Editor’s note: In his doctoral dissertation, Pastor Pat Bailey of Telluride’s Christ Presbyterian Church is claiming the need for a re-visioning of the Christian church’s theology and its understanding of mission, the need for a more natural, integrative theology and for an earth-focused, contextual approach to mission. To that end, he is reviewing the theology of three contemporary theologians whose thought is very integrative of Nature and Spirit from three very different approaches. He is currently reviewing the thought of David Ray Griffin, which is based on the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.

Pastor Pat Bailey in front his church

Pastor Pat Bailey

The concept of enduring individuals as presented in process thought is the claim that the essence of an enduring object is not some unchanging substantial subject but is constituted instead by occasions of experience. All enduring individuals, then, are serially ordered societies of momentary occasions of experience. This places human experiencing and the experiencing of all of Nature in a very different context than that posited by a purely materialist and sensationist concept of existence. It is not intended to deny material reality or to disembody existence since momentary occasions of experience are impossible without embodiment or the material by which an atom prehends its environment. Yet what is actually enduring in existence is the effect or affect of all the occasions of experience that have brought the actual entity to the present moment, or what really exists at any given moment is the present moment, a moment that is always lived in the presence of all the other experiencing that is taking place in all of Nature.

Griffin differentiates between “two basic ways in which large numbers of purely temporal societies of occasions of experience can come together to form spatiotemporal societies.”  The one is a compound individual of which it is possible to speak as having a soul. The other is an aggregate society of which it is not possible to speak of as having a soul. An aggregate society consists of a large number of actual entities, such as atoms, molecules, or cells that are organized as a democracy, in other words there is no dominant member of the society.

Examples of an aggregate society would be a rock or a tree.  Examples of compound individuals are human beings or any other animal with a central nervous system.   A compound individual consists of “bodily cells . . . organized so as to give rise to a temporally ordered society of higher-level occasions of experience.”  The soul or mind, then, is “a personally ordered society of dominant occasions of experience” that “gives the society as a whole an experiential unity.”

Griffin proposes that one should conceive of God as analogous to a human soul, that is, “as an everlasting personally ordered society of divine occasions of experience.”  This enables Griffin to speak of God as the soul or mind of the world, and of the world itself as God’s body.  God is also described as the universe as a whole, “not an aggregational whole but the universe as an experiencing individual.” God, then is the dominant member in a compound individual, the universe or world, and so “the individual integrity of ‘the world.’”

Does it appeal to you or not to consider entities other than humans as having a soul?  What about the concept of God as soul of the world and the world as God’s body? Remember, process thought is seeking to provide a more modern metaphysics to describe both Nature and God.

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