Ask Dr. Cobb

What is the most important issue now being decided?

Question: 
What is the most important issue now being decided?
Publication Month: 
March 2015
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

The most basic issue now being decided is whether the corporate takeover of political power in the United States and also much of the rest of the world will be completed or will begin to erode. The full takeover hinges on the passage of two so-called “trade” agreements. One, the Transpacific Partnership, is currently seeking “fast-track” treatment in Washington. The other is a similar agreement being negotiated with European countries.

Does It Make Sense to Identify with Charlie?

Question: 
Does It Make Sense to Identify with Charlie?
Publication Month: 
February 2015
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

My short answer is an emphatic NO! For my part, I will say “Je ne suis pas Charlie.” Does that mean I sympathize with the murderers? No, it certainly does not, whoever they may have been. But why would one ask? There are victims of crimes with whom one can strongly identify. I could strongly identify with the murdered Dr. King. Some seem to think that Charlie suffered an attack because it was a model of heroism supporting the weak against their oppressors and exposing pretense and evil wherever they occurred.

Hebrew Scriptures

Question: 
How do Christians understand the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures?
Publication Month: 
January 2015
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

For biblical literalists, the question is whether God controlled the writing of these documents. The standard answer is Yes, except that with some of the later writings, called “apocryphal,” the answer is No for most Protestants and Yes for Catholics. Obviously process thinkers join with mainstream Protestant scholarship in approaching matters in a very different way. No scriptures are inerrant. All are inspired in the broad sense that God played a role. Some are “more inspired” than others. And some relate to more important events than others.

Why is process philosophy on the margins?

Question: 
Why is process philosophy on the margins of philosophy? Is this a problem process thinkers should be trying to remedy?
Publication Month: 
December 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Yes, we should be trying to remedy this. However, my approach is the reverse of what the questioner may have in mind. We should work for a large-scale change in the understanding of philosophy, rather than try to make our contribution fit into the narrow parameters of what is now academic philosophy. This no doubt sounds arrogant and pretentious, and it is indeed a serious critique of academic philosophy.

Divine Providence

Question: 
Does the idea of divine providence make sense?
Publication Month: 
November 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

From the perspective of modernity, of course, this idea makes no sense. It presupposes thinking of God as an agent in a realistic sense that is quite impossible if one has fully adopted the modern worldview. Further, the idea has been spoiled by its association with divine omnipotence. If God is the cause of everything, the specialness, suggested by “providence,” disappears. Cancer is just as providential as a remarkable healing.

A Meaningful Life

Question: 
Can life be meaningful without contributing to something eternal, i.e., without either subject or objective immortality?
Publication Month: 
October 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

My short answer is Yes. But of course that is also to be qualified by many Nos.

Teilhard and Whitehead

Question: 
Are there aspects of Teilhard’s theology that you regard as superior to Whitehead’s?
Publication Month: 
September 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Like all good questions, this is multifaceted. If it means are there are features of Teilhard’s thought that lead me to modify what I take from Whitehead, the answer is No. The most obvious difference in doctrinal content is Teilhard’s vivid sense that despite all the horrors and obstacles along the way humanity is moving toward a final consummation. This is a view that has strong biblical grounding. It also has vast appeal. Whitehead does not share it. And I agree with Whitehead.

Wesleyan Theology and Process Theology

Question: 
Process theology has been influential and controversial in Wesleyan-Holiness theology. What about John Wesley’s thought to you find most amenable to process theology?
Publication Month: 
August 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

I appreciate this question. For a fuller answer, I refer to my book on Wesley, Grace and Responsibility. I think the reader will see that I find most of Wesley’s teaching highly amenable to process theology. Indeed, I think that historically they belong to the same tradition. Like Wesley, process theology comes from an Anglican background.

What Was Whitehead Wrong About?

Question: 
What Was Whitehead Wrong About?
Publication Month: 
July 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

I identify myself strongly as a disciple of Whitehead. I think he was often right on points where even many of his followers reject him. On some points where I earlier rejected his views, I have come to realize that he was wiser than I. I work to understand and justify his ideas even when his fellow scientists declare that he was wrong. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Whitehead made mistakes. A friend of mine found a strictly mathematical mistake -- I think it was in his Universal Algebra.

Trinity, Substance, and Process

Question: 
What can be done to bridge the gap between process thinkers and the orthodox Trinitarians who base their thought on substance categories?
Publication Month: 
June 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Reducing the gap with regard to the doctrine of the Trinity is an important issue, but I do not believe that the problem lies in the distinction between substance and process thinking. Actually, substance thought posed more extreme problems to those who developed the doctrine of the Trinity than do process categories. Whitehead himself commented that in order to develop both Trinitarian and incarnational doctrines, theologians in Alexandria made a great metaphysical advance. He considered this a development that his own process-relational philosophy generalizes.

Indwelling Spirit/Christ in process theology

Question: 
What is the understanding of the indwelling Spirit/Christ in process theology?
Publication Month: 
May 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

The philosophical answer to this question based on the text of Whitehead is two-fold. Central to Whitehead’s philosophy is the divine presence in every occasion in the form of the initial aim. This is the immanence of the Primordial Nature of God. The Primordial Nature is the sphere of potentiality ordered so as to evoke maximum value in the world. The “initial aim” around which each occasion is brought into being is the effect of this primordial ordering in each unique situation. It is determined by God’s aim to increase value.

Theology, New Atheism, and Modern Scholarship

Question: 
How would you respond to the new atheists as exemplified in the following quote by Laurence Krauss: “To be fair, I regret sometimes lumping all philosophers in with theologians because theology, aside from those parts that involve true historical or linguistic scholarship, is not [a] credible field of modern scholarship.”
Publication Month: 
April 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Krauss may be quite correct. It all depends on just how “modern scholarship” is defined. Krauss assumes that modern scholarship is the investigation that is approved in the academic disciplines into which modern value-free universities are divided. Theology is not an academic discipline and, accordingly, not a “credible field of modern scholarship.”

Reasons to Hope

Question: 
If it is “too late,” is it reasonable to have hope for the future?
Publication Month: 
March 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

 

In traditional Christian teaching “hope” is a theological virtue. That makes sense to me. We hope because we believe in God.

A Process Perspective on Dealing with Anger

Question: 
I often have intense feelings of anger toward those who are ruining the planet or preventing positive actions. Does process theology have guidance as to how we deal with these feelings?
Publication Month: 
February 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Each of us has her or his own way of dealing with anger. Process theology encourages us to share our experiences and reflect together about what we can learn from this interchange. Being asked this question gives me an occasion to participate in that discussion, sharing my current thinking as it has grown out of my own experience of anger and what others have taught me.

The Negative Impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Question: 
What's So Bad about the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
Publication Month: 
January 2014
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

 

Process theology and Hegelian-influenced theology

Question: 
What is the relationship between process theology and Hegelian-influenced theology?
Publication Month: 
December 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

My understanding of Hegel’s influence on theology is a focus on the history of cultural thought. I introduce “cultural” since attention is directed to how thoughtful people really understand and perceive rather than on debates among philosophers and scientists. The latter play their role, but so do the structures of society and popular arts. Literary figures are likely to express the actual thinking and feeling best.

Process Christians and the Nicene Creed

Question: 
Should process Christians affirm the Nicene Creed?
Publication Month: 
November 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

If “to affirm” means to agree with everything in it, then the answer with regard to the Nicene Creed must surely be No. But that would apply to virtually anything. In that sense I do not affirm the Bible or Luther or even Whitehead. I assume that is not the meaning of the question.

Most Influential Students

Question: 
Who have been your most influential students (intellectually, theologically, and popularly)?
Publication Month: 
October 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Since I enjoy recalling and rejoicing in former students, I appreciate this question as a chance to reflect in a distinctive way. My first response is that each of them has found her or his own way to such an extent that ranking them is quite meaningless. For example, I think of some who have given leadership to process theology in Japan, Korea, and India. How great their influence may be I do not know, and I will not include them here.

Multiple Religious Belonging

Question: 
How do people of multi-religious belonging engage in interreligious or trans-religious work?
Publication Month: 
September 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

The only answer in which I have any confidence is: Time will tell.

Some who describe themselves in this way, I still describe differently. For example, there are a good many people who have been deeply influenced by both Buddhism and Christianity. I would describe most of them as Buddhized Christians or Christianized Buddhists.

Sacrificial Thinking

Question: 
In what ways does process thought support or challenge sacrificial thinking?
Publication Month: 
August 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Sacrifice is so pervasive, so central to human life, that in very important ways, if process thought fails to support sacrificial thinking, it is seriously inadequate. If parents failed to sacrifice anything for the sake of their children, their children would be unlikely to survive. Maternal sacrifice is characteristic of most species of animals.

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