The God We Don't Usually Get to Hear Of

While much of popular debate on God is fixated on a very particular (and problematic) notion of God, theology under the influence of philosophy moved on quite a long time ago. The example I have in my mind right now is that of Process Theology, developed by Charles Hartshorne using the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead (the co-author of Principia Mathematica with Bertrand Russell.) Currently, I am not making any attempt at a philosophical proof and defence of this particular conception of God; I do however wish to introduce it to the readers of this blog (many of whom, I believe, would be unfamiliar with this) so that those unsatisfied with traditional theism can explore this sort of possibility as a viable alternative.

Key features of God as seen in process theology are:

* Panentheism: God contains the universe, but is not identical with it. The universe is in God, but God transcends the universe. All is in God. (Contrast with Pantheism: Universe is God, God is Universe.)

* God is both immanent and transcendent. God interpenetrates the whole of nature, and extends beyond as well.

* Universe is not static. It is in a constant process of change, brought about by agents of free will, including but not limited to human beings. God is not the ultimate source of all decisions. Agents with free will can make decisions independently, which can be influenced -- but not controlled -- by God. God influences the decisions of free beings by offering or limiting possibilities. God, therefore, cannot totally control any individual. The divine has a power of persuasion rather than coercion.

* God interacts with the Universe, therefore God can change the Universe and Universe can change God.

* God knows what is happening and what has happened (present and past) but God cannot know the future. The future is as yet undetermined because we -- and other free beings -- co-create it with God.

* God is not the creator and Universe is not the created. There is no creation ex nihilo. “It is as true to say that God creates the World, as that the World creates God” (Whitehead).

* The universe is not fixed, but open-ended and growing by creativity, with God as "the poet of the world" (Whitehead)

* In a universe with freedom and creativity, there is an inevitable opportunity of genuine good as well as the risk of genuine evil. A world without good and evil would be a world without freedom and creativity. However, the suffering in the world is as real for God as it is for us. "God is the fellow sufferer who understands." (Whitehead)

Comments

karachikhatmal said…
"The divine has a power of persuasion rather than coercion."

to use twitter speak, +1000.

three things i'd object too (and wouldn't mind hearing your responses to)

1) not knowing the future. brings time into the issue, posits it as something natural.

2) no creation ex nihilo. this is an objection based on a personal issue i suppose, but i like the sufi idea of the desire the created feels to be one with the created propelling forces of love around us.

3) on the other hand, the fellow sufferer god does provide the romanticism i was hoping for i suppose, but something feels disbalanced about that claim.
mysticservant said…
Sri Aurobindo is a more useful source on this than Whitehead, as he is significantly more Enlightened.

Coming from an Integral Yoga perspective, I have the following to say:

- The Divine does have the power of coercion. God does move things, often directly, although His power is limited by a lack of receptivity in things, including in people. It is not to allow free will (in the sense in which you're using the term) that God does not have complete 'control' over everything, but because of the ignorance and lack of receptivity in things. This 'control' is not the control of one ego over others, however, but is the consecration or transmutation of everything so that it expresses its inner Divinity, thus making discord impossible (since a coherent and fully conscious mind, which God's is, cannot disagree with itself). Thus, everything being within God's 'control' basically means everything being Divine.

- People do have free will, it turns out, but only because they have psychic beings, which are themselves the Divine (in His individual poise). It is impossible for a person's truest nature to oppose God's will, therefore neither persuasion nor coercion are necessary as far as moving an Enlightened, free-will-having being is concerned. However, as for the outer nature which can refuse God temporarily, that will be transmuted anyway. So, strictly speaking, people do not have the ability to freely reject God.

- There was a creation ex nihilo. The creation of the universe was the self-manifestation of the Divine. That is a creation, nevertheless. And it was ex nihilo because there was no universe before that. What is the alternative to creation ex nihilo that you find more plausible? A universe that eternally existed? :P This is incompatible with our understanding of physics, e.g. of our knowledge now that the universe began to exist at the First Singularity. The alternative to creation ex nihilo, then, is the universe's having been caused to exist by another universe, in some sort of infinite chain reaction of universe destruction and creation. But this is highly implausible, as there is no evidence for it and it removes God from the equation entirely; and in any event is totally incompatible with the Integral Yoga.

- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, although it's become terribly fashionable for people to dislike and speak disparagingly of the Abrahamic tradition, this tradition is much more Enlightened than Whitehead's philosophy times a million. I'd choose a Moses over a Whitehead any day; in fact, I'd even choose a Muhammad over a Whitehead any day!

White male intellectuals like Whitehead may wax philosophical or mathematical about these things, but they have no real wisdom. The Abrahamic tradition is based on Avatars and mystics who were experiencing the Spirit of God, not merely sitting and thinking about Him. What ruined the tradition was not the revelations or insights of those individuals, but the work of later Christian philosophers who felt the need to define and delineate God in a neurotic way, in order to make Him the subject matter of philosophy (or of the kind of conventional philosophy that existed at that time). I leave you with a great Biblical quote:

'Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.' -- Mark 10:15

The key word is 'child'.
Awais Aftab said…
@ KK

1) I quote from Stanford: "In traditional theism, the temporal world is spread out before God who can see it in its entirety from an eternal vantage point, like an observer on a hill viewing travelers in a caravan... Process theism takes a contrary view that time is the process of creation... For process metaphysics, there is no eternal act of divine creation that fixes the world in existence and there is no eternal perspective from which the universe can be considered a finished product."

So, yes, process theology does posit such a thing as 'time' but takes a bit different approach as to its nature.

2) It wasn't really personal, I'd say. Hartshorne thinks that if God has unrealized potentialities and contingent properties, then it is philosophically necessary that God must be in a relationship of a world of some sort. In contrast to the view of creation ex nihilo, that God created universe out of nothing, Hartshorne thinks it was creation ex hyle, creation out of 'pre-existing stuff'. (Hints of this we also find in the Bible in Genesis where the spirit of God hovered above the 'waters'.) The argument is subject to philosophical debate. There are others, like Alston, who disagree that the contingent aspects of God necessitate a world.

3) This is another way of expressing it.
Awais Aftab said…
@ mysticservant

Yes, Sri Aurobindo is more useful. But within the philosophical tradition, Whitehead and Process theologians come closest. Aurobindo was a mystic and his philosophy was a philosophical expression of his mystic experiences. So unless we have an audience open to accounts of mysticism as a source of epistemic knowledge, you cannot go much ahead with that.

My purpose is to open up my readers to conceptions of God that differ from God as traditionally seen, such that they can think about it and reason with it themselves. I believe the best way of this opening up process is by philosophy.
mysticservant said…
Yeah, I guess that's fine. Anything to further the cause, I suppose :P.
stumblingmystic said…
"The creation of the universe was the self-manifestation of the Divine. That is a creation, nevertheless. And it was ex nihilo because there was no universe before that. What is the alternative to creation ex nihilo that you find more plausible? A universe that eternally existed? :P"

Yes ... in fact the idea that there is an eternal cyclic universe is a key idea in Indian philosophy (Pralaya). Roger Penrose has recently put forth a theory similar to Pralaya, as have Turok and Steinhardt.

I do not believe Sri Aurobindo or any serious mystic-philosopher believes in creation ex nihilo. There's no such thing as creation ex nihilo ... God creates everything out of his own Being, which is eternal ... what the One sees in itself, manifests. Moreover, manifestation is something gradual and proceeds through stages.

"and in any event is totally incompatible with the Integral Yoga."

Why on earth would an endless cyclic universe be incompatible with Integral Yoga when the idea exists in Indian philosophy itself?

I definitely take issue with some of your comments about Whitehead as well. I'm quite sure I wouldn't pick a premodern prophet over Whitehead ... though I would certainly pick a Sri Aurobindo over Whitehead.
mysticservant said…
As long as the creation is from nothing other than God -- not from another universe, for example, it is creation ex nihilo. Even if previous universes existed, it's still creation ex nihilo provided that those other universes ceased to exist before the current one was created (and were not the cause of the current one, nor were the materials of the previous one used for this one).

Eternal universe, btw, is NOT the same thing as cycles of creation and destruction. Eternal universe = the material universe has always existed. That is obviously nonsense. And whether evolution is gradual or not is irrelevant, there has to be a manifestation already in order for there to be evolution.

God creating the universe out of his own Being may still count as creation ex nihilo, since presumably even Christians (who tend to believe in it) believe that God existed and the universe has a spiritual origin (i.e. God). If this were not the case, then there would be no basis for preferring the idea that God created the universe to the idea that the universe came into being from nothing, thus making the cosmological argument fallacious and useless. Since the cosmological argument is used by intelligent Christians (intelligent enough to understand the cosmological argument, in any event), presumably they recognize a distinction between the universe having no origin to the universe having a spiritual origin.

If creation ex nihilo means God did not create the universe out of his own Being, but still somehow created it (so the universe still had a spiritual origin), then I do not believe in creation ex nihilo, though I do not see it as a nonsensical position.

A chain reaction of universe destruction and creation IS incompatible with IY. It is NOT the same thing as cycles of creation and destruction. What I meant by it, which you should know if you know how to read (I'll assume you're just having a lapse or something), was that the previous universe caused the current one to exist. Take a few minutes to recall from 8th Grade Chemistry what a chain reaction is. Now that you've done that: are you honestly telling me that Sri Aurobindo held that this universe was caused by a previous universe?! Whether previous universes existed or not is another matter.

And I take issue with your taking issue. Of course I would pick a mystic over Whitehead -- the ones I mentioned were premodern because they were living in the premodern age! Spiritual insight is more important than mere mentalization, even if your mentalization coincidentally brings you in line with some of what is realized through spiritual insight. People like Moses etc. were able to perceive God's Spirit directly in their inner being, whereas Whitehead is only able to talk about God based on mental conceptions. If you're a mystic at all, you'd value mystical experience over mere mentalization.
Awais Aftab said…
@ mysticservant

If creation ex nihilo means God did not create the universe out of his own Being, but still somehow created it (so the universe still had a spiritual origin), then I do not believe in creation ex nihilo, though I do not see it as a nonsensical position.

This is the way I feel creation ex nihilo is usually thought of. To believe that God created the universe out of his own Being necessarily implies panentheism, I think. This is not something most proponents of creation ex nihilo adhere to.
mysticservant said…
Yep, you're right. After consulting with Wikipedia I have concluded that the position stmblingmystic and I hold is creatio ex deo, not creatio ex nihilo.
mysticservant said…
Part of my reasoning earlier was that I assumed that if materials do not exist but God does, anything created by God must be out of Himself. But I suppose that was fallacious reasoning, since there is a conceptual distinction between God emanating Himself, and God creating the materials out of nothing, even if in both cases they are in some sense from God.
stumblingmystic said…
mysticservant, is it really necessary to sound so cocksure all the time? Surely you can curb this tendency a bit in online interactions. I know you personally so I don't take it seriously at all. But others might be put off by it.
mysticservant said…
Blah blah blah :P