“I think…that one-sided views are the easiest to express pointedly and with rhetorical effectiveness and that a pervasive human temptation is to content oneself with striking half-truths rather than to seek the balanced whole truth with the persistence and energy needed for success.” — Charles Hartshorne, Insights and Oversights of Great Thinkers: An Evaluation of Western Philosophy (SUNY press, 1983), p. 80.
Hm… I think that describes much of what I read on the web, and almost all of social media. It certainly describes way too many posts on this blog….
“…The term ‘postmodern’ had been used sporadically by process [theology] thinkers since the 1960s. The later French movement that gave ‘postmodernism’ wide currency reinforced many Whiteheadean criticisms of modernity, but it concluded on a ‘deconstructive’ note. Whiteheadians [and other process thinkers] joined with other constructive critics of modernity in emphasizing reconstruction.” — John B. Cobb, Jr., “Process Theology,” in The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion (Routledge, 2007), p. 561.
Unitarian Universalists are in the direct lineage of process thought, through the contributions of thinkers like Charles Hartshorne and Bernard Loomer, both of whom were members of Unitarian Universalist congregations. And for many years, our thinking emphasized the reconstructive aspects of postmodernity. More recently, though, I’ve been feeling that we Unitarian Universalists (and I include myself in this critique) have been following the French postmodernists by emphasizing the deconstructive aspects of postmodernity. This is due, I think, to our adoption of liberal political discourse, which currently emphasizes deconstruction over reconstruction — liberal politics tends to default towards breaking down stereotypes and attacking the sacred cows of the existing social order, as opposed to trying to construct a better social order. We who ally ourselves with liberal politics know what we are against, but we sometimes find it difficult to articulate what we are for.
Speaking for myself, to get out of reactive deconstruction, it’s been helpful to think about process thought. But the process thought of Hartshorne, Loomer, et al., seems a little dated these days. Maybe for us Unitarian Universalists, the work that Dan McKanan is doing around ecospirituality is one way to be reconstructive rather than deconstructive. Although, finding myself still in a deconstructive mode, I can’t help but keep looking for someone who isn’t a Western white male….
Unitarian theologian Charles Hartshorne was also a serious amateur ornithologist. As an ornithologist, he was perhaps best known for his 1973 book Born To Sing: An Interpretation and World Survey of Bird Song (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), in which he investigates the evolutionary importance of bird song. Most of the book will be of little interest unless you’re something of a field biology geek and your idea of a good time is reading a book with statistical analysis, long tables of data, commentary on evolutionary theory, spectrograms, etc.
However, the last paragraph of Born To Sing is, I think, of interest to anyone who is interested in the relationship between humankind and other species. Written before people thought of degenderizing language, it takes the form of a theologically liberal reflection:
“Nature apart from man [sic] is basically good. So is man, although he has unique capacities for evil as well as good. This is because every increase in freedom increases the dangers inherent in freedom. Man is the freest, hence most dangerous, of terrestrial animals. He needs to meditate upon this elementary but not trivial truth much more than he has. The Greek fear of human conceit, hubris, was entirely justified. We need to recover from that fear. Technology makes man loom large in this solar system, but among the galaxies and island universes he is as small as ever. Science, given a balanced interpretation, fully justifies the old values of reverence and love toward what is other than, and in its encompassing aspect incomparably greater than, man and all his works, actual or potential.” [p. 229]
I’ve cast this in the form of a degenderized responsive reading, which appears after the jump…. Continue reading “A scientific and theological take on nature, humanity, and freedom”