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

Monday, April 13, 2020

What Does Whitehead Mean by "Feelings" (sic, Positive & Negative Prehensions)

Whitehead on Feelings

by Steven Shaviro
June 8, 2015

Here is the text of the talk I gave this past week at the International Whitehead Studies conference in Claremont, California. It is a bit rough and fragmentary, and it doesn’t have a proper conclusion. But since I do not know when, or even if, I will expand it into a proper article, I am posting it here.

I am especially interested in what Whitehead calls feeling. The word is everywhere in Process and Reality. But it is not necessarily used in the ways we might expect. Whitehead insists that "the word feeling is a mere technical term." He says that he is using it in order to designate "that functioning through which the concrescent actuality appropriates the datum so as to make it its own." At another point, Whitehead defines feeling as "the term used for the basic generic operation of the actual entity in question. Feelings are variously specialized operations, effecting a transition into subjectivity."

In other words, "feeling" for Whitehead means capture and appropriation, and the form of subjectivity that arises from all this. Feeling as "a mere technical term" is pretty much equivalent to what Whitehead elsewhere calls prehension: a more unusual word that doesn’t have common-language connotations (although we recognize it in composite words like apprehension and comprehension). Strictly speaking, a feeling is a positive prehension; Whitehead contrasts this to negative prehension, a mode in which things are not felt, but rather "eliminate[d] from feeling." Positive and negative prehensions are the way that any entity constitutes itself in the process of responding to other entities that precede it. In every encounter, you either feel whatever it is that you have encountered, or else you actively reject it from feeling. Most importantly, an entity encounters, feels, and picks up from, its own state of being in the immediate past, which is to say in "time-spans of the order of magnitude of a second, or even of fractions of a second." But an entity also encounters other entities in its vicinity. And ultimately, an entity encounters – at least to some extent, though quite often this extent is "negligible" – its entire world, which is to say, in the terminology of physics, everything within the light cone of the entity.

Explicitly specifying that "feeling" is just a technical term is a way of warning us that we shouldn’t take it as anthropomorphically as we normally would. On Whitehead’s account, a tree has feelings – but they are probably quite different from the feelings that human beings have. A tree may feel assaulted, for instance; we know that trees (and other plants) release pheromones when insects start eating their leaves. These emissions both act as a chemical attack on the predator, and warn other trees (or, indeed, other parts of the same tree) to take defensive measures as well. It is not ridiculous, therefore, to claim that a tree has feelings. However, it is unlikely that a tree would ever feel insulted or humiliated – these are human feelings that have no place in the life of trees.

Of course, if Whitehead had really wanted to separate the concept of feeling entirely from our human sense of the term, he could have avoided the word entirely – since it is already synonymous to the technical term prehension. That way he could have easily sidestepped all this baggage of already-existing connotations. Since he didn’t, I must assume that Whitehead wanted to draw on that baggage – even though he also pushes it aside by claiming to be using "a mere techincal term." Why might this be? Whitehead wants us to expand our idea of what feelings are beyond the human context; but at the same time he does not want to completely separate it from human experience. The feelings of a tree are quite different from the feelings of human beings, but there is nonetheless a certain degree of affinity between them.

This, of course, is the point at which many people will accuse Whitehead of anthropmorphism and projection. We can respond to this objection with Jane Bennett’s maxim that anthropomorphism helps us to avoid the far worse problems of anthropocentrism. After all, she notes, "too often the philosophical rejection of anthropomorphism is bound up with a hubristic demand that only humans and God can bear any traces of creative agency." In other words, attributing feeling to trees helps to shake us from our all-too-human, self-congratulatory belief that we are totally unlike all other entities: such as Robert Brandom’s view that we are sapient, whereas other living things are merely sentient. But actually, I don’t think that Whitehead is being anthropomorphic at all: rather, he is inverting the direction of anthropomorphic projections. For Whitehead, human feelings are in fact the exemplification, within our own experience, of a broader kind of process that is far more widely distributed among entities in the world. I cannot remember who first said this, but Whitehead’s actual procedure is – far from attributing human qualities to other organisms – to try to find more general processes, of which the human version that we are familiar with is just one, not necessarily privileged, example. Whitehead’s procedure is actually what Charles Sanders Peirce calls abduction.

Nonetheless, even with all these explanations, Whitehead’s use of feeling as a mere techincal term remains a bit counter-intuitive. He shores up his position by appealing to a number of philosophical precedents. He says that "this use of the term ‘feeling’ has a close analogy to Alexander’s use of the term ‘enjoyment’; and has also some kinship with Bergson’s use of the term ‘intuition.’ (Just as an aside, I wonder whether it might be a good idea to go back and look at Samuel Alexander’s Space, Time, and Deity: I have never read it, but Whitehead clearly thinks highly of it, and Deleuze mentions it in passing as a great book).

In any case, Whitehead also – and more surprisingly than with his citations of Alexander and Bergson – closely associates his use of the word feeling with Descartes’ use of the equivalent Latin term sentire. Didier Debaise discusses this connection in his new book L’appât des possibles. For Descartes, sentire, the act of feeling, is the one indubitable fact of existence – my cogito really reduces to a sentio, since even if the content of the feeling is delusive, the fact of having a feeling is not. (Debaise implicitly draws on Deleuze and Guattari’s substitution of sentio for cogito). (It is worth noting that Whitehead quite frequently draws from the history of philosophy in this way; he find precedents by isolating crucial propositions from an earlier thinker whose general, overall position is entirely opposed to his own).

I am entirely convinced by Debaise’s reading, which is deeper and more complex than what I have space to discuss here. But I would like to point to another, equally odd philosophical borrowing in Whitehead’s discussion of feeling. After citing Alexander and Bergson, and before moving on to Descartes, Whitehead notes that "a near analogy [for his own use of the term ‘feeling’] is Locke’s use of the term ‘idea’, including ‘ideas of particular things’." The qualification of "particular things" is important. At several points in Process and Reality, Whitehead notes how – even though this contradicts Locke’s overall sensationalism – Locke nonetheless speaks of ideas that are "determined to one particular existent." What this means, for Whitehead, is that "in some sense one actual existent repeats itself in another actual existent." There is a lot to unpack here. I will only note two things. In the first place, an entity prehends, or feels, an entire prior entity: meaning the entity as a whole, rather than just its particular qualities. I see a tree, not just an aggregation of points of green (leaves) and grey (bark). I feel the entity itself, as well as feeling its "secondary qualities" (which are what Whitehead calls eternal objects). The "data" that we perceive are not just atomistic impressions; rather, "the datum includes its own interconnections."

In the second place, when Whitehead says that an entity "repeats itself", he means that entities do not just represent other entities, or the sensa emitted by other entities, as private mental pictures: rather, the earlier entity really is present in a certain way in the later one. I discuss this at length in my article "Whitehead on Causality and Perception." For Whitehead, causality and perception are the same thing. Or, more precisely: when an entity perceives another entity, this means that it is being affected by that other entity; perception in this way is a subset of being-affected in general, since entities also affect other entities in ways that are not immediately perceived; the sum of all these affections are what we mean by causality. As Michael Halewood mentioned to me, this means that Whitehead understands causality , not as a "law of nature," but rather as the tendency for the present to conform to the immediate past. Such is the baseline, or basic condition, of becoming for Whithead; although it is partly overcome when an entity introduces novelty in its prehension of a previous entity, rather than merely conforming to it.

There are several other places in Progress and Reality where Whitehead refers his own notion of feeling to Locke’s notion of ideas. For instance:

the terms ‘prehension’ and ‘feeling’ are to be compared with the various significations of Locke’s term ‘idea.’ But they are adopted as more general and more neutral terms than ‘idea’ as used by Locke, who seems to restrict them to conscious mentality.

And again:

Locke’s term idea, in his primary use of it in the first two books of the Essay, means the determinate ingression of an eternal object into the actual entity in question. But he also introduces the limitation to conscious mentality, which is here abandoned."

The important point here is that subjective experience need not involve, and can be detached from, consciousness. On the one hand, Whitehead catergorically insists that "apart from the experiences of subjects there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness." But he also continually reminds us that most of this "experience of subjects" is nonconscious. We feel more than we can know. And many organisms feel events in the world, without necessarily being conscious of what they feel. Trees for instance, have feelings, as many recent studies have shown (see, for instance, What a Plant Knows, by Daniel Chamovitz). Trees sense and feel the sunlight; they sense and feel water in the ground; they sense and feel when insects eat their leaves. But none of this necessarily means that trees are overtly conscious; most likely, they are not.

Whitehead’s distinction between feeling and consciousness helps to illuminate certain deadlocks in the contemporary philosophy of mind. Many philosophers – David Chalmers is a good example – insist upon a supposed special quality of consciousness, its irreducibility to physical process. Other philosophers – Daniel Dennett for example – deny that consciousness has any special qualities; but in giving a fully physical explanation, they end up by explaining it away. Galen Strawson has recentlly suggested that both positions are fallacious. On the one hand, there is no evidence, in the mind or elsewhere, for anything that transcends the physical. On the other hand, though, we don’t really know everything that physical processes or materiality can do; there is no ground for claiming that physicality somehow excludes mentality. I am inclined to agree with Strawson here; but the larger, Whiteheadian point is that the issue gets entirely confused when we simply equate mentality with consciousness. Neurobiologists have shown that many and perhaps most mental processes occur nonconsciously, and may well be absoutely inaccessible to consciousness. But we need not assume, as neurobiologists and philosophers of mind generally do, that all this nonconscious mental activitty can rightly be described as computation. Whitehead’s discussion of feeling gives us a broader picture of mental functioning than cognitive psychology does. I cannot develop this here, but my hunch is that feeling in this sense is a necessary precondition for cognition, but is not in itself cognitive.

Additional References

[What is a] Prehension 

Through Whitehead's category of prehension, the nonsensory sympathetic perception of antecedent experiences, we are able to reduce several apparently very different types of relations to one fundamental type of relation. [It] explains not only memory and perception, . . . but also temporality, space, causality, enduring individuality (or substance), the mind-body relation, the subject-object relation in general, and the God-world relation. David Ray Griffin, "Charles Hartshorne," in David Ray Griffin, John B. Cobb, Jr., Marcus P. Ford, Pete A. Y. Gunter, and Peter Ochs, Founders of Constructive Postmodern Philosophy: Peirce, James, Bergson, Whitehead, and Hartshorne (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), p. 209. Griffin's writing in this book is quoted extensively in "Charles Hartshorne's Psychicalism"

Sorry, those of you who got here from A Practical Spirituality: Process New Thought; avoiding prehending is impossible. It is not the whole story to say that that page or anything else is powered by prehension, but no actuality can exist without it, and it may suggest more of a sense of power than the other ingredient in any act of co-creation: intelligent free selection from among the two types of realities prehended (felt, taken in, appropriated): (1) the completed experiences that constitute the past and (2) the perfect possibilities provided by God for newness. Prehension is the basic, extrasensory awareness, or grasping, that all experiences have of all earlier experiences. One might call it the super intuition on which all conventionally recognized extrasensory perception and sensory perception are built. 

If it seems as if too much emphasis is given to experience, that is because there is nothing actual but experiences. Process thought, or process philosophy, sometimes is called panexperientialism--all is experience. Alfred North Whitehead wrote that apart from experiences "there is nothing, nothing, nothing, bare nothingness [Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 254, corrected ed. p. 167]." What we take to be solid things are, as science recognizes, only collections of bursts of energy, or activity or process, which Whitehead interpreted as living experiences (occasions of experience, actual entities). Even souls are rapid successions of experiences, rather than some enduring nonmaterial substance that has experiences.

Charles Hartshorne says of Whitehead's theory of prehension: 

In a single conception it explains the spatiotemporal structure of the world, the possibility of knowledge, and the reality of freedom. It is, in my opinion, one of the supreme intellectual discoveries. Whitehead's Philosophy: Selected Essays, 1935-1970, p. 127. 
The word "prehension" is created by dropping the first syllable from "apprehension." Prehension is a part or aspect of the more or less complex whole which is an act of awareness. It is the element of pure givenness in this act; experience as the having of an object. An experience for Whitehead is a unitary event or process termed an "actual entity" or "occasion [of experience]." Every concrete thing which is given to or prehended by an entity is a prior event or actual entity, or a group of such entities. Contemporary events are not, strictly speaking, prehended, nor are occasions subsequent to the act of prehending. Thus memory and perception are alike in that the object of both is in the past. This assimilation of perception to memory is a highly original element in the doctrine. Ibid., p. 125. 
It is amazing how many questions are answered at one blow by accepting the doctrine of prehension. Are there internal relations of events to other events? Yes, for so far as events prehend others, they are constituted by their relations to these others. Are there external relations? Yes, for so far as events are prehended by subsequent events which they do not themselves prehend, they must be independent of these; also, so far as events, being mutually contemporary, are without prehensions running either way, there is mutual independence. Is there causal connectedness? Yes, first, because the occurrence of events strictly entails that of those events which they prehend; second, because process is bound to go on, and subsequent events must have enough in common with their predecessors to be suitable prehendors for these, in order to objectify, or "pastify" them (so to speak). Finally, is there any freedom of indeterminacy in reality? Yes, and in all cases, since events never strictly depend upon or imply their precise successors. And here Whitehead furnishes perhaps the neatest, strongest argument for freedom ever proposed. The subject prehends not one but many prior actualities. (Otherwise the world would have temporal but not spatial structure.) "The many become one and are increased by one [Whitehead, Process and Reality p. 32, corrected ed. p. 21. Hartshorne refers to this as "Whitehead's Novel Intuition," in an article with that title in Whitehead's Philosophy, pp. 161-170, reprinted from George L. Kline (ed.), Alfred North Whitehead: Essays on His Philosophy, pp. 18-26]. A single new actuality contains as its data the previous many actualities; but how could the many unambiguously prescribe their own unification into a new unity? There must be an emergent or creative synthesis, to constitute not merely that but how the many are made into a new one. Determinism, I suspect, cannot get around this difficulty. The that is necessary, causally fixed, but not the how. 
Thus, Whitehead's view of givenness not only solves certain epistemological problems; it also gives an answer to Hume's skepticism about causal connections, and yet it avoids the contrary extreme, absolute idealism's denial of contingency and freedom. [At this point he gives the two sentences quoted at the beginning of this Hartshorne material]. Whitehead's Philosophy, pp. 126-27. 

Victor Lowe, in his Understanding Whitehead, p. 349, says: 

The past has had its chance at becoming; it transfers the opportunity to the next runner. The past is now there to be apprehended, but not to grow and change. The present is creatively active but is not apprehended. 

In his An Interpretation of Whitehead's Metaphysics, p. 12, William A. Christian writes: 

A prehension is an operation in which an actual entity "grasps" some other entity (actual or nonactual [see "eternal objects" on the terminology page]) and makes that entity an object of its experience. . . . A prehension is a "concrete fact of relatedness." It has a subject (the prehending actual entity), an object or datum that is prehended , and a subjective form. The subjective form of a prehension is the particular manner in which that subject prehends that object. Subjective forms are forms of emotion, consciousness, purpose, etc. A prehension need not be conscious--indeed, most prehensions are not. 
There are positive prehensions and negative prehensions. Negative prehensions "eliminate" their data, so that these data do not make a positive contribution to the experiences of the subject. A positive prehension is generally called a feeling. 
The "becoming" of an actual entity consists in a concrescence (from concrescere), a "growing together" of various details of experience into a unity. This process of concrescence is organized teleologically by the subject's subjective aim at unity of experience. The satisfaction of an actual entity is the "concrete" unity of experience which the concrescence achieves. The living experience of an actual entity is its subjective immediacy. 
Prehension of one actual entity by another means the objectification of the former for the latter. The former is then said to have "objective" existence. It exists and functions as an object, not as an experiencing subject. . . . The objective existence of an actual entity is its objective immortality. 

In the alphabetically arranged Glossary of his A Key to Whitehead's Process and Reality (Macmillan, 1966), Donald W. Sherburne writes: 

Prehensions are defined as "Concrete Facts of Relatedness [PR 32]. Prehensions are the vehicles by which one actual entity becomes objectified in another, or eternal objects obtain ingression into actual entities; they "are 'vectors'; for they feel what is there and transform it into what is here" [PR 133]. 
Prehensions are what an actual entity is composed of: "The first analysis of an actual entity, into its most concrete elements, discloses it to be a concrescence of prehensions, which have originated in its process of becoming" [PR 35]. The very nature of a prehension reveals its relational character: "Every prehension consists of three factors: (a) the 'subject' which is prehending, namely, the actual entity in which that prehension is a concrete element; (b) the 'datum' which is prehended; (c) the 'subjective form' which is how that subject prehends that datum" [PR 35]. 
Physical prehensions are prehensions whose data involve actual entities; conceptual prehensions are prehensions whose data involve eternal objects. Both physical and conceptual prehensions are spoken of as pure; an impure prehension is a prehension in a later phase of concrescence that integrates prehensions of the two pure types. A hybrid prehension is the "prehension by one subject of a conceptual prehension, or of an 'impure' prehension, belonging to the mentality of another subject" [PR 163]. A positive prehension (also termed a feeling) includes its datum as part of the synthesis of the subject occasion, but negative prehensions exclude their data from the synthesis. 
"The perceptive constitution of the actual entity presents the problem, How can the other actual entities, each with its own formal existence, also enter objectively into the perceptive con-stitution of the actual entity in question? This is the problem of the solidarity of the universe. The classical doctrines of universals and particulars, of subject and predicate, of individual substances not present in other individual substances, of the externality of relations, alike render this problem incapable of solution. The answer given by the organic philosophy is the doctrine of prehen-sions, involved in concrescent integrations, and terminating in a definite, complex unity of feeling" [PR 88-89]. 
Whitehead acknowledges an indirect debt to Leibniz in his use of this term. Leibniz employed the terms perception and apperception for the lower and higher ways, respectively, that one monad can take account of another, can be aware of another. While needing a set of terms like this, Whitehead does not wish to utilize the identical terminology, for as used by Leibniz the terms are inextricably bound up with the notion of representa-tive perception, which Whitehead rejects. But there is the similar term apprehension, meaning "thorough understanding," and, using the Leibnizian model, Whitehead coins the term prehension to mean the general, lower way, devoid of any suggestion of either consciousness or representative perception, in which an occasion can include other actual entities, or eternal objects, as part of its own essence. 

Peter Farleigh, in his "Whitehead's Even More Dangerous Idea", says: 

Having established in general what Whitehead's 'actual occasions' are, some explanation of their nature needs to be made. It might be thought that such an explanation is to be found by starting at the bottom and working up from there. In fact, the place to start, and the place that Whitehead wants us to start, is at the level of human experience. For two reasons: first, because human experience at any moment is itself, an actual occasion, and the occasion we know better than any other, and known from the inside. Second, because high-level occasions are themselves highly coordinated societies of low-level occasions, certain features of human experiential events can be generically applied to more primitive occasions. 
Consider the act of perception. It is by perception, and this involves cognition, intentionality and affective tone, that we take account of our environment. I look at a pencil in front of me, for example. I have an immediate sense of its overall look-its shape, its length, its color. The pencil is set against a background of my desk and other things in my field of vision, but not things I am at that moment acutely aware of. Also I am only vaguely aware of my body and its relation to the desk and pen. In seeing the pencil, too, whole streams of associative memories are stirred. All of these perceptions and memories are gathered together into the unity, which is this single percipient event-a 'specious present'. The focal point or center of this event being my body. The pencil and the background, as well as the memories, are all internal constituents of my experience, and are therefore causally efficacious of that experiential event. They are said to be internally related to this event. Those objects at that moment are unaffected by my act of perception and so are said to be externally related to the event. 
The act of perception then, establishes the causal relation of a subject to the external world at that moment. Perception and memory recall for Whitehead are high level instances of a more general concept, which he calls prehension. Most simply, for a subject to prehend an object, it is to experience it, perceive it, feel it, or 'take it into account,' though not necessarily in a conscious or reflective way. An object can be a physical object, like a pencil, or a conceptual object like a memory. Prehension is also a feature at lower levels of nature. Single cells 'feel' or take account of their environment (which is often other cells). Within a series of sub-atomic events, each event prehends its antecedent event, and is almost entirely determined by it.
The concept of prehension does sound a lot like the more familiar concept of intentionality. Indeed, Nicholas Gier has examined in depth the relations between the two concepts. Gier points out their similarities: "Both prehension and intentionality describe the relationship of a subject and an object in such a way as to overcome this subject­object split. In the same way that intentionality is always 'consciousness of an object,' prehension is always 'feeling of' some datum. This means that any prehensive unification or intentional act is codetermined by the respective data." (Gier 1976) One major difference is that intentionality is only discussed in terms of human consciousness, while prehension is extended far beyond the human realm. Both affirm a doctrine of internal relations so that consciousness is never simply 'there' without content or object, but with phenomenology the relationship of consciousness and its object is not considered a causal one. Whitehead had solved this problem of causation with his doctrine of asymmetrical relations between a present event and its past. Lewis Ford sums up the comparison by stating "Rather than being simply identical with intentionality, prehension generalizes both intentionality and causality, thus unifying both phenomenology and science." (Gier 1976 [Gier, N. 1976 "Intentionality and Prehension," Process Studies Vol. 6 No. 3]) 

In his Science and the Modern World, pp. 101-106 (paperback edition 69-72), Alfred North Whitehead writes: 

The word perceive is, in our common usage, shot through and through with the notion of cognitive apprehension. So is the word apprehension, even with the adjective cognition omitted. I will use the word prehension for uncognitive apprehension: by this I mean apprehension which may or may not be cognitive.
. . . For Berkeley's mind, I substitute a process of prehensive unification. . . . In the first place, note that the idea of simple location has gone. The things which are grasped into a realised unity, here and now, are not the castle, the cloud, and the planet simply in themselves; but are the castle, the cloud, and the planet from the standpoint , in space and time, of the prehensive unification. In other words, it is the castle over there from the standpoint of the unification here. It is, therefore, the castle, the cloud, and the planet which are grasped in unity here. You will remember that the idea of perspectives is quite familiar in philosophy. It was introduced by Leibniz, in the notion of his monads mirroring perspectives of the universe. I am using the same notion, only I am toning down his monads into the unified events [in later Whitehead writings, actual entities or occasions of experience]in space and time. . . . In the analogy with Spinoza, his one substance is for me the one underlying activity of realisation . . . Thus, concrete fact is process. Its primary analysis is into underlying activity of prehension, and into realised prehensive events. 
. . . The difficulties of philosophy in respect to space and time are founded on the error of considering them as primarily the loci of simple locations. Perception is simply the cognition of prehensive unification, or more shortly, perception is cognition of prehension. The actual world is a manifold of prehension; and a ‘prehension' is a ‘prehensive occasion'; and a prehensive occasion is the most concrete finite entity, conceived as what it is in itself and for itself, and not as from its aspect in the essence of another such occasion. . . . For space and time are simply abstractions from the totality of prehensive unifications as mutually patterned in each other. 
[In answer to Berkeley's claim that the reality of nature is] the reality of ideas in mind [Whitehead maintains that nature is] a complex of prehensive unifications. Space and time exhibit the general scheme of interlocked relations of these prehensions. You cannot tear any one of them out of its context. Yet each of them within its context has all the reality that attaches to the whole complex. Conversely, the totality has the same reality as each prehension; for each prehension unifies unifies the modalities to be ascribed, from its standpoint, to every part of the whole. A prehension is a process of unifying.
. . . The realities of nature are the prehensions in nature, that is to say, the events in nature. 

David Ray Griffin, in his Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality: A Postmodern Exploration helps to explain prehension by reference to more widely recognized extrasensory perception and religious experience: 

As to what kind of perception is primary and what is derivative from it: 

The fact that religious, moral, and aesthetic knowledge is based primarily on nonsensory perception should not make it seem less empirical (experientially based) than scientific knowledge, for two reasons. First, nonsensory perception is our fundamental mode of perception, so that science, insofar as it is based on sensory perception, is based on a derivative mode of perception. Second, science is also directly based on nonsensory perception, in two ways. On the one hand, insofar as science is based on both mathematics and logic, it is based on things whose status in the nature of things is similar to that of moral and aesthetic values and principles and must be known in the same way: through nonsensory perception--which we often call "intuition." . . . On the other hand, although natural science's explicit data (aside from its mathematical data) are based on sensory perceptions, the categories it uses to interpret them--such as an actual world, causality, and time--are based on nonsensory perception, as pointed out in Chapter 3. Accordingly, in terms of nonsensory and sensory perception, the differences between theology (or philosophy of religion), ethics, and aesthetics, on the one hand, and the natural sciences, on the other, is only a difference of degree. . . . 
In any case, parapsychology, by giving evidence of nonsensory perception, sometimes quite dramatic evidence, provides scientific disconfirmation of the sensationist theory of perception, which has been one of the two major bases for assuming that we can have no perceptual knowledge of values (the other basis being the assumption that values have no objective existence in the nature of things). Parapsychology thereby proves itself to be not only, as J. B. Rhine suggested, religion's science, but ethics' science and aesthetics' science as well. pp. 284-85 

On how evidence of telepathy contributes to theology: 

[It provides an analogy to our having] a direct experience of the mind or soul of the universe. [since any telepathy is experience of one mind by another]. In our experience of God . . . there would be no "distance" involved, assuming as do both traditional theism and panentheism, the all-pervasiveness of God. p. 286. 

About the relationship between parapsychological and other experiences: 

Parapsychology . . . provides an analogy for suspecting that they represent merely an extreme form of experience that is being enjoyed all the time. What is usually called "extrasensory perception," accordingly, is probably unusual only in that occasionally this constant direct nonsensory prehension of other minds or things rises to the conscious portion of one's experience. By analogy, we would be having direct experiences of the Holy Reality all the time. Those very rare experiences in which we have a religious experience in the strong sense, a numinous experience, would be unusual only in rising, in those rare moments, to consciousness. The constant but generally unconscious experience of God could account, then, for our presupposition, even if we consciously affirm otherwise, that there is something of ultimate intrinsic worth. This idea, incidentally, would fit with James's thesis that the kinds of experiences reported in The Varieties of Religious Experience are simply extreme versions of experiences common to everyone.
This experience of the divine experience, analogous to telepathic experience of other finite minds, may also be important for moral experience beyond the way mentioned abave. There I spoke of our prehension of God's appetitive envisagement of values, what Whitehead called God's "primordial nature." Abraham Heschel has suggested that the Hebrew prophets spoke out of an experience of the divine "pathos," God's suffering with the poor and opressed. This idea corresponds with Whitehead's suggestion that we can also have a prehension of God's "consequent nature," which is God's sympathetic response to the world: God's delight in the joys of the creatures and compassion with their sufferings. Parapsychologists can allow us to take Heschel's suggestion more seriously than we otherwise might. . . . pp. 286-87. 

Peter Enns - How the Bible Actually Works


How the Bible Actually Works makes clear that there is no one right way to read the Bible. Moving us beyond the damaging idea that “being right” is the most important measure of faith, Peter Enns—evangelical Bible scholar and host of "The Bible for Normal People" podcast—offers a freeing approach to Bible study that helps us focus on pursuing enlightenment and building our relationship with God—which is exactly what the Bible was designed to do.

Controversial evangelical Bible scholar, popular blogger and podcast host of The Bible for Normal People, and author of The Bible Tells Me So and The Sin of Certainty explains that the Bible is not an instruction manual or rule book but a powerful learning tool that nurtures our spiritual growth by refusing to provide us with easy answers but instead forces us to acquire wisdom.

For many Christians, the Bible is a how-to manual filled with literal truths about belief that must be strictly followed. But the Bible is not static, Peter Enns argues. It does not hold easy answers to the perplexing questions and issues that confront us in our daily lives. Rather, the Bible is a dynamic instrument for study that not only offers an abundance of insights but provokes us to find our own answers to spiritual questions, cultivating God’s wisdom within us.

“The Bible becomes a confusing mess when we expect it to function as a rulebook for faith. But when we allow the Bible to determine our expectations, we see that Wisdom, not answers, is the Bible’s true subject matter,” writes Enns.

This distinction, he points out, is important because when we come to the Bible expecting it to be a textbook intended by God to give us unwavering certainty about our faith, we are actually creating problems for ourselves. The Bible, in other words, really isn’t the problem; having the wrong expectation is what interferes with our reading.

Rather than considering the Bible as an ancient book weighed down with problems, flaws, and contradictions that must be defended by modern readers, Enns offers a vision of the holy scriptures as an inspired and empowering resource to help us better understand how to live as a person of faith today.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

“How the Bible Actually Works”:
[any brackets are mine. - re slater]

*Peter Enns (Ph.D., Harvard University) is Abram S. Clemens professor of biblical studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania. He has written numerous books, including The Bible Tells Me So, The Sin of Certainty, and How the Bible Actually Works. Tweets at @peteenns.


I would like to thank Geoff Holsclaw for taking the time to write a review of my latest book How the Bible Actually Works. The review appears in two parts. Part 1 covers the book’s contents, and I want to commend Holsclaw’s efforts there. He did a very good job summarizing the ground that I cover, and I don’t take that for granted. Too often critical reviews falter on this very point. In Part 2 Holsclaw lays out his disagreements with some of the central conclusions that I draw the book, and it is here that I will focus my comments.

It should be apparent that my response is roughly twice the length of Holsclaw’s review. I felt the review was burdened by numerous theological assertions with unexamined subtexts beneath them that needed to be teased out a bit. Also, Holsclaw’s views no doubt mirror those of other Evangelicals, and so I am hoping that by going into a bit more detail I might address nuances that others might have.

The Whole Thing in Two Paragraphs

Holsclaw is fine in principle with the idea of biblical writers reimagining God for their time and place, which is a key theme in my book. He is also comfortable agreeing that the Bible contains tensions and contradictions. However, Holsclaw is a pastor and theologian, and as such he feels that I as a biblical scholar do not go far enough in affirming the revelatory nature of Scripture. As a consequence, God is left out of the picture, which is theologically inadequate and pastorally detrimental.

In response, I feel that Holsclaw makes some points that could generate brisk discussion, but on the whole, his theological and pastoral critique of the book raises more theological and practical questions than they answer[JB1]. At numerous points, Holsclaw makes theological assertions that open themselves up to serious scrutiny. A substantive theological and pastoral engagement with the phenomena of Scripture will have to do better than what we see here in this review.

Speaking as a Theologian and Pastor

From the very beginning of the review and continuing at a steady clip throughout, Holsclaw clearly wants to drive home the fact that he is a pastor and a theologian. His response to HTBAW is, he tells us, informed by what he feels those vocations require, namely keeping ever before us the revelatory nature of Scripture wherein God “speaks.”

To illustrate, after affirming my language of reimagining God, Holsclaw immediately adds, “But what exactly has God revealed to us (to ask a theologian’s question) and what does it mean for us (to ask a pastor’s question)? “

I have to admit, this rhetoric put me on guard. In my experience, I too often hear Evangelical critics in particular claiming this higher ground as if, in and of itself, holding such constitutes an argument, which it doesn’t (see below). I find that tactic distracting, if not off-putting, and creates more clutter than clarity. Indeed, a fair amount of my response stems from a need to address this problem.

It is not the case, as Holsclaw presents the matter, that he is bringing to the table theological and pastoral concerns and I am not. We are just driven by different theological and pastoral concerns. My writing, including HTBAW, has been affirmed by plenty [of congregational, lay, and theological sources] with theological training. And many pastors have told me they are thrilled with HTBAW, are using it in their congregations, and have invited me to come speak to their churches and even synods. 

I only (reluctantly) raise the point to remind us, and Holsclaw, that appealing to his vocations does not validate his critique. Knowing that he is a pastor and theologian is not particularly revealing. More pertinent to the discussion is knowing what kind of theologian and pastor he is.

Holsclaw’s theological turf and notions of pastoral duty are not standards, simply givens in the discussion, but are as subject to criticism as any other. And while the angle he is taking on the phenomena of Scripture will be satisfying theologically and pastorally to some, to others, who have perhaps heard these answers before, it will not [be]. They have other questions entirely. I have been conversing for many years with pilgrims who are trying to recover spiritually from their conservative backgrounds and find other perspectives life-giving. They would not be as captivated by the particular kind of theological and pastoral matters Holsclaw keeps pressing.

To illustrate further, near the end of his review Holsclaw summarizes succinctly his theological and pastoral concerns with my view of Scripture:

"Theologically, if God has spoken then we can and should engage in theology, the task of asking who God is, what God is like, and how all this connects with all that is. If God has not spoken then all we have is cultural anthropology, an ancient text, university research projects, and the projection of human values onto divine fantasies."
"Pastorally, if God has spoken then we are not alone, abandoned within the angst of a life where all meaning, purpose, and significance is really just up to us. If God has spoken then there really is something stable and reliable in the world. If God has spoken that [sic] life isn’t just up to me to figure out. If God hasn’t spoken, then pastorally my advice is to sleep in and skip my next sermon and don’t worry about that daily devotion time anymore. [italics my emphasis]"

Holsclaw’s rhetoric here is overblown, and the conclusions raise some blazing theological and pastoral red flags for me.

First, note that Holsclaw has not actually answered his own question “Has God Spoken?” He has only expressed what he thinks is at stake if God has or hasn’t spoken. I’ve never warmed up to this kind of “if-then” theological argument—that position X must be false, since it undermines some imagined necessary outcome Y. This is not an argument one can respond to—because it is not an argument but an expression of a belief that is not subject to discussion. Expressing one’s beliefs is fine under other circumstances, but as a counterpoint, it is not at all persuasive.

Second, my experience yields the exact opposite observation. I know people—many people—whose spiritual lives are, or have been, in a process of deep recovery because of the unyielding theological categories their intelligence and their experience could no longer support, but who were told by pastors and theologians that their faith depends on their ignoring their experience and falling back on the very formulations that fueled their crisis to begin with. They have found greater explanatory power, and therefore renewed faith, through other models.

Holsclaw’s theological models of Scripture and pastoral care out of which he critiques HTBAW are not universal. He is welcome to have them, but as a point of theological debate, they will carry no weight. We are left to trading anecdotes.

Losing the God Connection.

Holsclaw’s pastoral and theological concerns are focused almost entirely on one issue: my failure to say something about divine revelation in addition to the biblical authors reimagining God. As he puts it, I have “totally left aside” that issue and even “refuse” to address it. In doing so, I have “turned the Bible into what humans reimagine God to be,” which is nothing less than a “lie in the big picture.”

That last bit of unguarded hyperbole notwithstanding, Holsclaw’s assessment of my work is a product of the kind of theology he embraces. There are, after all, as I’m sure he knows, different theological models for understanding the nature of revelation. I wish Holsclaw had taken some time to define—even briefly—what he means by “revelation,” given its importance to Holsclaw, and how that view helps address the phenomena of Scripture.

Judging from the review as a whole, however, I am confident that Holsclaw’s view fits comfortably within familiar Evangelical parameters. I also surmise, though Holsclaw does not use the term, that his deeper concern is to protect biblical authority (a clear subtext of his two summary statements quoted in the previous section), which is the logical corollary to his understanding of revelation.

Holsclaw is correct that I don’t address directly the matter of revelation. And the reason is that it simply doesn’t hold for me the level of theological and pastoral interest it does for Holsclaw. Nor does it need to.

Oh sure, it “interests” me as a topic of lively speculative discussion or my own internal musings. In fact, truth be told, I “imagine” all the time what revelation might mean and how it might work. I even wrote a book about it in 2005, Inspiration and Incarnation where I adopt an incarnational model as a means of framing the discussion.

But as for HTBAW, I simply had no interest in meshing together what I see the biblical writers doing with what God might be doing to them, or in them, or with them, or alongside them. This was no oversight on my part, nor was it a “refusal” to address a central topic of theological and pastoral urgency.

I truly hope we can all agree that any doctrine of revelation is by its nature speculative and hard to demonstrate when push comes to shove. I am well within my theological and pastoral charge to work through the biblical phenomena (as best as I can, always looking out for my own hidden agenda) and describe what I see from a cultural point of view without also accounting for how all this fits together in the mind of God who was revealing information to the biblical writers and then to us.

It is clear that Holsclaw sees this failure of mine as the heart and soul of his critique, but I simply don’t feel the force of it. I do not accept Holsclaw’s presumption that divine revelation is a non-negotiable, even self-evident, norm by which the phenomena of Scripture need to be viewed.

I might, though . . . were he to demonstrate how the messy phenomena of Scripture (which he acknowledges) would inform and shape his doctrine of Scripture rather than be adjusted by it. Or perhaps, were he to indicate how his doctrine of revelation does a better job of accounting for the biblical phenomena I lay out in the book, such as:

  • contradictory portrayals of God,
  • the many conflicts between the law codes in Torah though they are all given by God in Mt. Sinai to Moses,
  • the conflicting histories of Israel’s kings, various and sundry moral and historical problems,
  • the unexpected nature of the Messiah dying for others and then rising
  • —and more.

I’m sure Holsclaw acknowledges these phenomena, but he is obligated at this point not simply to talk the talk but walk the walk, to explain how inserting a doctrine of revelation into this discussion would actually add to our understanding of the biblical phenomena—an explanation that would certainly penetrate deeper than the “if-then” scenarios he posed above. 

But what concerned me most—if I may say, for both theological and pastoral reasons—was Holsclaw’s unguarded rhetoric in the following:

"Emphasizing the process of “reimagining God” might sound like a way to save the Bible from fundamentalism, to loosen the stranglehold of literalism and absolutism, and to appreciate the diversity within the Bible. And those are good things."
But without a doctrine of Scripture/revelation (a theologian’s question) we haven’t really saved our connection with God (a pastor’s question). [my emphasis - PE]

In other words, however correct it might be to think of the Bible as an ancient, ambiguous, and diverse collection of stories that represent how people of old reimagined God for their here and now, without a doctrine of Scripture/revelation our connection with God is not “saved,” or to put it more directly, that connection is lost.

I hope Holsclaw is just aiming for a bit of drama here, but at face value, this claim is unsettling and illustrates a type of biblio-centrism for which Evangelicalism is rightly criticized. Evangelicals tend to walk that thin line between respect for Scripture and idolizing it. If Holsclaw has not crossed that line, for me he is coming too close for comfort.

Let me say succinctly, that a doctrine of revelation does not save our connection with God. That is what the Spirit of God does working in and through Scripture (along with other means of grace) without the false sense of security offered by any “doctrine of revelation.” I truly hope Holsclaw doesn’t think the people of God need a functional definition of revelation in order for the Spirit to meet us. I can think of not a few Christian traditions that wouldn’t quite know how to respond constructively to a claim like that.

I happen to love the Bible and I think of it as, among other things, a non-negotiable “means of grace” that gives me language, concepts, and a touchstone for articulating my experience of Christ. And for the record, I at least acknowledge in HTBAW the Spirit’s presence and involvement in Scripture, even if only in a general sense. In several places in the book, I say that Scripture’s antiquity, ambiguity, and diversity are not problems to be solved but reflect God’s “design” and as such God’s invitation to us to walk the path of wisdom.

God is not “lost” because I do not fold into my view the mysterious inner-workings of revelation. God just shows up in, with, though (whatever) the human reflections of the biblical authors as we approach the text in our full humanity. Of course, I can’t demonstrate how that works (!) or prove that I am right (!), but that is where I see Scripture itself pointing. I do not see Scripture pointing to an overarching “doctrine of revelation.”

Holsclaw acknowledges these same pointers (that biblical authors do reimagine God), but how does he see those pointers pointing him to add a notion of revelation? Or has he already freighted a discussion of the biblical phenomena with a preconceived notion of what Scripture as God’s word must be? I am reminded here of C. S. Lewis’s quip in Reflections on the Psalms:

"[There] is one argument [about the nature of Scripture] which we should beware of using [when trying to define the nature of Scripture]: God must have done what is best, this is best, therefore God has done this. For we are mortals and do not know what is best for us, and it is dangerous to prescribe what God must have done–especially when we cannot, for the life of us, see that He has after all done it."

Along those lines, I suppose I should throw another card on the table: I am very comfortable with, and am comforted by, the paradox of Scripture noted by others long before HTBAW: Scripture as God’s word comes to us irrevocably through utterly ordinary means—and that fact has pressing implications for how we frame the nature of Scripture.

Over the years I’ve collected quotes from theologians and others that articulate this paradox. One of my favorites is the following by turn-of-the-century Dutch Calvinist theologian Herman Bavinck from his Reformed Dogmatics:

"[How we think of Scripture] is the working out and application of the central fact of revelation: the incarnation of the Word. The Word has become flesh, and the word has become Scripture; these two facts do not only run parallel but are most intimately connected. Christ became flesh, a servant, without form or comeliness, the most despised of human beings; he descended to the nethermost parts of the earth and became obedient even to death on the cross. So also the word, the revelation of God, entered the world of creatureliness, the life and history of humanity, in all the human forms of dream and vision, of investigation and reflection, right down into that which is humanly weak and despised and ignoble…. All this took place in order that the excellency of the power…of Scripture, may be God’s and not ours."

Bavinck, working with what can rightly be called an incarnational model of Scripture (as Christ the Word is human/divine, so too is the Bible “human/divine”). He sees the Bible’s through-and-through messy, broken, frail form as precisely what brings us to “connect” with God–the very thing Holsclaw is so fearful of losing. It is the very “humility of Scripture” that gives us glimpses of what God is like—a God who “in coming vulnerably into creation [in Jesus] . . . is not giving up the characteristics of divinity but most fully manifesting them” (William Placher, Narratives of a Vulnerable God). By speaking of Scripture in terms of the reimagining God as a wisdom quest, I am simply attempting to catch, as I see it, something of Scripture’s humility and God’s vulnerability.

Bavink is hardly a liberal who has lost his moorings. His thoughts here, as well as those of others I have come across, have been helpful to me theologically and pastorally. And yet none of these views represents the final word (no theology can claim that). I have some quibbles and disagreements with all of them, including the quote above—not the least of which is my annoyance that these authors do not always follow through with the implications of their insights.

Nevertheless, the kind of doctrine of Scripture Bavinck articulates here thoroughly revels in Scripture’s “humility” and incorporates that humility positively into his doctrine of Scripture rather than tacking on a notion of revelation from who knows where.

At the very least the paradox of Scripture should temper Holsclaw’s theological/pastoral claim that, though I may have “saved the Bible” from fundamentalism, I have done so while “losing God.” No . . . only if your God is bound to a particular formulation of a doctrine of Scripture that keeps its humility at a distance. And of course, Holsclaw can disagree with all this, but that is not the end of the discussion; it is only the beginning.

Nothing New to See Here

Early in his review, Holsclaw reminds us (as pastor and theologian) that struggling with Scripture is not a recent invention in the history of the church, and as a general observation, he is absolutely correct. I am less optimistic, however, about where he goes with this observation:

"So as a pastor and a theologian, I want to say, “Welcome to all you tired and weary, and you who need rest from a disappointing, constrictive, and confusing view of the Bible. Come out of your narrow fundamentalism, not into a loss of faith, but into a wider faith, a broad Church tradition that has honestly grappled with these issues for two millennia. [Emphasis original]"

To be sure, the history of Christian interpretation on the whole has much to offer Evangelicals struggling with Scripture through the hermeneutical lens they inherited from the Protestant Reformation. I have seen time and time again how simply being exposed to the rich and diverse history of pre-Reformation interpretation is a breath of fresh air for many who are “tired and weary.”

On the other hand, Holsclaw’s sentiment here strikes me as too sweepingly generous and uncritical an assessment of the “broad Church tradition.”

I often see appeals to what is also called the “Great Tradition,” especially among Evangelicals who, for instance, have discovered Orthodoxy as a promising way out of the problems that plague Evangelicalism. And let me say again that serious students of Scripture should avail themselves of the breadth of Christian thought, if anything to learn how to de-center their own theologies.

But I do not think that the “broad Church tradition” has done quite so good or complete a job of “honestly grappling with these issues for two millennia” as Holsclaw seems to intimate. There are many issues today that the Church has not grappled with at all, and not all its grappling has been necessarily helpful, or (to state the obvious) achieved any sort of unanimity. 

Holsclaw seems to be telling his worried readers simply to join the club, for the answers to their questions eventually are found therein. I hope that’s not what he is saying. If all he is saying is that the broad Church tradition welcomes deep and honest discussion that could potentially redirect, adjust, or even reform our thinking, even on such key points as the nature of revelation, then perhaps there is a place even for HTBAW at that table.

The grapplings with Scripture throughout the history of the church are culturally shaped iterations of Christian thought. Theologians of the 2nd through 4th centuries, for example, were reimagining the God of old through the lens of the philosophical heritage of Greco-Romanism. And I would expect nothing else—this was their world. But it is not ours.

To be in conversation with that profound past is simply good common sense, and as I said rewarding and even life-giving for some, but that does not relieve us of the responsibility–what I call in the book our “sacred responsibility”–of also doing theology here and now, which might mean having to put things differently when addressing the unique challenges of our day. Saying so is not a dismissal of earlier voices but a commitment to owning our own.

I don’t see the “broad Church tradition” being a place where our questions can safely come to rest. Rather it challenges is to face the inevitability of accepting this “sacred responsibility” as well.

If a Claim is Trans-historical Does that Make it Revelation?

In the section entitled “Staking a Claim, not Reimagining One,” Holsclaw asserts that, as revelation, the Bible “drives some stakes in the ground beyond the right now of culturally engaged wisdom informed reimagining.” He supports this claim by citing John 1:1 and 14 of John’s prologue and Hebrews 1:1-3.

Holsclaw rightly states the John 1:1 is a reimagining of Genesis 1, and v. 14 of the tabernacle. He also acknowledges that John’s act of reimagining God reflects the “here and now of a contingently cultural moment.” This is promising, but he adds quickly that these culturally conditioned acts of reimagining God nevertheless “transcend history,” meaning there is something more happening here than John merely reimagining. God must be revealing something somehow in addition to this act of reimagining.

I am not at all sure how one can acknowledge the human act of reimagining as also an act of revelation. Explaining that would take a lot of fleshing out. But more to my point here, I am puzzled why Holsclaw thinks that John’s trans-historical claim necessarily indicates divine revelation.

For one thing, the very heart of John’s trans-historical utterance lies in his dependence on Neo-Platonism’s notion of the transcendent logos (“word”). John’s trans-historical claim about Jesus is more than tangentially a product of his time and place.

Of course, John sees Jesus as that logos, but on what basis can Holsclaw say with such confidence that this claim can only come to John through direct divine revelation? Rather, John might simply be applying the language of the divine logos to Jesus to express his Christian faith in that “contingently cultural moment.”

John’s unique twist is that this logos “became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14). But did this come to him through revelation? John is not the first Christian writer to claim that Jesus is “God with us.” That notion came to him from antecedent Christian tradition, did it not?

I am not at all clear why Holsclaw would think that a trans-historical claim is a mark of revelation. We see for example in the religious literature of the Second Temple Period, particularly the Pseudepigrapha, all sorts of trans-historical claims. Are these trans-historical claims also necessary indications of divine revelation? Or what about such claims made by every religion of the ancient Mediterranean going back three millennia or so? Or does this hold only in the Bible?

I’m not saying that the Spirit of God is absent in John’s prologue. All I’m saying is that we have no idea what role the Spirit plays. This is one reason why I have leaned toward an “incarnational” model of inspiration: it allows for mystery without feeling the pressure of fleshing that out (pardon the pun), and it does not try to do a theological circumnavigation of historically rooted explanations for why the Bible does what it does.

Rather than trying to resolve in my book what is hardly self-evident—what exactly God is “doing” as the Gospel writer is writing. I am more than content to respect my limitations without thinking I have to get into God’s head first. Echoing Bavinck, for a doctrine of Scripture to have any explanatory power, anthropological explanations for biblical phenomena need to be given their due weight, not suppressed, or—as I feel Holsclaw is doing—given lip service to.

The same objection holds for Holsclaw’s use of Hebrews 1:1-3. He makes much of the fact that this writer says that God “spoke” first through the prophets and now “by his Son.” And so, if I am catching Holsclaw’s meaning, such “speaking” by God is by its nature revelatory and therefore not simply an act of human imagination.

It is worth noting, though, that by speaking “by his Son,” God’s speech is a person, not the Bible, the latter containing diverse interpretations of the Son. But more important, as with John 1, it is not at all clear to me why this statement must be seen as a propositional revelation of God rather than, say, as with John’s appropriation of the logos, an act of the writers “sanctified imagination” for his time and place. I would like Holsclaw to articulate, even briefly, why Heb 1:1-3 can be nothing other than a demonstration of God’s direct propositional revelation.

Holsclaw overestimates the implications of these passages when he asserts that they “make trans-historical claims about Jesus, claims that transcend the merely human process of re-imagining God.” He is free to believe that, but not assert it as a given, nor treat the absence of such a claim elsewhere as a failing.

Reimagining God—But Not Too Much

At more than one point, Holsclaw acknowledges (with qualifications) the value of accepting our “sacred responsibility” to reimagine God, just so long as it is not done in a “one-sided” fashion. Similarly, he does not “necessarily disagree” that I use the language or reimagination to explain inconsistencies in the biblical portrayals of God, or that the history of Christian theology is really successive projects of reimagining the God of the Bible further still.

What Holsclaw seems to mean is that this sacred responsibility to reimagine God must be balanced, so to speak, by the higher controlling notion of biblical revelation. I would contend, however, that by phrasing the problem this way, Holsclaw is revealing that he has not really taken to heart the problematic nature of the biblical phenomena that the language of “reimagining” is trying to address.

I don’t think grafting “revelation” onto the biblical phenomena balances anything. I am reminded here of the analogous situation of how Evangelical theology has sometimes handled evolution vis-à-vis the creation of Adam in Genesis 2. I have often heard confident claims that there is no real tension between evolution and the Bible—provided we retain a “historical Adam,” which I’ve always felt was an exercise in missing the point. I do not think that one can simply pin the evolutionary tail onto the Evangelical donkey.

Likewise: contradictions and historical conundrums of the Bible don’t really affect an Evangelical bibliology—provided we manage to retain the language of revelation, inspiration, and authority (often further freighted with the language of inerrancy). I do not think the biblical phenomena can be so easily squared with the terminology that Holsclaw wants to keep, not without some careful reframing of those concepts, which Holsclaw does not do. As I asked earlier, how might “revelation” help us with the very contradictions in Scripture Holsclaw affirms?

At any rate, Holsclaw’s affirmation of the language of reimagination seems to have a ceiling:

". . .our ‘sacred responsibility’ isn’t just to continue the reimagining process, but to faithfully witness to these realities as if they are true for the whole world, all of reality."

But to bear faithful witness is precisely to accept the sacred responsibility of reimagining God, because bearing witness always has a context, is always particularized in time and space, including in the Bible.

“Faithful” does not mean following a theological abstraction. In fact, even in those passages, Holsclaw adduces above, I am seeing the revelation of the mystery of Christ, i.e., Christ is the mystery that is revealed. Faithfully witnessing to this paradoxical “revealed mystery” requires embracing our sacred responsibility to imagine how the Spirit is active among us.

The question before us is What will faithful witness-bearing look like here and now? How will that witness be articulated as “true for the whole world” as Holsclaw puts it? Working toward that end is precisely why “sacred responsibility” is not a theological liability but a theological and spiritual necessity—not to mention simply unavoidable.

And My Last Point

The review ends as follows:

"Conservatives focus too much on revelation. And Progressives focus too much on wisdom (and/or love). What we need is both. Only then will the church grow up into all maturity in Christ by the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father. (my emphasis)"

I disagree. To repeat my earlier point—conservatives don’t focus too much on revelation but on particular models of revelation. Progressives don’t jettison revelation but conceive of it differently. I don’t think combining somehow conservative and progressive ingredients will solve the problem since they are operating from very different theological starting points. We can’t just duct tape the two together.

I don’t think that either [evangelical - res] theologians or biblicists have a better handle on truth than the other. But if I may put yet another card on the table, I believe Holsclaw and others who would champion this kind of theology and pastoral care, will need to reframe, recalibrate—reimagine—how we think of revelation given the rather complex and messy nature of Scripture from a historical point of view.

Doing that well is how I believe “the church [will] grow up into all maturity in Christ by the power of the Spirit to the glory of the Father.”

I appreciate the exchange here and I am grateful for Holsclaw taking the time to engage my book. But in my estimation, the theology of Scripture out of which he critiques How the Bible Actually Works is not the theological and pastoral corrective he poses it to be….

Whitehead in 5 Minute Videos, Lessons 1-20

Five Minute ​Whitehead Videos
Lessons 1 - 20

by Jay McDaniel

Reading Whitehead's Process and Reality
with help from Twenty Short Videos

Process Thought is an Attitude and Outlook on Life, International in Scope, Influenced by the
Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead

The introductory video introduces process thought and explains the purpose of the series. Dr. Jay McDaniel (the narrator) introduces himself and presents process thought as an attitude toward life emphasizing creativity, interconnectedness, and respect for life. He gives you a sense of who and where process thinkers are, and he introduces a diagram -- the Tree Diagram -- which compares process thought to a growing tree.

The roots are Whitehead's philosophy; the trunk consists of twenty key ideas that flow from his philosophy; and the branches consist of application. The twenty key ideas can be found in English and Chinese on the Open Horizons website: Twenty Key Ideas. JJB also introduces many applications of process thinking on a wide variety of topics: ecology, education, culture, spirituality, science, art, music, and food culture, for example. 

For example, if you are interested in practical applications to ecology, see John Cobb's Ten Ideas for Saving the Planet. Or if you are interested in spirituality, see Replanting Yourself in Beauty or Trust in Beauty. 

However, this course focuses on the roots as developed in Whitehead's Process and Reality. As you take the course it is helpful, but not necessary, to have a copy of Whitehead's Process and Reality alongside you, making sure that you read the selected pages. It is best to read the text very slowly, without rushing. Do not worry if there are phrases you do not understand. If you watch and reflect upon these videos, you will have a good understanding of many ideas in Process and Reality.

​Lesson One

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, Preface, pages xi-xii
Key Theme: There are four sources for wisdom: Science, Art, Religion, and Ethics.

This lesson focuses on the first two pages of the preface to Process and Reality. With help from highlighted texts, it presents Whitehead's aims in writing the book; explains that Whitehead spoke of his philosophy as a philosophy of organism; and talks about four kinds of experience Whitehead wanted to unify: scientific, aesthetic, moral, and religious. At the end Dr. McDaniel explains that, for Whitehead, the wisdom of the perspective he develops will lie in the overall scheme, and that this scheme is gradually developed throughout the book.

Lesson Two

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, Preface, page xiii
Key Theme: Thinking and feeling and decision-making form a whole.

Following a brief review of the previous lesson, this lesson turns to a list of nine fallacies which Whitehead lists in the preface found on page xiii of the Preface. These are fallacies which Whitehead seeks to avoid. This lesson focuses on three of them: (1) the fallacy of distrusting speculative philosophy, (2) the fallacy of trusting that language is an adequate expression of ideas, and (3) the fallacy of thinking that the human mind can be divided into mutually external compartments or faculties.

​Lesson Three

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, Preface, page xiii (cont.)
Key Theme: Reality does not conform to subject-predicate grammar.

Lesson three continues in explication of nine ideas repudiated or rejected by Whitehead as he begins to develop his philosophy. After a short review of the previous lesson, Dr. McDaniel discusses one of the most important "fallacies" Whitehead sought to avoid. It is that of thinking that the world in which we live, and our experience of it, can be understood on the analogy of the subject-predicate mode of grammatical expression. 

In so doing the lesson introduces an idea that is central to the process tradition: namely that "entities" emerge out of their relations with other "entities" and that there are no entities existing in isolation. The emphasis on relationality is one reason that Whitehead called his philosophy a philosophy of organism.

Lesson Four

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, Preface, page xiii (cont.)
Key Theme: In philosophy no form of experience should be excluded.

Lesson Four presents Whitehead's idea that the starting point for philosophical thought is experience and explains that, for Whitehead, all kinds of experience must be taken into account: experience anxious and carefree, experience happy and grieving, experience emotional and experience intellectual, experience normal and abnormal, experience asleep and experience awake. This lesson also introduces the idea that Whitehead was a radical empiricist, rejecting the sensationalist doctrine of perception in the interests of recognizing the potential wisdom of many forms of experience.

Lesson Five

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, Preface, page xiii (cont.) 
Key Theme: There are no vacuous actualities; nature is alive.

With help from visual images from the French artist and post-Impressionist painter, Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), this lesson introduces Whitehead's idea that the whole of the universe is "alive" in varying degrees and ways, and that there are no vacuous actualities. A vacuous actuality is an actuality which lacks any interiority or agency; it is a mere thing. 

Whitehead's philosophy is known for its proposal that all genuine actualities in our universe prehend their actual worlds from their own perspective, and that the objects we see in our world are either genuine actualities in their own right or nexus (aggregates) of such actualities. Mountains, for example, are aggregate expressions of actualities with prehensive vitality. 

One well-known process philosopher, David Ray Griffin, speaks of this as panexperientialism. In this website we sometimes call it panprehensionality. Whitehead's notion of prehension is dealt with in a subsequent lesson.

​Lesson Six

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, Preface, page xiv
Key Theme: We all have worldviews, but no one has the final word. 

Lesson Six introduces four impressions that dominate Whitehead's thinking as he writes Process and Reality: (1) The age of criticism has done it's work, and it is time for construction, (2) the true method of philosophical construction is to frame a set of ideas, drawing from many forms of experience, and see if they help interpret and illuminate experience, (3) all forms of thought are influenced by a philosophical scheme of one sort or another, acknowledged or not, and (4) when it comes to sounding the depths of things, all schemes are finite and fallible. "The merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly."

Lesson Seven

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, page 7
Key Theme: Creativity is the ultimate reality of the universe

Lesson Seven explores four key themes, based on a very important paragraph in the first chapter of Part One of Process and Reality. The ideas are that (1) the ultimate reality is Creativity, which is ultimate by virtue of its actualizations; (2) God is the primordial self-actualization of creativity, but not the ultimate reality itself, (3) the emphasis on Creativity resembles Asian -- Chinese and Indian -- ways of thinking; and (4) when it comes to thinking about ultimates, some process thinkers (but not Whitehead himself) speak of different kinds of ultimates around which different cultural and religious traditions may be centered.

Lesson Eight

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, page 22
Key Idea: The actual entity is a process of prehending the actual world. 

Lesson Eight begins the process of explicating the eight key "categories of existence" as adumbrated in Whitehead's Process and Reality. Among Whiteheadians there are two complementary ways of understanding an actual entity. One way begins with submicroscopic matter and works "up" to human experience. It presents actual entities as very tiny energy-events with the depths of matter. The other way begins with a single moment of human experience and works "down" to submicroscopic matter. It presents actual entities as activities, or processes, amid which, in the moment at hand, a human being feels the presence of the actual world. This lesson begins in the second way. It embodies what philosophers might call a phenomenological approach to Whitehead's idea of an actual entity. In the tradition of Whiteheadian scholarship there are many approaches: phenomenological, speculative, and post-structural. 

Phenomenological approaches begin with lived human experience; speculative approaches begin with speculations about the universe; post-structural approaches begin more general sensibilities concerning multiplicity, difference, interconnectedness, and flow. In these lessons we often begin phenomenologically, but feel free to turn in the other two directions. And so it is with most Whiteheadian thinkers.

​Lesson Nine

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, page 21
Key Idea: The many become one and are increased by one.

Lesson Nine considers selected passages from six paragraphs in a section of Whitehead's Process and Reality called The Category of the Ultimate. One of the most important ideas presented in these passages is that Creativity is, in Whitehead's words, "the universal of universals characterizing ultimate matters of fact." His idea is that every actual fact in the universe -- every actual entity -- is a "production of novel togetherness." This means that an entity is not simply "one" but also "many." It is the many becoming one. The video uses the example of a child's relationship to her parents to illustrate the point. Her parents are part of who she is, and in her very inclusion of them within her own life, she is more than them. Always she is becoming herself, and the self who becomes at any given moment becomes part of a many which influence her in the future.

Lesson Ten

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, page 18
Key Theme: Everything - even God -- is an act of experiencing.

Lesson Ten focuses on a unique paragraph in Process and Reality, where Whitehead proposes an answer to the question: What is everything made of? Whereas some traditions in the world might way that everything is made of something like matter and whereas some might say that everything is made of consciousness; Whitehead proposes a more Buddhist or Chinese response. Everything is made of events or, to be more specific, drops of experience, complex and interdependent. Here we find a vivid instance of Whitehead's event-cosmology. In traditional Chinese thinking philosophers speak of the totality of all that exists as wan wu (萬物) sometimes translated as the Ten Thousand Things. In a Whiteheadian context the Ten Thousand Things are Ten Thousand Events. There is nothing more real than events, and they are themselves drops of experience. At any given moment we ourselves are events composed of our own experience, yet related to everything else in the universe. God is an event, too. And so is a puff of energy in outer space. The universe is a vast unfolding network of inter-being or, perhaps better, inter-events.

Lesson Eleven

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, page 39
Key Idea: There are two kinds of reality: actuality and potentiality.

In Whitehead's philosophy something is "real" if it can be experienced as an object of one sort or another and thus, as an object, make a difference in experience. Lesson Eleven introduces the idea that some objects of experience are possibilities rather than actualities. They are real but not actual, because they do not feel or prehend their surroundings and do not make decisions. The most abstract of these objects are what Whitehead calls eternal objects. They are pure potentials which may be actualized in some universe or cosmic epoch, even if not our own. These objects are similar to Plato's Forms, and Whitehead was indeed influenced by Plato. The lesson concludes with remarks concerning the creative and performing arts and the natural sciences, suggesting that they are ways of exploring and presenting potentialities.

Lesson Twelve

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, page 23
Key Idea: Propositions are not simply statements of belief; they are lures for feeling.

Lesson Twelve discusses Whitehead's idea of a proposition -- or lure for feeling -- showing how propositions are means by which novelty enters the world. By way of illustration, this segment plays some of the music of the jazz musician, John Coltrane, and presents propositions in light of the innovative spirit of jazz. Whitehead proposes that, at every moment of our lives, we are improvising responses to given situations, adding our own voice to the very history of the universe. Other creatures are doing this, too. We live in an improvisational universe, in which indeterminacy is as real, and as important, as determinacy. Thus, for Whitehead, the future is always open, and the future is never entirely pre-determined by the past or the present. This is the case even for God, who knows what is possible in the future, but not what is actual until it becomes actual.

Lesson Thirteen

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, page 51.
Key Idea: Prehensions are the means by which entities are present in others. 

Lesson Thirteen introduces two of the most important ideas in Whitehead's philosophy: prehensions and subjective forms. . Every actual entity, every moment of experience, consists of acts of experiencing or prehending many realities which "become one" in the act of experiencing them. The realities can be other actual entities or pure potentialities, or combinations of them. Prehensions may be conscious or unconscious; in human life most are unconscious. Consciousness is but the tip of the experiential iceberg. Prehensions are the most fundamental element in actual entities, the means by which the universe is held together and things are present in one another. Lesson Thirteen takes a conversation between a mother and her daughter as a way of illustration prehension and their complementary notion: subjective forms.

​Lesson Fourteen

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, page 34.
Key Idea: Reality is thoroughly social. Molecules and atoms, planets and stars are societies, too. There are no self-contained facts.

Lesson Fourteen introduces the ideas of nexus and society to readers. Most of the macroscopic objects that we perceive around us are not single actual entities, but rather aggregates of actual entities unified by their prehensions of one another (nexus) and perhaps also by a common characteristic which they inherit from predecessors in the the nexus, thus giving them more specific definition (society). There are many kinds of societies. A human being is a society too. She is a personally-ordered society who consists of many moments of experience (many actual entities) in succession, each inheriting from the predecessors with special intimacy. There is no single person who underlies the change; there are many subjects in succession. The idea is very Buddhist: "No thinker thinks twice and no experiencer experiences twice." Lesson Fourteen ends by offering the idea that perhaps the universe as a whole is gathered into an ongoing Life, too. This is what Whitehead means by the consequent nature of God.

Lesson Fifteen

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, page 81.
Key Idea: The body plays an essential role in human life: the withness of the body.

Lesson Fifteen introduces three ideas that are important to Whitehead in Process and Reality: the withness of the body, experience in the mode of causal efficacy, and experience in the mode of presentational immediacy. Experience in the mode of causal efficacy is visceral experience. It occurs when we feel affected or influenced by bodily states and by realities outside our bodies in direct, energetic ways. It is an important part of bodily experience and serves a perpetual reminder that, in our daily lives, we are with our bodies and our bodies are with us. Whitehead calls it the withness of the body. This does not mean that our minds are precisely identifical with our bodies; we can have attitudes toward our bodies which are healthy or unhealthy, and these attitudes occur in our minds. But our bodies are marvelously intricate and complex systems of energy which nourish us, give us a sense of direction, offer us wisdom, and connect us with the world. And ultimately, says Whitehead, the whole world is like a body to us. Even God -- if God exists-- is embodied. The universe is God's body.

Lesson Sixteen

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, page 43
Key Idea: Decision is the very meaning of actuality

Lesson Sixteen focuses on Whitehead's idea that the very meaning of actuality lies in the notion of decision. In Whitehead's philosophy a decision is not a "conscious" decision, but rather a subjectivity activity -- conscious or unconscious -- in which some possibilities for responding to a given situation are excluded or cut off, while others are then actualizes. A woman climbing a mountain, movement by moment, is making conscious decisions which constitute her very actualityi in the moment at hand. And so, thinks Whitehead, are the energy-events within the very depths of atoms. Understood in this way, decision is one of the primary expressions of the ultimate reality of the universe: creativity. Decisions may be wise or unwise, productive or destructive, violent or graceful -- whatever their nature, they are the very reason why things unfolds as they do. From Whitehead's perspective the universe is not simply an unfolding of abstract ideas. The world is not the outcome of mathematical formulas. It is the outcome of decisions.

Lesson Seventeen

Key Text: Process and Reality, pages 48-51.
Key Idea: Every moment of human experience is a concrescence of the universe.

Lesson Seventeen offers the most systematic summary of Whitehead's idea of experience available in this series of videos. The diagrams were created by a student at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, USA. There is a danger in diagrams, insofar as they can lead people into overly-static and linear ways of looking at the world. Whitehead's philosophy is more holistic and dynamic. This means that, when we think of experience, we need to hold onto diagrams with a relaxed grasp, fully aware that experience is always more than images. Nevertheless, the diagrams may help viewers more fully understand Whitehead's concept of experience. In the narrative the experiencing subject is imagined as a human being, but it is important to remember that, in Whitehead's philosophy, there is subjectivity everywhere: in the infinitely small and the infinitely large. Even in the depths of atoms, and even in the depths of God, there is something akin to what is depicted in the diagrams: prehending, subjective form, and decision. However, in God, as Whitehead understands God, there is no perishing of immediacy. God is the inclusive and everlasting act of concrescence who shares in all finite moments such as those depicted above. (See Lesson Nineteen.)

​Lesson Eighteen

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, page 229
Key Idea: The beauty of life is felt in contrast; the aim of life is to weave them.

Lesson Eighteen introduces an idea which is extremely important to Whitehead, and which he lists as among the eight categories of existence he seeks to illuminate in Process and Reality. This is the idea of contrasts. For some in the English-speaking world, the word contrast can suggest conflict; but for Whitehead it suggested complementarity. The yin-yang diagram in traditional Chinese thinking offers a helpful image of contrasts. Whitehead was interested in how we can experience objects in the world through contrasts, and also in how we try to weave our own emotions -- our subjective forms -- into contrasts. He believed that all experiencing subjects, anywhere in the universe, are seeking contrasts or, to use another word important to him, beauty. They - we -- seek harmony and intensity, neither to the exclusion of the other. In the very seeking there is a zest or vitality which, for Whitehead, is part of life's meaning. Even the adventure of the universe as One -- even God -- is enriched by and forever seeking a harmony of contrasts.

​Lesson Nineteen

Relevant Text: Process and Reality, pages 342-351
Relevant Idea: God is a non-coercive guide and a fellow sufferer who understands.

Lesson Nineteen presents Whitehead's understanding of God. This is an aspect of Whitehead's cosmology which which many religiously-minded people find especially important: whether Jewish or Muslim or Christian, Hindu or Taoist or Buddhist. In Whitehead's philosophy God has two aspects: a non-coercive but guiding aspect which is home to all the potentialities which the universe can actualize, and which is within each experiencing subject as its own innermost lure toward full aliveness; and a receptive side which shares in the experiences of all living beings, anywhere and everywhere, and is affected by all that is felt. God is, as it were, the deep Mind and the deep Listening. Whitehead thought it more rational to believe in God, thus understood, than not to believe in God; and he believed that this way of thinking about God is consonant with the view of the universe we gain from post-mechanistic science. In a later book, Adventures of Ideas, he speaks of the guiding side of God as an Eros by which the universe is lured into adventure, moment by moment, epoch by epoch; and the receptive side as a Harmony of Harmonies within which, in certain moments, the restlessness of adventure drops away and people feel deep peace.

​Lesson Twenty

Relevant Text: Process and Reality as a Whole
Key Idea: Why Whitehead? So many reasons.

Lesson Twenty brings the series to a close by articulating various reasons why people in different parts of the world are attracted to Whitehead's philosophy. To the many reasons identified in the video, one very important reason should be added. Many scholars in the academic world believe that Whitehead's philosophy can advance knowledge in specific disciplines: chemistry, physics, psychology, sociology, biology, philosophy, economics, business, culture studies. The work of the Center for Process Studies in Claremont, California, can introduce readers to developments in these and many other areas. It is the best single, online resource for finding resources and keeping abreast of developments within the disciplines. 

At the same time, Whitehead's philosophy offers a way of moving beyond the disciplinary fragmentation that has separated academic disciplines from one another and from forms of practice, in real world, which might help guide the world toward sustainable communities. When it comes to practicing process thought, some Whiteheadian thinkers turn toward particular questions of public policy: economics,agriculture, manufacturing, education, governance. In this website, John Cobb's Ten Ideas for Saving the Planet and Foundations for a New Civilization offers an intimation of the policy-oriented directions. There is also much work being done today using Whitehead's thought encourage cross-cultural dialogue, including inter-religious dialogue. Why Whitehead? So many reasons.

This does not mean that Whitehead's philosophy has all the answers. For Whiteheadians the world needs many points of view, including many which offer critiques of Whitehead's own thinking. Whitehead hoped that his own ideas would be tested, applied, revised and, where necessary, replaced.  And he did not want his philosophy to be turned into a dogma. Recall the point he makes in the preface: "How shallow, puny, and imperfect are efforts to sound the depths in the nature of things. In philosophical discussion, the merest hint of dogmatic certainty as to finality of statement is an exhibition of folly." (xiv) Process philosophy is more -- much more -- than Whitehead. It is an ongoing tradition, inspired by Whitehead's ideas, but moving beyond his thinking, too, fully cognizant that there are no final answers, only lures for feeling.