“The task of reason is to fathom the deeper depths of the many‐sidedness of things.” (Process and Reality, 242).
Dear Professor Whitehead,
I am now reading your book Process and Reality. I am Christian influenced by Taoism and Buddhism. This is why I appreciate your ideas. Early in your book you say that you believe your perspective is closer to Asian points of view than Western points of view in many ways. I think you are probably right. You think in terms of events and interconnectedness rather than solid and static substances. This reminds me of the Book of Changes, which pictures the entire universe as a network of patterned events. I think of Process and Reality as a western, scientifically oriented Book of Changes.
I also appreciate your idea of God. It is intriguing to me that for you God is an Event, too, albeit an everlasting one. When I became a Christian I came to have faith in God. Some of my friends thought that my faith was a mere crutch. They said that I was not strong enough to stand on my own two feet. But I saw things differently. Somehow belief in God helped me become more courageous: to stand up for what I believe in, even if others disagree with me. I feel stronger, not weaker, through my faith.
Along with you, I think Jesus was pretty strong, too, and that his strength was the power of love not force. That’s one reason I became a Christian two years ago. I came to believe that love not force is the most powerful reality in the universe and I wanted to follow Jesus in the way of love. I didn’t tell anybody I was becoming a Christian. I don’t go to church. But I keep a Bible at the side of my bed and pray at night. When I pray I feel close to the everlasting Event.
One thing I also appreciate about your thinking is that you are very scientific. In my culture we place a great deal of emphasis on science and we are reluctant to embrace a perspective that seems un‐scientific. I am told that you began your own career as a mathematician and philosopher of science. They say that many people study your philosophy because it helps them unify religion and science. This makes me want to study you more. I major in biochemistry and hope to be a physician someday. Some of my classmates think of science as merely a tool, but I see it differently. Along with you, I see it as an adventure in ideas. I am told that you see science as an activity which human beings undertake with their minds, complementary to activities they undertake with their hearts. I get the feeling that for you science is like art or poetry. It is a creative process.
Of course, as you emphasize in your writings, science is also a rational process. In China today we like the idea of rationality. Some Chinese fear that, in the past, we neglected reason because we were too trapped in tradition and superstition. Maybe you know that there was a movement early in the twentieth century – we call it the May 4th Movement – in which intellectuals said that we should reject the cultural treasures of the past in the name of reason and progress. I myself believe in reason and progress, but not in rejecting the treasures of the past. Here I am influenced by a movement in China today called “constructive postmodernism.” It says that being “modern” is kind of old fashioned, and that it is more progressive to be postmodern, affirming the wisdom of tradition as well as the wisdom of modernity. If this is what it means to be postmodern, then I guess I am a postmodern Chinese Christian.
Yesterday a friend saw me reading your book and asked me what it was about. I said that it offers a cosmology that is very similar to traditional Chinese perspectives but also adds science to the mix. I explained that your purpose in writing the book was to show how people can affirm the truths of science, art, religion, and ethics. My friend asked if the book was based on reason or on wishful thinking. I said it was based on reason. My friend asked what I mean by reason, so I hope it is all right that I quoted you. On page 243 of Process and Reality you say the task of reason is to fathom “the deeper depths of the many‐sidedness of things.”
My friend asked what the English word fathom means. We looked it up in an English‐language dictionary, and discovered that it is an activity of trying to measure the depths of a body of water or, by analogy, to penetrate into the depths of things. I explained that, for you, science is one way of fathoming the many‐sidedness of things, with particular attention to their mathematical sides and that religion is another way of fathoming the many‐sidedness of things. It is a movement of the human spirit in which people try to find wisdom for daily life, in harmony with the wisdom of the universe. My friend then asked me if God was one of the many sides of the universe. I said “yes” and “no.” I said that, for you, God is not really a side of the universe, but rather a side without sides: like an Ocean including all the fish. The Ocean is not really to the right or the left, but is instead everywhere at once.
Am I right about this? If so, then it seems to me that, for you, God is not a supernatural reality but a deeply natural reality: as natural as the wind and stars, as natural as the Ocean. I am a fish swimming in the Ocean and you are, too, wherever you are. In writing Process and Reality you were very sensitive to the way in which Jesus reveals the Ocean. You said that Jesus reveals a side of the Ocean which “slowly and in quietness operates by love.” I see something of this side in the Buddha, too, and in my father.
My father is a member of the Chinese Communist Party. I don’t think he believes in God, at least in public. But I know he believes in the Ocean of Empathy because I see it in his kindness toward me. He has wanted to give his life to something important, something good. It troubles him that too many people in China are concerned with money and not enough with service to others. This takes me to still another aspect of your philosophy that I like. It seems to me that in your philosophy people can be receptive to God’s influence in their lives even if they don’t believe in God. And that God shares in their joys and sufferings, too. This idea has helped me treat my father with respect. I don’t agree with his atheism, but I agree with his love. So I simply want to thank you, wherever you are, for offering a way of thinking that allows me to say “yes” to my father, “yes” to science, “yes” to the wisdom of my tradition, and “yes” to Jesus. You’ve fathomed a lot, Professor Whitehead. May you rest in peace.
A Christian in Beijing