We can think of a distinctive culture as a society of people who share a pattern of meanings with similar subjective forms. These meanings are evoked in most members is the society by common propositional feelings. The subjective form of the entertainment of these propositions, that is the emotions associated with them, are also similar. Accordingly they inform behavior and the way that behavior is understood. ( John Cobb, "Whitehead on Propositions" in Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization)
The most recent linguistic approach to literature is that of cognitive metaphor, which claims that metaphor is not a mode of language, but a mode of thought. Metaphors project structures from source domains of schematized bodily or enculturated experience into abstract target domains. We conceive the abstract idea of life in terms of our experiences of a journey, a year, or a day. (Linguistic Society of America, LSA: About Linguistics, Retrieved 2012-03-04)
Technically, Whitehead understands a “propositional feeling” to be a form of integrating a feeling that indicates a particular individual actual entity or, more commonly, a society of entities with a feeling of an abstract possibility or pure potential. The indicative feeling is a “physical feeling” or a “transmuted feeling,” that is, one that integrates many physical feelings into one. The feeling of the pure potential is a “conceptual feeling.” The integration that is the propositional feeling is the feeling of that actual thing as characterized by that pure potential. (John Cobb, "Whitehead on Propositions" in Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization)
Humans have historically spent immense communal effort and creativity on religious structures. In this study, we examine two famous and complex monuments: one the 9th-century Buddhist monument of Borobudur and the other the cathedral church of Chartres. We argue that metaphor, metonymy, and other blends are literally “built in” to the architecture and art to structure the experience of people in these spaces. Metaphoric mappings such as good is up and power is up are common to many religious traditions, and certainly participate in the design of both of these structures.
-- Kashmiri Stec and Eve Sweetser, “Borobudur and Chartres: Religious Spaces as Performative Real-Space Blends,” in Sensuous Cognition, ed. Rosario Caballero and Javier Diaz (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), 265–91.
Propositions are a halfway house between actuality and possibility, combining elements of both ontological domains. Considered in isolation, they combine ideas about how the world might be and how we (or other things) might interact with ideas acquired from the physical world.
They can be felt or, in Whitehead's words, entertained in the imagination without being actualized, and they can also be actualized or performed in physical ways. Politics and economics, religion and art, rituals in daily life and habitual modes of interaction, are ways of performing propositions. (Jay McDaniel)
Many of the most important statements are not to be evaluated in terms of their truth or falsity. They may inspire efforts to change reality. They may bring comfort. They may encourage people to follow their leaders into a disastrous war. (John Cobb, "Whitehead on Propositions" in Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization)
Obviously, neither Christianity nor Buddhism claims that a glorious physical religious monument is necessary to achieve spiritual heights. But, as we examine the performative power of ritual – also performed in space, and specifically in the spaces of these monuments – we need also to consider the sources of performative power which reside in the physical spacesthemselves. Human creativity not only builds blends as complex as the Mass, it also builds material anchors to match and support them. -- Kashmiri Stec and Eve Sweetser, “Borobudur and Chartres: Religious Spaces as Performative Real-Space Blends,” in Sensuous Cognition, ed. Rosario Caballero and Javier Diaz (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), 265–91.
Whitehead’s philosophy helps us to see that, on the whole, cultural diversities enrich the world. Ranking cultures hierarchically blocks our appreciation of one another. In recent decades more Westerners have come to realize how inappropriate has been our condescension toward indigenous people and their cultural wisdom. ( John Cobb, "Whitehead on Propositions" in Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization)
However, the main lesson to be learned from Whitehead is that differences in cultural beliefs do not usually entail a call for judgments of truth and falsity. Many beliefs held by Westerners may be true, within limits, without any denial of truth to different beliefs held by Chinese. In this conference, for example, we are seeking to understand how both the Western understanding of the body and the Chinese understanding can be true. That they are both true seems entailed in the effectiveness of both Chinese and Western medicine. (John Cobb, "Whitehead on Propositions" in Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization)
Thus Whitehead shifts the meaning of “proposition” from a linguistic statement to a way the world is. This is important in several ways. It frees him to accept the inherent and inescapable ambiguity of language. The effort of philosophers to achieve full clarity and exactness has directed effort in the wrong direction. It makes the error that Whitehead calls, the fallacy of the perfect dictionary. It implies that there are unambiguous terms in which the ambiguous ones can be defined. Whitehead notes that all terms are ambiguous, so that there is an infinite regression. (John Cobb, "Whitehead on Propositions" in Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization)
None of this means that we should be indifferent to truth, but when propositional truth is separated from a wider context of human values it becomes a secondary consideration. ( John Cobb, "Whitehead on Propositions" in Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization)
The recognition of cultural diversity has created problems for morality. Most cultures have tended to treat their moral judgments as universal. This has helped them in communicating this morality to successive generations. Whereas recognizing the relativity of aesthetic values and cuisines does not threaten social order, the relativity of moral practice does. We hope that a shift to Whiteheadian thought would enable people in many cultures to appropriate values that could guide us all without focusing on specific sets of do’s and don’ts. (John Cobb, "Whitehead on Propositions" in Seizing an Alternative: Toward an Ecological Civilization)
John Sanders: "We use figurative language, particularly metaphors, in order to understand most of our really important religious ideas."
Process Theologians: We, too, fully affirm the importance of figurative language. Whitehead speaks of God as the poet of the world. We suggest further that our acts of metaphor-making originate, not only with our embodied experience, but also with God's lure toward a creative blending of ideas, which is a fundamental part of our cognitive life. Blending is itself a God-inspired activity.
John Sanders: "Americans commonly think of God as either an authoritative or nurturing parent and these two models lead to vastly different doctrinal and moral stances."
Process Theologians: We are on the side of those Americans who think of God as a nurturing parent. One of our primary luminaries, John Cobb, speaks of God as Abba. See his Jesus' Abba: The God who has not Failed. Like you we think that this metaphor is much better than God as strict taskmaster or holy warrior.
We worry that the latter metaphors have played far too prominent a role in historical Christianity and other Abrahamic faiths. There is a need for the creative transformation of metaphors.
For Christians in the process traditions, creative transformation is a fundamental way that God is present in the world. In Christ in a Pluralistic Age John Cobb proposes that the living Christ -- the Logos that was revealed but not exhausted in the healing ministry of Jesus -- is the spirit of creative transformation at work in the world. John's work invites Christians to be open, deeply open, to Christ through a creative transformation of metaphors for the sake of the common good of the world.
John Sanders: "God as an agent (person) is the default conceptualization for humans."
Process Theologians: We affirm this default conceptualization. We recognize that people may conceive God differently: for example, as a cosmic energy of which all things are expressions, or the deep interconnectedness of all things. But for us God is an agent (person) whose life embraces and includes all lives in a compassionate way and who is active in the world as a lure toward creativity and wholeness.
As we see things, the universe as a whole is a communion of subjects, and not simply a collection of objects. There is subjectivity everywhere. This means that conceiving God as agent is consistent with, not an exception to, the very nature of things.
John Sanders: "Though there is tremendous cultural variation in concepts there are some panhuman concepts shared by all normal humans."
Process Theologians: We celebrate diversity, both human and ecological. But we also agree with you that by virtue of common biology and ways of experiencing the world, we humans share concepts across cultures. If evidence points in the direction of shared concepts across culture, this, too, can be celebrated.
Additionally, we believe that the commonalities extend to the realm of lived experience. All human beings seek to live with satisfaction relative to the situation at hand; all seek harmony and intensity in their relations with the surrounding world. Shared concepts emerge out of a shared psychological aims.
For process theologians, it is an error to overemphasize cultural differences and to overemphasize cultural similarities. The key is to be open to both. Part of the wisdom of John's approach is that he is open in just this way.
John Sanders: "Human embodiment plays a crucial role in our cognitive processes, including our thinking about God and the Christian life."
Process Theologians: We agree completely. One of our axioms is that all experience, including all cognitive experience, originates in what we call the physical pole of experience. The physical pole is that side of our lives by which we interact with, and are affected by, others. It is bodily.
We suggest that embodiment plays a role in God's cognitive processes, too. If God knows what we and other living beings feel, then God must "feel our feelings" in some kind of embodied way, thus being affected by them.
Feeling the feelings of others is more than inference about what others are feeling; it is sympathetic sharing in their subjective states, another name for which is empathy.
It is this capacity for sharing that makes God deeply relational: much more like a nurturing parent than a dominating father or self-preoccupied king.
Feminist theologians rightly propose that images of God as Father, if not complemented by other images, both personal and transpersonal, run the risk of reinforcing overly patriarchal habits of thought, even if offered in the context of a God who risks.
For this reason process theologians strongly recommend countervailing metaphors, including God as Amma (mama).
For process theologians, there is a need in religious life for a playful approach to metaphors and, for that matter, a playful approach to life, cognizant that humor, no less than seriousness, is one way of walking with the God of all life.