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Hegel may be one of the most relevant philosophers for today. He studied God and the Divine interaction with us and Creation in ways that transcend dogma. What you have heard from political pundits regarding Hegel and Communism or Hegel as athiest is all a lie. Perhaps that is too strong. They may not be lying. Instead, they are probably ignorant of who Hegel was and what he actually wrote. He is very difficult to read, and it is easy to get confused between his detailed description of the view he is arguing against and the detailed explanation of what he is arguing for. Even in Philosophy class students avoided reading Hegel. For this reason, most people are just repeating rumors about Hegel that they have read from others because Hegel is one of the most difficult reads that I have ever waded through. And most don’t bother. I will have a passage from Hegel at the end if you doubt me on this. I want to set the record straight. There is no Hegelian thought without God.

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Today is an unusual topic for us because it delves into the depths of one of the most difficult philosophers of Western Civilization. Philosophy was my first professed Major in College and Hegel was one of my favs. I am so tired of hearing people talk about Hegel when what they say reveals they have never actually read him or if they did that they did not understand him.

There are a lot of posers in the world, and I have come to hate posers. Truth is worth taking the time to clarify and if you stay with me through this you will know more about Hegel than anyone you are ever likely to meet; it is worth the ride. If you’re up to it – don’t give up even if you have to reread an idea it is important. So, mount up troopers, draw your sabers, and let’s wade into depths of one of the most difficult philosophers who ever put his pen to page.

Let me give you a disclaimer. I have not read everything Hegel has written but I would love to talk with someone who has although I have never met them. I draw my knowledge of Hegel from what I have read which is the Phenomenology of the World Spirit and the Introduction to World History. So, I am basing my analysis on these. Hegel is tedious and very detailed. His German mind is very complete and exacting and it caused him to tear apart piece by piece every idea and concept and then rebuild it all into a new edifice. You shouldn’t put down anyone who got lost on the way. After all Marx, Lenin, Foucault, and many others failed to understand Hegelian thought and created a bastardized and ephemeral phantom of true Hegelian thought in their own writings.

German philosophy, like German theology, is deep and thorough. It is easy to lose the forest in the trees if you come from a different culture – like one that always wants to jump right to “the point” no matter how many contradictions or oversimplifications you have to create to get there. But Germans don’t gloss over things they dig into them.

Aa an example of the difference, I remember being given an assignment to write an exegesis (a detailed study,) of a passage in the Biblical book of Romans and I was told I needed to write an introductory paragraph that included the historical, cultural, literary, and theological context of the passage in no more than five sentences. So, I did; five grammatically correct sentences. When Professor Carter handed me the paper back, he smiled and said in his New Zealand accent, “Actually, when I asked for a five-sentence introductory paragraph I was thinking of five American sentences and not five German sentences.”

Today they and our computers want us to write short concise sentences. That is like fighting with one hand tied behind your back. No one even knows English any more it seems. (I heartily recommend trooper that you take the time to read the tiny book Strunk and White’s Elements of Style which is a must for anyone who actually writes or communicates for a living-I used it to home school my youngest son and he laughed while reading it and said, “I didn’t know anyone could make grammar funny.” But then language is about communication, isn’t it? That means all ramifications of communication. In America and Britain we must all learn English on our own because I can make a safe bet that your school never bothered to teach it to you.) It us worth learning.

I bring up this story to make a point. All cultures are not the same nor are they equivalent. They are very different and to say they are all equal is like saying apples and pomegranates are identical because they are both fruit. To say they are equal or that one is better than the other is worse than lazy it is stupid. It is like saying one pistol is better than another, there are idiots that say that too when how good a pistol is depends on what you want your pistol to do. Every culture, weapon, or idea may bring something to the table, but they are absolutely not the same.

Different tools for different tasks and different languages do better or worse at various ideas and endeavors. German writing, such as Hegel’s, is very detailed, exploring every word and every nuance in an endeavor to dig to the truth. You can see this in not only German writings and philosophy, but the German mind seems to be this thorough and serious in almost every endeavor – like beer. This is a concept my youngest son understood as we were all talking in the car yesterday as the family went out to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings. He said, “German humor…it’s no laughing matter.” Germans are a passionate people – sometimes like a boiling pot with the lid on too tight.

To be fair most people won’t ever read Hegel and I cannot really blame them. My IQ is in the 99th Percentile, that’s no brag, just fact (and I scored that while fighting the flu and with a temp of 101.5. False modesty doesn’t serve us here. I read The Lord of the Rings in 1st and 2nd Grade (actually got in trouble because I was not reading “See Dick Run” during class,) I say this to because I need to make the point that I am no dummy and I still found Hegel to be the most difficult read that I have ever waded into, and I don’t recommend him to any layman.

Let’s be clear before we go any farther and that anything I write here is a gross over-simplification of the depth of the Hegelian system and thought but I like to make difficult ideas understandable and usable to people who have other occupations that they need to spend their life and energy on but would benefit from knowing.

“Hegel is a lot like Kant,” I remember a Dr. Darnell telling us in his High School AP Philosophy class. “No one really understands what Hegel was talking about except himself and God. Now Hegel is dead, and God isn’t talking.” Dr. Don Darnell believed that every fundamental problem in modern history had the roots of its solution in the Western Philosophy that was already a part of who we are as a civilization and that knowledge of philosophy would carry over into whatever we did in life.

Before we dive in indulge me as I give a shout out to those who made me want to teach in the first place. Without their influence I would probably not do the work required to maintain this site. Say a prayer in their memory and for their families if you appreciate this website because it was teachers like Dr. Donald Darnell, Mrs. Judy Bogle, Mrs. Bachtold, Col. Dr. Phil Dyer, Dr. Ivan Volgyes, Sensei Schmidt, and R. Micheal Troester who made me want to become a teacher in the first place. They were real teachers when school and university actually meant something. Teachers who fed and encouraged a thirst for knowledge; before our schools were poisoned by the pretenders, idealogues, midwits, and liars of today.

Nearly everyone who talks about Hegel has never actually done the work to read Hegel. Communists and Marx stole and warped parts of Hegelian thought – just like they steal and warp everything they touch.

Today all too many think they know that Communists use his ideas, but they can’t. Hegel’s ideas are grounded in his concept of the Living God and his omnipresence and interaction with every aspect of God’s Creation and atheists, Communists, and hater’s of anything Divine would be an anathema to Hegel. Hegel would have been uncategorical hostile to modern Communism and ANY radical materialist ideology in the world today. He essentially said there is no world history, culture, advancement, or truth without God. Does that sound like a Communist to you? Hegel would have argued any communist alive today into oblivion especially that erring narcissistic and neurotic, abusive, adulterous, library troll Karl Marx.

We constantly hear that Communist theory is based upon the Hegelian Dialectic. Except that it is really not. Marxists have used some ideas they stole from Hegel but only after they stripped off core Hegelian thought. Like most people Marx was a midwit who didn’t understand Hegelian thought. Hegel’s dialectic is not a process where the State or humanity overcomes strife to create a perfect society but a process in which the Divine Spirit expresses itself in human history and culture resolving the inadequacies of finitude with the Divine Nature in a constant process of struggle, conflict, overcoming, and resolution.

To Hegel the great panoramic of world history and national cultures are various expressions of the Divine Spirit interacting with humanity in time and space. Communist ideas are about as antithetical to Hegel as you can get because Communists deny God and the Divine Spirit that Hegel built all of his ideas around.

Hegel would have ripped Communists and others who misuse this dialectical process to pieces. The whole idea of the Divine operating in History is antithetical to Communists and Globalists who make humanity, the State, or free enterprise, the false gods of their ideologies. For Hegel it is the Living God who is working toward the completion and fulfillment of world history and the struggle of challenge, opposition, and synthesis of his dialectic is actually an endless struggle that exists precisely because the world is not the way God intended it to be and God is actively working to realize his goals through his interaction in the World. (Similar ideas are found in Michael Walsh’s book “The Devil’s Pleasure Palace; the Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West.”) In this view everything is encompassed in the reality of the struggle between God’s purpose and the way things are today and the Divine interaction to bring things right. Communism and Consumerism, on the other hand, spread the lie that humans can build a utopia by getting rid of private property or conversely, by buying everything we want.

Hegel is not a quick read. He must be studied and wrestled with grappling with every paragraph until you are sure you understand what he is saying. Most who read Hegel don’t understand it. I had to read and reread many pages to make sure I understood what he was saying. Most people simply will not work that hard for an idea. As I have said before I have an insatiable curiosity and I am far too stubborn to give up, so I persevered until I was sure I understood him.

Universities used to be places where professors would challenge your misconceptions and errors in thought. Good Professors would argue the opposite point or your ideas and your conclusions no matter what argument you made because it was in the process of defending our ideas that we learned. Now, too often, Universities are indoctrination centers that stifle thought. There is no comparison to learning on your own and being able to learn with a true master professor who really knows his shit instead of the midwit idealogues who dominate the universities, schools, and media today.

I really like Hegel and find him intriguing, but I don’t enjoy reading him. He is not fun.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, the German philosopher, had a very complex and nuanced understanding of God and of God’s relationship and interaction with the world. Hegel saw God both as a transcendent being separate from and outside the world but, more importantly for us and human history and culture, as an immanent presence within the universe and embedded in the actions of human history and His Creation. By studying history Hegel dared to suggest that we can get a glimpse of what God is up to although he readily admitted that too often we don’t bother learning the lessons that are there.

Hegel’s philosophy is often described as a form of panentheism, where God is seen as both within the universe and beyond it.

Let’s be clear about what Panentheism is and what it is not. It is not Pantheism and it is important not to confuse this idea with Pantheism. Pantheism, which is the idea that everything is divine or that there are many gods is very different from the idea that God’s Divine Spirit (or spark,) permeates all creation, every person, and history itself. One makes every rock and tree gods while Panentheism insists that the presence of the Living God is the Divine Spark in all life and Natural Law. God is intimately connected with the universe he created and continues to preside over it. All this is very different from a “Prime mover unmoved” for Hegel God is VERY moved by human history and what we do to each other. It is the idea that God is IN everything that was created, and the Divine spark is central to all life. God feels everything that we do and experiences everything we feel.

There was a Catholic priest in Central America who a child asked what Jesus would say when he came back at the end times. The priest smiled and dismissed it as one of those cute questions kids ask. However, after the murder, rape, and torture of a group of nuns in his country by communist insurgents he said, “God says ‘ENOUGH!’ I have had enough of what you people do to each other.”

Hegel equated philosophical and religious thought to the point that he said you cannot truly think philosophically without exploring the religious. They are inseparable from one another and true philosophy dwells in the same paradigm as religion.

Likewise, because God is omnipresent and active in the world the very study of the phenomena of the History of the World and human culture is a study of the Divine and Divine intention. The conflict, antithesis, and resolution Hegel talked about in the Hegelian Dialectic is the working out of the Divine Will in the culture and history of the World. This is not some Pollyanna idea that everything is God’s perfect will and all is wonderful but is the realization that for the Divine to be expressed in this imperfect world it must confront and overcome antithetical ideas (like evil,) and involves conflict and resolution as God moves history and culture forward with a purpose. If God had total control and we were automatons you could perhaps argue that things would always universally and continuously get better but that is not real. And Hegel always described himself as a realist.

Communists say that the State is God. Warping Hegel’s idea that God creates the state through conflict and overcoming aspects antithetical to Divine Nature. Sometimes, as today, the State itself becomes antithetical to the Divine Nature. But saying God’s action in history creates the State is not saying the State is perfect or that it acts in accordance with God’s Will.

I personally believe that the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were Divinely inspired. I agree with Washington and Jefferson that God was doing something in America that he had never done before in human history. God was creating a state that potentially could allow humanity its greatest opportunity for becoming “all that God had created us to be” by removing the barriers that the power elite put in the way of communities and individuals to express themselves and their faith. Through the self-interested elite, Communists, globalists, and radical materialists the workings of the State that has been mired in corruption that not only rejects God today but actively works against the Divine Spirit. This is so obvious today that global gatherings, government institutions, and media are increasing using Satanic imagery to express the Spirit that dominates their endeavors and their lives.

As a Jedi once said in a fan movie, “Freedom is a lie. We are all servants in one way or another. We can either become slaves to an ideal that makes us something better than we are or we can become slaves to our own desires and passions embarking on an endless quest to satisfy our own wants. But we will be a slave to something.”

The Spirit of this age is increasingly revealing itself as anti-life – as was Karl Marx himself.

Did you know, Freedom Trooper, that four of Marx children died of sickness or starvation, he was personally covered in boils and sores that revealed his own inner rot on his very flesh? Did you know that the two daughters he had who survived to adulthood both killed themselves in a suicide pact with their husbands. The only child who survived him was the child he had of an affair with his wife’s nursemaid whom he never claimed or even spoke to and whom Engle’s adopted. Marx favorite quote, the idea that guided his life, was drawn from the Milton’s play and was the driving idea behind Satan himself. It was “All that exists deserves to perish!” That is not an idea that everything bad needs to be torn down. It is saying that everything, including the family, religion, knowledge, and history itself must be destroyed. Every tree, every building, every animal, every idea deserves to perish. Perhaps that is why Communism has killed more than a 100 million people in the world (more than World War One and Two combined,) and has brought nothing but pain suffering and death to the world it pollutes. It is a reflection of its founder.

Now, contrast this with Hegel that modern pundits, media, and public opinion falsely connect with Communism. Such a belief (Communism and the destruction conceived in Marx’ personal maxim,) runs counter to Hegelian idea where history itself is a process where God strives to work through human interaction to make things better in life. This is not a prime mover unmoved, or some distant God who looks down at us “from a distance” but one who is intimately connected in every aspect of our lives and every act that unfolds in history.

For Hegel History and Culture is the Divine Spirit operating through humanity and in history. In every act, every war, and every demonstration it is either the Spirit of the Living God trying to make things right or it is the Spirit of Destruction trying to destroy God’s Creation and Shalom. As I have said before, every act in our own lives and in history either chooses God, or Not God. We either make God more real in our lives and the lives of others or we shove the Divine farther away from us. (See last article The Lies Are Killing Us – SabersEdge – Cutting Through the Lies to Get to the Truth or What’s The Meaning of Life? Why Are We Here Now? – SabersEdge – Cutting Through the Lies to Get to the Truth or even look at this for the idea that life is about struggle and resolution to bring things to the way they are supposed to be Tested and Proven in Struggle As Children of the Living God – )

While Hegel would never say that every act in history is “God’s will” he would be familiar with the idea that ever act and every idea is either God or Not God. While things may be horribly wrong in the finite the Divine Will operates and moves toward resolution in and through millennia. (It is enlightening to read The Will of God by Leslie D. Weatherhead for a deeper understanding of what “the Will of God” actually means – it is a very short little book but worth reading.)

In Hegel’s view God is the absolute spirit. God is the ultimate reality and the ultimate truth. Hegel’s God operates through human history and the unfolding of human culture and consciousness in a dialectical process of contradictions, conflict, and resolution. For Hegel God is not static or a Prime mover unmoved but is a dynamic and constantly moving actor coming to know and express itself in life. That is not to say it doesn’t make wrong turns as we wander off course but that God works to bring things back in line over the centuries.

Hegel even saw the Trinity through this dialectical lens. The Father represented the Universal, while the Son represented the particular and human particularity and individuality in history, while the Holy Spirit represented the unity of all combining and harmonizing the Universal with the particular.

Hegel’s concept of God is deeply intertwined with his entire philosophical system. It is not even remotely friendly to Communist thought and practice. Hegel understood God as the power realizing its will in the totality of all that is and manifesting itself through the continuous dialectical process overcoming antithesis through the process of action, thought, and being.

I think Hegel, like many mystics, would have been friendly to the idea that reality is a simulation. They categorically said that reality exists only by the mind and power of God and if he were to ever stop thinking of us, even for an instant, all Creation and Natural Law would cease to exist. The very force that binds the atoms together in the structure of the universe would be, for Hegel, the Will of God. It is, in a sense, a simulation upon and within the operating system that is the mind and power of the Living God.

There can be NO Hegelian thought without the idea of the Divine indwelling and omnipresent Spirit operating through all of History and Culture to realize God’s Divine Purpose. For Communists it is humans, the elite, and the State that is in command of the dialectical process striving to produce a Communist or Commercial paradise of workers or for Globalist Elite a Consumer Paradise of Free Enterprise. Communist Dialectical Materialism is not Hegelian.

To equate Hegel as a father of the Communist idea of Dialectical Materialism is a lie or at best ignorance of people who do not read or understand Hegel himself but have only read what others say about Hegel. Hegel cannot be simply read; he must be studied or left alone.

Communists hijacked his idea of the dialectic (which seems to me to be a Truth that is so ingrained in Western Civilization that it is the driving force not only of history and culture but of all literature, art, drama, and the heroic cycle itself. Communists have warped this, like all the ideas that they touch and pollute, with their half-baked anthropocentric materialistic ideas that hate anything Divine or Religious or anything that doesn’t proclaim humanity as the final judge and arbiter of the universe. Catholics would call this the sin of Pride, while psychoanalysts might well equate it with narcissism.

Hegel said, in the very antithesis of Communist Theory, that there is no philosophical without the religious. These two endeavors are hopelessly entwined and can never be separated. You will never hear a Communist espouse that idea but it is key to all of Hegel’s writings. His book the Phenomenology of the Spirit is about the Divine Spirit of the Creator realizing its will and gaining self-knowledge and understanding through the expression of History and Culture. Individual cultures, human history and experience, events, and all are fragments of human understanding and expression of this Divine Spirit and its conflict with particularity moving toward resolution. For Hegel it is this movement toward the realization of the Divine in human experience that drives the twin engines of history and culture. That is about as un-communist, anti-materialist, and anti-anthropocentric as you can get.

They talk about Hegel being the father of Communism and Socialism. Indeed, Communists do use a mutation of the Hegelian Dialectic but they have replaced the Divine Spirit intimately and totally present and interactive in human history and culture with a thirst for rage and destruction that is best described as Mephistophelian thought (or Satanic thinking,) promising that somehow after they destroy everything and every institution a utopia will magically appear, and humanity will live in peace and harmony.

In summary true Hegelian thought is the dialectical process where the Divine Will is in the process of overcoming strife, conflict, and antithesis, through Its interaction with the processes of human history and culture. Struggle is our natural state in this world whether you believe that we evolved in the midst of struggle for our very survival or whether you believe it is from “the Fall” from the Garden of Eden. This is, in Hegels thought, centered on the expression of the Divine Spirit and its interaction with human history and culture in a quest for some final, and Divine realization, becoming incarnate in the real world. A quest, that I would say, was an effort to return the world to “how it was meant to be.”

Hegel is often quoted out of context, like his statements that religions are created by man. However, when you actually read Hegel you realize this is just a statement of fact. Hegel describes religions as humanities attempt to be true to the God that they personally encountered and experienced. However, Hegel said, anything they construct is a pale imitation of the reality that IS God. It also runs the danger that ones relationship with their religion become a replacement for a true relationship with the Living God. Hegel didn’t belong to any one religion because he said that he preferred to interact directly with God and cut out the middleman.

Personally, I would like to caution you that this seeking God without a religious community it is very difficult to do. It is easier to be true and get through life as part of a community. I believe that it is always best to use the methods and practice that has paved the way for thousands of years – only you must remember that it is not the ritual but the relationship with the Divine that is the goal. Few people will spend their life studying and thinking about God as Hegel did and THAT is what is required if you would forego religion and seek God on your own. It is a tall order. You must find someone who serves as a spiritual guide or mentor whom you trust whether it is a priest or rabbi. Of priests I told my son that I am most impressed with those who belong to a monastic order and the discipline that form of quest holds. But you do you.

In today’s churches you have those who are so dogmatic that they don’t allow you to grow or think (I remember three specific occasions where people were in my “new member” class at church where people literally said, “you mean you expect us to actually think about this stuff?” – religions that don’t allow you to think or explore are not only afraid of questions they are afraid of God. On the other extreme you have herectical organizations like the United Methodist Church (I was a UMC pastor at one time but I couldn’t serve a church that didn’t believe in God as a reality.) I know of a Methodist mega-church in KC where the leaders of the church do NOT have the New Interpreters Encyclopedia of the Bible or scores of Biblical commentaries that explain the Greek and Hebrew nuances of language as I do in my office, but instead have books by pop psychologists and sociologists on how to make God relevant. They are more concerned with marketing God as a “product” than teaching people to develop an actual relationship with the Divine. Since you have stuck with me this far you should know that I believe that there is NOTHING more relevant than God and he certainly doesn’t need our puny attempts to make him relevant. Rather, we should work at making our lives, community, faith, and nation relevant to the Living God. A process that Hegel spoke of often. A process that is coming to the forefront today as we are faced with a decision as to how we will live and what kind of world we will give to future generations.

The article below is from the magazine Philosophy Now and is by Robert Wallace. I include it in its entirety for those interested but went through and placed in bold ideas that I thought were important – for those who just want to skim it, and other ideas that were important but not critical I italicized. After that is a small excerpt from Hegel’s writing.

Hegel’s God

Robert Wallace describes a little-known alternative divinity.

In the debate about God that has been stirred up by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett, writers regularly refer to certain famous philosophers. We hear about St Thomas Aquinas’s ‘five ways’ of proving God’s existence. Sometimes we hear about Benedict Spinoza’s unorthodox doctrine that God is Nature. Of course we are told about David Hume’s critique of the idea of miracles; about Immanuel Kant’s critique of the ‘ontological argument’ for God; and about Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous announcement that “God is dead.”

There is one major modern philosopher who deals extensively with the issue of God and who should have been taken into account in these recent discussions, but hasn’t been. This is Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831).

It’s well known that various liberal theologians during the last century and a half have wanted to produce a conception of God that could satisfy people’s spiritual longings without conflicting with Darwinian evolution and other well-established scientific discoveries. What’s not well known is that Hegel already did this, with remarkable power and subtlety, in response to the great modern skeptics, Hume and Kant.

Hegel’s philosophy is difficult to access because of his intricate manner of writing, and because of various misleading rumors that have become attached to his name. Karl Marx claimed that Hegel was an important influence on Marx’s own thinking, and since Marx was an atheist, many believers have wanted nothing to do with his supposed teacher, Hegel. On the other hand, S øren Kierkegaard made fun of Hegel for supposedly reducing faith to an arid and impenetrable rational ‘system’. So Hegel’s philosophical theology has been caught between the battle-lines of atheists who reject it or try to soft-pedal it and believers to whom its terminology is foreign and off-putting. As a result, there have been few commentators who’ve had enough sympathy for it to lay it out in a way that makes it seem attractive.

However, I think Hegel’s time should be now. Large numbers of people both within traditional religions and outside them are looking for non-dogmatic ways of thinking about transcendent reality. Writers like Karen Armstrong and Elaine Pagels speak to a large audience that’s less interested in tradition or dogma, as such, than in religious experience and religious thought. A readable account of Hegel will speak to this audience through the sheer illuminating power of his ideas.

What are these ideas? Hegel begins with a radical critique of conventional ways of thinking about God. God is commonly described as a being who is omniscient, omnipotent, and so forth. Hegel says this is already a mistake. If God is to be truly infinite, truly unlimited, then God cannot be ‘a being’, because ‘a being’, that is, one being (however powerful) among others, is already limited by its relations to the others. It’s limited by not being X, not being Y, and so forth. But then it’s clearly not unlimited, not infinite! To think of God as ‘a being’ is to render God finite.

But if God isn’t ‘a being’, what is God? Here Hegel makes two main points. The first is that there’s a sense in which finite things like you and me fail to be as real as we could be, because what we are depends to a large extent on our relations to other finite things. If there were something that depended only on itself to make it what it is, then that something would evidently be more fully itself than we are, and more fully real, as itself. This is why it’s important for God to be infinite: because this makes God more himself (herself, itself) and more fully real, as himself (herself, itself), than anything else is.

Hegel’s second main point is that this something that’s more fully real than we are isn’t just a hypothetical possibility, because we ourselves have the experience of being more fully real, as ourselves, at some times than we are at other times. We have this experience when we step back from our current desires and projects and ask ourselves, what would make the most sense, what would be best overall, in these circumstances? When we ask a question like this, we make ourselves less dependent on whatever it was that caused us to feel the desire or to have the project. We experience instead the possibility of being self-determining, through our thinking about what would be best. But something that can conceive of being self-determining in this way, seems already to be more ‘itself’, more real as itself, than something that’s simply a product of its circumstances.

Putting these two points together, Hegel arrives at a substitute for the conventional conception of God that he criticized. If there is a higher degree of reality that goes with being self-determining (and thus real as oneself), and if we ourselves do in fact achieve greater self-determination at some times than we achieve at other times, then it seems that we’re familiar in our own experience with some of the higher degree of reality that we associate with God. Perhaps we aren’t often aware of the highest degree of this reality, or the sum of all of this reality, which would be God himself (herself, etc.). But we are aware of some of it – as the way in which we ourselves seem to be more fully present, more fully real, when instead of just letting ourselves be driven by whatever desires we currently feel, we ask ourselves what would be best overall. We’re more fully real, in such a case, because we ourselves are playing a more active role, through thought, than we play when we simply let ourselves be driven by our current desires.

What is God, then? God is the fullest reality, achieved through the self-determination of everything that’s capable of any kind or degree of self-determination. Thus God emerges out of beings of limited reality, including ourselves.

Note that I haven’t said that God is ourselves, or that God is the world, or (as Spinoza said) that God is Nature. Instead, I’ve said that God is the fullest reality, arising out of ourselves, the world, and nature. This doesn’t reduce God to us, the world, or nature, because the God that we’re talking about is more fully real than they are. There is a process of increasing reality at work here, rather than some underlying ‘stuff’ that’s simply the paradigm of what’s ‘real’.

Though Hegel’s conception doesn’t reduce God to us or to the world, it does avoid the mistake that Hegel identified in conventional conceptions of God as a separate being. By locating God in a process, of sorts, that includes us, the world, and nature, Hegel’s conception avoids identifying God as something that isn’t us or the world or nature, and thus it avoids limiting God in the way that conventional conceptions do.

I know this Hegelian conception of God sounds pretty ‘squishy’, at first hearing. What is this thing that’s neither identical with us and the world, nor a separate being from us and the world? How can we even talk about such a thing?

The first answer, of course, is that what we’re talking about isn’t a ‘thing’ at all, because if he (or she or it) were a ‘thing’, he (she, it) would be limited, as we are, and wouldn’t be God. So we need to stretch the limits of our ordinary language, which is pretty much designed for talking about limited ‘things’ like ourselves. Above all, we need to get used to the idea that for Hegel a word like ‘real’ doesn’t necessarily refer simply to material objects that we can measure, weigh, and kick. Nor need it refer to an additional category of objects, such as ‘souls’, that aren’t material objects but somehow get connected with material objects. Instead, ‘reality’ can be a matter of degree, proportional to the object’s degree of success in being self-governing, self-determining, and ‘itself’. Without an understanding of this dimension of increasing reality, the notion of ‘God’ is almost inevitably doomed to the sort of self-stultifying anthropomorphism that Hegel criticized, in which God is pictured as ‘a being’, a quasi-object, like us.

It helps to have some acquaintance with the traditions of mystical literature, such as St Augustine, Meister Eckhart, Jelaluddin Rumi, St Teresa of Avila, and modern poets such as Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Rainer Maria Rilke. They all show that Hegel isn’t alone in stretching ordinary language to evoke a reality that, to some degree, is bound to elude it.

The distinctive thing about Hegel’s contribution to this literature is, of course, that he aspires to a more systematic and logically sound statement than poets are obliged to produce. In this, he follows the prior examples of (especially) Plato (427-347 BCE) and Plotinus (ca. 204-270 CE). All three of these thinkers focus in various ways on the notion of a higher, self-determining reality with which we can be involved through our capacity for seeking to be guided, as Plato says, by the objective Good, rather than simply by appetite or emotion.

Another important question is, Why is it appropriate to use the name, ‘God’, for this emerging highest reality? Why not some technical term like (say) ‘the Absolute’ or ‘the Ground of Being’, which wouldn’t imply any particular connection with traditional religion? Writers like Blaise Pascal, S øren Kierkegaard and Martin Heidegger have rejected what Pascal called the ‘God of the philosophers’ as having little or nothing to do with the God who’s worshipped by ordinary believers.

Hegel in fact lectured extensively on traditional religion, seeking to show how his philosophy captures what believers really care about. The following are my thoughts about this issue, based mostly on Hegel’s Science of Logic (1812-1814), which is his central work in philosophical theology.

The first thing that needs to be emphasized is that when Hegel and his predecessors in this project talk about human beings becoming more ‘themselves’ by stepping back from their current desires and projects, they aren’t focusing on a narrowly intellectual kind of functioning. Plato wrote extensively about love ( eros). His central concern in this writing was to show two things. First, that love necessarily has an intellectual dimension, a dimension of inner freedom or questioning. This is because love seeks what’s truly Good for those it loves, and therefore it has to ask the question, what is truly Good? And second, Plato wanted to show that inner freedom ultimately has to lead to love of others, for their capacity for freedom. So inner freedom and love, head and heart aren’t ultimately separable from one another.

For his part, Hegel explains that inner freedom leads to love of others – this is a part of Plato’s argument that Hegel spells out more fully than Plato did – because attempts to be free independently of others necessarily fail. They fail because by excluding others from what I’m concerned about I define myself by my relationship to them (namely, the relationship of excluding them), and thus I prevent myself from being fully self-determining: that is, from having inner freedom.

This connection between freedom and love will come as a surprise to some of the self-described admirers of freedom. But it’s easy enough to see in everyday life that people who think of themselves as having ‘enemies’ seldom manage to be very free, internally. Plato and Hegel aren’t saying that we must agree with others about everything, or endorse everything that they do. Rather, they’re saying that we need to be able to see something in others that we can identify with, so as not to be confronted by something completely alien, which will define us (always) by this relationship rather than by ourselves.

This intimate connection between inner freedom and love must also operate, obviously, on the level of God. The God who is fully self-determining because he (she, it) isn’t defined by ‘not being’ anything else, is intimately involved in every living thing, as its capacity for self-determination. Hegel describes this involvement as “free love and boundless blessedness,” just because of its universal inclusiveness.

Thus Hegel’s God exhibits the combination of justice and nurturing love that we see in the more inspiring documents of the Abrahamic religions. Justice, because all are included, and love for the same reason.

Hegel’s conception explains and preserves two other famous features of Abrahamic religions as well. The God that Hegel describes as emerging from the world of finite things, gives to them the greatest reality of which they’re capable. In this way, Hegel’s God performs something very similar to what’s traditionally called ‘creating’. However, because this Hegelian ‘creating’ takes place throughout time, rather than only ‘in the beginning’, it doesn’t conflict with what astrophysics and biology tell us about the history of the universe.

The other feature of the Abrahamic religions that Hegel preserves is that their God in some way takes care of or ‘saves’ his creatures. The God who is free love and boundless blessedness does exactly this, though in a perhaps unfamiliar way. Hegel’s God doesn’t ‘intervene’ in the world, or in something that comes ‘after’ it; rather, Hegel’s God is omnipresent in the world, giving each of us the full reality and thus the blessedness of which we’re capable.

The final question that people ask is whether Hegel’s God is a ‘personal God’. If a ‘person’ resembles you and me by being a finite thing that you or I could confront face to face, then obviously Hegel’s God isn’t a ‘person’. If, on the other hand, a ‘person’ is a reality characterized by inner freedom, then Hegel’s God clearly is as ‘personal’ as anything could possibly be. Religion seems to be about learning to know and love this kind of ‘person’, in all of his (her, its) manifestations.

I hope something else is evident from what I’ve outlined, as well as from the poets, mystics, and other philosophers I listed, and from the people you undoubtedly know who resonate with their writings. Religion that’s understood in Hegel’s way is a much more pervasive, much less dogmatic, and much more interesting phenomenon, intellectually, than what Richard Dawkins and his fellow critics identify as religion.

© Robert M. Wallace 2011

Robert M. Wallace has taught at Cornell, Colgate University, and other colleges, and is the author of Hegel’s Philosophy of Reality, Freedom, and God (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005). His website is

And now, as promised, an Excerpt from Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit on Perception…enjoy! :


  1. Immediate certainty does not take over the truth, for
    its truth is the universal, whereas certainty wants to apprehend
    the This. Perception, on the other hand, takes what is present
    to it as a universal. Just as universality is its principle in general,
    the immediately self-differentiating moments within percep¬
    tion are universal: T is a universal and the object is a universal.
    That principle has arisen for us, and therefore the way we take
    in perception is no longer something that just happens to us
    like sense-certainty; on the contrary, it is logically necessitated.
    With the emergence of the principle, the two moments which
    in their appearing merely occur, also come into being: one being
    the movement of pointing-out or the act of perceiving, the other
    being the same movement as a simple event or the object perceived.
    In essence the object is the same as the movement: the move¬
    ment is the unfolding and differentiation of the two moments,
    and the object is the apprehended togetherness of the moments.
    For us, or in itself, the universal as principle is the essence of
    perception, and, in contrast to this abstraction, both the
    moments distinguished—that which perceives and that which
    is perceived—are the unessential. But, in fact, because both are
    themselves the universal or the essence, both are essential. Yet
    since they are related to each other as opposites, only one can
    be the essential moment in the relation, and the distinction of
    essential and unessential moment must be shared between
    them. One of them, the object, defined as the simple [entity],
    is the essence regardless of whether it is perceived or not; but
    the act of perceiving, as a movement, is the unessential moment,
    the unstable factors which can as well be as not be.
  2. This object must now be defined more precisely, and the
    definition must be developed briefly from the result that has
    been reached; the more detailed development does not belong
    here. Since the principle of the object, the universal, is in its
    simplicity a mediated universal, the object must express this its
    nature in its own self. This it does by showing itself to be the
    thing with many properties. The wealth of sense-knowledge belongs
    to perception, not to immediate certainty, for which it was only
    the source of instances; for only perception contains negation,
    that is, difference or manifoldness, within its own essence.
  3. The This is, therefore, established as not This, or as some¬
    thing superseded; and hence not as Nothing, but as a determi¬
    nate Nothing, the Nothing of a content, viz. of the This. Con¬
    sequently, the sense-element is still present, but not in the way
    it was supposed to be in [the position of] immediate certainty:
    not as the singular item that is ‘meant , but as a universal, or
    as that which will be defined as a property. Supersession exhibits
    its true twofold meaning which we have seen in the negative :
    it is at once a negating and a preserving. Our Nothing, as the Noth¬
    ing of the This, preserves its immediacy and is itself sensuous,
    but it is a universal immediacy. Being, however, is a universal
    in virtue of its having mediation or the negative within it; when
    it expresses this in its immediacy it is a differentiated, determinate
    property. As a result many such properties are established simul¬
    taneously, one being the negative of another. Since they are
    expressed in the simplicity of the universal, these deter-
    minacies—which are properties strictly speaking only through
    the addition of a further determination—are related [only] to
    themselves; they are indifferent to one another, each is on its
    own and free from the others. But the simple, self-identical uni¬
    versality is itselfin turn distinct and free from these determinate
    properties it has. It is pure relating of self to self, or the medium
    in which all these determinacies are, and in which as a simple
    unity they therefore interpenetrate, but without coming into con¬
    tact with one another; for it is precisely through participating
    in this universality that they exist indifferently on their own
    This abstract universal medium, which can be called simply
    ‘thinghood’ or ‘pure essence’, is nothing else than what Here
    and Now have proved themselvess to be, viz. a simple togetherness
    of a plurality; but the many are, in their determinateness, simple
    universal themselves. This salt is a simple Here, and at the
    same time manifold; it is white and also tart, also cubical in
    shape, of a specific gravity, etc. All these many properties are
    in a single simple ‘Here’, in which, therefore, they inter¬
    penetrate; none has a different Here from the others, but each
    is everywhere, in the same Here in which the others are. And,
    at the same time, without being separated by different Heres,
    they do not affect each other in this interpenetration. The
    whiteness does not affect the cubical shape, and neither affects
    the tart taste, etc.; on the contrary, since each is itself a simple
    relating of self to self it leaves the others alone, and is connected
    with them only by the indifferent Also. This Also is thus the
    pure universal itself, or the medium, the ‘thinghood5, which
    holds them together in this way.
  4. In the relationship which has thus emerged it is only
    the character of positive universality that is at first observed
    and developed; but a further side presents itself, which must
    also be taken into consideration. To wit, if the many determi¬
    nate properties were strictly indifferent to one another, if they
    were simply and solely self-related, they would not be determi¬
    nate ; for they are only determinate in so far as they differentiate
    themselves from one another, and relate themselves to others as
    to their opposites. Yet; as thus opposed to one another they
    cannot be together in the simple unity of their medium, which
    is just as essential to them as negation; the differentiation of
    the properties, in so far as it is not an indifferent differentiation
    but is exclusive, each property negating the others, thus falls
    outside of this simple medium; and the medium, therefore, is
    not merely an Also, an indifferent unity, but a One as well, a
    unity which excludes an other. The One is the moment of negation;
    it is itself quite simply a relation of self to self and it excludes
    an other; and it is that by which ‘thinghood5 is determined as
    a Thing. Negation is inherent in a property as a determinateness
    which is immediately one with the immediacy of being, an
    immediacy which, through this unity with negation, is uni¬
    versality. As a One, however, the determinateness is set free
    from this unity with its opposite, and exists in and for itself.
  5. In these moments, taken together, the Thing as the
    truth of perception is completed, so far as it is necessary to de¬
    velop it here. It is (a) an indifferent, passive universality, the
    Also of the many properties or rather ‘matters5; (b) negation,
    equally simply; or the One, which excludes opposite properties;
    and (c) the many properties themselves, the relation of the first
    two moments, or negation as it relates to the indifferent ele¬
    ment, and therein expands into a host of differences; the point
    ofsingular individuality in the medium of subsistence radiating
    forth into plurality. In so far as these differences belong to the
    indifferent medium they are themselves universal, they are
    related only to themselves and do not affect one another.

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