.Thomas J. J. Altizer received his Ph.D at the University of Chicago in 1955. He taught at Wabash College from 1954-1956, then moved to Emory University as professor of Bible and Religion until 1968. The “death of God” theology became a heated debate during his professorship at Emory. In 1968 he accepted a position at the State University of New York in 1968 as professor of English. Some of his primary works are: Radical Theology and the Death of God, ed. Altizer and William Hamilton (1966), The Gospel of Christian Atheism (1966), The Descent into Hell (1970), The Self-Embodiment of God (1977), Total Presence: The Language of Jesus and the Language of Today (1980), Genesis and Apocalypse: A Theological Voyage Toward Authentic Christianity (1990), and The Genesis of God: A Theological Genealogy (1993).
The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 227-236, Vol. 5, Number 4, Winter, 1975. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Whitehead’s language is not Buddhist as such, and not even meaningful within a Buddhist context. But the relation of mutual and total coinherence which it establishes between God and the World can be seen to be a purely religious relation. It is grounded in a religious vision, and this ground is in fundamental continuity with Mahayana Buddhism and more in continuity with Buddhism than with any religious language in the Christian world.
God and the World stand over against each other, expressing the final metaphysical truth that appetitive vision and physical enjoyment have equal claim to priority in creation. But no two actual entities can be torn apart: each is all in all. Thus each temporal occasion embodies God, and is embodied in God. In God’s nature, permanence is primordial and flux is derivative from the World: in the World’s nature, flux is primordial and permanence is derivative from God. Also the World’s nature is a primordial datum for God; and God’s nature is a primordial datum for the World. Creation achieves the reconciliation of permanence and flux when it has reached its final terms which is everlastingness — the Apotheosis of the World. (PR 529)
These primary and overwhelming words from the conclusion of Process and Reality might be taken as the apex of modern Western speculative vision, and yet they seem to be inconsistent with the apparent foundations of Whitehead’s metaphysics. They surely have no clear warrant in the Western philosophical and theological tradition. Nevertheless, this vision is compelling, not simply because of its immediate power, but also because it promises what our own tradition has hidden or obscured, even though that hiding is a veiling of its and our own ground. Most of all the Christian might rejoice in this vision, for it may well embody a recovery of what the Christian has long since lost: that is, nothing less than the meaning of the Gospel, the meaning of Jesus’ original proclamation of the triumphant dawning of the Kingdom of God. But to accept this vision the Christian must lose or negate what has historically been the foundation of his faith, the transcendence of God. Indeed, what we have known as Christian language cannot dissociate transcendence and God, so the dissolution of transcendence goes hand in hand with the disappearance of the Christian name of God.
How strange that both his secular opponents and his theological allies commonly treat the later Whitehead as an apologist for Christianity, and this surely because the name of God became so fundamental in his mature thinking. But is this a Christian name of God? Is it truly a name of God at all? Does it evoke what language can speak of as God? Can we actually pronounce the name of God in a Whiteheadian speculative context? Could it be that Whitehead seemed to so many of us a strange and isolated voice because we falsely imagined that he was actually speaking the name of God? Does not his voice in fact lie at the center of the modern imaginative vision? We have removed that center to the periphery by mistranslating the Whiteheadian God as the Christian God, by falsely judging that the God about whom Whitehead spoke is the God about whom we can speak. Should we not expect that if Whitehead is indeed a great speculative philosopher that he would be just as falsely interpreted by his Christian spokesmen as were Plato, Aristotle, and Hegel by theirs? One thing above all stands out in Christian misinterpretations of metaphysical thinking, and that is the meaning and identity of God; for despite illusions to the contrary we have yet to move beyond Pascal’s realization of the dichotomy between philosophical and theological meanings of God.
It may well be that there is no open or immediate way into the identity of the Whiteheadian God so long as we remain within the contours of the Western tradition. After all it was Whitehead himself who declared that Christianity has always been a religion “seeking” a metaphysics (RM 50). If Christianity has not yet found a metaphysics, it has not yet found a conceptual meaning of Cod, which is to say a meaning of God which can be spoken in the language of faith. In Religion in the Making Whitehead says that Christianity starts with a tremendous notion about the world and that this notion is not derived from a metaphysical doctrine, but rather from our comprehension of the sayings and action of Christ. What is primary in religion is the religious fact, and Christianity is grounded in the “tremendous fact” of Christ (RM 51). Now what can “fact” mean in this context? Whitehead goes on to say that the reported sayings of Christ are not formalized thought, but rather descriptions of direct insight. He speaks in the lowest abstractions that language is capable of, and his sayings are actions and not adjustments of concepts. So we face the seeming paradox that Christianity starts with a tremendous notion about the world, but this notion is non- or trans-conceptual. Is it transconceptual in a Western or even a Christian context? Do “fact” and “action” here defy analysis because we are want to interpret them with a Western horizon of meaning?
Can the East, and more particularly Buddhism, give us a horizon wherein we can recover the meaning of the “fact” of Christ? This would seem to be an odd possibility if only because it is so difficult for the Western mind to associate “fact” with the world or worlds of Eastern understanding. Yet obviously Whitehead is here giving the word ‘fact’ an odd meaning, at least one that seems odd to us. Perhaps it is only in an alien context that the Western mind can discover a meaning of ‘fact’ which it can associate with Christ. We might begin by noting that the oddity of the Whiteheadian meaning of fact is not confined to his treatment of religion and Christ; it rather lies at the center of his metaphysical understanding. Whitehead presents a revealing portrait of his own search for ultimate meaning in the conclusion of the fifth chapter of Science and the Modern World. First, he identifies any attempt at a purely religious or theological answer to the question of the ultimate meaning of the order and reality of nature as the great refusal of rationality to assert its rights. He insists that we have to search as to whether nature does not in its very being “show” itself as self-explantory. By this he means that the very statement of what things are may contain elements explanatory of why things are. Then, after noting that ‘value’ is the word he uses for the intrinsic reality of an event, he says:
Value is the outcome of limitation. The definite finite entity is the selected mode which is the shaping of attainment; apart from such shaping into individual matter of fact there is no attainment. The mere fusion of all that there is would be the nonentity of indefiniteness. The salvation of reality is its obstinate, irreducible matter-of-fact entities, which are limited to be no other than themselves. (SMW 136f)
Now what could be more absurd to the Western mind than to say that matter-of-fact entities are the salvation of reality? Salvation as obstinate and irreducible fact? But what is most absurd to the Western mind would appear to be most natural and spontaneous to the Buddhist mind, for here brute or irreducible ‘fact’ is identified with salvation.
Here as elsewhere language can be most deceptive, and particularly so since we have not yet learned how to translate an Eastern into a Western language. But we have already lost our Christian language, or lost the ability to speak it, and perhaps the attempt to speak an alien language will restore to us the power of speech. If Buddhism can speak at all to us, albeit in a distorted and all too partial and fragmentary voice, it may at the very least challenge and disrupt those patterns of language and thinking which have silenced our own language of faith. Significantly enough, our own language has often adopted the language of Buddhism when it intended to speak of that which is most other or most threatening to itself. Thus when Freud made his radical turn after the First World War and discovered the death instinct, he called it the nirvana principle, thereby enabling us to name the total peace of Buddhism as a prehuman condition and a pre- or postliving state. Of course, Romanticism, as Denis de Rougemont insisted, has always known salvation as death. But psychoanalysis, as Marxism before it, gave to Romanticism a scientific language, and it is not without accident that in our day it is only the psychoanalyst or the Marxist who can speak convincingly of what the Christian once knew as sin. Indeed, images of death or nothingness have dominated the modern imagination, and who can doubt that it is the power of such images which has opened our sensibilities to the world of Buddhism? Can this be true of Whitehead himself? Surely not! Whitehead, the last Victorian, the last great thinker who could affirm the traditional values of the West, even the last genuine thinker who could use the word ‘value’ at all?
However, we have learned something about Victorianism in the last generation, and one of the things which we have learned is that in some respects the Victorians were even more nihilistic than we are ourselves, for they could be shocked by nihilism as we cannot, and this very shock could lead them to daring strokes of the imagination. When we reflect upon it, is there not something strange about Whitehead’s preoccupation with Buddhism, and something very odd indeed about the manner in which he could address himself to it? Whether or not Whitehead was influenced by Buddhism in the creation of his own cosmology and metaphysics, his thinking often remarkably parallels Buddhism, as witness his doctrine that it is the perishing of absoluteness which is the attainment of objective immortality. Has another modern thinker found in perpetual perishing the sign and seal of immortality?
Already in Religion in the Making Whitehead says that the realization of the togetherness or the interdependence of the universe is the contribution of religion to metaphysics. But it might be noted that this realization is far more fully present in Buddhism than in Christianity. Cosmic relatedness is the core of Whitehead’s cosmology, which is concerned with the becoming, the being, and the relatedness of what he terms actual entities. Therein he reaches a metaphysical understanding of creative process as the becoming, the perishing, and the objective immortalization of those things which jointly constitute what he calls stubborn fact. As he says in the preface to Process and Reality:
All relatedness has its foundation in the relatedness of actualities: and such relatedness is wholly concerned with the appropriation of the dead by the living — that is to say, with “objective immortality” whereby what is divested of its own living immediacy becomes a real component in other living immediacies of becoming. (PR ix)
Now is not this conception far closer to the early dharma theory of Buddhism than it is to any Western cosmology? Moreover, is Whitehead not closer to the Buddhist than to the Christian or Western world when he conceives not simply the inevitability of the perishing of every actual occasion but also that each fluent actual occasion is also completed by passing into objective immortality, wherein it is everlasting and thus devoid of perpetual perishing? When Whitehead says that cosmology in this sense is the basis of all religions, could we not more accurately say that it may well be the basis of Buddhism, but it has yet to be realized as the basis of Christianity?
Whitehead believed that “everlastingness” (the “many” absorbed everlastingly in the final unity) is the actual content out of which the higher religions historically evolved. Now in this context it might be instructive to examine Whitehead’s doctrine that the salvation of reality lies in its obstinate, irreducible, matter-of-fact entities. Is this doctrine grounded in a religious apprehension of the togetherness of the universe, leading to an understanding of actuality as complete togetherness — “togetherness of otherwise isolated eternal objects, and togetherness of all actual occasions” (SMW 251)? What else but a religious vision could not only make manifest the totality of the interrelatedness of the universe but also unveil the intrinsic and even total interrelatedness of matter-of-fact entities? Do we not find lying at the center of Whitehead’s vision a nondualistic apprehension of the union or coinherence of the macrocosmic and the microcosmic, of the outer and the inner, of the beyond and the near at hand which has no genuine precedent in the Western historical tradition? Certainly our established Western categories and ways of language and thinking provide no manifest way of so conjoining brute fact and final salvation or everlastingness and matter-of-fact entities. Here what we know as transcendence disappears only to reappear as actuality, but it is an actuality which is eternal and temporal at once, thus simultaneously transcendent and here and now.
Someday it is devoutly to be hoped that scholars and critics will step forth to demonstrate the integral interrelatedness of Whitehead’s non-dualistic cosmic vision and comparable imaginative achievements of modern music, literature, and art. Pending that development, it would appear that it is only Buddhism which provides an immediate entry into Whitehead’s imaginative world, for it is only Buddhism among our historical traditions which we today can imagine as a totally nondualistic mode of vision. And what Buddhism most immediately offers us is a vision of Sunya or Sunyata which shatters and disperses our inevitably dualistic modes of language and thinking. If a truly radical mode of vision underlies Whitehead’s speculative thinking, then nothing less than such a shattering will prepare us to be open to that thinking. For how can we know or imagine a total coinherence or interrelatedness of God and the World apart from a radical shattering and dispersal of everything which we have known and imagined as God and the World? Assuming that Sunyata, or Total Emptiness, only appears as a consequence of the total emptying of consciousness and experience, can we surmise that God and the World can only appear as Totality or Total Togetherness as a consequence of the total emptying of everything which is given and manifest to us as God and the World? What else could prepare us to apprehend the Apotheosis of the World, the manifestation of brute fact as final salvation? How else are we to apprehend fact as salvation if we are not to empty ourselves of everything which we have known as salvation and fact?
Gradually it is becoming manifest that the nihilism of the modern West promises the possibility of the total union or reconciliation of those dichotomies which have both created and been the arena of the Western consciousness and experience. Whether or not we can imagine such a concrete possibility, Mahayana Buddhism provides us with an historical model of the total union of a negative and a positive nihilism or of a nothingness or emptiness which is simultaneously empty and full or nothing and everything. Incapable as we are of a nondualistic language, we have no way ready to hand of speaking or envisioning such a total fusion or simultaneity. Nevertheless, we can have some sense of the barriers or obstacles to us of opening ourselves to such a language and vision. Surely one of these, and not the least of them, is our invariable tendency to dissociate the beyond from the here and now, final salvation from immediate actuality. But why do we so associate the beyond with final salvation and the here and now with immediate actuality? This is not simply a given in human experience as such, as witness the Buddhist world. The world of Mahayana Buddhism provides us with multiple examples of concrete modes of consciousness and experience in which not even the hint of such distinctions is possible.
Surely something like a nondualistic sensibility is a necessary prerequisite for an actual apprehension of the mutual embodiment of God and the world. This must mean a mode of sensibility in which the world is not simply felt or sensed as here and now and immediate but also as beyond and salvific. So likewise God must also be sensed or felt as not only salvific and beyond but also as immediate, here and now. Indeed, if there is to be a full apprehension of the mutual embodiment of the world and God, then neither the world nor God can be felt or sensed as wholly distinct and individual. Thereby there could be no primary association of God with transcendence or of the world with immediate factuality or presence. Thus “world” would cease to be world as we now know, sense, and name it, and so likewise God could no longer be known, sensed, or named as “God.” Is this not a remarkable parallel to the practice and realization of Buddhist emptiness?
If we passed through some such emptying or reversal of consciousness, then Whitehead’s speculative language might not appear to be so odd and exotic, or so distant and unreal. The world which his speculative vision apprehends is obviously neither the world of our common sense nor even the world of modern physics; it is far rather a religiously apprehended world mediated through the language and categories of modern science and our common experience. Only a religious ground could account for the decisive role of subjective experience in Whitehead’s cosmology, for it is simply ignorance to think that anything like a subjective experience in this sense is present in quantum physics. Of course, this world is not simply or solely the world which Buddhism knows. But perhaps it parallels that world insofar as it, too, is a religiously apprehended world, and a positively and fully religiously apprehended world. Now such a world is precisely what the West has never previously known or named. Whether by way of the iconoclasm of the prophets of Israel or the logos of Greek thinking, the West has negated the immediate actuality of the world, and subordinated world as such to that which is apprehended as lying beyond or apart from it. Or, rather, it has thereby introduced or apprehended a dichotomy at the center of actuality. Actuality then became known, sensed, and named as being other than itself, with the gradual but inevitable consequence that dichotomous distinctions have come to dominate our language, consciousness, and experience. Nature, creation, object, fact, and event then progressively, but ever more fully and totally, became manifest and real as the dichotomous opposites of consciousness, God, and subject. With the dawn of the modern age, and certainly with its full unfolding, these opposites became simply given as dichotomous others. Yet a reconciling movement and activity lies at the creative center of the modern age, and here one may truly speak of modern physics, just as one may of modern art and literature. Is Whitehead an expression and embodiment of such a creative center?
If so, then Whitehead’s language, even his most speculative language, need no longer appear odd and unreal. In one sense, we might regard it as the reappearance of a long lost religious language — not the simple rebirth of an ancient and primitive language, but far rather a transformed and transmuted language in which our inherited Western language itself assumes a comprehensive and universal form. We may well come to realize that it is his common reader who is provincial and “Victorian,” whereas Whitehead’s language itself is bursting into universality and thus inevitably establishing contact with the Buddhist world. But a Buddhist world to which Whitehead’s language might speak cannot be located in a past which is other than the present or an East which is other than our West. In this perspective it could only be located in Whitehead’s language itself, otherwise no linguistic relation could exist between them. Is it really so difficult to imagine that Buddhism is addressing us in Whitehead’s language? This is not to say that it is only Buddhism which so addresses us, but it is to suggest that if Whitehead’s language is truly open to universality then it must embody something like a Buddhist presence. This is an actual presence, not simply a dialectical absence, a presence in which Buddhism actually speaks. Can we not detect a Buddhist voice, or a voice echoing a Buddhist voice, in the identification of immediate actuality as salvation? Do we know of another language which can even associate brute fact and final salvation? Yes, of course, we know our own Gnostic language, which establishes a totally negative relationship between fact and salvation. Gnostic? Is it the Gnostic within us that reacts so negatively to Whitehead’s cosmology?
The very mention of Gnosticism, an historical phenomenon unknown in the Buddhist world, can induce us to note one of the most striking characteristics about Whitehead’s language. For there is no image in Whitehead’s language of nature as an “other,” no image of nature as outside, or even as simply and only being there. Here we find no sign of a negative response to nature, nor is nature treated with awe or veneration. On the contrary, nature is simply and immediately apprehended as an all encompassing and total presence. Can this be the voice of a mathematician? True, Whitehead intends to comprehend nature conceptually and to do so completely. But this is a conceptual apprehension which intends to allow its object to speak as subject. Does Nature then speak? Yes, because this is a nature which is immediately apprehended as subject, and it is the subject itself which becomes object in its own act of experience and understanding. There is no sense here, either felt or known, of an ultimate dichotomy between subject and object, because no subject appears here which is only subject, and no object which is only object.
Nature is totally there, and totally here. The totality of its presence is such that there is nothing whatsoever which is “other” than nature. Only in some such context can we be prepared to understand what Whitehead might mean by speaking of matter-of-fact entities as the salvation of reality. Not only is nature all-comprehending and total in its presence, but so likewise apparently is salvation. So much so that here it must be impossible to establish a real distinction of any kind between nature and grace. While no such distinction is presumably possible, and nature is grace, nature nevertheless knows and experiences itself as nature, and this it does in our language and consciousness.
There may well be a significant parallel to such a cosmic vision in the symbolic language of Tantric Buddhism, but it is difficult to think of a comparable antecedent in the West. Most assuredly this is a unique metaphysical understanding of nature or the cosmos in the West, and this makes problematic the question of Whitehead’s relation to the metaphysical tradition of the West. Whitehead a Platonist? Who would have thought so if Whitehead had not so spoken of himself? A Christian Platonist then? Perhaps, but what can this mean in the modern world? One suspects that Whitehead could be identified as a metaphysician only if we derive our understanding of metaphysics from Whitehead alone. Being, as the West has understood it, is precisely what is missing from Whitehead’s metaphysics. Or, if it is present, it is present as an abstraction, and an abstraction from actuality or the real. And God? This is surely the great theological question which must be asked of Whitehead, and quite possibly the great metaphysical question as well. Two biographical points are relevant. Until his late metaphysical period Whitehead never wrote about the question of God or showed any interest in it in his writing. He had acquired over the years a considerable theological library, but he sold this library before embarking upon his own metaphysical quest. There are serious students of Whitehead who are persuaded that the closing sections on God in Process and Reality are inconsistent with his previous writing and thinking, and surely no one, perhaps not even Whitehead himself, could have foreseen on the basis of his previous work the doctrine of God which here emerges. The lay interpreter of Whitehead can only wonder if this is a doctrine of God at all. And is it?
Leaving aside the sacred interests of Christian apologetics, and to many committed Christians today these interests are not so sacred, one wonders if Christianity itself is served by the presence of a genuine doctrine of God in Whitehead. A genuine doctrine of God would be in some fundamental sense in continuity either with established conceptions of God or with symbols of God in Christianity or other religious traditions. It is difficult to see how Whitehead’s own understanding of God is in any positive way in continuity with any metaphysical tradition, and as to its symbolic meaning, Christian theologians, other than the Whiteheadian faithful, have either been unable to understand it or have judged it to be atheistic. Indeed, no one has more fiercely criticized our established ideas and symbols of God than Whitehead himself, and apparently the wrath of this gentle man was aroused only by ideas of God. Assume for the moment that there is no genuine doctrine of God in Whitehead, or none that is meaningful within a Western philosophical or Christian theological context; then is it not possible that Whitehead’s language about God is fulfilling an intention which is wholly distinct from our traditional and established speech about God? This intention may, moreover, be a genuine religious intention, perhaps far more purely religious than any which can be evoked by what is commonly taken to be meaningful language about God. We have noted that Whitehead intends to understand nature as being simultaneously fully gracious and all comprehending. Now there simply is no way of preserving such an intention within the linguistic and symbolic context of our Western or Christian language about God. Where in the West (with the exception of Spinoza, the perennial exception to all rules) can one find language about God which can simultaneously name God and nature? This is a very different matter from saying God then nature, or nature then God. It is rather a saying which evokes God and nature at once, and this is not to be found in English romantic poetry (although it does occur in Hopkins, the poet who is probably closest to Whitehead).
It would be idle to suggest that Whitehead’s is a Buddhist’s understanding of God, and not only idle but grotesque, for surely Buddhist language about God is impossible. But it might not be idle or grotesque to suggest that there is a Buddhist ground for Whitehead’s language about God, which is to say a religious ground which is far more meaningful in terms of the symbolic language of Buddhism than it is in that of any other religious tradition, including Christianity. For the ground which Whitehead’s God-language requires, or at least that language which is here being taken up, is a ground which makes possible the coinherence of contraries, polarities, or opposites, a coinherence wherein the balance between the contraries is fully and consistently even. This is a ground which is simply absent from the Western religious consciousness, or at least absent from those forms of consciousness which have been susceptible to translation into theological language. But it is a ground which is obviously present in Buddhism, and far more so here than in any other religious language or symbolism. Putting brackets about the meanings of the contraries ‘God’ and ‘World’, there is nothing difficult, odd, or obscure within a Buddhist context of speaking of God and the World as mutually embodying each other. But what kind of possible meaning can this have within a Western metaphysical or Christian theological context?
When Whitehead declares that no two actualities can be torn apart, for each is all in all, he simply makes no sense if we assume either a metaphysical dichotomy between Being and becoming or a theological dichotomy between the creature and the Creator. But this statement does make sense within the context of Mahayana Buddhist language, and so much so that one wonders how such a statement could assume a non-Buddhist meaning. Presumably it might in the perspective of Whitehead’s prior statement that God and the World stand over against each other. But this statement sounds non-Whiteheadian, which is to say traditionally Western and dualistic, and it must give way to Whitehead’s nondualistic understanding. Does Whitehead’s statement, or apparent statement, that all entities are all in all translate a fuller or truer meaning of his earlier statement that God and the World stand over against each other? Might this statement then be a translation of Christian into Buddhist language? No, or it is difficult to think so, if only because of the troublesome presence of the word ‘God’. But if ‘God’ does not mean either Being or the Creator, and in no sense means anything which is simply and only transcendent and apart, then can it assume a Buddhist meaning? What Buddhist meaning? Nirvana? Sunyata? Samsara? Here we move into simple absurdity which is all the more baffling because of the nondualistic quality of Buddhist language.
Another possibility lies ready to hand. As Whitehead moves more and more fully into his own visionary understanding, he progressively negates and transcends the inherited categories of his own language and does so on the basis of an ever fuller vision of a mutual and total coinherence. This second vision is really a first or primal or religious vision. It is fully parallel to or harmonious with a Mahayana Buddhist vision, and it is the immediate source of Whitehead’s vision of God and the World. Only such a religious vision makes possible Whitehead’s language about God, and quite naturally Whitehead’s fullest speech about God is dipolar, in that it simultaneously speaks about God and the World or the World and God. This language is not as such Buddhist, and not even meaningful within a Buddhist context. But the relation of mutual and total coinherence which it establishes between God and the World can here be seen to be a purely religious relation. Rather, it is grounded in a religious vision, and this ground is in fundamental continuity with Mahayana Buddhism and more in continuity with Buddhism than with any religious language in the Christian world.
Strangely enough, but not so strangely if one considers the historical period in which it was conceived, Whitehead’s dipolar language promises the recovery of a long lost Christian eschatological language. We might even surmise that it was meditation upon the meaning of Christ which initially brought Whitehead to a new understanding of the cosmic or total coinherence of fact and salvation. As he declares:
The life of Christ is not an exhibition of over-ruling power. Its glory is for those who can discern it, and not for the world. Its power lies in the absence of force. It has the decisiveness of Supreme ideal, and that is why the history of the world divides at this point of time. (RM 57)
What can Whitehead, who refuses all dualistic dichotomies between history and nature, mean by speaking of a division of the world at this point? What he says is that it is precisely in the life of Christ that there “first” appears a power lying in the absence of force. Although historic Christianity has again and again negated and reversed that power, that power itself is the true ground of Christianity. Is Whitehead’s speculative vision of the interrelatedness or coinherence of God and the World a conceptual development and expression of that power? We must not fail to observe that in Religion in the Making Whitehead begins to develop a doctrine of God which at least in part incorporates the eschatological proclamation of Jesus. Thus he says:
The world is at once a passing shadow and a final fact. The shadow is passing into the fact, so as to be constitutive of it; and yet the fact is prior to the shadow. There is a kingdom of heaven prior to the actual passage of actual things, and there is the same kingdom finding its completion through the accomplishment of this passage. (RM 87)
This kingdom is in the world, yet not of the world; it transcends the natural world, but so does the world transcend the kingdom of heaven. Here we find a dipolar language, or the beginning of it, in which God and the World mutually transcend each other. For as he says in the last chapter, in the section on the nature of God, the kingdom of heaven “is” God. God is the “ideal companion” who transmutes what has been lost into a living fact within his own nature.
The kingdom of heaven is not the isolation of good from evil. It is the overcoming of evil by good. This transmutation of evil into good enters into the actual world by reason of the inclusion of the nature of God, which includes the ideal vision of each actual evil so met with a novel consequent as to issue in the restoration of goodness. (RM 155)
Can we say that such an understanding of God is grounded in the “fact” of Christ? If so, perhaps our only way of understanding it is through the language and vision of Buddhism, for only here may we encounter a coincidentia oppositorum which is manifest at the center of actuality.