david-mullins-3Jnws1iRSwk-unsplash-crop-1300x500

Photo courtesy David Mullins

GRIFFIN: What If?

One way to reflect about a person’s contribution is to imagine what the world would be like now if she or he had not been part of it. I’m going to use that method with David Griffin. I begin with two speculations that may not be accurate, but still are plausible. One, there would now be no substantial movement seeking truth about what happened on September 11, 2001. Two, there would be only fragmentary and scattered interest in Whitehead and the implications of his thought outside the church.

I

My guess is that many of my readers will not know that there is, now, a growing, significant, organized movement seeking the truth about 9/11. Accordingly, they will not find my statement that no such organization would exist apart from David of little importance or even interest. They may recognize that what happened on that occasion has puzzling features and even that we have been lied to about it, but they think, “so what?”

Why did David spend a decade and more seeking to expose the truth? He did not “go off his rocker,” as some like to think. We need to see what happened in the context of American foreign policy. Prior to 9/11, there were multiple concerns shaping the policies and decisions of our State Department. There was real interest in promoting democracy and minimizing conflict among nations. There was real interest in avoiding entanglements in Europe and elsewhere. There was real interest in promoting American business. There was real interest in projecting American power.

For some years prior to 9/11 the neo-conservatives were pushing the last of these. They had a clear goal for global transformation. The economic theory that dominates the world implies that the goal should be a unified global market with minimal rules and restrictions. This would lead to the most efficient production and distribution of goods, hence to the most rapid increase of gross world product. This would require a “monopolar” political order.

They believed, reasonably, that the one pole would be the United States. The global market needs an American Empire in the service of the global corporations. The neocons were frustrated by the multiple goals expressed in American foreign policy, just as Franklin Roosevelt was frustrated by the reluctance of so many Americans to get into World War II. Roosevelt solved the problem by provoking the Japanese to attack Pearl Harbor. The neocons called for a new Pearl Harbor.

David saw that 9/11 was planned and implemented to play this role. He wrote a book about “the new Pearl Harbor” to show that the neo-conservatives in high places in the government had planned and executed the attack and quickly removed the debris so that it could not be examined.

The neo-cons arranged for “experts” to publish an article in Popular Mechanics purporting to show that science was on the side of the official story. Far more people read this article than David’s book. David wrote another book carefully examining and debunking the article, but no major publisher would touch it, and it was read by still fewer people.

The mainstream press promoted the government’s story, and never again did David the honor of arguing with him. Instead, it affirmed that any notion that there was a conspiracy behind what happened was inherently foolish and even vicious. Since most people came to believe that conspiracy theory generally is to be condemned, and that David was a conspiracy theorist, David was left to publish book after book with obscure presses and no response.

For David, speaking truth to power is what theologians should do. He thought the church should support the truth even if it was not politically correct to do so. He wrote a book that made the theology explicit, and the publishers at Westminster Press, who had published some of his theology, agreed to publish it. A few books were published. When those churchmen in control of the press saw what was happening, they immediately fired the two editors involved, and Westminster did all they could to limit circulation. This relation to David’s prophetic work has continued to characterize most of the Christian community. The university was even more tightly closed. Many process thinkers joined in debunking him.

Of course, David was not the only one who saw that the official stories could not be true. But he was the most persistent and the most comprehensive. Over the years, thousands of architects and engineers have joined in seeking truth. They have demonstrated the physical impossibility of the official story about the third building and have exposed to their colleagues the evidence that there are better explanations in all cases. Although the newspapers, magazines, publishers, universities, churches and political parties are closed to them, their members and reach are expanding. They have confronted Popular Mechanics for letting itself be used for false propaganda, and because the editors refuse to apologize, this year they are publishing a book about this event.

Censorship in the United States is very powerful, but there are still architects and engineers, and a few scientists, who place truth above political correctness. Censoring one lone theologian who had no support from churches or universities, and very little from his process colleagues, was easy. But censoring thousands of people with relevant professional knowledge is more difficult.

If the official story collapses, there is chance that we might have a public discussion of global American empire. Since that goal of foreign policy is the greatest obstacle to international cooperation in response to the terrible threats to the survival of civilization, this would not be a minor achievement. Americans may want to replace constant war with joint work for survival.

Where would we be if David had not persisted in speaking truth to power? Would there be an “Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth”? Perhaps, but I doubt it. Even with David, persuading large numbers of professionals to take actions not likely to help them professionally cannot have been easy.

University_of_Chicago-Don_Burkett-1250x833

University of Chicago, photo courtesy Don Burkett

II

For David, the effort to expose the deceptive grounds of commitment to imperialism was continuous with his work for the Center for Process Studies to expose the fundamental errors underlying modern science and modern Western thought in general. What is my case for speculating that if it had not been for David Griffin there would be no process organizations outside the church today? Let me acknowledge that developments in Europe may have occurred more independently of the United States than I am supposing.

The story goes back to my experience as a student at the University of Chicago. Chicago aimed to be an intellectual center, and this made it possible for minorities to be heard. But overall, it was clear that God had been excluded by the modern world. The task of theologians was to deal with this atheism in a way that could salvage religion. I noticed that in fact humanism was also granted little opportunity in a worldview that excluded purpose from playing any causal role. My conclusion was that the only hope for humanism and theism was a counterattack on the mechanistic and deterministic beliefs of modernity.

Although I thought my teachers had a long way to go, they introduced me to Alfred North Whitehead, who seemed to me then, and still seems to me, to offer what we need. I saw promise in what was happening at Chicago. And I found graduates of the program who had gone farther.

But by the time David was my student in Claremont, what had been encouraging at the University of Chicago had ended. Chicago had followed other universities and organized itself into academic disciplines designed for routine research rather than teaching. These reinforced mechanistic determinism and left little room for the humanities. Whitehead could not fit into any discipline and there was no place for comprehensive vision.  Professional schools had to deal with real world issues, and occasionally Whitehead might be noticed, but recognition of and engagement with his work was uncommon.

I sensed very early that David understood me well, and, as an independent thinker, agreed with me. I talked with him as a colleague, and we agreed that if I could, I should organize a Center for Process Studies. We agreed that I needed a colleague who would teach half-time and have half-time to run the Center. We would also need ten thousand dollars a year. The opportunity arose, and David became my colleague. Already, you may see that without David I might never have organized a center. But I would probably have tried to do something.

In general, colleagues and students thought of work in science and in theology as quite separate. David and I thought that changes in science were crucial to the survival of theology. We were almost alone. Most Christians assumed that the church was healthy, and that theology was a matter for insiders. I doubt that I could have found anyone else who agreed with me that a healthy church required that Christians had to be able to understand that healthy science supported a Christian view of the natural world. We also believed that a sustainable world could emerge only with healthy theology and healthy science. The accepted dualism between theology and science must be overcome.

At the same time, we wanted to show that the individual sciences could be clarified, enriched, and expanded by adopting a different way of thinking. We wanted to begin there. It was especially important to bend over backwards to begin with the issues within the disciplines. We theologians were inviting scientists and other scholars, most of whom were very suspicious of the church, to discuss their problems at a school of theology. We must be completely honest but also completely open and create a place where our guests would feel free.

David Griffin

David understood all this. So far as I know our guests never felt pressured or inhibited by our Christian beliefs. They found that David understood them well, and that his suggestions were worth consideration from their point of view. Since I knew he understood matters as I did, and was ready to engage our guests in their terms, I came along for the ride. Our reputation, and David’s selection of invitees, meant that most of them came and experienced a rare stimulating conversation.

CPS was my “faculty project.” But everyone recognized that the key player was David. Accordingly, when I retired, no one thought that it should end abruptly.It became David’s faculty project. And when he retired, it became the project of his successor, Philip Clayton. Whether or not CPS would have existed at all without him, I think I can safely say, that with almost anyone else, it would have ended with my retirement.

There is now a family of process organizations that grew up as children of CPS. The most important is the Institute for the Postmodern Development of China. Zhihe Wang came to Claremont after I had retired to study with David. If there had been no Center, the likelihood that a Chinese Marxist would have chosen a Christian seminary as a place to study is slight indeed. If we ask how China would be different if David had not done the work he did, thousands of Chinese would testify to how it would be poorer.

Organizations promoting process theology might still have come into being and survived without David. He contributed significantly to process theology, but others did so equally. It is not hard for people to understand that the process doctrine of God is closer to Jesus’ heavenly Abba than is the almighty, impassible, and transcendent One of so much of traditional Christianity. The organizations of Tripp Fuller (Homebrewed Christianity) and Tom Oord (Center for Open & Relational Theology) are quite independent of the Center for Process Studies, but Tom and Tripp both studied in Claremont and have been significantly influenced by the Center. So the sense that process theology is part of a larger process vision, that now adds to confidence and meaning, would be lacking.

The world and its future would be quite different if David had not contributed so much. In my view, it would be much diminished.

Author

  • John Cobb

    John B. Cobb, Jr. taught theology at the Claremont School of Theology from 1958 to 1990. In retirement he lives at Pilgrim Place in Claremont. In 1973, with David Griffin, he established the Center for Process Studies. Throughout his career he has contributed to Whitehead scholarship and promoted process programs and organizations. In recent years he has given special attention to supporting work toward the goal of China to become an ecological civilization. He led the effort to found the Claremont Institute for Process Studies in early 2019, and the organization was renamed in his honor as the "Cobb Institute" one year later.