Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Process Theology

It is really interesting and exciting stuff, but you cannot get from here to there on it in a hundred words or less. Our little tiny congregation church of progressive Christians had fully 14 people attend the first book club discussion on a book by John Cobb and David Griffin entitled Process Theology: an Introductory Exposition. (To give you an idea of what kind of congregation this is, on a good Sunday we will have 25-30 people attend services. So that means about half the people in the church will first of all read a heavy, academic assignment, and then come out on a weeknight for a 90-minute discussion.)

 Here's the scoop in only the most general terms: it's a 20th century attempt to apply the concepts of Alfred North Whitehead's philosophy to our thinking about God. It is dense and fun stuff. Its chief progenitors are John B. Cobb, Jr. and Charles Hartshorne. And it is seminal in the thinking of progressive Christians, although most of us may not even be aware of origins, we embrace the main ideas. I'll be writing about this some more, but for now let me lay out the concepts of God that process thinking rejects. You cannot but notice that these ideas are foundational in traditional unitheistic religions. So we will not take as our starting point the following assumptions about God:
  1. God as cosmic moralist, that his fundamental concern is the development of moral attitudes. Which makes such attitudes intrinsic to the basic importance of human beings. No.
  2. God as the Unchanging and Passionless Absolute. God is not really related to the world, that his influence upon the world is "in no way conditioned by divine responsiveness to unforeseen, self-determining activities of us worldly beings." No.
  3. God as controlling power who determines every detail of the world, even down to deciding who dies in natural disasters, finding a parking place, or who wins a football game. No.
  4. God sanctions the status quo. The previous three notions set the stage for this one. Cosmic moralist = primary interest in order; unchanging absolute = God has established an unchangeable order for the world; controlling power = God wills the present to exist. Therefore obedience to God is preserving the status quo. No.
  5. God is male. He is the archetype of the "dominant, inflexible, unemotional, completely independent (read 'strong') male. No.
More on all this later. As you might imagine, if you start with the rejection of these age-old notions of the nature of God, you're definitely not in Kansas anymore.
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