If you don't mind taking a walk with me over to the where the other third of the world lives (China, India, the Asian Orient in general), than the summary below may help in understanding what process theology is from a different point of view immersed in eastern religion and mysticism. If nothing else, consider it a good starting point in which to have a more relevant conversation about Jesus with your Buddhist neighbors.
Otherwise, like some of you, I know just enough about process thought to be drawn into it, while at the same time have stumbled over some of its predecessor's ideas and theologies to react to it (and bad press about it doesn't help - contributing as it does to the FUD factors of fear, uncertainty, and doubt). To many of my conservative friends it is a philosophical approach to Scripture which confuses the American Evangelical more acquainted (and much more comfortable) with classical church theology in its Greek, Medieval and Modernistic forms. However, to those brave few of us having re-orientated ourselves towards the ideas of postmodernism, and postmodern philosophies, than process thought seems to be the way to go at this point (even as it is now modifying itself with newbies like you and me coming into it).
Which presents another problem. Just which postmodern philosophy do you go with? I tend more towards continental philosophy than I do the opposing analytic branch (though I think we should be familiar with both). And in the streams of continentalism I'm flowing forwards through the sometimes salient, and sometimes turbulent, waters of Kant/Nietzsche towards the Hegelian waters of existentialism and phenomenology (aka Heidegger, Ricouer, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Derrida, Delueze, Cobb, Caputo, among others). Which then bumps us up into Radical Theology's philosophical positions (sic, Peter Rollins, amongst others) that are merging and forming with all past, present, and future movements now present.
Given this, it would be misleading to think as a modern day Evangelical Christian that classical theology is here to stay. I would venture a guess that its fast losing turf (if not gone altogether) and that it began to do so in the Italian Renaissance of the 14th century. Meaning that, one's preference of philosophy is pretty much what you grow up with and that it is the rare bird who can adopt another. That said, if one could adopt a philosophy than it should be investigated as to what it is, and how one's Christian faith might reacquire itself, within that process of adoption. As example, Greek philosophy (Hellenism) filled the early church in the Apostle's day and the later Church Fathers. However, Medieval Scholasticism came along to influence the church again as it struggled with Augustine and Plato in the early days of the Renaissance resulting in the Reformation years later. And since then, the church has been forming and re-forming, with-and-against, the ideas of the Enlightenment and Modern secularism, accommodating it in part, and criticizing it in part. Hence, it would be naive to think that time, culture, traditions, and orthodoxies don't change with people, movement, events, and ideas, because it does and it will. Nothing stays the same because both creation and humanity are in a grand process of movement in-and-through, and with-and-against the Lord and His Spirit. To hunker down and pretend that the good ol' days were found in post-war America of the 1950s is like myself believing that the good ol' days were in Colonial America during the Indian wars. Much like Owen Wilson in "Midnight in Paris" believed his golden age was found in Paris of the 1930s, or Marion Cotillard's golden age erupted from the 1890s. This is the constant struggle we have as Christians of faith attempting to live out a heavenly faith while trapped in the aegis of man....
Midnight In Paris Movie Trailer Official (HD)
However, thought in another way, this is exactly the plan that God would have for us poor sinners. Not to live as monks and escapists, or hermits and crabs, but as men and women valiant in the faith caught between the daily struggles and plethora of dilemmas in the turmoil of our present age. Who are deeply involved in our communities and societies while struggling to living out our hard bitten faith in Jesus. A faith that wishes to be both real and relevant as a witness to all that we say-and-do as best we can live it, know it, understand it, and do it. The bottom line is, that though God would be dead for many today (especially for those who have heard the church's message and rejected it), perhaps He is not dead for all when placing our faith in the Lord Himself and not in the church, its traditions, and dogmas. Accurate theological doctrine and orthodoxy is one thing, but inflexible theological doctrine and orthodoxy that is dogmatic is another. Orthodoxy is not a thing that can be static, but like ourselves must live and breathe, move and react, as a living process between ourselves, and God, and His creation. Two hundred years ago (beginning with the 13 colonies) Christians were confronted with the awfulness of the slave trade. Today the church is confronted with its discrimination of women and gays (and class and race). Thus the name "process theology"... succinctly referring to an orthodox theology that is always in the process of becoming and being. As such, many of today's postmodern issues simply require a redress of our thinking more in accordance to the times of our day and less in accordance with the crumbling beliefs of yesteryear's dithering fears and doubts.
Hence, Americanized Christianity needs to expand to become more open, less sure of itself, more doubtful of its rights and prerogatives, assurances and privileges. A Christian faith that can be broken, molded, formed, and reformed, so that it can find fellowship and ministry with others unlike itself.... At the last, it is a church universal, as well a church local. But a faith that is center-set on Jesus and not bounded-set on dogmas and folklore religion. The wisdom lies in discerning just where the "playing field" is as the goal posts seem to move about between teams, players, and spectators. To that end, process theology, postmodern theology, and perhaps even radical theology, may be able to help us here if we can allow ourselves to stretch a bit. For many of us we can't. It's just too hard or too foreign. But for others of us, we may have been given the "gift of tongues" which in this instance is the ability to reach across worlds we are familiar with to bridge the chasm-and-voids of worlds unfamiliar to us. Finding meaningful ways to relate the Gospel of the Lord Jesus to those having despaired of today's present Christian witness. So that those lost ones once discouraged with the Christian message of rancorous politics and unfeeling rhetoric might be ushered into the folds of the postmodern church to become God's newest emissaries burdened with the preaching of His Word in ways in which we haven't allowed, tried, considered, or consulted. They may speak a different language than the present day church language we are use to. But if that language is dipped in the Spirit's troughs of love and faith we would do well to step aside and not impede the work of God who impels His children to go into all the world as light and sound and fury.
That being said, here are some twenty key ideas that one might find in process thought... see what you think. If it demands you, like myself, to re-evaluate our thoughts about biblical theology as to what should be held onto and what may be let go, than I think we're on the right track together. Thus this blog and its many a-typical articles on doctrine and theology. Be at peace.
February 7, 2014
by Jay McDaniel
- Process thinking is an attitude toward life emphasizing respect and care for the community of life.
- It is concerned with the well-being of individuals and also with the common good of the world, understood as a community of communities of communities.
- It sees the world as a process of becoming and the universe as a vast network of inter-becomings. It sees each living being on our planet as worthy of respect and care.
- People influenced by process thinking seek to live lightly on the earth and gently with others, sensitive to the interconnectedness of all things and delighted by the differences.
- They believe that there are many ways of knowing the world -- verbal, mathematical, aesthetic, empathic, bodily, and practical - and that education should foster creativity and compassion as well as literacy.
- Process thinkers belong to many different cultures and live in many different regions of the world: Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, North America, and Oceania. They include teenagers, parents, grandparents, store-clerks, accountants, farmers, musicians, artists, and philosophers.
- Many of the scholars in the movement are influenced by the perspective of the late philosopher and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead. His thinking embodies the leading edge of the intellectual side of process thinking.
- Nevertheless, a mastery of his ideas is not necessary to be a process thinker. Ultimately process thinking is an attitude and outlook on life, and a way of interacting with the world. It is not so much a rigidly-defined worldview as it is a way of feeling the presence of the world and responding with creativity and compassion.
- The tradition of process thinking can be compared to a growing and vibrant tree, with blossoms yet to unfold.
- The roots of the tree are the many ideas developed by Whitehead in his mature philosophy. They were articulated most systematically in his book Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (complete online essay here; or go to the Amazon link here)
- The trunk consists of more general ideas which have been developed by subsequent thinkers from different cultures, adding creativity of their own. These general ideas flow from Whitehead's philosophy, but are less technical in tone.
- The branches consist of the many ways in which these ideas are being applied to daily life and community development. The branches include applications to a wide array of topics, ranging from art and music to education and ecology.
The ideas below represent the twenty key ideas in the trunk of the process tree:
1. Process: The universe is an ongoing process of development and change, never quite the same at any two moments. Every entity in the universe is best understood as a process of becoming that emerges through its interactions with others. The beings of the world are becomings.
2. Interconnectedness: The universe as a whole is a seamless web of interconnected events, none of which can be completely separated from the others. Everything is connected to everything else and contained in everything else, which is to say that the universe is a network of inter-being (Buddahism).
3. Continuous Creativity: The universe exhibits a continuous creativity on the basis of which new events come into existence over time which did not exist beforehand. This continuous creativity is the ultimate reality of the universe. Everywhere we look we see it. Even God is an expression of Creativity.
4. Nature as Alive: The natural world has value in itself and that all living beings are worthy of respect and care. Rocks and trees, hills and rivers are not simply facts in the world; they are also acts of self-realization. The whole of nature is alive with value. We humans dwell within, not apart from, the Ten Thousand Things. We, too, have value.
5. Ethics: Humans find their fulfillment in living harmony with the earth and compassionately with each other. The ethical life lies in living with respect and care for other people and the larger community of life. Justice is fidelity to the bonds of relationship. A just society is also a free and peaceful society. It is creative, compassionate, participatory, ecologically wise, and spiritually satisfying - with no one left behind.
6. Novelty: Humans find their fulfillment in being open to new ideas, insights, and experiences that may have no parallel in the past. Even as we learn from the past, we must be open to the future. God is present in the world, among other ways, through novel possibilities. Human happiness is found, not only in wisdom and compassion, but also in creativity.
7. Thinking and Feeling: The human mind is not limited to reasoning but also includes feeling, intuiting, imagining; all of these activities can work together toward understanding. Even reasoning is a form of feeling: that is, feeling the presence of ideas and responding to them. There are many forms of wisdom: mathematical, spatial, verbal, kinesthetic, empathic, logical, and spiritual.
8. The Self as Person-in-Community: Human beings are not skin-encapsulated egos cut off from the world by the boundaries of the skin, but persons-in-community whose interactions with others are partly definitive of their own internal existence. We depend for our existence on friends, family, and mentors; on food and clothing and shelter; on cultural traditions and the natural world. The communitarians are right: there is no "self" apart from connections with others. The individualists are right, too. Each person is unique, deserving of respect and care. Other animals deserve respect and care, too.
9. Complementary Thinking: The rational life consists not only of identifying facts and appealing to evidence, but taking apparent conflicting ideas and showing how they can be woven into wholes, with each side contributing to the other. In Whitehead’s thought these wholes are called contrasts. To be "reasonable" is to be empirical but also imaginative: exploring new ideas and seeing how they might fit together, complementing one another.
10. Theory and Practice: Theory affects practice and practice affects theory; a dichotomy between the two is false. What people do affects how they think and how they think affects what they do. Learning can occur from body to mind: that is, by doing things; and not simply from mind to body.
11. The Primacy of Persuasion over Coercion: There are two kinds of power – coercive power and persuasive power – and that the latter is to be preferred over the former. Coercive power is the power of force and violence; persuasive power is the power of invitation and moral example.
12. Relational Power: This is the power that is experienced when people dwell in mutually enhancing relations, such that both are “empowered” through their relations with one another. In international relations, this would be the kind of empowerment that occurs when governments enter into trade relations that are mutually beneficial and serve the wider society; in parenting this would be the power that parents and children enjoy when, even amid a hierarchical relationship, there is respect on both sides and the relationship strengthens parents and children.
13. The Primacy of Particularity: There is a difference between abstract ideas that are abstracted from concrete events in the world, and the events themselves. The fallacy of misplaced concreteness lies in confusing the abstractions with the concrete events and focusing more on the abstract than the particular.
14. Experience in the Mode of Causal Efficacy: Human experience is not restricted to acting on things or actively interpreting a passive world. It begins by a conscious and unconscious receiving of events into life and being causally affected or influenced by what is received. This occurs through the mediation of the body but can also occur through a reception of the moods and feelings of other people (and animals).
15. Concern for the Vulnerable: Humans are gathered together in a web of felt connections, such that they share in one another’s sufferings and are responsible to one another. Humans can share feelings and be affected by one another’s feelings in a spirit of mutual sympathy. The measure of a society does not lie in questions of appearance, affluence, and marketable achievement, but in how it treats those whom Jesus called "the least of these" -- the neglected, the powerless, the marginalized, the otherwise forgotten.
16. Evil: “Evil” is a name for debilitating suffering from which humans and other living beings suffer, and also for the missed potential from which they suffer. Evil is powerful and real; it is not merely the absence of good. “Harm” is a name for activities, undertaken by human beings, which inflict such suffering on others and themselves, and which cut off their potential. Evil can be structural as well as personal. Systems -- not simply people -- can be conduits for harm.
17. Education as a Lifelong Process: Human life is itself a journey from birth (and perhaps before) to death (and perhaps after) and that the journey is itself a process of character development over time. Formal education in the classroom is a context to facilitate the process, but the process continues throughout a lifetime. Education requires romance, precision, and generalization. Learning is best when people want to learn.
18. Religion and Science: Religion and Science are both human activities, evolving over time, which can be attuned to the depths of reality. Science focuses on forms of energy which are subject to replicable experiments and which can be rendered into mathematical terms; religion begins with awe at the beauty of the universe, awakens to the interconnections of things, and helps people discover the norms which are part of the very make-up of the universe itself.
19. God: The universe unfolds within a larger life – a love supreme – who is continuously present within each actuality as a lure toward wholeness relevant to the situation at hand. In human life we experience this reality as an inner calling toward wisdom, compassion, and creativity. Whenever we see these three realities in human life we see the presence of this love, thus named or not. This love is the Soul of the universe and we are small but included in its life not unlike the way in which embryos dwell within a womb, or fish swim within an ocean, or stars travel throught the sky. This Soul can be addressed in many ways, and one of the most important words for addressing the Soul is "God." The stars and galaxies are the body of God and any forms of life which exist on other planets are enfolded in the life of God, as is life on earth. God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. As God beckons human beings toward wisdom, compassion, and creativity, God does not know the outcome of the beckoning in advance, because the future does not exist to be known. But God is steadfast in love; a friend to the friendless; and a source of inner peace. God can be conceived as "father" or "mother" or "lover" or "friend." God is love.
20. Faith: Faith is not intellectual assent to creeds or doctrines but rather trust in divine love. To trust in love is to trust in the availability of fresh possibilities relative to each situation; to trust that love is ultimately more powerful than violence; to trust that even the galaxies and planets are drawn by a loving presence; and to trust that, no matter what happens, all things are somehow gathered into a wider beauty. This beauty is the Adventure of the Universe as One.