Process Thought

Process theologies (another shade of process philosophy/process thought) build on the foundation laid primarily by Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) and Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000). Whitehead set out to formulate a metaphysic that avoided the major flaws inherent in previous models. He largely succeeded. His major work, Process and Reality (1929) is very difficult to follow, but many good introductions are available. Whitehead was no theologian. Yet his secular philosophy demanded the existence of a God who feels what every aspect of existence feels; and acts through persuasive, not compulsory means, as the “Divine Lure” to novelty/creativity.

A process approach can benefit a wide variety of contexts. It is applicable to virtually any body of religious belief. This is “state of the art” theology. Theistic process thought has a “panentheistic” (God as immanent and transcendent) viewpoint. A good statement of such a view, from the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–day Saints, Section 88, Verse 41:

D&C 88: 41      (27 Dec. 1832)

He comprehendeth all things,
   and all things are before him,
     and all things are round about him;
       and he is above all things,
         and in all things,
       and is through all things,
     and is round about all things;
   and all things are by him,
 and of him, even God, forever and ever.
I am unaware of available LDS process commentary, but I find Whitehead’s basic insights to be remarkably consistent with Joseph Smith’s. Whitehead’s philosophy demands universal free agency, with even the smallest particle, though not possessed of overt mentality, free to choose whether or not to follow the persuasive prompting of the Divine Lure. Despite the blackboards filled with equations, physical law boils down to statistics, with what one might reasonably expect to occur. Without free agency, a meaningful creation is impossible. It is a given, a gift that could not have been not given.
D&C 93: 26–30      (6 May 1833)

    The Spirit of truth is of God. I am the Spirit of truth, and John bore record of me, saying: He received a fulness of truth, yea, even of all truth; And no man receiveth a fulness unless he keepeth his commandments. He that keepeth his commandments receiveth truth and light, until he is glorified in truth and knoweth all things.
    Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be. All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it, to act for itself, as all intelligence also; otherwise there is no existence.
Process theology deals effectively with the problem of evil (theodicy), and is sometimes criticized for dispensing with it too easily. With the absolute necessity of free agency, the possibility of evil cannot be ruled out. Certainly, God might be said to be ultimately responsible, but the only alternative is to not have a meaningful universe.

The immanent God, who feels every pain, every joy more completely than we do ourselves, will cherish, transform and save all that God can. When we suffer, God “suffers” with us. And in a cosmos pulled by the Divine Lure to novelty, there are two basic evils: discord (disharmony, chaos) and unnecessary triviality. If discord results from the evil intent of a self–aware being, then it is a moral evil. Otherwise, it is circumstantial, accidental, random — it “comes with the territory.”

The process approach might be termed an æsthetic viewpoint. God’s purpose is to enjoy the maximal intensity of harmonious feeling that is possible, given whatever variables exist at the moment. Process thinkers usually term this “beauty.” Truly creative advance occurs at the edge of chaos, when intensity forces the issue:
Advance creatively, collapse into chaos (disharmony),
or retreat into triviality, complacency, mediocrity.
This liberal approach does not typically appeal to Christian communities which might be characterized as “conservative,” “fundamentalist,” or “scriptural literalist.” Process theology has no consensus view on the subjective (self–aware) immortality of individual entities other than God. It is clearly conducive to concepts of theistic evolution. Some of this relates to the necessity to retain reasonability, and relevance to observation.

The Center for Process Studies, of which I am a member, is a research organization affiliated with the School of Theology at Claremont (California), a Methodist multi-denominational seminary. Basic information on process theology can be accessed at their website:
http://www.ctr4process.org




Appendix:

Joseph Smith, excerpts from “The King Follett Discourse,” a funeral sermon he delivered 7 April 1844, less than three months before his own death:


    “... When you climb a ladder, you must begin at the bottom rung. You have got to find the beginning of the history and go on until you have learned the last principle of the Gospel. It will be a great while after the grave before you learn to understand the last, for it is a great thing to learn salvation beyond the grave and it is not all to be comprehended in this world.

    Intelligence is eternal and exists upon a self–existent principle. It is a spirit from age to age and there is no creation about it. The first principles of man are self–existent with God. All the minds and spirits that God ever sent into the world are susceptible of enlargement and improvement. The relationship we have with God places us in a situation to advance in knowledge. God Himself found Himself in the midst of spirits and glory. Because He was greater He saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest who were less in intelligence, could have a privilege to advance like Himself and be exalted with Him, so that they might have one glory upon another in all that knowledge, power, and glory. So He took in hand to save the world of spirits.
    This is good doctrine. It tastes good. You say honey is sweet and so do I. I can also taste the spirit and principles of eternal life, and so can you. I know it is good and that when I tell of these words of eternal life that are given to me by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the revelations of Jesus Christ, you are bound to receive them as sweet. You taste them and I know you believe them. I rejoice more and more.
    I want to talk more of man’s relation to God. I will open your eyes in relation to your dead. All things whatsoever God in His infinite reason has seen fit and proper to reveal to us while we are dwelling in our mortal state, in regard to our mortal bodies, are revealed to us in the abstract and independent of affinity of this mortal tabernacle. His commandments are revealed to our spirits precisely the same as though we had no bodies at all and those revelations which must of necessity save our spirits will save our bodies. God reveals them to us in the view of no eternal dissolution of our bodily tabernacles...”

    ~ Joseph Smith, The Essential Joseph Smith (©1995 Signature Books, Inc.), pages 236, 240. Emphasis is mine. This compilation of Joseph Smith’s works credits the text as follows — (see Stan Larson, ed., “The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgamated Text,” Brigham Young University Studies 18 [Winter 1978]: 193–208). This textual reconstruction varies significantly from previously published versions.



King Follett Discourse links:

The King Follett Discourse, an introduction to the chiastic structure.

The King Follett Discourse in “paragraph form,” the chiastic structure elucidated, with critical application of variant readings from Stan Larson’s Newly Amalgamated Text.

The King Follett Discourse, with notes, as published in Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.





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