Ask Dr. Cobb

Assurance and the Experience of God

Question: 
I just finished reading the Time cover article about Mother Theresa's letters to her confessors that are shedding some light on the inner darkness that she experienced for the duration of her ministry. Does Process Theology offer anything to explain why the most beloved person of faith of the 20th century felt such a deep and painful yearning for a sense of connection with the divine? The same question would apply to Jesus' heart-wrenching "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthanai. Does Process Theology posit a "blessed assurance" when we are following the Divine Aim?
Publication Month: 
September 2007
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Can We Be Confident of Progress?

Question: 
Must everyone always call God “God”?
Publication Month: 
January 2009
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Of course, the answer is “No.” It is obvious that those who speak German will say “Gott,” and those who speak French will say “Dieu.” In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word is “El.” In the Greek New Testament, it is “Theos.” It is equally obvious that in Arabic, the word is “Allah,” although there are those who seem to dispute that.

Biblical Interpretation

Question: 
If people can become demon possessed, why didn't God warn Moses about this when He warned him about sin (10 commandments)? Why wasn't Adam deceived? Wasn't Adam with Eve when the serpent deceived her, Adam ate also, after Eve. Why did God sentence man to death and hell but woman through childbirth is saved? (OT) If we have dominion over animals, why can they eat us? God is an image of light, was Adam created in His image, or mans? Seth was like Adam, was he different? If Noah was the 8th person, does that make Adam and Seth different? Is the garden of Eden in heaven? Why does Jesus say if you cast out devils in his name he will tell you to depart you that work iniquity? Didn't demons and devils originate in Babylon? Why did the Jews adopt the Babylonian Talmud? Have you seen the tabernacles on Mount Carmel that Daniel spoke of?
Publication Month: 
March 1999
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

This set of questions arises from a way of reading the Bible that creates endless difficulties and confusions. It might be possible to deal with them one by one and give some kind of sensible answer, but that would not be very helpful. I will instead offer a few comments from a specifically process perspective, recognizing that most of what I say could be asserted by almost any Bible scholar in the oldline churches.

Bodily Resurrection

Question: 
Ever since I encountered Lewis Ford's account of the resurrection appearances in the chapter in The Lure of God, I have sought out process theology's answer to the question of a bodily resurrection. Currently I am reading your chapter on the resurrection in Christ in a Pluralistic Age and I was curious to see how much you have changed in the 30-plus years since that book was published. What would John B. Cobb, Jr., say today if he were in a debate with someone such as, say, William Lane Craig. What is the process approach to the resurrection of Christ?
Publication Month: 
May 2007
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Atonement

Question: 
"In what ways can Whitehead's process philosophy assist process theologians to understand the doctrine of atonement?"
Publication Month: 
August 1998
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Sometimes by the atonement we mean any theory of the salvific work of Jesus. Sometimes we mean a rather specific theory, such as that of St. Anselm, about how Jesus' death opened the way for God's forgiveness of our sins. In the former sense, all Christians must have some idea of atonement. In the latter sense, there are other options.

Atheism

Question: 
What are the presuppositions of atheists such as Harris, Dawkins, and Dennett that make these writers so appealing, and how does process theology offer an alternative view?
Publication Month: 
November 2006
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The intellectual-cultural context in which we operate favors atheism. Obviously this does not lead most people to become atheists. In this culture, in its popular forms, “atheism” is still a negative word. It was associated with “Communism,” for example. Many people call themselves “agnostic” in order to avoid the label and also to acknowledge that certainty about what does not exist is unattainable.

Animal Rights (2)

Question: 
In your FAQ answer on Animal Rights you make the statement: "If farmers raise chickens and cows and hogs, and if they are treated well so that they can enjoy their lives, killing them for food seems to me in line with the general order of things and not to be forbidden." How does being, "... in line with the general order of things," differ from "maintaining the status quo?" Isn't that the same as saying, "that's just the way things are?"
Publication Month: 
September 2004
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

This is a thoughtful and probing question and pushes me to think more clearly on a topic about which I do not feel much confidence. The position I have adopted lies between those who regard the well-being of other animals as of little or no importance and those who extend ethical concerns that are appropriate to human relations quite fully to other animals. I think that a process perspective justifies a middle position.

Animal Rights (1)

Question: 
"It seems to me that Process Ethics would affirm the Buddhist Precept about 'Not Harming' unless absolutely necessary. On the subject of 'Harming Animals', does this mean God wants all Compound Individuals (and other entities capable of 'high-grade' prehensions) to become vegetarians?"
Publication Month: 
October 2000
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

This question is for October and November 2000.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Buddhism teaches compassion toward all sentient beings. This constant refrain about sentient beings rather than just human beings certainly has practical and religious consequences. This is largely in continuity with Hindu teaching and has its greatest impact in South Asian cultures related to the Indian one. It has had less effect in China, Korea, and Japan, where Buddhism often seems hardly less anthropocentric than Christianity.

Angels & Demons

Question: 
What does/can process theology contribute to angels and demonology?
Publication Month: 
May 2008
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

On the whole, we process theologians developed our theologies at a time when individual angels and individual demons were little considered in theological circles. Accordingly, we have thought and written almost nothing about them.

Aesthetic as a Process Value

Question: 
Why do process thinkers so consistently emphasize the priority of the aesthetic in relation to the ethical? And why is “interest” more important than “truth?”
Publication Month: 
October 2007
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

On first blush this seems to be quite contrary to the normal sensibility of serious-minded persons informed by the Abrahamic traditions. For most of us the primary matter is the way we treat our neighbors and how inclusive of others our “neighbors” are. Justice and mercy are lifted up repeatedly in our scriptures. Can these be subordinated to a higher value?

9/11 and Process Theology

Question: 
Does David Griffin’s work on 9/11 have anything to do with process theology?
Publication Month: 
October 2009
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Obviously, there is no one-to-one relationship between Griffin’s being a process theologian and his being the leading scholar in “the 9/11 truth” movement. Many process theologians have shown no interest in this movement and some, if asked, may dismiss Griffin’s work as “conspiracy theory.” The Center for Process Studies, of which Griffin is a co-director, has maintained its distance from his work in this field.

God, the Great Artist

Question: 
I wonder if Dr. Cobb would care to comment on God and the arts from a process perspective. It seems that God's Initial Aim is always toward the beautiful, the peaceful, the sustainable and the harmonious. I have heard God described as the Great Artist.
Publication Month: 
August 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The questioner is certainly on the right track. Recently Roland Faber, professor of process theology at the Claremont School of Theology, published a book entitled “God as Poet of the World,” picking up from Whitehead’s own language. Whitehead gives to beauty a special status among the values that God seeks to realize in the world.

Gulf Oil Spill

Question: 
What does process theology say about the spread of oil in the Gulf of Mexico?
Publication Month: 
July 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Of course, process theologians share the universal distress about the damage being done to the gulf and many of those people who live around it. Our suspicion of those who live and work in the service of the economy is such that we suspect that matters are even worse than the press informs us. When we read that the chemicals being used to slow the leak are far more toxic than oil, we find that entirely credible.

The question for this FAQ is different. It is about the interpretation of this event and the implications drawn from it.

Is Process Theology Postmodern?

Question: 
Is process theology postmodern?
Publication Month: 
June 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

As with all such questions, a great deal depends on what one understands by the key terms. If “modern” refers to what has been called theological “modernism,” there would be little point in calling process theology “postmodern.” One form of theological “modernism” was specifically Catholic, and process theology arose in a quite different context. There was also a movement of “modernism” in Protestant circles in the United States centered at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago.

Belief in God

Question: 
Whitehead’s philosophy shows that a panentheistic view of God fits well into a richly developed cosmology. But this seems quite remote from immediate human experience. Are there aspects of common experience that support belief in God?
Publication Month: 
April 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

One way of approaching this question is to bring again to the fore the ancient triad of the true, the good, and the beautiful. People everywhere make judgments about truth, goodness, and beauty. Obviously, such judgments are made by people who do not connect them to God, even by people who strongly deny the reality of God. For some, one of them serves as an alternative focus of commitment and devotion. Devotion to truth may lead one to emphatic atheism. Devotion to goodness may lead to harsh criticism of accepted religious teachings.

Confidence in Progress

Question: 
Can Process Theologians Have Confidence in "Progress"?
Publication Month: 
January 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Like most important questions there is no simple “yes” or “no” answer to this one. Still there is an important “yes” and an important “no.” I will begin with the latter.

Whitehead and Freud's Theory of Eros (Love) & Thanatos (Death)

Question: 
In the later more sociological Freud, there is a great emphasis on Love (or Eros) which, as a newcomer to Process thought and theology, I cannot help but think of as a vision of the process God. Freud, however, found it necessary to balance Love with Death (aggression), and he describes the universe as the arena in which the battle of Love and Death takes place. I am reluctant to follow Freud in affirming this second power, but at the same time I find it difficult not to feel it is needed. In particular, I find it hard to understand why God's (Love's) persuasive power would not be more effective were there not this countering power. In fact, I find it difficult to understand why persuasion toward the good would not be completely effective minus some countering contrary power.
Publication Month: 
March 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Of course, the categories that arise in one system are not likely to be identical with those that arise in another. But all systems must account for both coming into being and ceasing to be, both life and death, both construction and destruction. In Whitehead the pair of terms might be creativity and perpetual perishing.

On Immigration

Question: 
Does process thought contribute anything to the debate on immigration?
Publication Month: 
May 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

I personally find it impossible to be enthusiastic about any of the positions on immigration among which we are asked to choose. Convictions that I believe to be at least consistent with process thought oppose all the proposed options. I will briefly discuss the issues in three contexts: economic, ecological, and human community.

Church Life, Practical Implications of Process for

Question: 
What are some practical implications of process theology for church life?
Publication Month: 
February 2010
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

Several books now exist that talk about the church in process terms and suggest what that means. Lisa Withrow, for example, has written Claiming New Life: Process-Church for the Future, and Paul Nancarrow addresses process spirituality and church life in The Call of the Spirit. Other authors have focused more specifically on preaching (Ronald Allen and Marjorie Suchocki). I’ll comment much more briefly and schematically.

A Personal God

Question: 
Is God Personal?
Publication Month: 
May 1998
Author - First Name: 
John B.
Author - Last Name: 
Cobb, Jr.

Dr. Cobb's Response

The answer to this, as to so many questions is Yes and No, but on the whole Yes is a better answer than No. Of course, everything depends on what is meant by "personal". For some people, the only way God can be personal is to be very much like a human being. In the extreme case this involves attributing a body to God that resembles a human body. Obviously, the answer must then be No. If we think of God having a body, that body is the universe as a whole.

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