Pragmatism and Process Theology
Pragmatism is a philosophy based on action (Prag in Greek is “to do”) developed largely in America. It is critical of the preceding Idealist and Realist philosophies, which saw people primarily as knowers, and secondly as actors, a thought which followed their skepticism of universal truth.
The metaphysical view of pragmatism resembles biological evolution: there is no conclusion, goal, or absolute, but rather there is always process and change. People in this branch of philosophy are very skeptical, and doubt humanities ability to achieve absolute truth (from divine revelation or science). Science is suspect because it is limited by observation (which can be relative) and logic can only produce possibilities, not absolutes. They accept no revelations from any god, but even if faith is not a source of knowledge, it can still play a role. For instance, religion allows our subjective values to overtake our limited “objective” truths (which cannot absolutely prove anything), thus fulfilling our desires more efficiently.
The values derived from this tradition naturalist (similar to realism), but there is a stronger emphasis on community over individualism. This has lead to the development of social values and the defense of democracy. In this view, “truth” is incomplete, limited, and practical – it is what works for us, allowing us to fulfill our subjective desires; truth is both subjective and relative (my truth may change over time). Because of this, we cannot be dogmatic, and have an obligation to respect other people’s opinions. In relation to values and goals, we must evaluate our truth based on a social unit (as opposed to an individual perspective), creating a truth, which works for the society (this allows us to strongly criticize individuals who develop a truth which disrupts society). Social democracy is not simply a political system, but rather become the method for a society to determine truth and morality.
Process Theology is a religious response to pragmatism. In previous traditions, people assumed god was “the best” – they described this as an absolute state, which could never change. In process theology, the best is not stationary, but rather dynamic; an engaged, changing god is seen as “better” and even more loving. If god is allowed to change, there is no absolute certainty of the future, so faith must be placed in his character instead.
One tenet of process theology is the assertion that substance doesn’t exist, but rather everything is process. When processes interact in some type of relationship, they are said to have consciousness, so everything is alive from a metaphysical standpoint. It is a type of realism, where energy becomes the entity. This is not to say an atom or blade of grass has a conscience mind, but it is to say it is related to other things. Based on the assertion everything is related and interconnected, value can be found in everything, not just humanity.
This focus on connection bleeds into human relationships as well. If all people are connected, even as they maintain some sense of autonomy, they can fins happiness (or fulfill desires) by sharing experiences with other people. In other words, a human must cultivate successful relationships to truly become whole. This philosophy can also be applied to the individual as a unit, where there is a connection between thinking and emotions. Thinking can become a way of experiencing the world and aesthetic wisdom and logical thoughts can be seen as parallel forces rather than opposing views.
Process theology views any god figure as free by definition – he must be personable (and therefore able to change) if we are to have a relationship with him. Furthermore, god does not determine every process (one might say god is not all-powerful), so climate change and social issues become very relevant for people within this tradition because they can play an active role in improve the human condition. In essence, our actions have a much greater purpose: they can both change the future and influence god.