Toward A More Rational Faith

school-of-athens-detail-from-right-hand-side-showing-diogenes-on-the-steps-and-euclid-1511This essay focuses on Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit as a whole, in light of Søren Kierkegaard’s critiques of Hegel. Given that Hegel’s attempt to answer Kantian skepticism culminates in a discussion of religion, and Kierkegaard’s own status as a Christian existentialist, I will approach this discussion from a Christian perspective.  My goal is to demonstrate that, contrary to Kierkegaard’s claims, Hegel’s conception of the Christian faith is actually more in keeping with Christian tradition (and Scripture), than his own, and provides a more certain foundation for metaphysical knowledge.[1] I also believe this discussion provides insight into a distinctly reformed epistemology, which I have previously addressed, and will have more to say about in an upcoming post.


hegel-bookIt is an interesting feature of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit that in his great quest to answer Kantian skepticism and show how absolute knowledge of reality is possible, Christianity plays a significant part.  For many, the mere introduction of religion may seem odd in such a discourse, especially a “scientific” work, as Hegel refers to it.  And yet, it is clear that in Hegel’s mind, the Christian religion is indispensable to the task.[2] Indeed, it is through the core belief of the Christian faith, the incarnation of Christ, that Hegel asserts such knowledge comes.  “Through,” of course, being the operative word.  According to Hegel, Absolute Knowledge is not found in religion by becoming a devout follower of Christ.  It comes about through the perfection of religion; more specifically, as a result of the insights gained from analyzing the doctrines of the Christian religion.  Consequently, Hegel ends up painting a very rationalistic picture of faith, with faith being essentially in rationality itself, rather than in a personal God.  This is a picture that most Christians reject.  And rightly so, for one of the tenets of Christian faith is that God is personal.   Perhaps the most well-known Christian voice to speak against Hegel’s thesis is that of the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard argued, as Ralph McInerny best put it, that “Hegelianism explains away Christianity instead of denying it openly.”[3]   Much of Christian thought since has rejected Hegel’s emphasis on a rational religion, and has instead chosen to embrace Kierkegaard’s more fideistic approach.  This should not be the case.  As far as Christians are concerned, one’s faith ought to be more Hegelian than Kierkegaardian. Not only is Hegel’s view more in keeping with Christian tradition, it provides a basis for the justification of metaphysical knowledge (including knowledge of God). If Hegel has seen it fitting to glean insights from Christian faith without necessarily becoming Christian, then perhaps Christians can glean insights from Hegel without necessarily becoming Hegelian and adopting an impersonal view of the divine.

If there is one thing that can be said with certainty about modern evangelical Christianity, it is that the Kierkegaardian approach to the relationship between faith and reason reigns supreme.  Undoubtedly, most Christians would not be able to tell you what Kierkegaardian faith is, let alone spell it correctly.  And yet, his views on faith have unquestionably kierkegaard2_360x450informed the Christian understanding on this matter. Christians have so willingly embraced Kierkegaard’s notion that faith is contrary to reason, that even atheists and agnostics have come to define faith in these same terms.[4]  This means that in any discussion involving faith, one must take into consideration that most people presuppose faith to be irrational (and assume Christians do as well). Such understanding may be rooted in the idea that “blind” faith is more spiritual (a misinterpretation of key scriptural passages), or that belief in an other-worldly being requires other-worldly thinking.  While Christians may contend that this conception of faith is based upon biblical grounds, the reality is that it is fundamentally rooted in the metaphysical skepticism of Kant, of which both Hegel and Kierkegaard were attempting to address.

It is obvious in reading Kierkegaard that much of his philosophy is a reaction against Hegel’s philosophical system.  In his Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Kierkegaard provides a biting summary of his criticism of Hegelian thought:

The speculative movement which plumes itself on having completely understood Christianity, and explains itself at the same time as the highest development within Christianity, has strangely enough made the discovery that there is no beyond.[5]

As the quote above suggests, Kierkegaard rejected Hegel’s philosophy because it watered down Christianity’s real message and turned the church into an essentially secular institution.[6]  The reference to there being “no beyond” indicates Kierkegaard’s inability to accept Hegel’s Divine Absolute as coming anywhere close to the Christian conception of God.  Hegel may, at times, refer to it as “God” (especially in later writings), but his understanding of the divine is clearly not personal.

Certainly, Kierkegaard’s problems with Hegel went far beyond mere theological differences.  For Hegel, the individual is absorbed into the universal.  For Kierkegaard, the individual is what matters, and subjectivity is truth (a concept that Kierkegaard could not separate from his faith).

It is subjectivity that Christianity is concerned with, and it is only in subjectivity that its truth exists, if it exists at all; objectively, Christianity has absolutely no existence.[7]

Kierkegaardian faith is entirely subjective; it is a blind leap into the absurd and the acceptance of something which Kierkegaard maintained as being completely incapable of being understood.[8] In his own words, Kierkegaard states,

Christianity specifically involves relinquishing the natural discriminations of the finite understanding and taking a qualitative leap into the realm of the intellectually opaque or repellent.[9]

hegelHow different this is from Hegel, who wants to assert that faith is rational (even scientific). For Kierkegaard, faith is irrational; there is no rational justification for belief in God, it is purely an assertion of the will. Finally, a philosopher who gets it!  Or so, the fideistic champions would lead Christians to believe. In reality, such thinking does faith more harm than good.  Kierkegaard was justified in criticizing Hegel for going too far, but in so doing, he went to the opposite extreme. A faith that is irrelevant to the modern mind is irrelevant to the modern man.  When properly understood, faith should not be viewed as contrary to reason.  It would behoove Christians to take a closer look at Hegel, back away from taking any irrational leaps into opacity, and move a few steps closer to a faith within the bounds of reason.

It is clear in the very opening pages of the Phenomenology that Hegel has Kant in mind and is attempting to overcome the uncertainty and skepticism that he has left the world pondering.[10] Clearly, he is echoing Kant’s ideas when he talks about the uneasiness we have in contemplating whether we can trust our perceptions of the world.

This feeling of uneasiness is surely bound to be transformed into the conviction that the whole project of securing for consciousness through cognition what exists in itself is absurd, and that there is a boundary between cognition and the absolute that completely separates them.[11]

The absolute that Hegel is referring to is the knowledge of reality itself, as it truly is, as a concrete particular. The problem is in getting to such knowledge, for between the absolute and one’s cognition is this great boundary that separates the two. As the individual immanuel_kant_painted_portraitencounters objects in the world, they are encountered through the senses, coming to understand them through the use of the mind. Thus, Kant asserted that a person can never get to this knowledge of true reality because they only know it after it has been filtered, mediated, and reshaped by the categories of understanding (i.e. time, space, causation). Objects are known only as they appear to the individual, not as they are in themselves. Or at least, no one can trust that this is not the case. This is the great uncertainty that Kant left the philosophical community and the very issue that Hegel is attempting to confront. Is humanity limited to a mediated and distorted phenomenal knowledge of objects, or can things be known as they really are?

These are questions that might not seem significant to the modern mind, but that have broad philosophical and theological implications for today, particularly for Christians. If we can’t have certain knowledge of the external world, then how can we have certain knowledge of God? If all of our perceptions are skewed by our senses, then how do we know our perceptions of God haven’t also been skewed? It was this same mistrust of sensory perception that led Kierkegaard to define faith as an irrational leap. If we can’t know God objectively by means of our senses and reason, then a subjective act of faith is our only means of knowing him. But while Kierkegaard believed it was impossible to rationally know reality (and ultimately God), Hegel was confident he could.  The Phenomenology sets out to delineate his solution, and as was previously mentioned, concludes with the Christian faith providing the answer.

For Hegel, Christianity was the consummate religion.  He believed that the truth of Christianity was in what it represented.  There was a deeper meaning to be found behind the symbols.  It was this picture thinking of the Christian faith that Hegel set about to transform into a scientific philosophy of religion.[12]  He argued that a traditional understanding of Christianity objectified God, placing him above and separate from our finite world.  God, being infinite and universal, is therefore left alienated from mankind (who is finite and particular). With God off in the unknowable beyond, we find ourselves restricted to the finite, cut off from God’s realm.  While Hegel certainly maintained that the Divine was infinite, he considered this particular conception a bad kind of infinity, which is precisely what leads to Hegel’s unhappy consciousness.[13]  However, Hegel did find within the Christian faith at least one good picture of how the infinite is to properly be conceived.  In the person of Christ we have the infinite and the finite brought together.  Hegel scholar Quentin Lauer summarizes what sets Christianity apart from other religions:

The inadequacy of all previous forms of religious consciousness was that they represented to themselves either a god (gods) not recognizable as spirit… In none was the abstract divine human relationship concretized into a relationship of God and man.  In Christian theology…the incarnation presents to religious consciousness a uniquely concrete union of the divine and human in the God-man, thus revealing to human consciousness that to be totally human is to be divine.  Jesus Christ is for Hegel the unique self, who is at once absolute and human.[14]

This is why Hegel refers to the Christian faith (when properly understood) as the religion of revelation. Not that it is a faith built upon the Scriptures (what Christians commonly refer to as revelation), but that it helps to reveal a profound philosophical truth.  God is present in and tying together all of Creation, and it is this unifying factor that makes knowledge of the real world possible.  If God is imminent in Creation, then for him to know the world is to know himself. If our own consciousness is part of the divine, then for us to know God is to know ourselves.  And likewise, if all of Creation is part of the universal consciousness of the Absolute, then we can know it as simply as we know ourselves.

The subject itself, and consequently this pure universal too, is, however, revealed as Self, for this is just this inner being which is reflected into itself and which is immediately present and is the self-certainty of the Self for which it is present.  This – to be in accordance with its Notion that which is revealed – this is, then, the true shape of Spirit, and this its shape, the Notion, is likewise alone its essence and its substance.  Spirit is known as self-consciousness and to this self-consciousness it is immediately revealed, for Spirit is this self-consciousness itself.  The divine nature is the same as the human, and it is this unity that is beheld.[15]

For Hegel, it is the incarnation of Christ that communicates this philosophical truth better than any other.  For within himself, Christ discovered the infinite life.  In his person, the infinite was imminent within the finite.  “Two sides have in this way encountered each other, and through this encounter their true union has come into being.”[16]

If Kant left humanity with a great gulf between the noumena and the phenomena, the real world and our perception of it, then it is through the synthesis expressed in the figurative language of the Incarnation that the two can be reunited.  Here the finite and infinite are brought together. As Copleston expresses it, “Not by denying all reality to the finite, not by reducing the infinite to the multiplicity of finite particulars as such, but by integration, as it were, the finite into the infinite.”[17]  In this sense, we can say that the finite has now become a moment (a manifestation) in the overall life of the infinite.  Hegel pushes us past natural religion and the religion of art and beauty, to an absolute religion where the totality of nature is united with God, a self manifestation of spirit (the Word).  It is rational spirit that is imminent in finite selves, uniting them into a whole.  Again, though the religious terminology of the Christian faith pervades the closing sections of the Phenomenology, Hegel is merely expressing philosophical truth in the figurative language of religion.  He is using it much like a father would use a fable to express some moral principle to his child. There is a deeper, hidden message. The Christian religion provides the pictorial thoughts that lead us to absolute knowledge.  In the end, it is at the level of absolute knowing that he distills the philosophical form from Christian expression and transcends representational religion altogether. “The content of this picture thinking is absolute spirit; and all that now remains to be done is to supersede this mere form.”[18]  For Hegel, the result is the perfection of religion, the abandonment of the figurative trappings of the faith. What we are left with is an entirely rational faith, or more appropriately, faith in rationality. Religion has evolved into science. [19]

In Hegel’s mind, he has helped resurrect religion from its Enlightenment critics who tried to dispense with it altogether. “We shall see whether enlightenment can remain satisfied; that yearning of the troubled spirit which mourns over the loss of its spiritual world lurks in the background.”[20]  Philosophy (and even science) cannot and must not entirely do away with religion. In the Phenomenology, Hegel removes the tension that has always existed between religion and philosophy and attempts to show that the one needs the other.  On the one hand, the religious consciousness must come to accept a rational picture of the world, rejecting the literal understanding of the terms of Christianity (abandoning its representational form) which is the very thing that the Enlightenment attacked.  For this service, Hegel points out that the Enlightenment critics have done their work and are to be applauded for it. On the other hand, if religious belief is thus fashioned, then there is no need for it to be rejected.[21] In fact, philosophy must come to realize that there is much it could learn from such religious belief (which is what Hegel has demonstrated). Through the perfection of religion (religious consciousness in its highest form), the difficulties between faith and philosophy are removed and the one can be incorporated into the other.[22]

While the Enlightenment set out to place reason above faith, which certainly fits Hegel’s overall purpose, he believed it went too far in trying to entirely dismiss faith and the spiritual realm. “If all prejudice and superstition have been banished the question arises, what next? What is the truth Enlightenment has propagated in their stead?”[23] The truth is that we would be left in a vacuum, cut off from absolute Being.  The opposition between finite and infinite, the world of reality and the world of spirit, cannot be overcome by philosophy alone.  For this, we must turn to religion for help.  Quentin Lauer says it best:

It is religion, we might say, which gets consciousness out of the vacuum in which it floats into the real world where alone spiritual activity and the consciousness of it have meaning.  Only as religious can consciousness see that there is no conflict between the world of reality and the world of spirit, because they are one and the same world.[24]

Hegel maintains that without Spirit, the Enlightenment leaves the self alienated from the world.

(The Enlightenment’s) behavior towards faith seems to rend asunder the beautiful unity of trust and immediate certainty, to pollute its spiritual consciousness with mean thoughts of sensuous reality, to destroy the soul which is composed and secure in its submission, by the vanity of the Understanding and of self-will and self-fulfillment.  But as a matter of fact, the result of the Enlightenment is rather to do away with the thoughtless, or rather non-notional, separation which is present in faith.[25]

Hegel argues that this is why we need the perfection of religion, a conception of faith that is free from dogmatic irrationalism and that seems to mediate the universal with the finite, the inner with the outer, and God with man.[26] Far from doing away with spirit and faith, it must now be embraced.  But in order for the philosophical mind to come to such a point, faith must be reformulated into something more rational, which is what Hegel is trying to do.  The result of such a faith is that it can truly come to know the divine being. “The world is indeed implicitly reconciled with the divine being; and regarding the divine being it is known, of course, that it recognizes the object as no longer alienated from it but as identical with it.”[27] Just as God has instantiated Himself in the world through Creation, reason is realized in the world, infusing and permeating everything. According to Patrick Gardiner,

The Christian doctrine of the Incarnation should be read as symbolizing the essential unity of the spiritual and natural in the life and development of the human species as a whole.[28]

In the end, Hegel is clearly not a traditional theist, and is certainly far from the Christianity that Kierkegaard knew and embraced. If anything, we can say that he was a panentheist.[29] Peter Singer says of the Phenomenology, “Although we set out merely to trace the path of mind as it comes to know reality, at the end of the road we find that we have been watching mind as it constructs reality.”[30]  Of course, for Hegel, this is a connection that goes beyond mere creation.  This action on the part of mind is much more akin to the incarnation, where the individual and universal share the same properties.

Science sets forth this formative process in all its detail and necessity, exposing the mature configuration of everything which has already been reduced to a moment in property of spirit.[31]

God is thus the cosmic consciousness or mind that courses through all things, much like what we would find in Eastern philosophies where “all is one.”  He is the Absolute, which comprises the totality of reality as a whole.  While Hegel speaks of the Absolute as God, he does not conceive of Him as a personal deity, distinct from the world, as in theism.  His argument is never that one has to believe in God in order to know Absolute reality, simply that one has to recognize that there is an all-encompassing mind that stands over and runs through all of reality.  For Hegel, God is mind, Spirit, the Absolute, the all-encompassing Reason that interpenetrates and interconnects all of nature, providing the rational framework that enables knowledge of reality.

Not only does the “picture thinking” of the incarnation aid in communicating this point, Hegel uses it to avoid falling into subjective idealism. In subjective idealism, one’s own thoughts are what ultimately make up reality. The problem with this thinking is that we end up with a multiplicity of realities as different minds construct different worlds, with no objective outside reality to judge which is right and wrong. While Hegel is most certainly an idealist (ultimate reality is mind, not matter), he is an absolute idealist as opposed to subjective. For Hegel, there are not countless minds that exist. There is only one mind, essentially universal, representing rational consciousness (for indeed, reason is the essential principle of mind).[32] It is not that there are no such things as individual minds; they are simply incarnations, or aspects of the one universal mind. They are linked together by a common universal reason.[33] It is Hegel’s rational picture of God (if we can still call it such) that holds reality together in a consistent, knowable form.

Hegel has set out to achieve absolute knowledge, to know reality as it truly is, not merely as it appears. In the end, one discovers that there is no reality independent of the mind; it is no longer an unknowable beyond as Kant postulated, but is known directly by mind, because it is one with it.  “Absolute knowledge is reached when mind realizes that what it seeks to know is itself.”[34] Contemporary Christian philosophers Steve Wilson and Alan Padgett rightly interpret Hegel as stating that . . .

All things, historical events, finite minds such as you and I, social institutions and natural events – are all expressions of absolute spirit. Reality is in the end rational, and rationality (absolute mind) is the basis of all reality.[35]

The individual mind is an incarnation of the universal mind, as is all of Creation. Man is no longer alien to the reality of this world. The two are linked together. They share a common bond, and it is this common bond that enables the human mind to have true knowledge of the world.  Absolute knowledge can be reached by human reason, because it is reason knowing reason. According to Hegel, if everything that is real is also rational, then it can be known.

Reflecting on the totality of Hegel’s argument, one can begin to see why Kierkegaard, and Christians in general, would have a problem with Hegel’s panentheistic conception of God and interpretation of Christian doctrine.  Perhaps Kierkegaard found it ironic that while Hegel claimed to have fully understood Christianity, and to have perfected it, he was in fact completely distorting it (or so Kierkegaard claimed). In his work, On Authority and Revelation, Kierkegaard directly critiques Hegel’s approach to Christian faith, claiming that he has missed the whole point. He argued that Hegel’s attempt to subject the truths of faith to the norms of human understanding was precisely what the Scriptures had warned Christians not to do.[36] Kierkegaard believed that faith should not be based upon reason. Faith was a personal choice, entirely subjective, not backed up by evidence, and totally without basis. As previously stated, he believed that faith was a blind leap involving intellectual risk. Without risk, faith would not exist. While he may have agreed with Hegel in showing disdain for an historical-evidential basis for Christian belief, he clearly disagreed with Hegel’s attempt to construct a rational connection between human consciousness and the Absolute.[37]  In the end, Kierkegaard believed that Hegel was merely dressing up speculative thought in Christian terminology.

The problem here is that such irrational notions of God as “wholly other” and “not of this world,” seem to be merely religious expressions of the Kantian conception of cognition. It is precisely for this reason that Christians ought to be more Hegelian in their view of faith, than Kierkegaardian. If Hegel set out on his journey of consciousness to disprove the assumptions of Kant, then it appears that Kierkegaard has merely embraced them. In the end, Hegel’s answer to Kant is that one can know the thing in itself, as it actually is, because of a shared connection with it. The world is not something that is external and independent of the individual, and one’s understanding is not an ill equipped medium that distorts what is perceived. “What confronts us as being apparently foreign or ‘other’ is in fact the expression of an all encompassing cosmic process in which we ourselves participate and whose underlying essence is spiritual or mental.”[38]

But for Kierkegaard, Kant’s assumptions about cognition and perception are presupposed. If there is a great gulf between things as they are in themselves, and things as they are perceived to be (as Kant maintained), then Kierkegaard’s approach seems natural.  How can one ever approach knowledge of God using rational capacities if they are prone to distortion? Unfortunately, to accept such a basis for faith leaves us no grounds for justifying one set of beliefs over and above alternative beliefs.  This notion of justification is not important to Kierkegaard.  In the end, what matters to him is that “he” has chosen to believe.  What he has chosen is not as important as the act of choosing.  The truth of faith is determined entirely on the basis of a subjective experience.  Instead of resolving the dichotomy that Kant posits (between reality and perception), Kierkegaardian faith only makes the problem worse. Fideism gives in to Kantian skepticism and ultimately leads to relativism and mysticism.  If faith is irrational, then subjectivity is truth.  This leaves us with countless possibilities, posited by countless individuals, who all claim to have had countless esoteric encounters with countless divine beings. This is an approach to faith that Christians should not accept.

As Christians, we should favor Hegel’s emphasis on reason, but not all of his conclusions.  It is not clear from Hegel why it is necessary to reject the literal understanding of the terms of Christianity, especially if its historical and textual aspects can be demonstrated as factual.  It appears that while Hegel is fighting against certain aspects of Enlightenment skepticism, he has bought into others (particularly the attacks on the historicity of the faith). One can still hold to the authority of Scripture and the historicity of Christ, and maintain the rationality of the Christian faith. First and foremost, we should echo Hegel’s belief that there is a rational framework that pervades all of reality, including God.  Just as man is rational, so is God.  It is this rational resemblance between God and man that enables each to know the other.  In his Philosophy of Religion, Hegel states that “(h)ere it is revealed what God is; He is no longer a Being above and beyond this world, an Unknown, for He has told men what He is, and this not merely in an outward way in history, but in consciousness.”[39] Theoretically, God can tell man what He is because he has created him with the rational capacity to understand what is being communicated. In regard to this unity that exists between human and divine, Hegel states:

The absolute Being which exists as an actual self-consciousness seems to have come down from its eternal simplicity, but by thus coming down it has in fact attained its highest essence.[40]

If we say that God’s highest essence is best expressed in human terms (the condescension of God), then are we making God in the image of man (by projecting onto God the rational ways of the human mind)?  This is partly what Kierkegaard and many Christians believe Hegel is doing.  It echoes the criticisms of Feuerbach, that what Hegel has done is reduce theology to anthropology.  “Man’s supposed knowledge of God amounts in the end to no more than man’s knowledge of himself.”[41]  But, is it inappropriate for us to think of God in these anthropomorphic terms? Hegel never communicates that the Divine Consciousness is fashioned in the likeness of the individual.  Quite the contrary; Hegel is adamant that individual self consciousness is an expression, or instantiation of the universal.  All particulars are impressed or infused, with the rational order of the universal mind.  It is not a case of God being fashioned in the image of man, but rather man having been made in the image of God – a concept which clearly hearkens to the words of Genesis 1:27, “Let us make man in our own image.”  In this case, it would be entirely appropriate to speak of God in human terms because it is our way of reflecting back onto God what he first imparted onto us. No matter what can be said of Hegel’s theology, he is certainly correct in this approach.

It is easy to see this within the context of the master-slave relationship addressed in earlier sections of the Phenomenology. It is in this section that Hegel reveals his thinking to be much more in line with traditional Christian belief. Much of Hegel’s thought reflects the Scholastic idea of the doctrine of analogy.  Simply put, the doctrine of analogy states that any created thing necessarily shares qualities with the thing that created it.  It speaks of a unity between creator and creation.  This is in part what Hegel’s bondsman is beginning to realize as he works to create things with his own hands.  It is an insight which Hegel uses as a key transition into the idea that there is a rational structure to the world.  The slave begins to see the universe as interconnected.  The thread of logos runs throughout all of reality, of which man’s rational consciousness is a part.  It is this unifying force that ties everything together and provides “communion with myself, and the object.”[42]  Prior to this moment of consciousness, external objects were seen as contrary to one’s thinking.  However, in working on objects and bringing one’s ideas to realization via creation, one comes to see that there is no gulf between us and the external world.  What Hegel begins as a seed thought in his earlier sections of the Phenomenology, he brings to full development in his conclusion.  In regard to this line of thinking, Hegel falls right in line with one of the greatest representatives of the Christian tradition, Saint Thomas Aquinas.

thomas_aquinas_03fmFor since every agent reproduces itself so far as it is an agent, and everything acts according to the manner of its form, the effect must in some way resemble the form of the agent.  If therefore the agent is contained in the same species as its effect, there will be a likeness in form between that which makes and that which is made according to the same formality of the species . . . If, however, the agent and its effect are not contained in the same species, there will be a likeness, but not according to the same formality of the same species.[43]

Aquinas further states,

Because they (sensible things) are his effects and depend on him for their cause, we can be led from them so far as to know of God whether he exists, and to know of him what must necessarily belong to him, as the first cause of all things, exceeding all things caused by him.[44]

It does not seem necessary to Hegel’s argument that he move on to a more panentheistic conception of God. Aquinas demonstrates that the Christian can maintain that the creator and his creation, God and man, are distinct from one another while still being connected.

Aquinas, articulating classical Christian thought, firmly believed that there was a direct analogy that could be drawn between God and the world, a truth that necessarily flowed from the fact that God was the primary cause of the world.[45]  For Aquinas, God stands over the world as the creator of all things to include mankind.  All of reality shares the marks of its creator and are thus similar, at least in some respects, to God and each other.  These similarities would seem to preclude the notion that there is utter alienation, or an impassable gulf between us and the Absolute.  Aquinas would argue that while there are differences between creation and creator, the differences cannot be radical.  Wolfhart Pannenberg states, “According to the doctrine of analogy, the effects produced by God are the basis of what is said about God himself, following the maxim about knowing the unknown by analogy with the known.”[46]

Just like it is not hard to see the influence of Kant on Kierkegaard, it is not hard to see the parallels between Hegel and Aquinas’ thinking.  It is even harder to argue against the logic. It is the Christian tradition that has long held the belief in the rational structure to the universe, rooted in the rational nature of its creator (as opposed to being independent of God).  This means that not only do Christians have a rational faith, they have faith in rationality (specifically the rationality of God). It would appear that while Hegel goes too far in his rationalization of Christianity, his approach is more in keeping with the Christian tradition than Kierkegaard’s. Given Hegel’s fundamental point that reason is universal, and the significance it plays in supporting our ability to have absolute knowledge (as well as our ability to know the Divine), it is hard to see how we could advocate anything less than faith in rationality – a rational faith in the rationality of God and his creation.  Anything less would reduce faith to the absurd.  But then, that is exactly what Kierkegaard is advocating.

[1] This paper will not focus on the analysis of related scriptural passages.

[2] Lauer, Quentin. A Reading of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. New York: Fordham University Press (1993), p. 259.

[3] McInerny, Ralph. “Kierkegaard and the Hegelian Christians”, The Review of Politics, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Jan., 1957), p. 134.

[4] I will point to a discussion in Dr. Jules Simon’s Ethics and Science class (Spring ’09) in which one of the students indicated a preference for the Book of Mormon’s definition of faith as holding a belief even if all the evidence points against it.  This comment was not recorded in the protocol for that evening.

[5] Kierkegaard, Søren. Concluding Unscientific Postscript. tr. D.F. Swenson and W. Lowrie. Princeton University Press (1941), p. 323.

[6] Gardiner, Patrick. Kierkegaard: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1988), p. 16.

[7] Kierkegaard, p. 116.

[8] McInerny, p. 135.

[9] Kierkegaard, p. 159.

[10] While Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason (1781) might have been an attempt to combat the skepticism prevalent in the Enlightenment (particularly that of Hume), he actually ended up contributing to even greater skepticism. When we talk of Kantian skepticism, we are referring particularly to skepticism regarding anything metaphysical.

[11] Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans. by A. V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1977), p. 46.

[12] Wilson, Steve and Alan Padgett. Christianity and Western Thought. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press (2000), Vol. 2, p.86.

[13] Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Modern Philosophy. New York: Doubleday (1994), Vol. 7, p. 165.

[14] Lauer, p. 275.

[15] Hegel, p. 460. – emphasis added.

[16] Ibid., p. 457.

[17] Copleston,p. 167.

[18] Hegel, p. 479.

[19] Copleston, p. 187. “But the religious consciousness expressed itself as we have seen, in pictorial forms. And it demands to be transmuted into the pure conceptual form of philosophy which at the same time expresses the transition from faith to knowledge or science.”

[20] Hegel, p. 349.

[21] Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious (1696) being an example of such a rationalization of the Christian faith.

[22] Stern, Robert. Hegel and the Phenomenology of Spirit. London: Routledge (2002), p. 193.

[23] Hegel, p. 340.

[24] Lauer, p. 260.

[25] Hegel, p. 348.

[26] Stern, p. 155.

[27] Hegel, p. 478.

[28] Gardiner, p. 32.

[29] Panentheism is the belief that God is in the world and the world is in God.

[30] Singer, Peter. Hegel: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1983), p. 92.

[31] Hegel, p. 29.

[32] Singer, p. 96.

[33] Ibid., p. 89.

[34] Ibid., p. 92.

[35] Wilson & Padgett, p. 82.

[36] McInerny, p. 135.  For example, Colossians 2:8 says, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

[37] Evans, Stephen. Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing (1998), p. 211.

[38] Gardiner, p.  30.

[39] As quoted in Brown, Colin. Philosophy and the Christian Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press (1968), p. 122.

[40] Hegel, p. 460.

[41] Gardiner, p. 32 & 34.

[42] Hegel, p. 120

[43] Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica, tr. by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Westminster, MD: Christian Classics (1981), Pt. 1, Q. 4, art. 3.

[44] Ibid., Pt. 1, Q. 12, art.12.

[45] Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Basic Questions in Theology, Volume II. Philadelphia: Westminster Press (1971), p. 223.

[46] Ibid., p. 215.

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