Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Whitehead’s discussion of his fourth stage of religious development, rationalization, shows his appreciation of Christianity most clearly. He regards the Bible as the consummate narrative of human progress from ritualistic to rational religion. As such, the Bible inspires its believers to move from communal toward solitary religion. He claims that the sacred texts of Islam and Buddhism perform a similar function, but do not succeed as well as the Bible. He sees Job, the Old Testament prophets, Jesus in the wilderness and on the cross, Saint Paul on the road to Damascus, Muḥammad in exile, and the Buddha under the bodhi tree all as excellent examples of the highest human spiritual achievement, the solitary awakening to the truth. He quotes with approval the famous saying in Amos 5:21-24 that God hates our religious feasts and rituals, but loves our righteousness and justice.

Whitehead claimed not to know much about Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel, yet his analysis of the historical development of religion in Religion in the Making is remarkably Hegelian. For both Hegel and Whitehead, progress occurs when a certain historical phase finds itself at an impasse and is forced by its own morbidity to reinvent itself as a new phase. In other words, when any movement becomes incapable of further development in its current trajectory, it must veer in a new direction if it is to preserve itself at all. Both see the world-historical progress from barbaric to rational religion in terms of inexorable historical forces that push the primitive toward the civilized, albeit with a few retrogressive periods of decline. Both also see the ultimate rational religion as Christianity, because it best fosters the refinement of the human spirit.