(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Religion in the Making is a transcription of four short lectures that Alfred North Whitehead gave in Boston in February, 1926: “Religion in History,” “Religion and Dogma,” “Body and Spirit,” and “Truth and Criticism.” His intent is philosophical, but his approach is historical. He perceives a sporadic yet inexorable progress through millennia from emotional to rational religion. Moreover, he sees religion as evolving from social and communal to individual and private. The more social, the more barbaric religion is; the more individual, the more civilized; the more communal, the more insipid; and the more private, the more rational. The pinnacle of civilization and rationality is introspective solitariness.

Whitehead begins “Religion in History” by defining religion in several ways, all of which relate to the basic transformation of the believing individual into a contemplative thinker. Above all, religious consciousness is characterized by absolute sincerity. These definitions refer primarily to the private, internal life of the individual, and only in a minor way to the doctrinal or external side of religion. Doctrine is significant only to the extent that it facilitates or promotes the renovation of the sincere individual spirit. Ultimately, religion in its highest development is equivalent to whatever each individual makes of solitariness. Social or shared forms of religion are decadent and often dangerous.

In history, and in every culture, religion proceeds through four universal stages. Whitehead explains that it begins as ritual, which is just the systematic uplifting of daily habit. Ritual gives way to emotion, which creates religion as a cohesive social institution. At this stage the passionate devotion of the believer is seen as the greatest good. Ritual stimulates emotion and emotion intensifies ritual. Neither has any intellectual content. To satisfy the basic human need for such content, the third stage, belief, appears. Belief is manifest as doctrine, which eventually invites philosophical criticism. This criticism appears at the final stage, rationalization, where God appears first as unknown and empty, then as the enemy, and at last as the friend.

At the...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Ford, Lewis S. Transforming Process Theism. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. A reinterpretation of Whitehead’s philosophy of religion by one of the preeminent Whitehead scholars of the twentieth century.

Franklin, Stephen T. Speaking from the Depths: Alfred North Whitehead’s Hermeneutical Metaphysics of Propositions, Experience, Symbolism, Language, and Religion. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1990. An advanced study of Whitehead’s philosophical and theological vocabulary.

Luft, Eric v. d. God, Evil, and Ethics: A Primer in the Philosophy of Religion. North Syracuse, N.Y.: Gegensatz, 2004. Sets the historical and philosophical context for Whitehead’s meditation on contemplative solitude.

Sia, Santiago. Religion, Reason, and God: Essays in the Philosophies of Charles Hartshorne and A. N. Whitehead. New York: Peter Lang, 2004. Attempts to understand from a theological angle the two main exponents of twentieth century process philosophy.

Thompson, Kenneth Frank. Whitehead’s Philosophy of Religion. The Hague, the Netherlands: Mouton, 1971. A broad consideration of Whitehead’s concept of God.

Wilmot, Laurence F. Whitehead and God: Prolegomena to Theological Reconstruction. Waterloo, Ont.: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1979. The perspective of a retired Anglican minister, dwelling on the relation of Whitehead’s metaphysics to Christian salvation.