Loving My Uncle
the Classical Theist
Dear Open and Relational (process) theists,
You say that we should practice hospitality to strangers and enemies. Right?
Yes, we process theists believe God is lovingly open to those who are “strange” to us and to those whom some might deem “enemies.” God is a sky-like mind who feels the feelings of everyone with tender care. We should do the same.
This means we need to be open to widows and orphans and immigrants and people who are otherwise in the shadows or on the margins of society. Right?
Yes. We need to make sure no one is left behind, to respect the dignity of each and all. We need to have welcoming spirits and translate our generosity into practical action.
I got it. My question is a little closer to home. It's my uncle. He's a classical theist of the vehement type. You might say he's a fundamentalist. I am wondering if there's a place for him in beloved communities and, if so, how I might welcome him.
Tell me more.
He's not exactly a "stranger" or "enemy" in our family, but he’s really irritated with me. He wants to argue with me all the time about whether or not God is all-powerful. He is angry because I don't believe in his kind of God.
So here’s my question. How can I be open to classical theists like my uncle: that is, to people who firmly believe that the future is known by God in advance, that God can exercise unilateral power, and that God is -- or could be -- in complete control of the world? Some of them think that God is half-angry all the time, too.
Well, I'm sure you already know the answer. Love them as people whose lives are as important and valuable as your own. Be sensitive to their physical, emotional, and social needs. Listen to them and be willing to learn from them even as you share your ideas with them.
But my question is a little different. I want to know how to deal with his ideas.
Oh, I see. Well, for one, take his beliefs seriously. That's a way of loving him. Do him the honor of entering into constructive debate. Good relationships can include disagreements. But also remember that the ideas of classical theists are like poems for them: in Whitehead's words, lures for feeling. And remember that lures for feeling can function in people’s lives in constructive ways even if they seem “false” to you. Be gentle and generous.
You’re saying I can be gentle and generous to the ideas of classical theists?
Yes, take the ideas seriously, look for truth in them as best you can, but also try to be sensitive to how the ideas might function to help them make meaning of their lives even if false. Be open to the possibility that their ideas, even as you disagree with them, might help them grow in love. Also remember that the ideas people embrace are but one of many influences that shape them in the immediacy of the moment. How the ideas are connected to the rest of their lives is relevant and important.
And what about my own process ideas: my idea that God does not know the future in advance, that God can only act through persuasion (not coercion) and that God is lovingly inclusive? Are these ideas lures for feeling, too?
Yes. Let these ideas touch you, but hold onto them with a relaxed grasp. Be careful that you don't take them too literally, as if they were precise roadmaps to what is sacred in life. Don't become a process fundamentalist. Know that God is always more than our ideas about God and that Love can work through different ideas.
Is that process theology?
Yes. Process theology believes that Love is much more important than process theology.