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Alfred North Whitehead Quotes on Religion

Religion is the vision of something that stands beyond, behind and within, the passing flux of immediate things; something which is real, and yet waiting to be realized; something which is a remote possibility, and the greatest of present facts; something that gives meaning to all the passes, and yet eludes apprehension; something whose possession is the final good, and yet it is beyond all reach; something which is the ultimate deal, and the hopeless quest.

Alfred North Whitehead Science and the Modern World. P. 191. (published in 1925)

(Don’t be surprised if the sentences above have striking similarities to ideas mentioned in Brihadaranyaka and Mandukya Upanishads.)

Explanation of the above quote:

This passage beautifully captures the essence of religion as a profound human experience that transcends the mundane and offers a glimpse into the transcendent. Let's unpack it further:

Beyond, Behind, and Within the Passing Flux: Religion is portrayed as a perspective that looks beyond the surface level of everyday existence. It sees something deeper, something that exists both behind the immediate experiences of life and within them. This suggests that religious insight can reveal layers of meaning and significance that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Real yet Waiting to be Realized: Religion is described as something that is undeniably real, yet its full reality is not fully apprehended or realized by humanity. It implies that there is a truth or essence to religion that exists independently of human perception, and yet it requires a certain level of realization or awakening to fully grasp.

Remote Possibility and Present Fact: Here, religion is portrayed as both a distant, almost unreachable possibility and a tangible reality that is present in the here and now. This duality suggests that while religion offers the promise of ultimate fulfillment and meaning, it also has immediate relevance and impact on one's life.

Gives Meaning and Eludes Apprehension: Religion is said to provide meaning to existence, yet at the same time, it remains elusive and difficult to fully comprehend. This tension between meaning-making and the mystery of the divine is a central aspect of many religious traditions.

Final Good and Beyond Reach: Religion is depicted as the ultimate good, representing the highest aspirations of human existence. However, it is also portrayed as something that lies beyond human grasp, suggesting that the pursuit of religious understanding and fulfillment is a lifelong journey with no ultimate endpoint.

Ultimate Ideal and Hopeless Quest: Finally, religion is presented as both the ultimate ideal to strive towards and a quest that may seem hopeless in its magnitude. This paradoxical nature highlights the complexity and depth of religious experience, acknowledging both its transformative potential and the challenges inherent in pursuing it.

Overall, this passage captures the multifaceted nature of religion as a deeply human endeavor that encompasses both the profound and the mysterious aspects of existence.