Nancy Frankenberry is Assistant Professor of Religion at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire.
The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.259-276, Vol. 8, Number 4, Winter, 1978. 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.
The empirical dimension of religious experience is founded on a sensitivity to what Whitehead has discerned as the value matrix of existence, whose religious meaning is grasped in the moment of consciousness which fuses the value of the individual for itself, the value of the diverse individuals for each other, and the value of the world-totality.
One way of viewing the religious crisis of our time is to see it not in the first instance as a challenge to the intellectual cogency of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, or other traditions, but as the gradual erosion, in an ever more complex and technological society, of the feeling of reciprocity with nature, organic interrelatedness with the human community, and sensitive attention to the processes of lived experience where the realities designated by religious symbols and assertions are actually to be found, if they are found at all. Given such a diagnosis, the field of natural (or "foundational") theology assumes an inescapable importance, especially when approached from the perspective of process modes of thought. In this context, the major task is not primarily one of translating faith into language which is more readily intelligible in a secular age, nor even of demonstrating the logical and conceptual coherence of discourse employing the term "God." The problem is the much more complex one of relating religious language to empirical categories, to bodily feelings, and to concrete social energies and relations.
It is my thesis here that the empirical dimension of religious experience is founded on a sensitivity to what Whitehead has discerned as the value matrix of existence, whose religious meaning is grasped in the moment of consciousness which fuses the value of the individual for itself, the value of the diverse individuals for each other, and the value of the world-totality (RM 59). I believe that one of the best routes to the center of Whitehead’s perspective is to view his metaphysics as an elaboration of a basic value assumption in which the primacy of process and the ultimacy of constitutive relations reflect a drive in the universe toward the evocation of greater complexity, deeper intensity, and wider range of contrasts within the organic unity of an individual or society. This creative drive is constituted by the interdependent polar interplay between the individual and the community.
According to this thesis, religious perception begins with self-valuation and broadens into the experience of the character of the creative advance as a matrix of interrelated values, and, finally, of ever-enlarging value. In a philosophy of process, religious experience is thus a testimony to the communal aspect of our lives. The individual is not simply one among many; the many are literally creative of the internal life of the individual who is an emergent from these relations.
The development of this thesis in the direction of an understanding of the empirical dimension of religious experience will proceed under three aspects. I shall offer in the first place a statement of the generic nature of religious experience; secondly, a discussion of the morphological structure of the physical feelings which enter into religious experience; and thirdly, a description of the role of generic contrasts in the emergence of religious experience.
I. The Generic Nature of Religious Experience
Religious experience can be defined in the broadest sense as an emergent from the fusion of physical and conceptual feelings wherein both poles of the individual’s feelings are embedded in a wide generality of relationships and reflect the primacy of the physical.
The meaning of religious experience as defined in this statement carries no mystical connotations. It is not meant to suggest a special religious power, faculty, or sense possessed by some few individuals as a means whereby they attain special knowledge or truth unavailable by ordinary avenues. On the contrary, religious experience is to be understood in the light of Whitehead’s insistence that "in human nature there is no separate function as a special religious sense (RM 123).
Nor is religious experience to be identified exclusively with either pure thought or simple perception alone. It is to be distinguished, on the one hand, from a novel idea, or a hypothesis, and, on the other hand, from a strictly physical perception or sensitivity toward some object or individual. Both of these elements enter into the emergence of all experience, but taken by themselves neither one yields the exact meaning of religious experience developed here. The generic nature of the relationships between the elements that enter into the emergence of religious experience may be specified in terms of (a) their fusion, (b) their generality, and (c) the primacy of the physical.
The Fusion of Physical and Conceptual Feelings. In keeping with Whitehead’s principle of dipolarity, religious experience can be defined as a fusion of both physical and conceptual activity in a pervasive type of value experience. I believe that the polar combination of particular and universal factors which, on the organic theory, characterizes all reality, can also be used to illuminate the generic features of religious experience.
Two of Whitehead’s brief statements concerning religion seem to suggest the synthesis of the elements which I am interpreting as essential polarities of religious experience. He writes that "religion is an ultimate craving to infuse into the insistent particularity of emotion that non-temporal generality which primarily belongs to conceptual thought alone," and that "religion is the translation of general ideas into particular thoughts, particular emotions, and particular purposes (PR 23). However, in these passages Whitehead leans onesidedly toward an attribution of generality to conceptual thought alone. He does not emphasize sufficiently the generality which also pertains to physical feelings. Instead, he implies that it is conceptual thought which carries the sensitivity to formal relationships in experience, while physical feelings, on the other hand, contribute a sensitivity to the particularities of process. This same imbalance is also evident in Religion in the Making, where Whitehead speaks of "force of belief cleansing the inward parts" (RM 58), without also calling attention to the reciprocal influence that the "inward parts" can play in cleansing the individual’s "force of belief," While it is certainly the case that physical experience can be enlarged and purified of narrow emotions by virtue of its fusion with conceptual operations, this is but one aspect of the dipolarity.
Attention to both sides of the dipolarity makes it necessary to balance Whitehead’s observations with the recognition that religious experience involves a physical sensitivity to the relations and connections given in experience, not simply a conceptual outreach. In fact, without this physical perception of relations, there is no basis for the conceptual reproduction of structures. The actualities and relationships which constitute human experience are felt in a context of relativity which is ultimately rooted in physical relationships. Only when these physical relationships are attended to does it become possible to appreciate the way in which religious experience rests on something other than a mere conceptual unification of disparate data.
From this perspective, religious experience includes more than a moral or philosophical or even an aesthetic vision of the universe. It is an integral fusion, a response of the whole appetitive, emotional, and conceptual life of the individual to a sense of the value of the universe in its totality and in its diverse parts. It is a sensitive reaction to these values as physically felt, not only as conceptually grasped. In religious experience, interpreted within process thought, the physical emotions, purposes, desires, and volitions of individuals are fused with conceptual insights into the nature of things for the purpose of transforming the individual, of enlarging his or her experience, and of advancing the creative process whereby new values emerge. Religion is thus one of the primary avenues by which values are carried forward in life. It is religious experience which promotes a grasp of those values which are essential ingredients in and conditions for the creative advance. Concern with the deepest reaches of relational physical feelings combined with the widest range of conceptual generality in the unity of an act of experience is characteristic of Whitehead’s value theory as a whole. In human life such breadth and intensity are the root dimensions of value experiences. They also serve as the condition for the emergence of religious experience. The greater the breadth and intensity, the greater the possibility of more complex emergence.
In this way, the emergence of religious experience can be seen to derive from the fusion of physical and conceptual feelings. The fusion concerns the relational extensionality of the physical feelings. Physical feelings, however inclusive their data may be, are feelings of particulars. The concrete relationships involved in particular physical feelings need to be generalized so as to include a possible applicability to all particulars. Conceptual feelings, whose abstract generality is so inclusive that they are not limited to any particular instance, need to be particularized so as to acquire an embodied generality. In each case, the result of the fusion of the particularity of generalized physical feeling with the generality of particularized conceptual feeling is an enlargement of the power of both.
Until physical feelings are generalized beyond their particular, concrete, individual context, they are truncated with respect to their power. For example, the individual who is merely concerned with a few human beings here and there, now and then, but who lacks the broad generality of fellow-feeling associated with "agape" or "karuna," is an individual who does not generalize the power implicit in his intimate relationships in a way that allows him to grasp and extend that power to a more inclusive applicability. Similarly, a general concern for "social justice," abstractly entertained as an ideal, but falling short of an embodied concern for particular persons, is a truncated idealism. Splendid ideals are common enough, but until the ideals are fused with a concrete embodiment their power is not causally efficacious.
The Generality of Feeling. The fusion of physical and conceptual feelings in religious experience both presupposes a range and depth of relationships in the data of the feelings and also effects a greater intensity or relational extensionality in the physical feelings of the individual. It is the generality of both the physical and the conceptual feelings involved in religious experience which establishes the common basis for the kind of integration in which emotional experience illustrates a conceptual justification, and conceptual experience finds an emotional justification. The generality of the physical pole of experience is to be understood in terms of the relational breadth encompassed in the particular prehensive data. The generality of conceptual feeling, on the other hand, concerns the universal applicability of the patterns of relationships abstracted from the physical feelings and projected forward as structures potentially exemplified elsewhere.
The generality or width of inclusion of an individual’s physical feelings is largely a function of the actual world from which it emerges. The actual world, which supplies the initial datum of physical feeling, is composed of a nexus of relationships, some of which are more relevant to the subject than others. Broadly differentiated initial data are capable of yielding connections, discriminations, and contrasts which provide an extensive relatedness for physical feeling at the causal level and for subsequent integration in the higher phases of experience.
The generality of the physical feelings comprises a depth of concrete relational data present to the individual. It connotes both a complexity and an extensiveness of the individual’s sensitivities. Due to the complexity of relational data, the individual lives in a larger world physically. This relates to the telos which is inherent within physical feelings of complex value and which moves toward a generality usually associated with conceptual thought alone. Due to the extensiveness of relational data, there is a depth of concrete connectedness in the individual’s experience. This roots in a perception of structures which go deeper into the nature of the value process.
However, the mere spread of contrasts and numerical extensiveness is not in itself sufficient to enlarge the generality of an individual’s physical feelings. In addition, there is required the physical registration of deep connections and relationships among values. It is these valuational structures of the extensively contrasting relational data that constitute the generality of physical experience. This involves the interplay between the one and the many at its deepest level of relationality where the depth for one individual is the depth for any individual. The depth dimension of religious experience grows out of a perception of the generality of concrete relationships given in physical feelings. One man looks at these relationships and says: love your neighbor and hate your enemy. Another individual, with a deeper physical grasp of the relations in the value matrix, answers: but I say to you, love your enemy as well as your neighbor. The difference here is not primarily a matter of conceptual insight. It is, more radically, a sensitivity to concrete particulars as related physically.
In conceptual feelings, there is also a generality of relationships. But because the data of conceptual feelings are eternal objects or abstract forms of definiteness, the relationality is one of abstract pattern rather than of concrete particulars. Conceptual feelings have to do with a grasp of possibilities which may be seized or dismissed. These possibilities are capable of abstraction from any particular instance of actuality with its emotional freight and can be felt in a variety of ways, depending upon the freedom of the individual. Once abstracted from their physical roots, conceptual feelings may be generalized beyond the range of the physical experience of the individual to include possible extensions to which the physical feelings may apply.
All religious experience includes, on this interpretation, an aim toward the universal extension of its component feelings. The fusion of physical and conceptual feelings may lead to a conceptual generality which outruns what one is able to experience physically. But the definite shape and power of religious experience is based on its involvement in the concrete occasion with all its particular relationships. It can be traced to these physical origins in causal feelings, or it can be subjected to continued abstraction until the maximum level of generality is reached. In the latter case, one passes beyond the realm of direct experience and moves into the domain of metaphysics or descriptive generalization.
The distinguishing mark of religious experience as opposed to descriptive generalization or conceptual insight is the inclusive generality of relationships embedded in the particular physical feelings associated with religious experience. Descriptive generalization proceeds on the basis of important physical relations discerned in a limited area of experience and conceptually extended as a hypothetical illumination of other areas of life. Religious experience, on the other hand, has to do with physical feelings of such extensiveness and depth as to convey sense of what is involved in any particular. The abstract generality of conceptual feeling always outruns, to some extent, the depth and range of particulars physically felt, but in religious experience the concrete generality of physical feeling is more equal to the conceptual generality.
The Primacy of the Physical. The distinction I am pursuing between physical and conceptual feelings cannot, of course, be pressed into a bogus dichotomy which conceals the interlacing and connected-ness of that which is distinguished within experience. The physical and the conceptual are not two kinds of entities existing side by side as sharply separated. Rather, they are two distinguishable dimensions of and emphases within a single organic response. Together they comprise contrasting aspects of one unity of feeling. They interact and influence each other. Their relation inheres in their shared character as modes of achieving depth of experience. The essential character of their relationship is defined in terms of what I will call the "primacy of the physical."
By this, however, I do not mean to indicate that physical feelings have either a temporal or a logical priority. On the contrary, Whitehead points out that "the mental pole originates as the conceptual counterpart of operations in the physical pole. The two poles are inseparable in their origination. The mental pole starts with the conceptual registration of the physical (PR 379). In the most concrete sense, the primacy is one of inclusiveness and value. This primacy can be understood in several ways.
First of all, it is physical experience which contributes the basis of our essential relation with the world without and of our own individual existence now. Physical feelings carry the sense of qualitative experience derived from antecedent relations and conditioning future relations. They convey a sense of immediate enjoyment within and a sense of transmission beyond. Our immediate experience of relationships, derivative, actual, and effective, is founded on physical feelings.
Secondly, the primacy of the physical over the conceptual means that the physical and conceptual feelings are both together in the ultimacy and inclusiveness of process. This togetherness, which is itself a processive unification, can only be felt physically and not conceptually. The conceptual is to be understood as living within and derived from the concrete, physical, and processive occasions of experience. The physical is the carrier of the conceptual. In this sense, physical feelings are more inclusive than conceptual feelings. Conceptual feelings, which occur in the context of physical process, can be imaginatively abstracted from process, but they have no independent life apart from physical rootage. Because of their inclusiveness, physical feelings form the basis by which all other feelings are integrated.
Finally, the primacy of the physical means that conceptual feelings exist for the sake of the enhancement and intensification of physical feelings. The integration of the physical and the conceptual is a physical experience. The complexity introduced by the integration of physical and conceptual feelings is for the sake of the enlarged value of the physical, wherein the complexity is concretely felt. This enlargement means that the depth and range of the physical have been enhanced because it is now carrying the conceptual as an integral part of itself. In addition, conceptual feelings would lose their own special generality if they were not carried by physical feelings. Moreover, without such possible enlargement of the physical by its fusion with the conceptual, there would be no basis for speaking of any relation at all between the physical and the conceptual dimensions of experience.
It is the fusion of physical and conceptual feelings which is the empirical basis for the emergence of religious experience in the more complex integrations of feelings in high level occasions of experience. The emergence involves an intricate fusion of physical and conceptual feelings, a fusion which is carried by the physical pole of the individual’s integrity. Because this fusion of the two poles is so deep in religious experience, and each pole is so shaped and created by the other, the element of interpretation may seem to be minimal. In the life of the individual, self-evidence has been achieved experientially.
II. The Morphological Structure of Religious Experience
Religious experience has an organic structure which can be analyzed in terms of the physical and conceptual feelings correlative to the generality of values perceived, and the subjective forms appropriate to each feeling element.
This thesis specifies the way in which religious experience is an expression, at the human level, of the basic deliverances of primary experience at all levels of reality. As a fusion of physical and conceptual feelings, religious experience represents an emergent factor in human life. It is the function of a particular kind of complex integration of physical and conceptual feelings which yields the higher intellectual feelings with the subjective form of consciousness. But like sense perception and consciousness itself, religious experience is an emergent from basic physical relations that exist on more primitive levels throughout nature.
I have indicated that Whitehead’s general theory of experience emphasizes the fact that experiencing derives from physical, emotional data which are processive-relational. This stress on the primacy of process and the ultimacy of constitutive relations means that, in considering the morphological structure of religious experience, attention must be directed to its origin in the physical feelings which comprise the primary mode of human experience.
The physical feelings with which religious experience is primarily concerned are: (a) the simple causal feelings of the conformal phase of concrescence, (b) the transmuted physical feelings, and (c) what I will call the "feelings of subjectivity" or processive immediacy. In its empirical dimension, religious experience is rooted in the sensitivity of these physical feelings with their appropriate subjective forms. These feelings define the most elemental condition of our existence. Their interrelations establish the basis of the value drive revolving around the self, the others, and the totality. Their subjective forms indicate the qualitative ways in which the subject experiences the energy of physical feelings.
A complete analysis of the physical pole of religious experience should take into account both the "how" and the "what" of feeling. In physical prehensions, the "how," properly understood, is the principal key to unlocking the "what" of feeling. In fact, the most concrete description one can give of the process of becoming concerns the "how" of feeling. Whitehead’s unfortunate choice of the term "subjective form" to refer to the "how" of prehension may seem to suggest either a purely subjectivistic interpretation or an abstract formal character. Subjective forms, however, refer to the concrete mode or mood or quality of response. These felt qualities derive from objective data. They are pervaded with valuations that are given, not imposed by the subject. Under Category of Explanation XIII, Whitehead notes that "there are many species of subjective forms, such as emotions, valuations, purposes, adversions, consciousness, etc." (PR 35). These are obviously generic classifications of subjective forms. In their definite particularities, however, the felt qualities, or subjective forms, are innumerable. Particular emotions, such as joy or sorrow, or particular purposes, such as appetition toward growth, decay, or fatigue, are relative to the individuality of each unrepeatable occasion and to the specific qualitative elements objectified in its prehended data.
The generic characterization of the subjective forms which I describe in the next section as active in the formation of religious experience should be understood as depending upon, and leaving room for, a wide variety of historical embodiments, each with its own individual qualitative response. I am concerned here only with the general structural character of the subjective forms of the physical feelings in which religious experience is grounded. (I will not in this context elaborate the abstracting and generalizing contribution of the mental pole in the emergence of religious experience, although it is presupposed throughout that an occasion of experience is indissoluably dipolar.)
Causal Feelings. At the level of simple causal feelings, three felt qualities may be distinguished: (a) vectorial, (b) conformal, and (c) adumbrative. Each of these qualities is extremely important in forming the physical pole of the subject and laying the basis for the complex unity of subjective form which emerges in religious experience.
The significance of the vectorial quality of physical feeling is that it gives the objective sense of others as entering into our experience. The vectorial quality of physical feeling contributes the feeling of the data as given. The givenness of these data means that the vectorial quality is a feeling of causation, of being created by and continuous with the environment which is constitutive of the self. By virtue of this felt quality, we know ourselves as actualities within a world of other actualities. This is the physical basis for Whitehead’s principle of relativity and for the religious sense of the "value of the diverse individuals of the world" (RM 59).
Because physical feelings are efficient causes, it is their nature to reproduce themselves. They therefore have a conformal quality. The prehending subject reenacts the qualitative element in the objective content of its physical prehensions. In the process of synthesis of the many basic prehensions, modifications enter. But the subjective forms of the initial simple causal feelings of the subject are continuous with those of the data felt. If, for example, the subjective form of the objectified data is one of "joy," then the subjective form of the feeling of that data by the prehending subject will also be that of "joy." And due to the vectorial quality, the conformal element of "joy" will be felt as derived from elsewhere. In this way, we inherit our lived world along routes of physical prehension which convey the energy of former valuations to us as vectorial power demanding our conformity with it.
However, the conformal and vectorial qualities of causal feeling convey our inherited experience under a perspective. This fact introduces the adumbrative quality of physical feeling, a quality which Whitehead does not distinguish but which is implied in his doctrine of abstractive objectification and negative prehension. The full meaning of the datum is not given in physical prehension. What is given in any act of experience occurs in a context of relationships which are not themselves completely objectified. Even in the case of the objectification of a single actual entity, that subject is objectified as object, and not as subject. The initial datum, which is that actual entity prehended, is already an abstraction from the full, living, subjective immediacy of that occasion’s process of becoming. The objective datum is a further perspective under which that entity is objectified through one of its feelings (PR 353-56; 361-63).
Therefore, the past relational data which are felt vectorially and conformably exist in contexts which are always "more" than the energies which we are able to include in our own present subjective immediacy. But even though negative prehensions screen out much of the quantitative past, the qualitative contributions are nevertheless received in the subjective form of the prehending subject. This adumbrative quality of causal feelings adds to present process a massive undertone of emotional complexity. Contained within the living immediacy of the act of synthesizing past objectifications is the qualitative sense of the "more," the context, the background, the totality of the past which transcends the conditions of limitation involved in concrescence.
Transmuted Physical Feelings. Causal feelings, with their vectorial, conformal, and adumbrative qualities, are also present in, but do not completely account for, the transmuted physical feelings. Transmuted feelings carry the sense of solidarity in relationship. I will term this common structural characteristic the "communal" subjective form of transmuted feelings.
Whitehead’s own treatment of transmuted feelings is largely in terms of their abstractive and simplifying function in experience. His category of transmutation describes the perceptual device which permits us to prehend the many actual entities of a nexus as one datum, so that trees or tables, for example, are grasped as trees or tables, rather than as myriad individual atomic actualities. Because Whitehead himself usually explains this operation by way of a common eternal object which is illustrated in all the actual entities of the nexus, the significance of a transmuted feeling as a feeling of physical community in the actual world is often overlooked.
Transmuted feelings arise by reason of the analogies between the various members of the prehended nexus. These analogies may be explained, as Whitehead typically does, in terms of a single eternal object which is felt to qualify the diverse actual entities of the nexus. But this is an abstract explanation of community. The eternal object is a common defining characteristic only because the actual entities of the nexus are concretely related by their prehension and objectification of one another. The defining characteristic is conformally inherited in the physical objectifications of one member of the nexus to another. Concretely, then, the integration of simple physical feelings into a complex transmuted feeling provides for the various actual entities of the nexus being felt as separate entities requiring each other. In its most important function, a transmuted feeling is a complex physical feeling of a nexus whose separate members are felt as requiring each other (PR 384).
Order is thus physically experienced as communality and dependence. As Whitehead says, "transmutation is the way in which the actual world is felt as a community, and is so felt in virtue of its prevalent order" (PR 384). The "prevalent order" may be understood both in terms of conceptual characterization and physical prehension. But the conceptual characterization of community is an extension of the concrete experience of physical community, just as the common eternal object used to characterize the nexus is derived from the physical feeling of entities-requiring-each-other. The order, or communal dependence, is both conceptual in its abstractive outreach and physical in its realization.
The adumbrative quality of transmuted feelings is an enlargement of the adumbrative subjective form of simple causal feelings. Causal feelings are received without any indication as to whether the dimly given quality of the "more" refers to an aggregate of unconnected data stretching beyond the extensive region perceived or whether that "more" is itself a unity of some kind. But as a subjective form of transmuted feelings, the adumbrative quality of "more" acquires an enlarged reference to a community in the totality of past fact.
It is this adumbrative quality of transmuted feelings which contributes the basis for the religious sense of "totality" which Whitehead describes in Modes of Thought as implicated in every value experience. The sense of the world as a unified whole is not constituted by a separate physical feeling in addition to the causal and transmuted feelings whose data are either single actual entities or a nexus of individuals. Both causal and transmuted feelings are prehensions of "parts" and not prehensions of "the whole." As long as abstractive objectification is a basic condition of the temporal world, there can be no such objective datum of physical experience as "the totality." The basic data of physical prehension are "self" and "others." However, both are accompanied by the adumbrative quality of a "more" which at the rudimentary physical level derives from the past actual world of the subject, and, at the level of religious experience, derives from the conceptual extension of this quality of physical experience.
The combination of communal and adumbrative subjective forms in transmuted physical feelings provides the foundation of the religious feeling of "the value of the objective world which is a community derivative from the interrelations of its component individuals, and also necessary for the existence of each of these individuals" (JIM 59). Less obviously, transmuted feelings are the physical and perceptual basis for the descriptive generalization by which Whitehead arrives at the conception of the consequent nature of God.
Feelings of Subjectivity. The vectorial, conformal, adumbrative, and communal qualities of causal and transmuted feelings are absorbed into the unified physical feeling of subjectivity, with its distinctive subjective form of self-worth. This is a feeling of individuality or self-creative freedom which pertains to the total concrescence. The individual is not simply what it has received from the past; it is a unique synthesis of many data into a novel unity. To be a percipient subject, therefore, means ultimately to be causa sui, to preside over one’s own process of concrescence.
The feeling of subjectivity, with its quality of self-worth, is not a static form of enjoyment. Due to the dynamic restiveness and vectorial flow of any process of becoming, the subject-superject feels itself as in-the-making. Its individuality or freedom is felt not only as intrinsic worth but also as a value-for-others in the anticipated future. This is a physical feeling of process as going-on-now and as on-going beyond oneself. It corresponds to Whitehead’s category of subjective intensity which states that the subject’s "anticipatory feeling respecting provision for its grade of intensity" is an element "affecting the immediate complex of feeling" (PR 41). For purposes of analysis, this element of the feeling of subjectivity may be distinguished as the "quality of anticipated relevance," although it is in fact inseparable from the quality of self-worth.
The quality of self-worth catches up and includes the subjective forms of the other two physical feelings. The vectorial and conformal qualities give to the feeling of self-worth its sense of being derived, for good or for ill, from the energies of a causal past. The adumbrative quality in conjunction with the feeling of subjectivity contributes a sense of self-transcendence, of possibilities extending into the future, awaiting realization. The communal quality adds a feeling of membership in a wider community which serves to ground not only the feeling of self-worth, but also the underlying worth of life itself.
These qualities exhibit a certain amount of tension among themselves, such that they are not always easily synthesized in the unified feeling of subjectivity. The vectorial quality, for example, is in tension with the quality of conformality. The subjective forms of all three physical feelings participate in the dynamism and the organic freedom of the objectified physical data. The dynamism of the feeling of subjective immediacy is a vectorial tending forward, an appetition toward a "more," which urges the organism beyond domination by the conformal quality of physical feeling. But within the novelty and freedom of the feeling of subjectivity, there is also an urge for the maintenance of a grounding in the past experiences of the subject’s world.
Both of these tendencies, the inertial as well as the appetitive, account for the presence of ambiguity and disorder within the process of concrescence itself. Indeed, this dual character is precisely the nature of life in its basic organic sense as well as in its religious dimension: an appetitive urge toward what might be, and an inertial contentment with what is: freedom paired with conformity, novelty with repetition. Their concurrent, or even interdependent, increase is a seeming paradox, since conformity means repetition of the past, thus prolongation of what has been, contrary to the self-creative freedom which appetition for novel realization would imply. Yet increase in passive conformal power together with increase in active appetitive power is the mark of greater value of an organism and more intense feelings of subjectivity. Its conformity to an inherited past is, at the same time, correlative openness toward the world; its very capacity to repeat past values entails the ability to be influenced; its relationality within the whole is the condition of its freedom from the whole. The affectivity of the individual complements its emergent subjectivity; and while it seems to indicate primarily the passive aspect of organic existence, it yet provides, in a subtly achieved balance of freedom and necessity, the very means by which the individual forges its solitude in the midst of its community. Only by being conformal can life be appetitive, only by being determined can it be free. There is, in fact, a direct ratio: the more individuality is focused in the feeling of self-worth, the wider is its periphery of conformal inheritance from others; the more free, the more related the organism is.
It is the feeling of subjectivity, with its subjective form of self-worth, which is the physical basis for the religious sense of "the value of the individual for its own sake" (RM 59). This also appears to be the empirical ground for Whitehead’s ontological principle and reformed subjectivist principle. Moreover, the concept of "everlastingness" may be understood as a metaphysical generalization of this element of physical feeling.
Existentially, it should be evident that the ontological structure of physical feelings described here is considerably more blurred and fraught with antagonistic qualities in the actual life of any one individual than the Whiteheadian model indicates. Once it is recognized that antagonistic qualities, too, are categoreal, then perhaps certain ambiguities which do not appear in the surprisingly tidy picture of the process of concrescence presented in Process and Reality can become more apparent. Therefore, to the qualities already mentioned, I would add the following generic qualities: (a) an expansive quality associated with the feelings of subjectivity; (b) a retrogressive or inertial quality inherent in the conformal feature of simple causal feelings; and (c) a discordant quality present within the communal character of transmuted physical feelings.
These qualities, while not necessarily categoreal, are indisputable factors in human feelings, either accounting for or contributing to the ambiguous impulses which both individual solitude and social solidarity manifest. The expansive quality pertains to the restiveness and appetition of physical feelings at the point where no satiety is reached and no limitations are acknowledged. In one of its aspects, this quality is the root of what the theological tradition has pointed to as hubris. The retrogressive or inertial quality is that aspect of the process of the conformation of energy which is sheerly repetitive, conditioned by its antecedents, and, if not given a valuation up, is inclined to sink downward into decay. At the level of the human predicament, it corresponds to one meaning of original sin. The discordant quality is entwined with the community of organic life in which the variety of individual intensities thwart, frustrate, or destroy each other by a refusal or an inability to transmute the details of their individuality into the massiveness of order needed for social harmony. This is the generic quality known more particularly in various ways as actual sin, moral evil, hardness of heart, bondage of the will.
III. The Role of Generic Contrasts in Religious Experience
From the perspective of process modes of thought, there is but one fundamental datum on which religious experience is based: the generic contrast between the individual and the community, or, more metaphysically, the one and the many.
The interplay of the various qualities I have been considering yields, at a more complex comparative level of feeling, the generic contrasts which serve as the data of religious experience. Here the ambiguity within which life is cast is intensified in the feelings of the subject. In considering particular examples of experienced contrasts present in religious experience, it is useful to recall Whitehead’s summation of several fundamental contrasts, which characterize what he calls our cosmological construction." These contrasts are: joy and sorrow, good and evil, disjunction and conjunction (or the many in one), flux and permanence, greatness and triviality, freedom and necessity (PR 518). It is not clear whether Whitehead understands these pairs as categoreal contrasts, analogous to the categoreal character of physical feelings, or not. But on the basis of the interpretation I am advancing here, any of these generic contrasts may be the datum of religious experience, provided it is felt with reference to the maximum interplay between the individual and the community.
The generic contrasts given in experience are the opportunity for increasing complexity and intensity of feeling in the life of the individual who sustains the contrasting qualities concomitantly. The joy and the sorrow, the good and the evil, the greatness and the triviality, the actual and the possible are, at root, requisites one to the other. They are not opposites so much as they are polar qualities which call forth each other. As the individual’s scope of sensitivity becomes enlarged, bringing a wider range of responsiveness, so also does the pain and suffering deepen. The baffling ambiguity of life inheres in the impossibility of disjoining these contrasts without serious loss in complexity and intensity of value. For once permanence is abstracted from flux and lifted to dominance in awareness, the complexity of the present moment is simplified and its intensity diluted just as surely as by elevating the flux of passing values to dominant emphasis, disjoined from that which abides. Likewise, the notion of freedom unbounded by necessity of some sort, or of necessity which forecloses any exercise of even a modicum of freedom, confronts life with unlivable antinomies.
If the basic situation of human life is set originally in complexity, any realization of harmony will be a precarious venture along the razor’s edge between inclusion of discordant data as effective contrasts and their dismissal as incompatible values. The world is just given, after all, and the religious task becomes one of harmonizing the contrasts into a unity of feeling which contributes to the growth of value. The quality of the religious dimension of experience, like that of art, is therefore a matter of maximizing complexity and intensity in harmony. The more contrast in the harmony, the richer the life. But whereas art is a movement from complexity to simplicity within the limits of a canvas, a musical score, a poem, a novel, or a play, the religious impulse seeks an unrestricted field of value whose harmony involves an ever-enlarging processive synthesis of complexity and intensity.
The emergence of the religious adjustment to life, and the growth of greater value, requires an ability to live with the creative tension between joy and sorrow, good and evil, disjunction and conjunction, greatness and triviality, freedom and necessity, permanence and flux, the ideal and the actual, without insisting that the ambiguities borne of these contrasts be resolved. This is, of course, always a matter of degree, of more or less emphasis, of uneasy alliance in any individual or culture. But those whose physical feelings have been deepened and broadened by living long and sensitively with these creative tensions may come to find in their responses to the ambiguities of existence a sense of "permanent rightness" which does not expect that good will finally cast out all evil or require that joy will eliminate all sorrow or envision that all flux will be caught up at last in permanence in order for any sense of meaning to obtain in life. The meaningfulness of life may gradually shape itself around the sheer givenness of these opposites, without the pressure to resolve one in favor of the other. The classical tendency to opt for a resolution in terms of permanence and the modern temper, which is decidedly more hospitable to flux, may both find coexistence in a religious sensibility which cherishes the on-going adventure of holding both qualities together in their dipolar unity.
All forms of religious experience can, on this theory, be understood as functions or dimensions of the relational life of the individual in community. In the section on the "Ideal Opposites" in Process and Reality, Whitehead lists the one and the many among the other contrasts of joy and sorrow, good and evil, flux and permanence, greatness and triviality, freedom and necessity. But the one and the many, or, more religiously, the individual in community, is actually the most inclusive contrast not only of the entire Whiteheadian vision of reality but also of any religious experience based on that vision of reality. This is the contrast which is illustrated by the principle of relativity and is experienced in the causal efficacy of life. It is categoreal, in the sense that any experience always exemplifies the contrasting processive interrelatedness of the one and the many. Insofar as the tension is maintained between the two poles, incompatibilities are avoided. But the tension generated by the contrast between the one and the many cannot itself be dissolved. Generic contrasts occur inevitably within the relational life of any individual in community.
Solitariness and Community. I am contending that religious qualities of experience are acquired, if at all, only by an individual who has borne within solitariness the relational matrix of existence, achieving a creative tension between the contrasts of life without permitting fixation on either pole to turn the contrast into an irreconcilable opposite. This entails an evolution within solitariness sufficiently deep to yield such complex qualitative forms as, for example, karuna or agape or jen. The evolution is toward a more profound understanding of the meaning of relationality, involving the self, the others, and the totality. It is a movement from externality toward an ever deeper internality.
Into this evolution enter all the expansive, retrogressive, and discordant qualities which account for the perennial struggle present in the religious response to life. Although this sense of disorder and struggle is largely absent from Whitehead’s own writings, there is one passage, nevertheless, where Whitehead suggests the kind of evolution within solitariness which is involved in what I am identifying as religious experience. In the frequently noted passage from Religion in the Making he writes: "Religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness. It runs through three stages, if it evolves to its final satisfaction. It is the transition from God the void to God the enemy, and from God the enemy to God the companion." (RM 16f) The "It" in this context may refer equally to religion and to solitariness. For the aim of solitariness is the satisfaction of a religious striving, a completion found in such complex, unified, subjective forms as karuna, agape, and jen. These qualities are the outcome, rather than the presupposition, of a spiritual journey, sometimes prolonged and always painful, though a void, past an enemy, and into the presence of a companion. In the process, the individual’s solitariness is deepened in relationship to the community. But the tension between solitariness and community means that relationships involve clash and destruction. We are different but together. We are opposed yet united. Our community is fragile. Its inherent opposition threatens its unity, and its unity threatens its diversity. This felt contrast between solitariness and community is the empirical datum which underlies the multitude of religious symbols, such as creation, incarnation, resurrection, nirvana, samsara, moksha, tao, wu-wei, t’ien, each of them, in their wide variety of forms and connotations, pointing to some aspect of organic life together.
The enlarging of solitariness through the inclusion of deeper and wider felt contrasts effects a corresponding deepening of the meaning of that community in which human life is set. As a result of the process of concrete relationality, qualities emerge as bridges linking this event to that; relating individuals to each other by way of sympathetic social feeling; binding the values of the past to the exigencies of the present; connecting through action what is ideal to what is immediate and actual.
Using Whitehead’s formulation of the three stages through which solitariness in its religious dimension passes, one could describe each stage as a possible way in which the totality, or the community of indefinite extensiveness, may be prehended. At various times, it may be adumbrated negatively as a void in which demonic or meaningless qualities rise to dominance in solitariness. Despair, anomie, or fanaticism may seem the appropriate responses to the sheer vastness and impersonality of the totality felt as void. Or, in relation to the mind’s grasp of reality, the sense of futility may color the self’s realization of the partiality, or even emptiness, of all statements, concepts, and ideas concerning the totality. Pressed to universal applicability, this perception carries the adumbration of God the void whose "death" or "silence" may shatter the self’s previously structured world of values. Under the impact of such perceptions, solitariness loses its sensitivity to the relational matrix of existence from which religious experience emerges.
However, once the self has begun to become aware of the depth dimension of existence through an experience of it as a void, it is possible that the creative qualities of that totality may also become evident. But the creativity may be received less with cooperation than with resistance. The transition in solitariness from God the void to God the enemy implies a movement from a sense of facing the ultimate context of life as a blank and forbidding emptiness, to an awareness of it as an inimical power which, however negatively, exerts a force upon the self. This may occur when the structure of relationality is resisted or evaded through efforts to anesthetize oneself against its pressures or its apparent threat to one’s preferred aims. It may also happen when the totality is adumbrated only as providing the qualities of security and comfort in the known and settled past, against the uncertainty and risks attached to novel future possibilities. The good then becomes the enemy of the better. Or it may happen that the self not only refuses the possibilities present to it, but even more violently frustrates the eros toward value and actively distorts the harmony of process. Rather than contributing to the creative advance, the individual may, in the ambiguity that is its freedom, objectify additional surds and evils into the environment. Perception of the inequalities of life and rejection of suffering as the cost of relationships may also contribute to the awareness of God as enemy. The individual who assumes that only he know best what is for his own good easily comes to feel that what is demanded of him by God and others is not for his good. In all these ways the totality comes to be prehended as God the enemy, whose judgment none can escape and against whose will one is tensed. At this level of solitariness, the structure of relationality appears oppressive and its price, self-sacrifice, too high. Against the obduracy of this order the individual is compelled to strive, and in striving realize either the limit or the reach of one’s own aims.
But, unless solitariness utterly fails to become communal, God the enemy is not the last word. In theological terms, the divine judgment is always accompanied by grace. The totality at any moment may be prehended as a bearer of grace, and the enemy which has formerly signaled dissolution may be disclosed as the companion of one’s growth. The key to this evolution from solitariness to solidarity consists in how the individual experiences the concrete totality of processive interrelatedness which is the settled pattern of created fact. For those who rebel against this relational matrix, either embracing or acquiescing to a lifestyle of isolation, separation, destructiveness, and exploitation, the totality will have the character of enemy or void. But for those who accept and transform it, this matrix, even when it is the occasion for suffering, has an entirely different value and adumbrated quality. It is experienced as a creativity by which a good not of one’s own making enters one’s existence as a grace. As so experienced, the totality has the character of "God the companion." In Whitehead’s more technical terminology, it is an experience of the consequent nature of God or the Unity of Adventure which forms the basis for the intuition of peace.
The transitions from God the void to God the enemy and from God the enemy to God the companion are neither smooth nor irreversible. The individual may constantly descend into the void and time and again be tempted to rebel against the enemy, discovering perhaps only intermittently the companion whose presence is all the more intensely felt by virtue of the other phases. In all three of these faces, it is the same God who is encountered, on the assumption that creativity, though one, is a complex, not a simple, unity.
Whether God is experienced as void or as enemy or as companion depends not only on how the dimly adumbrated totality is prehended but also on how solitariness is experienced. Here the ambiguities involved in the feelings of subjectivity, so essential to perception of the value matrix, color the ways in which various qualitative forms of religious experience may be processively present in an individual’s life. If one’s self-worth, or the value of individuality, is not accepted, solitariness is blocked from becoming communal. This may take various forms. Lack of self-acceptance may have the retrogressive appearance of alienation from others, in which solitariness is felt as an intolerable burden and the totality is perceived as a void. Or it may take on the expansive qualities of insatiable demands, frantic intensity, and encroaching suffocation of others, in which case solitariness is resisted and the inevitable restraints imposed by the totality are felt with the inimical and threatening qualities of an enemy. The expansive quality as well as the retrogressive quality of subjectivity are transmuted by the felt presence of God as companion. When this occurs, the inherently self-surpassing quality of the feelings of subjectivity, which may either overreach themselves in an expansive quality that knows no bounds or else become blocked by retrogressive and discordant tendencies, instead forms the basis for the religious mode of experience "at the width where the ‘self’ has been lost, and interest has been transferred to coordinations wider than personality" (AI 368). For the solitariness of individual life exists to be transcended and absorbed into the ongoing life of the community. But that community is neither a superorganism that swallows up the individual members, nor an externally related actuality different in kind from its constituents. In theological terms, this community is the concrete content of the "kingdom of God," conceived as the totality of settled fact with an eros toward the future.
The concrete totality of relations of causal efficacy at one and the same time makes for the possibility of enlarging and deepening the life of the individual in community and for suffering and ambiguity as the price of that advance. But the suffering, the ambiguity, and therefore the totality, may have the character either of a void or of an enemy or of a companion, depending upon how the totality is prehended. Rarely is any one stage a pure, unalloyed resting place, for there are implicit resources within the void, as witnessed by the fact that the self persists, and there is a sense in which the enemy can come to be trusted and the companion turns out to be elusive. Throughout the multi-faceted texture of the religious experience of humankind, there is but the one concrete totality, with its settled patterns of asymmetrical relations, its conformal demands, and its dynamic appetition toward novel realizations. This concrete community is God as actual at any given stage of the creative advance.
That the nature of religious experience, as interpreted in this version of an empirical theology, points to the primacy of the category of process should come as no surprise. For in a metaphysical system in which process is creative of the relational depths of our lives, the nature of religious experience, if it is metaphysically grounded, will illustrate the same root metaphor found in the system. Furthermore, the particular experiences interpreted as religious on the basis of the categoreal feelings and subjective forms considered in this essay will differ accordingly from those expounded on the basis of an alternative value judgment. Epistemologically, these experiences will be marked by the qualities of openness, tentativity, and relativity, rather than closedness, certainty, or absoluteness. Existentially, they will imply a sensitivity to advance, creativity, and novelty, as well as to the inertial and retrogressive features of experience. In their cosmological reach they will point to the factor of emergence, as well as to the remorselessness of things, presupposing an unfinished universe whose full dimensions are yet in the making. And religiously they will reflect a spirit which is at home in a dynamic world with a struggling God, where adventure rather than safety is the rule.