- Naturalistic Fruits of the Spirit: Faith, Hope, and Love
This article continues a dialogue between Demian Wheeler and myself that extends debates between Bernard Loomer and Bernard Meland of the third generation of the Chicago school. My contribution begins with my journey from a more panentheistic approach to process theology consistent with the Claremont school toward a thoroughgoing naturalistic and empirical process theology consistent with Loomer and Meland. After clarifying why I found and find Meland’s theology more satisfying, I turn to a pragmatic analysis of the religious qualities of pantheistic and limited deity approaches to a naturalistic process theology. Finally, I offer some constructive comments regarding how a Melandian naturalistic process theology might yield religious fruits, namely, faith, hope, and love.
I. The Other Process Theology
They were heady times at Claremont Graduate University around the turn of the century. I had the honor of studying process theology with John Cobb, David Griffin, and Marjorie Suchocki. All of them were excellent teachers. David Griffin and his disciples were quoting Process and Reality, chapter and verse. John Cobb was recently retired, teaching a course occasionally, and more convinced than ever that process thought could change the world. The Center for Process Studies was shoring up its international connections and making incursions into China. But Cobb’s and Griffin’s Hartshornian adjustment of Whitehead’s metaphysics certainly took them in a speculative direction, and their certitude at times appeared to be a type of rationalism. So I gravitated toward Suchocki, who was trying to stay closer to Whitehead in her conception of God and was much more interested in the practices and dynamics of faith.1 When I confided in Suchocki about my misgivings and my recent interest in William James, she helped me put together an independent reading course on empirical and pragmatic theologies.
It was then that I read Bernard Loomer’s “The Size of God” for the first time, and it set me on a path toward a thoroughgoing naturalistic outlook. [End Page 32] First, Loomer clarified the relationship between actualities and abstractions. “The reasons why things are the way they are and behave as they do are to be found within the things themselves and their relationships (including the factor of chance) to each other.”2 This premise has both methodological and ontological implications. It implies methodologically that an empirical process thinker will avoid “mere abstractions” or abstractions that become uprooted from their descriptions of actual things and events. It also suggests that one does not move from an abstraction toward the explanation of a thing or its origin. All we see, experience, and know are actual things and events. An empiricist generalizes from these things and events in order to describe their relations or qualities but need not and perhaps should not posit an unknowable and abstract ground or origin of these things and events beyond what can be known empirically. Even possibilities result from actual things and events, not the other way around. Ontologically, the premise suggests that no actual thing arises from an abstraction, principle, or nonactual ground. Actual things arise from other actual things. Even Whitehead’s “Creativity” is not a “what” but a “how.” We might describe it as a force, but that force has no force other than that derived from actual things: “The only ground for the becoming of an actuality consists of other, temporally prior actualities from which the energy of its becoming is derived.”3 “Ultimate explanations are descriptions expressed in their most generalized form. In Whitehead’s words, ‘explanation is the analysis of coordination.’”4
Thus, a basic choice for doing theology emerges. Loomer writes, “If God has a reality beyond that of an abstraction, then God is in some sense concretely actual. As an actuality or a group of actualities God is then to be identified either with a part or with the totality of the concrete, actual world, including its possibilities.”5 This was obviously a direct afront to the panentheistic process theology in which I was steeped. The God of the Claremont school, in either its Whiteheadian Suchocki version or its Hartshornian Cobb version, moved from possibility or...