The Future of Theological Renewal
The most important problem in Christian rethinking today, it would seem, is the problem of God and unbelief. But any rethinking of the problem will ultimately be governed by one’s view as to how rethinking in theology should be done in general. So, before I could discuss and present intelligently the subject I have proposed, it is necessary that the reader understand my position on the direction that theological renewal ought to take in order to be relevant.
Reflection on the faith is a continuing task; our formulations are never finished. Today, our world is sufficiently different from the medieval to cause a need for radical reformulation. All admit the difference, but there are those who tell the modern world to conform to the medieval so that a metaphysical outlook can be reborn and thus the loss of faith due to the irrelevance of metaphysical formulations be averted. There are others, however, who consider this move a regression, for the modern world which sees reality as evolving gives a truer picture than the static world-view of the past.
Whatever be one’s preferences, it is nevertheless true that in the search for truth, both positions should be allowed to continue in their work of rethinking, for it is through trial and error and the plurality of formulations that we arrive at what is relevant, adequate and true.
For my part, I believe that the metaphysical presentation of theology has become irrelevant for the modern world and for modern man. It is not only the need of the modern world that convinces me of the inadequacy of metaphysical theology but also the nature of the faith which ought to determine the way it is formulated. The Christian faith speaks of the people of God on a pilgrimage to the eschatological Land of Truth. A metaphysical theology that looks at truths in an immutable and universal way cannot properly grasp and present. the unique historical events of the journey precisely as unique and historical. Furthermore, a metaphysical outlook, being other-worldly, is unable to show the modem world a Christian outlook which values the things of earth and sees the world as in process of spiritual redemption and transformation and presents salvation as taking place here on earth. A metaphysical orientation that points to value as supratemporal and other-worldly, is to me underhumanized and not truly serious about secular values. I am forced therefore to look to secular categories of the modern world as the possible framework for theological reformulation.
The use of secular categories has resulted in various theological experiments. For example, there are those who have tried existential and personalistic categories; those who have applied linguistic analysis to biblical statements; those who have advocated the dehellenization of traditional formulations; those who have experimented with political and social categories of the secular city; those who believe in the relevance of pragmatic philosophy or Whiteheadian process philosophy, and so on. Again, experimentation should be permitted, for only by trying out all possibilities do we hope to arrive at the suitable.
But I believe that the goal of relevance is not going to be achieved as long as professional theologians (both transcendentalists and immanentists) do not adopt the processive outlook and pattern of thinking. The processive outlook accomplishes three things which I consider necessary to make theology relevant today: (1) it reconciles theology with the scientific world, (2) it reconciles immanence and transcendence, and (3) it makes theological talk relevant.
Theology and the Scientific World
I believe that the task of theology is to show that its data (faith and revelation) are intrinsic to the evolving universe. For too long a time, much too long, in fact, theologians neglected the world. As David Jenkins observes, commenting on Bonhoeffer’s justified critique of Barth and Bultmann, "Barth’s approach (and Bultmann’s too) neglected the world. But this was not biblical. It was in the world that men lived, it was in the world that Jesus lived and the Bible portrayed the world as both created and redeemed."1 What theologians have to show if they want to be heard is the biblical view that the world is unintelligible apart from Christ.2 The theological hang-up on the problem of the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith is irrelevant for the ordinary man whose goal is the understanding of the message of Christ and which task is theology’s very purpose. Of the modern theologies, only one, and that by an "amateur" theologian, Teilhard de Chardin, has attempted to integrate Christ with the world. The theologian must talk about the world to be heard; if he talks about Christ, then, to be relevant, he must show Christ’s role in the evolving universe. here, again, Teilhard has shown Christ’s role, reinterpreting the Johannine and Pauline view of Christ. We must continue the task Teilhard has begun, going beyond him, by reinterpreting the categories of sin, guilt, grace, redemption, etc. But sad to say, many, instead of highlighting the originality of Teilhard’s task, have tried to "sanitize" him into orthodoxy.3
It is with this presently evolving world that we have to do and no other; if religion is to be relevant, its role must be shown in it. The reason why religion was relevant for the Israelites was that they saw the biblical events actually happening in their world. But for modern man, the scientific world is presented by professional theologians as theologically neutral; it is a natural order. Some theologians have relegated theology to the supernatural order; others, no longer believing in the supernatural, have reduced theology to feelings, emotions; and still others have given up on religious talk altogether. It is no wonder that modem man cannot see the relevance of theology. It is necessary for modern man to see that there is an objective theological dimension to our presently evolving world, that biblical categories are actually operative in it. But we have to know how to see. Unfortunately, the philosophical categories, existential, personalistic, linguistic and other empirical ones, are inadequate for the task of showing the relevance of religion and theology to evolution.
Immanence and Transcendence
The secularizers who use empirical categories hope that by their use, biblical categories become immanent. In the process, however, the very transcendence inherent in Christian thought has been sacrificed.4 The result is not really surprising if one remembers that the secularizers are heirs of hellenic thought in which the transcendent is necessarily metaphysical and the immanent empirical. The giving up of the metaphysical, in this dualistic context, would necessarily entail the giving up of religion and God.5
Any valid effort at making Christianity relevant to the modern world must take as its starting point the tackling of the problem of reconciling immanence and transcendence. Unfortunately, ignorance by theologians of the evolutionary outlook and pattern of thinking has precluded the chance of seeing transcendence in time and history. What we have to do is somehow to fuse metaphysics and the empirical. This task is quite possible in the evolutionary context.6 There are those who have reservations against evolution as a theological and philosophic category. I have taken account of some of these reservations in another work.7
Let us show then by the evolutionary pattern of thinking how we can solve the first basic problem of secularization: the reconciliation of immanence and transcendence. What does it mean to transcend? It means to go beyond a previous position such that the present one is superior to the former. But this going beyond could have two meanings, one static, the other evolutionary, depending on the context. Let us reflect on the meaning of transcendence in a static context. Suppose we had two positions A and B in which B is higher than A. We could think of A and B as two jobs, two rooms, two cars, etc. Transcendence, in this case, simply means switching to the better one. There is no problem here as long as one is willing to switch from one to the other. But suppose one likes the old one too; then there is no way of inducing him to switch. Now, this is the problem involved in the static formulation of Christian transcendence. Thus a Christian is told to leave the world for heaven, the temporal for the eternal, the secular for the spiritual and religious, reason for faith, the natural for the supernatural. But it is not easy to convince a thinking Christian that to tend to heaven is a perfection of the world, the supernatural of the natural, faith of reason, the eternal of the temporal. How can the eternal as timelessness be a perfection of time? This is not perfection but destruction or at least an abandonment of time, of history. If the Christian life is a better life than some others, then it must not be at the expense of human and earthly values. I have yet to see in modern Christian literature (theological or philosophic) an explanation as to how timelessness perfects the temporal, how faith perfects reason, how grace perfects nature, how a going beyond the world is not an abandonment of the world. The question is not an academic one. As Teilhard de Chardin observes, the dualism produced by a metaphysical formulation of Christian transcendence produces in the Christian a schizoid spirituality. Thus he says:
I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that nine out of ten practicing Christians feel that man’s work is always at the level of a "spiritual encumbrance." In spite of the practice of right intentions, and the day offered every morning to God, the general run of the faithful dimly feel that time spent at the office or the studio, in the fields or in the factory, is time diverted from prayer and adoration. It is impossible, too, to aim at the deep religious life reserved for those who have the leisure to pray or preach all day long. A few moments of the day can be salvaged for God, yes, but the best hours are absorbed, or at any rate cheapened, by material cares. Under the sway of this feeling, large numbers of Catholics lead a double or crippled life in practice; they have to step out of their human dress so as to have faith in themselves as Christians -- and inferior Christians at that.8
For the early and medieval Christians, there was nothing wrong in withdrawing into the desert or into monasteries from the world. There was no tension or schizophrenia produced in their souls, because for them the eternal was better than the temporal, the other-worldly better than this world. The world was seen as a place of sin, error and contingency; it was not transformable, hence nothing else could be done except to flee from it. But today, the modern man sees nature as transformable; he appreciates the value of science and technology. He has come to realize time as evolutionary, as creative of novelty, as opposed to the classic view of time as negative, as going on without purpose since the universe is finished. For the modern Christian a tension is produced between his recently acquired appreciation of secular values and other-worldly formulation of his faith. How is the tension to be resolved? Are we to be totally immanentist, that is, totally identify with the secular world? But how is a Christian to be identified? How is he different from the secular humanist? The answer of some is that there is no need to, since our world is a post-Christian one. Christian transcendence is a myth; church structures therefore must go; the liturgy, God and belief, and all symbols of transcendence are out of place in the modern secular world. For the majority of concerned Christians, the tension is unresolved. They are confused and so is theology. The question remains: how resolve the tension between immanence and transcendence?
Perhaps we could affirm both secular values and Christian transcendence without being other-worldly by looking at the world as evolutionary, that is, as in process of growth. Let us then reflect on the meaning and implication of growth in the hope that it will resolve the question. We have examples of growth in the case of the seed developing into a plant, the young into the adult, the immature becoming mature. Now, in the case of positive growth, the mature or adult stage is better than the immature stage. Already in growth, the transition from one stage to another satisfies the minimal requirement for transcendence. But it might be asked here whether our example is not really the same as an earlier formulation in which the secular is abandoned for the sacred. No, because in the case of growth, we do not abandon one thing for another. Thus, the seed does not abandon itself for another seed. We have to do with one and the same seed. For a given seed to abandon itself for another would be its destruction, not its transcendence. But we can still object that even in the case of growth there is an abandonment. Upon reflection, however, growth is not an abandonment but a fulfillment. The seedling state is not a threat to and a destruction of the seed state. For in growth, the higher stage is not a destruction but a fulfillment of the lower. To remain in the lower is for the seed to tend toward death, for by the very law of its being, it must tend toward the seedling, not only to preserve itself but also to attain a fuller possession of itself.
By using the model of growth,9 we can provisionally say that Christian transcendence could be seen as the higher evolutionary dimension of the world. Transcendence in this case would not be a going outside time but an advance into the future. But further reflection is necessary before we can with confidence accept this view.
Let us move away from this example of growth to a more formal analysis of evolutionary time. A possible difficulty for static thought is how a going beyond the present into the future can be a transcendence since the future when it arrives is just as empirical as the present. Consequently, there does not seem to be a transcendence in the sense of going beyond the empirical. So how can one attain transcendence by going into the future?
It would seem that one cannot attain transcendence by staying in time; one has to be metaphysical or metempirical. But there does not seem to be a metaphysical or metempirical region. So is not the logical thing to do to give up all manner of transcendence?
There are false assumptions in the objection just proposed that we would like to uncover, assumptions based on a static view of reality. First, it assumes that the world does not evolve, that it was created once and for all in the beginning, so that even if it tended toward the future it would remain substantially the same. In this view, of course, there is no transcendence. There is as much being before as after. In this view the world is what it is, not what it will be. The second presupposition is that time itself does not evolve, that it remains the same in the past, in the present and in the future. And third, it assumes that time is distinct from the world, that time is a container, as it were, in which objects are placed. The world is contained in time and time itself is essentially empirical and historical. The only way then for the world to transcend itself is for it to go outside this container into a metaphysical or transhistorical sphere.
In an evolving universe, however, evolutionary time is self-transcending in the sense that it transforms itself, evolving toward greater being. Thus time is at the present greater ontologically than it was in the distant past. Recall what we said above that time is one with the evolving thing. To see the evolution of time, then, one has to observe the things themselves and see whether there has been a movement from lesser being to greater being. Observing things, we find first that matter evolved from sub-atomic particles to the atom to the molecules. The molecules formed megamolecules which evolved toward the first cell. In form, in organization, in activity, in the ability to preserve itself, the cell transcends the molecule. But the evolutionary process did not stop at the unicellular organism. The process of transcendence went on, evolving multicelled organisms of greater and greater complexity, from the plant organism to the animal one. The latter transcends the plant by the possession of sense powers and feeling. But man who is a later product of the process far transcends the animal with the possession of self-consciousness and rational powers. Man in his turn evolves toward a higher level through interpersonal relationships and the historical process. It is at the point of the historical that Christian transcendence is appropriately situated.
In order to grasp better the transcendent nature of the evolutionary process, let us abstract from the things that evolve and just look at evolutionary time as a process. If one were to conceive of it simply as a line (see diagram below) that moves forward from alpha to omega, then we fail to grasp transcendence and we fall into the same difficulty that bothers metaphysicians and empiricists.
a b W
past present future
In the diagram, the future is just future, of equal ontological value as the past and the present. There is no transcendence here, just pure empiricism, and we would have to look outside the line for transcendence -- in the region of the transhistorical.
A true representation of evolutionary time would look something like the following:
a ab ab W
past present future
In the diagram, the future is not just itself, but contains what came before. It carries greater ontological weight than either past or present, and because of this it can serve as the foundation for transcendence.
By situating transcendent realities like God, grace, faith, religion, and revelation in the future dimension of the evolutionary process, it would seem possible to attain them without a departure from time. But further reflection on the nature of the evolutionary future is required.
Let us define more precisely here what we mean when we say that Christian transcendence is to be situated up ahead in the future. Does this mean situating it in the year 3000 AD.? No, for this future is simply the historical future, the region of transcendence for biological realities and cultural ones such as the growth of nations and civilizations, but not the region for spiritual transcendence. Christian transcendence implies a new time dimension -- the eschatological. By eschatological we do not mean "seeing each historical moment as a discrete absolute of finality," as Barth does in making eschatology the eternal that stands over time and breaks it at each juncture, or as Bultmann does in making each decision-moment the eternal now.10
To explain the meaning of eschatological future, it is helpful to resort to an example. Thus, in the example of the seed that is planted and begins to germinate, we can distinguish two types of future -- the future before germination, and the future after germination. The days required before the seed germinates would be its simple historical future, while the time after germination is its eschatological future. The latter is not on the same level as the historical future; it is a new time dimension -- the start of a new life. Similarly, the eschatological future as a theological category is a time that transcends historical time, but it should not be called supra-historical, since there is evolutionary continuity between the historical and the eschatological futures, just as there is continuity between the seed and the plant. Furthermore, the eschatological future is not outside the historical but is somehow immanent in the historical, just as the life of the plant is somehow inchoately present in the germinating seed.
It is possible, then, through the evolutionary mode of thinking to secularize Christianity, as it were, by seeing the whole evolutionary process as already somehow participating in the eschatological Christian dimension, while at the same time preserving the transcendence of the Christian faith as precisely being the eschatological dimension of the process.11
An Outline of Process Thought12
At this point, it is necessary to introduce the reader to processive thinking so that he can follow our procedure of historicizing the subject matter of our study, namely, God and belief.
Let us outline briefly Teilhard’s world-view so that from it we can derive our philosophy of process. A diagram here would help:
In the diagram, we observe that for Teilhard all reality tends toward Christ. Cosmogenesis is the evolution of matter whose goal is life. Life in its turn undergoes a process of evolution called biogenesis whose term is the emergence of mind or spirit in man. The evolution of spirit or mind (noogenesis) terminates in the Christian dimension which is the eschatological future of the previous stages. But this Christian dimension is still in process; hence it is a Christogenesis, whose absolute term is the Omega point: Christ.
The eschatological future is a relative term. It means the next higher dimension of a given process. Thus the eschaton of cosmogenesis is life; noogenesis the eschaton of biogenesis, and the Christian dimension the eschaton of man. The eschaton always represents the stage of maturation or fullness of being of a given process. In relation to this fullness of being, the previous stage is a becoming. Thus process or becoming terminates in being. It is justifiable therefore to speak of an ontology (being) or metaphysics of process.
Metaphysics of Process
The structure of a metaphysics of process may be outlined thus:
being (eschatological future)
(present time) becoming / metaphysical
Note that the metaphysical is situated in the future rather than outside time. Hence, the metaphysical is not mythical as some empiricists tend to believe. The future is metaphysical, not merely because it is beyond the present, but because it is the region of fullest being, of maturity. Second, the future is metaphysical in the sense that it is the depth of reality, whereas the present (which is the region of becoming) is the superficial and relative aspect of developing being. Third, it is metaphysical because it is the region of stability. It is stable because the process of development has arrived at its term; there is maturation and order; chance and the possibility of failure are no longer present. Fourth, the future is metaphysical because it is the region of fullest meaning, as we will later show.
What is original in process thought is the equation of the metaphysical with the eschatological future. But recall what we said earlier: the eschatological dimension is already contained somehow in its previous stages; hence the process itself can properly be called a metaphysical process. Process, then, need not necessarily be opposed to the metaphysical, for process does not necessarily mean phenomenal. Thus process metaphysics is not a destruction of metaphysics but a new understanding of it. However, process metaphysics should not be equated with traditional metaphysics in which the term metaphysical means the ahistorical, the supratemporal, the universal and the immutable. For process thought, the metaphysical is the fullness of temporality, since the future which is the region of the metaphysical is the region of the fullness of time or maturation. Hence, we do not believe (as some traditionalists claim) that Christianity is intrinsically metaphysical, if by this is meant being atemporal and otherworldly. I agree with the secularizers that we must go beyond traditional metaphysics.
Another sense in which process metaphysics differs from traditional metaphysics is that the latter situates metaphysics in the present, not in the future, since it locates being in the present, while the future is seen as the region of non-being. In process metaphysics, on the contrary, the present is the region of becoming; hence, as long as process is unfinished, we do not yet have a metaphysics. In the context of a universe in process, the option I am suggesting is not a return to traditional metaphysics but a historicizing of it by seeing it as the eschatological dimension of the universe.
My opposition to traditional metaphysics is not its predilection for transcendence, which in fact is its lasting value, so much as its identification of transcendence with the timeless. I can accept metaphysics if it is historicized. If the mark of every true philosophy is in its ability to make room for transcendence, then Platonic, Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophies are valid. In fact, if we look on transcendence as the common element in philosophy, then there is more similarity than dissimilarity, more continuity than discontinuity between traditional metaphysics and the metaphysics of process. If so, then renewal is not so much a complete break from the past, as some secularizers have been suggesting, as a new understanding of transcendence. Where before transcendence was expressed vertically, statically, now it is expressed horizontally, evolutionarily.
If transcendence is thus historicized, then a purely immanentist philosophy that denies transcendence altogether is not the only alternative to a timeless metaphysics. The secularizers are mistaken in ‘thinking that Christianity, the sacred, the religious and the transcendent stand or fall with traditional metaphysics. Because they believed that this was so, they logically spoke of a post-religious, post-Christian, and wholly secular world, once the metaphysical was denied. Obviously, the secularizers are still imprisoned by the hellenic dualistic categories of which they are heir, and obviously they have not learned to think evolutionarily, or else they would have seen the possibility of transcendence in time.
Epistemology of Process
Let us next outline here the epistemology of process that follows from the metaphysics of process just described. Diagrammatically it would look thus:
past present future
non-being becoming being
mythical symbolic metaphysical
knowledge knowledge knowledge
In the diagram we notice that corresponding to the level of reality is the level of knowledge. Knowledge evolves pari passu with being. Mythical knowledge, in the pejorative sense, is mythical because it has no real foundation; symbolic knowledge is partial knowledge because it is based on unfinished reality. It is symbolic because it corresponds to becoming, which is an indication and partial revelation of what it will be. Metaphysical knowledge attains fullness of truth and certainty because it corresponds to the fullness of being in which there is no chance of failure since being has arrived.
To attain metaphysical knowledge, both knower and known must be fully evolved. In other words, on the part of the knower (reason), to attain the future, the region of metaphysical knowledge, it must be fully evolved. As long as reason is not fully evolved, its knowledge is partial, symbolic of the fullness that it will be. On the part of the object known, it must likewise be fully evolved to reveal fully what it is. As long as it is not fully evolved, it is half concealed from itself and from the knower. It is only in the future that metaphysical knowledge is possible because there is absence of darkness, with both knower and known fully revealed to themselves and to one another.
The epistemology of process is not empirical, if by empirical is meant the absolutization of the present, for the basis of knowledge in our view is the future, Of course, in order to know the future, one must know the present and the past, but not in and for themselves, since the present and the past do not point to themselves but to the future. In other words, the present is a sign of the future, insofar as the present is unfinished. In this sense, knowledge is predictive. This is true not only in philosophy and theology but also in science. The epistemology of process is not metaphysical if by this is meant that one must go outside time in order to attain the essence of reality. It is metaphysical in the sense that one must tend toward the future, for it is in the future that the essence of a developing reality is revealed.
This epistemology produces a historicization of reason because reason attains knowledge not by going outside time but by incarnating itself in time, since knowledge as future can only be attained through the present. Reason ceases to be abstractive, atemporal, ahistorical. To be fully rational, reason must become fully temporal, earthly, historical. Reason’s function is to be a light that guides evolving reality toward the future. Reason is eschatological.
Objective Basis of Theological Talk
We have given the reader a general idea as to how Christian transcendence could be situated in time; we have also given an introduction to the process mode of thinking to be used in our reflections. We would like to show now the objective foundation for theological talk, so as to achieve relevance.
The basic presupposition we must start with is that theology is talking about our present world simply because it is about this world that the Bible is talking. The problem, however, is that science also talks about this world. Consequently, how does one differentiate theological talk from scientific talk? Our task is to rediscover the theological dimension of the world, a dimension removed from it by traditional academic theology which abandoned the world to science. Theology must go back to the world of today and relate theological talk to everything that is going on around us and happening to us. We must go back because the world, after all, is theology’s birthright. The present world is no longer the world as understood during the time of Bishop Butler and Friedrich Schleiermacher. That understanding served as the background of the theologizing of Barth and Bultmann and their followers.13 As a result of the faulty understanding of the scientific world then as accessible only to empirical and historical method, theology desperately tried to distinguish its data from those of science by carving out a separate realm for itself: the realm of faith accessible by existential method and not by the scientific historical method (Bultmann)14 or the givenness of the Word as a direct communication from God and hence not from the world (Barth),15 or the Scriptures alone accessible to faith-encounter, and distinct from the world as a wholly autonomous system (Brunner).16 Traditional Catholic theology, for its part, was undisturbed by the Protestant problem because all along it had made a distinction between the natural order as the realm of science and the supernatural order as that of theology. To make theological talk relevant, Catholic theology, in accordance with its understanding of the relation between nature and supernature, inserted theology into the scientific world as a superadded meaning. The overall result of withdrawing theology from the world has been to accord theology its autonomy by putting it in splendid isolation.
What we need to do first is to realize that our traditional distinctions between science and religion, nature and super-nature, are invalid and inadequate for a true understanding of the nature of theology and theological talk. In an evolving universe we need a new view on the relation between science and religion. The traditional view makes a spatial distinction between science and religion: science has its field, the natural and historical order; theology or religion has its own, the supernatural, suprahistorical or existential order, as the case may be. But the Scriptures do not make this distinction, for they speak about the creation of this world and the New Creation; St. Paul speaks of the redemption of material creation groaning until now to be delivered; the Apocalypse speaks of the spiritual transformation of this world into the New Earth. We cannot demythologize these truths and reduce them to existential categories. Besides, existentialism restricts itself to human temporality whereas the Christian message has a cosmic perspective.17 On the other hand, we cannot say simply that these scriptural truths are historical in the traditional sense of the term, that is, open to empirical verification. What to do?
The death-of-God theologians, linguistic theologians and urbanizers see no empirical foundation for theological talk. Being unable to locate religion and theological talk in the world they content themselves with the negative job of doing away with the other-worldly or of imposing a moratorium on theological talk. The world must be seen as wholly secular, religionless. If there is any value to religious and theological talk at all, it is purely subjective, emotive, and hence extrinsic to the world.
Our inability to situate theological talk within the evolving world is due to the static pattern of thought which both Catholic and Protestant theologians still unconsciously cm-ploy in making a distinction between science and theology. The distinction between science and religion is not spatial; there is not one area or field of the universe which is scientific and another which is theological, for science can very well show that all areas of the universe are scientific. No, the Scriptures are talking about the same world that science is talking about. But here difficulty starts for the static mind. For it, the world can have only one univocal and objective meaning. If we call this meaning scientific, then religious or theological meaning becomes poetic, mythical, emotive and subjectivistic. The solution to the crisis in theology is not solved by saying religious talk is meaningless; what the crisis means is that the static pattern of our thinking must go. But rare is the Catholic or Protestant theologian who knows how to think evolutionarily. A static pattern of thinking still unconsciously controls his theologizing. He takes lightly the observation of Teilhard that the evolutionary pattern of thinking is a general condition that must influence all theories, all hypotheses, all systems if they are to be thinkable and true.18
The implication of evolutionary thinking is that there are levels of meaning to one and the same reality. Incidentally, the view that there are levels of meaning to reality is quite scriptural, since New Testament writers saw deeper meaning to Old Testament history in the light of New Testament history. Are these meanings imposed? Are they subjective? Did the faith of the New Testament writers impose meanings on the facts that are not intrinsic to them? In the static pattern of thinking in which a given fact can have only one objective meaning, yes. But in the evolutionary pattern, and this I believe was the outlook of the Scriptures, there can be levels of objective meaning.
Let me illustrate the levels of meaning of a reality that evolves by the following diagram:
Notice in the diagram that one and the same individual has levels of meaning, all of which are objective. The individual is a fetus, a child, a youth, and an adult. This is possible because the given reality evolves; if it does not, then it can have only one objective univocal meaning. The distinction between the term "child" and the term "fetus" is not spatial, but temporal. In the static pattern of thinking, for two terms to have each an objective meaning, they must refer to two distinct individuals or realities, not to one and the same individual, for in this second case only one term is objective, and the other is metaphorical or subjective. In line with this pattern of thinking, one and the same world cannot have two objective meanings. If, as science claims (and its claims are stronger because they are verifiable empirically), the objective meaning of the world is what science says it is, then theological talk (if it claims to talk about the same world) must be metaphorical and subjective. In the effort to give objectivity to theological talk and thus autonomy to theology, the only recourse for theologians, as long as they were bound by the static pattern of thinking and its logic of meaning, was to distinguish theology spatially from science. In other words, theological talk had to refer to an area distinct from the world.
In an evolving world, there are levels of meaning. There is therefore a foundation for distinguishing scientific talk from theological talk in one and the same world. The distinction between them is not spatial but temporal. The temporal relation may be illustrated thus:
total temporal dimension
levels of meaning: scientific level of meaning
theological level of meaning
In the diagram, both science and theology are talking about the same world, but the theological is at a higher temporal dimension. -- the eschatological (which we have explained earlier). The theological is not supratemporal or suprahistorical, for theological meaning is not located outside this world or outside the evolutionary process. On the other hand, it is not historical in the traditional sense of the term, that is, empirically verifiable. The traditional correlative terms, historical-suprahistorical, are inadequate to distinguish the relationship between scientific and theological talk, since they are based on a static logic of meaning. Because theological talk is not empirically verifiable, it does not mean that it is therefore suprahistorical or subjective, just as the term "adult" is not suprahistorical or subjective simply because it is not empirically verifiable at the level of the fetus. We must see the universe as in process of evolution. Then we can see that it has an eschatological dimension -- that, as Teilhard notes, science leads to religion.19
The contention of the Scriptures is precisely that this evolving universe is going to be spiritually transformed in the end. The scientist is told that his time-perspective is not the absolute perspective, that within the eschatological dimension one can see new meaning. This does not mean that the theologian is physically there in the eschatological future. No, both scientist and theologian are physically here at this time and looking at the same world. But the theologian sees the present world in the light of what it will be. He does not impose this meaning; it is already in the present world, but inchoately. But how is one to distinguish objective theological talk from utopias? Jürgen Moltmann answers this question well:
Christian eschatology does not speak of the future as such. It sets out from a definite reality in history and announces the future of that reality, its future possibilities and its power over the future. Christian eschatology speaks of Jesus Christ and his future. It recognizes the reality of the raising of Jesus and proclaims the future of the risen Lord. Hence the question whether all future statements are grounded on the person and history of Jesus Christ provides it with the touchstone by which to distinguish the spirit of eschatology from that of utopia.20
From our description of the epistemology of process we can understand how the present is symbolic of the future. The theologian looks at the present insofar as it is a sign of the future -- in this case, the eschatological future, not the simple historical future. This is the scriptural view as noted by Johannes Metz:
The word of revelation, according to most recent research, is not primarily a word of information or even a word of address, nor is it a word expressing the personal self-communication of God, but is rather a word of promise. Its statements are announcements; its preaching is the proclamation of what is to come and therefore an abrogation of what is. The principal word of promise points to the future.21
In sum, what we have done is to relocate the foundation of theological talk from the other-worldly realm to the eschatological future. Theological talk is thus made part of the world and is able to talk about the world -- from the point of view of what it will be or ought to be.
Having given this introduction to the task I propose to do, I shall now without delay attempt to rediscover God and belief in the world. What I present is not a rehash of traditional discussion on the subject but a rethinking of God and belief in the context of process thought and of a world in process.
A Note on Process Philosophy: Some Objections to Process Thought22
The objections we would like to discuss are the following:
1. Evolution does not make room for revolution.
2. Evolution is too optimistic in representing reality as an uninterrupted progress. The truth, however, is that there are regressions, ups and downs in reality. Hence, reality is better represented dialectically.
3. The goal represented by your specific brand of process philosophy is a victory. It does not therefore afford room for the possibility of failure.
Our answers to the above objections are as follows:
1. There are critical thresholds in evolution which represent moments of radical change or transformation. The germination of a seed is an example of a critical threshold. In this example, there is a "destruction" of the organization of the seed and the emergence of a new organization and a resultant new life. Evolution should not be pictured as a straight line moving smoothly forward and upward or as a tree growing placidly and quietly without any critical events in its life. We should see the tree as basically the result of a "revolution" -- the germination of the seed that it came from. The dynamics of germination is exemplified in the macrocosmic process. Thus the transition from the atom to the cell was a revolution.23 Atomic and molecular structures gave way to biological structures and laws. Geological upheavals, the extinction of species, the struggle for survival and the emergence of thought in animals were all revolutions. And the emergence of man and this historical order was a revolution of the first magnitude.
There are those who see reality as a succession of revolutions that are utterly discontinuous. If they see continuity at all, they situate it within the context of discontinuity. But one has to see reality within a very wide time perspective measured in millions of years to see that there is a continuity, and that, therefore, discontinuity must be seen in the context of an overall continuity.24 The prime category of reality is not revolution but evolution; revolution is in the context of evolution.
2. The first objection is based on the assumption that reality is composed of discontinuous and disparate events. The second objection sees discontinuity in continuity but objects to a representation of this continuity as progressive. We reply that we have to represent evolution as a forward and upward movement because we consider the evolution toward man as a forward ascent. It does not mean that there were no failures in the past or that there could not be any in the future. One must see the forward ascent in the background of the countless trials and errors, the waste, deaths and extinctions of species, etc., it took to achieve it. Thus we do not deny regressions and dips. But to represent reality as a succession of ups and downs or progressions and regressions -- hence as a dialectic -- is too mechanical and artificial. A too mechanistic view of reality is my basic objection to all forms of dialectic. Such an example is found in Hegel’s dialectical view of reality. The truer picture of reality is that there are long periods in which the ascent is uninterrupted, followed by a short period of regression or vice versa, or again, there may be periods of dialectical regularity. These movements are unpredictable and hence not easily susceptible to being represented in terms of a neat rhythmic model like the swinging of a clock pendulum. The main movement of reality is not upward and downward or forward and backward, but a forward ascent. A dialectical view does not necessarily portray this, for there could be a dialectic within a movement whose overall direction is downward or backward. In process thought, while dialectic is not denied, it is nevertheless subordinated to the forward ascent of evolution.
3. The third objection states that process thought does not afford room for the possibility of failure. In reply, we ask how an evolutionary view of reality could possibly ignore the possibility of failure when the evolutionary process has entropy as its traveling companion. Thus, there is the entropy at the atomic and molecular levels in the form of the loss of physical energy; then there is entropy in the form of the extinction of life at the biological level; next, there is the entropy appropriate for the level of human life, namely, human death. At the level of history there is the fall that accompanies the rise of civilizations and cultures; and at the level of the personal, entropy is manifested in the form of hate which results in spiritual death, thus destroying the highest level of unity attained by the evolutionary process -- the interpersonal.
Process thought does not deny the possibility that man could destroy the billions of years of evolution by bringing it to a tragic end. It does not affirm that no matter what we do in the present, the outcome is going to be successful. Rather, process thought as a world-view presents man with a program for action in the present. It gives a framework that gives meaning and intelligibility to our present. The alternative to a processive world-view of waiting till all evidence is in is bad philosophy -- if it is philosophy at all -- for it paralyzes action; it lets time pass by and allows opportunities to be lost. It is fatalistic and does not give due account for the creative possibilities of man.
1. See his book, Guide to the Debate about God (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1966), p. 101.
2. Colossians 1.
3. See Robert T. Francoeur, "Waiting for Teilhard," The National Catholic Reporter Supplement (Feb. 28, 1968), p. 9. See also his article, "The Compleat Teilhard?" in The Critic (Feb.-March, 1968).
4. That transcendence is inherent in Christian thought is noted by Gordon Kaufman in his article "On the Meaning of ‘God’," New Theology, 4 (Macmillan, 1967), pp. 71-72. Thus he says: ‘For the purposes of his ‘demythologizing’ program Bultmann defines mythology as ‘the use of imagery to express the other worldly in terms of this world and the divine in terms of human life, the other side in terms of this side. But this leaves unquestioned the most problematic feature of mythological thinking: that there is an ‘otherworldly’ or ‘other side’ at all, which, in contrast with the ‘human,’ is viewed as ‘divine.’ . . . Demythologizing which fails to come to terms with the ultimate metaphysical-cosmological dualism expressed in the mythology, and in fact at the root, of all Western religious thinking, is not seriously facing up to the problem of irrelevance of the Christian church in contemporary life."
5 Gabriel Fackre assesses the positive and negative points of the program of the "anti-transcendents" in his article, "Issue of Transcendence in the New Theology," New Theology, 4 (Macmillan, 1967), p. 193. Thus he says: "The anti-transcendents have said an important word. They remind us that the eyes of men are now turned to the human plane. Further, they have underscored the serious misunderstandings possible in our present conceptions of transcendence. What is properly a corrective, however, must be just that -- a corrective and not a new gospel which merely accommodates to going notions and sensitivities." And speaking specifically of the death-of-God theologians, he says: "Proclamation of the ‘death of God’ is simply a theological version of the same megalomania which seeks to turn an old imperialism into a new one. Here there is no talk of God-man partnership or covenant dialogue, but the appearance of monolithic, monological man" (p. 189).
6 Harvey Cox believes that the future of theology is lighted by two seminal thinkers of our time, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Ernst Bloch, and that the way Out of the "death of God" miasma could very well be the processive and eschatological dimension in the thinking of both men. (See his "The Death of God and the Future of Theology," New Theology, 4 (Macmillan, 1967), pp. 248-49. See also his latest book, On Not Leaving It to the Snake (New York: Macmillan, 1967).
7 See my book, Teilhard and the Supernatural (Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1966), Part II. Part of the reluctance to accept process thought is its association with Marxism in the minds of many. But evolutionary or dialectical thinking is not essentially Marxistic; it is intrinsic to the Bible. The type of evolutionary thinking that I use here is one that I have developed and elaborated from the world-view of Teilhard de Chardin. I do not claim that it was Teilhard’s own. It is uncertain what Teilhard’s philosophy was, for he never elaborated one. In fact, at one place Teilhard seems to explain evolution as the actualization of potency (see The Vision of the Past (New York: Harper and Row, 1966), p. 192n; at another, Teilhard recommends the transposition of the notion of the fixity of essence to that of genesis (from a letter of May 18, 1964; see Claude Cuénot, Teilhard de Chardin [Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1965], p. 369). But Teilhard was not a professional philosopher; the kind of philosophy implicit in his thought would have to be based on his work, not on what he said it was.
8 See The Divine Milieu (New York: Harper, 1960), p. 34.
9 The use of examples derived from the infrahuman level of evolution is a valid epistemological procedure in evolutionary thinking. The principle behind it is that of continuity according to which what is found at a higher level is also present at a lower level but in a form proportionate to that level. A specific example we will be using quite frequently to help us think theologically is that of the seed and its ground. The use of this example is justified not only evolutionarily but biblically. Thus in the Scriptures: unless the seed dies, it remains alone; if it dies it bears much fruit. Paul uses the dying of the seed and its rebirth to explain the theological meaning of redemption and resurrection, as in I Cor. 15:37.
10 See Max L. Stackhouse, "A Theology for the New Social Gospel," New Theology, 4 (Macmillan, 1967), p. 227.
11 Johannes Metz observes how appalling is the unimportance of the future in theology. It has been forgotten to the point "that all modern theological discourse on the historicity of faith stresses only the relationship of the past to the present." He cites Bultmann as an example along with all existential theology derived from Heidegger. See his article, "Creative Hope," Cross Currents, 17 (1967), p. 172.
12 For a fuller treatment see Teilhard and the Supernatural (Baltimore: Helicon, 1966), Part II. For some objections to process thought, see note to the Introduction.
13 See David Jenkins, op. cit.
14 Ibid., pp. 56-70.
15 Ibid., pp. 71-81.
16 Ibid., pp. 82-88.
17 Eric Mascall, in a review of W. Richard’s book, Secularization Theology, in The Thomist, 32 (1968), pp. 106-115, says that "existentialist theology is out of harmony with what modern science tells us about man." He adds: "It is significant that for existentialist theology there are no problems about the relation between science and religion, for it ignores those facts about man from which the problems arise. . . . There is little sense of the Pauline assertion that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth awaiting redemption; rather it is man who groans and travails awaiting redemption from the world."
18 See The Phenomenon of Man (New York; Harper & Row, 1959), p. 218.
19 The Phenomenon of Man, pp. 283-85.
20 See his book The Theology of Hope, trans. J. W. Leitch (New York: Harper & Row, l967),p. 17.
21 Metz, art. Cit., p. 173.
22 The more philosophic objections to process thought are treated in Part II of my book, Teilhard and the Supernatural. The objections selected here were chosen because of their bearing on theology.
23 See The Phenomenon of Man, pp. 86-90, where Teilhard speaks explicitly of "cellular revolution."
24 Teilhard expressed the evolutionary view as "discontinuity in continuity." See The Phenomenon of Man, p. 169.