Yet even if our senses always deceive us, we have repeatedly and directly experienced changes in our mind. Indeed, we can have such an experience right now. Three pink elephants play soccer on a green lawn in front of the Eiffel Tower. I’m guessing before you read the previous sentence, you were not thinking about pink elephants or green lawns or the Eiffel Tower. So your mind changed from not thinking about these things to thinking about these things. So, even if our senses were completely deceiving us, change actually takes place in our minds. 

But if change takes place, then the view that “all things are one” is false. If all things really were one, and all distinctions merely an illusion, then we could never change our minds from potentially thinking about elephants to actually thinking about elephants

Here’s yet another problem for monism. Advocates for monism hold that it is true that “all things are one” and that it is false that there are in fact many different things. But this assertion presupposes a difference between truth and falsity. So, the claim that “all things are one” is a self-defeating statement.

Moreover, advocates for monism hold it is better to believe their view than views they reject. But this preference for accepting their own views presupposes that their views are not the same as the views they reject. So, their own view implicitly affirms that difference is real, that reality is not all one. Monism ends up defeating itself because it involves self-contradiction. So, all things are not one. God is not all things. 

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Yet Thomas Aquinas taught that God is in all things by his essence, presence, and power. What does this mean? It does not mean monism. God is not in all things like ice is in an ice sculpture or like water is in a water balloon. Rather, God is in all things a bit like Shakespeare is in all his plays. Shakespeare wrote into existence Lady Macbeth, King Lear, Juliet Capulet, and Prince Hamlet. Shakespeare placed them in the time and the place of his choosing. He understood these characters because he was the cause of each of them.  

Of course, we are not like characters in a play who must say and do whatever the playwright has written. We have free will. Indeed, it is our freedom that leads to our tragedies, comedies, and histories. Shakespeare saw our world as a great drama: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players.” He believed this drama has a Director who works with our freedom: “There’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will.”  

Justin Brierley expresses this view in his fine new book The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God: Why the New Atheism Grew Old and Secular Thinkers are Considering Christianity Again. Brierley writes that the story of Christ is

a grand story that declares that every individual story matters. Far from being one more product of a mindless, purposeless universe headed towards oblivion, we have each been offered an integral role in a cosmic drama. What you do with your part is up to you, but you are nevertheless invited into a story that is being woven through time and space, a story in which you are intended, purposed, and loved.

There are characters in search of their Author. There are characters who flee him down the nights and down the days. What matters most is that the Author always seeks us. But that Author is neither the characters nor the stage. All is not one.