Process Theology, Harari, and the Benedictine Practice

I do not believe that I have ever blogged on Process Theology. But two things are rattling around in my head. The first is my love affair with Noah Yuval Harari. (Don’t tell his husband.) With many more caveats than I can mention here, I agree generally with his take that it is “lying” that empowers us to aggregate in groups larger than fifty; or, more generously, it is “telling universal stories” that empowers us to forge agreement among groups larger than fifty. One of those stories is the Babylonian/Abrahamic story told in my broader faith community of Judaism/Christianity/Islam.

The second thing rattling around in my head is my, as of January 1, Benedictine practice, where I pray the hours, introducing me in a very intense way to the (among other writings) Psalms. The Psalms are terribly disturbing. Read them and you will discover what I mean. But, they are also so transparently a formative actor in the communities taking shape — both hill and plains people — in the Fertile Crescent. Yahweh/Allah is so clearly a Sky God. And, yet, Yahweh/Allah is also so clearly forged among communities planting and harvesting and, although not as often as we think, also at war.

What captures my attention is how terribly brutal the Psalms are and how ready they are to attribute brutality to my God. But, hear me out, if you ally yourself to a Sky God — to a God responsible for everything that happens — then there is simply no escaping the brutality of this God. The alternative is some version of Zoroastrianism or Manicheanism; which, I admit, are sometimes attractive. But, in that case, I would have to give up the Book of Common Prayer and the Hymns. Although I am a Jew brought up a Unitarian, I am not about to abandon the BCP or the 1982 Hymnal (until, of course, both are re-written). My point is this: the world is in fact brutal. War is real. Terrible things happen. And they happen for a reason (though, I would argue, these have absolutely nothing to do with “God”).

But, let us suppose that one of the things we are trying to grasp in the stories we tell is how the real world works. Not a fictitious world where everyone is nice and kind and moral (except for the bad people); but the real world where Sapiens tell stories here that are not told there and where here and there are not the same, where stories conflict, and where we are really trying hard to make sense of the whole thing. Like I said, war is real. Famine is real. We live in a world where wars and famine happen. We live in a world where what we do promote (or mitigate) wars and famine. So, what story do we tell about these terrible things? Do we observe the Benedictine Hours and keep our heads down? Do we knowingly, wisely, admit that we are pawns of the algorithm and retreat to our meditation rooms? (I actually practice both of these solutions.)

What does it feel like to try to put it all together in a story?

I think Whitehead’s Process Philosophy is a story. My problem with this story is that it is unidirectional and ultimately positive. It suggests — Hegel-like — that we are improving, that the universe is improving, that we are proceeding as normal. “Carry On.”

But I actually think this is mistaken. I have watched “the gap” and it has not served me well. The world of conflict actually appears to me more real. I like the Psalms better, they speak to me more clearly, they tell the truth more accurately, than Whitehead or Pannenberg. These stories are complex. We all try to hue to the line. We fail. We tell an alternate story. And so the Process account doesn’t make sense to me.

And, yet. My heartthrob reassures me that the world, the universe, really is orderly, although not necessarily on my behalf. I, of course, have a unique commitment to Sapiens. But, I am also led to believe that I am not the King Sapiens. And I am led to believe that Sapiens will pass and the universe will perdure. So I read the Psalms in this ambivalent place. Not Process. Not Talmudic. Not Benedictine.

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