I am a big fan of event type models like that found in process philosophy. It positions mind as the foundation of reality. It fits very well within science. It also offers satisfactory solutions to problematic issues like consciousness. However, when it comes to its theology of God I believe process theology (PT) made some missteps.
The first misstep, in my view, is the way it deals with ultimacy. PT has two ultimates. Creativity is the abstract ultimate and God is the concrete ultimate. I don’t believe it makes sense to call God an ultimate when God is dependent on creativity. Ask any software engineer and they will attest that you can’t have an instantiation (concrete object) of an abstraction (class) if the abstraction doesn’t exist first. Since in PT God is an instantiation of creativity this means that God is not really ultimate.
Another misstep is its tri-ism. Many religious frameworks have a dualistic ontology but process philosophy has three distinct ontological elements: creativity, God, and the world. To me this is also unnecessary. I have often wondered why Whitehead felt the need to trifurcate reality when an aspect monism would do just as well. I suspect it was because God was an addon to his earlier system. After all Whitehead, Hartshorne, and other PT thinkers apply an aspect ontology to God where God has both a primordial aspect and a concrete aspect. Apparently Whitehead had to deal with Locke’s idea that reality “perishes” in each moment. God offers a solution to this problem because God is eternal and therefore all prehensions of the world will also be eternal. It is unclear to me, however, why God couldn’t have the same effect in an aspect monism.
The main problem I have with PT’s theology of God is that it still maintains a similar ontology to a classic theism. An ontology of divide. According to Hartshorne, God is a person and has a distinct life from the life of the world. Each has its own distinct occasions of experience where the only connection is prehension and influence. This ontological divide is very similar to classic theism except for the dipolarity where God both affects the world and is affected by it. To me this presents a picture of God not as ultimate reality but as some sort of uber-person. While this does enable personal language in PT, it seems strange to think of God having a distinction set of occasions of experience from the world. It makes me question the claim that is often made that process theology is panentheistic. Is it enough that God’s participation in the world is limited to prehending and influence? These limitations seem to fly in the face of the incarnation claims found in religion. In Christianity God really participates in the life and death of Jesus. God really dies on the cross. The “long distance” approach of PT where God’s life is separate from the world’s dispels the core intimacy that many people feel (especially the mystics) in relation to God.
Where the PT theology of God really breaks down is in prayer. Since God only influences the world, how would one pray to such a God. Take the example of an addict. In an aspect monism the addict’s prayer is an appeal to embrace the depth of God within. In a powerful way it is the aspect of God in the addict that both prays, hears the prayer, and participates in healing. What would be the make up of an addict’s prayer to the process God? Wouldn’t it have to be something like this: “Please God, influence me stronger to change”? Does this make sense? Prayer is a well known problem for process theology. It stems, in my view, from the fundamental trifurcation of reality where there still remains the ontological divide to be crossed between God and the world. In a true panentheism there is no divide to be crossed but a depth to be probed and embraced.
It is a shame that PT went off in the direction it did with regard to God. I think it strips it of a powerful opportunity to be a viable alternative to the traditions of today. In fact process theology has become a tradition in its own right. This can have both positive and negative effects. On the positive side, it offers a set of common beliefs where religious communities can be formed. On the negative side, if there is no “protestant principal” in play its deficits will remain untouched.
It is hard for me to access if the theology of God in PT must necessarily be formulated as it is. It would seem that a change to an aspect monism could still fit nicely within its panpsychic event model. I suspect, however, it would begin to look more like an absolute idealism at that point. Whitehead’s loathing of a coercive God could still be satisfied because if there is but one life, the divine life, there is no coercion going on. Instead there is a participation of God within the finitely free creatures. The real test for any religious framework is whether or not it will be embraced broadly within the communities of the world. I suspect that process theology will be attractive to certain segments of society like the intelligentsia but not to the common folk where prayers of supplication are so important.