The Lure of Divine Love: Human Experience and Christian Faith in a Process Perspective
by Norman Pittenger
Chapter 1: A New Perspective
"Process thought is a way of looking on the world that provides promise for development. . . . It stresses reality as an organism, concepts as developing, and persons as becoming and perishing. Nothing is nailed down and yet there is continuity in the midst of flux. Even though one has not heard of Whitehead or Teilhard de Chardin, one finds that this kind of thinking makes sense of the world."
So writes American educator Randolph Crump Miller of Yale University in introducing a symposium (Religious Education, May-June 1973, p. 307). Perhaps his words are as good as any for summarizing the position taken by process thinkers in many parts of the world. Here, he says, is (a) a way of looking at the world, concerned (b) with development and (c) an organic or a societal view of things, which also recognizes (d) that concepts or ideas are not unchangeable and finds (e) that human personality is a "becoming" rather than some static essence. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, he notes (f) that while such a conceptuality sees the world in movement, there is still genuine "continuity in the midst of flux."
Those six points indicate in a very general way what process thinking is all about. They need to be spelled out, however, if the ordinary educated person is to grasp what they are trying to tell us. This I shall attempt to do in later sections of this introductory chapter. But some preliminary comments may be useful.
The process conceptuality has drawn much interest in our own day for many reasons, but perhaps its major attraction has been that it makes sense of the kind of world that modern scientific inquiry has disclosed, while at the same time taking seriously the depths of human experience with which the humanities, the religious outlook, and the aesthetic enterprise in its various expressions are conceived.
The insights of process thought have been found valuable in many different areas. For example, we shall see that this way of looking at the world has provided a helpful perspective in the theory and practice of education. So also in scientific inquiry, where process thought offers a position that accepts a mechanistic methodology but recognizes life and spirit. Recent thinking about aesthetics has benefited by the emphasis of process thought on feeling-tones, with their uniting of objectivity and subjectivity in a pattern of contrasts. Writers on ethical theory and problems of morality have been helped by the process insistence on human "becoming." Finally, an increasing number of Christian and Jewish theologians have used the insights of process thinkers to develop a way of reconceiving basic religious faith and its affirmations.
In my opinion the most important contributions that the process school has made to contemporary thought are (1) its deepening of our understanding of what it means to be human, including in that understanding the central place of sexuality in human existence, and (2) the remarkable assistance this conceptuality can give in our effort to rethink the basic religious issues of God, nature, and how God works in the world. It is here that the process stress upon becoming and upon persuasion or love as our chief clue both to God’s nature and to human life is so instructive.
But process thinking is not concerned only with religion. It has a much wider spread, as we shall see. It is also closely related to other contemporary movements of thought, such as existentialism, the newer view of history, and psychological study, although it is not identical with any of them. Surely a comprehensive way of looking at the world, with an emphasis on dynamic development, interrelationship, and persuasion or love, can have considerable influence in many areas of experience. Above all, it can be illuminating in its contribution to the sense of human significance, and thus it can give some grounding for our feeling that life is worth living. Let us turn first to this human sense of life’s value.
Most men and women assume that life is worth living, that it does have meaning, and that somehow the cosmos plays a part in providing this meaning. Is this claim absurd? I do not think so, and for the following reason.
When a writer like Jean-Paul Sartre declares that the only value of existence is in what we ourselves read into it, he fails to take account of a crucial point to which Gabriel Marcel, another French dramatist and philosopher, insistently called attention -- the fact that the cosmos, the environment in which we have our existence, permits us to read meaning into life. Marcel puts this quite simply, recalling, for instance, that we make promises and intend to keep them and that thus the world is a place where making promises and intending to keep them is a genuine possibility. It is even more significant, he says, that promise-making is not only a possibility but also continually taking place. Moreover, ours is a world in which relationships are a given reality which nobody, not even a Sartre, can avoid. This world is very different from one in which such relationships would be impossible and in which the promising that accompanies them would seem absurd and unprofitable. For Marcel, to speak in this way about human existence and the world is not to indulge in airy and fruitless speculation but to affirm what we all know and experience. To deny it is to fall victim to the strange tendency of very learned people to talk nonsense about what everybody understands, even if not everybody can state it in convincing concepts or ideas.
This persistent sense of life’s significance can be illustrated in yet another way. Let us suppose that a woman decides to commit suicide because at the moment she thinks that her existence is pointless. What then does she assume that her suicide will accomplish? Presuming that she is not mentally disturbed, she is convinced that somehow it is worthwhile to end her miserable and pointless life. In the very rejecting of significance on one level, she is asserting it on another -- and on a deeper one too.
Many years ago a friend from my school days came to see me after a long period when we had not even been corresponding. He told me that he had decided to end his life and asked me if I could see any reason why he should not do this. I remembered that a psychiatrist had once told me that the best way to dissuade someone from suicide often is to appear to agree with the plan, so I replied that probably he would be right enough to do what he intended. This was a risky response, I know, but my friend, thus challenged as to the value of his own life, spent several hours listing for me all the reasons against his committing suicide. It was clear that underneath his sense of futility there was a deeper feeling of meaning which had been hidden or suppressed or pushed out of sight by his present worries. My friend went away, not to jump into the river as he had proposed but to return to his wife from whom he had been estranged, to take up his work once again, and eventually to become a well-known writer on scientific matters for a weekly journal.
However one might interpret such extreme cases, it is surely true that most people do find life worth living. In spite of boredom, drabness, loneliness, and futility, they wish to continue living. Modern existentialists speak of this enduring sense of meaning even when, like Sartre, they think it is a delusion. All high religion has the same insistence. The humanism that wishes to deny cosmic importance to human existence must still look at it in a cosmic setting, which in some strange way either itself gives meaning or is believed to be able to bear having meaning found in it.
Process thinking asks us to take this existentialist feeling of significance seriously and analyze its various aspects, see how they fit into the world situation, generalize from them, and discover how they are related to what observation of the world discloses. In this fashion it complements the introspective look of the existentialist by speaking of a wider context. It asks what it really means to feel human and to act in a human manner, and to feel and act like this in a world like ours.
We must now say something about the development of the process conceptuality.
Process thought had its origin during the latter part of the nineteenth century in the increasing awareness that we live in an evolutionary world. Thinkers in many countries had become discontented both with a fixed and static picture of things, on the one hand, and with a purely mechanical interpretation of the evident fact of change, on the other. They believed that there was more to the creation than matter in motion. The very fact of motion, coupled with the deliverances of observation and experiment, revealed a dynamic kind of change. Hence in Great Britain men like Samuel Alexander (Space, Time, and Deity), Conway Lloyd-Morgan (in Emergent Evolution and Life, Mind, and Spirit), and Jan Smuts (in Holism and Evolution) began in the first decades of the twentieth century to work out a general philosophy which would take with great seriousness the total dynamic and evolutionary perspective. With this perspective they coupled an insistence on the interpenetrative or relational way in which the world goes on. But it was Alfred North Whitehead who developed most fully and carefully the principles of a genuinely processive view of things.
A mathematician at Trinity College in Cambridge, England, Whitehead had cooperated with his former student Bertrand Russell in the famous Principia Mathematica, but he had come to believe that the science with which he was familiar required a philosophical setting and interpretation. During his last years in Cambridge, he began work in this direction and continued it when he went to London to lecture at the Imperial College of Science and Technology. It was not until the mid-twenties of this century, however, that he set himself the task of thinking through, and then writing down, his conclusions. What finally emerged was a full-length sketch -- not a system, he said, but a "vision of reality" -- in which due account was taken of the newer way of looking at and understanding the world.
During Whitehead’s last years, the American literary critic Edmund Wilson wrote an essay in which he spoke of White-head’s incisive mind, constructive ability, keen insight, and openness to aesthetic values, combined with his awareness of scientific knowledge. To Wilson, Whitehead was the most important figure in contemporary thought. Unfortunately, Whitehead’s style of writing did not make for easy reading, and even with such commendation as Wilson’s his books were known during his lifetime only to professional philosophers, scientists, and a few persons of letters. Yet such works as Science and the Modern World (1925), the Edinburgh Gifford Lectures entitled Process and Reality (1929), and Adventures of Ideas (1933) were original and penetrating works, opening up new possibilities for thought in setting out an organic, or holistic, view of the world. Other works included The Function of Reason (1929), Religion in the Making (1926), Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect (1927), and The Aims of Education and Other Essays (1929). Along with these, a collection of Whitehead’s essays, Essays in Science and Philosophy (1947) dealt with the philosophical issues that science raises for the inquiring mind. Lectures given at Wellesley College and the University of Chicago, brought together and published under the title Modes of Thought (1938), are simpler in style and probably provide the best introduction to what Whitehead was trying to say as the result of his deep reflection and his extraordinary range of knowledge in the sciences, art, literature, and ethical and religious matters.
In Modes of Thought there is a sentence that gives the key to Whitehead’s thinking and helps us grasp why the process conceptuality, which owes so much to him, has its relevance for us today. Here is the sentence: "The key notion from which such construction [of a world view that takes into account the full richness of human experience] should start is that the energetic activity considered in physics is the emotional intensity entertained in life" (pp. 231-32).
What did Whitehead intend by these cryptic words? Essentially, that in a world such as ours, with creatures such as we feel ourselves to be in our moments of sensitive awareness, there is an intimate linkage between the thrust of human existence toward the achievement of goals and the creative movement of the cosmic order in its evolutionary drive. In other words, life -- and above all humanly experienced life -- belongs to and is part of the natural world. Life -- and above all human life -- cannot be rightly understood apart from that natural world. Neither can the natural world be rightly understood apart from life and above all human life. That life of ours is part of the cosmic process, and the ground of the cosmic process is thereby disclosed in some fashion in what human experience tells us. Conversely, at the same time, the cosmic process from which we have emerged and in which we exist cannot be properly grasped and described unless that experience is taken as a significant clue to what is really going on.
This is to say that the emotional intensity which gives human existence its peculiar quality is a manifestation of the energetic activity with which the natural sciences concern themselves. There can be no "false disjunction," in Whitehead’s phrase, between the two. We belong in and to the world; and from the other side, what that world is like, what is happening in it, and whatever it may be said to mean are given concrete and particular expression in our own vivid and vital existence. A unified world view should make possible a coherent and consistent grasp of life and of nature, of human life and of the world.
We have only to read Lucien Price’s fascinating reporting of conversations with Whitehead during the latter’s last years in the American Cambridge to see that Whitehead was a remarkable example of a universal man who could propose and defend such a united world view. He lived deeply, vividly, and with zest. He was open to influence from every quarter -- scientific, literary, artistic, musical, religious, and personal. He was not content with superficial appearances but sought the "depths of things." Indeed, Price tells us that a few days before his death in 1947 Whitehead spoke of human beings as "partakers of the creative process" who can find their "true destiny" only in seeing themselves as "co-creators in the universe" (Dialogues of Alfred North Whitehead, Mentor ed., 1956, p. 297). In several essays that he contributed in his later years to The Atlantic Monthly, Whitehead again illustrated the point, showing how the place where one lives, one’s environment and one’s friends, one’s challenges and risks, one’s problems and difficulties, as well as the moments of one’s joy and exaltation, are instrumental in making one what one is. He also showed how all this may be seen as the manifestation of the basic cosmic structure and dynamic.
Whitehead’s insight, grounded as it was in deep experience and reflection and confirmed by experiment and observation, grasped human existence as organic to the universe. Much early religion had made that existence the great exception to everything else; much modern science had talked in the same way. But Whitehead was convinced that the only way to make intelligible the meaning or significance which we naturally take for granted in our ordinary moments is to relate our concrete experience as a human being to the mystery of the dynamic evolutionary process that is going on around us and in us. Human existence is indeed distinctive, yet it is not separated from everything else. It has its own qualities and capabilities, but these are not without analogues elsewhere. We belong to the world that has produced us. Hence, anything that deepens self-awareness contributes to our knowledge of that world, and anything that increases our knowledge of the world contributes to our self-understanding.
In this comprehensive view of things, static concepts are inevitably ruled out as mistaken abstractions. Historically, we humans have frequently hankered after absolutely fixed truths, utterly final positions, unchanging and unchangeable notions -- everything that Paul Elmer More summed up when he spoke of the pursuit of "the demon of the absolute." But we cannot have these things, for the world is not like that, nor are we ourselves finished articles who can be described or defined in terms that admit of no alteration. As a matter of fact, nobody has ever really been able to rest in such a view. Whether we like it or not, we do not remain in one stay; neither does our world. As Whitehead put it, "the reality is the process. Once we have arrived, we find ourselves off on a new journey, for despite the famous words of Shakespeare, time does not "have a stop," and neither do we.
Once we have accepted the world and ourselves in this new way, there are two important practical consequences. One is the possibility of a vision of things that preserves their richness, variety, and freshness, while at the same time recognizing the continuities that persist through all these. The other is the importance of decision in determining how things will go in the future. Each of these consequences must now receive our attention.
Two familiar poems by the American poet Robert Frost help us here. In his poem "Mending Wall," Frost spoke of "something . . . that doesn’t love a wall, / That wants it down." Dividing up the world may be useful and important for this or that academic discipline or for convenience in handling a particular problem, but when we try to make sense of existence it simply will not do. Then we see that walls, however carefully built and however necessary to preserve concrete integrity, are bound to collapse. Specialization or compartmentalizing will not serve us in the long run, no matter how helpful they may be in the short run.
In the other poem, "The Road Not Taken," Frost tells how one evening at a crossroads he was faced with having to choose the road to follow. The road he chose, he says, "has made all the difference." Here we have the inescapable requirement for decision, and with it the point that decisions do make a difference. "They have consequences," as Whitehead once remarked to a student. Things can never be the same once a choice has been made.
Process thinking assumes that everything contributes to make a unity of some sort, that we have to do with cosmos not chaos, with order not anarchy. It is clear to most of us that the day is long past when anyone could hope to have the total knowledge that may have been possible in an earlier age. The vast accumulation of information and the need for developing special skills make it impossible to possess more than a very partial and limited grasp of "things entire." Yet when this patent fact is pushed to extreme limits, it can and has produced a fragmentation of human existence and an incapacity to entertain a synoptic view of things. We have heard that physicians nowadays tend to treat a kidney or a liver, not a patient. The sense of wholeness has diminished, and as a result we feel we are less than full persons and we see our world as an assemblage of disparate and unrelated entities.
The process perspective changes this. Not only does it assume that there is cosmos and not chaos, but it is also concerned to show that this is the case. It does this by investigating human experience and the natural order in which that experience is had. The result is the vision of a unity between human existence and the world order, even if there is a real distinction between the two. Of course, none of us can know everything and fit everything together. Yet we can have the vision of such a patterning, and it is this vision that process thought provides for us.
This is true also with respect to the importance of decision. Very often it does not seem that the choices we make can really change things. Sometimes it seems that we cannot make significant decisions of any sort, for we seem to be very much creatures of circumstance, determined by heredity or environment or both. This can lead to a pessimism that denies any significant sense of responsibility. After all, we may ask, are we not helpless in the face of relentless forces that take no account of us and that we can do nothing to alter? People who are led to adopt this position feel they have lost their dignity; they are adrift on a sea of futility. Process thought, however, insists that we can decide and that our decisions do make a difference. Moreover, that insistence does not require us to believe that supernatural interventions break into the world from outside, nor does it require us to deny the genuine continuities we know so well. On the contrary, from its study of human experience, and from its observation of the order of nature, process thought is able to discern a pattern of decision that reaches down to the lowest level of the creation and up to fully conscious human choice -- even up to deity itself, for that matter.
How is this? We might start by looking at the word itself. "Decision" is derived from the Latin decidere, "to cut off." A quantum of energy decides in this sense, for it moves here, not there, thus "cutting off" one of its possible moves. In this instance of energy events of an apparently simple sort (yet really not so simple, as modern physics tell us), there is something analogous to decision as we ourselves experience it. Of course, quanta do not make conscious choices among or between alternatives, but we assume that we do. But if there is a degree of decision-making, however primitive, at that lowest level there is a probability that at other more complex and developed levels decision of a higher type will be found. As an alternative, when we look into ourselves and recognize our awareness of choices made, we may claim that we are given a clue to a pattern running through the world as a whole, precisely because people are part of that world, emerge from it, and are not complete exceptions to it. This is a world, we recall, where "energetic activity" and "emotional intensity" are not discontinuous but are mutually related and mutually involved.
So much for the vision of wholeness and the reality of decision and its consequences. Process thought has other contributions of a very practical sort. Let us look at two of them: the question of the "two cultures" and the question of "the religious and the secular."
Lord Snow once gave a famous lecture on the two cultures, one scientific and the other humanistic. In that lecture he expressed grave concern about the way in which the two seemed increasingly alien one to the other, so that the scientist cannot comprehend the humanities, and the classical scholar or literary critic cannot understand the scientific way of thinking. Yet both, he said, are genuine elements in human life. The person who is nothing but a scientist is missing much that is valuable, and the humanist who lives only in terms of aesthetic sensibility is also missing a vastly important area of human study and experience.
Process thought’s emphasis on wholeness -- its recognition of the aesthetic and the scientific, of feeling-tones as well as precise observation and experiment -- helps to hold together these two different but not ultimately contradictory ways of thinking, living, and acting. The detailed exactness of scientific reporting and technological competence, on the one hand, and the deeply felt sense of value, with its appreciative and emotional stress, on the other hand, can be grasped together even if we cannot work out completely and fully their proper relationship.
There is much talk about "the religious" as contrasted with "the secular." How is each to be understood, and how are they related? We seem to demand, and wish to express, a yearning for a reference beyond self and nature that will make sense of our immediate experience. We are aware of what Tillich called "the sacred," possessed by what he styled an "ultimate concern" that gives meaning and significance to all we say and do. We may not think in traditionally religious terms; we may reject conventional religious ideas. But a sense of the transcendent, unexhausted in our immediacies and mysteriously beckoning us toward ultimacies, seems to be part of the human makeup.
At the same time, we know that we have "come of age," to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s oft-quoted phrase. We are convinced that we live in a world where we can do much to provide what is needed and to know what is to be known. We do not believe any longer in divine intrusions or miraculous deliverances from the situations into which we have gotten ourselves. We cannot revert to the time when people thought that some power or person will come in from outside to take care of us when we are in difficulty or extricate us from having to choose this or that way forward. So it has seemed to many that there is an irremediable conflict between the religious and the secular. There is a giving up of one for the sake of the other, or there is a compartmentalizing of existence in which one side leaves the other entirely alone.
But if the "energetic activity" in the cosmos is indeed disclosed to us in the "emotional intensity" of lived experience, if the way things go is determined by some agency that does not occasionally interfere but rather "makes things make themselves" -- as the French philosopher Lequier put it long ago -- if this is the case, then the reality and value of the secular can be preserved while at the same time the deepest religious insight with respect to the "more," the "transcendent," "ultimate concern," and a "reference beyond oneself" can also be given due recognition. Above all, we may come to understand cosmic "refreshment and companionship," which Whitehead once said religion in its practical aspect is all about. The deepest yearning and satisfaction in us expressed "religiously" is not then contradicted by our awareness that we have responsibility in a "secular" way for what we make of ourselves and our society, not to mention the more recently recognized need for responsibility for the way in which, for good or for ill, we use natural resources and contribute to the future of the world in its ecological structure.
What is the procedure followed by process thinkers in establishing their broad interpretation of things? How does this differ from the older type of metaphysical inquiry that for a great many people, perhaps especially in English-speaking lands, seems to be nothing more than speculation with little basis in fact?
In that older mode of metaphysics, the purpose was to arrive at conclusions that were taken as omni-competent and all-inclusive in the sense that some universal scheme could provide the answer to all the questions people might ask. By a process of reasoning which was usually deductive rather than inductive -- that is, starting from general principles assumed to be true rather than from a study of concrete phenomena -- it was believed that we could demonstrate a first cause or self-existent reality or self-contained being or unmoved mover. Or if a start was made from the world we know, the procedure was to argue from the supposedly clear evidence of design or the fact of creaturely contingency toward a conclusion that indicated a designer or purposer who explained anything and everything "without remainder," or toward a necessary being that was in no way dependent upon anything else.
Whatever the type of logic and argument, one assumption was simply taken for granted by almost every metaphysical thinker in the old style: the Greek conception of perfection as total immutability or changelessness. Movement, alteration, development, and the like were thought to be somehow less perfect, less good, and less real than a being or a principle that was self-contained, self-existent, without essential relations to and without dependence upon the created world. We might sum it up by saying that the intention was to arrive at an "Absolute," however portrayed, which would explain everything. And for most thinkers this Absolute was thought to be mental or spiritual, although one school of thought was prepared to endorse a basic reality of materialistic type.
During the last half-century this kind of philosophical procedure has been attacked by the increasingly influential school of linguistic and analytic philosophers. In one way or another, followers of that school tell us that we have neither the data nor the methods to engage meaningfully in such extrapolations, whether from speculation, human experience, or observation of the world. They are sure that no verification of these conclusions is possible. Their truth or falsehood cannot be decided.
Process thought does not concede the linguistic or analytical claim that no verification of a world vision is possible from experience or observation. Members of the process school have attacked the positivistic restriction of meaningful statements to tautological propositions (which simply repeat in the conclusion what is already found in the premises) or to experimentally demonstrable ones (such as are possible in scientific work). They are convinced that such narrowing of meaningful discourse is arbitrary and selective and that it rests upon implicit metaphysical presuppositions which themselves are never subjected to critical examination. Furthermore, this narrowing is a denial of what we all take for granted.
But the process thinker does not work in the way that earlier metaphysical construction did. Whitehead himself said the process method was like an aviator who takes off from a well-known place, makes the flight, and then returns to earth where once again he is with things that he knows from his own experience. During the flight the aviator looks to see if what he observes from above either confirms or denies the notions with which he began. On returning, the aviator checks again to see if those notions are still as near as can be to the observed facts.
In other words, process thinkers start from experience, more particularly the deeply intuited awareness of what happens in human existence. They make generalizations that may be more widely applicable. These are referred to the various areas of experience and observation open to inspection to see if they will fit, if they will help make sense of those areas and provide useful interpretative principles. If they do not fit, process thinkers know that the generalizations are in error. If they do fit, even though there may be loose ends and ambiguities, it will be an assurance that so far they are indicative of how things go in the world. Process thinkers do not engage in flights into the sheerly unknown or indulge in abstract speculation that has no grounding in experience or experiment or observed data. They generalize from what is known, and they always return to a consideration of evidence that will confirm or contradict the generalized principles.
Moreover, process thinkers do not assume that their conclusions, whatever they may be, can ever be entirely conclusive. On the contrary, they stress that all human approach to truth is tentative, since it is bound to lack the complete clarity we would like to have. It is subject to correction, modification, and change, but since thought must proceed on some principles, process thinkers are prepared to trust those they have reached and to test them in as many fields as possible. This whole procedure has been well styled "metaphysics in a new mode."
In this approach, full recognition is given to the dynamic quality of experience, the interrelated or societal quality of life, the significance of decisive action, and the appreciative or valuational side of things, quite as much as to the regularities observed in the creation and the elements of order and patterning seen there. But the start is from our own human awareness of how things go with us. We have no other place to start, since this is the one area with which we are acquainted firsthand. With everything else we have but second-hand acquaintance, however trustworthy that may seem to us.
Let us now consider what human experience tells us. We know that we are living, dynamic creatures who are "becoming," in that to a greater or lesser degree we are fulfilling potentialities. We know that we are intimately related with others of the human race and that in some mysterious fashion we fit into and are part of the natural order. We know that we are yearning, desiring, striving creatures, seeking goals which constitute what may properly be called our "subjective aim" but which we also know have been given to us in the very fact of our coming into existence. We know the experience of love, with its joy and its anguish, its ecstasy and its agony. We know that we are capable of some degree of rational inquiry and thought, but even more significantly of appreciation and aesthetic delight. We know that we are affected and influenced by what goes on around us and makes its impact on us. More particularly we know the persuasive power of loving concern, which is so much stronger than the coercive force that can indeed make us go through the motions of acceptance and conformity but can never bring us to a freely given assent that involves all our personality. Finally, we know ourselves to be creatures who make decisions, who can and do make choices, however limited the areas in which this is possible may be. And we know that these choices have their consequences, for which we are prepared to assume a measure of responsibility.
Suppose we begin with what we deeply feel ourselves to be. If human experience is indeed organic with the natural order in its ongoing movement, should we not be prepared to use this experience to illuminate for us what that order is like and how it goes? And if we do this, may we not rightly use the generalizations drawn from that experience, taking them to be indicative of the fundamental dynamic and structure of the totality of things? Everything we know can make its contribution: our scientific knowledge as well as our aesthetic valuing, our sense of moral responsibility as well as our technical competence, our yearning for transcendence as well as our occasional awareness of a "dearest freshness deep down things" (in G.M. Hopkins’ lovely phrase) and of some companionship greater than, but mediated through, our human friendship and love.
To those who accept the general process conceptuality, this full and rich human experience is the starting place, the only one we know intimately and personally. Yet it is a way into other areas of the world’s ongoing. It seems to be in accordance with them, despite the terrifying presence of evil and the obvious contradictions seen in so many places. It makes possible a synoptic vision that redeems life from triviality and absurdity. Of course, the confidence that results is not demonstrable in strict logic or by exact scientific tests. But to think that living truth could be demonstrated in that way would itself be absurd and trivializing.
Where do we come out? We come out at a vision of reality in which there is dynamic movement, with a societal or interrelational quality that pervades the whole, and with a genuine place for decisions that count. We come out with a recognition that the basic constituents seen in that vision are not things, fixed entities shuffled about in this way or that, but rather "energy events," instances of "energetic activity" and "emotional intensity." This is the kind of world which surrounds us and of which we are a part.
The stress upon persuasion or love tells us something else too. While coercion or force is indeed plainly present in the world, it is ultimately neither so effective nor so persistent as the persuasive element, the love that is at work in men and women and, they dare to add, in the world. The vision finds its center here, and we shall return again and again to it.
This stress does not overlook or deny the appalling fact of evil in the world. But evil is not a radical distortion of the whole structure of things; rather, it is refusal to move forward, a continuing existence in backwaters or in narrowly selfish sidelines, a rejection of better possibilities and the choice of nonshareable possibilities. It is to some extent the inevitable result of conflicts that come from the varied decisions the constituent energy events are enabled to make. At the human level, moral evil is essentially a disregard of others and a falsely self-centered preference for immediate gains or pleasures without respect for the common good. And sin -- to use the religious word for the most serious defect in human experience -- is not a breaking of regulations or laws imposed from outside but a violation of the solicitation and lure of love, a willingness to rest content with what seems to satisfy human striving but what in plain fact damages relationships at every level: with the deepest self, with others of our kind, with the world of nature, and with the cosmic thrust of love, or God.
I close this chapter with a renewed invitation to consider the emphasis on love or persuasion that is so central to process thinking. When Thornton Wilder ended his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey with the words "Love is the only survival, the only meaning," he was speaking like a process thinker. But process thinkers are not the only ones who have spoken like this. For example, my fellow Kingsman of an earlier generation, G. Lowes Dickinson, whose general philosophical position was quite different, could write thus in his book After Two Thousand Years:
The whole universe groans and travails together to accomplish a purpose more august than you can divine; and of that your guesses at good and evil are but wavering symbols. Yet dark though night may be and stumbling your step, your hand is upon the clue. Nourish then your imagination, strengthen your will, and purify your love. For what your imagination anticipates shall be achieved, what will pursues will be done, and what love seeks shall be revealed.
E.M. Forster, quoting these words in his biography Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973, p. 204), spoke of them as "splendid in diction, warm in emotion, and filled with wisdom," which they are indeed.
For Dickinson their origin was in Plato who in the Symposium, the Phaedrus, and the Timaeus spoke in precisely this vein. But as Whitehead remarked, "what Plato discerned in theory," with his insistence on "the victory of persuasion over force," was confirmed "in act" by what Whitehead called the "Galilean vision." In a genuinely human life, that of Jesus of Nazareth, love was disclosed both as sharing suffering and achieving "supreme victory." And the disclosure in Jesus does not stand alone. In one way or another, the persisting religious vision of humankind in all places has moved in this direction, toward an interpretation of "reality" as a dynamic process in which persuasion overcomes sheer force. Professor Trevor Ling has recently demonstrated that Gautama, the writer of the Bhagavad-Gita, the Islamic Sufis, Lao-Tze, Confucius, and others have arrived at this vision too. In his carefully documented work Religion of East and West he remarks that at this point, if not at others, there is an extraordinary religious consensus. Process thinkers are prepared to accept that consensus as indicative of something very deep in the structure of the world, not as mere human wish fulfillment but as the way in which (despite so much that appears contradictory and negative) things really do go.