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Hartshorne’s Neoclassical Theism and Black Theology

by Theodore Walker, Jr.

Theodore Walker, Jr. is Assistant Professor of Ethics and Society at Perkins School of Theology, Southern, Methodist University, Dallas, Texas 75275. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.240-258, Vol. 18, Number 4, Winter, 1989. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


In this essay I shall offer some critical reflection upon Charles Hartshorne’s neoclassical conception of God from the perspective of black theology.

I. Black Theology and Classical Theism

The term "black theology" is here used to refer primarily to those contemporary African-American and native African systematic theologies which understand that the Christian witness to the modern world is more than less in accord with the liberation agenda of "black power" (BTBP). Accordingly, black theology understands that a liberating answer to questions pertaining to the circumstance of oppression and the struggle for freedom is essential to the Christian witness.

This understanding of Christian witness yields a particular vision of God which has been summarily formulated by James Cone and others under the conception of God as "God of the oppressed" (BTBP). When black theologians speak of God as God of the oppressed, we do not mean merely that God is present with, related to, worshipped by, or somehow involved with those who are oppressed. This would be to understate the matter. From the perspective of black theology, to speak of God as God of the oppressed is to affirm that God actually experiences the suffering of those who are oppressed. Moreover, black theology knows, from the data of human experience, that the experience of suffering from oppression entails a desire to be liberated from such suffering. Hence, it follows that the God who experiences the suffering of the oppressed also desires their liberation.

Black theology has its deepest rootage in the experience of enslaved and oppressed Africans, and in their appropriation of the witness of scripture; but not in the philosophical and theological traditions of the Western academy and in its medieval and Greek forebears. The essentially non-Western rootage of black theology is often concealed by the fact that most African-American communities of worship wear the labels of Euro-American Protestant denominations. It must be remembered however that African-American denominations are not "protestant" in the sense of having been born in protest to alleged Catholic abuses; instead, African-American denominations are protestant in the very different sense of having been born in protest against oppression by Euro-American protestant denominations. For example: the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is called "Methodist Episcopal" largely on account of the fact that white members of the John Street Methodist Episcopal Church of New York City were so oppressive of their black members that in 1796 about thirty African-Americans, under the leadership of James Varick, separated themselves from that white congregation and formed an independent denomination (AMEZ). Most other African-American denominations and racially separated churches were born of similar protest, and typically, African-Americans retained the name of whichever Euro-American denomination or church they happened to have stood in protest against. As such, when African-American congregations are referred to by Euro-American denominational titles, one must understand that, ironically, such titles signify differences more than similarities. Black theology’s rootage in the tradition of that other great protest, schism, and reformation which produced the racially separate African-American congregations determines that it is not at all committed to that predominantly white-Western theological tradition which Hartshorne calls "classical theism."

To be sure, black theology is defined in considerable measure by its protest against the prevailing Western theological tradition. History has taught us that classical Western theism is quite capable of abiding peaceably with, and even of being very supportive of, such oppressive activities as the enslavement of Africans and the genocide of native Americans. It is characteristic of black theology to be unforgivingly critical of any theology which fails to affirm that God favors the struggle for liberation. If God is conceived so as not to favor our struggle for liberation, then God is thereby conceived so as not to experience fully our pain and suffering. Such a conception of God is contrary to the Christian witness to God’s suffering as indicated by the cross, and it is contrary to the vision of God as that utterly unsurpassable Friend whose love is perfect and all-inclusive. The logic of black theology is this:

first) The most basic existential datum of black theology is that the experience of suffering from oppression entails or produces a desire, and inevitably a struggle, for liberation.

second) The most basic religious datum of black theology is that human experience becomes divine experience, that our suffering becomes divine suffering, in that God actually experiences our experience of humiliation, pain, and suffering.

third) Therefore, the most basic theological affirmation of black theology is that God desires and strives to achieve the liberation of those who are oppressed.

To experience suffering from oppression is to desire, and inevitable to struggle for, liberation. Because we know that God actually experiences our oppression, we know that God favors our struggle for liberation. This is as far as can be removed from such classical attributes of God as immutable, totally impassible, wholly other, and unmoved mover. From the perspective of black theology, the prevailing classical Western (white) theism is logically, existentially, and religiously anathema. Insofar as classical theology aids and abets the structures of oppression, James Cone would describe it as the theology of the Antichrist.

We may then begin this critical reflection upon Hartshorne’s "neoclassical theism" or "process theology" with the observation that both black and neoclassical theologies are defined in large part by their opposition to or protest against certain features of classical Western theism. This is an important observation, but one that is somewhat deficient in providing positive information about the status of the two theologies with respect to each other. To say x is contrary to y, and that z is also contrary to y, is to say little about the status of x in regards to z. The opposition between black theology and classical theism, on the one hand, and the opposition between neoclassical theism and classical theism, on the other, tell us little about the status of black theology in respect to neoclassical theism. Thus, it is appropriate that we further the relatively new conversation between black theology and neoclassical theism.1

The purpose of this essay is to advance the dialogue between black and neoclassical theologies by offering several systematic indicators of important similarities and differences. I believe that these indicators will support my general thesis, which is that the African-American conception of God as God of the oppressed is far more in accord with Hartshorne’s vision of God than with those classical Western theologies which are affiliated with denominations and traditions from which African-American congregations have sought to liberate themselves.

II. The Challenge that Black Theology Presents to Neoclassical Theism

At a November 1985 conference on process theology and the black experience at the University of Chicago, William Jones presented a paper in which he observed that process theology emphasizes the unconditional, indiscriminate, and universal character of God’s love in a way that typically fails to indicate that God favors the struggle of the oppressed for liberation from economic, social, and political oppression. Rather than indicating that God sides with the oppressed in their struggle for liberation, process theology seems to place God on everyone’s side; and if God sides with everyone, says Jones, then God effectively sides with no one. Thus, from Professor Jones’ perspective, black theology cannot find process theology acceptable until process theology is able to indicate that God is the God of the oppressed rather than merely that God’s love is unconditional and universal. If neoclassical theism, like classical theism, is unable to present its vision of God in a way which indicates that God favors the struggle of the oppressed, then the neoclassical alternative will be unacceptable to black theology. Furthermore, Jones stipulates that the "litmus test" for compatibility is process theology’s ability to "accommodate counterviolence" (PTGG 17).

In challenging process theology to state explicitly that God sides with the oppressed, and to do so in a way that does not rule out the possibility of righteous counterviolence, I understand Jones to be challenging process theology to explicate the social-ethical consequences of accepting certain metaphysical truths in order that black theology might measure its ethical content against the needs of the struggle for liberation. Broadly conceived, black theology asks not only about the metaphysical status of process theology, but also, and more importantly, can process theology illuminate social-political ethics in a way that contributes favorably to the liberation struggle?

In the fourth chapter of Man’s Vision of God -- "God and Righteousness" -- Hartshorne teaches us how neoclassical theology illuminates ethics in a way that is socially critical and intellectually honest, that is, in a way that is adequate to both ethical and metaphysical criteria. Hartshorne holds that, "In general, the possibility of a theology depends upon the possibility of making our basic conceptions adequate to a supreme instance" (MVG 144). Hence, theology can illuminate ethics when ethics stands in critical relationship to an adequate understanding of the supreme instance and "maximal degree" of divine goodness – "perfect love."

In this chapter Hartshorne refutes the view that there can be no such thing as perfect love, and hence, by implication, that theology cannot illuminate ethics, but rather, "far from being able to illuminate ethics, theology presupposes and merely applies an ethic" (MVG 143). According to this mistaken view, love is thought to be necessarily imperfect because all motivation can be reduced, finally, to self-interest. Hartshorne finds this view to be erroneous in that it neglects the requisite temporal distinctions between a present self and other future selves (including one’s own future self). Hartshorne holds that "the present self never acts merely for itself, but always for some other self (MVG 148). What unites a present self to other selves is "the sympathetic character of imaginative realization" according to which "self and other self are scrambled together in motivation" (MVG 148-150). Thus, for every conceivable self, "the ultimate motive is love, which has two equally fundamental aspects, self-love and love for others" (MVG 151). Where a given individual displays foolish altruism or egoism, it is because self-love and love for others are not given a proper balance; but it cannot be the case that one or the other of these two fundamental aspects is altogether absent. Given, then, the requisite temporal distinctions, and given the social nature of the self, we can see that all motivation is not reducible to sheer self-interest; and therefore, the view that all motivation reduces to self-interest, being false, cannot be used to deny the possibility of perfect love. Hence, the argument against the possibility that theology can illuminate ethics fails.

Furthermore, attending to temporal distinctions and to the social character of reality, Hartshorne discovers that ethics needs a divine memory. Hartshorne reasons that if the past is not in some sense eternally and perfectly preserved, that is, if the past is not immortal, then it follows that in the more or less distant future, it will be the same as if we had never chosen one action as opposed to any other; indeed, it would be the same as if we had never existed at all. Thus, ultimately, the essential ethical view that some choices are better than others requires an eternal reality; otherwise, in the long run, no choice is better or worse than any other.

While ethics needs divine memory, there is, says Hartshorne, no ethical need for divine providence or timeless perfection. In fact, Hartshorne shows that to conceive that God has certain foreknowledge of absolutely every detail, and that God’s perfection is such as to be capable of no increase whatever, is to deny the metaphysically and ethically necessary possibility of temporary values "and with it choice, activity, or purpose, in any intelligible senses" (MVG 159).

Hartshorne finds, then, that ethics is related to theology in that the very possibility of meaningful ethics requires a divine reality which includes the immortality of the past. Moreover, the possibility of meaningful ethics excludes theological affirmations of absolute divine providence and timeless perfection.

After having taught us something about how ethics informs theology, Hartshorne proceeds to teach us how theology informs ethics. In developing a theism which conceives of the supreme instance of goodness in terms of perfect love, Hartshorne argues that this "religious ideal of love" is "not a mere emotional glow toward others," but rather, love is "action from social awareness" (MVG 166). Hartshorne says, "The divine love is social awareness and action from social awareness" (MVG 173). According to the Hartshornean understanding of perfect love, we might interpret the scriptural command -- "Be ye perfect" -- to mean that we are commanded to act from a social awareness that is perfectly responsive to the interests of all others, and for the purpose of promoting the greatest liberty for all. Insofar as we fail to fully sympathize with the interests of others and to act accordingly, our love is imperfect, and we are not fully ethical. Hartshorne says that if ethical means "being motivated by concern for the interests of others, then God alone is absolutely ethical" (MVG 162). Thus, on Hartshorne’s view, ethical status is measured by love, that is, by action from social awareness which takes account of the interests of others. While God alone is absolutely ethical (perfectly loving), we are commanded to be as nearly ethical, that is, as nearly perfect in action from social awareness, as we can. Here, then, Hartshorne’s theological understanding of the supreme instance of goodness gives us the ideal towards which human ethical behavior must aspire.

From the perspective of black theology, it is important to observe that Hartshorne’s account of theological ethics displays a sensitivity which is characteristic of liberation theologies in general. Hartshorne notes that an important ethical objection to classical theism is that it tends toward a faith which disarms criticism of and struggle against predominant social arrangements. Hartshorne describes the propagation of such sentimental faith as "smoothing the path of the oppressor" (MYG 165). In contrast to a view of divine love which does not admit that God sides with the oppressed, Hartshorne holds that God favors the creaturely exercise of freedom up to the point where it becomes excessive and is a threat to the freedom of others to pursue their interests. Hartshorne emphasizes

"the energy of his [God’s] resistance to the excesses of creaturely will at the point where these excesses threaten the destruction of creaturely vitality" (MVG 173).

Thus, the logic of Hartshorne’s conception of divine love is such as to place God decisively on the side of the oppressed in their struggle for liberation.

In the same chapter, Hartshorne rejects dogmatic pacifism by arguing that the religious ideal of love as action from social awareness "seems clearly to include the refusal to provide the unsocial with a monopoly upon the use of coercion (MVG 173).

Coercion to prevent the use of coercion to destroy freedom generally is in no way action without social awareness but one of its crucial expressions. Freedom must not be free to destroy freedom (MVG 173).

The kind of action from social awareness that is demanded by perfect love is such as must admit the tragic reality that there are people who are genuinely intent upon using their freedom to destroy the freedom of others, and that, under certain circumstances, love itself may dictate that "It is better that many should die prematurely than that nearly all men should live in a permanent state of hostility or slavery" (MVG 173). Difficult though it is for humans with imperfect love, the demands of perfect love may, nonetheless, require that we kill an oppressor with whom we have sympathy. Hartshorne says,

To decide to shorten a man’s life (we all die) is not ipso facto to lack sympathy with his life as it really is, that is, to lack love for him (MVG 168).

To veto a desire is not necessarily to fail literally to sympathize with it; for sympathy only makes the desire in a manner one’s own, and even one’s own desire one may veto, because of other more valuable desires (MVG 166-67).

Violent coercion and sympathy are not mutually exclusive. Thus, Hartshorne concludes that "The logic of love is not the logic of pacifism or of the unheroic life" (MVG 173).

Hartshorne’s theological ethics is consistent with such expressions of black theology which, drawing upon the philosophy of black power, maintain that, under certain circumstances, the oppressed may be compelled to engage in violent struggle against an oppressor. We see, then, that Hartshorne’s theology can be acceptable to black theology insofar as it does not smooth the path of the oppressor by disarming the oppressed, and also in that Hartshorne’s vision of God supports the basic affirmation of all black and liberation theologies -- that God sides with the oppressed in their struggle for liberation.

An alternative formulation of the challenge: the God of the oppressed is greater than the universal God of all

The challenge that black theology presents to the neoclassical alternative is sometimes formulated in this way: How is it possible to reconcile the so-called "particular" vision of God as the God of the oppressed (G-of-O) with the so-called "universal" vision of God as the God of all-embracing love (G-of-A)? In more Hartshornean language, the question is this: How does one reconcile the apparently restrictive theological assertion that God favors the struggle of the oppressed with apparently unrestrictive neoclassical assertions -- for example, that God is "the subject of all change?"2 (It is commonly said that the conceptions of God which stress the universality of divine love are incompatible with the conception of God as God of the oppressed, because the latter conception is insufficiently comprehensive. I do not know that Hartshorne, or any other neoclassical/process theologian, has given explicit attention to this matter.)

I trust dialogue between black and neoclassical theology will be helped some-what if I were to offer an African-American perception of the way in which it is possible to conceive without contradiction or confusion that God is both the subject of all change (G-of-A), and the God of the oppressed (G-of-O). That I should care to reconcile G-of-A with G-of-O is typically African-American. Throughout history, from the secret beginnings of the "invisible institution," through the second great schism and reformation up to the present, African-American religion has affirmed simultaneously both conceptions of God.

Frederick Douglass is an illuminating example. Douglass (1817-1895) was an African American Methodist Episcopal Zion (AME Zion) clergyman who was born into slavery and who escaped from slavery and joined the abolitionists’ struggle as an internationally known orator, fund raiser, newspaper publisher, and editor. Douglass wrote a letter to the man who had once been his slave master in which he said that God is the God of all, the God of master and slave alike, that God is "our common Father and Creator" (MBMF 427). In the same letter Douglass wrote that God is – in Douglass’s own words – "the Most High, who is ever the God of the oppressed"(MBMF 422). Here, and in other writings Douglass expresses a traditional African-American commitment to both G-of-A and G-of-O.

The question of how to reconcile indiscriminate and all-embracing love with siding with the oppressed is one that Douglass gave attention to in his May 12,1846 speech at Finsbury Chapel in Moorfield, England. On this occasion, Douglass was asking "the people of Britain" to join the struggle against American slavery. In order for his appeal to be successful Douglass knew he would have to reconcile a certain pious regard for the well-being of slave owners with supporting the slaves’ struggle for liberation. The audience at Finsbury Chapel would want to know how it was possible to side with the oppressed without being against the oppressor. Douglass argued that they should Support the abolition of slavery not only because slavery was not in the best interest of African slaves, but also because slavery was not really in the best interest of slave owners and Americans in general.

In his life as a slave who was passed from one owner to another in the manner of chattel property. Douglass saw first hand how becoming a slaveholder could alter one’s existence. Here are two examples that Douglass offers on this point:

Mrs. Auld . . . a most kind and tender-hearted woman . . . on entering upon the career of a slaveholding mistress . . . When I went into their family, it was the abode of happiness and contentment . . . . Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of these excellent qualities, and her home of its early happiness. Conscience cannot stand much violence (MBMF 152-53).

A change had taken place, both in Master Hugh, and in his pious and affectionate wife. The influence of brandy and bad company on him, and the influence of slavery and social isolation upon her, had wrought disastrously upon the characters of both (MBMF 183).

Douglass summarized the influence of slavery upon the slaveholders by saying that "slavery can change a saint into a sinner, and an angel into a demon" (MBMF 142). Douglass maintained that slavery had a corrosive influence upon the "character" and general well-being of the slave owner and of the whole slaveholding community. and that therefore the British could be appealed to "as strongly by their regard for the slaveholder as for the slave, to labor in this cause" (MBMF 417). There is here an implicit distinction between the apparent self-interest of the slaveholder and the real self-interest of the slaveholder which allowed Douglass to maintain that it was genuinely in the best interest of the slaveholder that slavery be abolished.

We might add also that another corrosive influence upon the character of the oppressor is the kind of self-deception which an oppressor is driven to engage in in order to maintain his/her self-image. One has only to examine statements by slaveholders to the effect that their activity was for the purpose of Christianizing Africans who would otherwise spend eternity in hell to see the tortuous self-deceptions to which slaveholders were subject. I hold a similar regard for statements by white South Africans who seek to convince us that apartheid is in the best interest of colored and black peoples, as well as for statements by American entrepreneurs who argue that they are invested in South Africa for the purpose of enhancing the standard of living for black workers. Douglass is correct. Insofar as the oppressor is driven to such colossal acts of self-deception, oppression does indeed corrode the character of the oppressor.

A similar testimony is provided by another African-American abolitionist -- William Wells Brown (1814-1884). Brown’s life parallels that of Douglass in that he too was born into slavery and escaped to become an abolitionist, writer, and orator, who gave nearly a thousand lectures favoring the abolitionist cause in England, Ireland, Scotland. Wales, and France. Like Douglass, during his career as a slave, Brown was the chattel property of several families, and he also recorded that slavery had a corrosive influence upon the character and well-being of the slaveholders and their families. In particular Brown noted the damaging influence of slavery upon the children of slave owners. To this end, Brown quoted from a 1788 letter by Thomas Jefferson in which Jefferson said,

The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives loose to his worst passions; and, thus nursed, educated and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities.3

William Wells Brown, Frederick Douglass, Thomas Jefferson, and many others have observed that slavery was contrary to the genuine self-interest of slave holders, their families, and the surrounding community. Thus, the abolitionists maintained that siding with the oppressed in their struggle for liberation is also a being for, rather than against, the genuine well-being of the oppressors and the community of oppression.

That siding with the oppressed can be a being for the well being of the oppressor has obvious theological implications. The God who is "the God of the oppressed" can also be "our common Father and Creator" (G-of-A) in that siding with the oppressed in their struggle for liberation is genuinely in the best interest of all.

We can represent these theological reflections in the form of two deductions which show that, given the reality of oppression, the G-of-A must be the G-of-O.

first deduction:

1) God experiences all experience.(G-of-A)
2) African-Americans have suffered from oppression.
3) To suffer from oppression entails a desire to be liberated
from such suffering.
4) God experiences the suffering of the oppressed.
5) Therefore, God desires the liberation of the oppressed.
(G-of-O)

second deduction:

1) God experiences all experience. (G-of-A)
2) Anglo-Americans have been oppressors.
3) Being an oppressor entails a corrosion of one’s character and well-being as well as that of one’s community.
4) God experiences die corrosion of the oppressor’s well being.
5) Therefore, God desires that the oppressor cease being an oppressor. (G-of-O)

There are instances when it might seem that God does not desire the liberation of the oppressed. For example, according to the book of Exodus, God might choose to "harden Pharaoh’s heart" so as to make conditions more oppressive. But, again, according to the Exodus account, this is done for the sake of contributing, in the long run, to the struggle for liberation. Sometimes it is better in the long-run that certain short-run interests be sacrificed. This is somewhat akin to the New Testament analogy according to which an eye might be sacrificed for the sake of liberating the whole body. Hartshorne’s theism, also, allows for the possibility that God might choose to sacrifice some particular interests for the sake of other more inclusive interests, and that such sacrifice does not imply that God fails to sympathize with the interests which are sacrificed (MVG 166). According to Hartshornean and to biblical theism, then, what may appear to be God’s failure to sympathize with the interests of the oppressed is never that; and furthermore, when God sacrifices some interests in favor of other interests, it is always for the sake of promoting liberty for all. Thus, while our perception may, on account of its limited scope, indicate otherwise, nonetheless, the truth is that God never fails to promote liberty for all. In the words of Douglass, God is "the Most High, who is ever the God of the oppressed."

It is only by inserting a contingent statement -- given the reality of oppression -- that an unrestrictive theological statement -- say, for example, that God is the subject of all change -- can come to entail what I wish to call a "restrictive yet necessary statement" -- that God is the God of the oppressed. Strictly speaking, that God is the God of the oppressed is not "necessary" in the sense in which metaphysical necessity is opposed to contingency; however, given the reality of oppression, that God be G-of-O is not a factual contingency in the sense that God could fail to be the G-of-O. In that God is the subject of all change, if oppression is among the changes to which God is subject, then God cannot fail to desire the liberation of the oppressed. But, of course, oppression is a contingent reality. Thus, while strictly speaking, the conjunction of a contingent statement -- that oppression is real -- with a metaphysically necessary statement -- that God is G-of-A -- yields what is technically another contingent statement -- that God is G-of-O; there is a certain undeniable ineluctability about the truth that if oppression is real, then God cannot fail to be G-of-O, which compels me to indicate its ineluctable character by saying that it is "restrictive yet necessary" (and here necessary does not mean metaphysical necessity). This is somewhat analogous to Hartshorne’s language of "hypothetical necessity." In any event, without the insertion of a contingent statement affirming the reality of oppression, it would seem impossible to bridge the gap between an unrestrictive theological assertion and the characteristic and partially restrictive assertion of black theology -- that God favors the struggle of the oppressed for liberation.

The status of a strictly metaphysical assertion, taken alone, or only in combination with other strictly metaphysical assertions, is a matter about which black theology and most other theologies of liberation have shown little interest, and this is so for the best of reasons. The obvious reason is that strictly metaphysical assertions are, in regards to ethics, singularly uninteresting. If, according to neoclassical metaphysics, a properly metaphysical assertion is one that is affirmed by every actual and every conceivable fact,4 then it would follow that nothing actual or conceivably actual is contradicted by a metaphysical assertion so that, in the words of Ivan Karamazov, "all things are lawful." But if, on the other hand, the metaphysical assertion that God is the subject of all change is conjoined with an assertion of the reality of oppression, then we can deduce that God favors the struggle against oppression, and that there are theological reasons for holding that some things are lawful and some not lawful. It is at this point that neoclassical metaphysics becomes relevant to ethics generally, and to the liberation agenda of black and liberation theologies in particular.

The principles of method outlined by Charles Hartshorne in Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method are entirely consistent with our liberation agenda. For example, Hartshorne says, "Philosophy has two primary responsibilities: to clarify the nonempirical principles and to use them, together with relevant empirical facts, to illuminate value problems of personal and social life" (CSPM xiv). Thus, the central challenge posed by black theology is that neoclassical metaphysics consider the realities of oppression as among the most important, if not the most important of the relevant empirical facts to be used together with non-empirical principles for the illumination of value problems of personal and social life. The varied circumstances of oppression have been too seldom among the relevant empirical facts considered by neoclassical theism. From the perspective of most of the world’s people, the reality of suffering from oppression is not one fact among a great many others; rather, it is the fact of social existence to which so many others are subordinate. The challenge is, then, not a contrary view, but rather, a stimulus to follow through with the neoclassical logic in ways that further illuminate the problems faced by the world’s oppressed majority.

Perhaps the most important theological point in this essay is that neoclassical theism, according to its own principles of method, must -- given the reality of oppression -- join black theology in affirming a certain priority for the conception of God as God of the oppressed. While, on the one hand, many critics of black theology regard the vision of God as God of the oppressed as an insufficiently comprehensive vision of God, Hartshorne’s theism, on the other hand, must insist that the partially restrictive and partly contingent vision of God as God of the oppressed is more inclusive than any abstract vision of God as merely the universal God of all. In Chapter V -- "Some Principles of Method" -- of Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, Hartshorne argues that, in accordance with the principles of formal logic, "the necessary cannot include the contingent, and that the total truth, assuming there are both contingent and necessary truths, must be contingent" (CSPM 84). In the same way that "Becoming includes Being, as the contingent includes the necessary" (CSPM 84), black theology maintains that its vision of God as G-of-O includes the abstract vision of God as the G-of-A, while the converse cannot be true. Therefore, the vision of God as G-of-O is greater than and altogether inclusive of the vision of God as the G-of-A. Insofar as the logic of Hartshorne’s neoclassical theism requires us to affirm the priority of G-of-O over any wholly abstract vision of God, neoclassical theism is to this considerable extent more in accord with black theology than are most Western orthodox and neo-orthodox theologies.

III. The Challenge that Neoclassical Theism Presents from the Perspective of Black Theology

In one of his more recent books -- Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes -- Hartshorne summarizes the neoclassical challenge to traditional or classical theism. Here, Hartshorne identifies "six common mistakes about God" which taken together describe what he calls "classical theism." Hartshorne understands classical theism to be characterized by mistaken conceptions of (1) divine perfection, (2) divine omnipotence, (3) divine omniscience, (4) divine sympathy, (5) immortality, and (6) revelation. (1) The classical conception of divine perfection is faulty in that it concludes wrongly that in order for God to be perfect, God must therefore be conceived as unchangeable/immutable in every respect. (2) The classical conception of divine omnipotence is found to be faulty in that it concludes that in order for God to be omnipotent that whatever happens must be divinely caused to happen. (3) The classical conception of divine omniscience is wrongly conceived in that it holds that whatever happens must have been eternally known in every respect by God. (4) Divine goodness is misconceived in that God is thought to be good, yet unsympathetic. The classical misconception holds that God’s unsympathetic goodness is such that God’s goodness is "like the sun’s way of doing good, which benefits the myriad forms of life on earth but receives no benefits from the good it produces" (OOTM 4). (5) Classical theism errs in conceiving of "immortality as a career after death" (OOTM 4). (6) And finally, classical theism is marked by an erroneous conception of infallible revelation according to which, "The idea of revelation is the idea of special knowledge of God, or of religious truth, possessed by some people and transmitted by them to others" (OOTM 5).

The first four of the mistakes are of the same class in that each violates "the principle of dual transcendence" by failing to conceive that God is not only transcendent and unsurpassable as an "agent" with power to be the cause of events, but also that God is transcendent and unsurpassable as "patient" in having a uniquely excellent capacity to be an effect. According to Hartshorne’s principle of dual transcendence, God is unsurpassable as both agent and as patient. Hartshorne conceives that God is not only eternal, but eternal and temporal; not only spiritual, but spiritual and physical; not only infinite, but infinite and finite; not only abstract, but abstract and concrete; not only active, but active and passive; not only independent, but independent and dependent; not only simple, but simple and complex. This is a "dipolar" conception of God. Classical theism, on the other hand, accepts that only one of any pair of such metaphysical contraries applies to God, and it thereby, in violation of the principle of dual transcendence, produces a monopolar conception of God. Hartshorne attributes this consistent violation of the principle of dual transcendence to the fact that classical theism has placed too much faith in Greek philosophy, and to a Western prejudice according to which absolute independence along with the power to the cause of events is regarded as a superior attribute while relativity and the capacity to be an effect is mistakenly regarded as an inferior attribute." 5

It is clear that black theology does not share the classical Western prejudice against relativity (After all, nothing can be more supremely relative -- "surrelative" -- than the view that God experiences all experience.), and we have also seen that black theology is not much indebted to Greek philosophy. (1) Unlike classical theism, black theology has never conceived of divine perfection in such a way as to entail that God is wholly immutable. (2) Unlike classical theism, black theology has never conceived divine omnipotence in a way that entails that whatever happens is entirely determined by God. On the contrary, black theology has consistently and explicitly rejected such a conception of divine omnipotence. (3) Unlike classical theism, black theology has never conceived divine omniscience in a way that denies that the future is at least partly open. (4) And finally, black theology has steadfastly opposed the view that divine goodness is unsympathetic with its view that God is maximally sympathetic. Thus, in regards to the four theological mistakes which Hartshorne describes as various violations of the principle of dual transcendence owing to a faulty Greek inheritance and a Western prejudice which favors absolute independence over relativity and partial dependence, the Hartshornean foil touches black theology hardly at all. We may then pass over the whole group of four in order to consider the remaining two -- (5) immortality and (6) revelation -- from the perspective of black theology.

Mistake #5

Hartshorne characterizes the classical conception of after-death as that which recognizes only two possibilities: either death reduces us to a mere corpse with no enduring meaning or value, or, we survive death to experience a new career of heavenly or hellish existence "in which our individual consciousness will have new experiences not enjoyed or suffered while on earth" (OOTM 4). Classical theism opts for the second alternative in the form of conventional views of personal immortality. Neoclassical theism offers a third possibility according to which we do not survive death in the form of having an after-death career of new experiences, but according to which this lack of an after-death career does not reduce us to nothing because there is, in Whiteheadian terminology, an "objective immortality of the past." While this third alternative denies personal immortality in the conventional sense, there is, nonetheless, an objection immortality of the past insofar as every past event is a permanent item in the subsequent present. Our existence is, then, permanently and perfectly preserved in ultimate reality.

It might seem that the Hartshornean denial of personal immortality would be a direct challenge to African-American religion and thus to black theology, but, upon careful reflection, we shall see that this is not altogether the case.

We may begin with the observation that African-American religion is not characterized by a univocal commitment to the conventional vision of personal immortality, especially as formulated in the classical Greek conception of immortal souls. One has only to attend to funeral services among African Baptist and African Methodist congregations to see that this is so. For example, it is very common to find three clearly distinct and somewhat incompatible views of after-death affirmed at a single funeral in an African-American church. Very commonly one will find that a minister will, in the course of a single funeral ceremony, affirm each of the following: (1) that death is the inevitable way of all the earth, that we must all return to the earth – "dust to dust, ashes to ashes" -- that, in short, when you’re dead, you’re dead; (2) that the deceased is now at home with God, that her/his soul has gone to its eternal home -- hopefully heaven, but perhaps hell; and (3) that the deceased will rest here, asleep, in the grave until that great day of judgment when Gabriel will blow a trumpet whereupon the dead will be resurrected in the body to face the last judgment. The first view is akin to ancient Hebrew visions according to which there is no personal immortality. The second view is akin to the classical Greek vision of an immortal soul being liberated from imprisonment in the physical body. And the third view is akin to an early Christian (Pauline) vision of the general resurrection or resuscitation of previously deceased bodies based upon the model of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Typically, all three visions of after-death are affirmed by African-American Christians.

Obviously, African-American Christianity has given no systematic attention to this matter, otherwise it could not conceivably affirm three incompatible visions of after-death. Moreover, to my knowledge, black theology has given no systematic attention to this matter either. What is unambiguously clear, however, is that African-American funeral rites reflect an unshakable religious conviction that ultimate meaning and value rests "in God’s hands," and that while we do not know the programmatic details, we remain certain the value of our past life can be entrusted to God’s care. This much is clearly affirmed, while the conventional notions of personal immortality, especially as rendered in the classical Greek vision of immortal souls, represent programmatic details which are not univocally affirmed; for indeed, such unknowable details are not essential to the fundamental religious conviction that we can entrust our deceased to God’s tender loving and eternal care. This last fundamental religious conviction is, to my knowledge, as much as black theology in North America has ever affirmed, and there is nothing essential in this which is overturned by preferring objective immortality to personal immortality and immortal souls.

Traditional and ancient African religions are resources which are essential to black theology, and since existence after death is a topic about which African religions have much to say, we shall now consider their contribution. At this point black theology may rightly criticize Hartshorne’s treatment of existence after death. Hartshorne’s analysis in Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes is defective insofar as it recognizes only three possibilities -- the two identified by classical theism and the third which is Whitehead’s doctrine of the objective immortality of the past. These are not the only possible or actual views of existence after death, and we are licensed to criticize Hartshorne for speaking as if they were by Hartshorne’s own criteria of evaluation. In Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method, Hartshorne provides us with a list of seven criteria by which a metaphysician can be evaluated, and the fifth of these refers to "an ability to grasp diverse possible or historical perspectives on problems (why should we trust his choice of a view if he does not know what views have been or can be held?)" (CSPM 41). Thus, we turn now to consider a historical perspective on the problem of existence after death which Hartshorne has not considered -- the traditional black African vision.

In African Religions and Philosophy, John S. Mbiti addresses the question of what remains after one’s physical life by drawing upon a traditional African distinction between (1) the living. (2) the "living dead," and (3) the "completely dead," or as some others prefer to say, the "dead dead." While there are significant philosophical inconsistencies inherent in Mbiti’s description, he still succeeds in making the essential point that among traditional Africans a deceased individual, while physically dead, is not thought to be reduced to a mere corpse. Such a one is appreciated for the difference that s/he made and for the difference that this continues to make to the surviving community. For so long as the surviving community is conscious of the fact that its existence is, and will be. different on account of its having creatively synthesized the contributions of the deceased and for so long as the surviving community can remember the deceased by name, that person, though physical dead, continues to live in that his/her previous existence continues to make a difference to and is remembered by the community; and thus, such a one is classified as "living dead." One of the conceptual flaws in Mbiti’s description is that he describes this as a "state of personal immortality" (ARP 32). It is clear that Mbiti does not really mean "immortality" because he goes on to tell us that the "living dead" do eventually die insofar as sooner or later, perhaps generations later, the surviving community will forget the contributions and even the name of the deceased person at which time s/he becomes "completely dead"/dead-dead. Thus, there is, according to traditional African thought, existence after death -- that of the living dead, but not such as can be properly described as "personal immortality."

Mbiti describes the traditional African conception of time by using two Swahili words -- "Sasa" and "Zamani." Traditional Africans conceive that events move backward in time from the Sasa period of time into the Zamani period. The Sasa period of time is the period of conscious living. The living participate in Sasa self-consciously while the living-dead participate insofar as the surviving community remembers their names and the differences made by their having lived. When the living-dead die, that is, when they become dead-dead, they disappear from human consciousness as they move backward into a realm of eternal reality called "Zamani." Mbiti describes the process in this way:

Death becomes, then, a gradual process which is not completed until some years after the actual physical death. At the moment of physical death the person becomes a living-dead: he is neither alive physically, nor dead relative to the corporate group. His own Sasa period is over, he enters fully into the Zamani period; but as far as the living who knew him are concerned, he is kept "back" in the Sasa period, from which he can disappear only gradually. Those who have nobody to keep them in the Sasa period in reality "die" immediately, which is a great tragedy that must be avoided at all costs (ARP 208).

It is important to note that while Zamani is a realm beyond the reach of human remembering, it is not a realm of unreality. Thus, not even the dead-dead who have moved back into the Zamani period are reduced to utter nonreality. While it is unfortunate that the living-dead die, it is nonetheless true that the fact that they were once among the living makes an ineluctable difference, albeit an invisible difference, to the existence of those who are presently living and to all subsequent reality. In this sense, Mbiti rightly refers to the Zamani as a realm of "collective immortality" when he says that, "the living-dead do not vanish out of existence: they now enter into the state of collective immortality" (ARP 33). Death is then, another instance of the more general way in which all history and all events move backward in time "from the Sasa period to the Zamani, from the moment of intense experience to the period beyond which nothing can go" (ARP 29).

Traditional African philosophy, then, offers us a conception of existence after death which does not partake of a mistaken vision of personal immortality. Thus, Hartshorne is quite wrong in saying that, "Only the ancient Jews and some of the ancient Greeks were nearly free from this flight from what, for all we really know, is the human condition" (ARP 32). Given that both the living and the living-dead die, strictly speaking, there is no notion of an immortal career involved with the traditional African conception of existence after death. Moreover, the traditional African perception that events move backward in time from Sasa to Zamani reminds me of Whitehead’s doctrine of perpetual perishing; and also, the perception that all events are preserved in the eternal reality of the Zamani -- "the state of collective immortality" -- reminds me of Whitehead’s doctrine of the objective immortality of the past.

Mistake #6

The last of the six common theological mistakes identified by Hartshorne is a view of infallible revelation which tends to obliterate any distinction between an infallible God and fallible humans. Christian fundamentalism is taken to be the most extreme form of the erroneous claim to possession of an exclusive and infallible revelation. Hartshorne wishes to correct this kind of extreme claim by offering a more moderate view which grants that there are some religious guides which may be regarded as more reliable than most; but given that all such revelations are mediated by fallible humans, no one revelation can be taken as utterly absolute to the exclusion of all others.

Black theology has never been fundamentalist, but there are some theologians who have argued that at least some black theologians tend to be overly Barthian in their exclusive focus upon the "special revelation" of Christ to the neglect of other "general revelations" about God. Deotis Roberts, for example, says that "the ‘exclusive’ Christocentrism of Cone is inadequate" (BTD 41). (In fairness to James Cone we must observe that in recent years he has developed a progressively more inclusive approach to theology which has included dialogue with Third World, feminist, Asian, traditional African, and other Christian and non-Christian perspectives.) Roberts recognizes that black theology is now being done in a post colonial, post Barthian, multicultural and interethnic context which requires new dialogical encounters with traditional African, Third World, and other theological perspectives. Accordingly, in Roots of a Black Future: Family and Church, Roberts draws heavily upon traditional African resources to develop his vision of the black church as an extended family, and in Black Theology in Dialogue he dialogues with South Korean Minjung theology and with Jewish liberation theology. Charles Long, a black historian of religion, has long sought to widen the scope of black theology so as to include serious dialogue with African, Islamic, and other non-Western and traditional religions. And more recently, Jacquelyn Grant, Henry Young. Archie Smith, Thandeka, and other African-Americans have sought to increase dialogue between black theologians and process theologians. Here and in numerous other instances it is clear that black theology is willing to engage and employ traditional African and other non-Christian resources in ways which indicate that, on the whole, black theology does not believe that it has possession of an exclusive and wholly infallible revelation of God.

Black theology’s tendency to avoid extreme exclusivist conceptions of the "special revelations" of Christianity is partly determined by its appropriation of the traditional African vision of "general revelation." Gwinyai Muzorewa quotes with approval a fellow African -- E. B. Idowu -- as saying, "There is no place, age, or generation which did not receive at some point in its history some form of revelation" (ODA 9). Additionally, it has been well documented that a monotheistic conception of ultimate reality is indigenous to almost all of traditional African culture, and that it is highly probable that traditional African theism, like Judeo-Christian and Islamic theism, has its historical genesis in the monotheism of a black pharaoh of ancient Egypt -- Iknaton -- --who was the first person known to have popularized the religious conviction that there is one, and only one, god. It is also among the black Africans of ancient Egypt that one finds the earliest conviction that God can be manifest and revealed in human incarnations. And perhaps, therefore, it is no mere coincidence that according to ancient Hindu religions, God became incarnate in the form of a black man -- Krishna (the very name Krishna means "the black one"). Therefore, ancient African and traditional African resources have determined that black theology would appropriate Christian revelations in ways that do not entail extreme fundamentalist claims to exclusivist particularity.

Another Mistake

Another of the classical Western notions that is challenged by Hartshorne is what I call the Western conception of the atomic individual. In Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method Hartshorne says, "Our whole Western tradition is warped and confused by the concept of individual taken as ultimate" (CSPM 190). Hartshorne understands the philosophical conception of the individual taken as ultimate to be an unfortunate consequence of an erroneous "substance theory." According to neoclassical metaphysics, there are, strictly speaking, no enduring substances. Rather than speaking of individuals, things, and substances, metaphysical exactness demands that we speak of "event-sequences or Whiteheadian ‘societies"’ (CSPM 204). Hartshorne’s philosophy of "event pluralism" allows that "highly-ordered sequences of events" which normal discourse abstractly calls a self or individual to be properly recognized as a society of events participating in a larger society of events. Thus, Hartshorne opposes the classical Western conception of the atomic individual as ultimate with a social conception of the self, and indeed, with a social conception of all reality.

Black theology, insofar as it draws upon traditional African resources, must side with Hartshorne against the classical Western conception of the atomic individual. This is so because the traditional African conception of human existence is primarily social rather than individual. Again, John Mbiti is our teacher. He says:

In traditional life, the individual does not and cannot exist alone except corporately. He owes his existence to other people, including those of past generations and his contemporaries. He is simply part of the whole. The community must therefore make, create or produce the individual; for the individual depends on the corporate group . . . . Only in terms of other people does the individual become conscious of his own being, his own duties, his privilege and responsibilities toward himself and towards other people. When he suffers, he does not suffer alone but with the corporate group; when he rejoices, he rejoices not alone but with his kinsmen . . . . Whatever happens to the individual happens to the whole group, and whatever happens to the whole group happens to the individual. The individual can only say: "I am, because we are: and since we are, therefore I am" (ARP 141).

Mbiti describes this as "a cardinal point in the understanding of the African view of man" (ARP 141). Mbiti’s point is buttressed by another native African theologian, Gwinyai H. Muzorewa, who says, "Most African scholars agree that in traditional religion humanity is to be conceived as ‘being in relation"’ (ODA 17).

Black theology agrees with Hartshorne against classical Western thought also insofar as black theology appropriates a traditional African view of the cross-generational character of ethical responsibility. The cross-generational character of African ethical thought is a consequence of its social conception of human existence. John S. Pobee teaches us in the "African World View" that the basic unit of African society is the family, and that the family "consists of the living, the dead, and the yet-to-be-born" (TAT 49). Thus, according to the traditional African vision, a person is not defined as an atomic individual, but as a member of an extended social community that stretches across generations -- past, present, and future. The ethical implication is that moral responsibility is not confined to consequences which obtain for only our contemporaries in the present generation. A member of African society has a moral responsibility in regards to past generations to venerate the ancestors; a moral responsibility in regards to the present generation to consider the well-being of his/her contemporaries throughout the community; and a moral responsibility in regards to future generations to create conditions which serve the well-being of those who are called "the beautiful ones" by Ayi Kwei Armah in his classical novel -- The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born.

From the perspective of those who see ethics in such cross-generational terms as never to neglect the well-being of the not-yet-born, nothing is more strikingly characteristic of Western systematic ethics than its failure to concern itself with the beautiful ones. Typically, Western ethics, on account of its atomic individualism, is governed by considerations which extend not much beyond the immediate difficulties of a single generation. This is, in fact, one of the reasons that Western ethics has been so unable to deal adequately with long-term ecological difficulties. In contrast to the classical Western neglect of the beautiful ones, there is the Hartshornean theory of "contributionism" which, like traditional African thought, maintains that, given a social conception of human existence, "the rational aim of the individual must in principle transcend any mere good of that individual" (EA 188). Hartshornean contributionism emphasizes the need to contribute to future life, that is, to the well-being of the beautiful ones.

IV. Black Power and Neoclassical Thought

It is a historical fact that the philosophy of black power is one of the resources which has shaped black theology (BTBP). Insofar as black theology remains consistent with the philosophy of black power, it cannot but welcome a metaphysics which conceives that freedom has a metaphysically necessary aspect. Hartshornean metaphysics conceives that freedom is inherent in all existence. For Hartshorne, to be actual at all is to be an instance of creative synthesis, and this means to have power to be partially determinative of self and others, as well as to have the capacity to be partly determined by other selves. Thus, insofar as Hartshorne conceives that freedom, power, and creativity are necessary aspects of all existence, neoclassical thought can be received as a metaphysical foundation for the philosophy of black power.

The philosophy of black power insists that, given the reality of oppression, there will be struggle against oppression. One of the founders of the contemporary philosophy of black power is Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). Ture says that no matter how overwhelming the might of the oppressor, it is in the very nature of the people that they will struggle and struggle and struggle for as long as they are oppressed until at last they achieve their liberation.6 Vincent Harding’s history -- There is a River -- emphasizes the inevitability of the African-American struggle for liberation. From Harding we learn that while the meaning of liberation and the character of the struggle are variable, the fact that there will be struggle against oppression is a constant. Thus, for the African newly chained to the deck of a ship anchored at a West African harbor, the meaning of liberation and the character of the struggle are very different from that of the African-American who, three generations later, like Frederick Douglass and William Wells Brown, must consider how best to conduct an abolitionist campaign. We might add that the meaning of liberation and the character of the struggle were yet and again different for young Huey Newton (co-founder of the Black Panther Party) as be lay hand-cuffed and under armed guard even while in surgery as the result of being shot by two policemen in 1967. Thus Vincent Harding, Kwame Ture, Winnie Mandela, and many others have spoken in accordance with the philosophy of black power in maintaining that where there is oppression, there will also be some form of protest and struggle for liberation.

The late Howard Thurman once described the necessary aspect of the struggle for liberation by using an analogy from nature.7 Thurman recalled that on one occasion during his childhood in Daytona Beach, he happened upon a tiny green snake crawling along a dirt path. In the mischievous way that is typical of a boy child, he pressed his bare foot on top of the little snake. Immediately, the little snake began to struggle to free itself. Young Thurman felt the tremor of the snake’s struggle as it vibrated up his leg and through his body. Thurman reasoned that it is divinely given to the nature of all creatures, even to little green snakes, to struggle and protest against oppression.

The necessity of struggle against oppression can also be described through the use of neoclassical resources.8 According to such resources, it is inevitable that the oppressed will struggle for liberation. Moreover, it is characteristic of black power philosophy to insist, with Hartshorne, that, under certain conditions, those who support the struggle may rightfully engage in armed resistance to oppression.

Black power philosophy, and therefore black theology, can find neoclassical metaphysics acceptable also, insofar as each perceives that powerlessness is contrary to the just demands of any people for fully human existence. The agreement between black power and neoclassical philosophies can, therefore, be symbolized by transforming the black power slogan -- "Power to the People" -- into a more neoclassical formulation -- Creative Synthesis to the People; and, conversely, the philosophy of creative synthesis may be understood as a metaphysical affirmation of the social ethical imperative to empower the people.

 

References

AMEZ -- Bishop William J. Walls. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Reality of the Black Church. Charlotte, NC: A.M.E. Zion Publishing House, 1974.

ARP -- John S. Mbiti. African Religions and Philosophy. New York: Anchor Books, 1979.

BO -- Ayi Kwei Armah. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. New York: Collier Books, 1969.

BTBP -- James H. Cone. Black Theology and Black Power. New York: The Seabury Press, 1969.

BTD -- J. Deotis Roberts. Black Theology in Dialogue. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1987.

CSPM -- Charles Hartshorne. Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method. London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1970. La Salle: Open Court, 1970.

DR -- Charles Hartshorne. The Divine Relativity. A Social Conception of God. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1948.

EA -- John B. Cobb and Franklin I. Gamwell, Eds. Existence and Actuality: Conversations with Charles Hartshorne. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

LP -- Charles Hartshorne. The Logic of Perfection and Other Essays in Neoclassical Metaphysics. La Salle: Open Court, 1962.

MBMF -- Frederick Douglass. My Bondage and My Freedom. New York: Arno Press & the N.Y. Times, 1969.

MVG -- Charles Hartshorne. Man’s Vision of God and the Logic of Theism. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1964.

ODA -- Gwinyai Muzorewa. The Origins and Development of African Theology. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1985.

OOTM -- Charles Hartshorne. Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1984.

PT -- William R. Jones. "Process Theology: Guardian of the Oppressor or Goad to the Oppressed? Insights from Liberation Theology." A paper presented at a conference on process theology and the black experience at the University of Chicago in partnership with the Center for Process Studies and Meadville/Lombard Theological School, 9 November 1985.

RBF -- J. Deotis Roberts. Roots of a Black Future: Family and Church. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1980.

TAT -- John S. Pobee. Toward an African Theology. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1979.

TR -- Vincent Harding. There is a River: The Black Struggle for Freedom in America. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981.

 

Notes

1Note J. Deotis Roberts’s call for black theology to increase its dialogical activity in BTD.

2See chapter eight -- ’The Subject of All Change (Cosmological Argument)" -- in MVG.

3From Lucille Schulberg Warner’s From Slave to Abolitionist: The Life of William Wells Brown, New York: Dial Press. 1976.

4 "Metaphysical truths may be described as such that no experience can contradict them, but also that any experience must illustrate them" (LP 296).

5 The Western prejudice against relativity is discussed in Hartshorne’s DR. Here, Hartshorne shows that the relative includes within itself, and exceeds in value, the nominative or absolute "as the concrete includes and exceeds the abstract" (ix).

6 Here I am paraphrasing from Kwame Ture’s speech at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas of 23 October. 1986.

7 Howard Thurman narrated this story from his youth on the occasion of his visit to Livingstone College in Salisbury, North Carolina, during the spring of 1978.

8Again, this is not strict metaphysical necessity; rather, it is what cannot fail to be the case given the reality of oppression.


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