Below, I’m sharing my response to a student in my course this semester.
I cannot thank you enough for sharing your childhood experiences of religion with us. Know that you are certainly not alone in having been so mistreated and shamed by repressive patriarchal dogmatism. I am so glad you were able to find your own vibrant spirituality in life.
People become “religious” for different reasons. Some, out of fear and hatred for life’s creative ambiguities, commit to believing the most absurd simplicities and shaming those who refuse to believe because it grants them some sense of certainty, superiority, and purpose (however fragile and shallow). Others, in loving embrace of this same ambiguity, commit to an open faith in the possibility of deep healing both at the everyday personal level and at the apocalyptic cosmic level.
“Apocalypse” is a trope used by the first type of religious person as a scare tactic to get others to conform to their simple story of who is saved and who is damned.
The second type of religious person can draw upon this same trope and emphasize a different sort of revelation. When Whitehead describes God’s dipolar nature, he does not mean to point toward some rarified abstract idea, whether to an act of pure creation from nothing in the distant past, or to a final resolution of all conflict in the distant future. He is trying to describe the deep structure of our experience right here, right now. We should not misunderstand the true significance of God’s immanence in each occasion of our experience. Remember Whitehead’s critique of the fallacy of simple location. The “here and now” of divine action and relation is eternally present. Infinity is not far away, not “too big” for us to grasp; no, it is too intimate, too close, closer than we (usually) are to ourselves. Whitehead is saying that we need not await the apocalypse because the revelation is within and around us in each moment. If there is a heaven and a hell, these, too, are within and around us in each moment, dependent upon our mode of participation in the relational process of reality. When we live in fear, we are condemned to hell. When we live in love, we are welcomed into heaven.
This is how I hear Whitehead’s invitation to a new kind of theology, at least.