Matthew David Segall – Science, Religion, Eco-Philosophy, Etheric Imagination, Psychedelic Eucharist, Ecological Crisis and more…

SegallI (Jesse) recently chatted with one of my favorite ecophilosophers, bloggers, and youtubers, Matthew David Segall.

Matthew is a a doctoral candidate in philosophy and religion at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, CA. His knowledge of the history of philosophy is expansive and the synthetic approach exemplified in his work is imperative and extremely valuable.

We cover a ton of topics including Matthew’s spiritual and philosophical influences/background, his transition from scientistic atheism to Buddhism to Western Esoteric Hermetic Christianity, his understanding of the relationship between science, philosophy and religion in the west, his interest in Carl Jung, Whitehead, Schelling, and esoteric thinker Rudolph Steiner and how they exhibit what Matt calls “etheric imagination.” We also talk about science and art, psychedelics, consciousnesses and Eucharist, capitalism and the ecological crisis and the talk he’ll be giving at the upcoming Whitehead conference in Claremont this summer.

February 26th at the Level Ground Film Festival in Pasadena SoCal.
March 4th – Live Podcast w/ Doug Pagitt @the Loft in LA.
March 13 & 14th at 
Villanova University, PA. The End of Religion? Faith in a Postmodern Age. Featuring Jeff Robbins, Merold Westphal, and John Caputo
March 18th in Chicago – Theology Nerd Bootcamp w/ Tripp & Scott Paeth
March 19-21st in Chicago at Progressive Youth Ministry Conference. EPIC live podcast on Friday night sponsored by our friends at Phillips Theological Seminary

Marx & Whitehead: Reviewing “Organic Marxism”

by Austin RobertsMarxWhitehead

If you’re like me and have ever wondered what a “process Marxism” would look like, the recently published Organic Marxism: An Alternative to Capitalism and Ecological Catastrophe by Philip Clayton and Justin Heinzekehr is an exciting vision of such a possibility.

It is in fact the first serious attempt to fold process philosophy, in both Whiteheadian and Chinese forms, into Marxism. The result is what the authors call “Organic Marxism”, a constructive postmodernism for our time of environmental crisis that offers theoretical and practical possibilities for a new ecological civilization.

Organic Marxism is published by Process Century Press in preparation for the 10th Whitehead International Conference in June 2015, which is called “Seeking an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization.” I plan to participate in the conference, and encourage everyone who can to do so as well. It will bring together some of the most important figures in the environmental movement, including Bill McKibben and Vandana Shiva, along with many of the most significant process thinkers, including John Cobb, Catherine Keller, Joseph Bracken, Bruce Epperly, William Connoly, Monica Coleman, Roland Faber, Marjorie Suchocki, Jay McDaniel, and Philip Clayton, along with younger process thinkers like Tripp Fuller, Brianne Donaldson, and Justin Heinzekehr. And perhaps not surprisingly, after co-writing Organic Marxism, Clayton will be leading a discussion on Marx and Whitehead.

Having previously published 22 books and dozens of articles, Clayton’s important work in philosophical theology and the science and religion dialogue is by now familiar to many. He is a professor at Claremont School of Theology where Justin Heinzekehr, his former student and now co-author, is also a doctoral candidate in religion. Because their work is primarily in theology and religion, this book on ecological economics and politics might seem a bit surprising. And yet both of them work within the school of process thought, which is an amazingly diverse tradition that branches out into virtually every area of academic research. In many ways, Organic Marxism takes its lead from the work of the great process theologian John B. Cobb Jr., who writes the forward to this book. After starting his career as a Christian philosophical theologian, he shifted by the early 1970s into a focus on a variety of other topics, including economics, biology, ethics, politics and ecology. Writing one of the first book-length philosophical texts on the ecological crisis, Cobb later went on to write a massive work on ecological economics with the economist Herman Daly, which serves as the major inspiration for Clayton and Heinzekehr’s economic proposals in Organic Marxism.

At the core of the book is the conviction that “Global capitalism has created the greatest ecological and humanitarian catastrophe in the history of human civilization” (4). Throughout Organic Marxism, Clayton and Heinzekehr make a series of powerful and convincing arguments to show that this is in fact the case and that the best solution is Organic Marxism, which affirms “hybrid [economic] systems that combine profit-making activities with regulations that are designed to prevent corruption, environmental abuse, and the inordinate acquisition of wealth by a small number of citizens” (236). By reinterpreting Marx against the dominant Western conceptions of him, they argue that “socialist systems can retain an appropriate place for entrepreneurial activities…suitably constrained market forces can benefit the public good” and lay the foundation for a new ecological way of living (47).

They therefore resist a view of Marxism that would totally eliminate any place for market forces, competition, and private ownership (7). For them, the continuing relevance of Marx has less to do with his efforts to prove a strict dialectical materialism and more to do with his “work as a social theorist, a historian of economics, and a student of the class struggle” (60). They also reject the classical Marxist notion that ideas, philosophy, and religion are impotent and merely “epiphenomenal,” without any liberating power. In an organic perspective (as understood within process thought), postmodern science and philosophy challenge this kind of crass reductionism with a more open-ended, relational, pluralistic, contextual, and ecological style of Marxism.

As such, Clayton and Heinzekehr are highly sensitive to the common views of Marx as deterministic, anthropocentric, anti-religious, reductionistic, totalizing, and utopian. And yet they argue for the ongoing relevance of Marx beyond these modernist limitations and stereotypes of his thought, importantly drawing on recent interpretations of his mature thought (e.g., Jeremy Bellamy Foster) that stress Marx’s implicit environmental concerns. They also consider some recent attempts to resurrect Marxism in the work of Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Zizek, and David Harvey. Although they recognize the value of each of these important critical and deconstructive thinkers, they ultimately conclude that each of them “shy away from addressing the practical issues that policymakers face” (94).

As such, by calling organic Marxism a kind of constructive postmodernism, they affirm the need to offer concrete policy proposals that will be useful, not just for Leftist academics, but especially for “policymakers, government leaders, and lay people” (ix). This commitment leads Clayton and Heinzekehr to conclude the book with a series of practical ideas and specific policy guidelines on issues ranging from agriculture and manufacturing to banking, all with the aim of creating an ecological civilization. The perspective of Organic Marxism is ultimately a concrete commitment to the common good within an ecological framework that does not shy away from issues of class, race, or gender. It is a postmodern and critical appropriation of Marx’s revolutionary thought that is truly unique, although the authors note that it has some important connections, not only to Cobb’s work, but also to The New Materialism (Jane Bennett, Diana Coole, Clayton Crockett, Jeff Robbins, et al) and Environmental Marxism (Bellamy Foster).

Despite the intensely philosophical discussion throughout the text, Organic Marxism is a surprisingly accessible read that efficiently covers a lot of ground in economic and political theory. Readers will gain a valuable perspective on the history of capitalism, Marxism, process thought, and contemporary science. This is clearly the first book of its kind, and I’m thrilled to finally have a book that weaves together Whitehead and Marx. I believe that Clayton and Heinzekehr’s eco-socialist “manifesto of society for the common good” (ix) is a provocative, original, and exciting proposal that deserves a wide reading and deep discussion.


 I am very grateful to the Center for Process Studies in Claremont, CA for sending me a review copy of this book. For more information, check out Philip Clayton’s overview of the book’s argument at Jesus, Jazz, and Buddhism.

Between Radical & Confessional Theologies: Whitehead’s God

Guest-post by  Austin Roberts.
He is a PhD student at Drew University, studying with the incomparable Catherine Keller.  
[listen to her podcast here
You should 100% follow his blog and you might want to read his book on eco-theology Process pairing Jürgen Moltmann and John Cobb

As a process theologian, I often find myself in the position of needing to explain or even defend the God that Whitehead affirms.  I have these conversations with fellow academics and intellectual types who just can’t see how some of us can still call ourselves theists after the ‘death of God,’ as well as fellow Christians who struggle to see how one could reconcile process panentheism with the God of the Bible.

While the former group tends to be extremely critical of any hint of transcendence (whether in reference to God or otherwise), the latter group gets uneasy with the process theologian’s special emphasis on God’s immanence.  For the former, transcendence is more-or-less relativized – if not entirely eliminated – by immanence.  For the latter, it is usually the other way around: God is infinitely transcendent and created everything out of nothing.

For those who care to go into this kind of discussion, the core theological question up for debate is this:
how immanent and/or transcendent is Whitehead’s God?

I’m certainly not going to try to answer this with any sense of finality.  What I primarily want to do here is to point out the difficulty of this issue when we have, broadly speaking, two types of theologians reading Whitehead in different ways today:

  • those who resonate with Radical Theology
  • those who are committed to Confessional Theology.

This is exciting to me, even as it brings new challenges to process theology.  I’m not claiming that there is a full-blown contradiction between these two approaches, and perhaps there’s a way to bring these two approaches closer together.  Even so, they are starting out with different assumptions and concerns that certainly shape their contrasting readings of Whitehead’s theism.

At the risk of oversimplifiction, there’s a sense in which Radicals tend to read Whitehead primarily through a poststructuralist lens (Derrida, Deleuze, Butler) while Confessionals read him primarily through the lens of tradition and scripture.

This makes for a rather striking difference between the two.

One could always follow the “Whitehead without God” approach (Bob Mesle, Donald Sherburne). One can also see Whitehead’s God as nothing more than a cosmic function – and therefore wholly “secularized” – that is necessary for a coherent process worldview but totally uninspiring for spirituality or religion (Steven Shaviro’s reading in his “Without Criteria”).

Personally, I think there are serious problems with these interpretations (that’s for another post) and they remain minority reports within the process community.

Let’s consider two streams of process theology, what I’m calling the Radical and Confessional paths.

On the one side are those who read Whitehead’s God in ways that strongly emphasize immanence – a kind of Radical theology, perhaps, usually with the help of Deleuze’s poststructuralist philosophy of immanence.  Few process thinkers go so far as to deny God’s transcendence entirely (although see Kristien Justaert’s process pantheism in “Theology after Deleuze”), but the concept as more commonly understood is very much relativized by a more immanent God.  This is rapidly becoming an influential way of reading Whitehead (I can confirm this based on my experiences at both Drew and Claremont where most students of Whitehead tend to lean this way).

My former professor Roland Faber, signaling a stronger shift towards immanence with his Deleuzean reading of Whitehead, argues for “trans-pantheism” as opposed to the more standard reading of Whitehead’s panentheism.  He digs deep into the Cusan paradox of God as “Not-Other” and places a stronger theological emphasis on Whitehead’s immanent creativity.  He interprets the later Whitehead as seeming inclined “to replace any remaining connotations of God’s transcendence with a totally immanent divine creativity” (Process & Difference, 216).  As with John Caputo’s radical theology, Faber will also say that God does not exist but insists as the interrupting event of the new.

For Faber’s radical process theology, God is always “In/difference”: the insistence on difference and relationality of all differences.  For the Radical approach, questions of Christian doctrine (Christology, Trinity, Revelation) tend to be secondary (at best) to the political and ethical implications of theology.  The thinking here is that an immanent theology is better equipped for this-worldly activism based on democratic practices, over against difference-denying oppressive forms of hierarchy that are rooted in transcendence.

On the other side are those who read Whitehead’s God in ways that try to maintain more traditional theological intuitions of transcendence.  I see this as a kind of Confessional trajectory for Whiteheadians that has been much more common for Christian process theology over the last fifty years.  Confessional process theologians are not necessarily Orthodox in their beliefs, but they tend to have a stronger concern than the Radical process theologians to maintain ties to the Christian tradition and to more thoroughly align their theology to the Bible.

John Cobb is an obvious example here, especially evident in his rather high Christology in which he intentionally remains close to the creedal confession that Jesus was “fully God and fully man.” By reading Whitehead’s God as a balance of immanence with transcendence, he can affirm that God is the most powerful reality in existence, that our existence is radically contingent upon God as our Creator, and that we depend upon God’s grace.  Attempting to do justice to key themes of the Bible and Christian piety, Cobb will claim that because God is always working for the good in the world and truly loves her creation, God can genuinely reveal herself in particular ways, our prayers can be answered, people might even sometimes be healed through God’s action in the world, and that death ultimately does not have the last word.

Unlike Radical process theology, Confessional process theologians unequivocally affirm God’s existence as a real being (e.g., David Ray Griffin’s cumulative argument in his Reenchantment Without Supernaturalism).  A neo-Whiteheadian approach, as in Joseph Bracken’s theology, pushes even closer to traditional commitments and asserts a stronger (“asymmetrical”) sense of transcendence than even Cobb.  Like Thomas Aquinas did with Aristotle and Augustine did with neo-Platonism, Bracken will use Whitehead as a general philosophical framework for special revelation in scripture and tradition, allowing the latter more authoritative sources to revise the former when necessary.  The doctrinal results for him are an orthodox view of the Trinity, creatio ex nihilo, and bodily resurrection.

Some of us might cringe at the Radical approach, others at a Confessional approach.  To Confessionals, the Radical approach might sound even more esoteric and complicated than Whitehead himself and irrelevant for practical or spiritual life outside of the academy.  To Radicals, the Confessional approach might sound outdated and naïve at best, or imperialistic and oppressive at worst.  Or some of us might instead be able to see the two as constrasting rather than contradicting and perhaps look for a way to learn from both, even if we share the more basic assumptions of one or the other.

If the Radical approach is helping to keep Whitehead relevant to postmodern intellectuals, religious skeptics, and academics – perhaps even effecting a “Whiteheadian revolution” or a “return to Whitehead” in contemporary philosophy and science – the Confessional approach tends to have much more traction for pastors and laypersons.

This distinction seems to me to exemplify the challenge of identifying the task of theology today: is it important to do theology primarily for the sake of the life of the confessing church, or can we (should we) move on and do theology primarily because of its continuing politically subversive and ethical power for society?  This is not a question just for those of us in the process community, but rather for any theologian who finds herself in this predicament, between the Radical and the Confessional.

Occupy Theology: Marx and Whitehead

In this special episode Deacon Jeremy Fackenthal & Tripp Fuller talk Marx and Whitehead at the 2012 Emergent Village Theological Conversation for 2012.

The “Inverse Theology” that is referenced is from Walter Benjamin and Theodore Adorno.

Also referenced is the popular blog from last month “Undercover Boss” by Stephen Keating 

The Limits of Language: Lindbeck and Whitehead

Part 1

I like reading Linbeck.* I used to say that I love Lindbeck but I ran into two snags:

  •  I had no idea what people did with Lindbeck. I did not realize that it often led to retreat into a neo-Catholic expression.
  • I did not (and still do not) fully understand that there is some inherent wrinkle in his idea that language creates our religious experience that implies a one-way limitation of language – not allowing our experience to change language and that somehow limits God. Like I said, it is a philosophical wrinkle that is a bit technical for me.

Having said all that … 

What I am a big fan of is his critique of language. He has a riveting analysis of the way that religious language functions in our communities and personal experiences.  I was prone to like Lindbeck because of my deep appreciation for Nancey Murphy’s book “Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism”. I was primed for what Linbeck brings to the table.

To become religious–no less than to become culturally or linguistically competent–is to interiorize a set of skills by practice and training. One learns how to feel, act, and think in conformity with the religious tradition that is, in its inner structure, far richer and more subtle than can be explicitly articulated. The primary knowledge is not about the religion, nor is that the religion teaches such and such, but rather how to be religious in such and such ways. p. 35

Then I found out that saying you appreciate the post-Liberal approach is like saying you cheer for the New York Yankees in Boston. I get the concern with the descendants of Lindbeck’s work … but I am still suspicious that he is right about how language works in our faith communities.

Fast Forward: I was reading some stuff to get ready for the 2012 Emergent Village Theological Conversation and I stumbled onto a section of Whitehead’s thoughts on religious language.** I got to a section called “Doctrine and History”. After dealing with the fact that language does not have a one-to-one correlation and that all language thus requires interpretation, the author explains:

“The language of a tradition and the central doctrines that reflect and support that language are the prime turbulence of the particular mode of existence characterizing that tradition. Furthermore, as human existence is shaped in specialized ways during the course of history, experiences occur that are not possible to persons shaped by other traditions.”

I resonate with the idea that a person is shaped by the language one is groomed and conditioned by – and that would both empower and naturally shape the experiences that one has and the interpretation of those experiences … even (or especially) the religious experiences.

It just makes sense that because religious in a communal endeavor – one is always a part of a community that has a tradition and set of practices/beliefs – that it determines, at some level, both the types of experiences one has , can have and how one translates or interprets those experiences.

 This is a vital assertion for the 21st century! We no longer live in the monopoly of Christendom or the frameworks of the Colonial Era where one tradition imported and imposed foreign expectations and alien interpretations on another.

With works like “The invention of world religions” by Masuzawa  and “God is not One” by Prothero (among many others) we are entering a time in world history (and thus church history) where we need to come to terms with two things that both Lindbeck and Whitehead are pointing out:

  • Language is both inherited and powerful in shaping our experiences and subsequent interpretations of those experiences.
  • Language used in doctrines like ‘the Church’ and ‘Eucharist’ actually facilitate the ability to have certain experiences that are simply not available to those outside the community or language game. Practices like Yoga or Ramadan would be the same for those in different traditions. That is why North American Christians who do yoga are not having the same experience as those in India.

We live in an era where the realities of inter-religious education, cross-denominational communication and trans-national citizenship are going to challenge all of our inherited traditions and conceptual frameworks.

If we are unwilling to do so and insist on simply repeating the same rote answers week after week under the misguided impression that we are being faithful to the tradition … we are in danger of an irrelevance that leads not only to extinction but ultimately failure to accomplish our great commission.



* George Lindbeck wrote “The Nature of Doctrine” and along with Hans Frei (author of “Eclipse of the Biblical Narrative”) is credited with starting the Yale School of thought. One of the most famous proponents of which is Stanley Hauerwas famous for his books like  “Peaceable Kingdom” , “Resident Aliens” as well as other things.


** Alfred North Whitehead was a 20th century philosopher who is credited for helping to come up with what became Process-Relational thought.

God is great! Jesus is super … but is he unique?

Over the next month we will continue ramping up for the Emergent Village Theological Conversation for 2012. We are very excited about bring the Emergent camp (who we love) into dialogue with Process thought (which we love) in a live-interactive-open ended- relational engagement.
These blog posts may come from the reading in preparation for the conference but I want to be clear about two things:

  • We are not under the impression that everyone is on board with the Process thought 
  • We love to hear from other perspectives at they illuminate, challenge and respond to this ongoing exchange.

I was reading something that other day that really excited me. It was a comparison of the existential approach of someone like Rudolf Butlmann and the “powerful and illuminating analysis of post-christian existence” with the approach of someone like A.N. Whitehead in his book “Religion in the Making”.
It was particularly this sentence which caught my attention:

Bultmann’s belief that through Jesus’ death and resurrection a change was effected in the human situation at the most fundamental level can be examined as a historic hypothesis without introducing any ad hoc notions of a unique act of God.*

Fairly straight forward stuff, but it piqued my interest enough to go back and make sure that I understood the whole section leading up to it. What is interesting is that just before the above quote is this little nugget:

In such a context (exploring distinctive Western structures) the role of such historical figures such as Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus can been seen a bringing new structures of existence into being.

“Whoa! Hold it right there! I like it when you say wonderful things about how great Jesus is … by why do you have to include those other people?” I can hear my conservative and evangelical friends saying.
This is not the only time I have seen something like this and had the same reaction. (God is not One by Stephen Prothero springs to mind). It can almost be framed in this simply rubric

  • God is Great!
  • Jesus is super.
  • don’t elevate anyone else or Jesus won’t seem unique

I remember giving that original Homebrewed interview with John Cobb (ep. 38) to some friends and how uncomfortable they were (across the board) that Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa, and Siddhartha Gautama may have been as open to the will of God as Jesus was.
According to Cobb, what makes Jesus unique is not simply that he was so open to the call of God but what God had called him to. In my circles you have to tack Bible verses on to the end of every major point, so I referenced Romans 5 that what God did in Christ satisfied something in God and changed humanity’s relationship to God. Was that enough? That God did something unique in Jesus … or does there also have to be an absence of affirming what may have done in others?

The other night I was talking to a college student from a different continent. She asked me why there was so much confusion in religion and if it “was the work of the evil one?”. I tried to explain how religions grew up in relative isolation during a much simpler time and they were simply not equipped to handle the complex world we now find ourselves in nor are they meant (or even attempting to) answer each other’s questions. They are just not set up for it.

Religions developed in a simpler time and are not set up for a) this level of complexity or b) this much overlap. There is going to continue to be a need for work to be done within each religion and between the religions (or traditions/communities). What will be the Christian contribution?

We all agree that if there is God that God would by necessity be great! Even those who don’t think that the God of Abraham is Allah and Jesus’ Abba will agree with that. Almost everyone agrees that Jesus was extraordinary. Even those who are not so sure about the accuracy of the historical record will acknowledge his impact. But was Jesus unique? Can we affirm something great in other figures without diminishing him?

Unfortunately those who have inherited an unquestioned view developed in Christendom’s monopoly will just quote John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 as if that settles the matter. A pre-existent Christ came down in Jesus and that is all you need to know.
This is why I am so intrigued to have Process theology as conversation partner. I am excited to hear what John Cobb has to say on Thursday morning at the Emergent Theological Conversation when we talk about Pluralism. I have been reading a lot of Cobb and when talks about the way that God was present in Jesus … it makes more sense than anything else I have ever heard on the subject. I would be interest in your thoughts. How does your tradition handle this? What will the future hold in this arena? Is the Christian tradition capable of this give-and-take of the 21st century?


*p. 86 of Cobb’s book