- The Force of Bradley Artson's "Process Theology" and Its Limitations
When the famous French philosopher and author Ernest Renan was asked if, in his opinion, God existed, his disconcerting response was, "Not yet."1 His insight, formulated as tersely as a mathematic formula, could hardly be simpler; yet moderns, contemplating Renan's remark, will also be hard pressed to find, I believe, a more relevant and forceful answer in all the history of theology. I hope to explain in this essay why and in what sense this response both converges with and diverges from the concept of Process Theology as set forth by Brad Artson in his essay, "Ba-derekh: On the Way—A Presentation of Process Theology." In choosing to address both issues, I hope also to express myself fully on the critical points in Artson's argument on which I humbly wish to take a position.
The Reasons We Have to Believe
I should begin by being perfectly clear that, far from finding the notion of Process Theology "shocking, perhaps even irreligious," as Artson suggests people unfamiliar with the concept likely will, I myself share the conviction that God and the world are engaged "in continuous, dynamic change, of related interaction and becoming." Moreover, I'm convinced that Artson has put his finger on a crucial concept that deserves to be at the very center of the theological approach of the Conservative/Masorti movement (if not dogmatically, [End Page 67] then surely highly suggestively): the notion that the world, the Torah, Israel, and even God are entities whose very nature involves constant inner development, mirrored by their permanent and ongoing states of becoming.
Before I move on to say why and precisely to what extent I share Artson's vision, however, I wish briefly to pause to ask what value there can be in bothering to agree or disagree with metaphysical principles in the first place. (The ability to answer this question, incidentally, should be a methodological prerequisite for all theological debate.) Or, in other words, I wonder what kind of arguments can reasonably be brought to bear on a topic as inherently speculative as theology. Are there reliable, verifiable criteria one can adduce in determining one speculative system to be more relevant than another? Surely any self-respecting contemporary philosopher will insist that the time for professing that one can definitively prove or disprove the existence of such ultimately transcendent realities as God, the immortal soul, or the world to come is long past. But must faith henceforth be reduced either to a Tertullianesque "leap into the absurd" or to a Kirkegaardian "paradox," or else to the kind of "purely voluntarist decision" of which Yeshayahu Leibowitz so often spoke and wrote?2 Indeed, the very fact that for the large majority of theologians the theological process itself requires some sort of reconciliation between reason and religion shows almost categorically that questions of faith cannot be considered in purely subjective terms. In fact, there exists a huge gray zone between the domain of opinion and conjecture, on the one hand, and the domain of knowledge and certainty (founded, as surely certainty must be, on "objective scientific criteria"), on the other. And this is precisely where we find the great laboratory in which religious convictions and articles of faith are successfully or unsuccessfully produced and tested.
According to Kant, this median is where ideas live that, subjectively speaking, "feel" sufficiently reasonable to be accepted, but which nevertheless can still not be objectively confirmed. Is faith then indefensible, thus devoid of any rational justification? Not entirely! Absent deductive or empirical proof, there still remains the possibility of perception of (and communication regarding) notions like the existence of God or the immortality of the soul that we know from scriptural and rabbinic sources through our intuitive feeling and our inductive reasoning, by moving back from effect to cause. The whole enterprise will always have a certain tentative feel to it. [End Page 68] Yet, in the end, induction is a legitimate logical method if one's jumping-off point is sufficiently plausible.3 How then can it be that people of integrity...