Lesson 06- Hegel, Marx and Secular Humanism
This is the seventh program in a new series of talks dedicated to addressing the current world economic crisis. I hope that you are still with me as I rummage through history for the roots of our problems. If as Christians we believe that God is using history to lead us, as He led the Hebrews through the desert to the Promised Land, then we should pay attention to it with a discerning eye. Like the Hebrews in the Exodus who, when the trials and tribulations in the desert came, wanted to return to Egypt, there will be many among us that will want to return to where we were because it represents all we know. To do so would place us among those whom Jesus charged with “having eyes to see they do not see and having ears to hear, they do not hear. Proverbs 8 says that Wisdom, who is Jesus, speaks to us through experience and it is essential that we learn to see and listen to what He is teaching us now. Otherwise we will be like those insane people who keep repeating the same behavior while expecting different results. This is the time and opportunity for us to rethink the premises that brought us here and the worst thing that we could do is to reinstall the very system that has failed. If we don’t attempt to understand what happened and the role that all of us played in it, then we, like the foolish people in Proverbs 1 who wouldn’t listen to Wisdom when it was trying to guide them will have no one to blame but ourselves if Wisdom says to us:
“I have been calling you, inviting you to come, but you would not listen. You paid no attention to me. You have ignored all my advice and have not been willing to let me correct you. So when you get into trouble, I will laugh at you. I will make fun of you when terror strikes, when it come on you like a storm, bringing fierce winds of trouble, and you are in pain and misery. Then you will call for wisdom, but I will not answer. You may look for me everywhere, but you will not find me. You have never had any use for knowledge and have always refused to obey the Lord. You have never wanted my advice or paid attention when I corrected you. So then, you will get what you deserve, and your own actions will make you sick. Inexperienced people die because they reject wisdom. Stupid people are destroyed by their own lack of concern. But whoever listens to me will have security. He will be safe, with no reason to be afraid.”
Unless we view our present economic circumstances as a loving correction from Divine Wisdom that is seeking to turn us away from an even greater disaster, then we are destined to destroy ourselves through our own foolishness and pride. So let us return to my historical analysis of what happened and how it went wrong.
At the end of my last program I was quoting the testimony of persons interviewed by the English Parliament in the period between 1832 and 1840 concerning the working conditions. It was obvious that the fears and predictions of those who had opposed Capitalism as an anti-Christian theory were being fulfilled. Children working long hours in mines where hard work and sexual depravity existed and deprived of any education or knowledge of Jesus or the Gospel. Others being sold into temporary slavery by destitute parents living and working in mills where they were beaten if they ran away. Coal owners justifying the horrible conditions in their own mines when compared to other mines in the vicinity. It is hard to believe that there wasn’t a total uprising against such conditions demanding that something be done about it. However, as often happens, it was the voice of a few who over a long period of time, gained piecemeal reforms that eventually corrected the abuses. One by one laws were passed to bring the harsher aspects of the market system under control.
Although the theory of Capitalism called for total freedom from government interference, it soon became clear that left unchecked, it was jungle law applied to human beings. Many of its supporters who argued for total non-interference by the government, often changed their minds when they were on the short end of the market theory. Capitalism had detected the flaws in Mercantilism and set out to correct them but now Capitalism itself was creating a new theory that opposed the flaws in it. And the name of that new theory was Communism developed by Karl Marx and Fredrick Engel.
However, before we can fully understand Communism, we first must understand Hegel, a German philosopher, who lived in the 1700’s, whose theory of historical change and development greatly influence Marx. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica, Hegel’s theory was greatly influence by his Christian beliefs because he viewed history as a linear progression towards a utopian climax. In past programs I have referred to this view as the Judeo/Christian Linear Utopian Concept of History. It is the belief in the Christian West, which we inherited from the Jews, that God is using history to take us to a perfect society called the Kingdom of God. We find this view expressed in the Our Father, the only prayer that Jesus ever taught, which says, “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Hegel believed that history was moving towards Ultimate Truth or God through a dialectical process, which involved a interaction between two things that resulted in a third one that was a combination or synthesis of them both. Some of you might notice that this is a description of a triangular relationship and mirrors the Christian belief in a Trinitarian God in which the interaction between the Father and the Son results in the Holy Spirit. This will become clearer as I give a more detail description of how it works.
Let’s first begin with the observation that all of us start out at birth in a Kingdom of Mental Darkness. We don’t know where we are, how we got there, why we are there, or where we are going. We are in Gehenna, the Old Testament word for hell, which means “empty thought,.” Thus, we enter the world without any understanding of our meaning, purpose, or direction. At best, we might say, we have arrived with an instinctual drive for life in its fullest form. It soon becomes clear that our survival is essentially dependent on our ability to figure out our environment by discovering patterns that help us to predict consequences. These patterns eventually combine to form our meaning, theory or paradigm of the world which is constantly being reinforced or challenged by our experiences. Each time they are reinforced, they become more solidly grounded in our interpretation of the world, but each time they are challenged they destabilize our mental security and force us to reinterpret the world by modifying our understanding. The way that we do this, according to Hegel, is through what he calls Dialectical Idealism in which one idea, the Thesis, which is our current theory of some aspect of the world, is challenged by the Antithesis, an opposing theory, which upsets our sense of security by destabilizing our understanding of the world, and forces us to struggle to find a way to restabilize by either totally defeating the threat or finding a way to integrate it into our existing patterns. Thus, the process can be described as Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis with the Thesis representing an existing theory of some aspect of reality and the Antithesis representing a challenge to the validity of that theory and the Synthesis representing the integration of the opposing theory with the existing theory. It can be diagrammed as a triangle with the Thesis in the bottom left corner; the Antithesis in the bottom right corner, and the Synthesis located at the top where the diagonal line coming from the other two meet to form a point. Let me give you a simple example to illustrate how this works.
Let’s say that a little girl, who is trying to learn how the world works, says to her mother, “Mommy, mommy what makes the rain?” And her mother, not knowing the real reason, says, “It’s the angels crying, honey.” This answer becomes part of the little girls thesis or theory of the world and she will continue to believe and repeat it if it is never challenged. However, as time passes, experience will raise up thoughts or people who might challenge her theory. This will be very upsetting for her because this theory has become part of her mental identity and, just as the body defends itself against foreign organism through its immune system, the mind will defend itself against foreign ideas that threaten to destabilize its mental security. Thus, her first reaction will be to resist the foreign idea by blotting it out or, if that doesn’t succeed, she will try to find a way to synthesize or integrate it into her total meaning of life. If this happens, she will incorporate the new understanding about the source of rain, while still maintaining her belief in angels, This synthesis now becomes part of her new Thesis or theory of life which will experience other Antitheses as life and experience challenges other half-truths and misconceptions contained in it. Like gold being purified in fire in which the impurities are burned away, the Truth in our Theses is being purified through the stress and strains of life. Thus, Jesus’ words, “If you want life and want it fully, pick up your Cross and follow me, the Truth’ become the guiding principle for lead us out of the Gehenna of “empty thought” which is the Kingdom of Mental Darkness into the Kingdom of Mental Light. It gives a new and deeper meaning to “the Truth will set you free.”
When teaching my students I visualize the Thesis in the Hegelian Dialectic by drawing a large circle fill with pluses and minus. The pluses represent the truths while the minuses symbolize the half-truths and misconceptions contained in the Thesis. On the same line, but to the right of the Thesis, I draw a small, sperm-like circle with a tail, symbolizing a male sperm that was seeking to impregnate the large, ovum-like Thesis. Then I draw another large circle placed above and in between the Thesis and Antithesis symbolizing the Synthesis at the peak of the triangle. It contains all the pluses and minuses in the original Thesis except for one minus that is now a plus indicating that a corrective truth had been synthesized into the Thesis. As a result, the Thesis has moved one more step out of the Kingdom of Mental Darkness, ruled by the devil, the Father of All Lies, towards the Kingdom of Mental Light, ruled by Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Light. In short, the Hegelian Dialectic, among many other things, is a description of how we emerge from Gehenna, or hell, towards heaven or the Kingdom of God. I said, “among many other things” because upon greater inspection, the Hegelian Dialectic symbolizes many other relationships. For example, you may have already noticed that my description of the dialectic concerning ovum and sperm symbolizes sexual reproduction in which the Thesis is the Females Principle of stability and order while the Antithesis is the Male Principle of change and development and the Synthesis is the Child Principle that incorporates the qualities of both. There are many other relationship that are too numerous to investigate here. So let’s return to how Hegel’s theory influenced Marx and the theory of Communism.
Although Marx never met Hegel, he belonged to the Young Hegelian Club while attending the university. Because of his Jewish roots he had inherited the Jewish/Linear/Utopian/Concept of History, and, like Hegel, he was interested in a theory of historical development. However, unlike Hegel whose theory was an extension of his Christian roots, Marx was as an atheist who was influenced by the Secular Humanistic spirit of the French Revolution. Therefore, he was not seeking a Kingdom of God. Rather he sought a secular state in which God and religion would be either eliminated or brought under the control of the state. Later, these Secular Humanist would state their position as being, “There is no God to save Mankind; Mankind must save itself”. By this they meant that our salvation depended on the application of human reason through science and technology rather than passively accepting the world “as it is” and expecting God to reward us later in heaven. Thus, they demanded “bread on earth rather than pie in the sky.”
In a way you couldn’t blame them because Marx, in particular, and Secular Humanists, in general, were merely reacting to the abuses of both the nobles and the clergy from the time of the Renaissance. It is difficult, as a committed Christian, to study the history of the European nobility and their excessive lifestyle in the midst of general poverty or of the Inquisition, Medici popes, and the religious wars following the Protestant Reformation, without feeling some sympathy for the complaints of the Secular Humanists. For example, I recently returned from a river cruise in Europe where we visited some of the large palaces of the European nobility and, although they were beautiful to see, one couldn’t help wondering why so few people needed such splendor and where the money came from to pay for it. At the same time, we were introduced to the term of “bishop prince” which referred to a Catholic bishop who, since he came from a noble family, was also a prince who inhabited a palace of his own. How this came about was explained in a recent parish bulletin in my church. The bulletin said that in the 1700’s there were 90,000 priests in the Kingdom of Naples, many of whom never performed any priestly duties. The reason was because of the practice of “Primogeniture” through which only the first-born son of a nobleman inherited his father’s land. This meant that his other sons were often landless nobles, which was like being a jockey without a horse. Therefore, they entered the priesthood, often as bishops, to control lands owned by the Church or to live off the Church’s wealth. Such practices and abuses had to create resentment and rebellion and, it seems that the Church is still paying the penalty for the sins of our ancestors and that is why Pope John Paul II publicly apologized for the Church’s offenses against various groups in the past. If confession is good for the individual soul, it seems that it is equally good for the soul of the Church.
Anyway, a strange situation developed from these set of circumstances. The Christian churches ended up defending a Capitalistic system based on profit and self-interest that seemed diametrically opposed to the Gospel, while atheistic Secular Humanists, who opposed Capitalism, supported a Communistic system that sounded more like the early Christian communities In many ways their goal of a society based on “Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality mirrored and mimicked those of Christianity but their means were often opposite.
The most obvious reason why this happen is because the Communist insisted in couching their theory in atheism which automatically placed them in opposition to the churches. Also, they declared that it was their goal to eliminate or minimize religion because of the abuses that I just described. On the other hand, the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination provided a religious foundation for Capitalism when it led to the “Gospel of Wealth” through which economic success and gain became the “Blessed Assurance” that one was predestined to go to heaven rather than hell. Also, the Catholic Church considered the Communist idea of eliminating “private property” as a violation of natural justice which required that everyone had a right to keep what he or she had earned. So in both instances, “private property” became a major issue dividing the two camps. So let us now see how Marx and his theory of Communism led to the elimination of “private property” through the application of the principles of the Hegelian Dialectic to history.
Marx’s theory of Dialectical Materialism turned Hegel’s Theory of Dialectical Idealism on its head. In fact, it was an Antithesis to it. Even the names for their theories suggested the essential difference between them. Hegel was dealing with immaterial ideas while Marx was dealing with material classes. Where Hegel thought that history was evolving towards God or Ultimate Truth through the conflict between two ideas that resulted in the combination of them both, Marx thought that history was evolving towards a “classless society” through the conflict between two social classes that resulted in a combined class.
According to Marx, history was the story of class conflict in which a group called “the haves” were continually oppressing another group called “the have nots.” Wherever we look in history we see this story of “class oppression.” The names for the groups may change but the results remain the same. In Ancient Rome “the haves” were the patrician class that oppressed the plebian and slave classes. In the Medieval Period, “the haves” were the lords and nobles and the “have nots” were the serfs. In the American South it was the plantation owners and their slaves. And in modern Capitalistic society it was the bourgeoisie business class and the proletariat, working class. It didn’t matter what you called them because “the haves” were always those who had the power, wealth, and influence to oppress those that didn’t.
Thus, according to Marx, the Thesis in the dialectic is “the haves” and their Antithesis is “the have nots” and the conflict between them was one of class struggle. As time passed, “the have nots” eventually got tired of being oppressed and rebelled against their masters, “the haves.” Class warfare broke out in which some of “the haves”, who sympathized with “the have nots” joined them, while some of “the have not” remained loyal to their masters. When the revolution was successful, a new class was formed that was a synthesis of “the have” and “have nots” and class oppression came to an end. However, according to Marx, it didn’t last very long because the revolutionary group of “haves” and “have nots” that formed the new Synthesis soon developed into a new Thesis of “haves” and Antithesis of “have nots” and class oppression began all over again.
Over and over again the struggle to end “class oppression” failed because of a fatal flaw in the system. The flaw was the retention of the concept of “private property” which allowed there to be social classes of “haves” and “have nots.” The only way to get rid of “class struggle” was to eliminate “private property” by creating a society based on communal sharing in which “everyone would work according to their ability and receive according to their needs”. Then there would be “Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality” for everyone and we would all live “happily ever after.” But, before that could happen there had to be violent revolutions because the “haves” were not going to give up their power, wealth, and influence willingly.
However, revolutions in themselves were not enough because this new utopian society could come about only when the revolution was lead by the Communist who understood the “laws of history” and were prepared to eliminate “private property” As a result, Communist sought to join every revolution, no matter what the issue, because it provided an opportunity for them to seize control of it and move it towards their end, the classless society.
And how would this “classless society” look once it was instituted? Well, first of all everyone would be free because no one would have anyone to boss them around in a society of equals. All ranks and titles would disappear in society and, instead of addressing others as Your Honor, Your Excellency, or Your Majesty, we would address everyone as Citizen or Comrade. Greed would disappear because everyone would “work according to their ability and receive according to their needs.” Thus a brain surgeon with one child would receive less money than a janitor with ten children because each was working according to their ability and receiving according to their needs.” The idea of surplus wealth would no longer exist in this “need” based society but, if it should happen, laws of inheritance would prohibit parents from leaving anything to their children. Eventually, government and laws would disappear as the people learned to live their lives according to rational principles and all forms for force would be eliminated. Marriage would be dissolved because it was invented by men to subjugate and oppress women. Love and sex would be based on the free interaction between equals and no state would be allowed to “join together what the couple themselves wished to tear asunder.” Thus, divorce laws would be abolished.
Perhaps the best way to convey the dream of these utopian dreamers is to quote a leading Secular Humanist. Roger Baldwin, founder of the ACLU, a leading Secular Humanist organization in our country, that has used our courts to implement many of their objectives wrote in the 30th anniversary copy of the Harvard yearbook:
“I am for Socialism, and ultimately for the abolishing of the state itself as a instrument of violence and compulsion. I seek social ownership of property, the abolition of the propertied class, and sole control by those(the working class) who produce wealth. Communism is the goal.” In other words he sought what the Communist describe as the “dictatorship of the proletariat or working class”.
Later in 1919 he included the following quote as part of his wedding vows:
“To us who passionately cherish the vision of a free society, the present institution of marriage among us is a grim mockery of essential freedom… We deny without reservation the moral right of state or church to bind by force of law a relationship that cannot be maintained by the power of love alone.”
A better know description of the Secular Humanistic New World Order to come was presented in John Lennon’s song “Imagine.” I doubt that very many people have ever analyzed exactly what the words are saying or mean. Let me recite them for you now and add some commentary.
Imagine there’s no heaven; it’s easy if you try
No hell below us; above us only sky.
Imagine all the people living for today.
Imagine there’s no country; it isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.
Imagine all the people living life in peace
You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.
Imagine no possessions; I wonder if you can.
No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of Man.
Imagine all the people sharing all the world.
You may think I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us and the world will live as one.
What the song describes is a utopian society in which any belief in life after death will end and people will simply accept this world as all there is. Any idea of a reward or punishment after death for the good or evil that we do, will be eliminated. The national boundaries that separate nations will be eliminated and be replaced by an international community. Religion will be abolished along with the ideas of heaven and hell and life after death. People will live just for today in peace and harmony because everyone will understand that everything is a matter of personal opinion and therefore they will adopted a “super-tolerant attitude” based on “Who’s to say what’s right or wrong?”, “It’s different strokes for different folks!” Private property will be abolished and the government or some central body will redistribute everything equally. In other words, “everyone will work according to his ability and receive according to his needs.” What Lennon is describing is a Secular Humanistic vision of the world that began with the French Revolution in 1789, in which the revolutionary leaders wanted to overthrow Christianity and replace it with a New World Order based on “Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality.” Communism, in which nearly everything is owned by the government and the emphasis is on cooperation and community, is an example of this utopian society and it is opposed by Capitalism, in which most things are own by private individuals and the emphasis is on competition. Most people who hear this song, and maybe Lennon himself, did not realize that what he was suggesting were the principles of Communism. John Lennon, himself, was a multi-millionaire who, if we adopted what he imagined, would have had all his money taken away by the state to be redistributed and would have been left only with what he needed.
You might be wondering what all this has to do with the original intent of these talks which was to discuss the causes of the economic collapse that we are presently experiencing. We have been tracing the roots of Capitalism and Communism, which are the two economic systems that have been competing for world domination during most of our lifetimes. Communism has already failed due to the flaws contained in it and, now it seems that Capitalism is suffering the same fate. Thus the world as a whole is being forced by reality to rethink our whole economic paradigm. We are at an historical crossroad and the road we take will decide the fate of our country and of the world itself. As the saying goes, “Those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it” and it appears that we are presently repeating all the mistakes that led to the Great Depression of 1929. Will we move on towards the Promised Land of freedom and personal responsibility or will we return to the slavery of Egypt because we found the challenge of freedom to be too difficult?
Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, predicted that the 21st century would result in a scientific and technological dictatorship which would never end because, unlike dictatorships in the past, it will never run out of “bread”, which is welfare from the state, or circuses, which symbolize the entertainment and distractions that are used by those who control us to take our minds off the fact that we are no longer free. Eric Fromm , a Secular Humanist psychiatrist who almost sounds like a Christian, called these tools “cultural opiates” that dulled the senses of a population to the pain and anguish caused by “socially patterned defects” which offended our basic human nature.
Yet, Pope John Paul II said that this was the Springtime of the Church and that we should not be afraid. He seemed to be saying that Christianity stood between these two failed systems and this was an opportune time for the Church to step forward and present an alternative to those who would be tempted to take the path back towards Egypt and slavery.
Both he and our present Pope, Benedict XVI warn of the danger of allowing a Super Welfare state take over all the responsibilities that should belong to us. The Church supports the Principle of Subsidiarity which says that the smallest unit in society that is capable of handling a problem should take responsibility for it. To paraphrase the Secular Humanist’s slogan, “There is no state or government that can save Mankind; Mankind must save itself by accepting the responsibility to rule themselves as God intended.”
However, we will not know which path to take unless we first understand the historical and philosophical roots of the issues that confront us. As a Christian it is my belief that the answer lies in our true calling to live out the Gospel and it is my hope to lay out a blueprint for action in a future program. Well, I see that my time in up. In my next program we will analyze the Communist Manifesto to see Marx’s critique of Capitalism.