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God and Religion in the Postmodern World: Essays in Postmodern Theology (Suny Series in Constructive Postmodern Thought) Paperback – December 20, 1988
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About the Author
David Ray Griffin is Professor of Philosophy of Religion at the School of Theology at Claremont. He is also Executive Director of the Center for Process Studies and founding president of the Center for a Postmodern World in Santa Barbara.
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He wrote in the Preface to this 1989 book, “[This book] seeks to return theological reflection to the public domain… the essays herein… were originally written for two types of readers: those nonmodern people who are intensely interested in religious or spiritual issues but who have found traditional theology incredible and modern theology irrelevant., and those fully modern people who… have dismissed religious spirituality as well as theology. To the former, I propose a form of theology that is very different from traditional theologies and that takes seriously many beliefs and practices generally dismissed or ignored by modern theologians. To the latter, I propose a worldview that is more coherent than the modern worldview and more helpful ethically. By ‘theology’ I mean rational reflection about what we take to be holy, that is, of ultimate importance for its own sake.” (Pg. xiii)
Later, he adds, “The essays in this book constitute an example of a postmodern theology and thereby a proposal for the direction theology should take in the postmodern period… the essays in this volume are theological in the stricter sense, dealing with ideas of God, religion, creation, science and theology, the human soul, immortality, spiritual discipline, and ethics.” (Pg. 3)
He explains, “One of the most important features of postmodern theology is its potential for overcoming the division between religious liberals and conservatives (including fundamentalists) which was inevitable in the modern period. Modernity presented religious thinkers with a forced choice: EITHER let experience and reason be decisive for the content of one’s faith, in which case it will become increasingly vacuous, OR maintain a robust faith by basing it upon the authority of scripture and tradition, allowing experience and reason a merely subservient role… ‘Reason’ largely meant thinking that conformed to the modern worldview… In this context, a… significant theology seemed to require a conservative method. Postmodern theology shows that this is no longer true. Within the context of the postmodern worldview, with its radical empiricism, a liberal method supports a significant theology with robust doctrines of God, providence, and even life after death… People no longer have to choose between having a meaningful faith and being fully empirical and reasonable.” (Pg. 7)
He continues, “On the one hand, postmodern theology is a philosophical theology, which states its claim to be accepted as true---or at least as less untrue than other available positions---solely in terms of the criteria used in scientific and philosophical reasoning at its best… Anyone who… concludes that postmodern theology is really PHILOSOPHY is correct in this sense. It argues for its positions in terms of strictly philosophical criteria… Whereas there is a sense, then, in which postmodern theology … is not specifically Christian, there are other senses in which it is… it can more accurately be called a ‘Christian’ philosophical (or natural) theology; even though it appeals only to the criteria that are appropriate to natural theology, which is a branch of philosophy, the questions it asks and the features of experience it consciously notices in answering them are influenced from the outset by its birth in a Christian cradle. The postmodern theology in this volume is Christian in an even more specific sense. Central to my own perspective is the conviction that the divine character, purpose, and mode of agency have been decisively manifested through Jesus of Nazareth… I refer to Jesus in a normative way that would not be natural to a theologian of another tradition.” (Pg. 8-10)
He points out, “the postmodern vision again sees the world as the creation of a personal deity. This deity is not, however, the God of medieval or of first-stage modern theism. That God had created the world out of absolute nothingness, which meant that the world had no inherent power of its own… The postmodern God created our present world… by bringing order out of a chaotic realm of energetic events. This God neither controls all things nor interrupts the natural processes here and there. God does not coerce, but persuades. God… inspires the creatures to create themselves by instilling new feelings of importance in them.” (Pg. 24-25) He goes on, “a postmodern worldview opens the way to considering the possibility that the human journey does not end with bodily death.” (Pg. 26)
He explains, “a postmodern worldview … makes belief in God possible again, even natural. But the feature of it that makes theism possible makes TRADITIONAL theism impossible.” (Pg. 62) He says, “God is the supreme, all-inclusive embodiment of creative power. As such, God influences the world and is influenced by it… Although God is the supreme power of the universe, God’s creative and providential power to influence others if not unlimited. God does not have and could not have a monopoly on power and therefore cannot unilaterally determine the events in the world. The reason for this is that the creatures have their own inherent creative power to actualize themselves and to influence others, and this power cannot be overridden. God affects creatures… not by determining them from without but by persuading them from within… This postmodern theism overcomes the reasons within modern thought for rejecting the existence of God.” (Pg. 64-65)
He summarizes, “The postmodern worldview not only makes the recovery of belief possible… it makes belief in God again natural. This worldview thereby makes it natural to see the world a incarnating objective values and as manifesting an underlying purpose, so that relativism and nihilism are overcome. It also makes it natural to regard the world as an essential spiritual matrix, so that our religious urge to be in harmony with the really real pulls us away from materialism… Finally, this worldview strengthens our sense of kinship with each other, portraying us all as having a common divine source, as living in the midst of a common divine reality, and as having a common divine goal. The divine reality of the universe dwells in us, and we in it, and our lives have immortal significance in it.” (Pg. 67)
He asserts, “Both controlled experiments and responsible reports of spontaneous phenomena over the past century provide evidence for the reality of extrasensory perception… Evidence also exists for the view that telepathy and clairvoyance are occurring all the time, and that only CONSCIOUS extrasensory perception is extraordinary or paranormal.” (Pg. 92-93) Later, he adds, “impressive evidence exists for human survival of bodily death… Some of the most impressive evidence comes from near-death experiences… Although reincarnation-type phenomena have long been despised among psychical researchers in the West, Ian Stevenson has recently produced impeccable and extensive studies… which have provided impressive, although not undeniable, evidence for reincarnation.” (Pg. 98)
He argues, “The association of belief in life after death with horrible doctrines of retribution is certainly well founded. Traditional Christian images of hell portray poor souls suffering eternal punishment for having offended the divine majesty… when this picture was combined with the doctrine of predestination, the apparent injustice of the universe was revolting. Evan apart from these extreme doctrines, the idea of heavenly rewards and hellish punishments is problematic. Given the grossly different circumstances with which people begin their lives, it cannot be fair to base their everlasting fate on the character that had attained in a few decades of earthly life… we need not think of our lives as divided into two parts, this earthly life and our ‘eternal reward.’ Perhaps we should think instead of a long journey of the soul, of which the present life is simply one portion…” (Pg. 100)
This book is an excellent exposition of Griffin’s theological views, and will be “must reading” for anyone seriously studying him, Process Theology, Postmodern Theology, or other forms of liberal/progressive Christianity.
Griffin points out what he calls the insuperable problems of the two most dominant worldviews since the Enlightenment, i.e. dualism and materialism. As for dualism, one is left with two worlds, one of matter and the other of mind (spirit, soul), and no reasonable explanation as to how they could interact (p. 22). One is also left with an omnipotent, benevolent, God and the very real human experience of evil. Historically, these problems lead to a rejection of dualism and the emergence of materialism. This worldview either fully rejects the reality of the mind, or relegates it to a mere epiphenomenona. Unfortunately, materialism leaves one denying the fundamental reality of one's own experiences, a contradiction unacceptable to an open-minded empiricism. Finding both of these worldviews as fatally flawed, Griffin moves to propose his postmodern vision.
The core of this vision lies in an ontology that he admits "boggles" the modern mind. (p. 63). He claims that all individual entities in the universe, be they humans, animals, plants, cells, molecules, or subatomic particles are experiential events (p. 24). This panexperientialism, or postmodern animism, provides all such entities a degree of freedom, self-determination, and creativity. From this foundation he develops his other concepts such as naturalistic theism (a view of God that is part of rather than separate from nature), the human soul, life after death, and ethical priorities.
Unfortunately, Griffin indicates that he "cannot take the time here to provide the evidence and arguments for this post modern starting point..." (p. 63). I wish he had taken the time so that this position could be more fully appreciated and credible. The arguments he does present include: 1) the extension of Heisenberg's principle of indeterminacy from epistemology to ontology; 2) the unavoidable contradictions involved in dualism and materialism; 3) the direct experience of God through prehension; and 4) evidence from parapsychology. Had Griffin developed each of these arguments further, the postmodern worldview he presents may have been more compelling. However, absent further development, these arguments are far from convincing and the conundrums he presents susceptible to alternative solutions or a simple declaration that we are still seeking answers. It is also unclear how the hypothesis of panexperientialism could be tested and thus meet the fundamental requirement of science.
In order to get a better grasp of what modern physics involves, I visited the website of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory ([...] This site is full of current information regarding Quantum Mechanics and is written for the educated layman. The picture of modern physics presented at this site is hardly mechanistic or Newtonian. It is full of uncertainty and concepts (e.g. quarks, leptons, photons, fermions, anitfermions, antiparticles, antimatter, dark matter, positrons, hadrons, bosons, neutrinos, and baryons, to name just a few) that also boggle the mind.
Unfortunately, Griffin does not even attempt a preliminary sketch of the Standard Model, i.e. the consensus worldview of modern physics, let alone its more esoteric cousins such as Super String Theory. Without a careful examination of these models, it seems premature to introduce the concepts of experience and creativity to Quantum Mechanics. One might even suggest that such a venture fails to give appropriate intellectual respect and deference to the work of modern scientists. There may be a place for panexperientialism in modern physics, but it may also be unnecessary, unhelpful, distracting, or even misleading. The truth is in the details and Griffin has failed to make his case at this level.
When reading Griffin I was reminded of a comment John Dominick Crossan made regarding the study of the historical Jesus. He said that it "was a safe place for one to do theology and call it history, to do autobiography and call it biography". It the case of this book, I came away with the distinct impression that Griffin was doing philosophy and calling it science, doing theology and calling it physics. Similarly, I was reminded of Marcus Borg's comment that, "In order to make the claim of history, you must do the work of history". What is true for history is equally true for physics, and Griffin has not done the work of physics.
In conclusion, I would love to seen a close collaboration and real dialogue and between physicists and postmodern philosophers/theologians such as Griffin. Absent that, it seems prudent to leave physics with the physicists. If philosophers and theologians intend to ground their worldviews in modern physics, then they need to do it in a more complete, detailed, and comprehensive way.
I Highly recommended this,as well as Griffin's other books, and books by John B. Cobb, Jr, Marjorie Suchocki, and Ken Wilber.