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Coffee & Wisdom 02.44: It’s a Process! Part 5

David Breeden is speaking all week about Process Theology and Process Philosophy.


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Hello, I’m David Breeden, I’m the senior minister at First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, a historically humanist congregation. And this is Coffee and Wisdom. This past week, we have been looking at Process Philosophy and Theology. And we’ve been talking about the many aspects of this from all the way back until the present and what it’s doing nowadays. We’ve run into a lot of ‘p’s here, Process Philosophy, Process Theology, Panpsychism and Pantheism, or Pandeism according to who you’re asking, but they sort of mean the same thing and Panentheism. So Process Philosophy is the oldest coming from Whitehead. Then Process Theology coming out of that. And then some ideas that have been added in since the Process Theology started with Panpsychism and Pantheism and Panentheism. So let’s head off into those ‘p’s today, shall we? First off, it all begins with Alfred North Whitehead’s “Process in Reality”, published in 1929 from lecture notes that he gave at Harvard during those between twenty five and twenty nine. One of his students, as a matter of fact, a graduate assistant was Charles Hartshorne 1897 to 2000. Now Hartshorne is the one who brings the Process Philosophy into Process Theology for the first time, from nineteen twenty three to twenty five. He studied in Europe. He was a student at Edmond Research. We have we have discussed as a phenomenologists Martin Heidegger and then he was a research fellow at Harvard.Nineteen twenty five to twenty eight. This is the time that Alfred North Whitehead was giving the lectures that would become the book. And then he became a professor of philosophy at the University of Chicago.

Nineteen twenty eight to nineteen fifty five and from there affected a lot of liberal religious future leaders teaching in the divinity school there. So we need to look just a minute, though, because that’s all a long time ago. Let’s think about where we are today. So this is a recent writing from John S. Fainberg, chair of and professor of Systemic Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School just north of Chicago. So Systematic Theology is where we try to develop systems of theology that all sort of logically fit together and so that we can talk about reality, usually having something to do with the theistic bent. So he says stemming initially from Alfred North Whitehead’s “Process in reality”, nineteen twenty nine process theology has gained widespread interest and acceptance among nonevangelical scholars in the latter half of the twentieth century. Process Theology and he’s going to define it for us, sees all existing things, including God as dipoles are actual entities. I’ll get back to that. Each actual entity has a primordial poll which contains all the possible things that the entity can become and an actual poll, the physical thing in the world that the actual entity is. The process God is finite, mutable, less than omnipotent, and by his physical poll suffers alongside of his creatures.

This is not thought to be a defect, but rather an asset as it allows God to identify with his creatures and experience. What explains what happens to them as it happens? OK, that’s a lot to say. But what is this dipole polar thing? Well, there really are depolarize substances out there. It’s especially true in chemistry and biology. It means that there are these dipolar are things that are set up that describe or don’t describe God. So over on the right hand side here, we have the what what the professor is calling the primordial elements, those things that are possible. But and then on the left hand side, those things that are right now happening. All right. So that’s the dipole or nature of theism. So we’ve got infinite now. You know, most Christian theology for most of Christian history have talked about God as infinite, necessary, eternal, omnipotent, all powerful and absolute. Now we’re going to talk about God from a process theological view as finite, contingent, mutable, less than omnipotent and relative. OK, so you get me so far, this is how the process theologians are going to talk about God. God is part of the process and is going toward or becoming all of those great things we’ve talked about from the past, but isn’t there yet? That’s part of the idea. All right. So there are a lot of books about this.

You can just do a search and off you go. Go to your local bookstore, a history of the concept of God, a process approach. There you have it. Process Theology and Celtic Wisdom. So there you have it. If you’re interested in that, the mind of God, the scientific basis for a Rational World by Paul Davies. You’ll notice that this is a New York Times notable book of the year. He also, Mr. Davies also wrote God and the New Physics and About Time. So again, the process theology aspect of this is where many theologians are coming up with the idea of how God fits into newer concepts within the scientific world, usually having something to do with quantum mechanics as a matter of fact, process of theology, a guide for the perplexed, and you can even get it for your kids. Piglet’s process process theology for all God’s children. So the books are out there to enjoy. I should mention a particular scholar here, Catherine Keller, one of her books is on the Mystery Discerning Divinity in process. It is looking at the idea of process theology from a feminist ecological viewpoint. There’s a book about her, “A Process Theology of Hope: The Counter Apocalypse Vision of Catherine Keller” by Brian McCallan. Catherine Keller is a contemporary Christian theologian, professor of constructive theology at Drew University’s Graduate Division of Religion. And she’s a constructive theologian. That’s a newer term. That means that she believes that we are continually constructing our theologies out of the out of the various things that can come up.

It’s a process and it changes over time. But her work is oriented towards social and ecological justice, post-structuralist theory, post-structuralist, of course, going back to that continental philosophy that we’ve been talking quite a bit about and feminist readings of scripture and theology. So it’s out there. It’s contemporary. It is what the ministers of tomorrow are now studying in theology school. But right as I mentioned yesterday, some people say I don’t want all of that possibility stuff. I want my religion in my God to be true and provable. So is there any way to get out of this endless process, discussion and get at truth, what’s real and out there? Well, one question that that some people think lead in that direction is do bananas have souls? Do bananas have souls or at least do they have a consciousness? And Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz believed that they did. He produced a book and 1714 called Monboddo Monadology actually what he’s talking about monads nowadays we would call atoms. Atoms was a word developed way back in ancient Greek days, disappeared for quite a while. Leibnitz needed to call them something. So he called a monads. And nowadays we call those things atoms. But the little tiny bits of reality out there and Livnat said like that says that we we actually have something around us that has a consciousness.

And that’s where consciousness comes from, because it does answer the question, how do we get conscious from Oxford bibliographies? Panpsychism is currently experiencing something of a revival and is once again the subject of serious philosophical debate. Its strength largely derives from the implausibility of the emergence of mind from non mental reality. And so you’re going to see a lot of books out there right now like this one Panpsychism and past and recent selected readings. It’s a hot topic at the moment. Does the entire universe have a consciousness? The question and answers is where does consciousness come from? This seems like an amazing thing to have consciousness. Can it just come out of material reality? And that is an open question. Oxford Bibliographies goes on to say, broadly speaking, and Panpsychism is the view that everything has a mind or at least some mind like quality or aspect. And we’re going to see right here on Ray Bergson over on the right and Whitehead and a diagram describing the space. Time continuum that Einstein creates with his mathematical formulas, so really Process Philosophy is coming out of this new idea of relativity. Henri Bergson is still read today. You can find lots of books about him. Catherine Keller that I mentioned a few slides ago is an author who very much Blacksburg Soane and has written a book about him. Creative Evolution is probably his best known book and continues to be read to this day.

He said. For a conscious being to exist is to change. To change is to mature. To mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly. So that describes a process. If you’re interested in process theology, there is indeed a Unitarian Universalist Process Theology Network. It invites members to explore, process relational theology and thought it’s a not for profit organization that is affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. They have meetings each year at our General Assembly and they say the paradigm described by process theology is inclusive, dynamic and ecological, all positive things from that perspective. Now, I should mention one other thing about this, which is that there are really two aspects of process theology. Some people fall on one side of this and some on the other hand, theism is saying that God is in everything. Pantheism says that everything is in God. Now, what the heck is the difference? Well, here’s a handy dandy little schematic for you. So good old fashioned theism said that there was a universe and you’re their human being and there’s a God who is outside and above the universe. That is traditional theism. Pantheism says that God in the universe are the same. Spinoza will not make that argument. It is an old animistic argument that that which we see in nature is holy as God or gods, usually an older pantheism, then pantheism.

As you see, God is this huge thing that’s actually still the universe is inside of God, but God still equals a whole lot more than that in panentheism. And then some would argue a process, relational panentheism in which all we have is this infinite creativity that’s going on. So lots of ways to read that. As a matter of fact, that last schematic there, you can look into that by reading Divine Action and emergence and alternative to pantheism. That is more about process theology from a newer perspective. And this again goes on and on and nowadays we’re getting more into that idea of relationality within the process and that’s kind of the cutting edge of process, theological thought at the moment. Thanks a whole lot for listening. I hope you enjoyed something about this. If you’re interested. There are lots more sources to go into at First Unitarian Society in the month of March. We’re going to be talking about commitment and the Sunday at 3:00 a.m. Central Standard Time. I’ll be talking about the Ten Commandments and how can I help? That’s taking in to my talk. The idea, something recent from the American Humanist Association. I take off of the Ten Commandments, the Ten Commandments that humanists believe in. And I’m going to talk a little bit about that on Sunday. Thanks for joining us this week. And I’ll be back next week with some more things to think about. Thank you.

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