Hartshorne on God

From what I understand, Charles Hartshorne broke the first ground on synthesizing Alfred North Whitehead’s process philosophy into some kind of digestible theology.

The following selection comes from his book Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes (1984).

In Plato’s Republic one finds the proposition: God, being perfect, cannot change (not for the better, since “perfect” means that there can be no better; not for the worse, since ability to change for the worse, to decay, degenerate, or become corrupt, is a weakness, an imperfection). The argument may seem cogent, but it is so only if two assumptions are valid: that it is possible to conceive of a meaning for “perfect” that excludes change in any and every respect and that we must conceive God as perfect in just this sense.

Charles Hartshorne

I’ve been more or less obsessed with process philosophy/theology lately. I’ll explain why in a later post.

College as consumer good

I had the top comment on a Gary Vaynerchuk LinkedIn post last week. Sparked some good discussion. Thought I’d share here.

“Today, college is about an ‘experience,’ not an education. It wasn’t always this way, but we’re here now. This means the problem is much deeper than finding other ways to educate yourself and become ’employable.’ It’s about addressing people’s deep-set need to enjoy their life and not miss out on ‘milestone’ experiences (like college). We literally go into lifetimes of debt in order to not feel bad about ourselves — to not feel we missed out on an experience that, frankly, many college graduates would give up if they could go back in time.”

To put this more simply, I think college is a consumer good for most kids. Not 100% a consumer good, but more than 50%.

Lots of kids go mostly because they want the experience, and not to become employable or learn real things (beyond “life lessons”).

A test for this theory might be to compare time spent studying with grade trends at major universities. Especially easy-to-get-into state institutions.

This isn’t (necessarily) about the cost of college, the quality of college education, or whether college is a worthwhile investment. I’m simply saying that many kids go just to have an experience. Whether it’s worth the cost is something everyone should decide for themselves. But making a good decision in this regard requires us to be honest with ourselves about our (and our kids’) motives and about what actually goes on at college.

I love my college experience. It shaped me socially, professionally and spiritually in ways well worth the cost, in my opinion. But is that necessarily true for everyone who goes? For even the majority of students?

Those are fair and important questions to ask.

DBH on Religion

I transcribed the below from this video. I like this. It’s a different way of thinking about religion and God—one I find more compatible with my common observations of things.

“I never take any religion as a closed system of propositions, every one of which is true, or true in the same way. I think of all religions as cultural artifacts that express truths, or fail to express them, in ways determined as much by cultural history as by anything else.

It’s not the case, by the way, that after you move away from the basic affirmation that God is the basic absolute that you immediately run into irreconcilable differences. There are all sorts of realms of experience — devotional experience, mystical experience — and other affirmations about moral life where you find commonality of experience and concept.

But we’re talking about the human experience of the infinite source of all that is. There’s no way that could be reducible to a single set of internally consistent propositions that exclude all other approaches. These approaches are going to be mythological, spiritual, philosophical, ethical. They’re going to contradict each other in some details and affirm one another in others. Among the traditions that are serious traditions — not the kind of religion you might make up in order to sell a product — they can all converge upon the same truths, with all the fallibility that every human approach to truth exhibits. In the same way that different schools in the sciences are going to diverge from one another.

Ideally, at some point, there is a theoretical breakthrough that will reconcile the differences, or show that one theoretical path was sterile. In a sense, that’s true also of religious experience, but it’s not going to be in the realm of empirical investigations.

But yes, many religions can be true, in the sense that they are speaking of the truth in the best way the cultural traditions to which they belong allows them to do so, while at the same time differing from one another on specific affirmations which may be right or wrong.”

Percy on present-ness

How did it happen that now he could see everything so clearly. Something had given him leave to live in the present. Not once in his entire life had he come to rest in the quiet center of himself but had forever cast himself from some dark past he could not remember to a future that did not exist. Not once had he been present for his life. So his life had passed like a dream. Is it possible for people to miss their lives the way one can miss a plane?

Walker Percy, The Second Coming

A concise definition of Austrian Economics

I’ve copied these 10 points from Steve Horwitz’s valuable post on this subject. They succinctly define the tenets of Austrian economics.

  1. Only individuals choose.
  2. The study of the market order is fundamentally about exchange behavior and the institutions within which exchanges take place.
  3. The “facts” of the social sciences are what people believe and think.
  4. Utility and costs are subjective.
  5. The price system economizes on the information that people need to process in making their decisions.
  6. Private property in the means of production is a necessary condition for rational economic calculation.
  7. The competitive market is a process of entrepreneurial discovery.
  8. Money is non-neutral.
  9. The capital structure consists of heterogeneous goods that have multi-specific uses that must be aligned.
  10. Social institutions often are the result of human action, but not of human design.

On their own, these points might seem somewhat vague and obvious. But they’re worded carefully here—it’s what’s implied when we take them as fact that gets interesting.

For more on Austrian economics, read this.

What is God?

There’s enough here to ponder for a lifetime, if you take what he’s saying seriously. From the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Best to begin, following Thomas Aquinas, by saying what God is not. God is not the biggest being in the universe, or outside of the universe. God is not a discrete entity, like you or me, or a cloud or an atom or a quark, or (if one can put it this way) the universe itself as a whole. Nor is God the clockmaker, winding up time and matter and letting them run their course on their own.

God is the eternal and immaterial fullness of being and life that is the condition of there being anything at all. Infinitely rich and inexhaustibly beautiful, God is being itself, and as such, goodness and truth. Singular and simple, God lacks nothing yet, out of boundless and inexplicable love, creates what is other than himself, that which is not God. Distinct from God, what is not God — which is to say, everything: creation — is nevertheless bound to God, dependent at every moment and in every respect. Yet this dependence is not debilitating but enabling. It is the source of power and identity and, for living creatures, agency and, for rational creatures, freedom. To be is to depend on God for everything, and to acknowledge and celebrate this dependence is to be alive, fully alive, transparent to the source and end and empowering life that fills and moves all living things.

Brad East (channeling David Bentley Hart)

Einstein on God

I’m not an atheist, and I don’t think I can call my self a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws. Our limited minds grasp the mysterious force that moves the constellations.

Albert Einstein

My new piece on optimism

I got published today at Be Yourself (a Medium publication). Topic is optimism—why it’s good for us, why it’s good for those around us.

That is, why our optimism is good for those around us. And not just good, but necessary if we want the best for those we love.

I’m an optimist. I have to be—I see no other way to be functional, given what’s happened in my life and what I see day in and day out. It’s like eating healthy or working out, and arguably more important than both of those things for people who care about whole-person (not just physical) well-being.

I’d appreciate your thoughts, either here or on Medium. Are you an optimist? Why or why not? How has your choice either way in this regard impacted your life?

Some scattered thoughts on materialism

Materialism is a belief in material possessions as the primary—even only—key to happiness, and even to spiritual growth. Materialism is typically not explicit or conscious (thanks to barely-enduring stigmas), but it most often manifests in our deep psyches as we think about how to pursue this kind of spiritual progress.

Or you might simply say materialism is the preoccupation with material things versus intellectual or spiritual things as the highest and best use of our energies, even in regard to achieving spiritual progress.

Material goods are, of course, necessary to survive. Even the Bible itself is rife with allusions to material goods as something to be enjoyed. It uses material abundance as an analogy for the wealth we’re to find in Christ.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.”

John 14:2

But materialism (as I defined above) is most definitely bad, so I think materialism in practice is typically very subtle. To move from enjoying material goods to believing in material goods is hard to catch, and it’s something to which we all fall prey from time to time—perhaps more now in America than ever before.

Even gift-giving can be a subtle form of materialism. I do think most people have good intentions when buying things for others—that most don’t believe so much that a gift itself brings happiness, but that the act of giving is what makes the recipient—or the giver—happy. But even this is a subtle form of materialism.


What does materialism replace? If we believe in material goods as the key to happiness now, what did we believe before? Or what else could we possibly believe?


I don’t think materialism is an idol. I just think it powerfully weakens our psyches—especially our ability to be robust and resilient.


Like any vice, materialism happens on two extremes – on either side of a healthy and balanced view of material possessions. On one end is the view that material goods are all important. On the other is the view that material goods don’t matter. Both lead to an unhealthy excess, the latter in an ironic way — no regard for the needs of others, no realization of your excess.

(In other words, minimalism is a form of materialism, because it implies that the solution lies in some optimal arrangement of the material.)

What I learned from my brother

I shared this note on Facebook yesterday.

It seems to have encouraged lots of people, so thought I’d share it here.

I hesitated to publish this anywhere, at first. I wrote it for myself—to get my thoughts on paper. I hadn’t been able to do that in regards to my brother until last week.

But I want people to remember Matt. And there’s no point in hiding the hard truths. Unfortunately, we all lose we people love, at some point or other—sometimes in terrible ways. What’s important isn’t that we avoid these things, but learn how to put it all into some workable perspective.

Here’s a quote to go along with the note:

There is, of course, some comfort to be derived from the thought that everything that occurs at the level of secondary causality – in nature or history – is governed not only by a transcendent providence but by a universal teleology that makes every instance of pain and loss an indispensable moment in a grand scheme whose ultimate synthesis will justify all things. But one should consider the price at which the comfort is purchased: it requires us to believe in and love a God whose good ends will be realized not only in spite of – but entirely by way of – every cruelty, every fortuitous misery, every catastrophe, every betrayal, every sin the world has ever known; it requires us to believe in the eternal spiritual necessity of a child dying an agonizing death from diphtheria, of a young mother ravaged by cancer, of tens of thousands of Asians swallowed in an instant by the sea, of millions murdered in death camps and gulags and forced famines (and so on). It is a strange thing indeed to seek peace in a universe rendered morally intelligible at the cost of a God rendered morally loathsome.

Now we are able to rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that, rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes – and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain, for the former things will have passed away and he that sits upon the throne will say, ‘Behold, I make all things new.

David Bentley Hart