When you address me as “you” and speak of yourself as “I,” and when I  address you as “you” and speak of myself as “I,” only then do I begin to glimpse the fundamental and immeasurable import to being an “I” or a “you”. (Yes, there’s more than a hint of Martin Buber here.)

I am a differing version of you and others, as you and others are of me. We are differing versions of one another. None of us is the same; all of us are mingled. This is our constant experience, if we are attentive.

I can even say this of myself: When I talk to myself, think about myself, notice myself at all, the self I talk to, think about, notice, is a differing version of the self who talks, thinks, notices. I am a differing version of myself. Neither of us is the same; both of us are mingled.

We are likewise differing versions of countless others beyond us, as they are of us. While we may differ immeasurably, we also differ commonly.

We are likewise differing versions of the uniquely all-inclusive other, as the uniquely all-inclusive other is of us. While we may differ immeasurably, we also differ commonly. (This is a version of process theism.)

Our sense of moral devotion is the incipient realization that, as differing versions of one another, we are internalizing one another’s relationships, though the realization is often inconsistent. We more or less consistently desire helpful relationships, and abhor harmful ones, not just for us, but for the differing versions of us that we are internalizing.

Most of us notice this the moment some parent or teacher or peer asks, “How would you like it if somebody did that to you?” That question immediately changes our behavior, at least among those of us who are not budding sociopaths. That’s our growing sense of moral devotion, our sense of ourselves and others as versions of one another, albeit differing versions.

Our sense of moral devotion precedes a sense of obligation. We are obligated by our devotion, not by submission to an external command, not even to an internalized command.

Our sense of moral devotion precedes settled beliefs about God. We can begin to realize that, as differing versions of one another, we are internalizing one another’s helpful and harmful relationships, regardless of what we think of the uniquely all-inclusive other. We can question whether “the uniquely all-inclusive other” is a coherent concept, or (if coherent) whether this unique other is mingled with us enough to be of any noticeable concern, and still begin to realize that, as differing versions of one another, we are internalizing one another’s helpful and harmful relationships. With or without even thinking of the uniquely all-inclusive other, we can more or less consistently desire helpful relationships, and abhor harmful ones, not just for us, but for the differing versions of us that we are internalizing.

Nevertheless, theism, if consistent, maximizes this realization, and this realization, if consistently maximized, leads to a consistent theism: we and all others, including the uniquely all-inclusive other, are differing versions of one another, internalizing one another’s helpful and harmful relationships, desiring helpful relationships, and abhorring harmful ones, not just for us, but for all the differing versions of us that we are internalizing. While we may differ immeasurably, we also differ commonly.

Many types theism are not that consistent, however—they usually mix this internalized sense of moral devotion with externalized promises of reward and threats of punishment, which actually undercut our sense of moral devotion. And they fail to recognize God’s vulnerable involvement with us in mutually internalizing relationships. Process theism, however, does, I believe recognize this mutual, vulnerable involvement in a way that consistently maximizes this realization.

The task of religious leadership, and of moral leadership, is to encourage more consistency in this by raising awareness of it: we and all others are differing versions of one another, internalizing one another’s helpful and harmful relationships, desiring helpful relationships, and abhorring harmful ones, not just for us, but for all the differing versions of us that we are internalizing. While we may differ immeasurably, we also differ commonly. This matters more than whether or not we use the word “God.”