Prayer & Process with John Cobb

John Cobb answers your questions about Prayer and Process – in prep for for the Emergent Village Theological Conversation for 2012 that kicks off Jan 31.

In the past week people over at Tony JonesRachel Held Evans, and Kurt Willems have been asking prayer and the relationship between Process theology and Openness theology.  Well John Cobb is here for you!

Of course y’all sent in questions about other stuff too…Occupy Wall Street, Postmodernism, Economy, Ecology, and other theological goodies.  I (Tripp) did this interview in Cobb’s library so listening to it will be like my first time because in real time I was a very distracted FANIAC!

For other resources check out:

Our TNT podcast about why people should come to the Emergent Conversation.

Marjorie Suchocki’s entry level PDF is super helpful.

The schedule for the conference looks amazing!

Bruce Epperly’s podcast continues to generate conversation.

His book Process for the Perplexed is fantastic.

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5 comments
Bo Eberle
Bo Eberle

Thanks sir, I often refer my skeptical friends to that blog series by Dr. Oord for their first taste of Post Modernism beyond the stereotypes, it's fantastic, I can't wait to talk to him in person! And looking forward to nerding out!

Bo Eberle
Bo Eberle

Hey Tripp, thanks for the shout out in the FB post! Not to mention alongside THE Tony Jones! This interview was fantastic and helpful, thanks for doing it. While listening, I had mixed inclinations. Part of me certainly is attracted to the kind of constructive project Cobb talks about, but while I was listening to Cobb describe Process theology as "post modern," in that it is "after modernism," critiquing it, I too, like Scott, was left wondering if what is thought of as the Post Modern movement, a la Derrida, Levinas, Lyotard, et al can simply be dismissed out of hand for not being constructive enough. With Cobb, I agree that "Freedom is more than not being bound," and if the goal of deconstructive post modernism is nothing but this unbinding, then its focus on the liberation of the autonomous subject certainly isn't all that anti-modern after all. In "Making A Way," Coleman quotes Griffin as describing Process thought as Post Modern in that it "seeks to overcome the modern worldview not by eliminating world-views as such, but by constructing a a postmodern worldview through revisions of modern premises and traditional concepts." She then goes on to say "A constructive postmodernism will have to transcend the individualism, anthropocentrism, patriarchy, mechanization, econimism, consumerism, nationalism, and militarism of the modern period." This is all fantastic, of course we want those things. What remains to be seen, and I would love to hear Caputo talk more about process theism, is if such a construction can actually do what Caputo concisely defines (presumably Deconstructive) Post Modernism as seeking to do: pay attention to detail and preserve proper names. Even if we choose as our metanarrative the narrative of the oppressed, the poor, and the powerless, as Cobb suggests (and certainly Nietzsche was right to find this in the Bible), I am still concerned about the uncritical weaknesses of Modernity rearing their heads yet again, due to the nature of a metanarrative itself as, for better or worse, totalizing. Writing as "Johanna de Silentio," Caputo writes: "The discourse on suffering is too full of fine names and self-approval, too convinced that it has all the powers of good on its side, that it speaks with the tongues of angels. It is incapable of thinking against itself, of holding itself in question. It does not let itself tremble in insecurity. That is dangerous and can cause more suffering and perpetuate still more evil." That's a danger I see realized all the time in self-righteous liberal contexts and particular situations. It's almost like the temptation to pick out this matanarrative of the oppressed is as ours is like the temptation of the ONE Ring, if only we could have it, we could do so much good! So anyway I think I'm up for constructing some metanarratives or at least metaphysics, but I am exceedingly grateful for voices like Caputo's to reign us back in when we might be a bit too self confident and approving. If we do engage in these immense historical projects, speculating about Ultimate Reality, "Perhaps" is a welcome post script. Caputo always calls Levinas a prophet, but of course Prophets are "too pious" to be taken literally, to do so would be a disservice to the prophets themselves, and perhaps this is the role of deconstruction as well, not meant to be taken quite so literally as to be excluding of actual construction, Derrida has an undeconstructible: Justice! So if we proceed with that in mind, there may be hope, but then again, we're still human. Maybe I don't have to pick between the two. I'll definitely check out ‘Process and Difference,' thanks for the heads up!

Tripp Fuller
Tripp Fuller

@ Scot. I think Cobb (and myself) would say Process thought is postmodern if postmodern means "after modern." What Cobb said (i think) is 'after modern' and not anti-modern or just wanting to reject modernity. Fundamentalism never made it to (or through) modernity! Most Process thinkers are a form of constructive postmodernism but not all of them. Roland Faber, Catherine Keller and friends would agree with your criticism of people like Cobb and myself and then read Whitehead how Deluse does...a proto-postmodern before it was cool. They have a really good book called 'Process and Difference' if you want to check out that style of Process thought. I can email you a little sample if you want.

Scot Miller
Scot Miller

What a great interview. John Cobb is quite a gentleman! I think Cobb is spot on when it comes to prayer. We can only assume that God is always already at work in the world, and prayer changes us to become more aware of what God is already doing. And to the extent we pray and change, we become vehicles to participate and extend what God is already doing. I'm not as happy with the connection Cobb wants to make between process theism and postmodernism. It is true that any intellectual movement which wants to reject Modernity is "postmodern", which means that process theism and fundamentalism are equally postmodern. But I don't think that's what most people understand by the trajectory of postmodernism which comes out of Heidegger, Gadamer, Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and even Thomas Kuhn and Richard Rorty. Postmodernism is not merely a chronological label for philosophies which come after Modernity or the Enlightenment. Both pre-modern and modern thinking were attempts to make sense of the unity of our experience, and to overcome the difference between the subject and object. Pre-modern thinking (Heraclitus, Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, etc.) argued that the nature of reality can explain the unity of experience. When modern thinking came to question the justification of the pre-modern metaphysical systems, they sought epistemological justifications for metaphysical judgments, either in the innate powers of reason (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz) or in the limits of experience alone (Locke, Berkeley, Hume). Eventually Kant argues that the structures of consciousness itself are responsible for the intelligibility of experience, and Hegel held that that subjectivity and objectivity, identity and difference, are dialectically related to Absolute Mind or Spirit (the Absolute Reality). Postmodernism deconstructs all absolutized, totalizing reflections on ontology or knowledge. So process theism may reject Modernity which gives priority to Being over Becoming, but it does not really call into question the attempt to come up with a metaphysical answer in the first place. A postmodern reading of process theism would see that process theism is just an attempt to rearrange the deck chairs on the sinking ship of metaphysics (onto-theology). Metaphysics is at best a poetic picture, a story we tell ourselves, but hardly a description of ultimate reality. I have to admit, I am very sympathetic to process theism, and I've done a lot of work with Griffin, Cobb, Whitehead, and Hartshorne (as well as Teilhard and Bergson), and I think their stories are much more adequate to express what we mean by God and reality, But I'm more persuaded by the postmodernism which comes out of Heidegger-Gadamer-Derrida-Levinas.

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