Chapter 13: God for Today and Tomorrow by Walter E. Stokes, S.J.

Process Philosophy and Christian Thought
by Delwin Brown, Ralph James, Gene Reeves (eds.)

Chapter 13: God for Today and Tomorrow by Walter E. Stokes, S.J.

Walter E. Stokes, S. J., was educated at St. Louis University and Cambridge. Until his death in 1969, he was Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University and Loyola College and Seminary.


The problem of the philosophy of religion involves the question of the relation between philosophy and religion. On the one hand, as Henry Dumery points out:

"We should not speak of a God peculiar to philosophers, but of a God that religion worships and that philosophy must take into consideration, as it does any other value."1 In fact, the idea of God is not invented by the philosopher but encountered in human history so that it cannot be sustained by merely logical construction. On the other hand, there is no God of a religious tradition cut off from critical reflection so that "it is wrong for religion’s advocate to confound the object of this affirmation with the modalities of the affirmation; it is wrong for him to believe that the transcendence of the divine mystery is extended to the materiality of the expressions that it takes on in human consciousness; with greater reason it is wrong for him to consider that his problematic is canonized by this transcendence."2 Therefore, philosophy of religion must balance itself between the extremes of a philosophy that cuts itself off from religious experience and a religious stance that segregates itself from philosophical reflection.3 The search for a philosophy of religion is a search for total world-view in which the idea of God encountered in human history is thoroughly integrated.

Today many different philosophical voices in a variety of idioms question whether this search is possible any longer. They ask: Can God’s existence be reconciled with man’s deepened experience of himself as a free creator of the world? Can God’s existence be accepted without destroying man’s dignity in his free creative role in the universe? Can God’s existence be affirmed as transcendent without making God a functional element in an abstract scheme? These questions are concerned with the possibility of reconciling God’s presence in experience with God’s transcendence; with preserving both the uniqueness of God’s actuality and the uniqueness of man’s freedom.

In one popular study of the problem of God today, John A. T. Robinson questions the relevance of a theism that would think of God as a heavenly, completely perfect person who resides above the world and mankind.4 The same issue is raised by Harvey Cox, who writes: The willingness of the classical philosophers to allow the God of the Bible to be blurred into Plato’s Idea of the Good or Aristotle’s Prime Mover was fatal. It has resulted in a doctrine of God which in the era of the secular city forces men like Camus to choose between God and human freedom, between Christian faith and human creativity."5 This polarity between man’s freedom and God’s transcendence also appears in Gabriel Vahanian’s reflection on Macleish’s theme J.B., viz., that a God of justice has nothing to do with life because life is moved by love: Why try to prove God, if all that man needs is to be himself? Why seek God, if all that man wants is love?"6 In still another idiom it is dramatized by Jean-Paul Sartre in The Devil and the Good Lord: "Silence is God. Absence is God. God is the loneliness of man. There was no one but myself. I alone decided on evil, I alone invented Good. It was I who cheated. I who worked miracles, I who accused myself today, I alone can absolve myself; I, man. If God exists, man is nothing; if man exists. . .7 And Maurice Merleau-Ponty recalls that Jacques Maritain rejected a notion of God as "the absurd Emperor of the world" who would finally sacrifice man to the cosmos. But Merleau-Ponty goes on to ask whether or not the concept of God as necessary being is not so bound up with this notion that without it God would cease to be the God of theism. "Yes, where will one stop the criticism of idols, and where will one ever be able to say the true God actually resides if, as Maritain writes, we pay tribute to false gods ‘every time we bow before the world.’8 In a contemporary form of Marxism, Roger Garaudy stresses the two essential dimensions of man: both subjectivity and transcendence. Man’s task is to stretch man’s creative energies to the maximum for the sake of realizing man’s dynamic totality. In the area of knowledge, religion’s weakness is not in questions it raises but in its attempt to give dogmatic answers: Beyond the myths about the origin, end and meaning of life, beyond the alienated notions of transcendence and death, there exists the concrete dialectic of finite and infinite, and this remains a living reality as long as we remain aware that it is not in the order of answer but in the order of question."9 In the realm of action, this creation will be the fulfillment of the specifically human need to create and to create oneself so that the infinite is absence and exigency rather than promise and presence. Accordingly, Garaudy asks: "Is it to impoverish man, to tell him that he lives as an incomplete being, that everything depends upon him, that the whole of our history and its significance is played out within man’s intelligence, heart and will, and nowhere else, that we bear full responsibility for this; that we must assume the risk, every step of the way, since, for us atheists, nothing is promised and no one is waiting?"10

Finally, Thomas Altizer expresses this tension between man’s creative subjectivity and a transcendent reality: "Once the Christian has been liberated from all attachment to a celestial and transcendent Lord, and has died in Christ to the primordial reality of God, then he can say triumphantly: God is dead! Only the Christian can speak the liberating word of the death of God because only the Christian has died in Christ to the transcendent realm of the sacred and can realize in his own participation in the forward-moving body of Christ the victory of the self-negation of Spirit."11

Although their perspectives differ widely, these thinkers share a preoccupation with the tension between the dignity intrinsic to man’s creative freedom, on the one hand, and, on the other, the threat to that dignity posed by a God who is wholly transcendent. In the Lowell Lectures of 1926, years before the "death of God theology," Alfred North Whitehead sensed this tension and remarked: "The modern world has lost God and is seeking him."12 Since Whitehead anticipated the current dilemma so early, it may be worthwhile to explore his approach the philosophy of religion.

A Whiteheadian treatment of the problem of God starts with the experience of which opens up a cyclic process of rhythmic growth in the knowledge and experience of God. This growth process begins with the stage of romance wherein the experience of God has the freshness of novelty combining realizations not yet explored with possibilities half-disclosed by glimpses and half-concealed by the wealth of possibilities."13 This naturally leads on to the stage of precision which adds to man’s experience the coherence and adequacy of a scheme of interrelated notions. Since no determinate meaning can be given to expressions of our notion of God as personal, individual and actual apart from the framework provided by such a scheme, this stage in man’s knowledge of God depends on the previous stage of romance: "It is evident that a stage of precision is barren without a previous stage of romance: unless there are facts which have already been vaguely apprehended in broad generality, the previous analysis is an analysis of nothing."14 Still, lest God become a counter in an abstract scheme, another stage is required: the stage of synthesis. This final stage is ‘nothing else than the satisfactory way in which the mind will function when it is poked up into activity."15 But, of course, though this represents momentary final success, each of the stages must be continually revivified, recreated, and developed in an unending process if man is to know the living God; if man’s knowledge of God is to be real it must grow in an unending cyclic process even though attention may focus now on precision, now on synthesis, once more on romance. But man must continuously press on toward knowledge and experience in the indeterminate future and not rest with the notion of a God caught somehow in the net of concepts at some moment in his past.

Dimension of Experience

Even though the growth process in man’s discovery of God is not linear and irreversible from stage to stage, it is useful to consider these stages in turn. The first is the level of experience. In this stage man’s situation in the world raises for him the question: "What, in the way of value, is the attainment of life?"16 This stage begins with three fundamental concepts unified in one moment of self-consciousness. These concepts are:

1. the value of an individual for itself

2. the value of the diverse individuals of the world for each other.

3. 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.17

Man’s consciousness of God begins with self-valuation, broadens into the intuition of the character of the universe as a realm of interrelated values, and finally, of adjusted values. Man’s discovery of God in this stage is very similar to the way in which a man grasps the character of a friend. Drawing on experience described in the philosophy of Berkeley and Bacon, concretized in literature, especially the Romantic poets, and abstracted in the formalized viewpoints of science, especially quantum physics, relativity and evolution, Whitehead gives the experiential base for his intuition into the character of the universe. One principal source is poetic expression in Shelley who concretizes the flux of things, and in Wordsworth who captures the intuition of enduring permanence. Together they express the solidarity of the universe of real novelty with enduring permanences. "Both Shelley and Wordsworth emphatically bear witness that nature cannot be divorced from its aesthetic values; and that these values arise from the cumulation, in some sense, of the brooding presence of the whole unto its various parts."18 Here Whitehead discovers first of all the value of the individual: "Remembering the poetic rendering of our concrete experience, we see at once that the element of value, of being valuable, of having value, of being an end in itself, of being something which is for its own sake, must not be omitted in any account of any event as the most concrete actual something."19 But this individual is not self-sufficient; it unifies the larger universe in which it finds itself because it grasps nature in solido. In this way it raises the question: "What is the status of the enduring stability of the order of nature?"20 Because stable order implies limitation there must be a source of limitation which cannot in turn have a further explanation of its definiteness. In this sense God is the ultimate irrationality: the principle of limitation and the ground of rationality. But this is a stage in man’s rhythmic growth in the knowledge of God. This unsystematic affirmation must find a systematic context unless its meaning is to remain thoroughly indeterminate.

The experiential dimension does not involve immediate intuition of a personal God even though God is directly present within human experience.21 For if religious experience consists exclusively in such an immediate encounter, then there is no broad foundation of agreement to which one could appeal. Such an encounter belongs to a private world which is reducible to whatever may have been the origin of this heightened emotional state. Accordingly, reason is necessary in order to maintain the objectivity of man’s encounter with God. The religious experience has to do with man’s direct but mediate experience of permanence with novelty within the intelligible unity of his life: "But there is a large consensus, on the part of those who have rationalized their outlook, in favour of the concept of the rightness of things, partially conformed to and partially disregarded. So far as there is conscious determination of actions, the attainment of this conformity is an ultimate premise by reference to which our choice of immediate ends is criticized and swayed."22 Man’s valuing experience involves the intuition of permanence with novelty grounded in the presence of a transcendent source of order in the world.

The Dimension of Formulation

In a recent interpretation of Hegel’s philosophy of religion Emil L. Fackenheim rejects Kierkegaard’s view that Hegel’s philosophy is destructive of religion, and argues that Hegel seeks to penetrate "the relation between rational self-activity and religious receptivity to the divine and the relation of philosophical self-activity to both."23 Similarly Whitehead insists that the philosophical reflection that aims at formulating a coherent and adequate account of the wholeness of experience is neither a reduction of experience to its categories nor a rationalization of the wholeness of human life and activity. Philosophical reflection is the process of the humanization of religion. Man must try to give adequate and coherent systematization to romantic experience. Therefore, the stage of romance must find completion in the stage of precision.

The notion of God, especially, requires metaphysics, because there are no "floating statements," but only answers to questions. And, as we have seen, the notion of God arises in "the question whether the process of the temporal world passes into other actualities, bound together in an order in which novelty does not mean loss."24 Now the central task of philosophy is "to conceive a complete (ponteles) fact."25 Philosophy tries to clarify the fundamental beliefs that finally determine the emphasis of attention that lies at the base of character.26 It seeks the general ideas that are indispensably relevant to everything that happens and judges them in terms of their place in and contribution to what we find credible, reliable, humanly important. Philosophy is concerned with what really matters, and is orientated toward the complete fact in its concreteness.

Accordingly, interrelatedness or "solidarity" is the key to Whitehead’s metaphysics.27 "Solidarity," for Whitehead, means that the universe is a dynamic whole, a plurality of individual entities which in their interaction produce the one single result that is the complete fact. But in so doing, the divergent and diverse activities produce the single result without losing their individuality. For the universe is a unity constituted by the interaction of a plurality of interrelated individual entities — each individual is essentially what it is by its relation to the ‘other’, the entire universe.

In this way Whitehead formulates the poetic grasp of nature in solido. Its technical statement is Whitehead’s Ontological Principle: "apart from things that are actual, there is nothing — nothing either in fact or efficacy. . . . Everything is positively somewhere in actuality, and in potency everywhere."28 This principle expresses Wordsworth’s experience of "that mysterious presence of surrounding things, which imposes itself on any separate element that we set up as individual for its own sake."29 It involves the discovery that the universe is made up of entwined interconnected unities that are suffused with the modal presence of others. In this way Whitehead restores the interconnectedness of things to a universe shattered by the abstractions of Cartesian substance. Whitehead takes seriously Wordsworth’s warning that:

Our meddling intellect

Misshapes the beauteous forms of things.

We murder to dissect.

In this movement away from disconnected abstractions to the inter-relatedness of concrete fact, Whitehead agrees with Bergson. But Whitehead does not agree that "spatialization" of things is an error bound up with man’s intellectual grasp of reality. Man can use his intellect properly, he can overcome the tendency to mistake abstractions for concrete reality, and so he can avoid the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

Accordingly, Whitehead holds that each element within his metaphysical scheme requires each of the others for its own intelligibility. The elements are meaningless in isolation from one another. These coherent notions are: the actual entities of the temporal world, together with their formative elements — eternal objects, God and

Creativity. Together they interpret every element of human experience. This means that metaphysics grasps the concrete existents of the universe in their interrelatedness. In this scheme, God is not a mere counter within a scheme but God’s transcendence is encountered within experience.

Whitehead believes that Plato discovered those general ideas which are relevant to everything that happens: The Ideas, the Physical Elements, The Psyche, The Eros, The Harmony, The Mathematical Relations, The Receptacle.30 In adapting Plato’s seven basic notions Whitehead takes "the notion of actuality as in its essence process"31 as his starting point. Here he is taking over Plato’s Receptacle: "The community of the world, which is the matrix for all begetting, and whose essence is process with retention of connectedness — this community is what Plato terms the Receptacle."32 More precisely, Creativity is that "ultimate principle by which the many which are the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion, which is the universe conjunctively."33 Creativity is conditioned by the actual world relative to each novel coming-to-be of individual actual entities in the temporal world. Each actual occasion is a unique synthesis of the actual world relative to its becoming. There is no completed set of actual things that make up the universe. The set of all actual occasions is the initial situation for the novel actual occasion so that the "actual world" is always a relative term. This actual world provides the "data" for each novel actual entity in process. But this data is not passive but active precisely because Creativity is with the actual world. This initial datum with Creativity is the "real potentiality" of the novel actual occasions. It is real in the sense that Plato affirms the reality of nonbeing in the Sophist.

The counterpart of Plato’s Ideas are Whitehead’s Eternal Objects. In abstraction from actual entities, including God, the eternal objects together with Creativity constitute unlimited, abstract possibility. Accordingly, the very meaning of actuality is decision" whereby unlimited possibility is limited and so attains actuality. Just as potentiality for process is the meaning of the more general term "entity" or "thing," so "decision" is the added meaning of the word "actual" in the term "actual entity." This means that all forms of realization involve limitation. Each actuality is this, and not that. Each involves negation and exclusion, because mere omission is characteristic of confusion. To be is to be finite; only the finite can be actual and intelligible. Infinity is on the side of undetermined, abstract possibility.

The primordial limitation of Creativity is God in his contemplation of the eternal objects in a harmony of conceptual valuation. The order and harmony of the universe indicate that there is a "givenness" of relevant eternal objects for each actual occasion in the temporal process. For this reason, there must be a nontemporal actual entity to account for this graded relevance of eternal objects:

"The limitation whereby there is perspective relevance of eternal objects to the background is characteristic of decision. Transcendent decision includes God’s decision."34

There is an unending interaction of God on the world, the world on God, each requiring the other for its own completeness. Since the powers of human knowledge are limited, and God is without limit, this process has no end. (There is no closed and fixed goal to-be-achieved). The notions of God and the world require one another for their own intelligibility, so that it is equally true to say that the world creates God as it is to say that God creates the world. This conclusion means that there is mutual immanence between God and the world, which, according to Whitehead, is very much in accord with "the Galilean origins of Christianity."35 Whitehead’s position here opposes several strains of thought combined in traditional theism: the divine Caesars that lead to fashioning God in the image of an imperial ruler; the Hebrew prophets that lead to fashioning God in the image of moral energy; and Aristotle’s "unmoved mover" that leads to the fashioning of God in the image of an ultimate metaphysical principle. Together these strains produce the idea that God is "an aboriginal, eminently real, transcendent creator, at whose fiat the world came into being, and whose imposed will it obeys."36 By contrast, Whitehead’s natural theology "dwells on the tender elements in the world, which slowly and in quietness operates by love; and finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world."37 In Whitehead’s metaphysics God by his very nature enjoys maximum freedom.38 To be is to be free, but God enjoys maximum freedom because his is totally unconditioned and has the total initiative. From this viewpoint it follows that God is no exception to the requirements of metaphysics.

To be not only is to be free, but also it is to be related. Religious intuition tells us that God loves all beings and is related to them by a sympathetic union surpassing any human sympathy. And all our experience supports the view that knowing and loving constitute the knower or lover, not what is known or loved. According to the traditional theism, however, God’s knowledge and love of this world are an enormous exception to the rule. For divine knowledge and love make a real difference in the creature, but cannot make any difference to an immutable and necessary God. The traditional view maintains that God is not related to the world but that God in knowing and loving himself knows himself as Creator of the world. But God is not really related to this world in knowledge and love, and so"it follows that God does not know or love or will us, his creatures. At most, we can say only that we are known, loved and willed by Him."39

Classical formulation of this view is given by St. Thomas: "God’s temporal relations to creatures are in Him only because of our way of thinking of Him; but the opposite relation of creatures to Him are realities in creatures."40 And St. Thomas’s reasoning is equally clear and sound.41 God’s real relation to the world could only be either a predicamental relation or a transcendental relation. However, a predicamental relation would mean that God acquired a new accidental relation;42 and a transcendental relation would mean that God depended on creatures. Rejection of accidental perfection is deeply rooted in St. Thomas’s metaphysics of God as esse subs istens and provides no way of articulating God’s relation to the world. However, even St. Thomas’s own argument against a real transcendental relation of God to the world indicates that not all possibilities have been considered. Basic to this argument is the position that what by its nature is related to something else, depends on it, since without it this being can neither be nor be thought of. Accordingly, God could not be transcendentally related to creatures by a real relation without essential dependence on this world. For God’s nature could neither be nor be thought of apart from this world. But this dependence would make him a radically contingent being.43

In a discussion of Paul Weiss’s Whiteheadian approach to God’s relation to the world, Kenneth L. Schmitz44 rightly sees that in this question the nature of relation is the central philosophical question: "the modal philosophy sees the margin of being of creatures to lie within their being a non-reciprocal relation to a perfect God. The philosophical issue, then is between conceptions of relation."45 I wish to argue that the development of the philosophy of relation within Whiteheadian metaphysics would make it possible to move between these alternatives.

Concerned primarily with categories proper to "things," theists have traditionally stressed God’s liberty of indifference — God’s perfection as an incommunicable supposit rather than as person in outgoing self-relation. St. Augustine’s theology of the Trinity has enabled modern man to think of a person as constituted by his self-giving to another.46 For Augustine, a person is at once self-subsistent yet essentially ordered to others, so that the person constitutes himself in a relation of opposition to the other. To understand the Persons in the Trinity, Augustine used the analogy of man, mind, and soul rather than the analogy of the cosmos. Memory, intellection, and that love of self which is identical with the ecstatic love of God — man seen as related to God, proceeding from God, and constituted in his personality by a preawareness of God as the source of his being — such is the analogy that enables Augustine to develop his theology of the Trinity. This philosophy of the person as self-relating which transforms the notion of "person" also transforms the notion of "freedom." For the Augustinian notion of liberty contrasts the personal autonomy of the free man with the bondage of a slave. What it excludes is not necessity but coercion from without. A being who enjoys this liberty acts for its own good without being coerced. This contrasts the unique personal value of an individual’s power of self-determination or auto-finality, whereby he has dominion over himself, with the slave who is merely a means for obtaining goals set by others. Although God cannot but love himself, God loves himself freely. In this sense, too, if God wills to extend his love to creatures, in doing so he is free. The significant aspect is the personal dimension: God in self-giving, in self-relating to the world, placed himself in a state of gift. St. Thomas, similarly, in his theology of the Trinity insists that relation enters into the very notion of person; the Persons are subsistent relations. Within the Trinity the Persons are constituted distinct subsistent relations subsistent because of their identity with God’s absolute essence, and distinct because of their relative opposition.

The notion of Augustine and Thomas, in their theology of the Trinity, that persons are constituted in relation of opposition or mutual immanence is made a general principle in the Whiteheadian philosophical scheme. First, God’s freedom may be understood as self-determination, self-relation or self-giving without external coercion. Second, person is understood to have two aspects, the incommunicability of a rational supposit and the communicability of the relation of opposition which constitutes persons. Both together provide a new dimension to the doctrine of relations — a dynamic, self-relating outgoing personal relation.47

From this perspective, God’s relation to the world is real but God is not a "thing" which essentially depends on another. Because God is a personal, self-relating being, God can be understood to be Creator by an everlasting, free decision which could have been other than it is. It is true that God’s nature and personal being as infinite actuality also determine him to be what he is. So that God can be known to be the ultimate source of order. This primordial aspect of God is eternal and essentially transcends the temporal process. But creation reveals that God is also what he is everlastingly by a free decision to create the world, so that not everything that is true about God is due to the necessity of his very nature. By deciding to create, God everlastingly becomes a being in a way which could not be realized apart from that historical situation with these particular relations in all their concreteness. This relation does not imply imperfection in God any more than the relations of mutual immanence among the Persons of the Trinity in classical theology implied any imperfection in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Rather it is the perfection of God’s personal being freely choosing history and the actuality and risks of human freedom. God’s free self-giving, or self-relating, adds no perfection to him; rather it gives rise to a real distinction based on the reality of a new relation of opposition. If relation can be active-self-relating, it can be identical with directing one’s powers in love. Such a relation based on the relative opposition of God and this world is God’s actuality loving this world and these men, rather than another world or no world at all.

Through this relation God reveals himself to us in time and history as other than he could have been. This means that God is not the perfect Being of the Greek world wherein immutability and eternality are associated with perfection. The Greek notion of perfection has its roots in considering man’s mind as the measure of intelligibility. Without doubt man has a tendency to associate intelligibility with necessity. Once the Supreme Reality is discovered to be a personal being, however, the human mind, with its imperious demand for the intelligible to be "the one same thing," can no longer be the measure of what is ultimately real and valuable. We discover the contingent aspects of God’s living reality in time and history. The evolving universe gives testimony to the totality of that gift. So that God’s gift may achieve its fullness in free beings who are themselves capable of placing themselves in return in a state of gift, the universe is ordered to become a universe-with-man. To bring about a universe in which God’s love can attain its fullness in man’s free response, all the forces of nature interact. Time, history, and freedom make a difference because through them God reveals that he is a living God in man’s future waiting for man’s free return of self God wills to be a lover responding to man’s free return of love. The paradox is that the autonomy of man’s free response is God’s gift of self to man. And that gift increases as man’s return gift of self increases, for man’s life is a project to be achieved in time and through history. In this way, God through his own act of self-giving constitutes man whose genuine free response completes God’s gift. Without freedom, man could not place himself in a state of gift in return; without it God’s love of the world would be without the fullness that freedom makes possible. In community, man can strive for those social conditions that can make man’s free response to God possible. Aware of God’s call to a share in his creative activity, man grows in the consciousness of his responsibility to make that response possible. Since God wills to give himself in personal love, risk becomes a necessary element in creation, for only free self-giving creatures can give personal love in return.

To be free and responsive and yet be time oriented, man has to be spirit-matter, capable of assimilating the past and appropriating it for the future. When we look at man we see that he is spirit essentially ordered to fulfilling his creative responsibility in time. To be a man is to be creating self in personal history. For man as spirit-ordered-to-time, time becomes a necessity for placing self in a state of gift in return of God’s love. Time does make a difference, for it is only in time that man completes God’s love. In choosing to give self in love to a spirit-in-flesh, God makes time valuable.

Since Whitehead himself holds that God has no temporal priority over the world, so that God is not before all creation but with all creation, the impression may be given that in no sense is God creator of this world. But the notion of creation is not bound to the notion of the world having a beginning in time. Certainly, the traditional phrase "creation out of nothing" seems to imply that the created world has a beginning in time. But the phrase, "out of nothing" means only that the creator makes the world neither from pre-existing material nor from his own being. Therefore, the notion of creation is indifferent to the world being eternal or having a beginning in time. Creation means that God has a radical and fundamental initiative in the coming-to-be of each temporal process.

Once causality is conceived of as personal and not merely as a mechanical force, this radical initiative need not threaten the creature’s own autonomy. In fact, in interpersonal relations the causal activity of a person on another does not diminish one’s autonomy but actually does increase it. One person can act on another without constricting the other because the causal power calls the other to create himself. God’s initiative is a call to man to create himself freely and not a threat to man’s freedom. From this viewpoint, there is nothing about man or any other creature that does not radically depend on God’s initial causal activity, but also almost everything of importance to man depends on man’s creative response. There is lawfulness because each creature has real potentialities limited by its historical situation; there is room for spontaneity because each creature freely responds to God’s call. Once this creative activity is thought of in the analogy of person rather than the analogy of things, it is possible to understand that God’s creative activity is a call to the creature to create itself. Since this involves interpersonal activity, the intensity of God’s activity does not diminish but enhances the autonomy of the creature. Certainly it is true that the more a mechanical force acts on a thing in a purely mechanical way, the more the autonomy of the thing is diminished. But a person acting on another need not lessen the freedom of the person acted upon; he can even intensity the creative freedom of that person. Furthermore, since the creature depends totally on the creator for its creative aim, the creature’s autonomy is in direct, not inverse, proportion to God’s creative activity.

We have now seen how, between a philosophy of creative act which excludes the possibility of the real relation of God to the world and a modal philosophy which demands reciprocal relations between God and the world, it is possible to posit a "third position — a philosophy of creative act with real but asymmetrical relations between God and the world. In this stage of precision, the metaphysical scheme has in an important, reformable way interpreted the final opposites of experience in terms of God and the world: "In our cosmological construction we are left with the final opposites, joy and sorrow, good and evil, disjunction and conjunction — that is to say, the many in one — flux and permanence, greatness and triviality, freedom and necessity, God and the World.... God and the World introduce the note of interpretation."48 At this stage experience has been enriched by philosophical reflection.

Dimension of God’s Presence in Life and Activity

Not only is this interpretation of experience in terms of God and the world itself capable of reformulation, the rhythmic process demands to be completed in the further stage of synthesis. The work of precision leads back to the concrete historical experience of man as he moves to build civilization through art, its sublimation in the pursuits of truth and beauty, the impetus towards adventure beyond perfection realized, and, finally, the sense of peace, because only a return to life and activity can mediate the empirical dimensions of the stage of romance and the schematic formulations of the stage of precision.

In the study of the creating of civilization, the four interrelated factors: art, truth, beauty, and adventure are involved. "We have found the growth of Art: its gradual sublimation into the pursuit of Truth and Beauty: the sublimation of the egotistic aim by its inclusion in a transcendent whole: the youthful zest in the transcendent aim:

the sense of tragedy: the sense of evil: the persuasion towards Adventure beyond achieved perfection: the sense of Peace."49 Now the Whiteheadian reflection moves to the level of life and action and now calls on "those exceptional elements in our consciousness"50 as we build a civilization of art, truth, beauty, and adventure. Art sublimates man’s drive to enjoy the vividness of life which first springs from sheer necessity, yet points beyond itself. "It exhibits for consciousness a finite fragment of human effort achieving its own perfection within its own limits."51 But this embodiment of beauty tends toward shallowness because it concentrates on adapting immediate appearance for immediate beauty. In both science and art man seeks beauty and truth so that "the finite consciousness of mankind is appropriating as its own the infinite fecundity of nature."52 And both are exercising a healing role as they reveal absolute truth about the nature of things: "Churches and Rituals,

Monasteries with their dedicated lives, Universities with their search for knowledge, Medicine, Law, methods of Trade — they represent that aim at civilization, whereby the conscious experience of mankind preserves for its use the sources of Harmony."53 In this way art, truth and beauty beget civilization which is the relentless pursuit of the major perfections of harmony. But the very essence of real actuality is process so that it is impossible to maintain perfection statically; actualities of civilization must be understood to be becoming and perishing. Moreover, to be is to be finite in the sense that all actualization excludes other possibilities which might have been and are not. And art must create individuals that are immortal in their contribution to the whole: "Thus civilization in its aim at fineness of feeling should so arrange its social relations and the relations of its members to its natural environment, as to evoke into the experiences of its members Appearances dominated by the harmonies of forceful enduring things."54 Art, truth, beauty, and adventure each point beyond themselves to a permanence which transcends them.

This element is the harmony of harmonies, peace. Although it is difficult to put into words, peace is ever at the fringe of man’ s consciousness: "It is a broadening of feeling due to emergence of some deep metaphysical insight, unverbalized and yet momentous in its coordination of values. Its first effect is the removal of the stress of acquisitive feeling arising from the soul’s preoccupation with itself"55 This element excludes the pursuit of beauty and truth, art and adventure in hungry egotism and so involves the transcendence of the self. Peace is "primarily trust in the efficacy of beauty. It is a sense that fineness of achievement is, as it were, a key unlocking treasures that the narrow nature of things would keep remote. There is thus involved a grasp of infinitude, an appeal beyond boundaries."56 Peace is at once the understanding and the preservation of tragedy since it is the intuition of the permanence of things in the face of fading beauty, pain, and sudden death. Peace "keeps vivid the sensitiveness to the tragedy; and it sees the tragedy as a living agent persuading the world to aim at fineness beyond the faded level of surrounding fact. Each tragedy is the disclosure of an ideal: — What might have been, and was not: What can be."57 But youth as yet untouched by tragedy is especially sensitive to the harmony of the soul’s dynamism with ideals which go beyond self-gratification. This sense of peace habitually at the fringe of consciousness implies something more than itself. No argument could possibly prove that this gap exists because all such demonstrations are only helps for man to come to reflective consciousness of what is intuitively present within man’s consciousness. At this point he "is seeking, amid the dim recesses of his ape-like consciousness and beyond the reach of dictionary language, for the premises implicit in all reasoning."58 In this reflection, the incompleteness is in the area of transcendence which is essential for adventure and peace. This requires that the notion of God as Eros, the persuading force in the world, be complemented by the notion of God as final Beauty: "This Beauty has always within it the renewal derived from the Advance of the Temporal World. It is the immanence of the Great Fact including the initial Eros and this final beauty which constitutes the zest of self-forgetful transcendence belonging to Civilization at its height."59 This immanence is the key to understanding how the world is lured toward perfection that is really possible for its individual entities: "This is the secret of the union of Zest with Peace: — That the suffering attains its end in a Harmony of Harmonies. The immediate experience of this Final Fact, with its union of Youth and Tragedy, is the sense of Peace."60 This same insight is expressed in other terms in Religion in the Making:

The order of the world is no accident. There is nothing actual which could be actual without some measure of order. The religious insight is the grasp of truth: that the order of the world, the value of the world in its whole and in its parts, the beauty of the world, the zest of life, and the mastery of evil, are all bound up together — not accidentally, but by reason of this truth: that the universe exhibits a creativity with infinite freedom, and a realm of forms with infinite possibilities; but that this creativity and these forms together are impotent to achieve actuality apart from the complete ideal harmony, which is God.61

In this last stage of synthesis, Whitehead returns to the history of man’s effort to create civilization and shows the presence of God as Eros and Beauty present within man’s consciousness, effectively directing man’s pursuit of civilization even in the face of tragedy.62

The experience central to the human situation is value-affirmation. In this reflection, man knows himself as situated in the world faced by a variety of values-to-be-realized in time. Man recognizes that some values are real possibilities and others are not. He also realizes that some values are compatible with his historical situation and some are not, some are compatible with each other and others are not. In the project of self-creation throughout his life, man must strive to bring these values into aesthetic harmony aiming at intensity of feeling both in its subjective immediacy and in the relevant occasions beyond itself to achieve objective immortality.63 And man realizes that to achieve his individual destiny he must create civilizations which embody truth and beauty. At any moment of his life-project a man can know that he must choose among values which aim at intensity of feeling. And choose he must, because not to choose would itself be activity.

In order to achieve values, one must freely enter into communities of knowledge and love. In entering such a community, man implicitly affirms that he knows and loves beauty and truth. In this way, man affirms that he knows and loves something as true, or as good, or as beautiful, and at the same time knows and loves truth, goodness and beauty to-be-realized. What is actually known and loved is limited and recognized as limited compared to what is as yet unrealized and remains to be realized. Furthermore, the drive for truth, goodness, and beauty which led to joining the community can be recognized to be beyond the goals already achieved. This means that there is a dynamism in the valuing process that cannot be satisfied with any succession of temporal values or any intensification of these temporal values. For man discovers within his life-process a non-temporal factor that transcends all temporal realization and yet is immanent to each temporal process. For example, a man’s drive for truth and beauty can be satisfied by no limited truth whatsoever. To recognize limited truth as limited is to be already beyond limited truth through one’s dynamism of knowledge and love for unlimited truth. Each new discovery of truth and beauty is recognized for what it is — limited truth and beauty unable to still man’s drive for unlimited truth. This recognition of truth as limited implies that the drive for truth transcends its temporal embodiment. Moreover, no temporal truth added to temporal truth could satisfy this drive. In fact, man’s self-creative process reveals the presence yet absence of an unconditioned non-temporal source of value which man can value without reservation or qualification. Since this answers to man’s finer religious instincts, it can be called God, the source of all value in the temporal world.

The Dialectic of the Discovery of God, Today and Tomorrow

The dialectic of the discovery of God, today and tomorrow, begins with the realization that there is a human dimension to religious experience open to critical philosophical reflection. Accordingly, a fully developed philosophy of religion becomes desirable to achieve a properly human grasp of religious experience. This unfolds in three stages which continually require one another in an unending process of growth from the dimension of experience to the dimension of schematization, from the dimension of formulation in a metaphysical scheme to reflective consciousness of God’s presence in human life and activity as the condition of possibility of the other stages. So that not only do these stages require one another, they in turn complement one another and stimulate their further growth. Each of these interrelated and interdependent dimensions opens onto the others. The initial reflection concerns the possibility and necessity of a philosophy of religion. On the one hand, it might seem that a philosophy of religion must necessarily reduce religion to the level of naturalistic concepts which must destroy it; on the other, philosophy appears to be recklessly entering the realm of the superhuman. According to the first alternative, religious experience would be destroyed and lose its autonomy. According to the second, philosophy itself would lose its own autonomy and critical powers. But the key is that religion concerns man’s own relation to a being to whom man commits himself without reservation and without qualification. In this experience, religion arises in human intelligence, imagination, and emotion and uses symbols of human discourse. For this reason, religion can be subject to the laws of logic and man’s critical reflective powers. Moreover, since God is not merely a construct of the philosopher but is actually encountered by the philosopher, philosophy must take this into account. There then is the possibility that philosophy can be the completion of human religious experience without naturalizing it. There is the necessity that philosophy through reason complete religious experience.

In its experiential dimension, the subjectivity of reflection on personal experience has the strength of vividness and immediacy. But its weakness is that its informality and subjectivity does not present itself for criticism by the community of men. On this level, what does it mean to say that God is a personal being, a uniquely transcendent being, or for that matter, ‘God exists’?

This experiential dimension demands the development of a framework to enable man to possess in a thoroughly human way what he grasps in religious experience. This leads to the formulation of the cosmological and teleological arguments for God’s existence. Now the strength of this dimension is the rigor of its logic and the precision achieved by placing notions such as God within the context of a coherent and adequate scheme. Apart from such a scheme, these notions can have a meaning that is so indeterminate that it is equivalent to no meaning at all.

But arguments, no matter how well-formulated, raise still other questions. For, each of these arguments appears to suppose somehow that the universe is intelligible. But if one were merely to suppose that God exists because otherwise the universe would not be intelligible, is not the philosopher presupposing what he is attempting to prove? In these proofs, the world is recognized as a sign of the direct but mediate presence of God. But what enables man to read his own experience as the sign of God’s presence? What framework could make such a reading of the sign of God’s presence in the world possible?

The dimension of formulation and schematization calls man to return to his interior life and activity and reflect that God’s presence yet absence is the condition of possibility of any intelligibility at all. For it would seem that the arguments from order and from contingency either rest on a misunderstanding of what an explanation is, or more likely, on an arbitrary supposition that man’s experience is intelligible precisely in this way. But in fact reflection on man’s consciousness of his interior drive to build civilization through art and science embodying beauty and truth manifests God’s concrete presence yet absence in man’s valuing process. This means that an ontological approach, but not the ontological argument as an argument, reveals that God’s presence in consciousness is the condition of possibility of any humanization of religious experience.

In conclusion, we can sum up some of the resources of a Whiteheadian approach to meet the contemporary problem of God. If man today is asking, can God’s existence be reconciled with man’s deepened experience of himself as free creator of the world, the Whitheadian approach with its notion of God’s persuasive personal action in the world, with its discovery of God’s presence yet absence in man’s creative activity, with its stress on the mutual immanence of God and the world, offers pathways for further development. If man today is asking, can God’s existence be accepted without destroying man’s dignity in his free creative role in the universe, the Whiteheadian approach with its unwillingness to make God an exception to metaphysics, with its rejection of God as an eminently real despotic ruler of the universe, with its view that God and man are the responsible co-creators of the universe, shows that man is not forced to choose between man’s dignity and God’s existence. If man today is asking can God’s existence be affirmed as transcendent without making God a functional element in an abstract scheme, it may be fruitful to realize that knowledge and experience of God involve a cyclic growth process from experience to schematization, from formulation to God present in the dynamism of man’s life and activity. Finally, if man today is searching for a living God of the future rather than an anthropomorphic God of frozen history, the growth process has begun. The Whiteheadian approach offers man a living God for today and tomorrow.



1. Henry Dumery, The Problem of God in Philosophy of Religion, tr., Charles Courtney (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1964), 7.

2. Ibid., 9.

3. This point is supported by James Collins’s study, The Emergence of Philosophy of Religion (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967).

4. John A. T. Robinson, Honest to God (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1963), 39.

5. Harvey Cox, The Secular City (New York: Macmillan, 1965), 77.

6. Gabriel Vahanian, The Death of God (New York: Braziler, 1957), 127.

7. Jean-Paul Sartre, Le diable et le bon Dieu (Paris, 1951): tr. Kitty Black, The Devil and the Good Lord (New York: Knopf, 1962).

8. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, In Praise of Philosophy, tr. John Wild and James M. Edie (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1963), 47.

9. Roger Garaudy, From Anathema to Dialogue, tr. Luke O’Neill (New York: Herder & Herder, 1966), 89.

10. Garaudy, 95.

11. Thomas J. J. Altizer, The Gospel of Christian Atheism (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966), 102.

12. Religion in the Making 62.

13. The Aims of Education and Other Essays 28-29.

14. The Aims of Education and Other Essays 29.

15. The Aims of Education and Other Essays 37.

16. Religion in the Making 49.

17. Religion in the Making 48.

18. Science and the Modern World 127.

19. Science and the Modern World 136.

20. Science and the Modern World 134.

21. John B. Smith, Experience and God (New York: Oxford, 1968), 81-89, discusses revelation in terms of this distinction.

22. Religion in the Making 55.

23. Emil L. Fackenheim, The Religious Dimension, in Hegel’s Thought (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967), 37 footnote.

24. Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 315.

25. Adventures of Ideas 203.

26. Adventures of Ideas 125.

27. This notion, borrowed from the legal notion in solido, has for its direct source H. W. Carr who used it to describe the interrelation of soul and body in man: "The term which seems best adapted to express the interaction of the mind and body is solidarity. The old legal meaning of this term fits the notion. It was originally a term of Roman and Civil law to express the character of a contract which in a single matter involved several obligations on the part of the debtors, with corresponding rights to the creditors. . . . The term solidarity means that diverse, even divergent, activities together bring to pass a single common result to which all the activities contribute without sacrificing their individual integrity." (See H. W. Carr, "The Interaction of Mind and Body," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, XVIII (1917-1918), 32.)

28. Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 64.

29. Science and the Modern World 121.

30. Adventures of Ideas 203.

31. Adventures of Ideas 355.

32. Adventures of Ideas 192.

33. Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 31.

34. Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 248.

35. Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 520.

36. Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 519.

37. Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 520.

38. This is developed by William A. Christian, An Interpretation of Whitehead’s Metaphysics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), 371-372.

39. C. Hartshorne, The Divine Relativity, 2nd ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964), 16. The question is discussed thoroughly on pages 1-59.

40. S. T., I. 13, 7 ad 4. Also see S.C. G., 11, chs. 11-14; DePot., q. 7 art. 8-11.

41. The basic argument is given in S. C. G., 11, 12.

42. S. C. G., 1,23;S.T., 1,3,6 resp.

43. S. C. G., I. 13.

44. K. Schmitz, "Weiss and Creation," Review of Metaphysics, 18 (1964), 147-169.

45. Ibid., 162.

46. For an excellent summary of this point, see P. Henry, St. Augustine on Personality (New York, 1960).

47. Adventures of Ideas 205-225.

48. Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 518.

49. Adventures of Ideas 386.

50. Adventures of Ideas 379.

51. Adventures of Ideas 348.

52. Adventures of Ideas 350.

53. Adventures of Ideas 351.

54. Adventures of Ideas 363.

55. Adventures of Ideas 363.

56. Ibid.

57. Adventures of Ideas 369.

58. Adventures of Ideas 380.

59. Adventures of Ideas 381.

60. Ibid.

61. Religion in the Making 105.

62. Cf Aime Forest. "St. Anselm’s Argument in Reflexive Philosophy," The Many-faced Argument. Eds. John Hick and Arthur C. McGill (New York: Macmillan, 1967) for an informative exposition of Blondel: "In the very depths of the act in which we become conscious of what we are, we recognize an interior beyond, since this is constitutive of the dynamism of our souls" (p. 281). A comparison between Blondel and Whitehead in this area remains to be done.

63. Process and Reality, An Essay in Cosmology 41.