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Dialogues between Faith and ReasonThe Death and Return of God in Modern German Thought$

John H. Smith

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780801449277

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9780801449277.001.0001

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Logos as Spirit (Geist)

(p.95) Chapter 4 Hegel
Dialogues between Faith and Reason

John H. Smith

Cornell University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines how Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel came to embrace the notion of God's logos as spirit (Geist). To understand Hegel's approach to religion, it shows how his conception of God is defined in terms of Geist and goes on to review the significance of that concept in terms of uniting the oppositions maintained by previous theologies. It also considers how Hegel arrived at this philosophical and theological concept himself through a process of intellectual development, from his theological manuscripts to his later philosophy of religion. It argues that Hegel's God is spiritual in a new sense defined by him, that is, religion is defined in terms of a living Geist that is both objective and subjective, transcendental and concrete. For Hegel, God reveals himself in the historical unfolding of a spirit, which is both substance and subject. His philosophy is one of the greatest modern attempts to save Christianity by grounding the identity of logos and God in a notion of absolute spirit.

Keywords:   spirit, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, God, logos, religion, Geist, philosophy of religion, Christianity

God is dead. Negation is within Spirit itself. (Gott ist tot. Die Negation ist in Geist selbst.)

Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Religion (Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion)

A contradiction between thought and faith, thinking and believing, is therefore the most torturous alienation [diremption] in the depths of Spirit. (Ein Widerspruch des Denkens gegen diesen Glauben ist daher die qualvollste Entzweiung in den Tiefen des Geistes.)

Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Beweise vom Dasein Gottes (Lectures on the Proofs of God’s Existence)

We can get an initial sense of Hegel’s position within the long development of theological thought that we have been pursuing by considering again some passages from Goethe’s Faust that capture what Hegel would have called the “Bedürfnis seiner Zeit,” the lack in and need of his age, to which he was offering a philosophical response.1 After Faust, the weary academic, quickly rejected the translation of “Word” (Wort) for logos, he turned instead to “sense/meaning” (Sinn). But sense, too, seemed, in principle, too abstract, and so Faust tried “force” (Kraft) before finally settling on “deed” (Tat)—or at least that translation was enough to call forth Mephistopheles and set the play in motion. The implication is, of course, that any notion of logos as merely “spiritual” remains opposed to deed and tied still to the vita contemplativa from which Faust hopes to escape. Likewise, when Gretchen later in the play poses her famous question to Faust—“What do you think of religion?”—he responds with a fiery speech that rejects any attempt to name God, turning instead to feeling: “Feeling is all! The rest (p.96) is sound and smoke” (l.3415).2 In an interesting variation of the Pauline expression, Faust seems to be saying that both the letter and the spirit are deadly when it comes to religion since neither captures the living and experiential activity that makes for a true relation to the divine.

Faust here is expressing some of the dominant approaches to religion to which Hegel feels called to respond. On the one hand, the religion of the “deed” expresses the tendency of some (like Lessing) to consider only one’s moral actions in judging the appropriateness or truth of religious conviction. As Nathan the Wise says in the parable of the ring (from Lessing’s play named after that character), the genuine ring—the true faith—has the power to make one act in such a way that one earns the father’s—God’s—favor. Moreover, the emphasis on deed speaks to those who have learned through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to concentrate on the wonders of this world, its astonishing physical and mathematical regularity, in justifying their faith in God.3 Finitude (Hegel’s more philosophical term for the turn to the “deed”) has become the sphere within which human beings must act, and it alone becomes the ground of religion. On the other hand, a subjectivist turn rejects the external symbols and practices of established religion for the experience of the divine that can be felt individually but not objectified. Philosophers like Jacobi and especially Schleiermacher, and movements like Pietism, in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, come to see the essence of religiosity neither in dogma nor in practice but in the intensity of a particular inner feeling. (We will pursue Schleiermacher’s understanding of religion in greater detail in the next chapter.)4

Hegel responds to both the empirical and subjectivist tendencies of his time by embracing the notion of God’s logos as spirit (Geist), whereby his entire philosophical enterprise rests on the demonstration that genuine comprehension (begreifen) of spirit reveals the breakdown of the oppositions that motivated Faust. That is, in the beginning and end was Geist, but that (p.97) spirit should not be considered “mere” spirit, for it is or has existence only insofar as it also expresses itself (takes on shape, becomes real in deed), assuming an objective form. While that spirit must be experienced subjectively in feeling, that experience is only part of the broader act of comprehension. He states this principle and project in what might almost be considered his version of the prologue to the Gospel of John near the opening of the “Philosophy of Spirit,” book three of the Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften (Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences):

The absolute is Spirit; this is the highest definition of the absolute. One can say that it has been the absolute goal of all cultural development and philosophy to formulate this definition and to grasp its meaning and content. All religion and science have been driven to this point and all world history is to be understood solely on the basis of this inner drive. The mere word for and image of spirit was found long ago, and the Christian religion has as its core content the knowledge that God is spirit. The task of philosophy, however, is to grasp in its proper element as concept and in itself as essence what has until now been merely given as an idea or image. Hence, the task of philosophy cannot be truly and immanently solved so long as it does not take conceptual thinking and freedom as its object. (§ 384; Hegel’s emphasis)

Hegel thereby develops a theology or philosophy of religion that inverts the earlier reigning model. Rather than looking for a “God of science,” i.e., a God that is modeled on the kind of understanding that the natural sciences first have of the world, Hegel attempts to develop a “science of spirit” or a Geistes-Wissenschaft5 of God, a systematic conceptual approach that can grasp the absolute spirit. By including the tactile and abstract aspects of begreifen—to conceive intellectually is to grasp—Hegel can avoid the oppositions between knowledge and experience that plagued Faust at the opening of the play.6 That is, while Leibniz and others had a natural scientific understanding of God (the grand geometer), and Kant a moral one (the (p.98) grand judge), Hegel’s God is spiritual in a new sense defined by him, i.e., religion is defined in terms of a living Geist, both objective and subjective, both transcendental and concrete. He spends much time differentiating this approach from those of Enlightenment thinkers and Romantics (Schelling, Schleiermacher) that generate oppositions—knowledge vs. faith, science vs. feeling, finite vs. infinite—or more precisely, he needs to show how his approach incorporates (sublates, aufhebt) those other positions. In so doing, Hegel develops an insistently historical view of religion. If for Spinoza God was identical with substance, for Hegel God reveals himself in the historical unfolding of a spirit, which, as he says, is both substance and subject. He sees himself making the greatest attempt to save religion from the limited versions of his age; after all, he argues, any conception of God that is limited (merely abstract, merely scientific, merely moral, merely feeling) ultimately limits mankind, God, and any possible relationship between them. However, as we will see, the powerful claim that human reason can grasp the divine because both are of the same Geist has a radical consequence (which Feuerbach pursues most forcefully); namely, in developing theology or philosophy of religion as a science of spirit, a Geistes-Wissenschaft that is its own product, the human spirit is grasping itself as much as it is God. The reality of God in human history makes human history divine.

To understand Hegel’s approach to religion, then, we must show first, relatively briefly, how his conception of God is defined in terms of Geist and then unpack the significance of that concept, how it unites the oppositions that previous theologies maintained. It does so because Geist exists only as process and activity. But to show that, we will have to review how Hegel arrived at this philosophical and theological concept himself through a process of intellectual development, starting with his theological manuscripts (and the central ideas of life and the historicity of religion), proceeding through the Jena writings (1801–5) and the Phenomenology (with their critiques of the oppositions of his day), to his later philosophy of religion. Hegel’s return to an “ontological proof” for the existence of God, we will see, arises not out of an abstruse interest in Scholasticism but because he sees in such proofs the principle confirmed that spirit unites being and thought, the same principle that motivated the logos of his Science of Logic. Hegel offers arguably the greatest philosophical justification of religion by means of his radical identity of thinking and being, God and reality. And yet, that identity will bring serious consequences for the following century since the notion of God’s union with the world can lead to a loss of the sense of God’s transcendence. Here we see Hegel’s contribution both to the arguments for God’s existence and to the slippery slope leading to his death.

(p.99) God as Unifying Geist and Religion as Geistes-Wissenschaft

In 1822, when his student Hermann Friedrich Wilhelm Hinrichs published a book on the philosophy of religion, Hegel provided the introduction in order both to give support to a young Hegelian’s academic career (and thus to further his own cause) and to lay out his own position on theological thought in his day.7 Hegel’s argument summarizes, often in a sharp polemical tone, ideas that he had been developing over the previous three decades. Playing on an ambivalent formulation that echoes his earliest published writings, Hegel states that he must address the Bedürfnis der Religion, a phrase that means both the lack that characterizes theological discussions of his day and the need within his day for a truer conception of religion. By understanding the source of the lack and how Hegel’s version of God as Geist would meet the need, we can get a good initial overview of his position.

The “illness/evil of his age” (Übel der Zeit) that Hegel sees results from a process whereby philosophical thought on religion had applied limited concepts, predicates, or determinations to God. This tendency to try to pin down God by defining Him as an X or Y Hegel associates with the faculty of the understanding (Verstand) or “reflection”—as opposed to Reason (Vernunft), which operates at a higher level by seeking unities. Although we will pursue the “dialectic of the Enlightenment” that he presents here in more detail below, it is worth quoting this version at some length. Hegel provides a summary of the dialectical unfolding of the course of theological thought over the past two hundred years:

This is, in brief, the basic outline of the path that formal reflection has taken in relation to religion. The first sin that arose within religion itself was a system of clever metaphysical and casuistic differentiations and definitions, into which the understanding shattered the unified content of religious thought and placed as much authority as if it were eternal truth. The seed of the next sin, even though it might seem like the opposite, already lay in the first and hence is a logical development out of it; namely, it is the sin of thought rising up independently, using the very formal weapons it owes to that system empty of content, which was its first activity, and rebelling against religion, turning pure abstraction itself into the highest, indeterminate Being. It is interesting for philosophy to consider how this turning (p.100) of its former activity into the enemy is both a surprise for reflection (Reflexion) and yet the very nature of reflection itself.

(von der Luft, 250; translation modified)

Hegel seems to have in mind the wealth of “clever” proofs for the existence of God that emerged during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the use of the advances made in specific disciplines (esp. natural science) to justify faith, and then the turn against those proofs from precisely the best minds of the Enlightenment (Hume, Lessing, Kant). What Hegel here calls “Reflexion” we can consider the scientific logos that was applied to theology—only to collapse under its own logic.

According to Hegel, such a failure or lack in theological thought has led to a “critical” situation in both the common and Kantian senses of the term. That is, theology is in crisis and Kant’s “Critical Philosophy” has responded by establishing principled arguments for why (theoretical) reason must be kept within its limits and not venture into the realm of metaphysical truths. Hegel associates this limiting of reason with the victory of the “understanding,” i.e., the faculty capable of dealing with the finite conditions of the world (what Kant calls the “phenomenal” world of “appearances”). The triumph of this principle has disastrous consequences for religion in Hegel’s view: “The evil into which the Enlightenment has brought religion and theology may be defined as a privation of known truth, of an objective content, and of a doctrine of religious belief” (von der Luft, 251; Hegel’s emphasis).8 Precisely the power of the mind to understand all the causes and laws of the natural universe, this power that so moved the thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, has led them to think only in terms of such causes and laws. What cannot be understood this way takes on the opposite status of mere faith, mystery, feeling, superstition. (Recall Kant’s claim in the preface to the Critique of Pure Reason that he wanted to put reason within its limits in order to make room for faith.)

While Hegel as a post-Enlightenment, post-Kantian philosopher sees the benefit of the critique of the faulty “proofs” and of the misuse of reason, he rejects in principle any self-limitation of reason. It has resulted in a radically split approach to religion: on the one hand, philosophy withdraws from the (p.101) sphere of religion altogether, focusing on the realm of science (what Haber-mas comes to call “positivism”) and “finitude”; on the other, the sphere of religion then takes on the character of a “beyond” all reason, accessible only to faith or feeling. This alienated state of contemporary thought, its inherent lack (Bedürfnis) generates the need (Bedürfnis) for a new understanding of religion. By definition, that new conception must be one that responds to the divisions by unifying them—it cannot avoid them lest they merely become hardened and ingrained. That is, the fundamental principle of the divine must be such that it is accessible to rational thought but not modeled on the rational discourses of the natural sciences. Kant, of course, did make a step in that direction insofar as he, too, said that “scientific” knowledge of God is impossible; but he limited access to theological truths to a subjectivist and formalist morality. Hegel’s response will be to develop a concept that can unite finitude with the infinite, reason with feeling, form with content. That concept is Geist.9

At this stage, we at least can have a sense of what Hegel feels he needs to save religion/God from and what therefore his solution must accomplish. He rejects first of all the absolute division between a finite world “here” and a transcendent, infinite world “beyond.” Moreover, in order not to collapse the two (a move that would be either Spinozism or atheism), he must also account for the differentiation we make between them. And second, he rejects the view that there are “truths” (divine, religious, absolute) that are inaccessible to our faculty of reason. Here too, however, he must also find a way to differentiate between modes of knowing so that, for example, scientific and historical and religious truths are not made identical. Hegel accomplishes his solution by means of his developmental conception of spirit. Religion, God, and spirit are basically identified as one and the same: “Spirit finds in religion its liberation and the feeling of its divine freedom; only a free spirit has, indeed can have, religion; it is the natural feeling of the heart, particular subjectivity, which is bound or limited in religion; what is set free in religion, and thus what can truly come into being, is precisely spirit” (Enzyklopädie, § 552). But note how the conceptions of religion and spirit are defined in terms of processes of becoming (and becoming free).

What is spirit and how is it in essence in a state of becoming? One aspect of spirit is consciousness. Considering how human consciousness unfolds (p.102) over time (the aim of the Phenomenology), Hegel focuses on the way it is the nature of human beings’ experience of the world to encounter limitations and to overcome them. Indeed, it is the very nature of “the experience of consciousness” (the original subtitle of the Phenomenology) to proceed by adopting a position (“Now I’ve got the answer”), only to recognize that it was wrong (“I guess I was mistaken, but now I have learned from my experience,” or, as one reads in many a Platonic dialogue, “I guess I didn’t know what I was talking about, did I, Socrates?”), and hence to be pushed beyond oneself to a new position.10 This movement is, as he implied above, a “liberating” one, and hence spirit and freedom, both viewed as processes, are inseparable. This basic process, which is so clear in consciousness, is not limited to consciousness, however. As we shall see, it is inherent in life, social institutions, and indeed being itself. The process itself is, according to Hegel, Geist. Spirit is this unfolding through negation, this process, to use the Nietzschean term, of “self-overcoming,” this movement of the finite beyond itself. Spirit is not some “thing” independent of its becoming.11 A religion of spirit is, then, modeled on a new concept that unifies the opposites—thinking and feeling, self and other, reason and faith—by grasping the process underlying them. That systematic “grasping” is what Hegel calls Wissenschaft. He worked it out in the Phenomenology of Spirit in such a way that it leads to a startling conclusion about religion: the experience of consciousness is that every object, as foreign and Other as it might at first appear, is grasped in an act through which consciousness in fact re-cognizes itself. (The notion of something “wholly Other” literally makes no sense for Hegel. Insofar as something is knowable, it shares its being with us. Hence he, and the tradition he gives rise to, stands in opposition to the “crisis” theology of Karl Barth et al., explored below in chapter 8.) This notion of cognition as re-cognition involves a change of the self and the object. When I have an experience, some aspect of the world is opened up to me, and I, too, am influenced by it. The new object that emerges needs in turn to be mediated through yet more experiences. Hegel passes through a series of objects—“things” out there, perceptions/qualities of things, the essence of things, other consciousnesses, social structures that are opposed to individuals (until the two become mediated, (p.103) i.e., enter into a free relationship), etc. One might wonder: What about the relationship of consciousness to the highest, most absolute, most transcendent, most Other “object,” God? That relationship also passes through many stages until (as is the core idea of Christianity) it is recognized that God is man and man is God. That identity is captured in the idea of Geist. But to understand how Geist can carry the weight Hegel puts on it, we must show its own emergence in his thought.

The Concept of Life and the Historical Spirit of Christianity

Lessing died at the peak of his intellectual powers, only fifty-two years old, in the year that Kant published the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason. Many have already speculated on what might have been if Lessing had lived to critique the Critique, to bring his own stylistic brilliance to bear on what was to become the notorious density of Idealist philosophical prose. But in one important sense, Lessing did live on—in Hegel. In the years before his death, Lessing grappled with the radical historicity of religions, the way they came to take on forms that must be shed, like a snake’s skin, so that they might develop into a more mature mode of accounting for a more mature human condition. Kant, we saw, expanded this temporal development in his understanding of the necessity of “radical evil” and the endless struggle for virtue. His goal was to regulate the human faculties so that forms of unreason could be called to account before the “court” of reason or philosophy. This regulation would take place both in the abstract—his writings—and in practice—institutions like the university. Hegel’s early writings on religion, his unpublished theological manuscripts, in many ways take up Lessing’s historical understanding with the frame of Kantian philosophy. “The Positivity of the Christian Religion” (“Die Positivität der christlichen Religion”), “The Spirit of Christianity” (“Geist des Christentums”), and other unpublished essays on morality and love written in the 1790s make the argument that inherent within the unfolding of (the Judeo-Christian) religion12—and by extension in all human spiritual endeavors—there exists a tension that pulls it inevitably toward both a rigidifying “positivity” and a liberating renewal. While in many ways the young Hegel was using these writings to position himself as a writer to usher in an eventual renewal in (p.104) philosophy,13 his early treatment of religion has profound implications both for the later nineteenth century and for us insofar as it allows for the study of religion as a historical entity.

The two ideas that dominate his early thinking on religion are the importance of “life” and the process by which religious institutions undergo change over time. They are closely linked and form the foundation of Hegel’s mature philosophical and conceptual thought. Indeed, Bernhard Lypp argues that in these early writings, even before Hegel has developed his theoretical philosophy, “the first dialectical conceptual formations” take shape (296–97). While Lypp focuses on Hegel’s engagement with Kant’s ethical philosophy, I think in fact it is more accurate to see him motivated in these unpublished manuscripts by the status of religion (understood, of course, in its relationship to morality). Thus we see how religious issues accompanied Hegel throughout his entire career as a philosopher and influenced the formation of his conceptual apparatus.

The guiding notion of “life” underlying his writings was given a more formalized philosophical description in the fragments Hegel wrote while working as a house tutor in Frankfurt in the latter half of the 1790s. He was in contact again with his friend from his years as a student of theology in Tübingen, Friedrich Hölderlin, who exerted considerable influence on these early formulations.14 Hegel characterizes life in terms that will reappear in both the Phenomenology and the Logic,15 namely, a cyclical (or better, a spiral-like) process of undeveloped unity through opposition to a higher unification of opposites (here called “love”):

Life finds itself in it [love] as a doubling and unity of itself; in Bildung (cultivation, formation, development) life has passed through the circle from undeveloped to complete unity; the world and the possibility of separation stood opposed to the undeveloped unity; during development, reflection produced more and more oppositions, which are united in the satisfied drive, until it [reflection] opposes the entire human being to itself and then love sublates reflection in a state of total objectlessness, robes the opposed object of its character of foreignness, and finally life finds itself without further lack.

(Frühe Schriften, 246)

(p.105) Hegel gives here an abstract and general formulation of the process common to all forms of life—from single-cell organisms to human beings. It is a process through which each living entity, although contained within itself (as “udeveloped unity”), must also engage with the (opposing) environment in order to form higher unities (by taking in food, establishing symbiotic relations, mating, etc.). This pure activity of life can neither be reduced to any of its moments nor exist without all of the moments—i.e., death results both if life does not emerge out of its initial (false) unity into opposition and also if life gets caught in a state of separation without the possibility of fulfilled unification. It forms the conceptual model for Hegel’s entire philosophy of spirit. From his first published essays in Jena (for example, the Differenz des Fichteschen und Schellingschen Systems der Philosophie) through the Logic, this movement of life drives nature, historical development, and thought itself.16

Hegel extends this understanding of life as process to explain the driving force of all unfolding development, also in the realm of historical and spiritual matters, by way of his reflections on the history of religion.17 In a vein akin to Lessing and Kant, he poses a rhetorical question in an early fragment, “Die Positivität der christlichen Religion” (“The Positivity of the Christian Religion,” 1795/96) about the ironic way that Christianity has become an ossified set of formal (“positive”) laws that are “given” to believers without any of the original inner feeling:

How could one have anticipated that such a teacher [Christ], who spoke out not against the established religion itself but against the moral superstition that one fulfills the demands of the laws of morality by observing religious customs; who strove for a concept of virtue grounded not on authority but on inner free virtuousness—who could have anticipated that such a teacher would himself have given rise to a positivistic religion, i.e., one based on authority and which posits human value either not at all or at least not solely in morality? (Frühe Schriften, 108)

For Hegel, even institutions have a “life.” They unfold by means of a complex though regular and systematic process from unity through opposition (p.106) to higher-level unity. To the extent that an institution (like a formal religion) can be defined as such, it possesses some kind of fundamental unity. Like an organism, it is held together by a common functioning principle. But it can also force things together in an artificial and deadening way that maintains or highlights the oppositions rather than overcoming them. In another fragment he gives this process a more philosophical formulation as the imposition of the “objective” on the “subjective”:

A belief is called “positivistic” in which the practical is present in a theoretical form and [in which] the originally subjective is present only as something objective; a [positive] religion holds up ideas of something objective that can never become subjective as the principle of life and actions. … Practical unity [by contrast] is established by sublating the opposing object fully.

(Frühe Schriften, 239; my emphasis)

This description of the way religions become “positivistic” over time (which, we will see, has remarkable parallels already to later formulations by Feuerbach on the essence of religion) shows that what lies at the heart of true religion is a “principle of life and actions” that allows for a renewal through a genuine sublation of the now unbearable oppositions. The historicity that leads to positivity and ossification does have the benefit of also opening up a new possibility. Indeed, opposition creates the need for unity. This is how life—and the life of the institution of religion—unfolds. Religion and philosophy are connected in their essence, according to Hegel, because they both respond to the need for/lack of existing oppositions by introducing a new unity. They do not merely posit identity (see below on Enzyklopädie), nor do they celebrate difference for its own sake but, rather, work through a tension that brings elements back together. Religion and philosophy are in this sense life and spirit.18

Religion and the Dialectic of Enlightenment (Understanding vs. Feeling)

But in this historical schema, where does Hegel find himself? What is the precise historical context of his own age? What are the false identities and imposing oppositions that need to be addressed? This is the place to turn to (p.107) his analysis of his own culture, what he calls “the world of Bildung” and its paired opposites, pure insight and faith.19

In the last chapter we saw how Kant began to develop a dialectic between “true” (rational, moral) religion and its repetitive representations. The powerful insight that Kant introduced there is the notion of “radical evil,” that is, the inevitability of the constant resurgence of the “pathological” in the world (or, institutionally, the impossibility of a final peace in the “conflict of the faculties”). And we saw how Hegel’s theological manuscripts pushed this insight even further by historicizing it as a process of the life of the (human) spirit. In “Glauben und Wissen” (“Faith and Knowledge,” 1802) Hegel takes the Kantian dialectic and holds it up as the core principle of the dominant philosophies of the day, what Hegel calls “philosophies of reflection.” It becomes the source of Hegel’s fundamental critique of both Kant and his age because Hegel sees the project of Critical Philosophy as leaving a mere opposition, especially between the unity and purity of human freedom (the realm of practical reason) and the heteronomy and dependency of the natural world (the realm of theoretical reason). According to Hegel, it takes on the general form/shape (Gestalt) “that a manifold/plurality stands absolutely opposed to its formal identity/unity” (“Glauben und Wissen,” 329). Given the absolute nature of this opposition, Kant’s world breaks down into a binarism of the knowable here and now and an ineffable beyond (the “in-itself”), a binarism that Hegel sees characterizing post-Kantian thought thus far:

This character of Kantian philosophy is the general character of all the philosophies of reflection that we will be dealing with here, namely that knowledge is merely formal, and reason, which is defined as a purely negative force, gets located in an absolute “beyond,” whereby it is the nature of all “beyond” and negativity to be determined by a “here” and a positivity. That is, the basic characteristic sees infinity and finitude as equally absolute in their pure opposition to each other. (332)

We can hear in this formulation an echo of Hegel’s earlier views on the positivity and history of religions, here applied to philosophical systems—but with consequences for religion because the mistaken absolute separation of (p.108) man from the “beyond” of the Absolute leads man to reestablish a relationship to the Absolute in the one sphere left open to him, namely, the inner realm of subjective feeling. In the case of Jacobi, only the inner world of the subjective becomes capable of “the beauty of feeling/sensation” (333). That is, the core of religion becomes feeling. “The common sphere of both philosophies [i.e., Kant’s and Jacobi’s] is the absoluteness of the opposition between finitude, nature, knowledge (thus defined implicitly as merely formal) on the one hand, and the supranatural, supersensual and the infinite; for both philosophies the true absolute lies in an absolute ‘beyond’ in faith or feeling and hence has the status of ‘nothing’ for the conceptual faculty of reason” (388). Especially Jacobi represents the emergence of the true, i.e., most extreme, form of “Protestant subjectivity” (387).

The Phenomenology paints the various vicissitudes, and the disastrous consequences, of the hardening of these oppositions (self vs. other, subjectivity vs. objectivity, feeling vs. reason, faith vs. knowledge, imagination vs. conceptual thinking), in greater detail and against the larger background of culture in general (not just philosophical systems). It captures the different theological conceptions of a historical period (the eighteenth century); but at the same time it lays out a conflict between religion and enlightenment in the general terms of a movement through ever-intensifying oppositions and the longing for their overcoming, terms that can be applied to our age as well.

The world of Bildung is one of alienation and “tornness” (Zerrissenheit). Culture has matured but become fragmented and alienated. Consciousness, at the level of the individual and the society at large, has reached the stage where critique is literally all the rage and the sign of being “cultured” (gebildet) is the ability to dig out the inner contradictions of any position:

[The cultured consciousness] knows how to play one position against another, indeed knows that each position is nothing but the inversion of another; it knows what each position is better than it knows itself, regardless of what it is. By recognizing in any substantive position its moment of disunity and contradiction, it knows how to judge/critique any substantive position very well; but it has lost the ability to grasp it.

(Phänomenologie, 390; Hegel’s emphasis)

This mastery of the tools of rhetorical critique prides itself on the ability to tear everything apart. (On rhetoric specifically, see 386, 387, and 390). The effect on the self is equally disturbing since he concludes by defining this “pure consciousness as an alienated one” (“Dies reine Bewuβtsein des absoluten Wesens ist ein entfremdetes”; 392).

(p.109) The culture of alienation splits into two main modes of consciousness, the basic opposition of faith and insight (391): “insight” corresponds to the tendency of the cultured consciousness to celebrate pure form because it has the skill to empty out any content of its substantiality; “faith,” on the other hand, insists on holding onto an inner core to which it assigns the “significance of an objective being” (394) untouched by the force of critical insight. This projection of a beyond—ironically projected by consciousness to be beyond the reach of consciousness—characterizes the religion of the day (392). Not that this is religion “in and of itself” (392), but given the historical mode that Hegel has introduced into the study of religion, he can account for the particular shape that religious consciousness has taken in modernity. Because these two opposites have the same origin as responses to modernity—“because faith and pure insight both belong to the element of pure consciousness, they are also both at the same time a return out of the real world of Bildung” (394)—they are tied together even in their opposition. They play off each other in an ever-escalating dance. Even as faith withdraws further inward to a realm of absolute peace, insight takes its task of enlightenment to the extreme, creating in itself the painful feeling of experiencing “the dissolution of everything fixed and firm, as if all moments of its existence were tortured on a rack and all bones crushed” (399). Since this passage occurs under the heading “Die Aufklärung” (The Enlightenment), and since Hegel had just offered as the dictum of this consciousness a version of Kant’s famous definition—“be (self-consciously) for yourselves what you are in fact already (in and of yourselves—namely, rational” (398)20—we can think of Kant himself, whom Johann Georg Hamann called “the all-crushing” (“der All-Zermalmer”), as the model for this fundamental split.21

Of course, as we saw earlier, where life experiences division, it is also drawn by this internal lack/need (Bedürfnis) to find unity. So, too, at this stage, each side responds to its painful opposition by striving to impose itself on the other. Faith insists on its unchanging and inaccessible beyond, and Enlightenment falsely strives for a universal by merely making its insight “to the insight (p.110) of everyone” (399).22 The result is a standoff: “That two equal rights/laws of the spirit stand opposed to each other and neither can offer satisfaction to the other” (417).23 But precisely in this formulation we can get an inkling of the solution. Because both sides are in fact of the same “spirit,” i.e., because each has produced the other and lives in misrecognition of its own origin, insight and faith need to recognize their status of mutual interdependence. Unity emerges not by the imposition of a (universal) solution as in a court case (one can think of Kant’s conflict of the faculties) but by the collapse of the particular positions in their recognition of internal interrelationship. “True” insight into religion occurs on the ground of a higher unity of faith and knowledge that has emerged out of a process that changes the nature of both. Only having passed through this state of alienation can we experience a higher level of unity that would characterize religious consciousness. Or as he says in the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion: “God is Spirit through the return from alienation to itself” (Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Religion, 17:295) How might one conceive of such a movement?

Geist and the Unity of Thought and Being

The need of his time (Bedürfnis der Zeit) to rethink religion and philosophy in terms of a deeper conception of unity is why Hegel turns to a defense of ontological proofs. The issue for Hegel is neither a strictly speaking logical one (à la Anselm), nor a mathematical/scientific one (Descartes, Leibniz), nor a moral one (Kant), but a profoundly philosophical one. Philosophy, for Hegel, involves the identity of Being and Thought. Hence, the opposition between Being and Thought is the starting point in philosophy, the position that must be overcome or thought through. In the Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel undertook the task of taking consciousness from the crassest point of opposition (“Here I am as consciousness, that thing there is Being”) to the point where consciousness must realize that Being is infused with the categories of consciousness (as Kant has shown) and consciousness is only to the extent that it makes itself real (e.g., in social formations of “objective spirit”). In the Science of Logic, the endpoint of the Phenomenology is the starting condition, and Hegel shows how Being itself (i.e., not from the perspective of consciousness) unfolds dialectically (beginning with the identity of Being (p.111) and Nothing in Becoming). Religion, therefore, is for Hegel nothing but a version of this absolute principle of philosophy. After all, religion declares that the Absolute is Real, in the various forms of spirits and deities that make up the world. Some remain on the level of “mere representation” (blosse Vorstellung) and do not capture this thought very well (e.g., by limiting the reality of the absolute to particular places or fetish objects); others come closer to grasping conceptually (begreifen, in Begriffen) the universality of this truth. But all reflection has in common the effort to attain a unity of finitude with the infinite, the world (of mankind) with God.

Ontological proofs for the existence of God are examples of a later and more sophisticated attempt—in Hegel’s developmental and hierarchical scheme—to give expression to the truth of religion.24 He writes: “The proofs of the existence of God have arisen from the need within thought itself, to satisfy [the demands] of reason” (17:348). That is, these proofs, as part of theological thinking, are already, so to speak, well on their way to being philosophy or bringing out the philosophical truth that is at the origin (arche, “in the beginning”) and only needs to be brought out clearly. Thus, from Hegel’s perspective, the thrust of all ontological proofs is legitimate insofar as they would demonstrate the reality of the thought of God; i.e., the reality of God is inseparable from the thought of God. That idea—expanded even beyond the application to God—is the philosophical enterprise. In this regard he must go against Kant and resuscitate the tradition, showing (1) that Kant’s critique falsely “limited” the unity of thought and being to objects of experience, hence removing God from the realm of knowledge,25 and (2) that the earlier proofs were on the right track, even if they did not (yet) know how to formulate their truth.

The problem of ontological proofs is that they start with the assumption that the thought of God, the concept of a supreme or highest or most perfect being, is just that—only a thought. To this extent they belong broadly speaking to the modern age (although Anselm is quite early) because they begin with a subjective principle (our thought of God). They pose the question: (p.112) How can this idea be shown to be real? But this very question shows that the ontological proofs assume something beyond their initially problematic formulation, namely, if they think this question can be answered, then they must think—despite their initial formulation—that God must be more than mere idea, i.e., that ideas exist (or in Hegel’s terminology, thought and being are the same). The problem that they can never really get over (and why they are just the beginnings of philosophizing and not the end point) is that they have that initial assumption of separation that must (and can) be overcome. It makes sense, from this perspective, that Descartes, with his dualism and subjective starting point (cogito), would have been the one to bring back the ontological proof as a task for modern philosophy.

Hegel’s main criticisms are addressed to Kant, for whereas Anselm, Leibniz, and Descartes might have been mistaken in beginning with a dualism (a mere thought of God that must be shown to exist), they at least attempted to do so from the point of the thought itself. Unfortunately, they were limited to a mathematico-scientific understanding of both thought and reality. But Kant, in attacking their proofs, ends up making the case that such an absolute identity of thought and being is impossible (it exists, for Kant, either in experience—but only for objects of experience—or in morality, for God and the soul).26 Thus, Hegel writes that all sorts of people in his age have taken up the Kantian critique, but they miss the fact that the only problem with the proofs Kant had critiqued was that they did not see the identity they were actually assuming all along. That is, the core idea of the ontological proof—namely, “that the concept of God as most perfect presumes His existence” (17:210–11); but it is lacking the appropriate understanding of the way the “concept” unfolds and objectifies itself. In critiquing the proof, Kant does not fulfill this lack. It is thus not by chance that Hegel turns to Kant’s discussion in the opening chapter of the Science of Logic on being (see Wissenschaft der Logik, 88–90).

The core of Hegel’s new ontological “proof” and what makes it possible is the fact that the “object” being proven by a movement of thought is itself a thinking being: difficulties in proving the existence of external objects disappear in this case “since [the object under investigation here] is not a resting object but itself a subjective movement—the raising of spirit to (p.113) God—an activity, unfolding, process” (Vorlesungen über die Beweise vom Dasein Gottes, 357). This makes sense only because Hegel has shown the reality of the identity of thought and being throughout his entire philosophy. After all, the basic notion of logos for Hegel, as we know from his Science of Logic, is the same as Wissenschaft, not just (natural) science but the very notion that thinking presents reality and reality is that which can be thought: “Thus, pure science presupposes liberation from the opposition of consciousness. It contains thought insofar as this is just as much the object in its own self, or the object in its own self insofar as it is equally pure thought” (Wissenschaft, 49). Thinking is not an imposition of categories onto being; thinking, in its truth, is the thinking of being (a genitive that could be taken both ways, to mean both the being is itself a thought and the being is being thought about by someone else). Such a logos is a theology: “It can therefore be said that this content [i.e., of the Science of Logic] is the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and a finite mind” (50). Hegel does not in fact offer here his own extended version of an ontological proof. His Phenomenology, which leads consciousness to the point of seeing why it cannot reasonably oppose thought and being, and his Logic, which works through their identity, are, so to speak, his onto-logical proofs, bringing together ens and logos = God.

However, in the summer semester of 1829, two years before his death, Hegel did decide to offer a separate lecture course on Proofs of the Existence of God (Vorlesungen über die Beweise vom Dasein Gottes). He opens it by pointing out that it stands in close relation to the other course on logic that he was presenting, indeed is a “supplement to it, not in terms of content but in terms of form, since this content [proofs of God’s existence] is just a particular form of the basic determinations/concepts [Bestimmungen] from the Logic” (17:347). That is, since logic offers the categories to think through all of being, they must also offer the way to conceive of the being of God. In fact, if religion/God is the “content” and logic the “form,” Hegel’s principle of unity demands that he even show “that the logical [das Logische] makes up not only the formal side but at the same time is located at the center of the content” (17:347). God’s existence turns out to be just a special case of the logos as spirit, which in turn is very much “with God.”

The first eight lectures offer a long introduction. In some of Hegel’s most accessible prose, they summarize his key positions on the tensions and contradictions of his age (faith and knowledge, feeling and cognition, understanding and reason, etc.). In the ninth lecture he turns to the key issue, which can be summed up in the problematic yet simple proposition that needs to (p.114) be “proven,” namely: “Gott ist.” In Hegel’s analysis, it unites a concept (God) and being. The point of all proofs is thus to show that the concept has being or that being includes that concept. Hence he divides the traditional proofs into two that go from being to the concept. These are the cosmological and teleological proofs, which take the existence of the world as a given—either as a caused entity or as a system of ends—and conclude the necessity of the concept of God (as prima causa or as ultimate purpose). In the actual lectures (10 through 16) he only deals with versions of the cosmological proof. In general, he argues that neither of these is solid because they both presume a “given” (the world). Hence, only the ontological proof is the true one since it proceeds from the concept or thought to its being.

In notes that we have on further lectures on the philosophy of religion that Hegel held in the year of his death, 1831, we have a brief indication of how his version of the ontological proof differs from past ones. The key for him lies indeed in the basic moves from the Logic. The problem with the “movement” from God to being, from concept to reality, lies in the fact that we (using our understanding) think of these as occupying separate spheres: the concept seems subjective and we want to know if it has objective reality.27 However, Hegel locates the “movement” within the concept itself, for insofar as it is assumed to be “subjective,” it is limited or finite; but anything finite contains by definition its own end or negation. Hence, it is the very nature of the concept “God” to open itself up to reality. For this reason, Hegel believes, the (Judeo-Christian) notion of revelation—in German, literally “opening up” (Offenbarung)—captures the essence of God’s relation to the world. In this sense, God is pure movement into being, and it is not even quite correct to say that God is simply identical with being. For this we need a rich conception of life, spirit, and logos: “The world is a harmonic totality, an organic life that is teleologically determined; the ancients called this nous or ‘world soul’ understood as logos. But they only posited vitality and not yet the idea that the world soul is differentiated from this vitality as spirit. … When we comprehend vitality in its truth, then it is as one principle [arche!], one organic life of the universe” (Vorlesungen über die Beweise, 17:514). And we see in this formulation how Hegel connects his later, logical approach to God with his earlier one that began with the concept of “life.” God, life, being, the concept—all are identified as parts of the same spiritual process.

(p.115) So what has Hegel accomplished by turning back to these proofs, even if it meant rejecting Kant’s critique of them? The point was not to reintroduce a precritical Scholasticism. Rather, Hegel hoped to bring out the philosophical truth that underlay these proofs. What he says about Anselm’s proof applies to all: Its content, the unity of Being and thought, that is, the possibility of deriving the existence from the concept of God, is fundamentally true even if the form in which it is expressed was faulty. (See 17:210 and 17:526–27). We have seen in the previous chapters a systematic narrowing of the field of theological logos—once it had been introduced as a mode of reason by Humanism—to science and mathematics in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and then to morality by Kant. In the one case, God exists (or can be shown to exist) the way scientific and mathematical truths can be said to exist; in the other, God exists the way moral principles can be said to be absolute. But for Hegel, both those ways can be shown to be too limited (indeed, that is what Kant did vis-à-vis the former). The core issue for Hegel is that philosophy studies all the different ways that thought and being are revealed to be the same (despite not initially recognizing that identity), leading us to a general insight of a unity under which scientific, moral, and religious ones can be subsumed.

It is thus significant that the closing section of his “system,” the Enzyklopädie, turns to a discussion of religion and philosophy. At this crowning point, the last paragraph (§ 573) of his “scientific” philosophical system, Hegel says, “This could appear to be the place to debate the relationship between philosophy and religion” (379). What unites them is their common element as Spirit. Where religion emerges from the sense (“image,” “belief” and “witness”) of the force of spirit in human beings,28 philosophy is its conceptual grasping in “scientific” form (Wissenschaft): “Everything depends on the difference between the forms of speculative thought [philosophy] and the forms of imagination and reflective understanding [religion and theology]” (379). Both are concerned with the relationship between the Absolute and the world. This relationship, as life and spirit, unfolds over time. Hegel presents a number of stages: (1) religion provides images, feelings, phantasms (“Vorstellungsweisen und Systeme des Gemüts, der Phantasie und der Spekulation”); (2) the “reflective understanding” (i.e., Enlightenment) rejects such images for the sake of ideational “purity”; (3) as a result, the idea of God (p.116) gets emptied out and separated from the world, projected into a realm beyond; (4) but that separation or opposition cannot suppress the need for a relationship, indeed, it heightens that need even as it makes it incomprehensible (unbegreiflich); (5) only a genuine philosophy of religion, in grasping precisely this historical development or the life of the spirit, can reintroduce a unity. This unity—despite what detractors might say (one can think here of Hegel addressing Adorno’s analysis of the “dialectic of the enlightenment” avant la lettre)—is not an abstract identity (à la Schelling) but itself a concrete result of a historical development. Hegel writes:

Since, however, the grasping of scientific knowledge itself and all the criticisms of it come with the grasping of this relationship [between the finite and the infinite], we should recall that philosophy has to do in principle with unity, not with the abstract unity, or with mere identity, or with empty abstraction but with concrete unity (with the concept)—indeed, over the course of its development philosophy has had to do with nothing else but such unity. Hence, each stage in the progress of philosophy has dealt with a particular, proper form of this concrete unity—and the most profound and final of these forms is the unity of absolute Spirit. (389–90)29

That is, Hegel’s powerful response to the failure of former versions of religious thought—be they traditional “positivistic” belief systems, faith based on pure feeling, proofs relying on scientific rationality, Kantian moral theology, etc.—is to incorporate them all into a historical-conceptual philosophy of religion.30 He can do so because he understands the Absolute as Spirit that (p.117) unfolds in the world over time and history, taking on different forms and passing through necessary stages of alienation and renewing unification.

The concluding paragraph of Hegel’s earlier essay, “Faith and Knowledge,” captures this overcoming, canceling, and preserving—Aufhebung—of traditional religion by and in philosophy in a combination of religious and philosophical language. He refers to the “infinite pain” (“unendlichen Schmerz”) that characterizes the feeling of religion in modernity (“die Religion der neuen Zeit”) and arises from the sense that “God Himself is dead” (“Gott selbst ist tot”; “Glauben und Wissen,” 432).31 The experience of the Enlightenment, the wrenching apart of earlier unities and the destabilization of traditional authorities, must be lived through in all its infinite diremption. But with a kind of paradoxical mathematics that will become formalized only in the nineteenth century, Hegel hopes to fold this infinity into a larger one, the infinity (“Unendlichkeit”) associated with “the pure concept” (“der reine Begriff”). The infinite pain would thus become a moment, and nothing more than a moment, in a longer temporality that defies time. The feeling of loss must be transformed into a “philosophische Existenz.” The death of God and sense of godlessness (“Gottlosigkeit”) would thus have to be confronted in all its severity and seriousness as a “speculative Good Friday” (“spekulativen Karfreitag”).32 However, this reintroduction of the Christian image into the conceptualization of the end of religion demonstrates that the loss of God is an act of self-removal for the sake of a higher return. We must accept God’s death/suicide in religion so that “the highest totality can and must rise up [be resurrected] again in its full earnestness and out of its most profound depths, both all-encompassing and taking the form of the most serene freedom” (“die höchste Totalität in ihrem ganzen Ernst und aus ihrem tiefsten Grunde, zugleich allumfassend und in die heitereste Freiheit ihrer Gestalt auferstehen kann und muβ”; “Glauben und Wissen,” 432–33).

Hegel restates this moment of double negation explicitly in the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion as the moment when God’s death actually overcomes death because this conception of the divine recognizes and gives form to the basic principle of process and a course of history:

(p.118) God has died, God is dead—this is the most terrible thought, that all eternity and all truth are nothing, that negation itself is in God; the greatest suffering, the feeling of total abandonment, the loss of all higher hopes—these are all associated with this thought. But the course [of history] does not end here; rather, at this point the reversal takes place; God, namely, preserves Himself in this process, and this becomes nothing more than the death of death itself.

Gott ist gestorben, Gott ist tot—dieses ist der fürchterlichste Gedanke, daβ alles Ewige, alles Wahre nicht ist, die Negation selbst in Gott ist; der höchste Schmerz, das Gefühl der vollkommenen Rettungslosigkeit, das Aufgeben alles Höheren ist damit verbunden.—Der Verlauf bleibt aber nicht hier stehen, sondern es tritt nun die Umkehrung ein; Gott nämlich erhält sich in diesem Prozeβ, und dieser ist nur der Tod des Todes.

(Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der Religion, 17:291)

For Hegel, this means that God is Geist, as he writes in a notebook accompanying his lectures on this point: “Spirit is only Spirit as this negation of negation that preserves the negative within itself. If, therefore, of the Son of Man is depicted as sitting at the right hand of the Father, we see before our spiritual eye the honoring of human nature which has been raised to the highest of heights and been united with the divine” (ibid., 291n). In short: the God of religion is absconditus; He has in fact staged his own disappearance so that, with our help, He can return again in the guise of the philosophical spirit. “The God of religion is dead! Long live the God of philosophy!” And it is the ambiguity of that final genitive—God is in philosophy, but philosophy also becomes God—that Hegel leaves as his lasting impact.

So what emerges from this view of religion in terms of a process of spiritual development? First, Hegel has indeed offered a brilliant solution to the “need of religion,” that is to the lack of and in religion which he found in his age. Whereas Kant swept aside the false proofs, leaving only moral theology, Hegel both shifts the ground and incorporates the earlier approaches by turning to a developmental view. Nature and man are thus not opposed to God; God is not just a separate creator of the world. Nor are the world and God merely the same in the sense that one could simply do without one of them and still think to get at the truth. (Again, this was the danger seen in Spinoza’s philosophy, namely, that the powerful identity of God with “all there is” might make it possible to no longer worry about God as God and merely stay with “all there is.”) Similarly, there are no special and limited means of access to the divine (intuitive knowledge, feeling, moral law, or (p.119) conscience). Rather, by seeing the world in all its components engaged in a process of becoming, and by defining that becoming as Spirit or God, then Hegel can say that the world is always in the process of becoming God, and God’s becoming is the world. The human spirit comes into its own essence insofar as it comes to know, grasp, begreifen, that nature of spirit itself.

This powerful answer to the split between faith and knowledge as well as to the inadequate attempts to “understand” God through the limited means of particular disciplinary knowledge contains, however, the seeds of its own overcoming. Hegel argues that human reason, as finite spirit, can, over the course of time and history, systematically grasp what is encountered as Other, thereby step-by-step transcending its own finitude (the limitation originally imposed by the Other as Other) and increasing its freedom, until in religion and philosophy even the Absolute is no longer encountered as Other but as “of the same spirit.” But if, with Hegel’s philosophy, we are at this last stage, then can we not say that in grasping the Absolute as “of the same spirit” we are, in fact, really grasping ourselves? Have we not in essence transformed the religious experience—the encounter with the Absolute/Other—into an act of self-recognition? Might we not then formulate the ultimate insight of the philosophy of religion as follows: mankind’s grasping of the transcendent God is nothing but mankind’s grasping of its own spirit of transcendence defined as the process of overcoming Otherness? It was Hegel’s student, Ludwig Feuerbach, who at one point came to see Hegel in Berlin as a second father, who drew this consequence for the understanding of religion. In so doing, he was not concerned per se with rejecting or destroying religion but with bringing it to a self-understanding of its own “essence.” Hegel leaves us with the following insight: the core of all religion (including the ontological proofs) is the philosophical insight of the identity of thought and being; only religions (like other forms of objective spirit, as well as the ontological proofs) do not yet present this truth as such but they “dress” it up with all kinds of representations and arguments. The conclusion is therefore obvious: if in the beginning is (philosophical) logos, then the point should not be to use logos (in any of its myriad forms) to get at religious truths but, rather, to see beyond the forms of religion to the true logos underneath. This is what Feuerbach undertakes in his “critique” of religion, namely, an exploration into the philosophical essence of Christianity, the logos that it, as a religion, masks.


(1.) See especially the introduction to his early essay, “Differenz des Fichteschen und Schellingschen Systems der Philosophie” (“Difference between Fichte’s and Schelling’s Systems of Philosophy,” 1801).

(2.) See Smith, “Die Gretchenfrage,” on Goethe’s relation to contemporary philosophies of religion, and Wilkinson on the theological background of this call to feeling.

(3.) Since Goethe composed the translation scene around 1800, he likely has Johann Gottlieb Fichte in mind, who made the ethics of deed and action (Tathandlung) the heart of his Idealism.

(4.) Consider Hegel’s early reference to Schleiermacher: “A phenomenon such as the Speeches on Religion may not immediately concern the speculative need. Yet they and their reception—and even more so the dignity that is beginning to be accorded, more or less clearly or obscurely, to poetry and art in general in all their true scope—indicate the need for a philosophy that will recompense nature for the mishandling that it suffered in Kant and Ficht’s systems” (“Differenz der Fichteschen und Schellingschen Systems der Philosophie,” 13).

(5.) This term is often translated as “humanities,” but that loses the broad meaning of spirit that it contains.

(6.) It might seem as if Hegel’s approach can be considered a “flight” from religious experience into the world of the “concept.” Hegel himself says: “Indeed, religion must flee into philosophy” (taken as an epigraph to the collection of essays by Graf and Wagner, Die Flucht in den Begriff). But my point here is that his philosophy of spirit is also profoundly religious.

(7.) See von der Luft for English translations of all the texts in this debate.

(8.) This formulation echoes Jacobi’s critique of Spinoza and all rational attempts to ground religion since they end up necessarily in “Nihilismus” (a term he coined) or “Fatalismus.” See his Über die Lehre des Spinoza (122). We also have here an early formulation of a principle of nihilism within Christian theology/philosophy that will emerge again in the chapters on Nietzsche and Heidegger.

(9.) “God is Spirit, only for Spirit, and only for the pure Spirit, i.e. for thought [logos?]” (Gott ist Geist, nur für den Geist, und nur für den reinen Geist, d.i. für den Gedanken) (Vorlesungen über die Beweise vom Dasein Gottes, 17:356).

(10.) The link to Platonic dialogue shows the origin of this dialectical approach.

(11.) Here we need to recall Nietzsche’s wonderful critique of the false separation of the “lightning” from its “striking” in the second essay of On the Genealogy of Morals, § 14. And also Nietzsche’s (rare) praise of Hegel for introducing the notion of being as becoming and thereby laying the foundation for Darwinism. See Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (Gay Science), § 357, “On the Old Problem, ‘What Is German?’”

(12.) I will henceforth drop the parenthetical specification, but it is understood throughout. Hegel deals explicitly and exclusively with both Judaism and Christianity.

(13.) See Smith, Spirit and Its Letter, esp. chapter 2.

(14.) See Dilthey’s volume on Die Jugendgeschichte Hegels, as well as Lukács, Young Hegel, for studies of this period.

(15.) Discussion of life in Phenomenology, esp. the opening to the chapter on self-consciousness (which culminates in the master-slave dialectic); in the Logic, one of the culminating sections deals with “the life-process” (“der Lebensprozess”).

(16.) Seeing this process as “life” helps us avoid that overly simplified schematic of “thesis-antithesis-synthesis.”

(17.) For an excellent summary, see Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (3rd ed.), s.v. “Hegel”: “Of central significance for the young Hegel are the concepts of life and love…. Life is the most originary unity and the fundamental characteristic of all reality. But it can become opposed to itself and dissolve its unity in Reflexion. The task of love is to mediate this opposition anew.”

(18.) In his lectures on proofs of the existence of God from 1827 he makes this connection explicit: “We see here again that the definition: ‘God is the universal activity of life, the soul that creates, posits, and organizes the cosmos,’ this concept is not yet sufficient for the concept of God. The concept of God contains furthermore the idea that God is spirit” (17:521–22).

(19.) I would also propose that “we,” too, are in a state of heightened critical Bildung that is leaving the social fabric torn between those who are too enlightened for religion and those who see faith as antireason—even as we are “of one cloth.” The fact that our world could be seen in terms of Hegel’s analysis of the “world of Bildung” with its torn consciousness, raises interesting questions of repetition: Are we reliving his narrative? With what difference? Hegel, more than almost any other thinker, puts us into this paranoid frame of mind.

(20.) Echoing the line from Kant’s “Was ist Aufklärung?” (“What Is Enlightenment?”): “sapere aude—habe Mut, dich deines Verstandes zu bedienen” (“sapere aude—have the courage to make use of your understanding”; in Schmidt, 58).

(21.) Hegel offers a beautifully clear summary of this development in the first lecture on the proofs of the existence of God: thought, which must push itself to the point of extreme freedom from all faith/belief, leaves then the latter on its own, which now has adopted for itself the posture of absolute truth. Hegel calls this present state of things one of contradiction, collision, and diremption (Vorlesungen über die Beweise vom Dasein Gottes, 348–49).

(22.) This critical analysis of the Enlightenment is crucial and powerful and shows that Hegel cannot be so easily dismissed for imposing the universal.

(23.) At the height of this conflict comes the Enlightenment reduction of faith to mere superstition and then the Terror.

(24.) He deals with them in his Science of Logic (Wissenschaft der Logik, 1812), both in the opening chapter and in the section on the doctrine of Essence. He turns to these proofs again five years later in § 139 of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences. In the second and third editions he adds discussions of the proofs in §§ 2, 36, 50, and 68. Of course, he also addressed the proofs in the lectures on religion (1821 and 1824). However, they also have a special status given that he held lectures devoted exclusively to them in the last years of his life, in 1829 and 1831.

(25.) Recall that according to Kant the activity of philosophical “critique” has to do with setting limits and drawing boundaries around aspects of reason so that it does not apply itself inappropriately to objects outside its proper domain. Hegel rejects precisely this limitation of rationality.

(26.) Of course, early in his life (in the 1790s), Hegel, like so many others of his day, thought that Kant’s moral proof offered the best and only legitimation for God’s existence. But Kant’s rejection of any other cognitive argument soon became the clearest sign for Hegel of the failure of Kant’s critical project.

(27.) We recall that this was the nature of Kant’s objection: One “adds” nothing to the concept when one attaches the predicate “exists” to it.

(28.) “But religion is truth for all human beings, while faith rests on the witness of the Spirit that, productively witnessing, exists as the Spirit in human beings” (“Aber die Religion ist die Wahrheit für alle Menschen, der Glaube beruht auf dem Zeugnis des Geises, der als zeugend der Geist im Menschen ist” (Enzyklopädie, 379).

(29.) Hegel uses the term “concrete” in close to its etymological meaning of “grown together.” By “concrete unity” he means one that does not place two sides artificially together but demonstrates their inner connection. Compare his statement in the first lecture on the proofs of God’s existence: “All spirit (alles Geistige) is concrete; here we have … Spirit as the concrete (das Konkrete) of faith and thought (des Glaubens und des Denkens); both are not only mixed together in some manifold way, in some kind of a back and forth, but are so internally bound together that there is no faith/belief, which is not reflection, reasoning, or thinking in general, just as there is no thinking, which does not contain faith/belief, even if only as one of its passing moments” (Vorlesungen über die Beweise vom Dasein Gottes, 352).

(30.) Hegel’s notion of Spirit as the process of unifying opposites (whereby both the drive toward unification and the tension of difference are maintained) allows for a normative approach not only toward philosophical versions of religion but toward different religions themselves. Although Hegel’s dismissal of and condescension toward non-Christian religions is unacceptable, and although he not surprisingly finds his own Christianity the highest form, it does not seem to me that a normative approach even to religion should be rejected in principle. It even leads Hegel to some unexpected conclusions, like his strong praise of Islam at the end of the Enzyklopädie. See also Leuze on Hegel’s views toward non-Christian religions.

(31.) He quotes Pascal, who voiced this in “empircal” language: “La nature est telle qu’elle marque partout un Dieu perdu et dans l’homme et hors de l’homme” (Pensées, 441).

(32.) This death is thus not to be taken lightly, “for the more serene, less well founded, and more individual of the dogmatic philosophies, as well as the natural religions, must disappear” (“weil das Heitere, Ungründlichere und Einzelnere der dogmatischen Philosophien sowie der Naturreligionen verschwinden muβ”; “Glauben und Wissen,” 432). The internalization of the negative moment must indeed be felt in its pain.