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The Theology of Charles Hartshorne

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The following excerpts are from the writings of Charles Hartshorne. To read more about Hartshorne’s life and work, click here.

Secular knowledge supports the religious idea of God if, and only if, by religion is meant something quite distinct from what has passed as orthodox theology.

My conviction is that a magnificent intellectual content—far surpassing that of such systems as Thomism and positivism—is implicit in the relgious faith most briefly expressed in three words: God is love.

Under present world conditions it may seem peculiarly difficult to conceive of divine love. but divinity is not the privilege of escaping all sufferings but the exact contrary of sharing them all. Faith in love is not belief in a special kind of magic. Social awareness is the essence of God and the human ideal.

Love is desire for the good of others, ideally all others. Being ethical does not mean never injuring anyone; for the interests of others may require such injury. Being ethical means acting from love; but love means realization in oneself of the desires and experiences of others, so that one who loves can inflict suffering only by undergoing suffering oneself, willingly and fully.

Love involves sensitivity to the joys and sorrows of others. The ultimate motive is love, which has two equally fundamental aspects, self-love and love for others. Neither is ever in human affairs totally unmixed with the other.

God is not the being whose life is sheer joy and beauty, but the cosmic sufferer.

The cosmos is held together by love. Cosmic being is cosmic experience, is cosmic sociality or love. Love is the highest wisdom and the most far-reaching power.

All meaning implicitly asserts God, because all meaning is nothing less than a reference to one or other of the two aspects of the cosmic reality, what it has done or what it could do—that is, to the consequent or primordial natures of God.

The world as preserving its identity through all transformations is infinitely endowed with power to assimiIate variety into unity. Indeed, the world in this sense is identical with God . God is the self-identical individuality of the world somewhat as a person is the self-identical individuality of his or her ever changing system of atoms.

Does this not introduce tragedy into God? Yes, existence is tragic for God. It is tragic for any being that loves those involved in tragedy. And this is why we can literally love God, because we are parts of God’s internal life.

God is the socially differentiated whole of all things which only love of all things can explain. We are parts of God, God as a unity in variety.