WHITEHEAD – THE PLAY

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(Text from Process and Reality, “God and the World”, by Alfred North Whitehead.)

Characters

F – A father, well educated, possibly in a teaching profession, late 40’s

S1 – Son #1, college graduate, early 20’s, academic temperament

S2 – Son #2, high school junior/senior, 16 to 18, the “romantic”

S3 – Son #3, middle schooler, 11 to 13 years old, smart but mischievous

Setting

The three brothers and their father are on a camping trip.

 

Act I
 

Opens with a camp fire burning low center stage. Slightly off center and behind the fire is a tent with its flaps closed. The inside of the tent is well lit, perhaps with Coleman Lantern(s). We can see shadows moving on the canvass and we can hear animated conversation but we cannot make out the words.

The flaps open and the father emerges, followed by S3, S2 and S1 in that order. Throughout Act I, the four move around the fire, alternately warming their hands and drawing back from the heat.

F: When the Western world accepted Christianity, Caesar conquered…The code of Justinian and the theology of Justinian are two volumes expressing one movement of the human spirit.

S2: The brief Galilean vision of humility flickered throughout the ages (slight pause) uncertainly.

S1: The church gave unto God the attributes that belonged exclusively to Caesar.

S2 (Insistently): There is however in the Galilean origin of Christianity yet another suggestion…It does not emphasize the ruling Caesar…It dwells upon the tender elements in the world which slowly and in quietness operate by love.

S1: It finds purpose in the present immediacy of a kingdom not of this world.

S2: Love neither rules (thoughtfully) nor is it unmoved.

S3 (Snickering at the repeated mention of ‘love’): …It is a little oblivious as to morals.

S2 (Ignoring S3 disdainfully): It does not look to the future for it finds its own reward in the immediate present.

There is a long pause before the father begins again.

F: God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse.

S1: He is their chief exemplification.

S2: He is not before all creation but with all creation

S1: He is the unlimited conceptual realization of…potentiality.

S2: He is the unconditioned actuality of conceptual feeling at the base of things.

S3 (Eagerly): So that there is an order?

All nod approvingly.

S2: He is the lure for feeling, the eternal urge of desire.

S1: …the initial object of desire…the initial phase of each subjective aim.

S3 (Snickering again and speaking with a sing-song lit): “…Object of desire…”

F (Visibly annoyed now with S3 but ignoring him and moving on): There is another side to the nature of God…we have been considering the primary action of God upon the world…But God, as well as being primordial, is also consequent.

S3 (Seeking to recover his lost approval and dignity speaks derisively…as if to say “Speak English”… and with a dismissive shrug): He is the beginning and the end!

All stop, a little amazed.

F: (Pleased that S3 is joining in but gently correcting): He is not the beginning in the sense of being in the past of all members…He is…in unison of becoming with every other creative act.

S1 (A bit surprised at his father’s implication): …There is a reaction of the world on God?

F: …The objectification of the world in God.

S2: He shares with every new creation its actual world…

F: …And the concrescent creature is objectified in God as a novel element in God’s objectification of that actual world.

S1 (Getting it now): God’s conceptual nature is unchanged…But his derivative nature is consequent on the creative advance of the world.

S3 (Confused and trying to catch up): He has a primordial nature…and a consequent nature?

S1 (Nodding to S3): The consequent nature of God is conscious; and it is the realization of the actual world in the unity of his nature and through the transformation of his wisdom.

F (Explaining to S3): One side of God’s nature is…free, complete, primordial, eternal…and unconscious. The other side… (he gestures palm up to S3)

S3 (Haltingly): …Determined?…incomplete…consequent…….everlasting?…and conscious!

They all give high fives to S3 and nod approvingly.

F (Clarifying further): His necessary goodness expresses the determination of his consequent nature…The perfection of God’s subjective aim issues into the character of his consequent nature. In it there is no loss…!

S2: The world is felt in a unison of immediacy.

S1: …Combining creative advance with the retention of mutual immediacy.

F: The wisdom of subjective aim prehends every actuality for what it can be in such a perfected system – its sufferings, its sorrows, its triumphs…moving onward…

S3 (Astonished): …And never perishing?

S2 (Trying to explain in simpler terms): … A tender care that nothing be lost.

S3 (Proposing an alternate, more traditional vision): The consequent nature of God is his judgment on the world!

They pat S3 on the shoulder but gently correct him.

S1 (Addressing S3): He saves the world as it passes into the immediacy of his own life.

F: (Pensively and wanting to respect S3’s viewpoint) It is the judgment…(pause) of a tenderness which loses nothing that can be saved.

S2: (Expanding) It is also the judgment of a wisdom which uses what in the temporal world is mere wreckage.

S1: Another image…required to understand his consequent nature is that of his infinite patience.

F: …the patient operation…of his conceptual harmonization.

S3 (Still struggling): He does not create the world, he saves it?

They all consider S3’s point momentarily

S2: …More accurately, he is the poet of the world…with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty and goodness.

 

Act II
 

Next day, the four are floating out on the lake in two row boats, fishing. In one boat, F and S3, in the other S1 and S2. The boats remain close together; after a few casts they resume their dialog.

F: Greek, Hebrew and Christian thought have alike embodied…notions of a static God condescending to the world.

S2: The consequent nature of God is the fluent world become everlasting by its objective immortality in God.

S1 (Wanting to balance S2’s vision): …The objective immortality of actual occasions requires the primordial permanence of God.

F: The everlastingness of passing experience…is the temporal world perfected by its reception and its reformation, as a fulfillment of the primordial appetition which is the basis of all…(pointing to P3)

S3: …Order?

Everyone laughs lightly but gestures approvingly.

F: In this way God is completed by the individual…and the temporal occasions are completed by their everlasting union with their transformed selves, purged into conformation with the eternal order which is the final, absolute…(pointing to P3)

This time S3 shrugs, silently.

S2 (Taking the mantle from S3): …Wisdom!

There is a bit of a pause and the four return to their fishing. Finally, F breaks the silence.

F: It is as true to say that God is permanent and the World fluent, as that…

He pauses hoping that one of the boys will finish his thought. No luck; so he repeats himself but this time with more emphasis.

F: It is as true to say that God is permanent and the World fluent…

S1 (Breaking in): …as that the World is permanent and God is fluent.

Satisfied, F continues

F: It is as true to say that the World is immanent in God (pointing to S2)…

S2: …as that God is immanent in the World?

F nods approvingly.

F: It is as true to say that God transcends the World…

S1 & S2 (In unison): …As that the World transcends God.

F: It is as true to say that God creates the World as that…(tapping S3 on the shoulder emphatically)

S3: …the World creates God?

F (Looking toward the other boat): …Each temporal occasion embodies God…(F waits disgustedly for P1 or P2 to weigh in)

P3: …(Jumping in) and is embodied in God?

F gives S3 a high five.

F: In God’s nature, permanence is primordial and flux is derivative from the World; in the World’s nature…

S2 (Regaining composure and looking disdainfully at S3): …Flux is primordial and permanence is derivative from God.

F: …The World’s nature is a primordial datum for God; and…

S1: …God’s nature is a primordial datum for the world!

F: God is…unity of vision seeking physical multiplicity.

S1: The World is the multiplicity of…actualities seeking a perfected unity.

F: Neither God, nor the World, reaches static completion. Both are in the grip of…the creative advance into novelty. Either of them, God and the World, is the instrument of novelty for the other.

S1: In every respect God and the World move conversely to each other…God is primordially one…he acquires a consequent multiplicity… The World is primordially many…it acquires a concrescent unity which is a novel occasion and is absorbed into the multiplicity…

F: The theme of Cosmology, which is the basis of all religions, is the story of the…World passing into everlasting unity and of the static majesty of God’s vision, accomplishing its purpose…by absorption of the World’s multiplicity….

 

Act III
 

Back on dry land, still daylight, taking down the tent and beginning to pack up their belongings. Everyone is quiet, tired from the physical exertion of the trip and the intellectual exhaustion of the conversation, until S3, still a bit confused, breaks the silence.

S3: The consequent nature of God is…God as really actual…?

Everyone looks up, surprised.

F (Pensively): …This discordant multiplicity of actual things (he gestures all around him with arm and hand out-stretched) requiring each other and neglecting each other, utilizing and discarding, perishing and yet claiming life as an obstinate matter of fact…are one actuality…

S2: …And the one actuality is many actualities.

S1: Each actuality has its present life and its immediate passage…

S3 (Interrupting to reassure himself that he is starting to follow): But its passage is not its death!

All gesture concurrence.

F: This final phase of passage in God’s nature…is the final end of creation.

S2: The sense of worth beyond itself…

They return to work but soon Father picks the conversation back up.

F: The universe is to be conceived as…the active self-expression of its own…opposites.

S1: …Its own freedom and its own necessity…

S2: …Its own multiplicity and its own unity…

S1: …Its own imperfection and its own perfection…

F: …All the opposites are elements in the nature of things and are incorrigibly there.

S1: …The concept of God is the way in which we understand…

S2 (Interrupting): …that what cannot be…

They all look to S3.

S3 (Nonchalantly but emphatically and triumphantly): …is!

Brief pause

F: The consequent nature of God is composed of a multiplicity of elements with individual self-realization.

S2 (Agreeing): It is just as much a multiplicity as it is a unity.

S1 (Taking things a step further): It is just as much one immediate fact as it is an unresting advance beyond itself.

S2: …The actuality of God must be understood as a multiplicity of actual components in the process of creation.

F: This is God in his function of the kingdom of heaven.

They go back to breaking down the camp site. Again, it’s Father who breaks in.

F: Each actuality in the temporal world has its reception into God’s nature. The corresponding element in God’s nature is not temporal actuality but is the transmutation of that temporal actuality into a living ever-present fact.

S1: …God’s nature is…a chain of elements for which succession does not mean loss…

S2: God’s nature inherits from the temporal counterpart according to the same principle as in the temporal world the future inherits from the past.

S3: …so the counterpart in God is…that person in God?

All nod. Now the work stops and F motions the boys to join him upstage. They look out at the wondrous nature before them, the vast sky, the snow-capped mountains, the dark forest, and as if addressing it (or the audience) they continue.

F: But the principle of universal relativity is not to be stopped at the consequent nature of God. This nature itself passes into the temporal world…There are…four creative phases in which the universe accomplishes its actuality.

F waits for his sons to pick up ball.

S1: …First the phase of conceptual origination.

S2: Secondly, there is the temporal phase of physical origination with its multiplicity of actualities…

F: …But there is deficiency in the solidarity of individuals with each other.

S1: Thirdly, there is the phase of perfected actuality in which the many are one everlastingly, without…any loss either of individual identity or of completeness of unity…immediacy is reconciled with objective immortality…

S2: …In the fourth phase, the creative action completes itself. For the perfected actuality passes back into the temporal world…so that each temporal actuality includes it as an immediate fact of relevant experience.

S3 (Joyously): …The kingdom of heaven is with us (now with great emphasis) today!

S2 (Pondering and speaking somewhat wistfully): …The love of God for the world!

F: What is done in the world is transformed into a reality in heaven and the reality in heaven passes back into the world.

S2: …The love in the world passes into the love in heaven…

S1 (Interrupting): …and floods back into the world.

F: In this sense God is the great companion –

S2: …the fellow-sufferer

S3 (Triumphantly): …who understands!

F: We find here the final application…of objective immortality…

S1: …The ever-present, unfading importance of our immediate actions…

S2: …Which perish…

S3: …And yet live for evermore!