by Austin Roberts
In recent years, I have become interested in the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze. What initially attracted me to his work was discovering that Deleuze considered Whitehead to be “the last great Anglo-American philosopher” of the 20th century, calling his magnum opus Process and Reality “one of the greatest works of modern philosophy.” As someone who has been influenced by many process theologians, I am inclined to agree with both of these claims. And upon immersing myself in Deleuze’s writings, it was not difficult for me to discern Whitehead’s influence on his thought. Indeed, I now think of Deleuze as presenting his own process cosmology – albeit one that does not initially seem to be very useful for theology.
While Deleuze is similar to Whitehead in many ways – with their shared emphases on becoming, events, creativity, and multiplicity – he differs when it comes to the question of God. On occasion, Deleuze seems close to pantheism, but he is more consistently interpreted as an atheist. His is a process philosophy that joyfully affirms the death of God. However, in one of his late writings, Deleuze approvingly writes of Whitehead’s unique concept of God:
“[In Whitehead’s] chaosmos…Even God desists from being a Being who compares worlds and chooses the richest compossible. He becomes Process, a process that at once affirms incompossibilities and passes through them. The play of the world…has become the play that diverges.” (The Fold, 81)
As such, Deleuze interprets Whitehead’s God as an immanent Process who insists on novel multiplicities – and not as an objective Being who controls or tames the “democracy of fellow creatures” under a transcendent plan. This is not an otherworldly deity projected in the image of an imperial king or moralistic judge, but a chaosmic God who loves the wildness of things, who is less interested in preservation than in evoking intensities (i.e., creatively contrasted differences). Not a mon-archical deity that merely sustains orders, but a riskier, more an-archical God who aims at the liberation of the world from dominating hierarchies and static self-sameness.
Beyond his provocative reading of Whitehead’s God, it seems to me that Deleuze’s unruly process thought can inspire theological imaginations in still other ways. By highlighting the radical excess of experience, Deleuze’s empiricism reminds us that reality cannot be captured within a single system of thought. Like makeshift rafts, theological concepts are useful for navigating the infinite ocean of becoming. If we are lucky, they might even help to release unforeseen possibilities and enable new experiences. But our concepts do not provide us with certainty, even as they can give “a little consistency to the chaos”, as Deleuze put it. I think this is what Whitehead was getting at when he argued that all concepts – theological or otherwise – are “metaphors mutely appealing for an imaginative leap.” But for persons of faith, this should not be shocking: for what is faith if not courageous trust in the face of objective uncertainty?