Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Process Theology of Cobb & Bracken (pt.3)

[This is post #3 in a series - click here for post #1; click here for post #2. For a simple introduction to process theology, check out my older post on the topic.  This series of posts goes a lot deeper than that one.] 

For Cobb and Whitehead, God primarily comes in to the picture in order to understand the effectiveness of the eternal objects in the world. Through God’s ordering of the eternal objects and provision of the ‘initial aim’, the becoming occasion is lured toward an ideal set of relevant possibilities for its satisfaction. The occasion prehends God’s initial aim through its mental pole, and is free to align with it more or less based on its subjective aim. To deviate from the initial aim would be, in Christian terms, ‘sin.’ God lures each occasion to maximize beauty, zest, adventure, truth, and peace – both immediately for the occasion as well as the future. In these ways, God is both the principle of limitation and of potentiality. While God creates persuasively through the initial aims rather than ex nihilo, there is also what Whitehead calls ‘creativity’, which is “the underlying metaphysical principle of the universe, the ultimate activity, the sheer ongoingness of nature.” In order to describe anything actual, creativity must be assumed. A moment of human experience and God are both instances of creativity. While creativity is not actual, God is – yet God requires creativity to be actual. As such “questions about superiority between them are meaningless.” Cobb sees creativity as religiously significant for Eastern religions, and as a complement to Western theism.

While the God-world relationship is panentheistic, God is not an exception to metaphysical rules but “their chief exemplification,” the supreme actual entity, the ultimate instance of creativity. While God is the only nontemporal entity, God is also temporally affected by the world like any actual entity. As an actual entity, God is dipolar, but as a reverse image of other actual entities: God begins with the mental pole while others begin with the physical pole. Whitehead calls God’s mental pole the primordial nature, and the physical pole the consequent nature. The consequent nature everlastingly prehends the world, experiencing the good and bad, which in turn changes the way in which God’s primordial nature orders the eternal objects and acts through the initial aim. God’s preservation of every occasion in its subjective immediacy within the consequent nature is its ‘objective immortality.’ For Whitehead, this conscious divine preservation of values in their immediacy solves the problem of meaninglessness. Even evil can be preserved in God after being transformed and integrated into a unified satisfaction. After this, every perfected actuality in the consequent nature affects the initial aim and thus passes back into the world to be prehended by new occasions. Cobb points out that this interactive relationship between the world and God is taken for granted in the Bible.

Joseph Bracken
While Cobb’s CNT is clearly intended for an academic audience, Joseph Bracken’s CPT is written mainly for theologically engaged laypersons. Furthermore, while Cobb works hard to stay close to Whitehead with very little modification or further speculations, Bracken both modifies Whitehead’s philosophy and engages in a great deal of theological speculation. More than Cobb, Bracken aims at the mutual enrichment of Whitehead and Christianity, and so is willing to speculate more in order to plausibly include doctrines like the Trinity, resurrection, and creation ex nihilo: “Too little effort, as I see it, has been expended to somehow adjusting Whitehead’s philosophical categories to accommodate…traditional Christian beliefs.” In the long run, Bracken believes that Christianity and process philosophy can be harmonized to the benefit of both faith and reason.

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