Lesson 75- Hegel and the Christian Gospel
About five programs ago, I introduced you to Hegels theory for historical development. And, after having presented the basic theory, I decided to move away from it for a few programs in order to give you some time to digest it. Therefore, over the past few programs, I went on to introduce Aristotles theory concerning potential and actual existence and Lao Tsus theory of Yin and Yang. However, what all these have in common is that they all describe a dynamic universe that is developing from an Alpha Point to an Omega Point through a dialectical process in which new potentials are moving into actuality through a dialectical process.
As Christians, we should immediately recognize this as our own concept of reality which is the Judeo/Christian Linear Utopian Concept of History. If we dont recognize it, it is because we really dont understand our unique way of looking at reality probably because we were never taught it. Consequently, we often end up opposing theories that are compatible with our view and supporting other ones that are not. Later, I will demonstrate this in relationships to other theories.
Jesus once said, I am the Good Shepherd and I know mine and mine know Me. Then He went on to explain that His sheep knew His voice. I once heard a priest give a homily based on his visit to a friends farm. He said that his friend took him out to a pasture where a herd of sheep were grazing. His friend told him the call that was used to bring the sheep to them. However, no matter how many times the visiting priest used the call the sheep did not respond. Then his friend used the same call and they all came running. He then explained that it wasnt just the call that they responded to but to the sound of his voice.
Thus, to the degree that we truly understand the Gospel and our religion, we should be able to recognize our Masters voice even when it is hidden behind the mask of another face or a philosophy that come from another source. That is what St. Thomas Aquinas did when Christian Europe was confronted with the influx of Greek philosophy during the Renaissance Period. Because He knew Jesus voice, he was able to incorporate those parts of Greek thought that were compatible with the Gospel and to reject those parts that were not. Thus, we should not dismiss ideas simply because they come from a foreign source but, rather, like St. Thomas, look for areas of compatibility while always taking care to avoid accepting anything that is intrinsically opposed to our view.
Very often, these views that come from foreign sources stimulate us to look deeper into our own views and cause us to grow in understanding. Thus, today the Church, through the Magisterium, is telling us that not to be afraid because, although others may possess elements of the Truth that are able to enrich our own understanding and faith, ultimately it is the Church, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that contains the fullness of truth.
I hope that my discussion of potential and actual existence that comes to us from the pagan Greek philosopher Aristotle, who live four hundred years before Christ, has stimulated you and enriched you in your own faith. It should have because, if you ever take a philosophy course at a Catholic university, you will discover that it has been incorporated into our deposit of faith. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas, because of his use of Aristotelian concepts, is said to have canonized him by showing his relationship to the Gospel and the deposit of our Catholic faith.
I hope that my discussion of Yin and Yang has had the same effect because it addresses the philosophical nature of sex and the role that it plays in moving new potentials into actuality. It also helps us to better understand the sexual nature of God and many of the sexual references in the Bible in which symbols like bridegroom, bride, and wedding feast are used to describe God or Jesus relationship to us. I ended my last program with the song Come My Love which is a passionate love song describing Gods love for us whose words are taken directly from the Bible
It appears that the human race as a whole has always had an intuitive sense that God or the gods desired to have some type of intercourse with the human race. However, they misinterpreted the type of intercourse that was desired. For example, the Greeks gods, like Zeus, desired carnal or biological intercourse with human females and thereby degraded the image of the divine by imputing to it the same carnal lust that humans had. However, the whole concept of divine/human intercourse was lifted to a totally higher level when the Jewish God proposed not physical but spiritual intercourse with a human female who was a virgin. Some spiritual writers, with the best of intentions, often argued that Marys hymen remained intact even in the process of giving birth to Jesus, as though her physical virginity was the most important or real issue. It is obvious from Marys response to the angel, that she was physically a virgin but, from Gods point of view, what mattered the most was whether she was a spiritual virgin.
You might remember my discussion concerning the prophet Hosea who had was told by God to marry a prostitute. In obedience he found one and took her home to his mansion and treated her with great love and respect only to see her betray him every time he turned his back. Yet, he continually took her back and forgave her.
On the physical and natural level this is a tragic story of a just man who was taken advantage of by an unfaithful wife. However, halfway through the book of Hosea it is revealed that Hosea is a symbol for God and the unfaithful wife is a symbol for us. The story is about how the Hebrew people continually betrayed their covenant with Yahweh through their sins and worship of false gods. Yet, He, like Hosea, kept taking them back.
From this story, it is obvious that every time we have intercourse through sin with things that are lower then we, like Hoseas wife, betray our Divine Spouse by breaking our sacred covenant with Him.
Now, on the human level, even a good man would grow weary of such a relationship and would begin to desire a new covenant with a pure and chaste spouse. And, just as Adam and Eve symbolized the unfaithful relationship of the Old Covenant that was based on law, Jesus and Mary symbolized the faithful relationship of the New Testament that was based on loving obedience. The first covenant based on law required eternal vigilance because laws, based on reward and punishment, can change behavior but they cant change the heart. Thus, the moment the person under the law is convinced that no one is watching, he or she, like Hoseas wife, will betray the lawmaker by breaking the law. However, when the heart changes and the person acts through loving obedience, they no longer are under the law. In fact, they no longer need laws because a willing heart has replaced a resentful one.
Thus, God, having grown weary of the whoring ways and unfaithfulness of the Hebrew people, went looking for a virgin. Not just a physical virgin but a spiritual virgin who had never had any intercourse with sin. Thus, the Church is right when it speaks of Marys Immaculate Conception because in order for her to qualify, she had to be sinless. It was her spiritual virginity even more than her physical virginity that drew God to want to have spiritual intercourse with her.
Spiritual writers often refer to her relationship to the Trinity by saying that she was the daughter of the Father, the mother of the Son, and the spouse of the Holy Spirit. And, since she was full of grace, we can rightly assume that she remained sinless and faithful to her Divine husband throughout her life.
Thus, Yin and Yang by suggesting that male and female were principles of interaction that were not limited to physical or biological sex gives us a basis for a deeper understanding of our own faith.
The same is true of the Hegelian Dialectic to which I would like to return. There are some Catholic writers who are somewhat critical of Hegel. And, although there might be some portions of his philosophy that might not be compatible with our faith, there are others that very definitely are. Therefore we would be foolish to ignore these elements that are compatible because it is in the philosophical arena where we are being attacked the most and we need all the philosophical help we can get. Let me list some of those aspects of Hegels philosophy which are compatible with our faith.
First of all Hegel is the perfect philosophical answer to atheistic philosopher like the existentialist John Paul Sartre who claim that the universe is accidental and absurd. According to Hegel, the universe is totally logical, rational, and goal directed. And, in terms of prestige and importance, his views are equal, if not greater than those of the existentialists. Therefore, in our battle with the Secular Humanistic forces that are trying to overthrow Christianity, Hegel could be a big gun in our arsenal if we, like Thomas Aquinas with Aristotle, were able to show the compatibility between Christ and Hegel.
But let me allow Hegel speak for himself by listing some of the points that he makes in his philosophy. These point are taken from Will Durants chapter on Hegel in his book The History of Philosophy.
First, Hegel says that nothing can be known except in relationship to something else and that a thing without a relationship is non-existent. For example, if everything in the universe were the same color there would be no way to know that anything existed because there would be nothing to contrast or compare it to. Think about it. If everything in the room where you are now sitting were the same color, how would you or anyone else be able to know one thing from another. Or suppose that the only sound in the universe was. That, according to Hegels theory, would be the sound of silence.
What Hegel is saying is that we live in a universe based on dialectical relationships in which everything is known and experienced only through contrast and comparison with something else and the most common relationship is that of opposition. Thus, we cant know up without down, hard without soft, male without female or wet without dry. A fish that lives in water has no way of knowing that it is wet unless it has the experience of being dry. So, although they seem to be in opposition to one another, in reality they need each other to exist because one doesnt make any sense without the other.
Furthermore, he says that a being without a relationship cannot exist. This caused one of my students to make a very sophisticated observation. She said that if this were true than God could not exist without us. For a moment I was stumped because I knew that logically she was correct. Then I said, That would be true unless God was a relationship within Himself. In other words, if He were a Trinity.
Hegel says that every thought leads automatically to its opposite and then unites with it to form a higher and more complex whole. This is the famous Hegelian Dialectic that I explained and diagramed in a previous in which a thesis or theory about reality gives rise to an antithesis which is an opposing theory and they unite into a synthesis which contains what is best in both. It is a model for many types of relationships including Yin and Yang, female and male, conservative and liberal, sexual reproduction, the laws of immunology and many others. However, its most basic application is to progress. In fact, it is the law of progress or development.
Hegel says being and thought follow the same laws because they both develop through a "dialectical movement". Muscle grow stronger when they are tested by an opposing force and ideas develop when they are opposed by other ideas. In fact, the way that we escape from Gehenna, the place of empty thought, which is the hell of the Old Testament or the Kingdom of Mental Darkness of the New Testament, is through a dialectical process in which accepted truths that are Theses are challenged by opposing thoughts that are antitheses and they unite into a higher truth which is a Synthesis. Its just as the Bible says that God will save us by refining us like gold that is tried by fire. For those of you who may not be familiar with how gold is purified it is subjected to intense heat and when it liquefies, the impurities in it float to the top and are skimmed off. In the same way, our perception of the Truth, which is our Thesis or theory about reality, is subjected to a testing by an Antithesis. Our Thesis, which is large, general and holistic and represents what is already actual, is a mixed bag of truths, half-truths, and errors since it contains our theory about every subject under the sun. The Antithesis, which is small, and specific represents what could or should be. It is struggling to become part of the existing system or Thesis. Its intent should be that of constructive criticism and like the fire in our gold example it should be trying to purify the Thesis by correcting or removing the impurities of half-truth and/or error. To the extent that it succeeds, it moves our perception of reality one step closer to the Ultimate Truth or God and, by doing this, it gradually saves us from Gehenna, the Kingdom of Darkness or Empty Thought inhabited by those creatures who lack a reflective left lobe that is the Logos that St. John says is found in every human being. Only creatures who possess this Logos, who in Christian theology is Jesus, are capable of knowing and following the Truth.
And since it is the Truth that will set us free then the Hegelian Dialectic, which is the way that we discover truth, is the method that God uses to lead us down the path of salvation. It is a path that involves a struggle that requires us to die to an old error so that we can be reborned or resurrected to a higher and more purified truth.
Truth, says Hegel, is a union of opposites that are really not in opposition. Although the Thesis and Antithesis look like they are in opposition to each other, in reality they are two necessary parts to a dynamic relationship because they need each other to remain in balance. In fact it can be compared to the tightrope walker who uses a long poles to balance himself as he walks the small wire fifty feet above the ground. Sometimes, he leans too far one way and at other times he leans too far the other way. He uses the pole to bring him back into balance.
Thus, Hegel observes that any good idea taken too far or to an extreme becomes a bad idea. He is mere repeating something that the ancient Greek philosophers called the Golden Mean or center. Courage, they said, was the midpoint between foolhardiness and cowardice. The fool rushes into danger without any caution and the coward runs away from danger at it first appearance. The courageous man has enough common sense to be cautious and yet is still able to overcome his fear and face the danger. Or to use another example, it is a good idea to be thrifty with your money. However, if thriftiness is taken too far, you will become a miser but if you go too far in the other direction, you will become a spendthrift who end up in debt by maxing out all of your credit cards. The virtue of thriftiness is the midpoint between a miser and a spendthrift.
Thus both Truth and Virtue result from a tension between two opposite poles and like the tension between the Thesis and the Antithesis, they are the Synthesis between the two.
This takes on an added significance when we consider that Buckminster Fuller, a modern day genius and Renaissance Man, who invented the geodesic dome that allowed architects to put roofs on sport stadiums, observed that the only self-supporting form in the universe was the triangle because it was a union of opposites.
Fuller, another thinker who believes that the universe is based on rational principles, says that the mind that created the universe would never have used the rectangle or square as His basic structure because each of them lacks internal integrity. In other words, they cant stand by themselves because if you put pressure on any corner they will collapse. I cant demonstrate what he means on radio so you will have to take my word that this is true. He then demonstrated that only the triangle has internal integrity and can stand by itself. Therefore, he predicted that when science was able to create a microscope that could see the internal structure of the carbon atom, they would discover that it was based on a triangle. They did and it was.
As Christians our ears should perk up as we recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, in all of this because it was He who revealed that God was a Trinity and what would be more logical than a Trinitarian God creating a universe based on a triangle.
We could take this analysis one step further by observing that if Truth is a union of opposites and the triangle is a union of opposites and the Hegelian Dialectic is a union of opposites, and a Trinitarian God is a union of opposites, and a rational brain, composed of a creative right lobe that is reflected upon by a logical left lobe, which leads to a combined judgment by a frontal lobe, is a union of opposites, then we could conclude that anything that is a union of opposites is dialectical. Thus we could say that a dialectical God, who is a Trinity, with a dialectical mind, composes of a right lobe creative genius who interacted with a left lobe logical craftsman, thereby giving birth to a creative enthusiastic energy, created a dialectical universe based on a dialectical form, the triangle.
Since a dialectical relationship is any one in which two seemingly opposing things unite to create a third, it is a relationship that involved integration and, as I have already mentioned, the philosophical definition for life is integration and its opposite is death or disintegration. Thus, the Hegelian Dialectic is not only the path to truth but also the path to life because it aims to take us to higher levels of compexification through the process of integration. Thus, its aim is not only the Ultimate Truth but also the fullness of life.
Nearly everything that Hegel says involves the uniting of things that are separate. The role of the human mind, he says, is to find the unity that lies in diversity. The role of politics is to is to unify individuals with conflicting interests, into a state. The role of ethics is to unite all of the different aspects of our personality into one consistent moral system. The job of religion is to reach and feel the Absolute Being (God) in which all opposites are resolved in unity. What an interesting observation because according to Hegel when the dialectic reaches it final conclusion at the point where the last antithesis has been synthesized into the Thesis then, at that moment, the Thesis and Antithesis will unite into the Final Synthesis and because they all are now in total agreement, they will be identical. Once when Jesus was asked by one of the apostle to show them the Father, he answered by saying, How long have I been with you and you still dont understand that the Father and I are one. He who sees me, sees the Father. Hegel couldnt have said it any better.
According to Hegel, God is the system of relationships in which all things exist and have their being. In other words, God is the energy that unites everything and the energy that holds them together. And what is the name of the energy that unites things and holds them together. The answer is Love and love, according to St. John, is God. Thus, the driving energy behind the Hegelian Dialectic which causes the Thesis and Antithesis to integrate into a Synthesis is love. According to the scriputures, at the end of time, everything will be shaken and anything that is not grounded in love will collapse. Of course this has both positive and negative consequences because some people love evil and, if this analysis is correct, in doing this they give the evil that they love eternal existence. Perhaps this is why hell exists because it is inhabited by people who love evil and God must honor their choice.
About the only thing that might be worst than the love of evil is the love of nothing because it unites nothing. We call it apathy which means without feelings and it is incapable of moving the universe in either a positive or negative direction. Perhaps Jesus was referring to this when He said, I wish that you were hot or cold but because you are lukewarm, I will vomit you out of my mouth. Apathetic people are written out of the Book of Life because they dont impact reality in any way and they might as well have never existed.
Even though Hegel believed Reason is the substance of the universe, and that the design of the world is absolutely rational, he still accepted that things could go wrong and that evil did exist. However, he said, in Wisdom's way of looking at it, evils are stages to the fulfillment of the good. Once again we see the compatibility of his thought with the Christian gospel. According to St. Paul, God is capable of drawing good even from evil and, as I have previously mentioned, Jesus is the Incarnate Wisdom of God. From a practical point of view this simply means that we can learn from either the good or bad consequences that reality reflects back to us.
According to Hegel even pain serves a useful purpose because every pain is a sign of life and a stimulation to reconstruction. Unlike some Christian fundamentalist who believe that the devil is responsible for pain or that it is a punishment that God permits because of our sin, Hegel sees that pain is a necessary part of life. Like the red light on the car dashboard that warns us when the oil is low, pain warn us that something is wrong and to motivate us to do something about it. For example, even though I dont know the exact temperature where the cells in my hand will start to be destroyed, my body does and it lets my brain know it through the sensation of pain. It is a protective device that is necessary for the health and survival of my body and, instead of being a punishment, it is a gift. Of course my hedonistic animal nature, which believes that pleasure is good and pain is bad, is incapable of understanding this.
To demonstrate the purpose of pain to my students I pretend that I have placed my hand on a red-hot stove. As I scream in agony, I beg them to give me novacaine to kill the pain. After pretending to inject myself, I give a sigh of relief and say, Thanks a lot, I almost had to take my hand off that stove! They look at me in disbelief because they cant believe that anyone would be stupid enough to keep their hand on the stove by killing the pain. Yet, I point out to them, that is exactly what many people do who, when either physical or mental pain is telling them that something is wrong, choose to turn the pain off with alcohol or drugs instead of dealing with the problem. The purpose of pain, I repeat, is to warn us when something is wrong and, then, to motivate us to do something about it. Pain is for us; not against us.
Probably the most startling statement that Hegel ever made is that life is not made for happiness. Struggle, he says, is the law of growth and humans reach their full potential only through compulsion, responsibility, and suffering. In this he sounds like Jesus who said, If you want life and want it fully, pick up your cross and follow Me." Periods of happiness, says Hegel, are blank pages in our lives and in human history because they are periods of stagnation where our developmental processes have come to a halt because there are no important antitheses or challenges present to draw out of us hidden potentials that we need to actualize. In other words, these are boring times when we are simply existing rather than growing and life is about growth and development. As Eric Fromm, the famous psychologist, once said life is the process of giving birth to ourselves and thus we should be fully born when we die but, unfortunately, most people die before they are born. What he is saying is that we, like the universe itself, are full of potentials that are waiting to be actualize but they cant be actualized unless we are actively involved in the challenges of life.
We were not placed here to rest and relax. Jesus sole purpose for coming into this world was to establish the Kingdom of God. He was a man with a mission and He was driven by it. Many of his parables were about servants who worked for their master, or workers who were sent into the fields, or harvests that had to be reap, or talents that had to be multiplied, or crops that either yielded fruit or didnt. In one instance he cursed a fig tree because it had not produced any fruit and in another instance he chided a man who wanted to follow him but wanted to first take time to bury his father. He said, Let the dead bury the dead. And on another occasion He said Once you put your hand to the plow, never look back.
Nearly everything He said and taught inferred that He and His followers after Him were to be involved in an historical struggle to bring about the Kingdom of God. And the only prayer He ever taught contained the words Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
This, of course, is the Judeo/Christian Linear Utopian Concept of History which has been responsible for all of the progress resulting from Western civilization.
Hegel says that God uses geniuses and revolutionaries to move His plan forward towards its completion. We may not all be geniuses but we are all called to be revolutionaries. Thomas Merton said that all Christians were called to be Gentle Revolutionaries who set out to make the world as it ought to be by first changing themselves and then by encouraging other to join in the effort.
If we are true to this calling, then our lives would be ones of service in which we became negentropic forces in a world that is moving entropically towards chaos. Unfortunately, because we often lack the vision and fail to make the effort, we become part of the entropic forces that by our life choices are leading our society towards disintegration.
Unless we wake up to the fact that we are not the only revolutionary forces out their who possess a vision of what the world ought to be, we will discover that we were instead the apathetic forces who, possessing no vision, were written out of the Book of Life and that the future that our children will inherit will be shaped by those who cared enough to work towards the fulfillment of their vision.
Well, I see that my time is up. In my next program I will discuss how Hegels theories have affected revolutionary movements in our own time. Heres Dom.