- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Fordham University Press; 2nd edition (1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0823216462
- ISBN-13: 978-0823216468
- Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.8 x 5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,905 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Religion in the Making: Lowell Lectures, 1926 2nd Edition
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“Packed with learning and bristling with concise reasoning, almost every page of this book furnishes an opinion or a conclusion which could be developed into a lengthy chapter.” (―The New York Times)
"This 1996 edition of Whitehead’s 1926 Lowelllectures offers a fresh opportunity to read and reconsider a seminal text in American philosophy. It contains an excellent introduction . . . Jones’s commentary is fair-minded, well written, and thought-provoking.” (―Religious Studies Review)
Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was a prominent English mathematician and philosopher. Religion in the Making, which originated in a series of four lectures delivered in King's Chapel, Boston, during February 1926, constitutes an exploration of the relationship between human nature and religion. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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In and of itself, there are four factors to religion: Ritual, emotion, belief and rationalization. All of these are put together differently in different religions and in different times, but there is also something of historical note to these four factors, as well. These four factors have a more general thesis in common -- that “The dogmas of religion are the attempts to formulate in precise terms the truths disclosed in the religious experience of mankind” (47). Whitehead believes these four to have arisen in humanity respectively. In its earliest seeds, religion is mere ritual, possibly with a tinge of emotion (9). At some point in the evolution of that religion emotion begins to play a larger part and eventually “takes the lead” (9). Emotion “waits upon the ritual” and provides a reason to continue the ritual. Emotion and ritual reinforce each other. Yet, emotion also can help to dispel ritual (10). Of this period, Whitehead writes, “It was a tremendous discovery – how to excite emotions for their own sake, apart from some imperious biological necessity” (10-11). To account for the combination of ritual and emotion, belief arises. Belief has an explanatory focus of this combination of ritual and emotion (9). Attendant with this belief is rationalization, which acts as a method of explaining the use of belief on the religious paradigm. The myth oftentimes is demanded by the arisen rationalization. The emotions that originated from the ritual, and which helped to continue and affirm the ritual explains both. So, the myth is a method of rationalization for the primitive religion. The myth may or may not be true. In fact, there are degrees of truth when it comes to the myth, for many of them are not remembered clearly. The myth has “various grades of relationship to actual fact . . .” (15). And at times, the myth can precede the ritual (15). The ritual in addition to the myth introduces hero-worship. This combination “is the primitive worship of the hero-person or the hero-thing” (15).
Hero-worship religion, Whitehead believes, marks a “new formative agent in the ascent of man . . .” (16). Religion now goes beyond the merely empirical, “beyond immediate sense and perception” (16). Rationalism introduces the purpose of religion: Solitariness (18). Christianity is the best example of rationalism entering into a religion (19-20). The purpose of this rational component in religion is what many now would term “worldview.” The rational component is concerned with “a coherent ordering of life” (20). This ordering should make sense of thought and have a role involved in ethics. It “appeals to the direct intuition of special occasions and to the elucidatory power of its concepts for all occasions (21).
As said earlier, dogmas are the outcome of religious experience. Particularly, rational religion is “founded on the concurrence of three allied concepts in one moment of self-consciousness . . .” (48). The first concept is “the value of an individual for itself” (48). The second value is the “value of the diverse individuals of the world for each other” (48). This is a value that speaks of the fundamental interrelatedness of all things – a metaphysical presupposition for Whitehead (or a conclusion of more basic metaphysical principles). Finally the third value is the “value of the objective world” which is made of these interrelated occasions (48). This rational religious consciousness begins axiologically, beginning from the value of the person to the value of the world, which the society (of actual occasions) as person is an objective part of (49). And if one returns to one of Whitehead’s descriptions of religion (that religion is a person in solitariness), we this axiological notion. “In its solitariness the spirit asks, What, in the way of value, is the attainment of life?” (49). And if the individual has value in and of itself, and the individual is objectively interrelated with the rest of the world, then the objective world must have intrinsic value. Religion, therefore, “is world-loyalty” (49).
Thus, Whitehead’s “religion” and metaphysical worldview are highly axiological. “The metaphysical doctrine, here expounded, finds the foundations of the world in the aesthetic experience . . . and the moral order is merely certain aspects of aesthetic order” (91). Thus morality is subsumed under aesthetics. God initiates this aesthetic order and the aesthetic order is “derived from the immanence of God” (91-92). Each occasion has aesthetic value. Freedom seems to be one of his qualities assumed in this aesthetic quality. For example, the mind “must be a route whose various occasions exhibit some community of type of value” (95-96). In other words, the grouping of occasions making up a particular mind exhibit the same type of value or exhibit similarity with one another, and offer value and freedom. Of course, Whitehead does not dismiss the effect of the environment on the occasion (the present has only so many choices for novelty and initial aims – because the present is the becoming of the past). He says, “. . . the environment will also partially determine the forms of the occasions. But that which the occasions have in common, so as to form a route of mind or a route of matter, must be derived by inheritance from the antecedent members of the route” (96). Nevertheless, freedom is an inherent quality in the universe. The universe “exhibits a creativity with infinite freedom, and a realm of forms with infinite possibilities” (106).
Contrasting Christianity with Buddhism, Whitehead aptly notes one difference between the two. Christianity “has always been a religion seeking a metaphysic, in contrast to Buddhism which is a metaphysic generating a religion” (39-40). In the context of discussing rational religion, he writes, “. . . religion bases itself primarily upon a small selection from the common experience’s of the race (20-21). So, Whitehead believes that Christianity is a rational religion – which is a religion primarily designed as a worldview – concerned with a “coherent ordering of life” (20). In this way, Christianity can be said to explain some things of life, and not others, “a small selection from the common experiences of the race” (20-21).
Christianity has kept “its metaphysics subordinate to the religious facts to which it appeals” (60). The problem for Whitehead, is that he does not believe that Christianity offers enough in the way of knowledge of the world in ‘adopting’ just the religious basics. Because “It is impossible to fix the sense of fundamental terms except by reference to some definite metaphysical way of conceiving the most penetrating description of the universe”, rational religion (Christianity) “must have recourse to metaphysics
for a scrutiny of its own terms” (66-67). Rational religion must be a complete metaphysical system; it “requires a metaphysical backing” because “its authority is endangered by the intensity of the emotions which it generates . . .” (71).
Religious dogmas are existentially defeated by the problem of evil, Whitehead believes. He writes, “All simplifications of religious dogmas are shipwrecked upon the rock of the problem of evil” (65). Any hint of determinism in the world makes God an agent actively involved in evil. “If the theory of complete determinism . . . holds true, then the evil in the world is in conformity with the nature of God” (82). Contrary to Augustine, who held that evil is not something itself positive (like darkness, which is the absence of light), Whitehead argues that evil is “positive and destructive”, and he links the good with what is “positive and creative” (83). Therefore, Whitehead builds a moral and axiological fortress around his own metaphysics. By defining the good with what is “positive and creative” he is thereby implying that any system which does not hold to creativity and novelty is inherently evil – or at least the responsible agent possesses some form of evil (i.e., God). Of course, as noted above, Whitehead subsumes morality under aesthetics, so that any other system than his seems to possess an inherent aesthetic, and therefore moral, flaw.
God and the world are the foundations of value for Whitehead. Since God includes the universe within himself, He must “include all possibilities of physical value conceptually, thereby holding the ideal forms apart in equal conceptual realization of knowledge” (137-138). God gives way or saves the world by his “harmony of valuation” (138). In this way God “gains his depth of actuality” (138). Whitehead believed that because God is actual, “He must include in himself a synthesis of the total universe” (85). God, by himself, is incomplete, the process theologian believes (85-86). For the process theologian, God is also infinite, but infinity is also redefined in a quantitative sense, rather than a qualitative sense. In other words if God is infinite, he is all. This is why Whitehead says “If He were [infinite], He would be evil as well as good” (138).
I think that RIM is another great work of Whitehead and anyone who seeks to understand his thoughts should read this work. Here Whitehead lays in a less dense fashion his metaphysic, the nature of the universe, God and the world's relationship and seeks to explain the phenomenon of religion in his terms.
However, his work suffers from some serious flaws. First, Whitehead does not succeed in his primary definition of religion (justification). In some eastern religions, the self is an illusion, and thus there nothing to ultimately better. Further, his simplistic definition would render various secular approaches to life as religion, such as humanism or modern-day liberalism (both of which function as a religion existentially). There simply has been no definitive work on what constitutes ‘religion’, and thus, as a broad outline of this work, it fails.
Secondly, his factors for the evolution of religion are unverifiable. This is all the more problematic given the empiricist bent of his approach to knowledge. His idea that religious dogma is based upon experience is not true for everyone. For example, the parousia is a widely held dogma of the Christian Church, yet it has yet to be experienced. It is 'pick and choose' empiricism. And his four factors in religion are often unverifiable in a similar way.
Finally, I would have to disagree with Whitehead’s accounting of the nature of evil and his idea of the infinity of God. I am unsure why Whitehead thought to give an account of the infinity of God in a quantitative sense, rather than a qualitative one. Further, this idea lends to some equivocation on the use the term ‘infinite’ - for when speaking of the ‘infinite’ freedom of the world, he does not use infinite in the same sense.
I think critiquing his metaphysics is better left to Process and Reality rather than here.
He wrote in the Preface, “This book consists of four lectures on religion delivered in King’s Chapel, Boston, during February, 1926. The train of thought which was applied to science in my Lowell Lectures of the previous year, since published under the title, Science and the Modern World, is here applied to religion. The two books are independent, but it is inevitable that to some extent they elucidate each other by showing the same way of thought in different applications. The aim of the lectures was to give a concise analysis of the various factors in human nature which go to form a religion, to exhibit the inevitable transformation of religion with the transformation of knowledge, and more especially to direct attention to the foundations of religion on our apprehension of those permanent elements by reason of which there is a stable order in the world, permanent elements apart from which there could be no changing world.”
He states in the first lecture, “A religion, on its doctrinal side, can thus be defined as a system of general truths which have the effect of transforming character when they are sincerely held and vividly apprehended.” (Pg. 15)
In the second lecture, he observes, “The main difficulties which the Semitic concept has to struggle with are two in number. One of them is that it leaves God completely outside metaphysical rationalization. We know, according to it, that He is such a being as to design and create this universe, and there our knowledge stops. If we mean by his goodness that He is the one self-existent, complete entity, then He is good. But such goodness must not be confused with the ordinary goodness of daily life… The second difficulty of the concept is to get itself proved. The only possible proof would appear to be the ‘ontological proof’ devised by Anselm, and revived by Descartes… Most philosophers and theologians reject this proof.” (Pg. 68-69) The second lecture concludes by stating, “Religion is the direct apprehension that, beyond such happiness and such pleasure, there remains the function of what is actual and passing, that it contributes its quality as an immortal fact to the order which informs the world.” (Pg. 77-78)
In the third lecture, he explains, “God… must include in himself a synthesis of the total universe. There is, therefore, in God’s nature the aspect of the realm of forms as qualified by the world, and the aspect of the world as qualified by the forms. His completion… must mean that his nature remains self-consistent in relation to all change. Thus God is the measure of the aesthetic consistency of the world… If we trace evil in the world to the determinism derived from God, then the inconsistency in the world is derived from the consistency of God. Also the incompletion in the world is derived from the completion of God. The temporal world exhibits two sides of itself. On one side it exhibits an order in matter of fact, and a self-contrast with ideals, which show that its creative passage is subject to the immanence of an unchanging actual entity. On the other side its incompletion, and its evil, show that the temporal world is to be construed in terms of additional formative elements which are not definable in the terms which are applicable to God.” (Pg. 95-96) He adds, “The purpose of God is the attainment of value in the temporal world.” (Pg. 97)
He says (in perhaps his only direct statement on human immortality), "Also at present it is generally held that a purely spiritual being is necessarily immortal. The doctrine here developed gives no warrant for such a belief. It is entirely neutral on the question of immortality... There is no reason why such a question should not be decided on more special evidence, religious or otherwise, provided that it is trustworthy. In this lecture we are merely considering evidence with a certain breadth of extension throughout mankind." (Pg. 110-111)
He concludes the third lecture on the note, “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 this truth. That the order of the world, the depth of reality of the world, the value of the world in its whole and in its parts, the beauty of the world, the zest of life, the peace of life, and the mastery of evil, are all bound 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 are together impotent to achieve actuality apart from the completed ideal harmony, which is God.” (Pg. 114-115)
In the final lecture, he states, “The limitation of God is his goodness… It is not true that God is in all respects infinite. If He were, He would be evil as well as good… He is something decided and is thereby limited. He is complete in the sense that his vision determines every possibility of value… The kingdom of heaven is God. But these forms are … realized by him … as elements in the value of his conceptual experience.” (Pg. 147-148) He continues, “The kingdom of heaven is not the isolation of good from evil. It is the overcoming of evil by good... God has in his nature the knowledge of evil, of pain, and of degradation, but it is there as overcome with what is good… Every event on its finer side introduces God into the world… He adds himself to the actual ground from which every creative act takes its rise. The world lives by its incarnation of God in itself… He is the realization of the ideal conceptual harmony by reason of which there is an actual process in the total universe---an evolving world which is actual because there is order... Apart from God, there would be no actual world; and apart from the actual world with its creativity, there would be no rational explanation of the ideal vision which constitutes God… God in the world is the perpetual vision of the road which leads to the deeper realities.” (Pg. 149-151)
This short book will be of most interest to persons studying Process Philosophy, or Whitehead’s philosophy in general; but other persons interested in progressive forms of spirituality may find much in it to appreciate.