Ask Dr. Cobb

Historical Jesus or Cosmic Christ

Question: 
Which is more important, the historical Jesus or the Cosmic Christ?
Publication Month: 
July 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

In order to answer relatively simply, I will understand the Cosmic Christ to be what, in the prologue to John’s gospel, is called the Logos. That identification answers the question. The Logos is more important. It is one with God, and there is no creation apart from the Logos. Life and intelligence are singled out as the work of the Logos. In Whitehead’s language, the Logos is the Primordial Nature of God. No creature can be comparable in importance.

World-Oriented Mysticism

Question: 
How can mystical experiences direct us to the world and its needs?
Publication Month: 
June 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

The question is well formulated. Mystical experiences do not always have this effect. Some seek in mysticism an escape from the complexities, difficulties, and pressures of life in the world. And there are experiences that do constitute such an escape. In sweeping generalizations we could say that whereas the prophetic tradition directs its adherents to the problems of the external world, mystical traditions either offer inner serenity within the world or participation in something quite other than the world. The question I am asked here is one I often ask of others.

Tao and Creativity

Question: 
What is the relation between the Tao and process thought?
Publication Month: 
March 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

The questioner no doubt recognizes remarkable congeniality between Taoist thought and the contemporary tradition of process thought in the West. Taoism, like Buddhism, is an ancient process tradition like. But whereas Buddhism was a conscious rejection of a dominant substantialist mode of thought, the Tao seems more to articulate established sensibility. Probably process thinking has been native to East Asia for a very long time. 

After Process

Question: 
What comes after process theology?
Publication Month: 
May 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

I have not thought in these terms. That is a confession of limitation. It is a good question, and I appreciate the stimulus to think about it. But I assume there is no one answer. I also assume that there are many forms of Christianity for which the question is irrelevant.

No One Process Church

Question: 
Is there a distinctive process ecclesiology?
Publication Month: 
April 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

No. There is no one process ecclesiology. The kind of “church” appropriate for Quakers is quite different from that appropriate for Lutherans or Catholics. These also differ. In other words, process thought does not say that one form of Christianity is the right one for all believers at all times. On the other hand, accepting a process perspective affects the way Quakers, Lutherans, and Catholics think of their church and shape it.

Preferential Option and Process

Question: 
Can a process god have a preferential option for the poor?
Publication Month: 
February 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This is a thoughtful question. We process theologians believe that God loves everyone and everything. God loves the sinner and the saint; the whale and the sparrow; the weak and the powerful. If having a “preferential option” meant that God loved poor people more than God loved rich people, we could not make that statement in an unqualified way.

Obama Second Term

Question: 
Do you have any reasons to hope that President Obama will be “better” in his second term?
Publication Month: 
January 2013
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This is one of those many places where we need to distinguish the “hope” about which the question asks from optimistic expectation. I am not optimistic, but I do have hope.

Word and Wordless Prayer

Question: 
Is process prayer with or without words?
Publication Month: 
December 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Either and both. There are many important questions that are not decided by holding the process perspective. People from many different spiritual traditions can make use of process categories to clarify, deepen, and enrich their traditions. The process perspective allows us to honor this diversity. Difference does not lead directly to judgments of truth and falsity or to the need to rank the positions. Difference as such vastly enriches the world.

Is There One Normative Process Theology?

Question: 
Is there one normative process theology?
Publication Month: 
October 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were one normative process theology – at least if it were mine! If someone else’s theology took on that role, I wouldn’t be so happy about it.

The above paragraph is intended to indicate the problem of claiming normativity for any one position on virtually any topic. People involved in the discussion might be pleased if their views were adopted as “normative.” But those whose views were rejected would not, and many of them would simply reject the idea that beliefs they did not share had any claim to authority.

Relativity of Truth or the Truth of Relativity?

Question: 
Does process thought affirm the relativity of truth or the truth of relativity?
Publication Month: 
November 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This is a clever way to put a very fundamental question. It is also a wise way. The truth of relativity, which we affirm, is too often connected in people’s minds with the relativity of truth. But for process thinkers this connection is rejected. For us what has been has been, and nothing ever changes that fact. In that sense truths about the past are not relative. Similarly the structures of reality are what they are. What we believe about them does not change them.

Beyond Literal Truth and Mere Metaphor

Question: 
Is there a middle path between seeing process theology as literal truth and mere metaphor?
Publication Month: 
September 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This question rightly points to the wide range of positions of process thinkers. In an earlier generation Charles Hartshorne sometimes said that some key terms apply literally to God and only metaphorically to human beings! An example is “knows.” When we say that God “knows,” we speak literally. When we say that we “know,” we do not. That is because the idea of knowing is such that what is known cannot be otherwise than as it is known. Human “knowing” does not guarantee that reality is as we “know” it. Only God’s “knowing” can do that.

Desperate Times Call for Whiteheadian Measures

Question: 
In desperate times, can Whitehead help?
Publication Month: 
August 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Some years ago I suggested that nationalism had been the dominant religion of the West for several hundred years. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) symbolized its takeover of this role from Christianism. Three hundred and ten years later, the establishment of the European Economic Community symbolized the shift from nationalism to economism.

Hopes for Process

Question: 
What are some of your hopes for process over the next decade or two?
Publication Month: 
July 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This is a fun question. I’m glad I was not asked to predict the realistic prospects of process thought. That would not be so much fun. But “hopes” are another matter. Still, I’ll try to stick with hopes that are not merely fanciful.

Process Thought's Contribution to Societal Change

Question: 
Can process thought contribute to cultural, social, and political reform?
Publication Month: 
June 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

I appreciate this question. My answer is, of course, yes. If I did not think so, I would not have devoted so much of my time to process thought. But before I answer positively, I should acknowledge what process thought, by itself, certainly cannot do.

How do Schleiermacher and Process relate?

Question: 
Schleiermacher's theology is very close to process theology, so could process be a bridge between American and continental theologies?
Publication Month: 
May 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This is a complex question. Let me first describe where I agree. Schleiermacher was certainly an important figure in German theology. He is often called the father of liberal theology. During the nineteenth century, along with Hegel and Kant, he was a major shaper of the tradition. His basic program was renewed by Rudolph Otto, and there are clear continuations in Paul Tillich. There are certainly today adherents of this tradition.

Is Process Theology too Western?

Question: 
Is process theology a hopelessly Western endeavor?
Publication Month: 
April 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

I think there is a sense in which theology as such is “hopelessly” Western if that means inescapably tied to Christianity. What we understand by theology brings together history and philosophy in a way that Christians cannot avoid. We have to discern universal meanings in particular historical events since we assert that particular historical events have importance for all people.

Is Whitehead's Philosophy Atomistic?

Question: 
Is Whitehead's Philosophy Atomistic?
Publication Month: 
March 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This is a good question, and like most good questions, the answer is both “yes” and “no,” or “it all depends on what you mean by atomism.”

Process and Post-Structuralism

Question: 
Do you find the discussion between process thought and post-structuralism worthwhile?
Publication Month: 
February 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

A simple answer to this question is “Yes.” But that would mean very little. I think that process thinkers can benefit from discussion with any group of thoughtful people who approach matters from a different point of view. There is no one right point of view. We are all shaped by our particular histories and they have alerted us to different features of reality. We can enlarge our horizons and enrich our understanding by engaging many discussion partners.

God as the Power of the Future

Question: 
How do you feel about understanding God as "the power of the future"?
Publication Month: 
January 2012
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

The idea that the future exercises power on the present appears and reappears on the fringes of science, philosophy, and theology. It can be associated with the denial of the full reality of time, but it can also be associated with strongly temporal doctrines. Lewis Ford has engaged in a revision of Whitehead’s thought so as to take account of this idea.

Neuroscience and Physical Determinism

Question: 
In recent years, neuroscience research has increasingly suggested that our freedom is an illusion and that determinism in one form or another is the best explanation of human agency. How does process thought respond to these neuroscientific claims?
Publication Month: 
December 2011
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

There is one element of this question about which I am doubtful. It states that neuroscience has “increasingly” suggested that our freedom is an illusion. My experience with neuroscience is very limited, but it has given me hope that there is a strong counter trend within it. In any case, I would say that science as a whole has long implied that our freedom is an illusion, and the physiological psychology that has evolved into neuroscience was, from its beginning, committed to demonstrating physical determinism in the relation of the brain to subjective experience.

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