The question of who is god and what he or she exemplifies characteristically is answered by process theologians by using two interdependent “poles” or “polarities” of the theistic deity. [awk1] Classic theists tend to use the dichotomy of essence and experience. According to classic theistic theologians, the differences in god’s character are hierarchical as opposed to the process theological notion of god’s differences being parallel polarities. [awk2] In process theology, the deity includes an abstract essence, which is described as eternal, absolute, and unchanging. The second pole includes god’s concrete actuality, denoted by characteristics such as temporality, change, and relativity.[awk3]
This dipolarity is in direct contrast with commonly held belief that god is “simple.” This field and the conceptualization of these polarities were in direct response to the question of god’s inherent impassibility, or lack of emotion or sensibility. This belief was considered legitimate because of the idea that non-change is preferable to change in the strive for “perfection.” The concept of god as compassionate was explained by classic theists such as Anselm by saying that our experience of god involves compassion, but the essence of god is inherently impassible, therefore not compassionate. This highlights the previously noted dichotomy between experience and essence in classic theism. According to Cobb and Griffin, this impassible deity is inconsistent with the Christian bible. [awk4] [awk5]
Process theologians make a constructive attempt at deconstructing commonly held beliefs about the attributes of the theistic deity, and then reconstructing them into more comprehensive and logical doctrines. [awk6] One of the characteristics of the theistic god that they use in this process is omniscience, the idea that god knows everything that is knowable at that time. This means that god’s knowledge is dependent upon and relativized by the actual world. By using the idea that the world is unpredictable, process theologians assert that even god’s emotional state is dependent upon the feelings and emotions of his created beings, which he sympathizes with and feels the joys and sufferings of life with. This limitation of god’s knowledge is said to be self-implemented. This responsive nature is interpreted through process theology as bringing about god’s “perfection.”[awk7]
Process theologians attempt to respond to conflicts in traditional Christian thought revolving around the creative activity of god as “love” with the existence of evil, and the implication of a materialist explanation for various earthly phenomena.[awk8] This idea of a natural cause and effect renders the idea of divine creative love problematic. Process theology attempts to address the lack of theological answers to the question of god’s earthly intervention. They address the conviction that god is omnipotent, or in charge of every detail of the world, with the lack of biblical evidence of divine providence being all-determining. They note that because god possesses concrete actuality, he or she is essentially related to the actuality of the world and is therefore not entirely independent of the material realm. With this, process theologians claim that the divine’s influence in the material world is persuasive, instead of coercive. This provides a response to the question of materialist explanations being in contradiction with the idea of “acts of god.” [awk9]
To address the conflict of the concurrent existence of god and evil, process theologians claim that god provides an initial aim with every worldly actuality. This may or may not be identical with the “subjective aim,” which is dependent upon the decision made by the earthly subject. In this sense, god attempts to persuade occasions towards his ultimate goal, or “aim,” but does not control the actual process of self-actualization, or the movement from personal potentiality to expressed actuality. This provides the process theologian with an explanation for the concurrent existence of god and the phenomenon of evil. [awk10]
With this observation, a process theological perspective must attempt to redefine the characteristic of the divine as a “cosmic moralist.” A traditional Christian perspective views god as primarily concerned with the moral behavior of human beings, thus creating a conceptualization of enjoyment as inferior and, at best, “tolerated.” This has led to the Christian church not being seen as encouraging the enjoyment of life, but that sacrifices most forms of enjoyment for “being good.” Because of this, morality has inappropriately gained the reputation of being “anti-enjoyment.” The existence of evil with an understanding of god in this ultimate moralist sense would, in Cobb & Griffin’s opinion, create a necessity for the divine to either be malevolent or incompetent, or both. [awk11]
The process theologian’s response asserts that god’s fundamental aim for humanity is the enjoyment of existence. This response is used by these theologians to account for the fact that 99% of history was aimed at creating our species, which is considered the center of interest for the theistic deity. This promotion of enjoyment does come with a stipulation that an individual’s enjoyment cannot impede other’s chance at the same earthly enjoyment. [awk12]
Cobb and Griffin’s process theology takes issue with the masculine conception of the theistic deity that has been a stereotypical characteristic of the divine throughout Christianity. They note that a process dipolar notion of god makes way for the notion of the feminine and the masculine being integrated into the deity, which they note that is quite reminiscent of the Taoist notion of Tao. They note that this thought process about the ultimate reality should have been incorporated into Christian thought from the beginning. [awk13]
The implication of process theology provides Christians with the opportunity to aim their goals towards persuasion instead of control, giving them a renewed sense of tolerance towards diversity and pluralism. Cobb & Griffin explain that the traditional sense of god as omnipotent in a controlling fashion gave early and some contemporary Christians the idea that they had divine warrant to exert control over other individuals. The exertion of control over others, if the process theologians’ idea of divine omnipotence were widely accepted, would not be eliminated but would involve a deep sense of regret rather than authoritarian thrill. God’s emphasis and goal of human enjoyment also gives a sense of legitimacy to the idea of the deity being a heavenly “father” (or mother), with the ideal purpose of parenting being the promotion of the happiness and enjoyment of the child. [awk14]
[awk1]General explanation of the basic tenet of process theology.
[awk2]Original classical theistic argument.
[awk3]Analogy used by process theologians as opposed to experience vs. essence.
[awk4]Explanation of classic theistic arguments of god as 1. simple; 2. impassible.
[awk5]Contradiction of classic theism with the bible (Blackboard Discussion Question 1)
[awk6]Methodology of process theologians.
[awk7]Process theology on omniscience.
[awk8]Main problems process theologians see with classic theism: 1. Creative “love” & the existence of evil; 2. A growing emphasis on material explanations for earthly events.
[awk9]Process theology on divine intervention in a materialistically explanatory world.
1. God’s omnipotence not being all-determining.
2. Concrete actuality creates relativity upon the world.
3. God's intervention as persuasive instead of coercive.
[awk10]Process theology on the existence of evil and “creative love.”
1. Initial vs. subjective aims.
2. God as persuasive towards the initial aim without actual control over:
3. Self-actualization: potentiality -> actuality
[awk11]Process theology on why classical theism sees god as a morally indicative deity.
[awk12]Process theology on the moral priority of god.
[awk13]Process theology on gender.
[awk14]Implications of process theology.