Dr. Watson’s Wednesdays @Whenever October 21, 2020
Today is my final talk on a theological system that really started my engine almost 30 years ago, called Process theology. I hope some of you have been doing a little investigating about it. It is not the easiest subject to learn, but you can always do what I have done over the years, which is pan for a few good nuggets.
Regardless of the theological system in question, one of the inevitable questions from people of faith will always be about eternal life or life after death. Does Process theology have a doctrine of eternal life or immortality? If so, what does it look like?
There is no consensus about it, but in Process theology, the argument is made that people do not experience personal or subjective immortality; instead, what happens is objective immortality. This the view of Charles Hartshorne, the scholar who took Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy and translated it into a theology.
So, what is “objective immortality”? You may remember what I’ve been saying in previous weeks, that Process theology teaches that everything is in God. All our experiences are in God as well. I likened this to a fetus that exists within a woman’s body.
This is not a perfect analogy, but it suggests that what we experience, God experiences. Hartshorne suggested that even our immortality exists within God, making it, in essence, God’s experience of immortality. That is what he means by “objective immortality” as opposed to subjective or personal immortality.
On the other hand, some Process theologians do believe that we have subjective experiences after death. Either way, according to Process theologians, we continue to exist after death. Perhaps we can just leave it at that.
This does serve as a segue to a point I have been implying all along, that there is a relational character to the divine. Because we are in God, God experiences all the joys and sufferings of humanity and everything in between. God suffers when we suffer . . . and suffers the same. God feels the suffering of the oppressed, which means that God is seeking to liberate the oppressed.
The God of Process theology is a very relational God. Because everything that exists, exists within God, God is working in all things, especially conscious beings like us, to “actualize potentialities,” which is just a fancy way of saying that God is working for us. God is always working to bring all human beings liberation, happiness, joy, peace—you know, all the good stuff.
And when I say all human beings, I mean all human beings, regardless of religion or no religion at all. Another big question in theology, of course, has to do with the various religions. We like to ask, “Which one is true?” or “Which one is truest?” That’s not the right question. The right question is, “Which religion is the Divine working in in order to bring out the beautiful and the good?” The answer is, potentially all of them.
John Cobb’s book, Christ in a Pluralistic Age speak to this great truth, that God is alive and well in all religions because all religions exist within God. That might offend some folks who want to believe that all religious truth is contained in their specific religion. But not to worry. From a Process perspective, there is no need to change religions. Instead, work with God to bring goodness and beauty to the world through your religious expression. If you are a Christian, help to make Christianity the best it can be. Don’t worry about some made-up competition with other religions in the world (or the universe for that matter).
We don’t have to shy away from Jesus either. As Christians we can claim that Jesus of Nazareth fully responded to the call of God and that the person of Jesus is theologically understood to be “the divine Word in human form.” We might say that Jesus became the messiah or “anointed one” in our tradition because we Christians sense that he “actualized his potentialities” at a very high level.
Well, that’s enough for today. Again, this is also my last talk on Process theology. I have talked about it for several weeks, and I hope that I have given you a sufficient portrait of it. I hope above all that I have inspired you read or research the topic on your own.
Next week I might be traveling when it is time to deliver my next talk, but I will manage to find time at some point. My topic, by the way, will be something I wrote for another presentation, called “Black Lives Matter and the Tale of the Forest.”