Chapter 3: Man, The Family, Society, and the Man of Nazareth
What is man?
This is a question which has engaged the interest and attention of thinkers in all ages; and the answers which have been given to the question have been many and various. Few representatives of process-thought have devoted themselves to an extended consideration of the question, although almost all of them have made sufficiently clear the approach which they would take to answering it. One of the most explicit discussions of the matter is by Professor Hartshorne, who in a short but stimulating essay entitled "The Unity of Man and The Unity of Nature"(Included in The Logic of Perfection (Open Court Press, La Salle, Ind., 1962.) has dealt with some aspects of the meaning of human nature in relation to the cosmic setting for human life. Scattered references may be found in the writings of Professor Whitehead and these have been collected in a small volume called Alfred North Whitehead: His Reflections on Nature and Man.(Edited by Ruth Nanda Anshan [Harper & Row, New York, 1961]) Logic of Perfection(Open Court Press, La Salle, Ind., 1962.) Of course Père Teilhard had a full-length treatment in The Phenomenon of Man and an off-tangent discussion in The Future of Man as well as in The Divine Milieu, where his main interest however was in making sense of man’s religious experience and showing its abiding significance in a world which is in process. Much of what Teilhard says is of great importance. However, his primary concern is to portray man’s development and forecast man’s future in the light of evolutionary development yet also and specifically in the context of the Christian faith. In this lecture, which like the others in this series is intended as a general exposition of process views rather than a Christian development of them, we shall not make as full use of his teaching as we shall of that in other representatives of the school.
We start our exposition by reiterating that process-thought inevitably regards man not as a "thing" but as a living movement or process. That is to say, human nature is not taken as a static entity, a fixed substance, about which predications may be made with equal fixity. Man is a dynamic being; indeed it is more correct to say that he is "becoming man" than that he "is" man. Hence, if we wish to understand the meaning of manhood we must look to the movement from potentiality to actuality; we must seek to understand something of what psychologists would call "the dynamics of personality". The poet says that "man never is/but wholly hopes to be". The attitude which these words suggest is central in what process-thinkers say about human nature.
In consequence, therefore, man must first of all be seen as a finite process of becoming, with recognition of his dependence upon environmental factors both natural and historical. Certainly no man is isolated from nor independent of his environment; neither is he independent of the long series of past occurrences which have entered into the circumstances of his emergence as a thinking being who, possesses a certain quality of aesthetic responsiveness and a certain capacity for valuation. Man is more than an animal who can think. He is indeed the end-product of a long evolutionary development; yet his appearance as a genuine emergent has introduced novelties which are characteristic of human rather than animal existence. We shall speak of these in a moment.
Not only is man dependent upon his past and upon his present environment; he is also in himself a "projective movement" -- he looks to and moves towards the future. In other words, the very fact that he is in process implies that he has a drive towards fulfillment. He is made for something. One might put it in this fashion: the meaning of human nature is to be found in its ceaseless striving towards fulfillment in manhood. This is man’s subjective aim, to use again the Whiteheadian phrase. Man looks to, moves towards, and is identified by the fulfillment which will establish him as actually being what already he is becoming. Of course this must not be regarded as an always consciously present and vividly realized factor in his experience; most of the time, doubtless, any given man is not thinking about these things at all. But he is living with this reference implicit in all that he does, says, and thinks. This is his project, so to say. Interestingly enough, the Sartrian notion of man’s pour-soi or projective self, as distinguished from his sheer given-ness as en-soi, has a considerable similarity to the general process-idea which we are expounding, whatever may be the differences between the two in statement and interpretation.
Teilhard has spoken of man’s appearance from the realm of biological existence, which he calls the bio-sphere, as the appearance of the noo-sphere, the realm of thought. There can be no question that a specific, although not the only specific, quality of man as emergent is his ability to engage in conscious thought. Hence we may say that man is an unusually strange and complex being; his physiological existence is "complicated" by the presence of intellection, the activity in him which we call "mind". He can and he does think. But the description of man as a rational or intellectual animal, familiar in the Middle Ages, is dangerous unless full recognition is also given to the feeling-tones which are as much a part of human existence as is human rationality. Here once again there is a remarkable similarity between certain emphases in Whitehead as well as in other process-thinkers and the strong insistence of contemporary existentialism on the centrality of the "subjective" feelings and of self-awareness in human experience.
There is a further fact which requires attention. Man is a valuing creature. He is able to concern himself with goodness, truth and beauty -- to use the familiar platonic triad. He finds himself making judgements of good and bad, right and wrong; he speaks of truth and error; he is aware of harmony or beauty and disharmony or ugliness. Furthermore he is able to set before him "ideals", which he then seeks to achieve; and to envisage purposes which he accounts as good for him and also good in themselves, which he then feels called to pursue. He is able to appreciate; indeed it has been suggested that man might be described not so much as the rational animal as the appreciating animal. Doubtless all this has its basis in his instinctual life; nonetheless, the devotion which a man can develop towards that which he "likes" and which he finds "worthy" is at a different level and in a higher degree of intensity -- it is qualitatively of a different order -- than the apparently similar capacity of, say, a dog to react favorable or unfavorably to the various stimuli which are presented to it.
For process-thought, then, man is an organism with an aim. His physical, biological, psychological, and rational life, as well as the emotional and aesthetic aspects so basic to his existence, are more or less in process of integration into a unity of direction; and the "will" of man is directed towards the fulfillment of this aim in a fashion which he judges to be good. It is indeed possible for man to sink into sheer quasi-mechanical or quasi-biological responses; but deep in himself, and sometimes despite himself, he has the feeling that to sink to a level which is less than total organic response (including intellect and valuation) is nothing short of a denial of his manhood. It is hardly necessary to repeat that none of this need be vividly felt nor clearly recognized as present. Man’s purposive existence may express itself in all sorts of hidden ways and under many odd names. But it is there, none the less, as integral to his selfhood and as that which constitutes him distinctively as man.
Acting in and through nature, dependent on nature, existing as an historical being moving in process towards fulfillment, compounded of "body" and "mind", capable of appreciation, valuation, and feeling, man is also supremely a social creature. He is on the way to becoming human insofar as he is in deep communion with his fellows. The kind of individualism which would think of each man as being in and of himself a discrete entity is from the beginning ruled out by process-thought as an absurd impossibility. For in this philosophy, as we have seen, societal considerations are so important that any picture of man must not only include them but must include them in a very high degree of intensity. This is why family and friends, tribe and nation, and many other kinds of grouping are natural to man; indeed, they are essential in making him what he is and they are so much part of him that no man can be understood, or can understand himself, in isolation from these various groups to which by necessity he belongs.
This does not mean, however, that man is simply like an ant in an anthill. He is not lost in the mass of humanity, in which he would be so utterly submerged that he would also be in danger of losing whatever it is that gives him personal identity. On the contrary, it is precisely through his belonging with his fellows that he finds his identity. To be a person means not to be an individual in any isolationist or solitary sense, but to be open to, influenced by, and influencing, other men who are also persons. Each man has his own subjective aim; each man has his own fulfillment. But these are discovered by him in the company of others, with whom relationship is sustained on a more than merely external level. "Deepest commonalty", a phrase we have used earlier, is characteristic of human nature as we know and as we experience it in ourselves and as we observe it in the history of the human race.
Something must now be said of man in his sexuality, although so far as I know this has not been a matter of particular discussion by process-thinkers. Yet its importance in the process-view of man should be clear. The reality of human sexuality is a patent fact; and it would seem to be intimately tied in with man’s total organic movement, which as we have seen includes his physiology, biology, and psychology, as well as his appreciative (and hence his aesthetic), valuational, and feeling qualities. It is also associated with man’s drive to. wards the fulfilment which is available to him only in community or society.
Man certainly is a sexual being; but so also are apes. And so, for that matter, are "organisms" at lower levels of nature! But in man, sexuality is of a different sort from that of the ape. In man it is not simply the drive towards reproduction nor is it merely the satisfaction of physical needs or desires. It includes these, but in man as an emergent of the kind we have outlined, sexual instinct has as its context the thrust towards fulfillment in relationship with another of his own human kind. The feeling-tones and the physical acts associated with human sexuality are characterized by the possibility of self-giving and mutuality, reaching, finally to the establishment of faithful union of one person with another. In that union two lives are brought together in the deepest way, the physical relationship serving as the expression of a fully personal union involving and including the total life of each partner. This qualitative aspect of sexuality in man makes it different from sexuality in the animal world. And with it goes the place of the family in man’s existence. The family is the smallest group or society to which man belongs; but as anthropologists have lately been insisting, it is a society that is an enriching as well as an abiding factor in the history of the race from primitive times to the present day, however various may be the forms which in different cultures it has assumed.
Whitehead and others have written admirably of man in his societal development when it reaches the level of "civilization". So soon as the human race reaches the level of shared appreciation, ordered and agreed convictions as to ends or aims to be sought after and if possible achieved, and a pattern of common life in which the mutuality and sharing known at the personal level can be broadened in more or less formal communal patterns, we can speak of the appearance of civilization. The very word -- having to do with a "city" and hence indicative of social relationships of a high order of intensity -- shows that we have here a reflection of man’s integral belonging-with-others. Whatever may be the level of a given society, it can and does develop such sharing, such participation in agreed values, such mutuality in pursuit of them; and it leads to the appearance of a "culture" which expresses such agreements and aims at their implementation.
All this is clear enough when we consider the long story of man on this planet. As Teilhard has insisted, one of the important developments of the last few centuries of human history has been the growth of a world-view of civilization. Indeed such a view has become essential. The unity of the race, accomplished to a large degree through economic pressures, increased travel, mutual interdependence, and the like, has more and more become a possibility; and it has now been recognized as a necessity if wars are to be avoided, general peace ensured, and true human development allowed. Teilhard relates this movement towards the planetary unity of civilizations with what he describes as the increasing convergence of men in a consciousness which is super-individual and with the passing years more and more super-national; and he has some specifically Christian things to say about that movement and its meaning. But of the fact itself there can be little doubt, whatever may be our religious reading of its significance. The quality of such a world-civilization, along with that which is characteristic of smaller expressions of civilized human life, has been beautifully and movingly described in the last sections of Whitehead’s Adventures of Ideas.
One point, so far hardly mentioned in this discussion of man, needs to be introduced here. At any stage of development, man as a person in community and also the community of persons who are moving towards "civilization", may be deflected from following the main "aim", and hence may become either a backwater in the ongoing movement or be victims of maladjustment so serious that damage is done not only to the whole dynamic process but also to the smaller organisms or societies, including man himself as such an organic entity. The results can be tragic and terrible. Anti- social choices and anti-social patterns of behavior, by which we mean choices and patterns harmful to man in community and to each man in his own integration, have occurred and do occur. Through these choices and by acceptances of these patterns each man can harm himself as well as others. That is, he can (and observably he often does) elect to live in self-contained ways, denying his drive towards fulfillment in manhood, failing to share in rich commonalty with his fellows, seeking satisfactions which are so partial, limited, and defective that they impede and damage his basic drive as a total personal organism -- an organism which is on the way to realization of its richest and widest possibilities.
This is what the higher religions of man have called "sin"; it may be given some other name by so-called "secular" thinkers, but the fact itself is plainly to be seen and the tragedy of it is very clear. Process-thought has taken account of this in its own way. We have seen in an earlier lecture that the presence of "evil" is not for a moment denied in such thought; neither is there any minimizing of the reality of its effect in hindering the on-going of creative occasions, with the dreadful results that inevitably follow. It is also said by process-thinkers, however, that there are ways in which evil can be and is being absorbed by the Divine Activity and hence made eventually to serve good. This does not mean that there is no real loss; and it may be that some evil is not as such "redeemable". But a Christian reading of process-philosophy could very well make its own the words of the Psalmist, "God maketh even the wrath of man" -- and the maladjustment and failure in nature too, we might add -- "to turn to his praise" -- which is to say, to be mysteriously transmuted into opportunities and occasions for the realization of possible goods.
The various emphases to which we have alluded in this lecture have illustrated once again, I hope, the way in which process-thought finds the created order a unity of an organic kind and insists that God himself is the supreme exemplification of the principles needed to understand and explain that creation. For man here is both a microcosm of the universe and at the same time and in certain significant respects an anticipation of what Teilhard called the Omega-point or God. Mutual dependence and interdependence, deepening inter-relationship all along the line of advance, community or sociality, participation in a common life, the presence of a drive towards satisfaction of the subjective aim, and above all the directive or projective aspect which is so closely related to that aim: here we have "in little" what in the universe at large we find in other ways. Here too we have the reflection in manhood and in human society of the nature of Deity and the divine agency in the world.
We shall now turn to see how at least some process-thinkers are prepared to relate all this to the strange and compelling, yet unquestionably human, figure of Jesus of Nazareth. He is One with whom many of them feel obliged to come to terms, for (as Emerson once said) his name is "not so much written as ploughed" into the history and experience of the human race.
Many process-philosophers, a general summary of whose views we have been presenting in these lectures, are not directly interested in theological matters; many of them who are sympathetic to the insights of Christian faith would not wish to adopt for themselves the designation of "believing Christian". Why then should some of them write as they do about Jesus Christ? One would hardly expect a discussion either of the life or of the significance of Jesus of Nazareth in such philosophically oriented studies of nature and history, or even in what little about human nature they have written. It is all the more interesting, therefore, that we do in fact find in certain of these thinkers frequent reference to the Man of Nazareth and in one or two instances evaluations of his significance which one might expect more from theologians than from philosophers.
I believe that part of the answer to my question -- why some process-thinkers have written as they have about Jesus -- is to be found in some remarks from White-head which I shall quote later in this lecture. In the picture of Jesus presented to us in the gospels and treasured in the Christian "memory" (to use a word of Professor John Knox), they see a "revelation in act" of that which a sound philosophical understanding of the world can discern "in theory". But perhaps there is also something else. I have heard Professor Hartshorne say that one must take with the utmost seriousness two biblical texts: "God is love" (I John 4:16) and the "Great Commandment" ("Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind" [Matthew 22:37 and parallels]). The One who said the latter and who in his life embodied a human expression of the former is on any reckoning an "important" person. So a thoughtful man is led to ask who he is and what his life can mean.
Of course in one process-thinker we should be surprised if there were not such a theological interest -- Teilhard de Chardin, who was both a Christian and a Jesuit priest. In his writings there is explicit acceptance of the traditional Catholic doctrine about Jesus and yet also a development of that doctrine with special emphasis on the cosmic Christ adumbrated in the Pauline literature and expounded by Teilhard in the evolutionary perspective. We shall rely, however, on three representative English process-thinkers -- C. Lloyd-Morgan, Hartshorne, and Whitehead -- who are not theologians and whose interest is not directed specifically towards elucidating Christian ideas. The variety of their thought about Jesus will be apparent but so also will be their agreement that the person and action of Jesus is of importance in any thorough-going metaphysical system and above all in such a scheme as evolutionary or process views of the world demand. Our procedure will be by the use of quotations from each writer, followed by comment. I believe the quotations, in each case fairly brief, are indicative of the general position of the writers.
First, then, and very briefly, some words from Lloyd- Morgan. In concluding his Gifford Lectures (C. Lloyd-Morgan: Life, Mind, spirit [Williams & Norgate, London, 1911]) Lloyd-Morgan explicitly avows his own Christian faith and asserts that ". . . the Divine Personality shines through the Unique Individuality of the Christ". This statement he interprets in the light of his conviction that "to be emergent in some human persons falls within the Divine Purpose". The Nisus working through the whole course of events has in Jesus revealed himself in a specially vivid manner. This is perhaps the most definite statement from any process-thinker of the significance of Jesus. Yet Lloyd-Morgan is not alone in his estimate of the importance of Jesus for the philosopher who would take account of all the facts in nature, history, and human experience.
Professor Hartshorne, who has much more to say on this matter, believes that "the Christian idea of a suffering deity" "symbolized by the Cross, together with the doctrine of the Incarnation"(C. Hartshorne: Philosophers Speak of God, p. 15 [University of Chicago Press, 1953]) may legitimately be taken as a symbolic indication of the "saving" quality in the process of things which despite the evil that appears yet makes genuine advance a possibility. He tells us in Reality as Social Process (C. Hartshorne: Reality as Social Process, pp. 150-53[ Collier-Macmillan, New York, 1963]) that he is sure that "the doctrine of the Incarnation enshrined important religious truth"; on the other hand he is very doubtful whether the traditional dogma of "two natures in one person" can withstand criticism. None the less, he is prepared to allow the legitimacy of the language which speaks of Jesus as "in some sense" divine, provided we "remember that in some sense or degree every man" may also be said to be divine. He has other objections of this same sort to traditional theological interpretations -- objections with which one must have a large measure of agreement. I have myself discussed these at some length in a book (W. Norman Pittenger: The Word Incarnate [James Nisbet & Co. Ltd., and Harper & Row, New York, 1959]) on the person of Christ; a consideration of them would not be relevant in our present context.
Yet for Professor Hartshorne, and I give here an extended quotation,
"Jesus was a man who suffered, mentally and physically, in intense degree, and not alone upon the cross. Thus his acceptance of suffering symbolizes the supreme value of humanity. The first of men dies the death of a slave. But should we not go further. Jesus was termed the Christ, the self-manifestation of God."
Hartshorne remarks that while "many theological and philosophical doctrines" of the traditional kind have asserted that "being divine means precisely, and above all, being wholly immune to suffering in any and every sense", yet in his judgement the insight of faith in Jesus as the Christ would rather point logically to the truth that "there must be suffering in God". Jesus himself "nowhere asserts or, so far as I can see, even suggests that God is immune to feeling, suffering, or passivity". Hence if Jesus is to be taken seriously as a disclosure in symbol of the divine, God as Jesus reveals him as one who shares in human anguish even though this is not the last word.(All these citations are from the essay "A Philosopher’s Assessment of Christianity" in Religion and Culture, p. 175 (S.C.M. Press, London, 1959 and Harper & Row, New York).
Again, in Reality and Social Process, Hartshorne says that while he himself has no special christological formulation to offer the reader, he would make
"the simple suggestion that Jesus appears to be the supreme symbol furnished to us by history of the notion of a God genuinely and literally sympathetic (incomparably more literally than any man ever is), receiving into his own experience the suffering as well as the joys of the world."(Page 24).
He affirms his own conviction that "Jesus was, and can still be, a living and unique symbol";(Page 152.) and he argues that the doctrines about him "name a mystery which is felt rather than thought; and people may very well feel differently about different ways of phrasing the mystery". There can be no doubt of the importance which Hartshorne finds in the life of Jesus nor of the Christian intention in his writings.
We have left to the last a remarkable paragraph from Whitehead, found in Adventure of Ideas.(A. N. Whitehead: Adventures of Ideas (Cambridge University Press, 1933). Whitehead’s views we have found very useful in these lectures. Whether at the end of his life Whitehead would have thought of himself as a Christian is a debatable matter. Some have considered that his comments in the reported dialogues with Lucien Price clearly show that he was not then a Christian. However this may be, his many references to Jesus seem to me of singular interest; and as a matter of fact I believe that Whitehead was and remained a Christian, although not an "orthodox" one.
In the chapter in Adventures from which I shall quote, Whitehead is speaking of the contribution of early Christian thought to the developing understanding of the nature of the world’s relationship to God. He will go on, in later pages, to make a case for the importance of this contribution for our own time and even to align himself, although with some reservations, with the need for what he calls a "new reformation". I do not know whether this phrase -- so often heard to-day and used by him in 1933 -- had here its first appearance in modern writing. However, this "new reformation", he believes, will incorporate the early Christian insights but will provide for them a new philosophical context in the light of science, philosophy, and other modern ways of seeing the creation and the relationship of God to that creation. Then come these important words:
"The essence of Christianity is the appeal to the life of Christ as a revelation of the nature of God and of his agency in the world. The record is fragmentary, inconsistent and uncertain. -- - But there can be no doubt as to what elements in the record have evoked a response from all that is best in human nature. The Mother, the Child, and the bare manger: the lowly man, homeless and self-forgetful, with his message of peace, love and sympathy: the suffering, the agony, the tender words as life ebbed, the final despair: and the whole with the authority of supreme victory."(Op. cit., page 214.)
I shall not comment on the great insight found in these beautiful words, save to remark that they seem to me to sum up most of what a Christian would wish to say about Jesus. But the point of the quotation, for our present purpose, is found in the first sentence. The "essence of Christianity" is seen by Whitehead as being "the appeal to the life of Christ as revelation of the nature of God and of his agency in the world". There can be little question that Whitehead himself accepted this; he believed that the tenderness, sympathy, and love which were shown in Jesus’ life and death are in fact the disclosure of the nature of the Divine Reality who is the chief -- although not the only -- principle of explanation for all that has been, is, and will be. Furthermore, he believed that the "agency" of God in the world -- or what in an earlier lecture we have called "the Divine Activity" -- is also of the kind disclosed in the life to which the New Testament bears witness. God in his working, and in his ways of working, is persuasive not coercive power; he is that creative, dynamic, energizing love which was seen by men in the person of Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ’s own working and ways of working. In fact, on the very same page, Whitehead goes so far as to assert that Jesus was the "revelation in act" (that is, in concrete historical occurrence) of what others, and here he cites Plato, have discerned "in theory". This acceptance of what he takes to be "the essence of Christianity" explains why it is possible for Whitehead, in other books such as Religion in the Making and in the chapter on science and religion in Science and the Modern World, to reveal himself as generally sympathetic to the Christian enterprise. At the same time he has his own very serious reservations and questions, some of which are frankly stated in these particular books, as they are elsewhere in Adventures of Ideas and in some of the "table-talk" recorded by Lucien Price in the dialogues.
One of these difficulties comes from his conviction that there is a very sharp contradiction between the despotic deity who as he thinks is dominant in the Old Testament literature and the picture of a loving God taught and revealed by Jesus. It is not, I think, that Whitehead is a modern Marcionite, who would have two "gods": one the creator god of the Old Testament, the other the loving redeemer god of the New. On the contrary, as it seems to me, Whitehead’s intention is to say that in much of the Old Testament the nature of the Creator was seriously misunderstood; he was thought of after the model of an oriental sultan because the writers in many instances failed to develop whatever insights they possessed into his nature as creative love. We may wish to disagree with this criticism but we must concede that the "first lessons" in Matins and Evensong which Whitehead had heard read at church-services in his youth could certainly have given him the impression which he seems to be reporting here.
Another difficulty for Whitehead follows from his uncomfortable feeling, more often hinted than actually expressed, that in traditional Christian theology Jesus has usually been seen as the great anomaly. He is assumed to be the exception to everything else men have learned about God’s nature and his "agency". Despite verbal insistence on his humanity, he tends to be portrayed as one who is un-related to the human race save as being intrusive into our midst. As a special case in the sense of being totally unique, he is thought of as the entirely extra-ordinary "act of God" rather than as the exemplary instance of self-disclosure by God. As we noted in an earlier lecture, for Whitehead God himself is not an exception to basic metaphysical principles but rather is their supreme exemplification. So too, it seems to me, he regarded Jesus as being the supreme exemplification, but definitely in terms of genuine human life and experience, of the way God always is and always works. For a Whiteheadian and indeed for any process-thinker, any claim for the uniqueness of Jesus and any notion of his "finality" would require careful re-statement if they are to be accepted; they would need to be brought into congruity with the general line of thought appropriate to such a view of the world as the evolutionary and societal interpretation would provide.
But to return to Whitehead’s explicit position, we should observe that he believed that the great virtue of Christianity has been that it is not so much a metaphysic seeking some historical grounding as it is an historical fact and focus (found in Jesus) seeking for metaphysical explanation. The point here, in his own words, is that "Christ gave his life: it is for Christians to discern the doctrine".(A. N. Whitehead: Religion in the Making, p. 56 [Cambridge University Press, 1926]). On the other hand, the metaphysic which Whitehead -- and with him other philosophers of process -- believe to be valid is indeed a metaphysic which is congruous with what is thus disclosed in Jesus.
We have, then, a sort of two-way movement. We can proceed from what men have found in the impact of Jesus. They have been led, often unwillingly, to affirm that Love in its infinite capacity for relationships and its profound participation in that in which it is at work, is the very nature of God himself; they have found in that love the clue to God’s way of working in the world. Or on the other hand, we can proceed from what we know about the world itself, about human history, and about human experience. Here the thinker is led to the conclusion that the only adequate explanatory principle of the creation is an energy which is patient, tender, participant, ceaselessly at work in the world, enhanced by that world’s happenings as they provide new ranges of possible ways of adjustment, and moving always towards greater good in every nook and cranny.
It is in this context that at least some process-thinkers are prepared to set Jesus of Nazareth. For the Christian, and a fortiori for the Christian understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ person and work, it may well be that they have made a significant contribution to which we should give the most serious attention.