Modern Theology And The Dialectic Of God, Part 3 (Kelly Maeshiro)

The following is the third of a four-part series. The first can be found here, the second here.

Philosophically speaking, Hegel’s Absolute idealism represented another step past Kantian idealism downward from heaven. We have already remarked upon the manner in which Kantian idealism represented a metaphysical descent from traditional speculative metaphysics, a step from heaven to earth which recapitulated the logic of Incarnation, or God’s own descent from the misty realms of heaven toward earth. Hegel’s absolute idealism represents a further step in the same direction, beyond Kant’s transcendental idealism. It was, in a word, more immanent than Kantian idealism.

While Kant’s turn from speculative metaphysics to epistemology represented a step downward from heaven, its own metaphysics prevented this descent from completion. With the noumenal thing-in-itself, Kant retained a residue of heaven. Kantian idealism moved from transcendental metaphysics toward the human subject, but formulated an epistemology which was still in some ways fundamentally predicated on a metaphysical dualism of the transcendent and the immanent. Hegel took a step nearer the earth by dispensing with this heavenly residue, the noumenon, and by transcending the dualism of subject and object, noumenon and phenomenon, transcendent and immanent, divine and human, which, theologically speaking, held heaven and earth apart.

With Hegel, then, the secularization of theology was greatly advanced, and to that extent Alasdair MacIntyre is not in my view wrong in characterizing Hegelian idealism as a “secularized version of Christian theology.”[1] In the history of Christian theology, it is difficult to think of a figure who, more than Hegel, had systematically theorized God’s immanence, bridging the metaphysical chasm between God and the world. For centuries, so many thinkers had posited God as something transcendent apart from the world, building up a theological edifice on the basis of this infinite qualitative distinction. Hegel blew the whole thing apart. His philosophy was an explosion of God into the world.

But for Hegel, being properly dialectical about it, it was not enough simply to declare, in an a priori fashion, the identity of the Absolute and the Christian God; it was necessary to show how the Absolute was derived from Christianity itself. Just as it was necessary from a dialectical point of view to derive the Notion from the object itself, so here, Hegel found it necessary to derive the principle of the Absolute, and the immanent God, from Christianity itself. To be sure, Hegel identified as a Christian philosopher (a Lutheran to be precise) and saw his own philosophy as an exposition of Christianity.[2]

Even then, Hegel did not think one could simply proceed from Christianity, just as he protested against Schelling that one could not simply proceed from the Absolute pure and simple. As Dorrien writes, “Hegel did not begin by assuming the truth of Christianity, in the manner of medieval theology. If his philosophy was Christian, as he believed it to be, it was only such by virtue of being led there by the self-determination of reason. His system moved toward the Christian principle, and ultimately affirmed Christianity as the consummate religion, but it did not begin with the principle of any religious tradition.”[3] It is important in this connection to stress the passivity of the philosophical observer: the philosopher does not actively lead consciousness, but is “led there” by it. From Hegel’s point of view, he was only expressing philosophically in concepts what the Gospel writers, not least the author of John 1:1 had expressed theologically in religious images.

His Absolute idealism was merely the philosophical expression of the idea implied in the Incarnation, viz., that the life of God is realized in the life of human beings. From this point of view, the general development of modern theology (notwithstanding exceptions like Kierkegaard and Barth) was, on the whole, a movement toward this idea, a gradual recognition of the absolutely paradoxical idea that God is in the world, a gradual descent from Heaven to Earth, each of the various moments in the development of modern theology represented a greater or lesser degree of self-consciousness of this idea, i.e., of the Absolute, or Godself.

Hegel’s immanent conception of God was derived from his own reading of traditional Christian dogma itself. In Christianity, “[t]he divine nature is the same as the human,” Hegel writes.[4] Hegel paid special attention to the narratives of life of Christ, which he reinterpreted in dialectical terms.[5] The Incarnation and Crucifixion were essential expressions of the fundamental identity of the divine and human natures. In the Incarnation, “God is sensuously and directly beheld as a Self, as an actual individual man; only so is this God self-conscious,” Hegel tells us.[6]

The Crucifixion no less than the Incarnation stressed that the life of the divine is realized in this world, that God, or the infinite, is not “out there,” separate from the finite realm.  For Hegel, it is only through Crucifixion, which he interpreted as God’s return to Godself through the element of the finite realm, that the identity of the human and the divine is established: “Humanity,” Dorrien tells us, “is posited in God’s death as a moment of God’s being.” As Hegel writes, “The identity of the divine and the human means that God is at home with himself in humanity, in the finite, and in [its] death this finitude is itself a determination of God.”[7]


We have come to a point where it is possible to summarize, if only in the broadest terms, the general movement which characterizes the development of modern philosophy and liberal theology. We have seen the selfsame movement in the most important figures in this development, Kant, Schelling, and Hegel: each taking a philosophical step down from heaven, a secularization of theology and philosophy corresponding to and recapitulating the (secular) logic of incarnation. Whatever we choose to call this movement, its general characteristic is clear with its stress upon immanence and on the unity of the human and the divine.

It was more secular and humanistic, in a sense more worldly, than the theology which preceded it. Kant’s Copernican revolution in philosophy not only shifted philosophical attention to the knowing subject, but also changed the focus of philosophy itself from metaphysics to epistemology. But, as the later post-Kantians would protest, it rested on a metaphysical dualism which preserved God’s separateness from the world. Hegel therefore took the next step from heaven to earth by dispensing with that residue of heaven, the noumenal in-itself, flattening out Kant’s metaphysical dualism between subject and object, collapsing the difference between the divine and the human, putting the theme of modern theology in a phrase: “the divine nature is the same as the human.”

Although we have dealt here with only Kant, Hegel, and Schelling, and even then, mostly with the first two, what we have suggested generalizes more broadly. The idea that the divine nature is the same as the human was one of the defining traits of modern liberal theology, and it characterized virtually all of those who are typically considered to be part of this tradition. Every thinker from Schleiermacher to Tillich operated, at least implicitly, on the basis of this idea. For Schleiermacher as much as for Hegel, the life of God is realized in the life of human beings. In a letter to his father, Schleiermacher put it thus: “You say that the glorification of God is the end of our being, and I say the glorification of the creature; is not this in the end the same thing? Is not the Creator more and more glorified the happier and the more perfect his creatures are?”[8]

Tillich operated under similar assumptions. If the life of God was realized in the life of human beings, which is expressed in culture, then theology had to be a theology of human culture. Even the theologies and philosophies of the greatest dissenters in the liberal tradition, those of Kierkegaard and Barth, are defined in relation to this central idea, only negatively rather than positively. Whatever one makes of Kierkegaard’s and Barth’s alternative to this central idea, crucially, it is this idea and not any other in relation to which their theologies are defined. The whole development of modern theology from Kant through Schelling and Schleiermacher, Hegel and Harnack, even to Tillich, thus represented a progressive secularization of theology, and a corollary recognition of God’s immanence.

The general movement toward a recognition of God’s immanence is therefore a crucial element of modern philosophy and liberal theology, which cannot in my view be properly understood without it. This much is, I take it, more or less uncontroversial, and is hardly surprising given that the movement described coincides roughly with the rise of secular modernity: it shouldn’t surprise us if theology and philosophy began in this period to assume a more decisively secular form, given that the world as a whole, and human existence generally, had by this point begun to understand itself in decidedly more secular terms. It would indeed have been surprising if theology and philosophy were the only things which did not become secular.

What is perhaps more surprising, and certainly more interesting, is that this general movement parallels and recapitulates the logic of Incarnation. Just as God in the Incarnation deserts the misty realms of heaven for the all-too-human realm of earth, assuming a human form, so modern philosophy and liberal theology deserted the misty realms of speculative metaphysics, turned toward the human subject, and finally, conceived of the divine in human form. We conclude, then: (1) that the development of modern theology is characterized largely by its secularization, and (2) that the secularization of modern theology parallels and structurally recapitulates the Christian logic of Incarnation.

On Hegelian terms, however, one could, and would even be forced to press for an even stronger thesis — that the secularization of modern theology not only recapitulates the logic of Incarnation, but is identical with it, that the secularization of modern theology was nothing other than God’s self-revelation. Once the Hegelian premises are accepted, the logic is strikingly simple. If God is the Absolute; and if the development of modern theology is, like all other forms of philosophical and theological consciousness, the development of the Absolute’s consciousness of itself as the Absolute, or the Absolute’s self-consciousness; then it follows that the development of modern theology is the development of the self-consciousness of God; and therefore that the development of modern theology is identical with and nothing other than God’s self-revelation.

From this point of view, not only does the general development of modern philosophy and liberal theology just structurally recapitulate the logic of Incarnation, but it does so precisely because the development of modern theology is nothing other than God’s self-revelation — at least if the Hegelian premises of the argument are accepted. The development of modern philosophy and liberal theology was the mode in which God had revealed Godself to the world. The development of modern theology was not an approximation of God’s self-revelation; the development of modern theology was God’s revelation.

To put it in properly Hegelian terms, the doctrine of Incarnation represents an expression of the Absolute, or God, which was not self-conscious of itself as the Absolute, and the various phases in the historical development of theology represent successively higher degrees of self-consciousness on the part of the Absolute of itself as the Absolute, each subsequent development putting the Absolute, contained in germinal form in the doctrine of Incarnation, in more and more self-conscious form. Here we might think of Hegel’s metaphor of the bud, blossom, plant, and fruit. On these terms, the classical account of Incarnation is like the bud, and the various phases of the historical development of theology, including modern theology, are represented in turn by the blossom, plant, and fruit, which is, from this point of view, nothing other than the Absolute which comes to recognize itself as the Absolute through a dialectic that is everywhere marked by a logic of immanence.

Granting certain Hegelian assumptions, the secularization of modern theology can therefore be read as a development out of principles internal to Christianity itself — not something externally or exogenously imposed upon it, but developed out of its own internal impulses inasmuch as the logic of secularization is directly, if implicitly, given in the concept of Christianity itself. If this is true, Christianity is thus put in a somewhat contradictory relation with respect to itself: it is at once secular and religious. God reveals Godself in the element of secularity, an apparent paradox well understood by Kojéve, who suggested that “[t]he whole evolution of the Christian World is nothing but a progress toward the atheistic awareness of the essential finiteness of human existence.”[9]

But this is not problematic from a dialectical point of view. Karl Marx, that consummate dialectician, in describing his own dialectical method, expressed the basic premise of dialectics when he suggested that “[r]eason has always existed, only not always in reasonable form.”[10] The basic premise of dialectics is, in other words, that consciousness is contradictory, shot through with contradiction, and only ever expressed in contradictory form. Reason has always existed; human beings always have some basic relation to reality, and therefore some conception of it. But reason is not always in reasonable form; as finite creatures, our conception of reality is never entirely complete or even consistent. It is filled with inconsistencies and contradictions. The content of consciousness contradicts the form in which it is expressed.[11]

On these terms, the implicit secular content of Christianity, expressed most powerfully in the narratives of Incarnation and Crucifixion, directly contradicts the explicitly theistic form in which it is expressed. To invoke the language of classical dialectics, we might say that the secular kernel of Christianity is wrapped in a theistic shell. The contradiction is thus a contradiction between the implicit content of Christianity and its explicit form, and the historical development represents the attempt to put Christianity into self-conscious form, in which the form of consciousness corresponds to its content. To suggest, then, that God reveals Godself in the element of secularity, is not in the final analysis problematic from a dialectical or Hegelian point of view, for from this perspective it is simply not for us to dictate the terms upon which God reveals Godself to the world.

If God elects to reveal Godself in the element of secularity, or even in atheism, we are in no position to protest — something well understood by Bonhoeffer, who wrote so eloquently of a “religionless Christianity,” sharply distinguished from Barth’s, which Bonhoeffer characterized as a “positivism of revelation, which in the last analysis is essentially a restoration.”[12] Instead of a “restoration” of Pauline supernaturalism, Bonhoeffer imagined a truly secular Christianity, however contradictory. We “cannot be honest,” he wrote, “unless we recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur. And this is just what we do recognize — before God! God himself compels us to recognize it … God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us in the God who forsakes us (Mark 15.34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God.”[13]

Bonhoeffer grasped the central contradiction with which we are dealing, the same contradiction which worked itself out in the dialectical development of modern theology — God’s self-revelation in the element of secularity.

If, to extend Hegel’s metaphor, the truth of the bud is shown to be false by the bursting-forth of the blossom which appears as its truth instead, the bud also contains the truth of the blossom, and of the whole plant, though in a form which is subsequently shown to be false, i.e., in a germinal form, and the whole truth of the plant is already contained in the bud, the truth of the bud, in turn, contained in the seed, in germinal form. The whole dialectical movement of self-becoming of the plant is already contained with its truth in its germinal form in the seed.

As Hegel has said, “The principle of Development involves also the existence of a latent germ of being — a capacity or potentiality striving to realize itself … [Spirit] makes itself actually what it always was potentially.”[14] From this it follows that the secularization of modern theology is given in Christianity itself, not least in the concept of Incarnation. In a sense, the whole development of modern theology, from Kant through Schelling and Hegel to Tillich, is contained in the words of the Evangelist: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” — only, on dialectical grounds, one would have to regard this as having been expressed in a form which contradicted its content, and having required time to work itself out into more self-conscious form.

Whether this strong theological thesis — that the secularization implicit in the development of modern philosophy and theology can, however paradoxically, be identified with God’s own self-revelation — whether this can ultimately be sustained depends entirely on whether its Hegelian premises can be affirmed. It is no part of my intention in this essay to either affirm or deny anything in this regard, only to demonstrate the consequences which follow from certain premises in order to illuminate a certain logic that seems to me utterly decisive, and even defining, for the identity of all modern theology, whether one accepts or rejects it. Karl Barth of course rejected these premises categorically, but did so precisely because he understood, as I have attempted to show, what kind of view logically follows from them.

So far as modern theology is concerned, the most self-conscious form in which secular logic of incarnation was expressed was undoubtedly Hegel’s Absolute idealism. If the Notion which modern theology gradually recognized, i.e., the central and in some ways defining idea of modern theology, was the idea that “the divine nature is the same as the human,” then in a certain sense Hegel’s philosophy represented the partial consummation of modern theology. Others, like Schleiermacher, Harnack, and Tillich, may have proceeded on the basis of this idea, and worked out its implications. But it was Hegel who explicitly theorized and systematically expounded it, meticulously working out its metaphysical basis. It was Hegel who most powerfully expressed the idea which defined the whole development of modern theology — God’s immanence.

We should by no means imagine, however, that the development of this idea was consummated in Hegel, or even in Bonhoeffer. Feuerbach and Marx stand in the same relation to Hegel as Hegel stood in relation to Kant, for just as Hegelian idealism represents a dialectical transformation of Kantian idealism, so Feuerbachian and Marxian materialism represents, I think, a dialectical transformation of Hegelian idealism, a further radicalization of its own secular logic. And to the extent that God reveals Godself in the element of secularity, a Hegelian could think of Feuerbach’s and Marx’s philosophies as different moments in God’s self-revelation to the world.

From this perspective, it is not Barth and Kierkegaard who represent the continuation of the liberal tradition from Kant to Hegel, but Feuerbach and Marx — as Barth himself would readily have insisted. Kierkegaard and Barth protested against the general development of modern theology, in part precisely because they understood its secular implications, because they understood that the secular logic of liberal theology would lead logically to secular philosophy. In this limited sense, it is not entirely unreasonable to regard Feuerbach and Marx as standing in greater contiguity with the tradition of liberal theology than Kierkegaard and Barth, who protested mightily against it.

It seems to me one can draw a clearer line of philosophical contiguity from Kant through Hegel to Feuerbach and Marx, who radicalize their logic, than one can from Kant through Hegel to Kierkegaard and Barth. If the general development of modern theology was characterized by God’s self-revelation in the element of secularity, as Bonhoeffer so keenly grasped, then it is Feuerbach and Marx who are its legitimate heirs. Whether one sees this as a good or bad thing will depend entirely on one’s own theological, or anti-theological, presuppositions.

Barth, famously, thought it was a disaster for theology. But whether one ultimately joins Hegel, Feuerbach, and Marx in affirming the secularizing logic implicit in the dialectic that characterizes the development of modern philosophy and theology, or joins Kierkegaard and Barth in rejecting in toto, or affirms something else entirely, it seems to me that neither the essence of modern theology, nor, a fortiori, one’s own relation to it, can adequately be comprehended apart from an appreciation of this logic which, for better or worse, characterizes something of the very the soul of modern theology.

Postscript – Kierkegaardian Paradox and Barthian Otherness: Reactions to General Movement of Liberal Theology

Perhaps we have painted too simple a picture of modern theology. We have suggested that the defining trait of modern theology has been its gradual move toward a recognition of God’s immanence, from Kant, who bracketed the question of the God of speculative metaphysics, through Hegel and his immanent God, to Schleiermacher, whose God known via the subjectivity of feeling, and Tillich, for whom God is to be found in human culture. But is this perhaps too simple? Do not the great dissenters in the tradition, like Kierkegaard and Barth, complicate the picture we have painted? Not if we understand them in their proper relation to the tradition, viz., as dissenters.

To claim them as dissenters in this tradition is not to suggest they are not a part of it. Kierkegaard and Barth, as dissenters in the liberal tradition, are dissenters within this tradition — in communication with it — and are no more outside of and excluded from this tradition than Marx was from the tradition of classical political economy. Within this tradition, though, Kierkegaard and Barth are dissenters, and what they dissent to is nothing other than exactly what we have described as the general development of modern theology — the closing of the gap between heaven and earth, the recognition of God’s immanence, and of the fundamental identity of divine and human nature.

Even the protest against the general development of modern theology demonstrates the basic validity of our characterization of it, since this protest against modern theology presupposes some definite conception of it, which is broadly consistent with the main themes of what we have established. Here, then, it is important to grasp, as we have already observed, that even the theologies and philosophies of the greatest dissenters in the liberal tradition, are defined in relation to this central idea, only negatively rather than positively, that it is this idea and not any other in relation to which their theologies are defined.

Kierkegaard and Barth both rightly grasped the basic movement which characterized modern theology, which is precisely why they so vehemently protested against it. Kierkegaard understood that the fundamental issue at stake in the development of modern theology was, as we have already established, the issue of God’s relation to human beings. For him, not only the soul of modern theology, but the soul of Christianity as such, Christianity itself as a whole, hinged on the issue of God’s basic relation to humanity, the manner in which God’s immanence and transcendence are conceptualized.

It was on account of this that the idea of Incarnation assumed such a central importance in Kierkegaard’s philosophy. As Climacus writes in the Philosophical Fragments: “The heart of the matter is the historical fact that the god has been in human form.” It was so central that in fact it defined the whole essence of Christianity: “Even if the contemporary generation had not left anything behind except these words, ‘We have believed that in such and such a year the god appeared in the humble form of a servant, lived and taught among us, and then died’ — this is more than enough.”[15]

For Climacus, the idea of a “God in time” as he put it was an utter scandal to the Understanding, an “absolute paradox.”  Kierkegaard appears to agree with Kant about what he, Kierkegaard, calls the “ultimate paradox of thought.”[16] Kant opens the preface to the first edition of his Critique of Pure Reason with the somber observation, similar to Kierkegaard’s, that “Human reason, in one sphere of its cognition, is called upon to consider questions, which it cannot decline, as they are presented by its own nature, but which it cannot answer,” not least because when it ventures to answer these questions, it “falls into confusion and contradictions … transcending the limits of experience.”[17]

Kierkegaard takes a similar position, suggesting that the “ultimate paradox of thought” is “to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.” The Understanding “in its paradoxical passion collides” with the unknown, which Kierkegaard identifies with “the god,” his functional proxy for the Christian God.[18] For Kierkegaard, the Understanding cannot grasp the idea of a God in time, which therefore remains an absolute paradox, absolutely ungraspable, absolutely unrecognizable by the Understanding. “Defined as the absolutely different,” Kierkegaard writes, “the understanding cannot even think the absolutely different” (my emphasis), a statement with which Kant, with a simple change of terminology, would surely have agreed.

Kant and Kierkegaard, then, appear to share similar philosophical assumptions about the nature of the Understanding and its limits. Both concede that God is not cognizable by the Understanding, and remains an absolute scandal to human knowledge. But they propose radically different solutions to the shared problem, this difference being important not least because their separate responses to the problem define the differences between liberal theology, which took after Kant’s solution, and neo-orthodox theology, which took after Kierkegaard’s.

On the basis of a metaphysical dualism between subject and object, and the implicit epistemological limitations this engenders, there appear to be at least two compelling possibilities for faith: (1) for the knowing subject to posit knowledge of God as a necessary postulate of practical reason, which was Kant’s solution; or (2) for God to reveal Godself to the believer in an absolute paradox transcending the Understanding. On the basis of a metaphysical dualism of subject and object which prevents the possibility of genuine knowledge of God, Kant turns toward the subject (his famous Copernican turn), and Kierkegaard turns toward the object, God.[19]

We have already reviewed Kant’s formulation of faith on the basis of his metaphysical dualism, so it is not necessary to recount it here. Kierkegaard expressed the most philosophically coherent alternative to Kant’s solution: anti-rational fideism.[20] If, as Kant suggested, God is not cognizable by the Understanding, i.e., if God is not knowable through the active cognitive agency of human beings, then there is only one other alternative, viz., that the knowledge of God is the result of the active agency of human beings, but rather through the active agency of Godself. 

Here Kierkegaard elaborates what would later be worked into major themes for Barthian and neo-orthodox theologians. Since God is absolutely other, God cannot be known by merely human efforts; rather the only possibility of knowledge of God is God’s self-revelation: “if a human being is to come truly to know something about the unknown (the god), he must first come to know that it is different from him, absolutely different from him. The understanding cannot come to know this by itself (since, as we have seen, it is a contradiction); if it is going to come to know this, it must come to know this from the the god,” (my emphasis) and to even know that God is “absolutely different” is not possible by human efforts, but is itself a condition self-disclosed by God.[21]

If, in other words, knowledge of God is not possible through a mere human effort, then the only other way in which the knowledge of God can be possible is through a divine effort. In God’s self-revelation, “the understanding steps aside and the paradox gives itself” (my emphasis).[22] This distinction, between the merely human attempt to know God, and the divine effort of self-revelation, was the distinction, for Climacus, between Socratic and Christian modes of knowing. For Climacus, the Socratic represented the merely human attempt to know God, and the Christian represented the divine effort on the part of God to reveal Godself to human beings.

For Climacus’s Socrates, as for Hegel, “every human being is himself the midpoint, and the whole world focuses only on him because his self-knowledge is God-knowledge.” Climacus reminds us that for Socrates, all knowledge is a result of recollection, a remembering of what one already knows, and, crucially, as a result, that the “truth is not introduced into him,” i.e., by an external being, “but was in him” to begin with (my emphasis). The essence of the Socratic conception of knowledge is that, on these terms, the truth is not given to the me from without but rather, “the truth in which I rest was in me and emerged from me.”[23]

To this Socratic conception of knowledge, Climacus counterposes a Christian one. If, on Socratic terms, the knowledge of the truth is simply a matter of recollection and the truth is as a result “in me and emerged from me,” then on Christian terms, the truth is not from within me, but given to me from without, from God: “[G]od himself … prompts the learner to be reminded that he is un-truth and is that through his own fault.”[24] Here we should notice that the active subject not only of this sentence but also of divine knowledge, is not the knowing subject, but the self-revealing God.

Here it is relevant to recognize that Kierkegaard’s alternative to Kant’s solution to the problem of faith is internally quite consistent. It represents a form of anti-rational fideism. While I don’t endorse Kierkegaard’s position, it at least has the merit of sharpening the alternatives posed to a view predicated on the metaphysical dualism implicit in Kantian idealism: if one accepts the Kantian limitations on reason, there seem to be only two logically coherent, i.e., internally consistent, philosophical possibilities: (1) practical belief, Kant’s position, which suggests that if knowledge of God is not possible through reason, belief in God is possible, as a necessary postulate of practical reason; and (2) anti-rational fideism, Kierkegaard’s position, which suggests that if knowledge of God is not possible through human reason, it can only be possible through a suspension of reason.

Knowledge of god is not possible through human reason; therefore, the only possibility for this knowledge is through a suspension of reason. Kant keeps reason and compromises his knowledge of God; Kierkegaard keeps God and compromises on reason — but this is precisely the possibility presented by the metaphysical dualism of Kantian idealism which Kierkegaard by and large presupposes.

Let us for the moment set aside all Kantian objections to Kierkegaard’s fideistic position. Even if, on this basis, we assume Kierkegaard’s solution to be satisfactory and concede full validity to it, we get nowhere with it, inasmuch as it proceeds on the basis of fundamentally Kantian assumptions about the nature of Understanding, precisely the assumptions which Hegel criticized Kant for. In principle, Hegel would have agreed with Kierkegaard and Kant that the Understanding cannot grasp the idea of God.

The Understanding cannot grasp the idea of God in time, and the very fact that it can’t was precisely his criticism of Kant, viz., that Kantian idealism, representing a form of consciousness corresponding to the Understanding, never developed beyond the Understanding into Reason, the form of consciousness which, to Hegel’s mind, can in principle grasp the Absolute, or God. To the extent that Kierkegaard’s philosophy proceeds on the basis of the fundamentally Kantian assumption that the Understanding cannot grasp the idea of God, it remains, along with Kantian idealism, within the realm of the Understanding, and is therefore subject to that extent to Hegel’s criticism of Kant’s metaphysics, i.e., of the metaphysical dualism implied in Kantian idealism.

The point here is this: Kierkegaard’s philosophy is predicated on the Kantian assumption that the Understanding cannot cognize God. It is therefore logically valid to the extent that this assumption obtains. But it was exactly this assumption which Hegel challenged, and to the extent that Hegel’s criticism is valid, the Kantian assumption, upon which Kierkegaard’s philosophy is predicated, does not hold, but if the assumptions on which Kierkegaard’s philosophy is predicated are themselves not valid, then it follows logically that the philosophy which is predicated on these assumptions is itself not valid.

Kelly Maeshiro is a doctoral student at Union Theological Seminary. His work falls into two broad categories: practical and speculative. In his practical work, which draws heavily from political economy, especially Marxist political economy, Kelly is focused on a theological critique of capitalism as a form of religion corresponding to a definite historical form of idolatry. Drawing on Origen, Aquinas, Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Niebuhr. His speculative work is focused on the theoretical foundations of rational theology, incorporating elements of both philosophical theology and liberation theology, with the aim of synthesizing the valid claims of both rationalism and radicalism within a rigorous theological framework.

[1] Alasdair MacIntyre, Marxism and Christianity, London: Duckworth, 1995,

[2] Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit, pp.190, 222-3.

[3] Ibid., pp.225-6.

[4] Ibid.

[5] See Hegel, Phenomenology, §§748-87, pp.453-78.

[6] Ibid., p.459.

[7] Hegel, qtd. in Dorrien, Kantian Spirit and Hegelian Spirit, p.221.

[8] F.D.E. Schleiermacher, qtd. in Dorrien, op. cit., p.87.

[9] Alexandre Kojeve, qtd. in Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit, p.189.

[10] Karl Marx, “For a Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing,” The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York: Norton, 1978), p.14.

[11] It was precisely on this basis, i.e., on the basis of his own dualistic assumptions about the nature of the secular and the sacred (the very dualism which Hegel sought to transcend), that Kojéve himself (and so many left-wing, atheist interpreters of Hegel) failed to perceive that this “evolution” is not incompatible with Christianity per se, only with its traditional theistic form.

[12] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers From Prison, enlarged edition, ed. Eberhard Bethge (New York: Touchstone, 1997), pp.280-2.

[13] Ibid., p.360.

[14] G.W.F. Hegel, Introduction to The Philosophy of History, trans. J. Sibree (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2004), p.54.

[15] Johannes Climacus, Philosophical Fragments, trans. and ed. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985, p.102-4.

[16] Ibid., pp.37-39.

[17] Kant, Preface to the First Edition, Critique of Pure Reason, 2nd ed., p.xvii.

[18] Climacus, Philosophical Fragments, pp.37-9.

[19] In at least this sense, Kierkegaard is as much an objectivist as the subjectivist he is often claimed to be.

[20] I am borrowing Dorrien’s characterization here: he refers to Kierkegaard as an “anti-rational fideist who wielded reason as a weapon” (Dorrien, Kantian Reason and Hegelian Spirit, p.261).

[21] Climacus, Philosophical Fragments, p.46.

[22] Ibid., p.59.

[23] Ibid., pp.9-12.

[24] Ibid., p.15.

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