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

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Process Theologian John Cobb - God as Abba in a Postmodern World


I am here presenting an older, undated article, by a man I much admire but do realize that such thoughts by admired individuals can be come timebound as eras progress from one era, such as modernism, towards another era, such as postmodernism. Today, I would describe our present era as metamodern however that may mean.

Please take away what you can re the subject of postmodernism while leaving the mainstay of newsworthy "surmises" to that era-specific mindset of the early 2000s. Here, Dr. Cobb is focused on defining postmodernism by its ill-preceding antecedent results of yesteryear's hallmarks to modernistic thinking.

The main theme I believe Dr. Cobb is describing is of those attitudinal mindsets and societal attitudes which prevent building "timeless" ecological societies more focused on human and environmental wellbeing rather than modernistic mindsets of nationalism, Christianism, and such like.

- R.E. Slater
  March 26, 2023

The Postmodern John Cobb

deconstructive and constructive

date unknown - 2010s?
[all bracketed commentary are mine - re slater]

What's to deconstruct about Modernity?

​Eight things, says John Cobb, in the essay below:
  • ​Christianism
  • Modern Metaphysics
  • Modern Science
  • Modern Nationalism
  • Economism
  • Modern Defense
  • American Exceptionalism
  • The University

Does anything have "value"?

The world of people, animals, and the earth is filled with value. Its value does not lie simply in the usefulness of things but in their interiority, their subjectivity, their reality in and for themselves as they interact with one another. Human beings, too, have this value, and it is supremely important. The value of the world is appreciated and enfolded within the life of Abba, and it has powerful implications for how we treat one another and the more-than-human world.

Additional References

Is there a social and philosophical alternative to Modernity?

The alternative is the emergence in our world of "communities of communities of communities," each of which embodies the spirit and practice of Ecological Civilization.

These communities are creative, compassionate, participatory, inclusive, ecologically wise, and spiritually satisfying, with no one left behind.

Their focus is not on money or on imperial aspirations, or even on individual happiness at the expense of community health; but on the well-being and flourishing of people, animals, and the earth.

Additional References

Can a postmodern world include belief in God?

Yes. But it is important to keep in mind that the word "God" has different meanings, and not all people in such a world will find it a helpful word.

A constructively [positive] postmodern world includes people who believe in God, people who do not, and the many who are somewhere in between.

For those who believe, John Cobb recommends that God be conceived as Abba, not as an all-powerful ruler or cosmic moralist. God is more concerned with the well-being and flourishing of life than in being worshipped or flattered.

Additional References

* * * * * * *

In this article process theologian John Cobb describes process philosophy in terms of constructive postmodernism (which necessarily includes deconstructive postmodernism) and compares its structures against the classic modernisms held by today's institutions, faiths, and societies. When doing so Dr. Cobb proposes living and believing organically, connectedly, cooperatively, and in love. - re slater

 John B. Cobb, Jr.

Whitehead’s followers have long called themselves “postmodern.” When the French postmodernists defined postmodernism as “deconstruction” of the modern, Whiteheadians distinguished themselves as “constructive postmodernists.” We prefer to emphasize the positive. When we learned from China to call the world we work for “ecological civilization,” this further accented the positive.

​This has led us to mute our criticism of the modern:
  • Our call for an organic worldview obviously implies criticism of the mechanistic one. 
  • Our call for multinational cooperation obviously implies criticism of nationalism and imperialism.
  • Our call for orienting education toward ecological civilization obviously implies criticism of “value-free” universities.
But the needed deconstruction has been muted.

​This emphasis on the positive has made it easier for people to join us. But many who now talk about moving toward an ecological civilization retain features of modernity that in fact prevent them from moving very far [forward]. Too often, affirming an ecological civilization means little more than being ecologically sensitive. In fact, ecological civilization calls for profound changes and significant sacrifices.

This article joins the deconstructive postmodernists. It focuses on what must be changed and overcome. It opposes any effort to reassure and bring comfort. One may legitimately object to the harshness of its negations. They are not the whole story, but they are the part of the story that we “constructive postmodernists” have not done enough to highlight. So here goes with eight obstacles to an ecological civilization.

8 Obstacles to Ecological Civilizations


Not all Christianity is “Christianism.” There are people who seek to serve God and humanity by following Jesus and understand that affirmations of Christianity as the only way or lashing out at its opponents are damaging. But Christians have too often absolutized the church or the Bible or what they have understood by “God.” Christianism is a form of idolatry no better and no worse than the many other forms of idolatry that have informed so much of history. Charlemagne taught his soldiers that they would be rewarded for killing opponents of what he viewed as orthodox Christianity. This spirit fueled Crusades against Muslims and “heretics.

Modernity has largely liberated society from Christianism. But not entirely. It is still an obstacle to be recognized and opposed. We can move toward ecological civilization only if the great moral and spiritual traditions of the world work together. The last century has witnessed great progress, but Christianism remains as an obstacle. It is an obstacle to authentic response to Jesus, and just for that reason, to openness to humble sharing with others in working for the “divine commonwealth” about which Jesus testified.

The other great traditions have similar dangers and limitations. In this essay, I focus on the obstacles most important for Americans. Thus far, Christianism has been [obstacle] No. 1.

Modern Metaphysics

By modern metaphysics I mean the metaphysical tradition that was initiated by Rene Descartes. It has taken many forms. Most philosophers today repudiate Descartes, yet the influence remains. Indeed, the first, and perhaps the greatest obstacle to deconstructing the metaphysics that still rules the world is that most people, and especially most philosophers and scientists deny that they have a metaphysics. When one’s metaphysics thoroughly shapes the way one perceives the world, it becomes nonconscious.

Most modern people suppose that our best source of knowledge of the external world is through sight. “Seeing is believing.” Of course, they know that that world is not simply the patches of colors that are attained by sight. Those colors are the colors of something. The “something” is a substance, that, it is what the color inheres in. This is material in nature. It is material entities that science studies. Matter cannot be identified visually or by the data of any of the senses. It has no subjective reality. That is, it does not feel or have purposes. It is not an agent. When it moves, it is because something moves it. Thus nature, the world studied by science, is constituted by matter in motion [sic, "event" over "substance"].

Descartes taught that the only exception to this is the human soul. We know ourselves as feeling, purposing, acting beings. He thought the soul is not material at all. Charles Darwin confused moderns profoundly by showing that human beings are part of the nature that Descartes taught them to understand as matter in motion [e.g., "evolution, behavior sociologies, etc"]. Many moderns give lip service to this view, but in fact they do not think of themselves as simply machine-like. Today, many are recognizing that in addition to machine-like nature, including human bodies, there is also what Descartes called the human soul. Today we call it “consciousness.”

A few philosophers have simply denied the existence of matter and held that everything is soul-like, psychic. There are others who say that we should stick to the appearances and not take any position on what is appearing. There are still others who don’t want to get into these issues and talk only about language. I cannot survey the history of modern metaphysical thought in a page. I am trying to identify what became in modern times a kind of common sense. I believe that has been the dualism of matter and mind introduced by Descartes.

This dualism leaves open the question of where the line should be drawn. Even those who may verbally limit mind to the human soul are likely to actually feel that their pet dog is not adequately understood as matter in motion. It seems to have feelings and purposes. Descartes’ serious insistence that it has no feelings has never become part of modern common sense, but his teaching has nevertheless given license to vivisection of animals and to the industrial production of meat. Modern common sense has always been seriously confused.

The problem is not only confusion. It is also that this modern common sense justifies much that is unjustifiable and gives poor guidance in relation to much else. Instead of illustrating this now, I will take up the problems in subsequent sections.

Constructive postmodernism calls for the rejection of both pure matter and pure mind. It rejects the mechanistic model and calls for an organic one. Whitehead described his thought as a philosophy of organism. We constructive postmodernists prefer to attract people to thinking in these new ways, but it turns out that unless the hold of materialism and dualism is broken, vague feelings about organisms do not reshape thought.

Modern Science

Modern science is the science that followed the guidance of Descartes. In the science of the high and late Middle Ages, the most influential philosopher had been Aristotle. He taught that to understand something we should pursue four questions: first, what is it made of; second, what is its form; third, what made it come into being; and fourth, to what end did in come into being? These are called the four explanations or causes: material, formal, efficient, and final. Scientists have always been interested in the first three causes, but under the influence of Aristotle, in the late Middle Ages they tended to focus on the final cause. For example, in their study of the human body they wanted to understand the role or function of the liver, the kidneys, the heart, and so forth.

Descartes was convinced that this function was only superficially explanatory. The scientific question was not whether the heart pumped blood but how it did so. That is the question about the efficient cause. What made the heart pump? Descartes insisted that nothing is explained by the final cause. Purposes play no role in nature. Descriptively, we may of course note that the circulatory system could not function without the pumping of the blood, but the task of science is not this description but an explanation of how and why the heart pumps.

To insure that we do not attribute purposes to the heart, Descartes insisted that it functions like a machine. The most impressive Medieval machines were clocks; so scientists sought the “the clockwork” that explained the behavior of things. We do not suppose that clocks have any experience or subjectivity; certainly, they have no feelings or purposes. They are matter in motion, and the task of science is to explain what makes the motions occur as they do.

Modern science was and is brilliantly successful. Again and again, it predicted what had not been thought to be explicable apart from the introduction of natural or divine purposes. It's success was amazing that moderns put science on a pedestal. It was recognized that scientific knowledge had a definitiveness that had been totally lacking before. Of course, there was always more to study, but the assumption took hold that in time, science could explain everything. When Darwin showed that we are part of nature, it seemed that the human soul or consciousness could also be explained.

This meant that in fact there is nothing but matter in motion. Ethics, values, morality, purposes, feelings, etc., etc. are fluff. They can be explained along with everything else as science advances. And science does advance. With its advance comes a vast improvement in technology and thus in the control of nature. Modernity is thus a vast improvement over what came before. That there has been progress can no longer be questioned.

This modern understanding of modern science has now become a major obstacle to progress when we understand progress as improving the lot and security of the human species. The occasional recognition of this fact leads to asking whether in fact the Cartesian view of nature as purely material is in fact needed by science, or even compatible with scientific finding. It seems not to work well not only in explaining conscious experience but also in explaining the nature and behavior of the quanta of which supposed matter is composed.

Interestingly, it turns out “matter” does not appear in the actual writings of science. The closest equivalent is “mass”. But not all the entities studied by science have mass. Few deny the existence of light, but light has no mass. Apparently if mass is what we mean by matter then matter is only one part of the natural world studied by physics.

Physics offers us a better candidate for universality. It is “energy”. Now for the most part “mass” and “energy” are convertible into each other. But we noted that light has no mass. Yet it has energy. Clearly the physical world consists of units of energy. One might think that this makes little metaphysical difference, but in fact the concept of “energy” is very different from the concept of “matter.” Energy cannot be pushed and pulled in the way we think of matter as being moved. Energy suggests agency, whereas matter requires some external act in order to change location or speed.

Furthermore, it is not so difficult to think of human conscious experience also embodying energy. Just as evolution should lead us to suppose, the line between human experience and other parts of nature is no longer so sharp. We noted that materialist views of nature lead to either a dualism of matter and consciousness or a monism of matter in which no one can actually believe. Science supports the abandonment of the Cartesian view of nature.

Today’s science is showing us more and more about nature that does not fit with materialism. Information has become a central concept. Animals and even plants seem to behave intelligently and purposefully. Unicellular organisms respond to human emotions. Rejecting materialism and adopting organic models opens the door to including much in science that had been rejected on a priori grounds rather than because of evidence.

Indeed, our more openminded study of what we used to call primitive people now reveals that on many counts they were wiser than we. In the West we slaughtered many women who practiced ancient medicine that involves psychological as well as physical elements. In fact, they were better healers than the modern doctors who were more “scientific”. We now routinely use placebos to give some recognition to the role of subjective feelings that modernity still excludes from having efficient causality. We find that “primitive” people can gain knowledge of the location of animals, for example, that we regard as impossible.

I am saying little that most readers will find improbable. But the dominance of modern thought in our culture keeps all of this at the fringes. The truth is that indigenous communities have beliefs and practices that are far superior to ours in terms of developing a sustainable society. At the fringes a few people are telling us this. But the dominance of modern thought blocks any significant cultural assimilation.

We are taught that our knowledge and understanding are far superior to that of indigenous people. The truth is that we do know a great many facts about the universe that they did not know. We can develop many machines they did not have. We can reshape nature in ways they could not. But an equal truth is that they understood how to live in a sustainable relation to nature. They understood that human beings are part of a community of subjects rather than simply a collection of objects so that our relations to other, both human and nonhuman, are subject to subject.

Have we progressed? Yes, in some respects. Have we regressed? Yes, in some respects. But to accept the latter as having any truth at all is to reject modernity. Such rejection is urgent.

Perhaps even more urgent is the rejection of the late modern belittling of all questions about better and worse. This is the natural result of materialism, but only when human life is included in the world of matter in motion. That inclusion arose only after Darwin, and even then it was strongly resisted. Immanuel Kant offered a new way of understanding dualism: theoretical and practical reason. But by the middle of the twentieth century modernists judged that facts alone are important, that the facts gained by theoretical reason could explain the judgments belonging to practical reason and show that they had no importance. Science is the arbiter of facts; so science alone is truly worthy of respect.

Hence, the modern world in which we live teaches that it does not matter what people believe about the world and their role in it, that human commitment and dedication do not matter. And the same world has no hope of survival unless people are willing to sacrifice some of their priorities for the sake of more important ones. The unwillingness of modern people to even discuss such questions and their continuing to ‘solve” problems by the activities that cause them suggests to me that the modernity dominated by modern science may be the most stupid culture that has ever existed. It is a major obstacle to building an ecological civilization.

Modern Nationalism

We all take a special interest in those others who accept us as part of their group. For hundred of thousands of years our ancestors lived in tribes, and the members of those tribes identified themselves primarily in that way. Some other tribes were viewed as friendly, but others were threats. These relations could change over time, but one’s fundamental identity and loyalty did not.

With the rise of civilization, citizenship in cities took over as the primary identity and loyalty of many. There was often a close connection between ancestral tribal identity and citizenship in a city. Within a city there might be many people who were not citizens. Slavery was common and usually slaves were from other cities or from tribes that had not settled in cities.

Some cities conquered others and established empires. However, most of the citizens in the conquered cities still identified themselves primarily by their cities not in terms of the empire. On the other hand, Roman emperors worked hard to evoke loyalty to the empire and to themselves as representing the empire. When confronting threats from outside the empire, many citizens of cities other than Rome did identify themselves with the empire and its culture against barbarians. Most free people in the empire gave allegiance to Rome and its emperor without abandoning identification with the local city.

The people least willing to give full obedience to Caesar were the Jews. They thought that full loyalty could be given only to God. Although on the whole they were willing to recognize that Rome ruled politically, they distinguished religious devotion from political loyalty, and Rome did not want to allow such a distinction. Despite their weakness, they rebelled several times. To pacify them Rome gave them special privileges and exemptions but eventually drove many of them out of their homeland.

The problem was aggravated when some Jews recognized Jesus as the Messiah, Christ, or liberator, because this Jewish sect spread rapidly in the Gentile population. It did not seek to overthrow the rulers of the empire, but like the Jews, it denied Caesar ultimate loyalty or “worship”. From that time on the relation of “religion” and politics, or church and state, has been a major issue in Western society. The Roman emperors from time to time tried to stamp out this new threat to their ultimate authority, but Christianity continued to grow. As the empire began to crumble, people in many regions began to look to the church for help in meeting practical needs. The church survived the collapse of the empire and for the first time what had been a voluntary organization became also the basis of self-identification of masses of people and the most powerful institution. For a thousand years most Europeans identified themselves primarily as Christians and secondarily in terms of ethnicity and location. It was generally thought that the political rulers derived their legitimacy from the church.

Of course, power attracts many people regardless of whether it is political or religious. Although the rhetoric of the church never claimed for its ruler, supreme loyalty, practically speaking the church could be as intolerant of dissent and disloyalty as the preceding empire. Its wealth also attracted many. So viewed from the perspective of original Christian teaching, many leaders of the church were corrupted by their enjoyment of wealth and earthly power. There were many protests and eventually the protest of Luther gained powerful support from political leaders. The church split.

The habit of understanding oneself religiously remained prominent; so now many understood themselves to be Catholic or Protestant. But the political rulers had played a large role in determining whether the church in a given area would be Catholic or Protestant. After decades of fighting between Catholic and Protestant princes, they made peace with the decision that political rulers would decide the form of Christianity that would be practiced in their domains. Secular government became dominant.

This move toward regional self-determination was supported by Protestantism in another way. A strong Protestant principle was that all Christians should be able to read the Bible for themselves. However, this could not happen as long as it depended on learning a foreign language, namely, Latin. Few outside the priesthood could read it. Luther undertook to translate the Bible into German. Since the spoken language differed widely according to locale, he had to decide which form of German he would use. Because reading the Bible in German became extremely important, it created a homogeneous language that could unite people who had before spoken many diverse dialects. It also excluded others whose Germanic languages were too different for Luther’s translation to be acceptable, such as the Dutch, the Danes, and other Scandinavians. They needed their own translations.

In this way national feeling was greatly strengthened. If one read Luther’s Bible, one was a German. More and more European writings were in the vernacular, so that boundaries were established among readers. Linguistic boundaries tended to become national boundaries. National feeling became much stronger than when all European literature was in Latin. Modern nationalism was born.

This modern nationalism meant not only separating Germans from people who spoke other languages but also a drive toward uniting the German people in one country. By the eighteenth century, nationalism had fully triumphed. One was no longer primarily a Christian or a Catholic or Protestant, one was German, or French, or Spanish, or Italian. Wars were fought between nations over issues over perceived national well-being. Control of distant regions in Africa and Asia was clearly for building national empires, and rhetoric about religion played a minor role at best.

Nationalism tended to strengthen German concern for other Germans. Of course, there was hierarchy and exploitation within the Germanic world. But there was little thought of some Germans enslaving others. There was also some respect for other Europeans. So, when Europeans set out to exploit the resources of the planet and colonize much of it, they did not bring with them the slave labor that would make that exploitation possible. In order to justify annihilating or enslaving the people inhabiting other parts of the world, nationalism had to be accompanied by racism. The inhabitants of Africa, South America, and North America did not belong to the same race as Europeans. Indeed, they could be regarded as not fully human, as being human was understood in Europe. Accordingly, the rights pertaining to European individuals did not protect them. Modern civilization has been the most racist the world has seen. Nowhere has racism played a larger role than in the United States.

European nationalism led to two world wars in the twentieth century. So, in its European homeland, the dominance of modern nationalism was brought to an end by the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC). It is hard to imagine conflicts between France and Germany plunging the world into war a third time. Sadly, this has not ended the danger of international war. On the one hand national feeling continues to be a danger to peace and an obstacle to moving toward ecological civilization. On the other hand, it helps us to work against mutual antagonism among ethnic and religious groups and even races.


What caused the European nations to seek a closer unity was certainly the desire to avoid further wars among themselves. But it is interesting that they formulated their unity in economic terms – the European Economic Community. The clearest symbol of their unity was a common currency. Giving up control over its own money was the greatest sacrifice of sovereignty on the part of the participating nations. We saw the consequences recently when the political party committed to the will of the Greek people was forced to yield to the European banks.

Of course, the pursuit of individual wealth has played a large role in all societies, at least since the invention of money. When Jesus said one could not serve both God and wealth, this was not spoken against “economism” as a comprehensive system. That did not yet exist. During the period of Christianism there was much criticism of the clerical leadership, supposedly committed to poverty, for its luxurious lifestyle. During the modern period not only individuals, but also nations, have been devoted to the pursuit of wealth. This is a step toward “economism,” especially because it increased the power of banks in relation to nations. But nationalism gave way to economism only when national sovereignty was subordinated to the interests of the economic system. I have noted that this occurred, and was publicly announced, in the formation of the European Union (EEC).

Of course, this shift in power had been going on for some time. National rulers often needed to borrow money from bankers and this gave bankers considerable influence on policy. Few histories of Europe give adequate attention to the role of banks.

The Cold War that took over soon after World War II was partly another was between nations. However, it was in fact and often recognized to be, between two economic systems: Capitalism and Communism. Nothing of that sort had even occurred before.

The United States did not surrender sovereignty to any community of nations. Nevertheless, it may be a clearer instance of the shift from nationalism to economism than the European nations. It accepted leadership of the “Free World,” by which was meant the world that is free from Communism. To be in the service of Capitalism meant to subordinate national interests as measured in nonmonetary ways, or even GNP per capita, to effectiveness in pursuing the goals of capitalists. As long as the capitalists in question lived and worked within the nation, one could find some congruence between their interests and the pursuit of national wealth characteristic of nationalism. But the interests of capitalism were to minimize national boundaries, and the great corporations became global in scope. This was especially true of financial institutions. For the United States to serve global corporations and the global banking system, often at the expense of the American people has been a dramatic expression of the shift from nationalism to economism.

Americans who are unhappy with this development are told that this is a democracy so that if they want to return to nationalism they have only to elect representatives who will do so. But this is misleading because of another dimension of economism. In our society one must have a lot of money to mount a serious campaign for Congress or the presidency. A few people have been able to get elected without funding from the major corporations or banks or billionaires. But thus far, they have always been a small minority. Most elected officials are indebted to people of wealth and wealthy institutions. These also control the media and the educational system. Whereas democracy works well where people know those for whom they vote or at least other people who know them, representative democracy offers little resistance to the controllers of wealth. When we “democratize” other countries, they are likely to serve global capitalism rather than their own people.

For a short time after World War II, American capitalism seemed to be dominated by industrial corporations. But fairly rapidly, real power shifted from the industrial world to the financial institutions. Of course, much of the time, the interests of industry and finance largely coincide. Both aim to reduce the power of national governments to restrict business and the flow of capital. But in the “free world,” private finance controls the money supply and has a more direct power over politics than does industry.

In the long run financiers would benefit from intact eco-systems and a world with plenty of topsoil and oceans that supported lots of fish. But they have been schooled by economists who focus only on increasing market activity. Even continuing the present level of economic activity is extremely likely to make the planet uninhabitable. Its general increase speeds the coming of utter catastrophe. Nothing is more important than to end the actual reign of economism, and that will not happen unless its domination of popular thinking as well as scholarly theory are ended.

Modern Defense

One adage that is used to cover a great many absurdities is that the best defense is a skillful offense. All individual and all nations are justified in defending themselves against the attack of others. What is allowable or desirable is a matter of dispute. There are those who call for only nonviolent defense. This may mean that an individual accepts serious injury or death rather than injure or kill another person. But there have been instances when skillful use of nonviolent defense has accomplished a great deal more than the use of violence against a far more powerful adversary.

We Americans, however, can safely assume that our Department of Defense is not discussing such matters. Indeed, judging by the official story of what happened on 9/11, it seems not to devote much time and effort to protecting the buildings and lives of Americans, violently or otherwise. All evidence points to the primary interest in extending military and political control over the entire planet, what is called “full sector dominance.” In short, we act as if the only, or at least, the best way to “defend” ourselves is to attack and control everyone who does not serve us, which means, as explained above, does not serve the Western financial system.

In order for Americans to be willing to be heavily taxed to support this imperialist enterprise, they must be persuaded that it is indeed financed for the sake of the security of American lives and property. That is, what the word “defense” is ordinarily supposed to mean. Accordingly, almost any sum of money can be demanded for “defense” with little or no opposition in Congress. To be accused of being soft on defense is assumed to be the kiss of death, politically speaking. Few things are more important for reducing our destruction of the life system on the planet than redirecting government expenditures from global imperialism to the well being of people, especially, of course, American people and the natural world. Understanding that our expenditures for “defense” actually make our lives and well being more precarious would be a first step toward the exercise of common sense.
The deceptive use of “defense” goes farther. Thus far it has thus far prevented auditing the Department of Defense. It is highly probable that large sums are siphoned off to enrich the rich, and that defense contracts are not entirely directed to serving military needs efficiently. In short, powerful people have much to conceal.

Suspicion is heightened by a remarkable feature of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon. The part of the Pentagon at which it was directed was the section where defense records were kept. Congress had finally decided on an audit, which then became impossible. [here, I would describe this as a conspiracy theory - res]

I have focused on the Department of Defense. The situation is similar, perhaps worse, with the FBI and the CIA. These two are supposed to be defending us. They, together with the Congress that funds them so generously, think that we are enemies of our own defense and so must be carefully reigned in. The freedoms of which we brag and being taken from us in the name of security.

If half of the resources now provided to the “security establishment” were spent on working for peace, justice, and prosperity along with improving global ecosystems, there might be a chance for the healthy survival of civilization. But currently there is no discussion of any reduction in what we spend on “defense” and “security” or any assessment of its actual achievements. “Defense” and “security” sound great. So, we throw more money at them, guaranteeing widespread loss and suffering.

American Exceptionalism

Earlier I discussed nationalism, and what I say there applies to the American case. However, because of the extreme importance to the planet as a whole of how Americans think of themselves, I am returning to this topic. Much of what I say about American exceptionalism can be paralleled in other countries. It is natural to evaluate all by the standards of your own culture, and when you do that you are likely to find that your culture excels, that in some ways important to you, it is unique, that is, an exception.

I grew up in Japan, and there is no question that there are unique features, very attractive features, in Japanese culture. Further, their view of themselves tends to divinize their emperor, thus reinforcing their uniqueness. Over the millennia no foreign army had invaded Japan. Japanese exceptionalism led to the belief that the lot of anyone ruled by the emperor was superior, so that its conquest of Korea and Manchuria, and the great expansion of its empire in East the Japanese military was invincible. The willingness of the Japanese to die for the emperor would enable them to defeat any enemy. In the end, of course, they were defeated despite their remarkable attitude and commitment.

Spiritually and culturally the adjustment to the possibility of being conquered was painful and difficult. I am sure that the sense of their own uniqueness has not disappeared, but whatever is left of it takes less dangerous forms. Indeed, Japanese have much [to] be proud of, and I think pride in positive accomplishments is healthy. Part of its current uniqueness is the intensity with which it supports peace.

Unfortunately, American exceptionalism is more like Japanese exceptionalism before World War II than like current Japanese exceptionalism. Americans tend to think that our goals are beneficial to those we control. They think of the United States as committed to democracy and human rights and as promoting these all around the world.

Like the self-image of many countries, there is some truth in this. The American Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution completed by the first ten amendments, inspire people all [over] the world to aim at democracy and human rights. Our success in liberating ourselves from British rule with these goals led to emulation elsewhere. We were not alone in believing ourselves to be in the lead in these matters.

Our view that when we made the decisions for other people, they benefited also had some historical basis. The American occupation of Japan under MacArthur’s control was excellent for the Japanese people in many respects. He broke up the conglomerates that had excessive political and economic power. He broke up large farms and gave ownership to those who had worked them. He got the Japanese to adopt a pacifist constitution. He helped to humanize the emperor without destroying the imperial system. Human rights were emphasized along with democratic governance.

The United States has not always treated immigrants well. Nevertheless, it has done a remarkable job of taking people of many nationalities and creating a unified nation. Religious freedom and cultural diversity are allowed without fragmenting the body politic. Despite the recent losses in the name of security, I write critically about my country without fear of punishment. There is much about the United States of which we can be proud, some of it truly exceptional.

Our problem is much like that of Japan before World War II. We are so sure of our virtue and of the benefits we bestow on others, that we are blind to much that is happening. We spend more on our military than the rest of the nations combined, and so consider ourselves invincible, and do not notice that we are already losing ground. Even though we know that we have troops all over the world we do not consider ourselves an imperial power.

The history of our country that we learn in school is essentially celebratory, so we simply do not notice the dark side of our history and of our current policies. If any other countries acted as we act, we would consider it inexcusable and see to it that they were severely sanctioned. Consider, for example, how we would react if Russia engaged in drone warfare anywhere. But because it is we who are doing it, and we know that our motives are pure and our actions for the sake of people everywhere, we support our own practice. We are not told how the countries where we kill people in this way feel about it and derivatively, about us.

Nations that do not recognize the evil they do in the eyes of the world are not making themselves more secure. We need to free ourselves from erroneous or one-sided understandings of our history and current actions. Only a people who know who they really [are, and] have been, can be trusted to lead the world wisely.

So, who are we? What happened in our history that we ignore? This is a large topic. I will mention only a few points. First, from the arrival of the first settlers until today we have been in constant imperial expansion. One of the crimes of which we accused the British, justifying our revolt, was the effort to protect the indigenous people from our genocidal advance. Once we rid ourselves of British rule that advance continued and has not ceased even today.

Second, our country’s economy was built to a large extent on slave labor. Of course, everyone knows that slavery is a blot on our record, but our emphasis in recalling our history is that we freed the slaves. They and their continued exploitation tend to drop from history until Martin Luther King again forced attention.

Third, a major part of our foreign policy dealt with Latin America. While we celebrate the extension of our great nation from sea to shining sea, we pay little attention, not only to the genocide of indigenous people but to the theft of land from Mexico. Meanwhile our “Monroe doctrine” may have helped some Latin American countries gain independence from Europe, but it sucked them into our orbit of economic exploitation. The most decorated soldier in the U.S. Army, General Smedley Darlington Butler, after frequent battles in Latin America, finally understood that all his killing and leading U.S. soldiers to death was for the sake of U.S. corporate profits. He wrote War is a Racket, and devoted the rest of his life to sharing this understanding with the American people, but the truth he exposed has not found its way into our collective consciousness.

In Latin American, we frequently destroyed democratic governments in favor of military regimes that took orders from us. This is continuing to happen today. In my youth I rejoiced that I was not a citizen of one of those bad European colonial powers. The truth, of course, is that our overall record is one of the worst. It provides no basis at all for others to trust our intentions. When we realize that our military operations are also today in the service of corporations, now especially international financial corporations, we have every reason to withdraw support from established U.S. policy. It is time to recognize we are one nation among others, with our strengths and weaknesses, but with no mandate to rule the world.

The University

The discussion of American exceptionalism suggests that a standard American education gives a dangerously one-sided picture of American history. We understand that this is almost inevitable. A major function of schooling has been to turn immigrants from many nations and cultures into American citizens. All [historical] writing is selective. To write a text book on American history for such a purpose will always lead to selections favorable to American self-appreciation. But we suppose [or, imagine] that the leaders of the future will go on to college and there acquire more accurate knowledge.

As with so many widely held suppositions, there is some truth to this. In a college or university history department there will be a number of courses going into great detail on some segment of American history. If one majors in American history and takes many of these courses, one will certainly understand that the popular view is seriously mistaken. But it unlikely that the department will help much in developing an alternative overview. In contemporary universities, the goal is not to develop comprehensive views of what has occurred and its meaning for orienting us today. It is to acquire accurate factual information about particular events. This tends to leave the historical basis for American exceptionalism little changed even for many specialists. And, of course, the number of students who specialize in American history is very small.

I begin with this as an example of how American universities do not fulfill the expectations that many outsiders hold for them. Since these expectations are of important human functions, until we recognize that universities are about something else, we will leave these functions unfulfilled. There are some things that modern universities do well. They should be congratulated and appreciated. But meeting the world’s greatest needs is not among them. Either universities must change, or we must find other ways of educating, or we have little chance of “saving the world.”

This is recognized by the title of a book written by a famous educator to university professors, Stanley Fish, Save the World on Your Own TimeHe makes it clear that universities hire professors to do research on limited topics and pass the information gained and the research methods on to their students.

Our greatest universities call themselves “value-free research universities.” Being free of values means in part being free of prejudices, open to the evidence. But it also means that values are considered unimportant, and this judgment of unimportance is transmitted to students. This makes the “modern university”, one that became normative only after World War II, [sadly] unique in history. “Saving the world” is a value, I think it is a very important value that should inform our whole educational system. But discussion of this possibility is excluded from the modern university. Given the many possible topics to be researched, the decision is not made on any judgment of importance for the human species. Often, in fact, it is made because funding is available for that. When one brings no other values to the table, in a time of economism, money is likely to determine what is done.

The incentive for attending a university today is usually the expectation of improving job prospects, judged by salaries, that is money. Although the intention of the university is to serve the rapid increase of known facts, which facts are made known, and even how they are formulated, tends to be determined by money. Unfortunately, the research for which money is available is more likely to serve the profits of corporations than the sustainability of human life.

[Here, Dr. Cobb points out the paucity of college training in serving humanity over the goals of improving one's economic lot in life. It is here where private Christian schools seem to "shine" over their educational rivals as they concentrate on societal welfare and not just self welfare. However, even private Christian/Religious schools can fail in their early visions when modernism seeps in to turn outwards looks inwards. - re slater]

In the second and third sections of the paper I talked about the rigidities of the academy in relation to metaphysics or worldview. I claimed that the evidence gained by university research called for revision of the metaphysics it assumes. I repeat that charge. Universities were once places where questions about assumptions could be asked. They were, in other words, places supportive of intellectual activity. Today they are not. If intellectual reflection were encouraged, I feel quite sure that the commitment to a seventeenth-century [cosmological metaphysic of] philosophy would give way. That could open the door to an interest in wisdom, that is helpful guidance with regard to the pressing issues of personal, social, and national life. I am confident that the current threats to human life would be recognized and that our educational system would be reconceived to help us rather than to block interest in the most important questions.

Constructive Postmodernism

"The Postmodern John Cobb" by Open Horizons

Constructive Postmodernism

by John B. Cobb, Jr.

John B. Cobb, Jr., Ph.D. is Professor of Theology Emeritus at the Claremont School of Theology, Claremont, California, and Co-Director of the Center for Process Studies there. His many books currently in print include: Reclaiming the Church (1997); with Herman Daly, For the Common GoodBecoming a Thinking Christian (1993); Sustainability (1992); Can Christ Become Good News Again? (1991); ed. with Christopher Ives, The Emptying God: a Buddhist-Jewish-Christian Conversation (1990); with Charles Birch, The Liberation of Life; and with David Griffin, Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition (1977). He is a retired minister in the United Methodist Church. His email address is cobbj@cgu.edu..

This lecture was delivered by Dr. Cobb at Wuhan, China, June 3-5, 2002. Used by permission of the author. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Modernity has left us in a state of intellectual confusion and chaos. It thinks of nature in materialistic terms, but in these terms it can explain neither the natural world nor how it is related to human beings. It can provide no notion of substance, yet matter is inherently a substantialist notion, since matter is understood to take on different forms without ceasing to be the same matter.

I. What is "post-modern"?

"Postmodern" is an intentionally odd term in English. For a long time, the words "modern" and "contemporary" and "up-to-date" were used almost interchangeably. The content of the "modern" changed with time. What was technologically "modern" in the nineteenth century was called "Victorian" in the twentieth century.

However, the term, "modern", became attached also to particular styles. For example, "modern" architecture was not simply whatever was currently fashionable but specifically the Bauhaus style. Architects who understood that style but went beyond it could either say that what was once modern was no longer so, or call themselves "postmodern". Some in fact chose to label themselves "postmodern".

The more general and important use of the term "modern," however, referred to a much broader movement and period of time. There were textbooks on "modern" European history. The contrast here was with ancient and medieval history. The break between ancient and medieval came with the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West. The boundary line between medieval and modern was much less clear, but certainly the fourteenth century was still medieval and the seventeenth century was universally regarded as modern.

Until recently, modern history was assumed to continue to the present and to be still in process. But during the twentieth century there was a cumulative sense that major characteristics of the recent past were ending. The word "post" was used to describe the new situation. When the age of European empire ended after World War II, the new situation was described as post-colonial. As the globalization of the economy reduced the importance of national boundaries, one could speak of a post-nationalist epoch. As the industrial heartland exported its traditional factories and concentrated on information technology, people spoke of a post-industrial age. As Christianity became increasingly disestablished politically and unconvincing to the intelligentsia, the new situation could be called post-Christian. As the basic assumptions of the Enlightenment became more and more questionable, one could describe the new cultural and intellectual developments as post-Enlightenment. As commitments to various theories of government and society lost their sway, people spoke of the new climate as post-ideological. As feminists lifted to consciousness the age-old pattern of male domination and destroyed its self-evidence, they could call for a post-patriarchal society.

With so much profound change occurring, the sense arose among some European intellectuals that the differences between the new global society and the past few centuries is as great as that between the modern period and the medieval one. We no longer live by the basic assumptions and styles that began with what has been called modern civilization. Our world is post-modern.

One problem with that label is that it gives little clue as to what features of the modern world are being left behind. The term has been used so commonly and with such different meanings that it is now itself becoming out-of-date. Some view the "post-modern" movement as a short-lived fad and speak of being post-post-modern.

Although too much is at stake in the critique of the modern world to dismiss as a fad the idea that we are moving into a new epoch, the term is weak also in that it does not provide any positive indication of what is succeeding the modern or what should follow it. The most influential form of post-modernism is often called "deconstructive". The accent clearly falls on the critique of the assumptions derived from the modern period that still shape most of our Western culture. This critique is a valuable and even necessary undertaking, but a new world cannot be built simply on taking apart the old.

II. Constructive Post-modernism

Constructive post-modernism is, of course, just one of several forms of post-modernism. The term "constructive" is used to contrast with "deconstructive" to emphasize that constructive post-modernism is proposing a positive alternative to the modern world. This does not mean that it opposes the work of deconstructing many features of modernity. The point is that critique and rejection should be accompanied by proposals for reconstruction.

The label was invented by David Griffin, who edits the State University of New York Series on Constructive Postmodernism, but the position to which he has given that label has been around for some time. He comes to it from the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead, to which I also subscribe. Several persons influenced by Whitehead used the term "post-modern" in the 1960s, but we did not emphasize it, and its recent currency is not the result of our use.

Whitehead did not use the term, but he did use the term "modern" in a way that suggested that the modern period is over. Already in the twenties, he published a book under the title Science and the Modern World. In the book he makes clear that the "modern science" of which he speaks is now superseded. It was bound up with a view of reality that science itself has shown to be invalid. Our task is to reconstruct a scientific worldview based on new developments in relativity and quantum theory. Since the whole of modern culture has been intimately related to the same worldview, the changes required are pervasive. Whitehead suggested the direction of needed change in that book and developed it much more fully in subsequent ones. That some of us spoke of this new way of thinking as post-modern followed easily.

Many of the conclusions to which those of us influenced by Whitehead have come have been reached by others out of different intellectual histories. For example, feminists criticize many of the same features of the Western cultural heritage to which Whiteheadians object. Often their criticisms are richer and more pointed than ours have been. Ecologists have joined Whiteheadians in objecting to the tendency of modern Westerners to ignore the natural world or treat it as merely instrumental to human use. Buddhists, for millennia, have rejected some of the ideas that Whitehead found wrong in modern Western thought. Hence, Griffin’s series includes writings by people who have been little influenced by Whitehead but have come to similar conclusions.

Nevertheless, Whitehead’s philosophy provides the most systematic and explicit account of the basic assumptions of constructive post-modernism. I will explain these assumptions primarily in Whitehead’s terms while recognizing that other formulations are possible and that others, feminists and environmentalists, for example, make independent contributions of great importance to the contemporary movement.

III. The Scientific and Philosophical Underpinnings

The Enlightenment adopted the machine as its basic model of reality. It did so in conscious reaction to the primacy of organic models in the Middle Ages. Even living things are to be understood as complex mechanisms. Everything is composed of matter. All forces operate ultimately by pushes and pulls. Teleology is excluded. In short, the world can be understood exhaustively in terms of matter in motion. Everything can ultimately be explained by the laws of motion

This vision of reality was extremely fruitful for physics and the other natural sciences. This fruitfulness reinforced confidence in the worldview. It also strengthened its acceptance by the culture as a whole.

On the other hand, most people were not disposed to view themselves as parts of this world machine. The philosopher who did most to shape this vision of the world, Rene Descartes, regarded the human mind as wholly different in nature. Whereas everything else is material, the human mind is mental and operates by entirely different principles. We are left with a radical, metaphysical dualism. Dualism poses insuperable philosophical problems; so modern Western philosophy can be seen as a struggle to overcome it. Some philosophers became thoroughgoing materialists, others, phenomenalists, and still others, idealists. But overall the project of overcoming dualism has not been successful.

Scientists, in any case, continued their work through the nineteenth century on the assumption of the mechanistic worldview. They were shaken only by the development of relativity theory with its move from matter to energy as basic to the world and by the discovery that the subatomic world did not conform to their worldview. For some purposes it was to be treated as particles; for others, as waves. One important step in the disintegration of this worldview came with the discovery that there was no ether through which light waves were propagated

On the whole, dualism was accepted by the general culture. To this day it shapes the structure of the university, with its division between the sciences and the humanities. Most people, whether they articulate it or not, view the world given to them in sight and touch as material, while they consider themselves to transcend that purely material status. The evolutionary perspective, which has also entered into the common sense of the culture, created acute difficulties for this dualism, but somehow the two inconsistent ideas have continued to exist side-by-side in the general culture and in the university.

Clearly, modernity has left us in a state of intellectual confusion and chaos. It thinks of nature in materialistic terms, but in these terms it can explain neither the natural world nor how it is related to human beings. It can provide no notion of substance, yet matter is inherently a substantialist notion, since matter is understood to take on different forms without ceasing to be the same matter. One material object precludes others in the space that it occupies, but in the real world, there is interpenetration among the actualities.

A common response has been to decide that the world is unintelligible. If it does not conform to the schema imposed on it by modern thought, then in principle, many think, it cannot be understood. We must simply abandon the goal of understanding in any broad or inclusive sense. The project of reason launched by the Enlightenment is a failure. The mind can analyze, but it cannot synthesize or arrive at any universal truths.

Much of post-modernism adopts this view. It depicts modernity as the Age of Reason and post-modernity as requiring the abandonment of all attempts to achieve a comprehensive vision of the world. Metaphysics is regarded as out-of-date. All thinking must be understood to be relative to the conditioned standpoint from which it arises. Especially if that standpoint is a privileged one, it is to be regarded with suspicion as an instrument of domination. This post-modern enterprise is unmasking the false pretenses of modern thinkers. It abandons the effort to achieve a coherent view of nature, much more, of the world as a whole.

I have been describing, in particular, deconstructive postmodernism. There is much to accomplish in this work. Recent decades have expanded our understanding of the many non-rational factors that enter into human thought. Historians and anthropologists have made us aware of the historical and cultural conditioning of our thought. Marx showed us how much of our thinking is shaped by our class perspective. Freud unveiled many unconscious forces at work in our supposedly rational thought. Now women have forced us to acknowledge how gender informs our thinking.

Despite all of this, Whiteheadian post-modernists continue to believe that efforts at comprehensive thinking are appropriate and needed. We disagree that the breakdown of the Enlightenment conceptuality displays the limits of conceptual thought in general. Before abandoning the wider quest for intelligibility and understanding, we propose that we should test the usefulness of other conceptualities.

Whitehead’s basic proposal is that we should shift from substance thinking to event thinking. Thinking from the model of the machine is clearly an example of substance thinking. In general, taking the objects for philosophical analysis from the data of sense perception leaves us in the grip of substance thinking even when we acknowledge that we cannot discover substances in or through our sensory experience. But we also have the idea of an event or happening. Just as we can think of tables and clocks; so we can also think of conversations and car accidents. Modern thought has conditioned us to think of conversations and accidents as enacted by people or happening to objects. In other words events presuppose substances. But there is the other possibility that events are the primary realities and that what we think of as substances are complex structures of events.

This is not a new move. Buddhists turned from Hindu substantialism to the primacy of events more than two millennia ago. Heraclitus is famous among Greek philosophers for initiating a similar move. Hegel certainly emphasized the processive character of things. What is new in the twentieth century are the data of contemporary physics that call for explanation in terms of an event philosophy. Whitehead’s philosophy is the most extended and rigorous effort to carry through this program. It is, in this way, post-modern in a sense that earlier proponents of the primacy of events could not have been.

Whereas the effort to overcome dualism was doomed to failure when nature was conceived as material substance, a nondual view follows quite naturally when nature is conceived first and foremost in terms of events. A human experience also has the character of an event. Of course, a human experience has characteristics we do not expect to find in unicellular organisms, certainly not in molecular or electronic events. Nevertheless, it is possible to identify characteristics that all events share and to imagine how more complex events evolved out of simpler ones. Gradations and differences are very important, and the study of human beings involves dimensions that are not relevant to the study of the natural world. But there is no metaphysical divide between the two sets of events.

Just as science has analyzed complex "material" objects into smaller ones; so also it can and does analyze complex events into the simpler ones of which they are composed. At some point we arrive at events that cannot be further divided. A momentary human experience is such an event. So also, probably, is a quantum burst of energy. Whitehead calls these unit events "actual occasions". In Whitehead’s view, actual occasions are best understood as syntheses of their relations to other events. In other words, preceding events participate in making them what they are. Whereas, when we think in substance terms, we ask what a thing is in itself and then how is it related, when we think in event terms, we recognize that an actual occasion comes into being as a synthesis of relations and has no existence apart from those relations.

Furthermore, if there is intrinsic value in some events, such as moments of human experience, there is intrinsic value in all events. This is particularly important with respect to other sentient beings, but it makes a difference even for our attitude toward the inanimate world. Of course, the interconnection of things means that all have value for one another. But it is important to add that nothing has value only for other things. Every actual occasion has value in and for itself as well.

These three points are crucial to constructive post-modernism. They are by no means limited to Whiteheadians. First, dualism is rejected. Human beings recognize their kinship to all things. Second, individuals do not exist apart from one another. Everything is interrelated. Human beings are part of a complex web of existence. And third, every actual occasion is of value. It is wrong to appraise nonhuman entities only by their contributions to our well being.

David Griffin speaks of this post-modern understanding of the natural world in terms of re-enchantment. Instead of a world of dead, passive, valueless, matter we inhabit a world of living, active, intrinsically valuable occasions. Instead of alienation from a merely objective world, we experience kinship and participation in nature. This has two types of implications. First, it calls for a re-enchanted science, that is, a science that seeks to understand the world as living, active, and valuable. Second, it calls for rethinking the public policies that have been based on the modern worldview. This is especially important with respect to economics, since that has become the reigning discipline in the shaping of governmental policies. I will devote the next three sections of this lecture to these topics.

IV Post-modern Science

One major reason for developing a post-modern worldview is the confused of science at this time. That confusion has given aid and comfort to those who want to end the project of formulating comprehensive worldviews. They encourage us to abandon the quest for any kind of universality. Paradoxically, in doing so, they often make universalistic arguments, but this is not the place to pursue the internal conflicts occasioned by their proposals. Their critique of reason opens the door also to forms of irrationalism and fideism that the deconstructive post-modernists do not, in fact, want.

The task of reconstructing science around the primacy of events is, of course, an enormous one, and I am not qualified to contribute to it. Nevertheless, I think you may be interested in some of the steps that have been taken. I will report briefly on developments in relativity and quantum theory.

Whitehead himself devoted a great deal of time and thought to formulating a theory of relativity. He did not dispute the empirical accuracy of Einstein’s theory, but he believed there were weaknesses in its formulation that could be cured by shifting more fully away from substance thinking. He found Einstein’s view of space-time especially troubling. Einstein treated space-time as if had a substantial character that Whitehead believed it did not have.

The issue focused on Einstein’s claim that the curvature of light as it passed around heavenly bodies was based on the curvature of space. Whitehead believed that space is not the kind of thing that can be either curved or straight. As a mathematician he pointed out that any space that can be viewed as elliptic or hyperbolic can also be viewed as Euclidian. To assert the curvature of space as a physical or metaphysical fact is deeply misleading and leads to a theory that cannot be genuinely understood.

Whitehead proposed that similar results can be obtained by focusing exclusively on multiple time systems. He worked this out in mathematical detail in his book on The Principle of Relativity. The predictions following from his formula were so close to Einstein’s that for a long time no test could be made to support either formula against the other. However, about twenty years ago, more refined tests of the tides began to count against Whitehead’s predictions. His formula called for summing up all the gravitational forces of the universe, whereas Einstein employed a nonlinear equation.

Whitehead was aware that the empirical evidence might count against his formulation. For him nothing fundamental was at stake. He offered a second equation whose results, he said, would be identical with Einstein’s, but he did not work this out. Only recently has this second Whiteheadian formula been unpacked, thanks to the work of Robert Russell. Like the other equation, it replaces the curvature of space with multiple time systems. It shows that a more intelligible account of relativity can be given.

A hundred years ago intelligibility would have been important to the community of physicists. For centuries physics had sought to understand and explain nature. But the confusion of modern physics had not stopped progress in prediction and control, and many physicists abandoned the effort to understand. Most are now conditioned to be interested in new theories only if they lead to new predictions. Accordingly, the availability of a more intelligible theory counts for little, and Whitehead’s achievement has received very little attention.

There is another respect, however, in which Whitehead’s theory may prove to have advantages. It does not require that the speed of light is an absolute limit for the transmission of energy. For Whitehead this is an empirical question. Today, there is evidence of faster transmissions.

For Einstein, the issue was not only the transmission of energy but also any kind of influence whatsoever. He was accordingly troubled by a thought experiment that indicated that two particles with opposite spin would be in communication with each other instantaneously. The thought experiment assumed that with paired particles, if the spin of one changes, the spin of the other also changes. This occurs however far apart the paired particles may be. This theory is called Bell’s theorem.

Experiments have verified that Bell’s theorem is correct. There seems to be influence at a distance that is virtually instantaneous. This is not possible in Einstein’s worldview.

Whitehead, on the other hand, was open to this possibility. His judgment was that the transmission of energy through what he called pure physical prehensions depended on contiguity and would, therefore, take time to propagate over a distance. But he thought that there is another way that occasions can relate for which spatial distance is not determinative. He called this "hybrid physical feeling". A hybrid physical feeling does not transmit energy, but it does communicate information. It is the influence of the "mental" pole of one occasion on another. Among human beings this can be found in mental telepathy. Something analogous can occur among much simpler occasions.

It is my understanding that at the quantum level there is evidence that what happens in one occasion is affected by the whole quantum world. I do not know enough to affirm this, or whether the effect would be instantaneous or could be mediated at the speed of light. But if, as I have been told, the influence seems to be instantaneous, Whitehead’s philosophy could provide an explanation that other theories seem to lack.

Quantum theory has been in fundamental difficulty from the beginning. Experimenters approached the data with two models in mind. They thought that light and similar phenomena must consist in either waves or particles. This judgment showed the power of substance thinking over their minds. "Particle" is a new term for something like the earlier atom, which turned out, despite its name, to be divisible. Particles are envisioned as tiny lumps of matter that travel though space. Waves, on the other hand, are patterns of motion and thus more like events. However, the basic model was taken from movements on the surface of water. Sound waves were movements of air. It was assumed that light waves also had a material substratum, which was named the "ether." When the lack of an ether was demonstrated, the idea of light waves became essentially unintelligible, but the language was retained because the mathematics developed for the analysis of wave motion was useful also for some features of light.

It is well known that some experiments showed the particle character of light and others showed its wave character. Unfortunately, the concept of a wave and that of a particle cannot intelligibly be applied to the same thing. The solution was to impose on this confusion a notion of polarity, which in fact clarified nothing.

There is another possible approach. If one gives up substance thinking and understands the world in terms of events instead, one can see the experimental situation in terms of a field of events. Some patterns of relations of occasions in a field can resemble "particles" sufficiently that mathematics designed to interpret particles has relevance. Other patterns of relations in the field resemble waves. I do not mean to suggest that this simple comment solves the problems. I mean only that it provides a different context for thinking about the phenomena.

Whitehead himself wrote little about quantum theory. Nevertheless, his metaphysics can easily be considered a quantum one. The world consists, in his view, in interrelated "actual occasions", most of which are quantum events.

The quantum theorist whose thought most resembled Whitehead’s was David Bohm. Bohm wrote extensively about the importance of thinking in terms of events rather than substances. He proposed the model of the hologram for thinking of unit events, a model very similar to what Whitehead says about actual occasions. And, unlike Whitehead, he developed, together with Basil Hiley, a quantum theory based on this different perspective, which can predict all known quantum phenomena.

Like Whitehead’s still viable theory of relativity, Bohm’s formulation predicts chiefly what is already predicted by established theories. Its advantage is coherence and intelligibility rather than prediction. Unfortunately, most physicists have been conditioned to think that the only test of the value of a theory is its ability to predict and thus to be tested empirically; so this theory has not gained much attention. For this reason, we must share Bohm’s hope that there are some distinctive testable predictions that can be derived from his formulations.

The constructive post-modern vision has implications for other sciences as well. All the sciences studying living things have, in the modern context, treated their subjects as if they were mere objects. It has been part of the modern program to empty the world of any purposefulness. Purposeful behavior is denied any role in the evolutionary process despite its obvious importance. Or, if the importance of apparently purposeful behavior is acknowledged, it is explained as only apparently purposeful, actually resulting from mechanical causes. From the point of view of constructive postmodernism, on the other hand, there is no reason to deny a role to animal purposes. The recognition such purposes makes possible a far more adequate and plausible account of the evolutionary process.

In the past, wild animals have been studied almost entirely in captivity. Often they are dissected so that the behavior of the animal as a whole can be explained by the behavior of its parts. Much has been learned in these reductionist ways. But much is also obscured. Only recently have a few students actually spent extended time with animals in the wild. They have learned much that could never be discovered in the laboratory. However, their work is not really encouraged by the guild. It is hardly recognized as science from the point of view of modernity. From a constructive post-modern point of view, in contrast, it is an important source of information that should inform what is studied in the laboratory as well.

Studies of the relation of the brain to subjective experience are another area in which constructive post-modern thought can make a large difference. The great majority of work in this field remains reductionistic. Explanation for subjective experience is sought in brain activity. The possibility that subjective experience participates as a causal agent in the process is hardly considered. Fortunately, there have been exceptions. Roger Sperry’s work on the split brain led him to recognize the causal role of conscious experience. This is the direction of inquiry that constructive post-modernism supports.

IV Constructive Post-modern Political Theory

Modern thought has been influenced by many factors. In this lecture I will view it only in terms of the influence upon it of the model I have been describing. Just as the world as a whole was viewed as composed of tiny bits of matter that related to one another only externally, that is, spatio-temporally, so human beings were viewed as individuals who relate to one another only externally. In this case, the relations were viewed as contractual. Political and economic theory were both developed on this basis.

In the Middle Ages the church provided legitimacy to both ecclesiastical and political authority. This gave a certain primacy to the religious institution. Political leaders were not happy with this, and especially as modernity dawned, they sought legitimacy without involvement of the church. They could claim the divine right of kings, but it was better still if this right could be derived from an analysis of the social situation as such. Accordingly, they favored the social contract theory.

This theory was based on a myth. The idea was that at the beginning there was anarchy. Each family sought only its own good with no responsibility to others and no restrictions on how they might treat others. This meant equally that there was no check on how others might treat them. The result was profoundly unsatisfactory. In Thomas Hobbes’ famous formulation, life was "nasty, brutish, and short." According to Hobbes, it was so bad that it was to the advantage of each family to gain security at any price in liberty. He deduced that the social contract consisted in the surrender of all personal liberty to a monarch in exchange for the security of person and property. John Locke did not see the consequences of anarchy in quite such dire terms. Accordingly, he thought that a certain amount of personal liberty was preserved in the contract. The American constitution builds on Locke with its claim that all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Of course, this is a completely unhistorical picture. Human beings originated and evolved in tightly knit tribal communities. Only gradually, and much later, did they develop more individual autonomy. The legitimate point of the theory was, of course, that as they developed individuality, it was still important for them to accept sufficient government control to insure security. That was the Hobbesian ground of the legitimation of rulers. A ruler who could not secure the persons and property of subjects lost legitimacy under this theory. As long as such security was preserved, protests of lack of freedom, or of injustice, carried little weight.

The point here is not to debate the relative merits of Hobbes and Locke, but to stress the atomistic individualism of modern political theory in both these forms. In contrast, constructive post-modern theory emphasizes that people are bound together in communities before they develop personal individuality. This is simply historical and sociological fact. An infant can only become a full human being in relations with others in which contracts play a very small role.

Viewed in this light, the question of the legitimation of government is quite different. A community needs some pattern of governance. This applies already in the family. There the question is whether the father (or the mother) makes all the decisions or whether there is participation of both and even of the children in decision-making. We may assume that in many instances the father has the physical power to enforce his will. The question is whether this best reflects the nature of the whole pattern of relations within the family. Are all members of the family most benefited by this pattern? Does it achieve even the deeper purposes of the father in the most fulfilling ways?

A post-modern approach is not likely to prescribe particular rules. It does encourage experimentation with inclusion. Obviously a baby cannot take part in family decision-making, and a child of eight cannot play the same role as the mother or father. But listening to all voices and progressive weighting of their preferences makes sense when we understand each member of the family as largely constituted by relations to the others.

Just as individuals cannot exist apart from relationships to others, so also the family depends on larger patterns of relationship. In every situation, some patterns are always given, and what is thus given is to be respected and dealt with. One never begins with a blank slate. Still, ideally, each family participates as one family among others in affirming, critiquing, and modifying those larger patterns. People and families grow when they participate in the decisions that shape their context.

This participation can sometimes consist in direct involvement as in many tribal councils or the New England town meetings. More often it involves selection of representatives people trust to decide issues that may be too complex for most members of the community to make sound judgments. Either way, there is no assurance that the decisions will be wise, but the strengthening of community that follows from a sense of ownership of the process is an intrinsic value. And it normally protects participants from extreme exploitation and distortion.

My intention here is not to spell out a political theory but to indicate that a post-modern theory emphasizes the bottom-up approach. Modern thought began with dispersed power but moved directly to its centralization. Once centralized, the ruler would organize power from the top down. In the United States, local communities have power only as that is granted them by the individual states. In a post-modern society the state would have powers granted it by the cities and counties. The whole structure of authority would grow out of community, communities of communities, and communities of communities of communities.

VI. Constructive Post-Modern Economic Theory

The same understanding of human beings underlay modern economic theory. Homo economicus is viewed as an atomic individual related to others only in market transactions and contracts. Accordingly, economic theory has no place for community or for such values of community as justice. The goal is simply increased economic activity or the creation of wealth.

This wealth is increased when the market sets prices based on supply and demand with no interference from outside. Originally the market that served as the model for economists was the village market, where personal relations provided a favorable context for the transactions. However, economic analysis showed that larger markets encouraged faster growth. Since human relations other than market transactions counted for nothing in economics, economists favored larger and larger markets – today, a global market.

In the past, markets were always contained with political borders. This did not insure that they were well managed, but it offered the possibility that concerns for community and justice could establish some limits on their hegemony and moderate their effects. Today there is no global government to regulate markets or defend communities from their ravages.

A post-modern economics would return as far as possible to the village market. That is, economic structures should operate within political ones, and the closer these are to the people who are governed, the better the chance for genuine human participation. Obviously, however, many goods needed by contemporary society cannot be produced locally. Still it is possible to favor a bottom-up economy along with the bottom-up political structures. What can be produced and marketed locally should be. What requires a larger market should come under the jurisdiction of a community of communities. Production that requires a still larger market should be supervised by a community of communities of communities. These may reach to a global level, but this will not be a global economy in the present sense. It will not erase the boundaries between communities or run roughshod over their interests.

Modern thought was dualistic, and this has been reflected in economic policies with respect to nature. This has been particularly apparent in the United States. The policy of Europeans coming to the Americas in general, and to the United States in particular, has been one of rapid exploitation of nature, viewed simply as "natural resources." Economic theory has depicted nature in no other way, and even natural resources have not been regarded as important. They have virtually disappeared from standard economic textbooks, which treat labor and capital as the only significant factors of production. The United States still has policies that favor the rapid exploitation of resources for the sake of economic growth.

Even now when the limits of resources and problems of pollution have forced themselves on the attention of everyone, our inheritance from modernity counts heavily against an adequate response. We calculate the cost of preserving bits and pieces of the natural world in economic terms. When we ask what policy to adopt in view of global warming, economists are inclined to advise us not to make any costly changes. If we accumulate enough capital, they argue, we will be in position to pay the costs of global warming as they arise.

The modern attitude toward other creatures expresses itself today in the way we raise animals for slaughter. We do not concern ourselves with their suffering. It turns out that the meat of calves is tenderer when they get no exercise; so some are raised in tight confinement. Chickens are raised in such confined quarters that they cannot spread their wings. Since money can be saved by mass production, huge hog farms now raise their hogs in miserable condition, meanwhile massively polluting the land and water and bankrupting farmers who try to continue more natural production methods.

Some constructive post-modernists have become vegetarians. Since they believe that the animals we raise for our food have their own intrinsic value, they do not want to participate in a system that kills them. Others do no believe that killing animals is necessarily so bad that it should be given up altogether. I am one of these. We argue that if an animal is allowed to have a good life and is killed humanely, this is, on the whole, positive. If people did not raise them for food, there would be far fewer animals in the world. Accordingly, moderate meat eating is acceptable.

On the other hand, in the United States, the justification of eating meat is becoming ever more difficult. More and more of our meat is raised in ways that mean the animal’s whole life is one of misery. The enjoyment of the meat can hardly counterbalance such extended suffering.

There are additional reasons for a post-modernist to be concerned. Our American appetite for beef leads to the cutting down of tropical forests in Latin America to gain temporary grazing land. This is often abandoned after a few years because it is not really suitable for this purpose, but the destruction of forest cover and animal habitat has long-lasting consequences.

As global grain supplies decline in relation to demand, there will be additional reasons for reducing meat consumption. Obviously, the first claim on the grain should go to relieving hunger. Huge quantities of grain are now fed to animals. The calories in the meat produced are around a tenth of the calories available for direct consumption in the grain. When eating meat not only causes suffering to animals but also deprives the world’s poor of needed food, it will certainly not be justified.


Although there are many similarities between constructive and deconstructive post-modernists, the sections of this paper that deal with science and with public policy would not be likely to appear in a lecture on the latter topic. Deconstructive post-modernists are interested in showing that the dominant forms of science are shaped by particular perspectives and do not have the universality to which they pretend. With this point constructive post-modernists are in enthusiastic agreement. But deconstructive post-modernists usually discourage the attempt to develop better theories, an attempt that seems important to constructive postmodernists.

Somewhat similarly, deconstructive postmodernists show how many, widely affirmed, policies have assumptions that express the bias and self-interest of those in power. They often do brilliant work in showing the elements of self-deception present in those who uphold them. But they are unlikely to go on to propose other policies. They are likely to view any policies proposed as expressive of other biases and interests. As a result they do not give support to any. From the point of view of constructive post-modernists, society cannot function without policies to guide decisions. All may be tainted, and we should never pretend to have no personal interests or to be unbiased in our judgments. But the world will not survive without improved public policies, ambiguous as they may remain.

Constructive post-modernists make no claim to perfection or finality for their ideas about philosophy, science, or public policy. We know that we are all finite beings with limited understanding and that we see the world from one perspective among many. We know that our perspectives are conditioned by many relativizing factors, and that these perspectives determine which features of the totality stand out for us. But we also believe that what we see from particular perspectives includes valid and valuable elements of the always-elusive truth. We also believe that by being open to what others see from their different perspectives, we can correct and expand our present thinking. Constructive post-modernism understands the world as a whole, and itself in particular, to be in process.

* * * * * * * *

Difference Between Modernism and Postmodernism

July 24, 2011

Modernism vs Postmodernism

Modernism and Postmodernism are two kinds of movements that show certain differences between them. They are two kinds of movements that are based on changes in cultural and social behavior around the world. It is interesting to note that both of them are different periods starting from the 19th and the 20th centuries. These movements came into being as a result of the thinking patterns of the people during those times. Different causes made them think in different ways than they were thinking. Accordingly, aspects of life began to change as the thinking ways began to change. Let us see more information about Modernism and Postmodernism.
What is Modernism?

Modernism relates to a series of cultural movements that took place in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. These movements include reforming movements in architecture, art, music, literature, and applied arts. Modernism flourished between 1860s and 1940s; preferably till 1945 when World War II ended. During that period, much importance was given to literary works. Also, modernism paid a lot of attention to original works. These works include paintings, sculpture, architecture, and poetry. In fact, during the period of modernism original art was considered primary creations.

Modernism believed in learning from the experiences of the past. When it comes to thinking during modernism, modern thinkers excelled in logical thinking. There was a great input of logic in the thinking of the period of modernism. Thinkers and artists that belonged to the modernist period searched for the abstract truth of life. They were in search of the real meaning of life.

Alfred Henry Maurer, An Arrangement, 1901 via Wikicommons (Public Domain)

What is Postmodernism?

The postmodernism refers to the confused state of cultural developments that came into existence after modernism. As a matter of fact, the period after 1960s is generally considered postmodern in nature. To be precise, postmodernism is construed as begun after 1968. There is a strong belief that modernism paved the way for postmodernism. In other words, it can be said that postmodernism was triggered by the developments made in modernism and its advocates. However, postmodernism, when compared to modernism, is more complex to understand and appreciate. It is interesting to note that the period after the World War II is normally considered postmodernism oriented in the sense that there were complex developments in the economic, cultural and social conditions around the globe.

Thinking, during the post modern era, was considered irrational and unscientific in its approach. On the other hand, postmodernism did not believe in any abstract truth about life. Moreover, postmodernism did not firmly believe in benefiting from the experiences of the past. In fact, they questioned the authority of textual reading. Unlike modernism, postmodernism did not pay any kind of attention whatsoever to original works. They would dub them as pieces that gained popularity due to propagation. Moreover, due to the advancements made in the field of science and technology and other allied fields, the period of postmodernism saw no absolute truth in original works. It believed more in the creation of applied art and inter-disciplinary studies. Digital media were used extensively to copy the original works of the modernist period during the postmodernism period.

What is the difference between Modernism
and Postmodernism?
• Period:

• Modernism flourished between 1860s and 1940s; preferably till 1945 when World War II ended.

• Postmodernism began after modernism. Postmodernism is construed as begun after 1968, to be precise.

• Thinking:

Thinking too differed in modern and postmodern periods.

• Thinking was backed by logic during the period of modernism.

• The thinking of postmodernism period is generally considered irrational and unscientific in its approach.

• Originality of work:

• Modernism paid a lot of attention to original work. When we say original work, this work came from all fields such as painting, sculpture, architecture, and poetry.

• Postmodernism did not give such attention to original work. They considered such work as pieces that gained popularity due to propagation.

• Art:

• During modernism, artists created their pieces following the traditional methods of making art.

• During postmodernism, artist did not follow the traditional methods of making art. They rather used media to increase the speed of the creation of their pieces.

• Gaining knowledge:

• Books were considered the most important way of gaining knowledge during modernism.

• Postmodernism was much dependent on technology, and they considered web, which expanded the limited boundaries of printed media, as a more important way of gaining knowledge.

• Learning from the past:

• Modernism believed in learning from the past experiences.

• Postmodernism did not firmly believe in benefiting from the past experiences. In fact, they questioned the authority of text books.

• Truth about life:

• Modernist wanted to know the real meaning of life and searched for the abstract truth of life.

• Post modernist did not believe in abstract truth of life.

These are the main differences between the two kinds of movements called modernism and postmodernism.