Quotes & Sayings

We, and creation itself, actualize the possibilities of the God who sustains the world, towards becoming in the world in a fuller, more deeper way. - R.E. Slater

There is urgency in coming to see the world as a web of interrelated processes of which we are integral parts, so that all of our choices and actions have [consequential effects upon] the world around us. - Process Metaphysician Alfred North Whitehead

Kurt Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem says (i) all closed systems are unprovable within themselves and, that (ii) all open systems are rightly understood as incomplete. - R.E. Slater

The most true thing about you is what God has said to you in Christ, "You are My Beloved." - Tripp Fuller

The God among us is the God who refuses to be God without us, so great is God's Love. - Tripp Fuller

According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater

Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater

Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger

Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton

I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – Anon

Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII

Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut

Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest

We become who we are by what we believe and can justify. - R.E. Slater

People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – Anon

Certainly, God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater

An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater

Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann

Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner

“Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14) or, conversely, “I AM who I AM Becoming.”

Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton

The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – Anon

The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah

If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – Anon

Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord

Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another, so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

To promote societal transition to sustainable ways of living and a global society founded on a shared ethical framework which includes respect and care for the community of life, ecological integrity, universal human rights, respect for diversity, economic justice, democracy, and a culture of peace. - The Earth Charter Mission Statement

Christian humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, and unencumbered rational inquiry are compatible with the practice of Christianity or even intrinsic in its doctrine. It represents a philosophical union of Christian faith and classical humanist principles. - Scott Postma

It is never wise to have a self-appointed religious institution determine a nation's moral code. The opportunities for moral compromise and failure are high; the moral codes and creeds assuredly racist, discriminatory, or subjectively and religiously defined; and the pronouncement of inhumanitarian political objectives quite predictable. - R.E. Slater

God's love must both center and define the Christian faith and all religious or human faiths seeking human and ecological balance in worlds of subtraction, harm, tragedy, and evil. - R.E. Slater

In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.” - Matthew Segall

Without Love there is no Truth. And True Truth is always Loving. There is no dichotomy between these terms but only seamless integration. This is the premier centering focus of a Processual Theology of Love. - R.E. Slater


Note: Generally I do not respond to commentary. I may read the comments but wish to reserve my time to write (or write from the comments I read). Instead, I'd like to see our community help one another and in the helping encourage and exhort each of us towards Christian love in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. - re slater

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Roger Olson - Christian Thoughts About Halloween

Christian Thoughts about Our (American) New National Holiday: Halloween

by Roger Olson
October 29, 2015

Of course, it’s not really a “national holiday” in any formal or legal sense; schools, banks and government offices don’t close on October 31. By “new national holiday” mean that, in recent years, what used to be an evening for kids to go door-to-door “trick or treating” has evolved into a popular festival day with television, schools and clubs devoting much time and attention to…whatever it is that Halloween celebrates.

Many Christians, especially conservative evangelicals, have reacted vigorously and critically to the rise of Halloween. They point out that it often involves what philosopher Paul Ricouer labeled “the symbolism of evil” (although he meant something much more than the mostly silly occultism that accompanies a lot of Halloween celebrations). That is, as neo-paganism, Wicca and serious occultism have become more popular, or at least better known publicly, many Christians have shied away from any observance of Halloween because it often includes symbolism drawn from those sources.

Indeed, there are pagan and occult roots of Halloween. “Samhain” (pronounced “saw-win” or “sow-han”) is a pagan festival that allegedly goes back to pre-Christian European, especially Celtic, cultures. There are other terms for the same festival in other European languages. At least according to Wiccans and other neo-pagans, this is the night of the year (October 31-November 1) when the “veil” between the realms of the living and the dead is thinnest and the possibility of the spirits of the dead crossing over is greatest.

This may be why ancient European Christians “baptized” October 31 as “All Saints Eve”—the night before All Saints Day (November 1)—to counter pagan celebration perceived by Christians as opening the door to a demonic realm of activity.

Martin Luther, of course, nailed his “Ninety-five Theses” to the church door in Wittenberg on October 31, so many Protestants celebrate October 31 (or the Sunday nearest to it) as “Reformation Day.”

Some evangelical churches in America have “adopted” October 31 as a special opportunity for a kind of evangelism: “Hell Houses.” During the 1990s and first decade of this century, especially, numerous churches around the country have held religious-themed haunted house events promoting fear of hell.

When I was a kid growing up among conservative evangelical Christians in the Upper Midwest Halloween was simply an evening for children to get candy by dressing up in costumes and going door to door doing some kind of little “trick” (nothing mean or harmful—except for a few rogue teens later at night) and asking for a “treat”—usually a piece of candy. My parents, Pentecostals pastors both, didn’t discourage that, but frowned on using any occult symbolism in costumes or decorations. Ironically, though, some of my most vivid memories of childhood are of our church’s rather elaborate “haunted house” events around Halloween.

During the 1980s and 1990s a new awareness of the reality of serious occultism arose in America. Many newspapers, for example, featured “real witches” (Wiccans) in front page articles and described their covens and “Samhain” rituals. My first exposure to this was in 1980. I may have been dimly aware of it before then, but it seemed like such an obscure subculture that it wasn’t worth taking seriously. In 1980 I was co-teaching a university course (at the university where I was working on my Ph.D. in Religious Studies) entitled “Deity, Mysticism, and the Occult.” We used Ricoeur’s bookThe Symbolism of Evil to give the course serious scholarly content but also required students to read sociologist of religion Robert Ellwood’s Alternative Altars—a survey of non-traditional religions in North America including neo-pagan and occult religions (taken very seriously). The course was wildly popular among the undergraduates of the university partly because we invited guest speakers from various little-known and non-traditional religious movements to visit the class to speak.

The chairman of the Religious Studies Department of the university, who was also my supervisor and “official” teacher of the course (although he rarely attended it), offered me a relatively large sum of money to invite a scholar of “deity, mysticism and/or the occult” to fly in from virtually anywhere to speak to the class. I already knew whom I wanted to invite. A well-known researcher into neo-paganism and Wicca lived in suburban Chicago and I called him up and he agreed to come. I knew him to be a Christian, an ordained Methodist minister, as well as perhaps the most informed non-neo-pagan, non-Wiccan about those phenomena in America.

I met him at the airport when he arrived to speak to the evening class. He knew his assignment—to talk to the class about his research—and the first thing he said to me was “Let’s go find some real witches.” Needless to say, this then still “Pentecostal boy,” was shocked and bit afraid. I asked him how we would do that and he said “Where’s the nearest city phone directory yellow pages?” We found one and he looked under “Occult” in the yellow pages and found two entries. One was near the airport: “The Occult Shoppe.” So we drove there. It was a non-descript store front in a mostly industrial neighborhood. The only indication of its nature was a small sign that said “Occult Shoppe” over the entrance. It had a large plate glass window that was covered inside with curtains.

The scholar and I simply walked in; I stayed near the door. I was almost shaking with trepidation. He walked up to the glass counter containing all kinds of occult-related objects and began a conversation with the two women who owned the store. I listened and looked around. The one room open to the public (there were back rooms for “readings”) had a large pentagram inside a circle on the floor. The scholar informed me later that indicated it was a site for neo-pagan rituals; a coven met there. After he mentioned the names of some nationally-known neo-pagan/Wiccan leaders he knew personally, the women relaxed and answered his questions. They claimed the store “served” about fifty Wiccan covens of several kinds (not Satanists) in the northern part of that large city. They said there were many more covens than that in that city of about two million people. As I examined the not-very-light room I saw pictures of the Mother Goddess and her consort the “horned god,” many jars of herbs and potions and numerous books about the occult.

The scholar informed me that such stores existed in most major cities in America and that some are open to the public and some are not. Since then I have seen many similar stores in cities around the country. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Wicca, especially, became more “exoteric” and less “esoteric.” Eventually, at one college where I taught an annual course on America’s Cults and New Religions I became acquainted with two Wiccans—a priestess of a “Dianic” coven (women only) and a member of a mostly gay coven. Both spoke to my class about neo-paganism and Wicca. Both insisted their religion has nothing to do with Satanism. I became convinced that, while they were serious and meant what they said, the “line” betweensome Wicca and some Satanism is rather thin—at least from a Christian point of view.

(Sidebar: My Wiccan priestess speaker told my class that her Dianic coven met in the basement of a large downtown church—with the church’s “blessing.” She also said that they did not sacrifice animals but vegetables. What vegetables? Pomegranates. I’ll leave it to you, dear readers, to figure out why.)

As a result of the “going public” of Wicca and other neo-pagan religions, and as a result of greater awareness (including some outright paranoia) about Satanism, many conservative evangelical churches dropped Halloween entirely and substituted other, more Christian-themed, events (always with candy, of course) to discourage their kids from even going trick-or-treating. Of course, the public paranoia about “poisoned candy” and candy bars with razor blades in them contributed to that phenomenon. Some hospitals went so far as to offer free X-ray examinations of trick-or-treat candy—to expose any razor blades or other harmful objects that may have been inserted in them.

Through all of that, my wife and I took our daughters trick-or-treating—sometimes in the snow! (One Halloween evening that city received thirty-four inches of snow! We took them trick-or-treating anyway—at their insistence, of course—but only until the snow was knee deep.) We dampened down on the occult symbolism but didn’t abandon Halloween altogether.

However, if I’m not mistaken, it seems to me that public schools, television, and even businesses have recently gone overboard celebrating Halloween. When I was as kid there may have been some minor Halloween observance at school, and that was the case when my daughters were in public schools, but now many public schools devote the whole day (October 31 or the day before if it falls on a Saturday as this year) to the it. Nearly all prime time network television programs devote the episode before or on Halloween to it. It has become an unofficial national American holiday. Why? Because America has bought into occultism? I don’t think so.

The reason is because it is one “holiday” without overt religious content or connotation. In our political correctness and out of desire not to offend non-Christians, we, to a very large extent, have put the brakes on Christmas—especially in public schools but also in many businesses (except insofar as they can use it to make money, but without any religious symbolism). I think we, as a culture and society, have tended to hype Halloween because it is perceived as a non-religious holiday so no one should be offended.

I once was asked to attend a public school board’s special meeting to discuss the observance and celebration of Halloween in its schools. A group of fundamentalist parents had objected to a school’s requiring students to role play being witches and wizards in a certain “fun” learning event. The kids didn’t want to and then parents tried to make their case that this was no different, really, from requiring atheist students from pretending to be saints or apostles or priests—because Wicca and neo-paganism are real religions, not mere fantasy. I spoke for them on that particular point—revealing the reality, the seriousness, of neo-paganism and Wicca as religious forms of life. That particular school board treated the complaining parents and me as would-be fundamentalist censors and controllers of curricula. They were extremely hostile to us. All the parents were asking is that their kids, and others, be offered the opportunity to “opt out” of such events insofar as they offended their religious sensibilities. The school board scoffed at the idea and basically rejected the whole plea. I was appalled.

(Sidebar: When I invited Wiccans to speak to my class I always offered students the opportunity to be absent without any penalty. A few usually opted for that and stayed away that day. I also forbid the speakers from doing anything other than explaining and answering questions. The priestess once attempted to get the class to participate with her in a ritual of “earth healing.” I stopped her. Occasionally a parent or two would call to complain about that aspect of the course. I routinely asked them if they wanted their student to encounter Wiccans and other neo-pagans in a Christian environment where we examined their beliefs and practices critically and prayed for them and where I explained why they are mistaken in their beliefs from an evangelical Christian point of view, or to encounter them first outside such an environment. That usually, perhaps always, stopped them from objecting to the president. I no longer teach any similar course; my teaching for the past sixteen plus years had focused solely on Christian theology. Then, in the 1980s and 1990s, it included religion and culture classes such as “America’s Cults and New Religions” which I advertised to students as it was an elective, as “Unsafe Sects.” One young male student had only heard, not seen, that unofficial title of the course and walked out when he discovered it was a religion course! Figure it out.)

So, to wrap it all up. I have no objection to “trick or treating.” In fact, I am looking forward to going trick or treating with my grandchildren this Saturday. Nor do I object to “haunted house” events so long as they do not go overboard and traumatize children. I do worry, however, that our culture may be going overboard with Halloween observance and celebration to the detriment of other, perhaps more culturally serious, holidays. I am ambivalent about Halloween. The rule I would suggest to Christian parents and pastors is: no occult symbolism. I do think occultism can become obsessive for some young people and it can be (from my evangelical Christian perspective) a door into a demonic realm. That’s a door best not opened.

Note to potential commenters: I do not permit people to “take over” my blog to promote their own religions, philosophies or worldviews. This is admittedly and openly and evangelical Christian blog; that is the perspective from which it is written and the section of Patheos where it appears. Feel free to correct anything that is factually in error, but I will not approve and post comments that attempt to “preach” or promote alternative religions, philosophies or worldviews. I always welcome sincerely asked questions.

* * * * * * * * 

Select Comments
from Roger's Post

Kristen Rosser

I don't think the fact that some religions celebrate Halloween as a religious holiday needs to be a problem for Christians. Here are some of my thoughts from a blog post of my own:


The modern secular celebration of Halloween really doesn't include any divination or witchcraft. It has nothing to do with sun-worship; in fact, it's not about worship at all...

Facing our fears by laughing at them or playing with safe versions of them is a very human thing to do, and it seems to be a healthy coping mechanism. Our English idiom "whistling in the dark" encapsulates the concept, which takes other forms such as jokes about death and dying....

John Santino was interviewed on the TheoFantastique blog in October 2007, and he shared these further insights:

"The study of ritual, festival, and celebration offers concepts for understanding large public events such as Halloween. The idea that there are certain periods when the everyday rules are meant to be broken is one. Also, the idea that during times of transition (in the life cycle or seasonal), all bets are off–the dead can mingle with the living; children are allowed to demand treats from adults, people dress in special costumes; things are turned upside-down and inside-out. These ideas help us to see Halloween for its importance. It is a time when we face our taboos (death being a major one) and playfully accept them as part of life."

Halloween is about facing our fears through the joint vehicles of pretend and partying. It's about recognizing that while we live on this earth we are part of the cycles of this earth, and that "seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease (Gen. 8:22)." To celebrate the harvest is also to accept the dying of the year. Halloween is about both. Christ has taken the sting of death; why not let Halloween help take some of its still-remaining fear?

[Historically, this is a] holiday that upends our rules and usual patterns. The kingdom of God is like that too: the child is the first to enter, the greatest shall be the servant, we save our lives by losing them. Halloween is the day when we open our doors to whoever knocks and give of our substance to "the least of these" who is standing there with an open bag. Isn't this a picture of the kingdom? Why, then, shouldn't we let it teach us its simple lesson?


I agree that we shouldn't participate in actual pagan religious rituals. However, except for a small minority of the population, Halloween isn't about religious ritual-- it is, as you said, Roger, largely a secular celebration. But as Christians we can find our own meaning in it. It's a Romans 14-type thing, I think-- if we observe the day and glorify God, that's fine; if we don't observe it, that's also fine.

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Kon Michailidis

Halloween is a lot of fun. That is the problem. Christmas and Easter are not times of fun (mainly) but they are times of joy. There is a world of difference. Halloween will never be a time of joy. The spirit behind it is totally different. Christmas and Easter need to be specially taught, but Halloween seems to come naturally into an environment devoid of Christian teaching, with teachers and students picking up on the many dark, death- related symbols of it as if it was second nature. That at least has been my observation as a teacher and adviser.

Celebrating John Cobb's Global Spirit

John B. Cobb, Theologian, Academic, Pragmatist

John Cobb's Global Spirit

by Bruce Epperly
September 23, 2015

"As a Christian theologian, Cobb asks “Can Christ be good news?” and then
proceeds to share the good news of a faith that is inclusive, healing, hospitable,
and growing; a faith that embraces the marginalized, placing them at the center
of the theological adventure." - Bruce Epperly

In my last contribution, I reflected on Bernard Loomer’s vision of “size” or “stature” as the ability to embrace as much of reality as possible, including contrasting positions, without losing your spiritual center. Perhaps no theologian in recent times has been as inclusive as John Cobb. John has been my teacher and mentor for over forty years and is one of models upon which I have based my own teaching, ministry, writing, and administration. I have been inspired by Cobb’s vision of Christ as the embodiment and lure of God’s aim at creative transformation. In a polarizing age, I have taken to heart Cobb’s affirmation that Christ is the Way that excludes no way. Christ is the inspiration for the quest for truth and enables us to embrace wisdom and healing wherever it is found.

Cobb’s global spirit is embodied in the breadth of his theological and ethical commitments. Many theologians and scholars choose to focus on the micro, staying with the same subject matter their whole careers. In contrast, Cobb has always been on the move, and inspires his students to be ecumenical and dynamic in spirit as well. Cobb has been a leader not only in process theology but also in reflections on ecology and global climate change, economics, interfaith dialogue, pluralism, feminism, the intersection of theology and prayer, to name a few of the areas in which he has illumined laypersons, academics, and pastors. Cobb’s theology is both academic and practical. His work reminds scholars that one of our vocations is to be agents of creative transformation, bringing healing and justice to the world. As a Christian theologian, Cobb asks “Can Christ be good news?” and then proceeds to share the good news of a faith that is inclusive, healing, hospitable, and growing; a faith that embraces the marginalized, placing them at the center of the theological adventure.

If theology and philosophy are to tell big stories, intended to transform and heal the world,
then nothing is too small or too large for a theologian’s interest. - Bruce Epperly

As students at Claremont, many of us thought that between the creativity of John Cobb and David Griffin, there would little room for innovation on our part. Over the course of our careers, we discovered that Cobb and Griffin opened the door for our own creative thinking. Just think of the creativity of some of my classmates – Jay McDaniel, Catherine Keller, David Lull, Rita Nakashima Brock, and Rebecca Parker! Nothing is off limits or out of bounds for a process theologian. If theology and philosophy are to tell big stories, intended to transform and heal the world, then nothing is too small or too large for a theologian’s interest. In my own journey, I find myself dialoging with Cobb as I embark on my own adventures as a process theologian whose work has embraced healing and wholeness, spiritual formation, ministerial well-being, biblical studies, complementary medicine, and emerging Christianity. There is always more to explore if we are faithful to the God of process. There are more pathways to healing than we can imagine if we affirm that the aim of the universe – God’s vision – is toward the production of beauty.

I am grateful for the wisdom of John Cobb and his willingness to support his students with affirmations and inspirations. His way invites us to see holiness in every pathway of truth and work toward healing of this good earth and its peoples.

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Wikipedia - John Cobb

Below is a selection of content from Wikipedia's fuller discussion:

John B. Cobb, Jr. (born February 9, 1925) is an American theologian, philosopher, and environmentalist. Gary Dorrien has described Cobb as one of the two most important North American theologians of the twentieth century (the other being Rosemary Radford Ruether).[1] Cobb is often regarded as the preeminent scholar in the field of process philosophy andprocess theology—the school of thought associated with the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.[2] Cobb is the author of more than fifty books.[3] In 2014, Cobb was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[4]

A unifying theme of Cobb's work is his emphasis on ecological interdependence—the idea that every part of the ecosystem is reliant on all the other parts. Cobb has argued that humanity's most urgent task is to preserve the world on which it lives and depends,[5] an idea which his primary influence—philosopher and mathematician Alfred North Whitehead—describes as "world-loyalty."[6]

Cobb is well known for his transdisciplinary approach, integrating insights from many different areas of study and bringing different specialized disciplines into fruitful communication. Because of his broad-minded interest and approach, Cobb has been influential in a wide range of disciplines, including theology, ecology, economics, biology and social ethics.

In 1971, he wrote the first single-author book in environmental ethics—Is It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology—which argued for the relevance of religious thought in approaching theecological crisis.[7] In 1989, he co-authored the book For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, Environment, and a Sustainable Future, which critiqued current global economic practice and advocated for a sustainable, ecology-based economics. He has written extensively on religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue, particularly between Buddhism and Christianity, as well as the need to reconcile religion and science.

Cobb is the co-founder and current co-director of the Center for Process Studies in Claremont, California.[8] The Center for Process Studies remains the leading Whitehead-related institute, and has witnessed the launch of more than thirty related centers at academic institutions throughout the world, including twenty-three centers in China.[9][10] Cobb is also founder and president of the Institute for the Postmodern Development of China, which uses Whiteheadian ideas in order to move toward a sustainable economy and address practical problems associated with social change and globalization.[11]

Recently, Cobb co-founded the organization Pando Populus. Pando Populus aims to create an "ecological civilization," and is co-organizing a major conference on "Seizing An Alternative" with the Center for Process Studies in June 2015.

Transdisciplinary work

Although Cobb is most often described as a theologian, the overarching tendency of his thought has been toward the integration of many different areas of knowledge, employing Alfred North Whitehead's transdisciplinary philosophical framework as his guiding insight.[1] As a result, Cobb has done work in a broad range of fields.

Philosophy of education

Cobb has consistently opposed the splitting of education and knowledge into discrete and insulated disciplines and departments.[24] He believes that the current university model encourages excessive abstraction because each specialized area of study defines its own frame of reference and then tends to ignore the others, discouraging interdisciplinary dialogue and inhibiting a broad understanding of the world.[24]

To combat these problems, Cobb argues that discrete “disciplines” in general—and theology in particular—need to re-emerge from their mutual academic isolation.[25] Theology should once again be tied to ethical questions and practical, everyday concerns, as well as a theoretical understanding of the world. In service to this vision, Cobb has consistently sought to integrate knowledge from biology, physics, economics, and other disciplines into his theological and philosophical work.[26]

Constructive postmodern philosophy

primary intellectual influence.
Cobb was convinced that Alfred North Whitehead was right in viewing both nature and human beings as more than just purposeless machines.[27] Rather than seeing nature as purely mechanical and human consciousness as a strange exception which must be explained away, Whiteheadian naturalism went in the opposite direction by arguing that subjective experience of the world should inform a view of the rest of nature as more than just mechanical. In short, nature should be seen as having a subjective and purposive aspect that deserves attention.[27]

Speaking to this need of moving beyond classically "modern" ideas, in the 1960s Cobb was the first to label Whiteheadian thought as “postmodern.”[28] Later, when deconstructionists began to describe their thought as “postmodern,” Whiteheadians changed their own label to “constructive postmodernism.”[29]

Like its deconstructionist counterpart, constructive postmodernism arose partly in response to dissatisfaction with Cartesian mind-matter dualism, which viewed matter as an inert machine and the human mind as wholly different in nature.[29][30] While modern science has uncovered voluminous evidence against this idea, Cobb argues that dualistic assumptions continue to persist:

"On the whole, dualism was accepted by the general culture. To this day it shapes the structure of the university, with its division between the sciences and the humanities. Most people, whether they articulate it or not, view the world given to them in sight and touch as material, while they consider themselves to transcend that purely material status."[29]

While deconstructionists have concluded that we must abandon any further attempts to create a comprehensive vision of the world, Cobb and other constructive postmodernists believe that metaphysics and comprehensive world-models are possible and still needed.[29][31] In particular, they have argued for a new Whiteheadian metaphysics based on events rather than substances.[29][32] In this formulation, it is incorrect to say that a person or thing ("substance") has a fundamental identity that remains constant, and that any changes to the person or thing are secondary to what it is.[33] Instead, each moment in a person's life ("event") is seen as a new actuality, thus asserting that continual change and transformation are fundamental, while static identities are far less important.[34] This view more easily reconciles itself with certain findings of modern science, such as evolution and wave-particle duality.[35]

Environmental ethics

Ecological themes have been pervasive in Cobb's work since 1969, when he turned his attention to the ecological crisis.[5] He became convinced that environmental issues constituted humanity's most pressing problem. Cobb writes:

"During the seventies my sense of the theological vocation changed. I did not lose interest in developing the Christian tradition so as to render it intelligible, convincing, and illuminating in a changing context. But I did reject the compartmentalization of my discipline of 'constructive theology,' especially in its separation from ethics, and more generally in its isolation from other academic disciplines... I was persuaded that no problem could be more critical than that of a decent survival of a humanity that threatened to destroy itself by exhausting and polluting its natural context."[5]

Cobb went on to write the first single-author book in environmental ethics, Is It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology, in 1971.[36] In the book, he argued for an ecological worldview that acknowledges the continuity between human beings and other living things, as well as their mutual dependence. He also proposed that Christianity specifically needed to appropriate knowledge from the biological sciences in order to undercut its anthropocentrism (human-centeredness) and devaluation of the non-human world.[37]

City Hall in Claremont, California. Cobb has
lived and worked in Claremont since 1958.

Critique of growth-oriented economics

Cobb's economic critiques arose as a natural extension of his interest in ecological issues. He recognized that he could not write about an ecological, sustainable, and just society without including discussion of economics.[38]

As part of his investigation into why economic policies so frequently worsened the ecological situation, in the 1980s Cobb decided to re-evaluate Gross National Product (GNP) andGross Domestic Product (GDP) as measures of economic progress.[39] Together with his son, Clifford Cobb, he developed an alternative model, the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW),[39] which sought to "consolidate economic, environmental, and social elements into a common framework to show net progress."[40] The name of the metric would later change to Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI).[41] A recent (2013) article has shown that global GPI per capita peaked in 1978, meaning that the social and environmental costs ofeconomic growth have outweighed the benefits since that time.[42]

Cobb also co-authored a book with Herman Daly in 1989 entitled For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, Environment, and a Sustainable Future, which outlined policy changes intended to create a society based on community and ecological balance. In 1992, For the Common Good earned Cobb and Daly the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.[43]

In recent years, Cobb has described current growth-oriented economic systems as the "prime example of corruption" in American culture and religion:

"Since the rise of modern economics, Christians have been forced to give up their criticism of greed, because the economists said "greed is good, and if you really want to help people, be as greedy as possible."”[44]

Cobb sees such values as being in direct opposition with the message of Jesus, which in many places explicitly criticizes the accumulation of wealth. Because of Christianity's widespread acceptance of such economic values, Cobb sees Christians as far less confident in proclaiming the values of Jesus.[44]

Biology and religion

Along with Whitehead, Cobb has sought to reconcile science and religion in places where they appear to conflict, as well as to encourage religion to make use of scientific insights and vice versa.[45]

In the area of religion and biology, he co-wrote The Liberation of Life: From the Cell to the Community with Australian geneticist Charles Birch in 1981. The book critiqued the dominant biological model of mechanism, arguing that it leads to the study of organisms in abstraction from their environments.[46] Cobb and Birch argue instead for an "ecological model" which draws no sharp lines between the living and non-living, or between an organism and its environment.[47] The book also argues for an idea of evolution in which adaptive behavior can lead to genetic changes.[48] Cobb and Birch stress that a species "co-evolves with its environment," and that in this way intelligent purpose plays a role in evolution:

"Evolution is not a process of ruthless competition directed to some goal of ever-increasing power or complexity. Such an attitude, by failing to be adaptive, is, in fact, not conducive to evolutionary success. A species co-evolves with its environment. Equally, there is no stable, harmonious nature to whose wisdom humanity should simply submit. Intelligent purpose plays a role in adaptive behaviour, and as environments change its role is increased."[49]

The Liberation of Life stresses that all life (not just human life) is purposeful and that it aims for the realization of richer experience.[50] Cobb and Birch develop the idea of "trusting life" as a religious impulse, rather than attempting to achieve a settled, perfected social structure that does not allow for change and evolution.[51]

Religious pluralism and interreligious dialogue

Cobb has participated in extensive interreligious and interfaith dialogue, most notably with Masao Abe, a Japanese Buddhist of the Kyoto School of philosophy.[52] Cobb's explicit aim was to gain ideas and insights from otherreligions with an eye toward augmenting and "universalizing" Christianity.[53] Cobb writes:

"...it is the mission of Christianity to become a universal faith in the sense of taking into itself the alien truths that others have realized. This is no mere matter of addition. It is instead a matter of creative transformation. An untransformed Christianity, that is, a Christianity limited to its own parochial traditions, cannot fulfill its mission of realizing the universal meaning of Jesus Christ."[54]

In short, Cobb does not conceive of dialogue as useful primarily to convert or be converted, but rather as useful in order to transform both parties mutually, allowing for a broadening of ideas and a reimagining of each faith in order that they might better face the challenges of the modern world.[55][56]

Cobb has also been active in formulating his own theories of religious pluralism, partly in response to another Claremont Graduate University professor, John Hick.[57] Cobb's pluralism has sometimes been identified as a kind of "deep" pluralism or, alternately, as a "complementary" pluralism.[58] He believes that there are actually three distinct religious ultimates: 1) God, 2) Creativity/Emptiness/Nothingness/Being-itself, and 3) the cosmos/universe.[59] Cobb believes that all of these elements are necessary and present in some form in every religion but that different faiths tend to stress one ultimate over the others.[60] Viewed in this way, different religions may be seen to complement each other by providing insight into different religious ultimates.[61] Cobb's pluralism thus avoids the criticism of conflating religions that are actually very different (for instance, Buddhism and Christianity) while still affirming the possible truths of both.[61]

Revitalizing Christianity in a pluralistic world

David Ray Griffin. Cobb co-founded the
Center for Process Studies with Griffin in 1973.
Cobb believed that through at least the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, American Protestant theology had been largely derivative from European (specificallyGerman) theology.[62] In the late 1950s, Cobb and Claremont professor James Robinson decided that the time had come to end this one-sidedness and move to authentic dialogue between American and European theologians.[63] To establish real mutuality, they organized a series of conferences of leading theologians in Germany and the United States and published a series of volumes called "New Frontiers in Theology."[64]

After writing several books surveying contemporary forms of Christian Protestantism, Cobb turned in the mid-1960s to more original work which sought to bring Alfred North Whitehead'sideas into the contemporary American Protestant scene.[65] Cobb aimed to reconstruct a Christian vision that was more compatible with modern knowledge and more ready to engage with today’s pluralistic world.[58] He did this in a number of ways.

For one, Cobb has stressed the problems inherent in what he calls the “substantialist” worldview—ultimately derived from Classical Greek philosophy—that still dominates Christian theology, as well as most of western thought.[66] This "substantialist" way of thinking necessitates a mind-matter dualism, in which matter and mind are two fundamentally different kinds of entities. It also encourages seeing relations between entities as being unimportant to what the entity is "in itself."[67] In contrast to this view, Cobb follows Whitehead in attributing primacy to events and processes rather than substances.[66] In this Whiteheadian view, nothing is contained within its own sharp boundaries. In fact, the way in which a thing relates to other things is what makes it "what it is." Cobb writes:

“If the substantialist view is abandoned, a quite different picture emerges. Each occasion of human experience is constituted not only by its incorporation of the cellular occasions of its body but also by its incorporation of aspects of other people. That is, people internally relate to one another. Hence, the character of one's being, moment by moment, is affected by the health and happiness of one's neighbors.”[66]

For Cobb, this metaphysics of process is better-aligned with the Bible, which stresses history, community, and the importance of one’s neighbors.[66]

Claremont School of Theology, 2013

Also, instead of turning further inward to preserve a cohesive Christian community, Cobb turned outward in order to discover truths that Christianity may not yet possess.[53]This is in direct opposition to those who feel that Christianity as a religious system is absolutely final, complete, and free of error. Cobb has not only turned to other religions (most notably Buddhism) in order to supplement Christian ideas and systems,[68] but also to other disciplines, including biology, physics, and economics.

In fact, Cobb has not shied away even from re-imaging what is now regarded as the “traditional” Christian notion of God. He does not believe that God is omnipotent in the sense of having unilateral control over all events, since Cobb sees reconciling total coercive power with love and goodness to be an impossible task.[66] Instead, all creatures are viewed as having some degree of freedom that God cannot override.[69] Cobb solves the problem of evil by denying God’s omnipotence, stressing instead that God’s power is persuasive rather than coercive, that God can influence creatures but not determine what they become or do.[70] For Cobb, God’s role is to liberate and empower.[71]

Against traditional theism, Cobb has also denied the idea that God is immutable (unchanging) and impassible (unfeeling).[72] Instead, he stresses that God is affected and changed by the actions of creatures, both human and otherwise.[66] For Cobb, the idea that God experiences and changes does not mean that God is imperfect—quite the contrary. Instead, God is seen as experiencing with all beings, and hence understanding and empathizing with all beings, becoming "the fellow sufferer who understands."[73]Cobb argues that this idea of God is more compatible with the Bible, in which Jesus suffers and dies.

Additionally, Cobb's theology has argued against the idea of salvation as a singular, binary event in which one is either saved or not saved for all time. Rather than seeing one's time in the world as a test of one's morality in order to enter a heavenly realm, Cobb sees salvation as the continual striving to transform and perfect our experience in this world.[66] Cobb's idea of salvation focuses less on moral categories and more on aesthetic categories—such as a preference for intense experience over dull experience, or beauty rather than ugliness. Cobb writes:

"If morality is bound up with contributing to others, the crucial question is: What is to be contributed? One contribution might be making them more moral, and that is fine. But finally, true morality cannot aim simply at the spread of morality. It must aim at the wellbeing of those it tries to help in some broader sense. For process thought that must be the perfection of their experience inclusively."[66]

Cobb admits that the idea of morality being subservient to aesthetics is "shocking to many Christians,"[66] yet he argues that there must be more to life than simply being morally good or morally bad and that aesthetic categories fulfill this function specifically because they are defined as goods in themselves.

Within the last twenty years, Cobb has become increasingly distressed by the popular identification of Christianity with the religious right and the weak response of mainstream Protestants. To encourage a stronger response, he organized Progressive Christians Uniting with the noted Episcopal priest George Regas in 1996,[74] chaired its reflection committee, and edited a number of its books. As the perceived gap between the policies of the American government and Christian teaching grew wider, these books moved beyond simply reformist proposals. The last of these was entitled Resistance: The New Role of Progressive Christians.

Cobb's most recent book is entitled Spiritual Bankruptcy: A Prophetic Call to Action. It argues against both religiousness and secularism, claiming that what is needed is the secularization of the wisdom traditions.[75]

The influence of Cobb's thought in China

Process philosophy in the tradition of Alfred North Whitehead is often considered a primarily American philosophical movement, but it has spread globally and has been of particular interest to Chinese thinkers. As one of process philosophy's leading figures, Cobb has taken a leadership role in bringing process thought to the East, most specifically to help China develop a more ecological civilization—a goal which the current Chinese government has written into its constitution.[76][10]

With Zhihe Wang, Cobb founded the Institute for Postmodern Development of China (IPDC) in 2005, and he is currently the president of its board of directors.[11] Through the IPDC, Cobb helps to coordinate the work of twenty-three collaborative centers in China, as well as to organize annual conferences on ecological civilization.[9][10]