Creation as a process


I obviously can't expect everyone who is interested in building a new religious paradigm to share my own theology in all of its myriad details. What I can do is talk about my own perspective and what inspires me; whether or not everyone is inspired by these same ideas isn't necessarily the point. I have mentioned before that I am a panentheist--as are people like Marcus Borg and Matthew Fox. My brand of panentheism has been deeply influenced by process theology, which was developed by Christian theologians who were influenced by the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.

Process theology is often a difficult system to convey, especially since any explanation of it tends to use a lot of Whiteheadian terminology ("prehension", "concrescence", and so forth.) I did find a nice summary of creation, as it is understood by process theology, in the book Divinity & Diversity: A Christian Affirmation of Religious Pluralism, by Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki. I particularly like her description of creation (and God's role in the evolution of the universe) as "call and response". One paragraph that nicely summarizes this understanding of the creative processes in the evolution of the world is the following:

...God...exists in creative response to relationship. The joys of creatures become the joys of God, and the sorrows of creatures the sorrows of God. Further, in process modes of thought, God is not just the passive participant in the life of the cosmos, but the creative lure of the whole process of existence. God offers to each element in the world a way that it might most creatively respond to the influences it receives, and the world takes that influence into itself, becoming as it will, offering the result to the universe--and also back to God. God takes the results of the world's becoming into the divine nature, there values it, integrates it judgmentally into the divine self, and on the basis of what the world is becoming and God's own character, offers a possibility back to the world for the good once again.
Several key points are summarized in a nutshell in this paragraph. One of those is the panentheist understanding that we are within God, and that therefore God completely shares in all of our experiences--our joys and our sorrows and everything in between. The idea that God experiences everything that we experience has an amazing implication--that we are never alone! One of the interesting implications of this is a concept in process theology called objective immortality. As John B. Cobb, Jr. and David Ray Griffin wrote in Process Theology: an introductory exposition,
If God is responsive to us, then our joys and deeds affect deity itself. However rapidly their worldly effects fade in the course of time, their importance is established in that they have mattered in the divine life. This divine life is neither eternal, in the sense of timeless, nor temporal, in the sense of perpetual perishing. Instead it is everlasting, constantly receiving from the world but retaining what in the world is past in the immediacy of its everlasting present.
In other words, God not only experiences what we experience as we are experiencing things, but--because God never forgets--our experiences are with God forever. We are objectively immortalized in God, whether or not we experience personal (or subjective) immortality. I am personally an agnostic on the question of whether there is life after death, but I love the idea that every thing we do enhances the divine experience and remains with God forever. This means that everything we do actually does matter in the most important way possible, because everything we do affects God eternally.

The notion of creation that Suchocki described in the earlier quote above talks about the give and take between God and the universe in the process of creation. Unlike the patriarchal father figure who intervenes in the world, we have instead a God who issues a call to each element in the universe (each "occasion of experience", to use Whiteheadian terminology), and to which each occasion of experience then offers a response. That response then engenders another call from God, to which the elements of the world respond once again, and so forth. Each occasion in this process incorporates and builds on everything that has already happened. And thus the universe evolved through a process of co-creation between the God and the universe. God is a co-creator, in other words, rather than an omnipotent father figure.

Charles Hartshorne, who includes the notion of omnipotence among the "theological mistakes" that he lists in his book Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes, writes "Tyrannical people may worship a tyrant God, but why should the rest of us do so?" As Hartshorne puts it in that same book,
The only livable doctrine of divine power is that it influences all that happens but determines nothing in its concrete particularity. "Knowing" afterwards exactly what God has willed to happen is useless. We can, I believe, know the general principle of God's purposes. It is the beauty of the world (or the harmonious happiness of the creatures), a beauty of which every creature enjoys its own glimpses and to which it makes its unique contributions, but each created stage of which only God enjoys adequately, everlastingly, and as a whole, once it has been created.
Believing that we are co-creators with God in the ever continuing process of creation can have remarkable implications, both for theology and for how we view our lives. Knowing that we are influenced by all that preceded us and will influence all that follows--and that we will influence God eternally--how can we, as co-creators with God, listen to the possibilities that God offers us when she issues her call, and then respond in the best possible way towards building a better world?


CT said...

I'm a bit disturbed by this one mystical.

You say "Believing that we are co-creators with God in the ever continuing process of creation can have remarkable implications, both for theology and for how we view our lives."

It seems to me you are looking for a model of God that inspires you to do good, to make the world a better place. That's fine but where is the evidence of that God's existence ? Evidence for the old father-in-the-sky God included the design argument, the creator of the Universe argument and others.

Your panentheistic explanation sounds nice and avoids many of the pitfalls of the old theistic God, but where is the positive evidence for it ? Why should I believe that God is part of everything (apart from the fact that it will motivate me to live with respect for everyone and everything ?)