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

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Jay McDaniel - The Immortal Immortal (Life, Death, Soul)

Objective Immortality and Subjective Immortality

by Jay McDaniel
Process philosophy offers two views of the possibility of life after death, typically called objective immortality and subjective immortality.

In objective immortality, the self (understood as a linear series of subjective experiences, each of which is its own subject) does not continue after the death of the brain, but the experiences nonetheless influence all that comes afterward, however negligible. Objective immortality thus understood can also include the idea that the experiences are remembered (and thus affect) God who is, as it were, the Deep Memory of the universe (Whitehead's Consequent Nature of God). Here the experiences, and the momentary subjects to whom they belong, would not fade in importance, but be valued everlastingly. "I" would not live on after my death, but memories of me, on God's part, would survive and be woven into the beauty of God's ongoing life. Thus, there are two kinds of objective immortality: objective immortality in the world and objective immortality in God.

Subjective immortality, on the other hand, is the continuation of the self after the death of the brain, whereby the self undergoes a continuing journey. This journey may or may not be everlasting; it may be "immortal" in the sense of having no end, or it may be "immortal" in a metaphorical sense, as surviving the death of the brain and continuing for a finite duration. David Griffin argues for subjective immortality but does not spell out the particular form it would take, saying that direct and indirect evidence from parapsychology points to its plausibility and perhaps even its probability. Please note that all these kinds of immortality, objective and subjective, may be "true" from a process perspective.

If subjective immortality, or at least a continuation of the self's journey, is a reality, God would be at work in the journey after death no less than in the journey prior to death: as an indwelling lure toward the fulness of life relative to the situation at hand (through initial aims) and as a companion in the journey, sharing in the sufferings and joys. There could be spiritual growth after death: a soul-gentling.

- Jay McDaniel, 6/24/2022

​​Life after Death: A Reflection

by John Cobb


​Can you explain the Process view of our ‘life after physical death.’ Are our satisfactions resurrected into God and do they grow into what they could be in God’s aim? Will we be able then to grow into God’s aim?

from Process and Faith: October 1999

Dr. Cobb’s Response

The question asked this month is more specific than the general topic of life after physical death. It is about the Consequent Nature of God and what it means that we are taken up into this. “Are our satisfactions resurrected into God and do they grow into what they could be in God’s aim? Will we be able then to grow into God’s aim?”

There is no one answer of process theologians to these questions. There are slight differences between Whitehead and Hartshorne, and those who follow them also have different views. Of course, no one knows.

But even if we can only have visions of what may be rather than of what certainly is, these visions are important. To be persuasive they need to be organically related to the rest of what we believe. If they are to function eschatologically, they must at some level satisfy our need to believe that life and history have meaning, that they add up in some way, that what we are and do is not simply lost forever, and that even when it is painful or seemingly vacuous, it makes some positive contribution.

This is the main point of both Whitehead and Hartshorne. Whitehead thinks it is more coherent to suppose that God has physical feelings of the world than that God only mediates pure possibilities to the world. He also thinks this belief makes contact with some very deep religious intuitions. For if God prehends us, there are good reasons to think that God’s Consequent Nature includes us far more fully and richly than even a successor moment of our own experience includes its predecessors.

There are two dimensions to this difference. First, in every prehension of my immediate past experience, some of it is omitted. Whitehead provides good reason to think that in God’s prehension, nothing, or virtually nothing, is omitted. Second, although the immediate past is felt in human experience with considerable immediacy, that is, its subjectivity functions as such, this fades rapidly. My memories of what occurred even a few minutes ago lack that immediacy. In God, there is no fading of immediacy. Each experience in its full subjective value lives on forever.
Students of Whitehead sometimes miss this emphasis on experiential immediacy in the divine life because this is said to be a doctrine of “objective” immortality. This is set over against “subjective” immortality which means that persons would continue to enjoy new experiences after death.

This distinction is real and important, and although process thought does not exclude the possibility of subjective immortality in this sense, that is not what this question is about. The point here is that the data of God’s physical feelings are our subjective experiences. It is these that live on in God in their full immediacy.

The question, however, asks for something more than this, something at which Whitehead hints. As occasions of experience are resurrected in the divine life, are they changed and do they continue to change? Specifically, do they grow into what they could be in God’s aim?

Marjorie Suchocki has gone further than any other process theologian in exploring this possibility. Her book, The End of Evil, is to be highly recommended for its speculative development of Whitehead’s hints in this direction. Her development of Whitehead’s thought is motivated by her passionate conviction that sheer everlasting perpetuation of miserable experiences is no eschatology!

I have not been able to imagine as much transformation within the divine life as does Suchocki. Nevertheless, it is clear that there is some. A creaturely occasion as felt by God is not simply what that occasion was as an act of creaturely feeling. Whereas it felt itself in a very limited context, it is felt by God in a universal context. In that context it has a meaning and role that it did not have for itself. Further, as the Consequent Nature includes more and more events lying in the future of the one in question, the meaning of the original event changes. Since God’s lures have taken account of the original event, the later events, when responsive to those lures, may have built upon the original event in positive ways upon it. Thus as time goes on the momentary experience in question may become part of the realization of aims of which it was itself unaware, even of aims that did not exist at that time.

The question remains whether this change of role and meaning affects the subjectivity of the occasion. Here my imagination breaks down, and I am disposed to answer negatively. The subjective experience prehended by God remains forever just that experience. An experience here and now may be positively affected by the assurance that God can use it beyond its merits in the larger scheme of things. But just what that use may be lies forever outside the experience.

The added element of assurance that God will do with us more than we can imagine is important. That it probably does not affect the immediacy of our lives in God need not detract from that current value. It can provide the deeper meaning required by eschatological faith.

​For more on life after death in Open Horizons, see:

Five ​Questions People Ask

What is the soul, anyway?

For John Cobb and for other process philosophers influenced by Whitehead, the human soul is part of nature. It is natural not supernatural. Animals have souls, too. The soul is a center of experience in its continuity through time, unfolding moment by moment, including within its momentary unfolding unconscious and conscious dimensions.

When depth psychologists and neurobiologists speak of unconscious forms of experience and activity within the life of a person, process philosophers and theologians agree. Conscious experience is important in the life of a soul, but not the whole of it by any means. Much and perhaps most of our experience is unconscious. One of our tasks is to find ways of reconciling and integrating the conscious and unconscious sides of our lives.

In the lives of human beings and other animals, the soul plays a decisive role in coordinating bodily activities. Consciously and unconsciously, the soul receives influences from the body and initiates responses. The state of a soul can influence the body just as the state of a body can influence the soul; hence the truth of psychosomatic medicine. Our bodies are partly affected by the states of our souls, and our souls are partly affected by the states of our bodies.

Is the soul in the brain?

Cobb and other process philosophers and theologians believe that the soul occupies regions of the brain in such a way that the brain is a constant source of novelty for the soul. The brain is composed of a vast array of "societies" that interact with one another in incredible ways, and the soul is very much shaped by those interactions. But the momentary experience of a soul, at any given moment in its ongoing life, is not reducible to any particular portion of the brain or even to the whole of the brain understood in narrowly molecular terms. It is the lived experience of the person to whom the brain belongs, and this lived experience may include forms of feeling and perception, conscious and unconscious, that are not mediated by the physical brain. If so, the soul is still "natural" in the sense of being part of the larger web of life, but not brain-restricted.

Can the soul survive death?

There is nothing in this understanding that necessitates the view that the soul pre-exists the body or survives bodily death in subjective immortality (see above). The soul may emerge in and with the embryo, not having existed beforehand. And it may perish with the death of a brain, insofar as its experience depends on the brain for nourishment. If this is the case, the soul would have objective immortality in the world and in God, but not subjective immortality.

However, from a process perspective, the pre-existence and survival of the soul after death are metaphysical possibilities. The process cosmology understands the universe as a vast and multi-dimensional web of life, and there is nothing that precludes the pre-existence or survival of souls, human and animal, if empirical evidence points in those directions.

John Cobb's colleague, David Ray Griffin, has done extensive work in exploring evidence for life after death, and concludes that there is much evidence in favor of a continuing journey. For Griffin and for Cobb, it is likely that the soul undergoes a continuing journey after death. See his books below.

What about Heavens and Hells?

It is possible that, in the ongoing life of a soul, there are periods of purgation. "Hells" can be imagined as states of affairs in which a person comes to truly understand and share in the harm and pain the person inflicted upon others, seeking forgiveness. It would be a form of rehabilitation and creative transformation.

"Heavens" can be imagined as states of affairs in which a person grows into the full potential of love, awakening to connections and perhaps being reunited with loved ones. All are possible from a process perspective.

Even heavens are not necessarily permanent. It is possible that the desired end of the journey is for the soul to arrive at a definitive end, after which there is the pilgrimage of the soul as a memory in the ongoing life of God. This would be subjective immortality for a time, or, perhaps better, subjective continuation for a time, until love is fully realized, and death can be natural and holy,

Would God be at work in the life of a soul in life after death?

​God is many things in process thought: an indwelling lure toward wholeness, a course of creative transformation, an eternal companion to each and all. If there is joy and suffering after death, God would share in the joy and suffering; they would 'belong to God' in some way. If there is spiritual growth in life after death, God would be an indwelling lure in the soul for the growth that is possible. From a process perspective, God never gives up on anybody. Yes, there are initial aims after death.

​- Jay McDaniel

​Books by David Ray Griffin exploring
Evidence for Life after Death


John Cobb on the Soul

in a Christian Natural Theology, reposted
with permission of Religion Online

​Whitehead is remarkable among recent philosophers for his insistence that man has, or is, a soul. Furthermore, he is convinced that this doctrine has been of utmost value for Western civilization and that its recent weakening systematically undercuts the understanding of the worth of man. The understanding of the human soul is one of the truly great gifts of Plato and of Christianity, and Whitehead does not hesitate to associate his own doctrine with these sources, especially with Plato.(AI, Ch. II)

Nevertheless, Whitehead’s understanding of the human soul is different from those of Platonism and historic Christianity and is one of his most creative contributions for modern reflection. If we are to understand any aspect of Whitehead’s doctrine of man, we must begin by grasping his thought on this subject.

Perhaps the most striking differentiating feature of Whitehead’s doctrine of the soul is that it is a society rather than an individual actual entity. A moment’s reflection will show that this position follows inevitably from the distinction between individuals and societies explained in the preceding chapter. Individuals exist only momentarily. If we identified the soul with such an individual, there would be millions of souls during the lifetime of a single man.

But when we speak in Platonic or Christian terms, we think of a single soul for a single man. If we hold fast to this usage, and Whitehead basically does so, (MT 224. However, since for Whitehead identity through time is an empirical question, he allows for the possibility of a plurality of souls in a single organism.) then we must think of the soul as that society composed of all the momentary occasions of experience that make up the life history of the man. The soul is not an underlying substance undergoing accidental adventures. It is nothing but the sequence of the experiences that constitute it.
In contrast to some Christian views of the soul, it should also be noted at the outset that Whitehead’s understanding of the soul applies to the higher animals as well as to man. Wherever it is reasonable to posit a single center of experience playing a decisive role in the functioning of the organism as a whole, there it is reasonable to posit a soul. For the soul is nothing but such a center of experience in its continuity through time. The use of the term "soul" carries no connotation in Whitehead of preexistence or of life after death. There is no suggestion that the soul is some kind of supernatural element which in some way marks off man from nature and provides a special point of contact for divine activity. The soul is in every sense a part of nature, subject to the same conditions as all other natural entities. (Although this is Whitehead’s usual terminology in his later writings, in such earlier works as CN and occasionally in his later writings he speaks of nature in a more restricted sense.)

John Cobb on Life after Death

in a Christian Natural Theology, reposted
with permission of Religion Online
One of the questions to which the similarity and difference of animal and human souls is relevant is that of their existence after death. Whitehead dealt with this question only rarely, and then very briefly. The most important passage on the subject can be quoted.

"A belief in purely spiritual beings means, on this metaphysical theory, that there are routes of mentality in respect to which associate material routes are negligible, or entirely absent. At the present moment the orthodox belief is that for all men after death there are such routes, and that for all animals after death there are no such routes.

"Also at present it is generally held that a purely spiritual being is necessarily immortal. The doctrine here developed gives no warrant for such a belief. It is entirely neutral on the question of immortality. . . . There is no reason why such a question should not be decided on more special evidence, religious or otherwise, provided that it is trustworthy. In this lecture we are merely considering evidence with a certain breadth of extension throughout mankind. Until that evidence has yielded its systematic theory, special evidence is indefinitely weakened in its effect."(RM 110-111)

Whitehead never returned to a positive treatment of this question, largely because his own interest focused on quite a different conception of immortality.(Dial 297.) Hence, if we are to discuss this aspect of his doctrine of man, we must lean heavily upon this single fascinating passage. A number of points are clear. First, with reference to the topic of the last section, it seems that Whitehead is doubtful that so sharp a line can be drawn between animals and humans that there is real warrant for affirming total extinction of all animals and survival of all humans. Here again we see the insistent rejection of a priori and absolute distinctions. Second, Whitehead explicitly and forcefully denies that the existence of the soul is any evidence for its survival of bodily death. On the other hand, it is clear that he regards his philosophy as perfectly open to the possibility of immortality and that relevant evidence might in principle be obtained. Third, Whitehead recognizes that our response to evidence of this sort depends upon a wider structure of conviction that either opens us to the likelihood of that which is being affirmed or closes us to it.

The passage quoted is found in Religion in the Making and uses terminology slightly different from that employed in this book which depends on his later writings. In terms of the analysis offered above, we may put the question quite simply: Can the soul exist without the body? Can it have some other locus than the brain and some other function than that of presiding over the organism as a whole? In other words, can there be additional occasions in the living person without the intimate association with the body in which the soul or living person came into existence? To these questions Whitehead answers yes.(Whitehead even speculated as to the existence of other types if intelligences in far-off empty space However, the philosophical possibility that this occurs is no evidence that it in fact occurs. Furthermore, it might occur for some minutes or days or centuries and then cease. Whitehead’s private opinion was probably that it did not occur at all.

Nevertheless, in our day the philosophical assertion of the possibility of life beyond death is sufficiently striking that we will do well to consider the grounds of this openness. Since in faithfulness to Whitehead it cannot be argued that there is such life, I will only try to show why the usual philosophical and commonsense arguments for the impossibility of life after death are removed by his philosophy. These arguments stem both from anthropology and from wider cosmological considerations. They are treated below in that order.

The basic form of the anthropological argument against the possibility of life after death has already been answered in what has gone before. This argument fundamentally is that man is his body, or his body-for-itself, (Sartre) or the functioning of his body, in such a sense that it would be strictly meaningless to speak of life apart from the body. The body-for-itself obviously shares the fortunes of the body in general, and certainly the functioning of the body cannot continue without the body. Others, more correctly (from Whitehead’s point of view) , state that man is a psychophysical organism. Clearly a psychophysical organism cannot survive the death of the physical organism. From this point of view, whatever might survive could not in any case be the man.

Whitehead recognizes that language does commonly refer to the entire psychophysical organism as the man.(AI 263-264.) In this it bears testimony to the extreme intimacy of the interaction between body and soul. However, he himself ordinarily identifies the man with the soul.(PR 141.)It is the soul that is truly personal, the true subject. The body is the immediate environment of the person. Hence, the continued existence of the soul or the living person would genuinely be the continued existence of the life of the man. That there is a soul or living person, ontologically distinct from the body, is the first condition of the possibility of life after death. This distinct existence has been established in Whiteheadian terms in the preceding sections of this chapter.

The secondary anthropological objection against such life Whitehead himself probably found more weighty. This is that we have no experience of souls apart from the most intimate interaction with bodies. It is by bodies that the causal efficacy of the universe is mediated to them, and it is as the controlling forces in bodies that they have their basic functions. But whatever significance Whitehead may have attached to such considerations, he knew they were far from decisive. The soul in each momentary occasion prehends not only its environing brain but also its own past occasions of experience and the experiences of other souls.( Most important of all is the prehension of God, omitted from the text because of my effort here to limit myself to what can be said of man without reference to God. Attention will be devoted to God and to man’s experience of him in Chs. IV to VI. Insofar as White-head himself speculated about the separability of the soul from the body, the relation to God was uppermost in his mind. Note the following passage, Al 267: "How far this soul finds a support for its existence beyond the body is: -- another question. The everlasting nature of God, which in a sense is non-temporal and in another sense is temporal, may establish with the soul a peculiarly intense relationship of mutual immanence. Thus in some important sense the existence of the soul may be freed from its complete dependence on the bodily organization." Whether Whitehead actually had in mind in this passage the kind of life after death of which I am speaking or the kind of immortality in the consequent nature of God that was his usual concern I do not know.) These prehensions are not mediated by the body. Hence there is no evidence that they could not occur apart from the body. The extreme vagueness with which other souls are prehended directly in this life (PR 469. "But of course such immediate objectification [of other living persons] is also reinforced, or weakened, by routes of mediate objectification. Also pure and hybrid prehensions are integrated and thus hopelessly intermixed.") might be replaced by clarity when the mediating influences of the pure physical prehensions are removed. Such speculation makes use of no materials not directly provided by Whitehead. But it affords no evidence that the soul does live beyond death. It simply supports Whitehead’s statement that his philosophy is neutral on this question.

Even if it is accepted that the soul is such that it could exist in separation from the body, we are likely to object that there is no "place" for this existence to occur. The days when heaven could be conceived as up and hell as down are long since past (if ever, indeed, they were present for sophisticated thinkers). In the Newtonian cosmology, disembodied souls seemed thoroughly excluded from the space-time continuum. But souls, or mental substances, fitted so ill in this continuum at best, even in their embodied form, that it did not seem too strange to suppose that beyond the continuum of space and time there might be another sphere to which human souls more naturally belonged. Those who believed that somehow the soul could also be explained in terms of the little particles of matter that scurried about in space and time could not believe in any such other sphere. But for those who were convinced that mind could never be explained in terms of the motions of matter, the duality of matter and mind pointed quite naturally to the duality of this world and another, spiritual world in which space, time, and matter did not occur. Gradually, however, the sharp line that separated matter and mind gave way. Evolutionary categories brought mind into the natural world, involving it in space and time. Even if this forced the beginning of the abandonment of the pure materiality of the natural world, it also undermined the justification for conceiving of any sphere beyond this one. If minds have emerged in space and time, it is to space and time that they belong. A nonspatiotemporal mental sphere seemed no more meaningful or plausible than a nonspatiotemporal material sphere. There seemed no longer to be any "place" for life to occur after death.

Theology responded to this new situation by reviving the ancient doctrine of the resurrection of the body. If heaven could not be another sphere alongside this one, then it must be a transformation of the spatiotemporal sphere which will come at the end of time. The Pharisees, it appeared, had more truth than the Orphics. But the belief in an apocalyptic end was hard to revive, and even among the theologians who used its language, there were many who regarded the resurrection of the body more as a symbol of the wholeness of the human person, body and mind, than as a reliable prediction of the future. Outside of conservative ecclesiastical circles, the doctrine of the resurrection of the body continued to appear anachronistic. Natural theology, at any rate, could not be asked to attempt to make any sense of such a theory.

But in our situation, in which the mind or soul has been naturalized into the spatiotemporal continuum, can natural theology suggest any "place" for any kind of life after death? I am not sure that in any positive sense it can, and I am sure that I am not capable of the kind of imaginative speculation that would be required to give such a positive answer. Yet something may be said in a purely suggestive way to indicate that our commonsense inability to allow "place" for the new existence of souls is based on the limitations of our imagination and not on any knowledge we posssess about space and time. We will turn to Whitehead for the beginning of the restructuring of our imagination, on the basis of which further reflection must proceed.

The first point that must be grasped and held firmly is that we are not to think of four-dimensional space-time as a fixed reality into which all entities are placed. Space-time is a structure abstracted from the extensive relationships of actual entities. So far as what is involved in being an actual entity is concerned, there is no reason that there should be four dimensions rather than more or fewer. The world we know is four-dimensional, but this does not mean that all entities in the past and future have had or will have just this many dimensions. Indeed, it does not mean that all entities contemporary with us must have this number of dimensions, although there may be no way for us to gain cognition of any entity of a radically different sort.

Our four-dimensional space-time is the special form that the universal extensive continuum takes in our world. Every actual entity participates in this extensive continuum. But even this is not because the extensive continuum exists prior to and is determinative of the occurrence of actual entities. The extensive continuum is necessary and universal only because no actual entity can ever occur except in relation to other actual entities. Such relations may not be such as to allow for measurement, as they do in our four-dimensional world; certainly they may not have the dimensional character with which we are familiar. But some kind of extensiveness, Whitehead believes, is a function of relatedness as such.

If we try to imagine what it would be like to have no intimate relations with a body or with an external world as given to us in our sense experience, we seem to be left with a two-dimensional world. There is the dimension of successiveness, of past and future. We have memory of the past and anticipation of the future. In addition, there remains the direct experience of other living persons in mental telepathy. These persons are not experienced as related to us in a three-dimensional space but only as being external to ourselves, capable of independent, contemporary existence. Shall we call this a one-dimensional spatial relation?

Let us suppose, then, that the life of souls beyond death occurs in a two-dimensional continuum instead of the four-dimensional continuum we now know. Is it meaningful to ask" where" this two-dimensional continuum exists? Such a question can only mean, How is it related to our four-dimensional continuum according to the terms of that four-dimensional continuum? And perhaps, in those terms, no answer is possible. However, if there are relations between events in a two-dimensional continuum and events in a four-dimensional continuum, then those relations too must participate in some extensive character. Perhaps, therefore, in some mysterious sense, there is an answer, but I for one am unable to think in such terms.

For the speculations I have just outlined, I can claim no direct support from Whitehead. He does make clear that the relation of an occasion to the mental pole of other occasions does not participate in the limitations that I take to be decisive for our understanding of a three-dimensional space. (SMW 216; PR 165, 469; AI 318.) He does affirm that even now there may be occasions of experience participating in an order wholly different from the one we know. (MT 78, 212. Whitehead anticipates the gradual emergence of a new cosmic epoch in which the physical will play a lesser role and the mental a larger one. [RM 160; ESP 90.]) He repeatedly emphasizes the contingency of the special kind of space-time to which we are accustomed.(SMW 232; PR 140, 442.) But beyond this the speculation is my own.

Even if my speculations are fully warranted by Whitehead’s understanding of the extensive continuum, it should be clearly understood that these considerations argue only for the possibility of life after death, not at all for its actuality. There is nothing about the nature of the soul or of the cosmos that demands the continued existence of the living person. If man continues to exist beyond death, it can be only as a new gift of life, and whether such a gift is given is beyond the province of natural theology to inquire.

Jay McDaniel - Interview with Process Philosopher Andrew Davis

Photo by Bryan Goff on Unsplash

Key Questions for Process Philosophy & Theology:
An Interview with Andrew Davis

by Jay McDaniel, Open Horizons

In this new video series, process philosopher and theologian Andrew Davis responds to questions from Robert Lawrence Kuhn of Closer to Truth (CTT), giving an excellent overview to many important aspects of process thinking.

Andrew explores topics such as the theology of Alfred North Whitehead, process panentheism, mystical experience, theodicy, process models of God's creative act(s), God's relationship to scientific laws, universal salvation, life after death, and much more.

0:57 - Are Process Theologians Panentheists?

2:11 - How Do Process Theologians Think About Divine Knowledge, Power and Evil?

2:36 - What Does Process Theology Think About Consciousness in God and World?

1:05 - How Do Process Theologians Think About Life After Death?

Click here for the full playlist of videos of Andrew's answers. You can save this playlist on YouTube for convenient future access.

The original interview, produced in collaboration with the Global Philosophy of Religion Project at the University of Birmingham, can be seen in full on the Closer to Truth YouTube channel.

* * * * * *

Andrew M. Davis is a philosopher, theologian, scholar of world religions, and the Program Director at the Center for Process Studies. He holds B.A. in Philosophy and Theology, an M.A. in Interreligious Studies, and a Ph.D. in Religion and Process Philosophy from Claremont School of Theology (CST). He is a poet, aphorist and author or editor of four books including How I Found God in Everyone and Everywhere: An Anthology of Spiritual Memoirs (2018, with Philip Clayton); Propositions in the Making: Experiments in a Whiteheadian Laboratory (2019, with Roland Faber and Michael Halewood); Depths as Yet Unspoken: Whiteheadian Excursions in Mysticism, Multiplicity, and Divinity (2020, with Roland Faber); and Mind, Value, and Cosmos: On the Relational Nature of Ultimacy (Lexington). For more about Andrew’s work and research interests, visit his website at andrewmdavis.info

Process Theology, ​Death, and Grieving

From Jay McDaniel's Open Horizons Website:

Process Theology,
​Death, and Grieving

springboards for discussion

  • The Journey of Grief (Patricia Adams Farmer)
  • Creative Transformation and Grief (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat)
  • All the Little Deaths: Whitehead on Perpetual Perishing (AN Whitehead)
  • The Metaphysics of Grief: Unexpected Wholeness (Jay McDaniel)
  • The Desire to Preserve (digital story by Maureen Mollinax)
  • Objective and Subjective Immortality (Robert Mellert)
  • Falling Leaves (Gerard Manley Hopkins)
  • The Naturalness of Death (Rabbi Bradley Artson)
  • ​David Ray Griffin: Life After Death is Natural, Too
  • A Ship Sails On: Subjective Immortality (poem by Henry Van Dyke)
  • Yes: Death is Natural and the Journey Continues (Jay McDaniel)

​The Journey of Grief

by Patricia Adams Farmer

My mother died. Those three words are hard to write, let alone process. For me, the finality of never hearing my mother’s voice again or having the chance to talk over old issues or discover something new about her childhood—are all swallowed up in a black hole of mystery that is beyond me now. Game’s up. No more chances. It feels kind of brutal and unfair.

But she was elderly and ready to go and died peacefully in the night, the way we all wish to go. So I did not anticipate any earth-shaking emotions. How wrong I was! A parent’s passing under any condition is never anything but earth-shaking.

Who was I to know that a whole plethora of feelings would suddenly rise up like a chaotic music video filled with intense images and colors and rhythms, a kind of hodgepodge of noisy regrets and bittersweet memories and intense sadness and forgotten angers and irrational bouts of guilt.

I would prefer to turn off the whole grief experience, or at least decide how it goes.

But that’s the weird thing about grief: it just does its thing regardless of our preferences. While I would prefer a quiet, gentle Samuel Barber Adagio for Strings kind of grief experience, I get rap instead. The quiet sadness is punctuated by the rude and repetitive bursts of “If Onlys” and “Should haves.” So, for me, grief at this point in the journey is a jumble, a mashup of emotional tonalities that have a mind of their own.

This lack of control is, in itself, discomforting.

Richard Rohr defines suffering as "whenever you are not in control." Mourning our loved ones feels like this, a humbling of all our attempts at control. We hear, too, the ancient whisper in our ears: Memento Mori (Remember, you shall die.) Just as death comes when it comes, so the grief process is something we cannot control. But we can be partners with it. And herein lies the good news.

Grief is a journey, I think, a road trip into unknown territory, with a mélange of ever-changing feelings as traveling companions. So yes, that includes the negative emotions, too. As for my own road trip, I’ve got my regrets rapping in the backseat, pelting out words that grate and disturb and cover up the orchestral strings I’m playing on the radio. I can tell the backseat regret-rappers to shut up, but they can’t hear me for all their shouting, “If only, If only” and “You should have, You should have” in maddening repetition to a beat which gives me a headache. I wish I could dump them on the side of the road and speed off with tires screeching; but alas, for the grief journey to work, I must make room for them and offer them a little compassion. So I muster my patience: Okay, you guys, I’ll listen for a little while and then you really do need to shut up.

But my other traveling companions—gratitude and forgiveness and loving memories—get to sit in the front seat and read the map and choose the radio station. I can work with these guys. I’m not sure where we’re going, but I just keep driving because it feels like the thing to do because movement helps. I want to be open and engaged to whatever healing might emerge in the journey.**

Mourning can be a kind of creative, open-ended movement toward transformation, that is if we are willing to let all our feelings ride along with us in honesty and acceptance. My friend, theologian and pastor Bruce Epperly, affirms this in a beautifully honest passage from his book, From Here to Eternity: Preparing for the Next Adventure. He describes his own experience of finding his brother dead. How shocking that must have been! As his friend, I know that Bruce’s dedicated care for his brother was evident to all who knew him. Still, his journey of grief included these honest feelings:

“I still vividly recall finding my brother’s lifeless body in the mobile home we purchased for him in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I still go over our relationship, lamenting missed opportunities to be more supportive of him in facing the challenges of mental illness and loneliness. I had been a supportive brother, yet I still experience a sense of guilt at sins of omission that might—although in reality probably wouldn’t—have made a difference in his quality of life.”

I found great relief in this story because it reminds me that regret and guilt—irrational though they may be—are universal, perfectly normal in times of grief, not something cooked up just for me. They are part of the journey.

And the journey is hard.

But the journey can also take us to places we didn’t even know were on the map—unexpected landscapes of mystery and awe and beauty. This happened to me. Although I was not present at my mother’s death, I was told that shortly before Mother passed in the wee hours, her hospice roommate heard her talking to someone, but no one was there. My mother spoke these words into the darkness: “Okay, Mother, you can come in now.” She died shortly after.

It was as if her own mother—long passed—had been standing at the door of another existence with outstretched arms, so eager to usher her daughter into the loving embrace of eternity!

This news touched me deeply, jolting me out of myself. I quickly changed gears and drove my car named Grief, packed with a motley crew of emotions, up to a high peak. There, overlooking the unfathomable ocean of eternity, I paused and looked into that Great Mystery with humility and awe, contemplating the hope of connection and healing and reunion and further adventure inside the heart of God’s embracing love.

I like to think of death as a widening of the soul, like spreading wings, where the self is not extinguished but rather enlarged: a spectacular transformation which breaks through the walls of the chrysalis-like ego, ushering us into a spacious, interconnected, transcendent Beauty. Perhaps, then, death itself is the Great Journey.

As my friend Bruce says, in Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed,“The God who was present in the energy of conception is equally present at the moment of death, luring us forward as God has done from the beginning toward the next adventure in partnership with God and the world.”

My present adventure, this journey in grief—chock full of ever-changing emotions—is just beginning, but I know it will continue to transform me and teach me about love and life and eternity. Just as heaven, in my mind, enlarges the contours of our souls in relational healing, so grief will stretch my earthly soul with its new landscapes carved out of sorrow and beauty. And I will learn something of my own mortality, too, and of savoring wild flowers and sunny days. Perhaps, then, I can snatch glimpses of heaven, and of that Great Love that embraces us in life and death.
Perhaps, when the time comes, my own mother will be waiting at the door, eager and ready to usher me into that “next adventure.”

​I hope so.

​**The metaphor of the "road trip" used in this essay was inspired by writer Elizabeth Gilbert, who used a similar idea in her wonderful book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, as a way of understanding fear in the creative journey.

​Creative Transformation and Grief


Directed by Robin Wright
A soulful and empowering portrait of grief.

A film review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

"Grief and pain are dreadful, and to live free from them is to be truly blessed. But the truth is, we usually have no choice when it comes to loss. Eventually, it visits every one of us. And there is no magic or blessing that is found in this curse. There is no cosmic trick. But there is a different approach to facing our suffering — one that can lead not only to respite and relief from our pain and anguish, but also to an unexpected sort of wholeness." These wise words come to us from Matthew Gewirtz, the Senior Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in his book The Gift of Grief. They capture the essence of this simple yet deeply felt film.

In her feature directing debut Robin Wright plays Edee, a depressed woman who is carrying a heavy burden of grief and pain. Being around people only adds to her anguish and so she purchases a ramshackle cabin in the mountains of Wyoming. She stocks up on supplies and gets rid of her rental car, U-Haul, and cell phone. Although she has unobstructed views of the majestic mountains, she doesn't have time to really enjoy the place. Instead she finds herself busy doing repairs on the cabin, chopping wood for the stove, and lugging water from a local river. When a bear wrecks havoc on her possessions and food stocks, she is devastated.

As the seasons pass by, Edee is troubled by apparitions of her dead husband and son. Her unrelenting grief has a dire cumulative effect on her body and she suffers a physical breakdown. She is brought back into the land of the living by Miguel (Demian Bichir), a local hunter. When she regains consciousness, she asks him, "Why are you helping me?" He responds, "You were in my path."
Miguel is a healing presence in Edee's shattered life and so he listens carefully when she says, "I'm here in this place because I don't want to be around people." With empathy and insight, he tells her, "Only a person who has never been hungry thinks that starving is a good way to die."

Since she refuses to go to the hospital, he nurses her back to health and teaches her how to trap and hunt. A quiet and pensive man, his favorite song is "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Miguel's jaunty manner of singing amuses Edee. In a very touching way these two souls, who have both been wounded by loss, reveal their secrets and, in so doing, empower each other. He helps her with her chief aspiration: "I want to notice everything around me more."
This emotionally engaging film confirms what all the spiritual traditions teach: there is no rigid pattern in grief's stages and phases. It also shows us how the experience of loss brings us into a direct and often painful encounter with the fragility of the body, the poisons that suck the life out of us, and the isolation which often keeps us from accepting the kindness, compassion, and restorative gifts of others.

All the Little Deaths

Whitehead on Perpetual Perishing
and how it may not be the whole story

​"The ultimate evil. . . .lies in the fact that the past fades, that time is a ‘perpetual perishing.’ Objectification involves elimination. The present fact has not the past fact with it in any full immediacy. The process of time veils the past below distinctive feeling. There is a unison of becoming among things in the present. Why should there not be novelty without loss of this direct unison of immediacy among things? In the temporal world, it is the empirical fact that process entails loss: the past is present under an abstraction. But there is no reason, of any ultimate metaphysical generality, why this should be the whole story."

Whitehead, Process and Reality, Corrected Edition, ed. Griffin & Sherburne, New York: The Free Press, 1978, 340)

​The Metaphysics of Grief:
Unexpected Wholeness

​The many become one and are increased by one.
- AN Whitehead

At every moment of our lives, the past actual world becomes one in the immediacy of the present. So say the process philosophers and theologians. The past actual world consists of remembered events, persons, and circumstances that have passed away: friends and family members, landscapes and waterways, feelings and stories, soundscapes and moods, places and poems. Everything that has been, in any mode of having been, is part of the many that becomer one in our immediate experience, through our memories of them.

These memories can be concious or unconscious, or somewhere in between. The things that are remembered can be part of our own personal past (the personal unconcious) or part of a more collective past (the collective unconscious). We can remember historical events that we were not a part of, for example, but that are important to us: a war, a natural disaster, a loss of life, the decline of a way of living, the loss of a language, a culture, a species, a biotic community.

Our memories of these past actualities, whether conscious or unconscious, are clothed by moods and emotions. Process philosophers and theologians call them "subjective forms." Other people may not be able to see them directly, but they can feel them through our present actions: the smile, the frown, the furrowed brow, the laugh, the gleam in the eye, or the sadness. These subjective forms are how we feel (or prehend) the past. They are our emotions.

One such emotion, immensely complex, is grief. This grief can be about a trauma we or someone we love has undergone, or about a loss in life: a death, a misfortune, a disease, a sadness. We grieve it. We wish it had not happened, and we can't quite get over the fact that it did.

An Unexpected Sort of Wholeness

Amid our grief, say the process philosophers and theologies, there is something else happening in our experience. We carry within ourselves, moment by moment, a 'creativity' by which we interpret and respond to what has happened, seeking to weave it into the rest of our experience in a constructive way, as best we can. The past has a say, but not a final say, because how we interpret it adds to the history of our own life and the future. The many become one and are increased by one.

Additionally, amid this interpretive act, there is also a possibility for creative transformation: that is, for emergence in our own life of something new and beautiful in its own way. Rabbi Matthew Gewirtz, the Senior Rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, calls it an unexpected sort of wholeness:

"Grief and pain are dreadful, and to live free from them is to be truly blessed. But the truth is, we usually have no choice when it comes to loss. Eventually, it visits every one of us. And there is no magic or blessing that is found in this curse. There is no cosmic trick. But there is a different approach to facing our suffering — one that can lead not only to respite and relief from our pain and anguish, but also to an unexpected sort of wholeness."

​This possibility for creative transformation, for an unexpected wholeness, does not change the past, but it does affect the future. For process philosophers and theologians, the possibiliy of this unexpected wholeness come from the universe, not just from us; and, more specifically, it comes from the living unity of the universe that many address as "God." If the universe is imagined as an embryo, then this living unity is the sky-like Womb in whom the embryo unfolds, moment by moment. The Womb is not all-powerful; it requires our participation for its aims to be realized. And yet is it all-loving, all whole-making, all redemptive, all tender. Indeed, it is also, in its way, a companion to our grief and suffering: "a fellow sufferer who understands."

- Jay McDaniel, August 7, 2021

The Need to Preserve:
​The Pain of Loss
A story about cooking from scratch, the passing of a food maker, and a family left behind. This story was made in a workshop facilitated by the Center for Digital Storytelling. It illustrates a kind of grief in which God shares, even if no wholeness emerges from it.

​Objective and Subjective Immortality

excerpts from What is Process Theology
by Robert Mellert: Chapter 11: Immortality

The perishing of an actual occasion, therefore, need not be its extinction. Rather, it can be understood as a kind of switching of modes. Whereas in the emerging of an actual occasion God’s immanence is felt in the incorporation of value, in its perishing that actual occasion is felt immanently in God as a fuller realization of the divinity. In this way the occasion continues to be felt in the formation of the future. Death, then, is emphatically not a passing into nothingness. Instead, it is immanent incorporation into God, in whom each actuality is experienced everlastingly for its own uniqueness and individuality. In dying, one "gets out of the way" of the present in order to be available to the future in a new way.

Does this doctrine of immortality, which Whitehead calls "objective immortality," correspond to the faith expectations of those who seek the reassurance of an afterlife, a place of eternal happiness, or a heaven? In some fundamental ways, at least, I think that it does. The basis for their belief is the impossibility of man’s conceiving of himself as not being. The one absolute and certain experience that endures throughout his entire life is the experience of being in the present, recalling the past, and anticipating a future. One experiences a profound continuity with oneself in space and time.

One can also argue for the possibility of "subjective immortality" using the thought of Whitehead.2 In this interpretation the series of actual occasions that constitutes the continuity of the self is not interrupted or terminated by death; it only changes the environment in which it does its experiencing. The ordinary environment for the experiencing self is the body. However, there is no necessary reason why the series of actual occasions that constitutes the self cannot continue in some other non-material environment. Hence, death can be understood as the detachment of that dominant series of actual occasions we recognize as the self from the many supportive material series which constitute the human body. The new environment is the consequent nature of God, where the serial reality of the self continues to experience and to change, but without any direct attachment to the material world.

- Robert Mellert, What is Process Theology?

​Falling Leaves
​​Spring and Fall

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you wíll weep and know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It ís the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

The Naturalness of Death

To Dust You Shall Return: Our Alienation from Death and the World

by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson

Looking through the window of my synagogue study, I enjoy a vista of a dense, tree-covered, sloping hill and valley that my suburban community has preserved as green space. Still sporting the wild plants that originally graced it, that valley and hill ground me in the larger purpose of my work—consciously living with the reality of God's creation, cultivating gratitude in the Creator of all this teeming life, and guiding others to understand their spiritual place, both as people and as Jews. I take great comfort in that view, because it elicits—through good times and bad—the majesty, richness and continuity of life. The occasional sighting of a mother coyote with her twin pups reminds me that we are less distant from other living things than we might like to assume, and that simply being in the world connects us to something vast and beautiful.

From that same window, past the hills to the nearby road, I occasionally spot the mutilated bodies of possums, cats, and birds struck by the cars that race by with such reckless haste. Adjacent to the lush, thriving vegetation, the concrete straight-jacket of our transportation—a resource that makes much of our living possible—regularly claims the lives of the denizens of the woods. Life and death, woods and pavement jostle side-by-side, linked in a dance in which each player takes its turn, in which no one partner can hope to dominate forever. Life, then death, then life, then death follow each other in a cycle, sketching a pattern greater than any individual can ever hope to transcend.

As a rabbi, I'm used to watching that cycle flow by. Funerals, b'nai mitzvahs, baby namings, hospital visits, and ritual circumcisions form the web and woof of my calendar. During Torah readings, the very basis of Jewish living, we pray for the sick, recall the dead, bless newlyweds and name new generations of babies. As with the view from my study, so too the view from the sanctuary: life and death, biology and culture, nature and artifice are intertwined in our religion, as they are in life.

My congregational life throws me into the thick of life's tangles, making all moments of the life cycle contemporaneous and inseparable. An awareness of life's vastness and relentlessness is nothing new: I've driven from a funeral to a brit milah and finished the day with a wedding party followed by a Shiva minyan. Life, before my eyes, parades whole and haphazardly. I imagine it must look that way to God, too. But, it is only recently that I have noticed my panorama, begun to consider its implications, to read the world, as it were. Only recently, immersing myself in the literature of environmental ethics, have I begun to see the trees for the forest, for all forests. Only recently have I opened myself to feeling my place in creation as a religious act, as a source for knowing God in a deeper, more nuanced way.

That new way has led to an unanticipated connection between the way our culture denies death (and hence cowers in paralyzing fear of it) and the way we also blind ourself to creation (and hence are terrified—and contemptuous—of the realities of life on the planet Earth). I believe that our obsession with denying both death and planetary considerations, the pretense that we live forever and that we can use the world's riches in any way we please, emerges from the same underlying insecurity and responds to a particularly human shallowness that threatens both the quality of life and our ability to function unimpaired in the world.

Permit me a rabbinic illustration: many of my adult congregants report that they have never been to a funeral, even well into mid-life. As a society, we have so successfully quarantined death from life that one can reach forty without personally seeing a casket or comforting a mourner. Most congregants don't want to think about the inevitability of death, which means that most refuse to make any preparations in advance (which, in turn, means that the bereaved are forced to focus on some gruesome business decisions during the time of their sharpest grief).

While Jews—along with other Americans—routinely distance themselves from death and dying, Judaism, as a religion, has always insisted on an intimacy between the living and the dead that would shock many moderns. Jewish law insists that the dying are not to be left alone, that no one should have to die without their loved ones and community on hand every step of the way. The corpse is to be bathed and clothed by members of that community (generally volunteers), and burial is traditionally quick and simple: dressed in a shroud, the remains of the dead are buried directly into the ground, without coffin, without flowers, without anything interfering in the return of the body to the earth. Mourners are to escort the remains to graveside, and the immediate family and friends consider it an act of love, a privilege, to bury their loved one themselves. A Jew, having died, is to be embraced by the earth and the community at the same time, in a harmonious partnership between creation and covenant. The God of Torah is also the Source of Life.

That integration is no longer the norm. In fact, in many places it isn't even a possibility. The primary factor for many funeral parlors is the condition of the lawn (itself an unnatural import in most locales). In order to preserve the surreal quality of cemetery lawns, bodies are not only placed inside coffins, but those coffins are then lowered into almost air-tight cement boxes. When I first started working as a rabbi, the funeral homes often used what they called a bell liner—a concrete cover shaped like a bell that simply fit over the casket. While its primary purpose was to prevent the collapse of the grave with the passage of time, at least the bell liner allowed direct contact between the earth and the casket. Increasingly, however, the funeral directors use a two-piece concrete box that resembles nothing more than a giant shoe box. The bottom piece rests in the grave before lowering the coffin into it, and the top—conveyed by crane—settles heavily above the casket after the mourners have already left. That way they don't have to witness the final indignity—their loved one's remains are hermetically sealed inside walls of concrete forever: the final deception.

At the last funeral I performed, just after a cleansing rain that left the skies crystal blue and the ground sated and damp, I asked the funeral director why they used this new concrete box instead of the bell liner. I was told that "most families don't want to see the casket lowered in water." Fear of death and separation from creation coalesced in a burial that precluded the reunification of earthly remains with the earth, shattering the comfort that might have come from knowing that this death would lead to new life, that this body would provide the basis for new life and new beginnings.

Our fear of death and our desire to disguise it has created something truly terrifying. Our blindness to creation and its rhythms has produced a practice unnatural and unnerving. Even in death, a wall of concrete now blocks our loved ones from a more wholesome unity with the Earth and with life's regeneration and resurrection.

Both our panic and our audacity spring from the same source, just as insecurity is often the lurking motivation of the bully. We humans, terrified to recognize our own dependency, our own creatureliness, bully the world with our swaggering denial of death, with our supposed freedom to dominate the world and all it contains. But our bravado rings false. Just as the brutality of the bully only re-imposes a terrible loneliness and a self-fulfilling sense of being misunderstood, our futile manipulation of nature and our desperate attempts to deny death can only deepen our misery, our isolation, and the very dependency we sought to avoid in the first place.

Are we trapped, then, within an ever-accelerating cycle of fleeing our fears/pretensions and being further enmeshed by them? Is there no alternative to our alienation from our natures and all nature?

Denying reality will never provide us comfort. Instead, the intrusion of the inevitable keeps us in need of an ever more powerful and desperate illusion, one which must fail in its turn as well. As our illusions languish in succession, the realities underlying our fears only grow more gripping and implacable.

Rather than denying reality, an effort doomed from the start, a more fruitful approach would suggest opening ourselves to the possibility of beginning with reality and grounding ourselves (literally and ideologically) within the fertile soil of God's creation. Instead of shielding ourselves from death, we can understand the end of physical existence as an intrinsic part of life, one with value for ourselves, our progeny, and our planet. Rather than shutting ourselves behind walls of concrete, or living our lives behind walls of any kind, we can open ourselves to the world in which we live, the one from which we borrow and to which we must, inevitably return.

Life, larger and more encompassing than any particular expression of living, than any one embodiment of its vitality, is a process that connects us to each other, to past and future, and to all created things. It is primal, it eludes both thought and word, it transcends language and culture. Its sheer energy, force, and drive are both terrifying and liberating. We take up the very elements that had been used to sustain earlier living things, and some day relinquish our hold on those resources so that new life may flourish in its time. Our willingness to propagate and our love for the generations yet to come impels a willingness to mortality, to providing the resources to sustain the young lives we love, in whom we see our hopes, our dreams and salvation.

The very scope of life is shattering. Yet, in being overwhelmed, we are also liberated from the horrible burden of assuming control of a universe beyond our grasp, of a domination that enslaves us and endangers us even as it seduces us into greater extremes and terror.

We cannot control the world, try as we already have. We cannot govern the cosmos, making decisions of life and death, of necessity and value, when so much of the complexity of life and its interrelationships eludes our understanding and snares us in the very web we seek to weave. In asserting a false control, like a fly seeking to escape a spider, our ever more desperate remedies fling us closer and closer to our end. In our growing danger, our rising panic prevents the patience, the calm so necessary for vision, perspective, and comfort.

Where can we look, then, for our help? To whom can we turn for that broader vision and timeless perspective?

If we start by acknowledging our embeddedness in creation and our dependence on the Creator, we may hope to abandon our futile attempts to master the world through coercive manipulation or brute force. Einstein taught us that the position of the viewer alters what is viewed; that we are, ourselves, within creation. His insight cautions us against the deception of mastering creation, since our efforts must simultaneously shift the complex equations and surroundings that control our very lives.

Because we cannot step outside of life to view it from a neutral place, because there is no external base on which to place the fulcrum to lift the world, our first reality (and our last) is one of belonging, of symbiosis. We are the world, at least in part. We reflect the divine image of God, but we do so as creatures, not as gods. Whatever comfort may be ours must issue from that recognition, from that humble sense of place.

Admitting God as our Creator and the Creator of all, allows us—as partners with God in maintaining creation and as creatures fashioned by God to live in the world—to be ourselves: to seek more realistic and modest goals with which to establish meaning in our lives and significance for our deeds.

We can rise to our potential if we recognize that our mandate is but to maintain and to shepherd God's creation. Just as the Torah and Jewish law only authorizes doctors to heal and to comfort, so humanity, as the physicians of creation, work authentically and faithfully when we sustain the functioning of a system too complex to master and too beautiful to control. Our success is to be measured by how well we can care for the least among us and for the world in which we live. We succeed when we maintain community or establish a new fellowship, a communion with those who we previously rejected as "other" or as "outside."

Death loses some of its sting if our more modest sense of self displaces the arrogant delusion of being essential, of omnipotence: I do, indeed, need the world and humanity, but they do not need me. I need creation as the garden in which to exult, to grow, to play, work, struggle, learn, and sing. As a part of creation, there is a sense in which creation needs me—but only to the degree that I am a willing participant of that creation. Once I separate myself from the world, once I sever my embeddedness in creation, than I set myself up against it and creation no longer needs me. I make myself an alien, requiring the reinforcement of concrete to hold my delusions in place.

A religious vision of the world—as God's handiwork—and of humanity—as God's caretakers and the physicians of creation—allows us to transcend our crippling fear of death and our deadly alienation from creation. We are a part of the world, not apart from it, and our lives are the shimmering waves of an endless sea. We flow from it, and return to it, and in that cycle of tide and tow, of ebb and flow, we leave a mark precisely to the degree that the sea continues, unimpeded, on its way.

​We die to new life, for new life. And in death we are embraced by the earth, and by God, if we but have the courage to open our arms.

David Ray Griffin:
Life After Death is Natural, Too

Parapsychology, Philosophy, and Spirituality
by David Ray Griffin

​In this book, David Ray Griffin, best known for his work on the problem of evil, turns his attention to the even more controversial topic of parapsychology. Griffin examines why scientists, philosophers, and theologians have held parapsychology in disdain and argues that neither a priori philosophical attacks nor wholesale rejection of the evidence can withstand scrutiny. After articulating a constructive postmodern philosophy that allows the parapsychological evidence to be taken seriously. Griffin examines this evidence extensively. He identifies four types of repeatable phenomena that suggest the reality of extrasensory perception and psychokinesis. Then, on the basis of a nondualistic distinction between mind and brain, which makes the idea of life after death conceivable, he examines five types of evidence for the reality of life after death: messages from mediums; apparitions; cases of the possession type; cases of the reincarnation type; and out-of-body experiences. His philosophical and empirical examinations of these phenomena suggest that they provide support for a postmodern spirituality that overcomes the thinness of modern religion without returning to supernaturalism. --- From The Publisher.

​A Ship Sails On:
An Image of Subjective Immortality

I Am Standing Upon The Seashore

I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white
sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.

She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length
she hangs like a speck of white cloud
just where the sea and sky come
to mingle with each other.
Then, someone at my side says;
"There, she is gone!"
"Gone where?"
Gone from my sight. That is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull
and spar as she was when she left my side
and she is just as able to bear her
load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone
at my side says, "There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming,
and other voices ready to take up the glad shout;
"Here she comes!"
And that is dying.


Can we, as humans, accept the naturalness of death, as Rabbi Artson recommends, and also trust in a continuing journey for each and all, as Henry Van Dyke's poem encourages? And can we honor the process of grieving, as Patricia Adams Farmer so beautifully describes, while also recognizing that sometimes, amid the process, an unexpected wholenes emerges? Can we accept the big deaths in life, and also all the little ones, as factual and irreversible, as Whitehead suggests; while also recognizing that each moment of life, each little death, offers a value that transcends the perishing? Can we mourn the loss of old ways of living, with honesty, and also trust in the possibility of new ways? Can we accept that death is natural, along with Rabbi Artson and that a continuing journey after death is natural, too? Are we able to live with this kind of depth? This kind of complexity? This kind of honesty? This kind of rationality? This kind of faith? Process theology suggests that, all things considered, the answer to all of these questions is Yes.

​- Jay McDaniel, August 7, 2021