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Divided Brain, Atoning Spirit

Andrew Shanks

HEGEL AND RELIGIOUS FAITH Divided Brain, Atoning Spirit Andrew Shanks

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Copyright © Andrew Shanks, 2011

Andrew Shanks has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identifi ed as the Author of this work.

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ISBN13: 978-0-567-53230-5 (Hardback)

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  • 1 Desmond versus Hegel: A False Either / Or?


  • 1. The setting


  • 2. Two opposing strategic attitudes to religion-and-politics


  • 3. Desmond’s affi rmation of ‘agapeic community’


  • 4. Hegel’s political-theological realism


  • 5. Beyond the ‘beautiful soul’


  • 6. ‘Was Hegel pious?’


  • 7. The uniqueness of the Phenomenology of Spirit


  • 8. Towards the ‘solidarity of the shaken’


  • 9. Faith / knowing / faith


  • 2 Desmond’s Hegel: A Counterfeit Double?


  • 1. Hegelian grand narrative: ‘theodicy’ or ‘kakodicy’?


  • 2. Schiller’s dictum, quoted by Hegel:

‘Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht


  • 3. ‘The hand that wounds is the hand that heals’


  • 3 The Ideal of ‘Atonement’


  • 1. Hegel on Eckhart: ‘There, indeed, we have what we want!’


  • 2. ‘Unhappy consciousness?’ A problem of translation


  • 3. ‘A condition of sheer inner contradiction’


  • 4. Luther / Kant / Hegel


  • 5. Desmond’s response


  • 4 Aetiology of Unatonement


  • 1. A sieving process


  • 2. What Hegel has inadvertently stumbled upon


  • 3. Dialectic of the cerebral hemispheres


  • 4. A tale of two creations


  • 5. ‘Just a game?’


  • 6. McGilchrist’s story


  • 7. The ‘cause’ of atonement




  • 5 Hegel’s Gospel


  • 1. Pathos and solidarity


  • 2. Hegel as strategist


  • 3. ‘Das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’: the two prime texts


  • 6 The Spur: Hegel versus Fichte


  • 1. The signifi cance of Fichte


  • 2. Truth-as-uprootedness


  • 3. The despotism of the ‘Absolute Ego’


  • 4. Fichte and Marx


  • 5. Fichte / Spinoza


  • 6. Hegel’s verdict on both


  • 7 Two Non-Christian Alternative Strategies


  • 1. The Hegel who interests me



  • 2. Excursus on Heidegger


  • 3. Excursus on Deleuze and Guattari


  • 8 Hegel Sublated


  • 1. The Holy Spirit in spate


  • 2. Joachim / Eckhart / Hegel


  • 3. A plea for patience


  • 4. Hegel today: from ‘second’ to ‘third modernity’


  • 9 Coda








desmond versus hegel:

a false either / or?

1. The setting

The primary proposition this book seeks to explore is that Hegel’s thought constitutes one of the great pinnacles of the Christian theological tradition. Of course, it is a controversial proposition. Hegel has admirers who, wishing that he were not in fact as religious as he professes to be, are therefore tempted to downplay that aspect of his thought. And, at the same time, he also has plenty of religious detractors. My primary purpose here is to try and answer the latter. There has never, I think, been a more elegantly aggressive or better informed attempt at such resistance to Hegelian theology, as failing to do full justice to the proper truth-potential of popular Christian faith, than William Desmond’s recent book, Hegel’s God. 1 And this, therefore, is the fi rst stimulus for what I have written here. I am interested, generally, in comparing what one might call high-intensity philosophic-poetic strategies for truth-as-openness. That is to say: strategies for thought, in relation to questions of religion and politics, which system- atically prioritize the pursuit of conversational openness over claims to theoretic correctness. Hegel represents one such strategy. Not everyone fully recognizes this; some even deny it outright; I want to clarify the sense in which it is, nevertheless, absolutely the case. Desmond represents an alternative strategy, likewise prioritizing truth-as-openness in this sense; and likewise integrated into theology, only in another way. My argument begins with a comparison of these two. But then, in order to give a more rounded picture, in Chapter 7 I will further consider how the Hegelian

1 William Desmond, Hegel’s God: A Counterfeit Double? (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003). Two defenders of Hegelian theology who, amongst other things, have already begun to tackle Desmond’s argument are Peter C. Hodgson, in Hegel and Christian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005) and Martin J. De Nys, in Hegel and Theology (London & New York: T. & T. Clark, 2009).



strategy compares to a couple of anti-theological variants of strategy for promoting truth-as-openness: on the one hand, that of Martin Heidegger; on the other hand, that of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. Meanwhile, however, the other major stimulus to which I am responding is of quite a different order. It is the challenge of Iain McGilchrist’s brilliant new work, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, on the philosophic implications of recent develop- ments in neuroscience. 2 This I will come to in Chapter 4. McGilchrist is indeed warmly appreciative of Hegel’s thought, for the way in which it helps set the scene for the sort of thinking that he advocates. 3 He focuses on the dialectical interplay between the normal roles of the left and right cerebral hemispheres; constructs a pioneering grand narrative on that theme. And in so doing he is led to consider Hegel’s discussion of ‘das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’, the split self of inner servility, which is in fact the key concept for Hegel’s philosophical theology as developed in the Phenomenology of Spirit, and of central importance for the argument I also want to develop. No doubt, one of the most signifi cant sources of fresh theological thinking in the near future will be the emergent interaction between theology and the new science of neuropsychology. In that context, Hegel’s thought will surely be a key point of reference. McGilchrist himself largely brackets any consideration of theology from his argument. Here, I set out to remove those brackets. Hegel helps to show how. All the more reason, then – I think – to challenge the dismissiveness of Desmond’s polemic.

2. Two opposing strategic attitudes to religion-and-politics

A preliminary formulation: Hegel is the thinker who, with greater energy than any other, seeks systematically to open Christian theology up to genuine, receptive conversation, both with its own traditions and with all

the various other traditions of the secular world around. No other thinker has ever done more to try and expose Christian theology to fresh input; system- atically putting the will-to-openness (he calls it ‘Geist’, ‘Spirit’) right at the heart of theology; understanding that impulse, at its most generous, to be the very essence of the truly sacred. He is the great critic of intellectual meanness, or spiritual suffocation in religion: supremely alert to all such meanness – whether explicit or implicit, taciturn or garrulous in disguise – everywhere. Or is he?

  • 2 Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009).

  • 3 In the course of his discussion here McGilchrist refers to an earlier text of mine, partly incorporated into the present work.



Certainly, as we shall see, he is a pioneering critic of the sort of closed- mindedness that consists in exalting claims to defi nitive religious, or philosophic, truth-as-correctness of any kind – including dogmatic scepti- cism, as represented by Kant – over the pursuit of perfect truth-as-openness. But maybe, there still remains another level of closure that Hegel has not addressed. – Is the Hegelian notion of perfect truth-as-openness perhaps, after all, too narrow? This, at any rate, is Desmond’s view. Desmond is one of the most distinguished of contemporary ‘continental’ philosophers; a splendidly challenging original thinker; and a major author-

ity on Hegel. 4 As a religious critic of Hegel, he is akin to Kierkegaard. But he differs from Kierkegaard, not least by virtue of his much closer engagement with Hegel’s actual texts. Hegel’s God appeared in between the second and third volumes of his major trilogy: Being and the Between, Ethics and the Between, and God and the Between. 5 To appreciate it fully, one needs to read it, in the fi rst instance, against that systematic background. Why did he write it? Chiefl y, he tells us, it was out of friendship, because he had been

asked to; at the same time, though, also out of a certain ‘dismay

. . .


Hegel’s power to infatuate religiously gullible admirers’. 6 He is concerned that ‘philosophers with the spiritual ambitions of Hegel pose dangers for those who are less vigorous spiritually, and more feeble intellectually’. 7 Desmond’s interpretation of philosophic tradition, as a whole, is framed in terms of a fourfold typology: he distinguishes between thinkers who follow the ‘univocal’, the ‘equivocal’, the ‘dialectical’ and the ‘metaxological’ ways. 8 Roughly speaking, (a) the ‘univocal’ way presents its results as a defi nitively correct encapsulation of community-building wisdom in fi xed, trans-historical formulas. But (b) the ‘equivocal’ way then dissolves these. In this scheme,

  • 4 Desmond has not always been an out-and-out critic of Hegel. As he, himself, remarks in Perplexity and Ultimacy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), p. 20: ‘My fi rst published book was Art and the Absolute. It was generally well received by the Hegelians. They especially liked my critique of deconstruction, which the decon- structionists did not like. I would now say that for strategic reasons I pulled some punches about Hegel. I was tired of caricatures of Hegel. It is silly the way Hegel has been so many times overcome by mediocre minds. All one has to do is grind out a few clichés from Marx or Heidegger or Derrida; and presto! – Hegel is put in his place. I found this ridiculous, and still fi nd it ridiculous, even though I criticize Hegel. Hence, I wanted to write a book which gave Hegel a run for his money’. (And he subsequently became President of the Hegel Society of America.)

  • 5 Being and the Between (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995); Ethics and the Between (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001); God and the Between (Oxford: Blackwell, 2008).

  • 6 Hegel’s God, p. ix.

  • 7 Ibid., p. 15.

  • 8 This typology is fi rst systematically developed in Desmond, Desire, Dialectic and Oth- erness: An Essay on Origins (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1987). And it then pervades his thinking thereafter.



(c) Hegel is the pre-eminent pioneer of the ‘dialectical’ way, setting out, as he does, to reframe conversation between the previous two ways in terms of systematically all-inclusive philosophic community-building grand narrative. However, Desmond argues the highest truth is (d) that which belongs to the ‘metaxological’ way. He puts it like this: ‘I suggest that as dialectic tries to redeem the promise of univocity beyond equivocity, so the metaxological tries to redeem the promise of equivocity beyond univocity and dialectic’. 9 In other words, ‘metaxology’ re-dissolves what ‘dialectic’ has put back together. Thus, he honours Hegel as the thinker whom – it seems, above all others – we need to overcome, in order that philosophy shall attain its true homeland. As for the spelling out of how this is so, his argument is wide-ranging. But perhaps the best way to approach it is as a dispute over the possible authority claims of theological rhetoric in the workings of large-scale church institutions as such. And then again, also, as a dispute over such claims in the context of civil religion: both that of the state and that of bottom-up movements within civil society. Essentially at stake here, is how best to preserve a proper appreciation for what one might call ‘primary’ encounter with the divine; how to keep the truth of that experience from being diluted by the secondary requirements of political expediency, in general. Hegel approaches this general problem with one strategy, Desmond with another. Desmond’s strategy is altogether stricter, more restrictive. From his point of view, the Hegelian strategy is far too lax. But then, from the Hegelian point of view, Desmond’s strategy looks like a perfectionist’s option for ultimately futile social marginality; the best made the enemy of the good.

3. Desmond’s affi rmation of ‘agapeic community’

At the heart of Desmond’s polemic is his insistence on drawing the most emphatic possible distinction between divine agape and human, all too human, eros. Agape: love, in the sense of an overfl owing generosity; unconditionally given, not according to merit; entirely free of neediness, and hence ever ready for self-sacrifi ce. Eros: love, in the sense of hungering and thirsting for the beloved; the more intense, among mortals, the more needy it is; typically self-assertive, and seeking to possess what it admires. Hegel does not focus on this distinction. ‘Agape’ and ‘eros’ are Greek words; he thinks in German, which, like English, lacks any indigenous equivalent to the pairing. And indeed no one in his day had yet developed the contrast between them in polemical terms. The fi rst thinker to do so was

9 Being and the Between, p. 178.



actually the Swedish theologian Anders Nygren in the 1930s. 10 Thus, Nygren sets the Johannine formula from the New Testament, ‘God is agape’ (1 John 4: 8, 16) over against Plotinus, who, on the contrary, says of the divine One, ‘He is Himself eros, namely eros towards Himself’. 11 Of course, for Plotinus, the eros of the divine One does not spring from any neediness intrinsic to the One, Himself. But it fl ows down into the life of mortals; stirs up, and indwells, the needy eros of mortals for the truth of the One; and so, as it were, circles back home. This is where Plotinus most radically goes beyond Plato, for whom the divine is only ever the passive object of eros. Unlike Plato, Plotinus wants to affi rm an active indwelling of the divine within the human soul. This, one might say, has a similar function to the primordial Christian affi rmation of God’s symbolically incarnated love for humanity:

it feeds defi ant dissent against an oppressive social order, by imparting confi dence to the dissident. But, Nygren argues, it does so in a quite opposite way to that of the gospel, because it is disastrously tainted with a spirit of egocentricity. He sees the history of Christian theology as an epic struggle between the New Testament vision of divine agape and the Plotinian vision of divine eros, infi ltrated into the Church’s thinking, above all, through Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. Augustine, he complains, systematically mixes the two in his Latin notion of caritas; and this mixing then sets the terms for the whole mediaeval tradition. Martin Luther is the real hero of Nygren’s narrative. For it is only with Luther, he thinks, that the New Testament truth is, for the fi rst time, decisively unscrambled from the false accretions of Greek philosophy. Desmond, for his part, develops a rather different argument, without reference to Nygren. Unlike Nygren, he is not particularly interested in Luther. And he also differs from Nygren in his willingness to entertain at least some notion of ‘divine erotics’. 12 However, it remains quite a limited notion, as his critique of Hegel, above all, demonstrates. Thus, by ‘divine erotics’ Desmond simply means a revelation of God as being, yes, ‘in love with creation, passionate for its good, zealous for the realization of its prom- ise and integral wholeness’; but, nevertheless, still holding aloof from the messy confl icts of actual, this-worldly, politically compromising, eros-for- truth. 13 He approves Plotinus’ polemic against Gnosticism in Ennead 2. 9, inasmuch as Plotinus there repudiates the Gnostics’ sheer disgust at the materiality of the material world as a whole. (Nygren, by contrast, is only

  • 10 Nygren’s original Swedish work, Den kristna kärlekstanken genom tiderna: Eros och Agape appeared in two volumes, 1930 and 1936. In English: Agape and Eros (trans. Philip S. Watson; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

  • 11 Plotinus, Enneads VI. 8. 15. Nygren discusses Plotinus in Agape and Eros Part 1, chapter 6.

  • 12 God and the Between, p. 162.

  • 13 Ibid., p. 126.



ever concerned to attack Plotinus.) And he is not necessarily unhappy with theological interpretations of the Song of Songs, such as those of St Bernard or St John of the Cross: reading that book as metaphor for the impassioned intensity of ideal mystical encounter between God and the individual soul. And yet for him, the truth-potential of such thinking is purely aesthetic. It is an affi rmation of sheer delight in the existence of creation – that is all. He rejects any notion of God indwelling human eros-for-truth as a moral, or solidarity-building, impulse. For (in this he would agree with Nygren) what God morally and politically indwells is human agape, alone. The Hegelian doctrine of ‘Spirit’ represents a far more expansive notion of ‘divine erotics’. Indeed, ‘Spirit’ is precisely Hegel’s term for God indwelling the rational-erotic human impulse towards truth-as-openness in all its forms, moral and political as well as aesthetic. What Spirit inspires is not only self- less aesthetic delight in creation. It is also the inspiration of self-assertive moral struggle, solidarity-building campaigns, for ‘freedom’ and for ‘justice’. Desmond repudiates Hegelian theology, fundamentally, because he mistrusts the element of sanctifi ed human self-assertion it thus allows. He is quite intransigent in this regard. Wherever there is any element of human self-as- sertion, there, for him, God is straightaway excluded. What counts for Hegel, on the other hand, is just that we should be opened up to fresh insight, fresh conversational receptivity. Wherever we are opened up in that sense, in Hegel’s view, there God is; there Spirit is at work. From this point of view, self-assertion is only problematic insofar as it has the effect of closing down thought; that is to say, where it is the mere self- assertion of vanity. Spirit, to be sure, dissolves self-assertive vanity:

eros-for-truth overcoming eros-for-delusion. But, insofar as our thinking is closed down by external repression, Spirit, as Hegel understands it, also inspires other, countervailing forms of rational-erotic self-assertion, by way of defi ance. What, in general, are we to make of political movements against tyranny that combine defi ant rational-erotic self-assertion with theological rhetoric? In other words: movements driven by the sort of eros for ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ which is expressed in the cry, ‘To this I am entitled, to this we are entitled, in God’s name’? It would seem that, in Desmond’s view, any such cry would have to be judged as taking the name of God in vain. For God is agape, alone. And agape never asserts its own entitlement. The dynamic evoked by Hegel in the Phenomenology of Spirit culminates in what he calls ‘absolute knowing’. Of course, almost all readers nowadays will tend to recoil from this phrase, put off by the apparent extravagance of its self-as- sertion – nothing, perhaps, could more vividly indicate what a different intellectual world Hegel inhabited from ours! I would, indeed, urge that his thinking not be dismissed just because his terminology has fallen out of fashion, and feels a bit odd now. However, Desmond’s repudiation of the Hegelian ideal clearly runs far deeper. For what Hegel calls ‘absolute



knowing’ is, not least, the knowing of what one is truly entitled to, by way of ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’. And, moreover, it is a knowing which lays claim to that entitlement – with absolute confi dence – in God’s name. Desmond’s basic objection is to any such defi ant invocation of God. Again, let us carefully differentiate the two forms of truth: truth-as- correctness and truth-as-openness. The former is the truth of accurate representations. But the latter is the truth of attentive presence. Truth-as- correctness is a quality intrinsic to well-framed propositions, well-informed opinions, and well-constructed arguments, considered in abstraction, regardless of context. By contrast, truth-as-openness expresses a quality of character: skill in listening, wise judgement. It depends, precisely, on the ability to recognize how meaning shifts as the context varies. The truth of what Hegel calls ‘absolute knowing’ is, fi rst and foremost, meant to be the very fullest possible truth-as-openness. Thus, it is an ideal know-how:

knowing how to discriminate authentic, fresh thought – thought freshly responsive to fresh experience – from any mere recycling, even the most sophisticated, of ideas gone stale, or no longer well connected with actual reality. The Phenomenology as a whole is a survey of attitudinal blockages to fresh thought; attitudes that, insofar as they are articulate at all, are liable to take shelter behind cliché. Absolute knowing is just what fi nally remains when all of these blockages are dismantled. To the extent that the blockages are reinforced by the prejudices of the human herd as such, to dismantle them clearly requires a great gift of self-confi dence. And hence the provocative belligerence of the terminology: ‘absolute knowing’. However, this is by no means to be misunderstood, as though Hegel were intent on rendering ‘absolute’ what he himself has written, the mere form of his actual argu- ment. There is no wildly arrogant claim, here, to defi nitive truth-as-correctness for this particular work of theoretical representation. He is not talking here about a specifi c formal doctrine. Rather, absolute knowing is an ideal substantive state of mind, which may come to all sorts of different formal expression in different intellectual contexts. It is the recognition of authentic inner ‘freedom’ as a capacity for truth-as-openness; of true ‘justice’ as the ideal social set-up for promoting that capacity. And inasmuch as such knowing is not only an ideal species of know-how but also a knowing-that, what it knows is, very simply, that ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ in this sense are sacred entitlements. For Hegel, in effect, to know what this means is to know God. But Desmond thinks otherwise: to know God is, on the contrary, to know the absolute difference between eros and agape, and to give ultimate privilege to the self-effacement of agape, over the self-assertion of eros. Hegel does not actually argue to the contrary – Desmond represents a challenge he never encountered. But it is certainly true that he does not focus on the distinction that Desmond considers all-important. And, therefore, Desmond designates Hegel’s God an ‘erotic absolute’. He argues that Hegel’s theology



is fundamentally incompatible with the true Johannine vision of God as agape. It is, he concludes, a mere ‘counterfeit double’ of that true vision. Hegel sets out to defi ne the ground rules for a very extensive mixing of religion and politics. Desmond is much more restrictive in this regard. He identifi es the cause of theological truth, exclusively, with ‘agapeic community’. That is to say, the sort of community that derives from an offer of uncondi- tional generosity; from the gratitude this evokes, and nothing else. For my part, I both agree and disagree. In The Other Calling, going beyond the New Testament concept of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ I actually sought to develop a concept of the ‘priesthood of all thinkers’, which does indeed have quite a direct connection with the ideal of agapeic community. 14 This was by way of response to Leo Strauss, and to the whole ‘Platonist’ tradition of ‘philosophic politics’, of which Strauss was the great twentieth-century historian and advocate. Philosophic politics is what follows from a basic identifi cation of the cause of truth with the political self-assertion of philosophers as a social class, sharing a vested interest in certain forms of educational privilege. So it is a project of solidarity building among philosophers; a thinking through of strategy (‘with what sorts of other people shall we philosophers ally ourselves, and how?’) to maximize the philosopher-class’s collective political infl uence. But philosophy, for this tradition, is conceived just the way Plato originally conceived it, in erotic terms: as the most sophisticated mode of eros-for-truth. I argued, against Strauss, in favour of ‘priesthood’ as the prime alternative model to ‘philosophy’ in that erotic sense, for the moral vocation inherent in intellectuality. And one might indeed well say that the prime difference between Platonic philo- sophy and priesthood, at any rate in the Christian sense, is precisely the ideal orientation of priesthood, unlike philosophy, towards agapeic com- munity as the highest moral good. 15 Thus, the true priest seeks to organize agape, a spirit of sheer generosity, dispelling all forms of class-distinction – this is the exact opposite to the political activity of the Straussian-Platonist philosopher who seeks to uphold the corporate self-interest of his or her privileged social class, essentially bonded together by a shared mode of intellectual eros. Certainly I would share Desmond’s mistrust of sacralized political self-assertion in the case of ‘Platonism’: that is, the self-assertion of the privileged philosophic elite, as such. And yes, if that were all that Hegel in fact intended, then I would be just as critical of Hegel as he is. But where, on the other hand, is there any actual human organization that is exclusively an embodiment of agapeic community? For a brief while, here and there, major social movements have on occasion erupted with a large

14 The Other Calling: Theology, Intellectual Vocation and Truth (Oxford: Blackwell,


15 C.f. Desmond, ‘Consecrated Thought: Between the Priest and the Philosopher’, in Journal of Philosophy and Scripture, 2. 2, Spring 2005.



measure of agapeic enthusiasm in their make-up. The original Jesus- movement is one obvious example. And Desmond himself also refers to the early Franciscans. 16 These, however, have been rare and short-lived phenom- ena, swiftly mutating into something much more ambiguous. To be sure, as a Christian priest I do see my job, very much, as an attempt to help maximize the element of agapeic community in the life of my church. However, I know that this can only be one element, among many others, in the spiritual constitution of an effective church. For a church to be effective, it needs, not least, to hook the gospel onto various forms of corporate eros:

family loyalties, class loyalties, patriotic loyalties. And should I therefore, as a priest, repudiate, as being altogether ‘ungodly’, things that are clearly necessary in order for a church to be effective? Desmond develops no ecclesiology. I must say that, to me, this looks like quite a big hole in his thinking. But one cannot develop an ecclesiology looking only to the ultimate good. Ecclesiology has to do with what, in a particular historic context, is effectively possible, by way of institutional church life. Hence, in the short term, it must always tend to mean opting for the lesser of several evils. Desmond’s perfectionism appears to close the whole proper conversation-area of ecclesiology down. His meditation on agape opens up another conversation area that Hegel ignores. Surely, though, we need both conversation-areas opened up: both the area that Hegel ignores and the area that Desmond ignores. For is not the best theology, in general principle, that which does most to open everything up to serious questioning?

4. Hegel’s political-theological realism

By contrast to Desmond, Hegel develops a very much fuller ecclesiology. He is a Lutheran, albeit of a different kind from Nygren. And what he chiefl y values in his Lutheran heritage is its State-Church model of organization, which minimizes the risk of corporate egoism in the behaviour of the church institution, on its own behalf. That is to say: the sort of corporate egoism which Lutherans – and Anglicans – have always been inclined to see at work both in the Roman Catholic Church, on the one hand, and especially in Calvinist churches, on the other. A State Church, however, is surely only justifi able to the extent that it, for its part, succeeds in restraining the corporate egoism of the State, equally in relation to individual citizens and in relation to other states. Hegel was a consistent advocate of greater respect for the civil liberties of the individual, and for the interests of civil society as a whole. Yet, whereas in early

16 Hegel’s God, pp. 55–56. Desmond’s most extensive (but still largely example-free) discussion of ‘agapeic community’, as such, is in Ethics and the Between, chapter 16.



nineteenth-century Germany such liberal, anti-establishment attitudes tended to be associated with an enthusiastic pan-German nationalism, he, in fact, fi ercely repudiated this. Whipped up by the traumatic violence of the Napoleonic Wars, the German nationalism of his day was not only anti- French; it was also, often, quite poisonously antisemitic. The student fraternities seethed with such sentiment. Hegel loathed it. In that context, his philosophic Lutheranism was not least a project for securing the State against nationalist hysteria. His ideal Church was primarily the institutional sponsor of responsible citizenship, of the most sober kind. Nor was he only responding here to the threat that he foresaw in the fervour of pan-German nationalism. At the same time, he was also thinking of what had happened to the original idealism of the French Revolution. To the end of his life he continued to drink a toast on the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. He had himself been 18 when that happened. But the nightmare events of the Terror which followed were to him a moment of revelation: highlighting the need for institutions effectively reinforced with maximum theological authority, to restrain the libido dominandi of rulers and the unruly passions of excited crowds. Anything that effectively serves this purpose, by harnessing popular-erotic demands for ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’ to the true work of civilization, is for him a work of God. Desmond accuses him of thereby devaluing the currency of God-talk. But take, for example, the case of South Korea today. On the one hand, compare the public life of South Korea, as a whole, with the gospel ideal of the king- dom of God: plainly, there is little reason for its citizens to be complacent. Compare it, on the other hand, with the truly God-forsaken public life of North Korea. If I were a South Korean I think I would thank God that at least my world was not like that! Desmond’s theology is exclusively focused on the fi rst sort of comparison; Hegel’s, shaped by chastening memories of the French Revolution, is focused far rather on the second. Why, though, should either truth exclude the other? ‘What is reasonable is realised’, Hegel famously declares in his Preface to the Philosophy of Right, ‘and what is realised is reasonable’. 17 And he repeats the formulation in his Introduction to the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences. 18 Was vernünftig ist’: T. M. Knox translates this as ‘what is rational’, but I am with William Wallace in preferring ‘what is reasonable’, because of the more conversational, less abstractly theoretic, feel of that rendering. (‘Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord’, Isaiah 1: 18.) ‘Was wirklich ist’: both Knox and Wallace render ‘wirklich’ as ‘actual’. However, I prefer ‘realised’, with its suggestion of ‘real’ as opposed to

17 Hegel, Philosophy of Right (trans. T. M. Knox; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1952), p. 10. 18 Hegel, Encyclopaedia §6; that is, Hegel’s Logic (trans. William Wallace; Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 9.



‘illusory’, beyond mere superfi cial appearances. Hegel’s double statement of identity, between what is reasonable and what is realized, is what he calls a ‘speculative proposition’. That is to say, it is one which essentially serves to render its key terms problematic: markers for a major task of thought, still to be undertaken. In this case, ‘vernünftig’ and ‘wirklich’ are two terms qualifying divine truth. Their conjunction, as such, is meant to signal the proper path to a deeper understanding of both, in that regard. Thus, (a) ‘what is reasonable’ is Hegel’s term, here, for what I am calling ‘perfect truth-as-openness’, nothing less. And (b) ‘What is realised’ is his term for the deepest moral meaning of history as a whole, the deliverances of divine revelation understood as pan-historic. How, on the one hand, are we to understand the full practical requirements of perfect truth-as-openness; that is, of ‘what is reasonable’? Hegel answers: look, in the light of that question, at history as a whole. See how ‘what is reasonable is realised’ in actual historic practice. And how, on the other hand, are we to understand the deepest meaning of history – ‘what [of God] is realised’ in the traditions we have received – beyond superfi cial appearances, the mere fl ashy show of ephemeral glory? Again, look at each historic phenomenon in the light of the question, ‘How does this either further, or impede, the demands of perfect truth-as-openness?’ In other words: look for the ‘realisation’ of the ‘reasonable’. This is the core principle of Hegelian theological method. Desmond is less interested in the conjunction of what is ‘reasonable’ (in the sense of that which perfect truth-as-openness requires) with what has, as a matter of large-scale history, been ‘realised’, than in its conjunction with the barely historic, or one might perhaps say the essentially trans-historic ideal of perfect agape. Both thinkers are at one in their identifi cation of the highest truth of philosophy (‘was vernünftig ist’) not with a quality of abstract theory, but with a quality of existence in what Desmond likes to call ‘the between’ – truth-as-openness. But Desmond sets himself to evoke that ideal, poetically, at its most intransigent. Hegel, by contrast, is preoccupied precisely with its ‘realisation’: actual historic examples of its being enshrined in effective, and durable, forms of organization. Certainly, these are very different approaches. Yet I see no good reason to suppose, as Desmond does, that we are faced with an absolute either / or choice between them. Rather, I would argue that they are to be seen as two distinct stages in a single process of disambiguation. Thus, divine revelation begins with God reaching out to us, where we are, in our natural condition of fallenness; and therefore descending deep into the realms of ambiguity, that being where we for the most part live. For only so can the love of perfect truth-as-openness begin to insinuate itself into our lives, by hooking onto all sorts of other, otherwise unregenerate interests:

the self-assertive impulses of corporate eros, that is, one’s loyalty to one’s family, to one’s class, to one’s people. Popular religion, at its best, enacts this hooking-up. In themselves, however, the common tenets of popular religion



are utterly ambiguous, with equal potential to serve as vehicles either for the profoundest truth, or else for the most disastrous opposite. Everything all depends, here, on the moral character of the one affi rming them. Much theology is simply content to explicate the syntax of a particular orthodoxy and the historic origins of its vocabulary; and for many people today that seems to be the sole meaning of the word ‘theology’. But then there is the quite different sort of theology that both Hegel and Desmond represent. Namely: disambiguating theology. Which does not indeed do away with what is ambiguous in popular religious tradition; but seeks, rather, to render the ambiguity explicit, and so to inhabit it with full awareness. Again, such theology is quite unambiguous in its prioritizing the pursuit of truth-as- openness over any attempt to specify, and to defend, some supposed form of sacred truth-as-correctness. Hence it sets itself to spell out what is required in order for religious belief to become true in practice, as a testimony to true openness. There are, though, at least two distinct layers of ambiguity to be stripped away. Hegel is concerned with one layer; Desmond, with another. Hegelian theology is concerned with the initial ambiguity between the true form of faith which is an appropriation of ever-deeper self-questioning thoughtfulness of every kind, and the false form, which in doctrinal formu- lation may perhaps be identical, but which on the contrary looks for easy answers, whether those of easy-going respectability or those of bigotry. The Phenomenology of Spirit systematically opens up the sort of thinking needed in order to dispel such fi rst-layer ambiguity. Yet, after that fi rst layer has been sifted through, there still remains a second layer. The further question then arises, the question with which Desmond is primarily concerned: to what extent is the sort of faith that Hegel affi rms inspired by sheer agape, to what extent by a mere eros-for-truth, alone? And Desmond’s basic complaint seems to me quite valid. In Hegel’s writing, this remains unclear.

5. Beyond the ‘beautiful soul’

In my view, however, theology requires disambiguation on both levels. The two modes of thinking involved are essentially complementary. Desmond says no, it is either / or. But the basic trouble with Desmond’s intransigence is that it tends to introduce another sort of ambiguity into his own project. For one can very well imagine Hegel responding with the counter-question: to what extent does Desmond’s lyrical idealization of agapeic community, in the end, perhaps mask a mere shrinking back from the hard, but nevertheless necessary, work of actual politics? Or, to put it in Hegel’s own terminology as developed in the Phenomenology: to what extent is Desmond’s theology trapped within the limitations of the ‘beautiful soul’? This being Hegel’s term for any sort of unbending ethical perfectionism that



so rules out compromise as, in the end, to render organized, politically effective solidarity-action more or less impossible. The phrase itself, the ‘beautiful soul’, derives from the world of contempor- ary German novels, and literature generally. 19 Book Six of Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship, for instance, is entitled ‘Confessions of the Beautiful Soul’; the hero of Jacobi’s novel Woldemar is likewise called a ‘beautiful soul’; and Hegel may well have had Friedrich Schlegel’s Lucinde partly in mind, as well. In the Phenomenology, the ‘beautiful soul’ is a very general species of mentality, universally possible, by no means confi ned to any one particular historic sub-culture. But in the context of Hegel’s own biography it is not implausible to suggest that this passage may refl ect his critical response to the general world view of his friend, Hölderlin – and perhaps, at the same time, to that of Novalis. Both Novalis and Hölderlin are great poetic celebrants of high-minded, grieving yet enthusiastic, spiritual solitude: precisely, the essential attitude of the beautiful soul. In the twentieth century the prime heir to Hölderlin especially, from this point of view, is the later Heidegger. Is not Desmond’s thought, however, also very much another possible case in point? Let us look at Hegel’s discussion of this phenomenon, or rather this set of phenomena, as a whole: he considers it in three very general contexts. Thus, the fi rst context is where such thinking may feel most at ease. 20 Here, to begin with, we see the beautiful soul at its crudest: nowadays, I would guess, a not untypical reader of books on the ‘Body, Mind and Spirit’ shelves of bookshops. So Hegel starts by picturing a world of self-consciously ‘free- spirited’ moral individuals who are all united in holding fast to an overriding principle, that as far as possible none should ever judge another. These indi- viduals are, thus, quite unquestioningly respectful of each other’s claims to be guided by the inscrutable inner dictates of conscience. But this is only possible because they have no real interest, at all, in ever organizing together, to achieve any particular sort of moral goal. Since they do not want to collaborate very far, they have no need for any more demanding sort of consensus. Rather, their sole concern is with making a beautiful show of moral seriousness, talking it up:

The [whole] inspiration of their community, its [sole] substantive project, is [no more than] the mutual assurance of their conscientiousness and good intentions; their rejoicing over the purity of their inter-relationships; the

19 See Allen Speight, Hegel, Literature and the Problem of Agency (Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press, 2001), chapter 4. 20 Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit (trans. A. V. Miller, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 397–400, paras. 655–58; The Phenomenology of Mind (trans. J. B. Baillie, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1910), pp. 663–67.



refreshing of themselves in the glory of knowing, expressing, cherishing and fostering such a quite delightful state of affairs. 21

This ‘community’ no longer has any sense of there being a will of God (or any non-theistic equivalent) that might do anything other than endorse the deliverances of each one’s essentially private conscience. And, as a result, it cannot properly function as a community. For the sort of shared, more substantive convictions on which the life of a genuine moral community depends have all ‘evaporated into abstraction’. Have these new age beautiful souls achieved true freedom of thought (in Hegel’s terminology here, have they broken free from ‘das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’)? No, says Hegel. They might appear to have done so, in that they are no longer trapped in servile submission to traditional moral prejudice, as such; opting for the anti-traditional rhetoric of following one’s own inner light (the light of ‘conscience’) instead. But true freedom of thought also means being set free from the fear of being judged, which still inhibits them. The mentality in which they are stuck

lives in dread of tarnishing the radiance of its inner being, by taking any action in the world. So, to preserve its purity of heart, it fl ees from contact with reality; persists in self-willed impotence. 22

This preoccupation with not being exposed to critical, perhaps hostile, judge- ment is, after all, profoundly antithetical to authentic truth-as-openness. Then however, in phase two of the argument, Hegel goes on to consider the beautiful soul in, potentially, a much more thoughtful form. Here it becomes the expression of a critical response to other people’s political initiatives. 23 Whereas the determining characteristic of phase one was a sim- ple fear of being criticized, the beautiful soul of phase two is characterized, far more, by the sheer aggression with which he, or she, judges all who, in a broad sense, act politically. Such a thinker lacks the necessary wherewithal for an adequate (political) critique of anything tinged with the apolitical complacency of phase one; but is, on the other hand, ferociously judge- mental of politics, in general. Desmond, as he attacks Hegel for admitting such a large measure of concern for actual political effectiveness into theology, might well be considered an example of what Hegel pre-emptively has in mind. Indeed, this category surely includes both Desmond and Kierkegaard, for instance; formidable thinkers, operating on quite a different level from phase one.

  • 21 The translations here are my own. For this passage: c.f. Miller, p. 398, Baillie, p. 664.

  • 22 C.f. Miller, p. 400, Baillie, p. 666.

  • 23 Phenomenology of Spirit, pp. 400–07, paras. 659–68; The Phenomenology of Mind, pp. 667–76.



The second-phase beautiful soul, as Hegel portrays it, suffers an extreme allergic reaction to what he or she calls the ‘hypocrisy’ endemic to politics. Namely: the element of egoism more or less inevitably mixed into the rational-erotic impulses of political ambition; which tactical prudence, on the whole, requires the skilful politician, so far as possible, to dress up as disinterested idealism. This moral charge of ‘hypocrisy’ mutates, in Desmond’s critique of Hegel, into the theological charge that ‘Hegel’s God’ is ‘counterfeit’. But I can well imagine Hegel, with equal force, identifying that charge with the outlook of the second-phase beautiful soul. And here, therefore, we can also see Hegel’s response. It appears from the interaction which he now goes on to sketch between the second-phase beautiful soul, at this point also called ‘das allgemeine Bewußtseyn’, and its politically engaged antagonist, ‘das böse Bewußtseyn’. In literal English, that is to say: between the ‘universal consciousness’ (utterly shunning egoistic self-interest, to seek the universal good) and the in part ironically self-confessed ‘evil consciousness’. Or better, I think: between the ‘moral purist’ and the ‘sinner’. Thus, the sinner begins by responding with outraged polemical harshness to the moral purist, who appears in practice to repudiate all real engagement in politics, somewhat as follows: you accuse me of ‘hypocrisy’, but it seems to me that, in another sense, you are the ‘hypocrite’. For yours is (as Hegel puts it) ‘the hypocrisy which wants to have its judging taken as equivalent to an actual deed, and which, instead of proving its honesty in action, tries to do so by a mere uttering of fi ne sentiments’. 24 How is genuinely respectful conversation to be opened up between these two warring parties, both of whom thus accuse the other of ‘hypocrisy’? Both, Hegel suggests, need to acknowledge the element of justice in the other’s critical point of view. In phase two, the sinner eventually does initiate this: freely and regretfully confessing the element of ‘hypocrisy’, in the moral purist’s sense of the word, liable to infest any sort of rational-erotic, political enterprise. Yes, says the politically minded sinner, it is true; I am in collusion with a great deal of what you call ‘hypocrisy’. I recognize that the collusion is ugly; I can only plead that it seems to me to be inescapable, if I am to achieve what I have set myself to achieve; and I will try to be as honest as I can in acknowledging the reality. But, as Hegel tells the story, the moral purist, at fi rst, refuses to reciprocate. He, or she, remains ‘hard-hearted’: will not acknowledge the element of ‘hypocrisy’ – in the sinner’s quite different sense of the word – which is also liable to infest moral purism. This hard- heartedness is, in fact, self-defeating. For the moral purist really does want to help make the world a better place – and how can that ever be accomplished, without at least some serious engagement in the world of politics, which such hardness of heart renders impossible? Phase two of the Hegelian narrative, therefore, culminates in a symbolic collapse of the hard-hearted

24 C.f. Miller, p. 403, Baillie, p. 671.



individual, who becomes ‘disordered to the point of madness, wastes away in yearning, succumbs to consumption’. 25 So Hegel (himself at this point very much in the role of the self-confessed sinner, addressing other sinners) metaphorically urges compassion for the self-defeating moral purist. This metaphoric gesture of compassion may well be found infuriating, and is perhaps a bit of a distraction. (He is very likely thinking of Hölderlin. But many beautiful souls, in my observation, remain in the most robust health!) Nevertheless, the offer remains: let us each, the sinner says, confess the essential one-sidedness of our own point of view. In phase three, then, that is what happens: both parties confess, and each now also forgives the other their one-sidedness. ‘Judge not, that you be not judged’, says Jesus (Matthew 7: 1, Luke 6: 37). Whereas the beautiful souls of phase one will want to affi rm this as a simple injunction against all judging of others, here the Saviour is understood, on the contrary, as affi rming a generous readiness to be judged, on the grounds that such readiness alone confers a proper right to judge. And this, for Hegel, is the great breakthrough to the domain of what he calls ‘absolute Spirit’. That is, to the proper content of popular religion. It is the great breakthrough, inasmuch as popular religion is uniquely capable of founding genuine, open-to-all com- munity, even while at the same time preserving a real point of access to the very highest, most demanding ethical ideal, for each individual as such: thereby reconciling the two sides. Insofar as the ethos of the popular religious community truly celebrates a generous readiness to be judged, the awkward trans-political intransigence of the moral purist can after all be accommodated, as others in the community will not resist it, but will honour its prophetic integrity. But if the moral purist is equally submissive to judgement, then such a community may just as well, also, accommodate the political realism of the self-professed ‘sinner’.

6. ‘Was Hegel pious?’

Desmond’s implacable critique of Hegel’s theology includes a certain element of ad hominem argument. He asks, ‘Was Hegel pious?’ What quality of actual lived faith does his theology express? It is, Desmond acknowledges, ‘a diffi cult question to answer, a cheeky query to put. Cheeky, because it will be said that this has no “objective” philosophical importance. Diffi cult, since Hegel was an enigmatic thinker, and often masked as a human being’. 26 Nevertheless, when it comes to fundamental questions of theology, the life- context of ideas can scarcely be ignored.

  • 25 C.f. Miller, p. 407, Baillie, p. 676.

  • 26 Hegel’s God, p. 13.



‘Was Hegel pious?’ Well, of course, it all depends on what is meant by ‘pious’. Desmond, for his part, clearly means that basic predisposition to agape which, along with intelligence and learning, is, as he would see it, the essential inspiration of good religious thinking. It is a little odd these days to fi nd the word used in such an un-ironic fashion, but let us accept this usage. Why, Desmond wonders, does Hegel fail to appreciate the signifi cance of agape? In the end, he suspects, it is simply because he lacked the necessary sheer sweetness of character, the ‘piety’ needed. It seems that Hegel did have many of the virtues that go to make a good politician. In particular, he had a considerable capacity for friendship. Surrounded by friends, he relaxed easily, could be affable, and enjoyed teasing and being teased; he liked a good card game, of L’Hombre or Whist, and chatting with quite non-intellectual folk. At the same time, he was unstinting in his loyalty to his friends. I think especially of Eduard Gans, the young jurist who, despite his undoubted brilliance – but because he was Jewish and a standard-bearer for the cause of Jewish emancipation – had to wage a protracted struggle to get himself accepted as a professor in the Berlin law faculty, against fi erce resistance from the antisemitic head of the faculty, F. K. von Savigny. (In the end Gans succeeded, but only after having accepted baptism as the necessary price.) Hegel battled for Gans, as he typically did for all his friends. And his loyalty towards them was well reciprocated. During his period as Professor of Philosophy in Berlin, from 1818 to his death in 1831, the ‘Hegelians’ became a tightly bonded group. The one political skill Hegel altogether lacked was that of effective oratory. As a public speaker, he had no popular charm. His lectures were rich in substance, but awkward and halting in delivery, to an extreme degree. Clearly, therefore, he was not a gifted public performer of ‘piety’, in the way that his great colleague in the theology faculty, Schleiermacher was. Perhaps this was part of the reason why the two men did not get on. Lacking the skills of a good orator, Hegel seems to have mistrusted such giftedness. For the gifted orator may be tempted to rest content, theologically, with what has most immediate effect in rhetorical terms; but the resultant theology is surely bound to remain mired in ambiguity. That he was, nevertheless, an effective political operator was not only because he made friends; but also because he was unafraid to make enemies. As a polemical writer, Hegel could be highly sarcastic – as indeed Desmond also is, towards him. But when (let us take the example of the Philosophy of Right) the targets of Hegel’s sarcasm are the ultra-reactionary, but very well connected, apologist for aristocratic bully-politics, K. L. von Haller and the antisemitic demagogue, J. F. Fries, this is perhaps not inappropriate. Undeniably, there was a streak of bitterness in Hegel’s nature, mixed with an arrogant aloofness towards those he did not trust. He had been obliged to wait a long time before fi nally attaining the properly remunerative job in a university that he had always craved. Up to the age of 46 he had been,



in succession, house tutor to two bourgeois families, an unpaid lecturer, a newspaper editor, and a secondary school headmaster; all the while seeing rivals whom he despised being appointed to university posts before him. His ego had been badly chafed by the experience. ‘Was Hegel pious?’ He was a caustic critic of kitsch piety, both religious and nationalistic. My admiration for him is not unrelated to my admiration for the wonderfully caustic prophecy of Amos, that tremendous break- through moment, the very oldest literary work of Hebrew prophecy. 27 In the book of Amos, YHWH, God of Israel, denounces the conventional piety of his people for its superfi ciality: here for the fi rst time ever, in any literature, we encounter a God who refuses to be fl attered. And I think it is the same God who has inspired Hegel to write the Phenomenology of Spirit. Was Amos pious? If so, it was a piety beyond piety:

I hate, I despise your feasts, And I take no delight in your solemn assemblies,

says God, through this prophet.

Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings

  • I will not accept them,

and the peace offerings of your fatted beasts

  • I will not look upon.

Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-fl owing stream. (Amos 5: 21–24)

There is a gap of more than two and a half millennia between this unpre- cedented utterance and the Phenomenology of Spirit, and the form of God’s address to us has, it is true, somewhat evolved over that period. Unlike Amos, Hegel does not just denounce. Amos appears to be a second-phase beautiful soul, pure and simple. Hegel is philosophical spokesman for the chastened sinner. So he frames a way of continuing fully to belong to the community of God’s worshippers while nevertheless gaining maximum crit- ical distance from the inevitable ambiguity of that community’s thinking. But what is it that this critical distance is meant to preserve? I would see it, not least, as preserving proper access to something like the incandescent rage for ‘justice and righteousness’ that drives the prophet Amos. Again, Desmond is suspicious of the way in which the argument of the Phenomenology culminates in an ideal so belligerently termed ‘absolute knowing’. ‘Hegel’, he writes,

27 See for example The Other Calling, chapter 10.



was an anxious man but also one who had a need not only to be right, but the need to know that he was right. His philosophical desire for the unity of truth and self-certainty, as in the Phenomenology, betrays this quite revealingly. 28

And, to back this suspicion up, he cites evidence from Terry Pinkard’s biog- raphy. Thus, Pinkard writes of Hegel the elder statesman, that

his ill health, his anxiety about his health, and his own very typical self-assuredness about the rightness of his cause made him more and

more imperious and domineering, even to his friends

. . .


von Ense [a loyal friend], in fact, sadly recalled Hegel’s comportment in his last couple of years as being ‘wholly absolutistic’, how in meet- ings of the board of the Jahrbücher [the Hegelian journal] he was becoming ‘more diffi cult and more tyrannical’ as time went on. In his outbursts, he would dress down even his good friends as if they were

children being scolded, something everyone concerned found both embarrassing and painful to behold. 29

Desmond omits the poignant little story that Pinkard then goes on recount, of how one day

after one of Hegel’s explosions, Varhagen von Ense offered his hand to Hegel to let him know that he still honoured him and considered him his friend; [and] Hegel, obviously moved by this gesture, his eyes fi lled with tears, instead of merely taking von Ense’s hand, embraced him.

As Pinkard remarks,

he clearly was seeking some kind of reconciliation with some of the people he had treated so haughtily, and he was clearly, worried and stressed as he was, having a diffi cult time doing so. 30

But yes, there is I think some reason to worry about the possible con- tamination, at any rate, of Hegel’s later thought by a certain excessive will-to-control. The University of Berlin, when Hegel went there, was still a new institu- tion. He was, after Fichte, only its second Professor of Philosophy. It was a pioneering institution in the renaissance of German higher education during

  • 28 Hegel’s God, p. 14.

  • 29 Terry Pinkard, Hegel: A Biography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 624–25.

  • 30 Ibid.



this period. After a long decline of the older universities, and the disappear- ance of many, a new German university world was just beginning to emerge. Hegel looked to a future in which philosophy would be the primary dis- cipline determining the general ethos of that new world. And he dreamed of establishing his own work as a dominant infl uence on the future teaching of philosophy in Germany. So he set out to construct a systematic curriculum for this purpose, in his three volume Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sci- ences and in his various lecture series. The project failed; it fell apart as soon as Hegel died. And it was perhaps overambitious from the outset. Its effect was to infuse his thought with a spirit of partisan impatience that tended disastrously to distort public perception of its essential meaning; generating, by way of hostile reaction, that infamous assembly of crass misinterpreta- tions, the ‘Hegel myth’, which still persists to this day. 31 The meetings of the Jahrbücher editorial board, at which he behaved so badly, were in effect gatherings of the ‘Hegelian’ academic-party leadership. In this context, Hegel was seduced into the role of being their chieftain, a role to which he was ill suited. In what follows, however, I want to consider not so much the theology of this later form of ‘Hegelianism’, that is, the doctrine set out in Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (1821–31), but rather the theology of the Phenomenology of Spirit. Published in 1807, the Phenomenology pre- dates partisan ‘Hegelianism’. And I think that, theologically, it is to quite a signifi cant degree more challenging than the Lectures. Unlike the Lectures, it is a work that is altogether sui generis, not designed to frame a readily reproducible curriculum, and not in fact fi tting into the curriculum of the later ‘system’ at all. It represents the thought of a would-be religious reformer who has however renounced any desire for a sectarian alternative to the Lutheran State Church, and has opted for philosophy instead. This, in itself, is precisely an option for patience; which the partisan impatience of later ‘Hegelianism’ rather spoils. The ideal of ‘absolute knowing’ towards which it fi nally points is a form of thinking which both struggles to embody perfect truth-as-openness and also takes a long view of that struggle. Desmond sees the belligerence of the term itself, ‘absolute knowing’, as an expression of Hegel’s personal libido dominandi. To me, in this context, it looks far more like a gesture of prophetic defi ance, against all the lesser, because relatively unthinking, claims to religious, or anti-religious, ‘knowledge’ by which the world is for the most part governed. For that is what the whole book has been busy dissolving. What, after all, does ‘absolute knowing’ know? It knows, fi rst, the abso- lute sacredness of that which the prophet Amos, right at the beginning of the biblical tradition, calls ‘justice and righteousness’; and then, also, how best

31 For a useful survey, see Jon Stewart, ed., The Hegel Myths and Legends (Evanston:

Northwestern University Press, 1996).



to try and incorporate a lively recognition of these forever troubling imperatives into a politically viable religious form of life. As a work of philosophy, it sublates the prophet’s caustic spirit of defi ance into a radical all-round conversational openness, a spirit of patience. And yet, as ‘absolute’, it nevertheless still stays with that prophetic spirit. 32

7. The uniqueness of the Phenomenology of Spirit

My chief concern here is with the way into theology reconnoitred in the Phenomenology of Spirit. So what is the basic purpose of that work? One might say that the Phenomenology is a study of the necessary pre- conditions for learning. Thus, what is ‘Spirit’? It is the impulse opening one up to learn new things in every area of experience. And Hegel, then, sets out in the Phenomenology to analyse the widest possible range of different phenomena that may be said to represent obstructions to the work of Spirit, so defi ned. He discusses the struggle of Spirit against habits of oversimpli- fi cation, structures of stubborn distorting prejudice, refusals of genuine conversational reciprocity, in all kinds of different context. Beginning from the experience of the newborn infant learning to distinguish ‘this’ from ‘that’, he moves on to the interaction of adult individuals considered in the abstract; and from there to thought patterns potentially characterizing whole intellectual cultures as such. But, in the end, his argument is theological: its whole polemical thrust is that we should regard pure open-mindedness, nothing else, as the very essence of the truly sacred. ‘Spirit’, as the impulse to open-mindedness, is the Spirit of God, at work within the human; and it is the human spirit being opened up by the divine. The Phenomenology is a ‘philosophic’ project in that it deals with Spirit in the most universal terms, as it is to be observed at work everywhere, in non-Christian as well as Chris- tian contexts, and in secular as well as religious ones. At length, however, this philosophic project fl ows together with Christian theology. And the effect on theology is then to open it up to conversation with all sorts of other

32 For an extreme version of the suspicion I am repudiating here, see for instance Glenn Magee, Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001). Magee sets out his stall with admirable verve: ‘Hegel is not a philosopher. He is no longer a seeker after wisdom – he believes he has found it’ (p.1). And he goes

on, ‘Hermeticism replaces the love of wisdom with the lust for power

. . .

Hegel’s system

is the ultimate expression of this pursuit of mastery’ (p. 8). I by no means think that Magee is wrong to highlight – as Eric Voegelin and Cyril O’Regan have also done – what he calls the ‘hermetic’ element in Hegel’s thought. That is, Hegel’s openness to esoteric minority religious traditions. Only, where he sees anti- philosophic ‘lust for power’, what I see is, far rather, just a free-ranging appetite for fresh metaphor, to try and open up fresh thought in general. Indeed, inasmuch as Plato is the father of philosophy, is not ‘lust for power’ very much a philosophic tendency?



intellectual disciplines. In the Phenomenology Hegel sets up conversational openings between theology and (what we nowadays call) psychology, history, sociology, anthropology, literary criticism, religious studies: he opens these disciplines up to each other at the most fundamental level, all at once, inter-relatedly. In a nutshell, the Phenomenology is what might be called a systematic work of ‘genre-fusion’. Hegel indeed is the great pioneer of theology-as-genre-fusion: the Phenomenology, as a whole, is all about creating the necessary space for such theology. A cynic might well wonder: fusion – or confusion? Certainly, it is a pretty confusing book. It is confusing by virtue of the sheer inescapable diffi culty of what Hegel is attempting. And yet, I would argue that the genre-fusion method it exemplifi es is actually the one and only way to escape a certain sort of theological confusion. I mean that very common confusion about the working of the divine: its misidentifi cation with a rather narrow set of specifi cally ‘religious’ phenomena. By way of remedy for this, Hegel here attempts, in the most direct fashion possible, to think the latent omnipresence of God, throughout all human experience. This Hegelian project results in the most open-ended sort of argument. It has no boundaries. And hence an aesthetic problem arises: how is it all to be held together? The element of confusion in the Phenomenology derives, fi rst and foremost, from that diffi culty. Hegel’s argument moves freely from topic to topic. Interpreters have, I think, often very much overstated the degree of intended logical ‘necessity’ in the transitions between them. But he nevertheless does attempt to impose some unity on the work by the con- sistent use of a certain abstract jargon, specially designed for the purpose. And by his peculiar way of, so to speak, veiling the illustrative examples he has in mind: alluding to them only by way of hints and suggestions. This is meant constantly to drive the readers’ attention back from the distracting immediacy of the examples to the underlying principles that they are meant to illustrate. However, the result is an, at times, almost unreadable text. Theology-as-genre-fusion must in any case require of its readers a consider- able, cultivated tolerance for abrupt juxtapositions. For the whole point of the enterprise is to try and stimulate conversation, as it were, between quite different species of conversation-environments, bumping them up against one another. So it seeks to gain a coherent view of the highest truth from every angle. Here we have theology at its intellectually most demanding. Certainly, it would be absurd to suggest that theology-as-genre-fusion should replace other forms of theology; there are of course excellent pedagogic reasons for drawing quite clear distinctions between different sorts of academic specialization. Students do need to grasp the basic principles of good practice proper to a particular discipline before they can, with any serious prospect of success, try fusing them together. Therefore, it makes perfect sense for universities not only to confi ne Theology to its own department, perhaps



partnered with Religious Studies, but also then to split it up, quite sharply, into ‘Dogmatic Theology’, ‘Philosophy of Religion’, ‘Biblical Studies’, ‘Church History’, and so forth. Yet, even at its most scholarly and sophisticated, good theology, as such, is not only an academic discipline. It is also a work of spirituality. And the core purpose of what am calling ‘theology-as-genre- fusion’ is to try and articulate what that means. In short, the goal of theology-as-genre-fusion is to be as directly faithful as possible to the specifi c level of truth that faith at its very best appropriates, pushing against the intrinsic limits of the academic ethos as such. Elsewhere, I have suggested that we need to think of theology, essentially, as ‘the science of the sacralisation of Honesty, in theistic form’. 33 In this formulation, ‘Honesty’ is just another name for perfect truth-as-openness. In gospel terms, it is the truth that Jesus is (‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life’, John 14: 6), the truth of which he is the prime symbolic incarnation; the truth of Christ-likeness. Theology is ‘science’ in the sense that it is an experimental process: a series of experiments, seeking to draw together the most wide-ranging array of different intellectual resources, all in the service of Honesty. And it aims at the ‘sacralisation’, the rendering-overtly-sacred, of such truth, in the sense that it is a form of thinking practically oriented towards a religious solidarity-building strategy, to promote it. By ‘theology- as-genre-fusion’, here, I mean the sort of method that in the most comprehensive way refl ects this basic understanding of theology. What Hegel calls ‘Spirit’ is the impulse towards perfect truth-as-openness, perfect Honesty, considered in all of its tributaries. The different tributaries fl ow into a multitude of different genres of thought; before at length coming together. And ‘theology-as-genre-fusion’, then, is a study of this impulse understood as the very essence of divine revelation in history as a whole:

opening up the question of what that implies for a church community, strategically. However, the impulse of Spirit demands maximum openness even towards the most diffi cult reality, even that which elicits the strongest resistance, the most intense desire-not-to-know. And the actual history of Christian thought is the tale of an endless turning away from this. The constant tendency has been to misidentify the proper truth claims of faith, not with its awakening of an appetite for truth-as-openness, but, on the contrary, with the supposed possession of some defi nitive truth-as-correctness, instead. Substituting an aggressive claim to truth-as-correctness for surrender to truth-as-openness makes everything existentially easier. But it straightaway abolishes the real truth of theology. I am inclined to say that it reduces that truth to a form of metaphysics.

33 Shanks, Faith in Honesty: The Essential Nature of Theology (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), Introduction.



Note: at this point we enter a terminological maelstrom. I am using the word ‘metaphysics’ here basically in the same sense as Martin Heidegger; although I differ from Heidegger in my basic desire, as a Christian thinker, to differentiate ‘theology’ from ‘metaphysics’. In this sense, ‘metaphysics’ is, essentially, the attempt to develop a systematic celebratory overview of truth-as-correctness in general, framing a defi nitive view of moral correctness; always with the risk (at least) that the resultant system may distract from, and so occlude, the proper, higher claims of truth-as-openness. Desmond, by contrast, speaks of ‘metaphysics’ in quite a different way:

to mean, in effect, any form of critical thinking opened up towards the truth- as-openness potential of popular religion – more or less, indeed, what I mean by ‘theology’. Here he follows Emmanuel Levinas; who is thereby wilfully signalling his hostility to Heidegger. Levinas, furthermore, uses the word ‘theology’ to mean what I mean by ‘metaphysics’, in a religious context. What I see Hegel opening up in the Phenomenology is a form of ‘theology’ beyond ‘metaphysics’ (in the Heideggerian sense). Or, one might say, ‘trans-metaphysical theology’. Translated into Levinasian, this would actu- ally have to be put the other way around: ‘trans-theological metaphysics’! However, Levinas is writing in the context of Jewish popular religion, a culture in which the word ‘theology’ never took root, the way it did in Christianity. As a Christian ‘theologian’ by trade, I cannot follow him in this. And the word ‘metaphysics’, after all, derives originally from Aristotle, who is certainly much more of a ‘metaphysician’ in the Heideggerian than in the Levinasian sense. Heidegger, as we shall see later on, seems to misread the Phenomenology as if it were intended by Hegel as propaedeutic to a form of (in the Heideggerian sense) metaphysical theology. 34 In fact, however, Hegel consistently battles against the reduction of theology to metaphysics. He does so not only as a trans-metaphysical philosophical theologian in the Phenomenology, but also as a metaphysical philosopher, himself, in his Logic. Hegel’s Logic is, to be sure, a classic example of metaphysics – in the sense that it takes shape, precisely, as a catalogue of all the various different possible modes of truth-as-correctness. Nevertheless, the profound moral truth of the work, I think, lies in the fundamental segregation it enacts between metaphysics and theology. God is Truth; all truth, of whatever kind, points to God; and therefore the Logic is also about God. Yet, the point is, it is only about God in the most un-theological sense. Theology is what prescribes the actual practice of the Church as such; and it is fi rst and foremost an interpretation of divine revelation in history. Hegel’s Logic, however, does not impinge on this at all. As Hegel himself poetically puts it, the ‘content’ of his argument in the Logic is ‘the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of

34 See below, pp. 133–136.



nature and a fi nite mind’. 35 In other words: the argument begins by system- atically bracketing all consideration of possible divine revelation in history. It deals with divine reality only insofar as we may be said to encounter that reality in complete abstraction from history, and therefore outside the purview of theology proper. Hegel’s Logic is in this sense a work of pure metaphysics, to a pioneering degree differentiated from theology. No previous metaphysical philosopher had ever made such a point of being theologically abstemious as Hegel does. The result is a metaphysical system that seems, in the end, oddly inconsequen- tial: metaphysics for metaphysics’ sake, that is, for the sheer intellectual beauty of it, alone. But that, I think, is its great virtue. His Phenomenology of Spirit, on the other hand, opens the philosophic door towards a strictly trans-metaphysical understanding of theology. This, I would argue, is its most fundamental claim to truth: that it is an opening towards theology, once and for all, purged of metaphysics, and so set free to become what it is truly meant to be, a sheer celebration of truth-as-openness. The old metaphysical ‘proofs’ of the existence of God are pushed right to the margins of the Logic. Hegel does indeed deal with these arguments at greater length elsewhere, as modes of God-talk essentially affi rming the general pursuit of truth-as-correctness. 36 But he never retracts the basic distinction between metaphysics and theology, so vividly signalled, in effect, by the quite different feel of the Logic from the Phenomenology. For, again, what the ‘proofs’ affi rm is the pursuit of an entirely different species of truth from that which is enacted by theology. The ‘proofs’, as Hegel interprets them, do not in the ordinary sense prove anything. Rather, they take the entire mode of thinking that comes to fulfi lment in proven conclusions of any kind – that is, the pursuit of truth-as-correctness in general – and dedicate it, as a whole, to God. Hegel thus dedicates metaphysics to God, just as Aquinas pre-eminently did; just as the broad tradition to which Aquinas belongs did. Why not? But in the contrast between the Logic and the Phenomenology he also does something else, quite new. He signals the fundamental distinction between metaphysics proper and theology proper, which Aquinas’s treatment of the ‘proofs’ for instance in the Summa Theologiae systematically blurs. Thus, Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae appears to found Christian theology on the ‘proofs’. For Hegel however, by contrast, the ‘proofs’ are in effect just an incidental offshoot of metaphysics, quite separate from theology proper. What founds theology proper is, instead, the experience of Spirit, as evoked in the Phenomenology. Theology proper is all about celebrating the pursuit of perfect truth-as-openness: not an analytic understanding of how the world is constructed, or of how things

35 Hegel, Science of Logic, (trans. A. V. Miller; Amherst: Humanity Books, 1998), p. 50. 36 Hegel, Lectures on the Proofs of the Existence of God (ed. and trans. Peter C. Hodgson; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).



at large have happened, the subject matter of the ‘proofs’; but, rather, a sympathetic comprehension of Christ-like virtue, as this is allowed, in truly systematic fashion, to transform one’s whole world view, forever opening it up. Note, also: this actually represents, in a sense, the exact opposite to the old positivist critique of ‘metaphysics’. The positivist exaltation of ‘science’ over ‘metaphysics’ connotes a fundamental devaluation of the inherent truth-potential of metaphor, as such. ‘Metaphysics’, as defi ned by positivism, becomes a term for philosophy not yet (it is argued) adequately purged of metaphoric habits of thought. Of course, positivism, just as much as tradi- tional metaphysics, is preoccupied with the pursuit of truth-as-correctness. But, against ‘metaphysics’, it seeks to radicalize the ancient struggle of philo- sophy against poetry, initiated by Plato; thereby drastically narrowing the scope of what may count as ‘correct’. Trans-metaphysical theology, however – since it is not so much concerned with defi ning truth-as-correctness, as with evoking the moral demands of perfect truth-as-openness – itself becomes a poetic enterprise. It objects to traditional metaphysics, not because traditional metaphysics is too indulgent towards metaphor, but on the contrary because of the way in which traditional metaphysics rigidifi es metaphor. Such theology aims at a maximum energizing of metaphor, in celebration of truth-as-openness. Nothing could be less positivistic. 37 What Hegel opens up in the Phenomenology is a form of theology that is, in essence, a systematic struggle against the debilitating effects of religious thought-gone-stale. Nor is that all; for, what is more, it is an attempt to help mobilize the energies of religion for a war against thought-gone-stale, in general. Thought tends to go stale most quickly, and most completely, in self-enclosed intellectual cultures, where it is sheltered from the challenge of outsiders whose experience of life may lead them to view the world quite differently. Therefore Hegel sets out, systematically, to break down the barriers between separate intellectual cultures: he pioneers theology-as- genre-fusion. Beyond the distractions of metaphysics, Hegelian theology-as- genre-fusion confronts every kind of thought gone stale, in God’s name. It is the assembly of the most extensive possible conversation-process, drawing together the most diverse partners, to that end. The wider the variety of

37 Compare, further, Klaus Hartmann, ‘Hegel: A Non-Metaphysical View’, in Alasdair MacIntyre, ed., Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays (New York: Anchor Books, 1972). Hartmann is another philosopher somewhat suspicious, it seems, of metaphor, and hence antipathetic to theology; who, however, nevertheless wishes to be open towards Hegel. When he speaks of ‘metaphysics’ he appears to mean precisely the mixture of what I would call ‘metaphysics’ with theological, or anti-theological, claims to ultimate truth-as-correctness. He sees that Hegel does not mix the two. And he approves of this, at least. But Hartmann simply has no interest in Hegel’s very different approach towards theology, as such, in the Phenomenology.



voices clearly heard, and brought into dialectical connection with one another, the better.

8. Towards the ‘solidarity of the shaken’

My argument is that, in order for theology to have a truly thriving future, it must above all break loose from its traditional, conversation-constricting entanglement with metaphysics. (That is, in the sense specifi ed above.) But note, further: ‘trans-metaphysical’ also, in a certain sense, includes ‘trans-confessional’. The point is this. All theology articulates some form of solidarity; seeks to give it durability by locking it into an authoritative tradition. I, for my part, write as a Christian priest, in the Church of England. And of course most Christian theology is, more or less, exclusively concerned with the confes- sional solidarity of Christians with other Christians as such; or with the solidarity of a particular group of Christians, in their rivalry with others. This sort of solidarity is quite readily compatible with theology-reduced-to- metaphysics; the sort of theology that is more interested in truth-as-correctness than in truth-as-openness. But trans-metaphysical theology ultimately rep- resents another species of solidarity. It is driven by what has been called the ‘solidarity of the shaken’: the solidarity that binds together, simply, all those who have been ‘shaken’ by the demands of perfect truth-as-openness; ‘shaken’, that is, out of the shelter of fi xed preconceptions, standard judge- ments, and clichés. In the Christian context, trans-metaphysical theology is, fi rst and foremost, a project of rendering the confessional solidarity of Christians with Christians, to the greatest possible extent, transparent to the solidarity of the shaken. This phrase, the ‘solidarity of the shaken’, is not Hegelian; but was in fact fi rst coined by the Czech philosopher Jan Patocˇka. It emerges from a vivid moment of genre-fusion in the closing pages of his 1975 Heretical Essays on the Philosophy of History. 38 Here Patocˇka brings together, on the one hand, a discussion of the trauma-memories of twentieth-century warfare and, on the other hand, a consideration of the pre-Socratic poetic-philosophical thought of Heraclitus. Thus: as regards the traumas of twentieth–century ‘front-line experience’ – the First World War nightmare of trench-warfare, the barbarities associated with the Second World War, the oppressive menace of the Cold War – Patocˇka poses the elementary question, why European civilization failed to generate a more effective resistance against all these horrors. To the

38 For what follows, see Jan Patocˇka, Heretical Essays on the Philosophy of History (trans. Erazim Kohák, Chicago and La Salle: Open Court, 1996), pp. 133–37. (And c.f. pp. 42–44.)



prevailing impulse rendering twentieth-century technological civilization so destructive he gives the simple name of ‘Force’. And he focuses on the propaganda operations of Force, in general: the way it deals out death in the name of ‘life’, and war in the name of ‘peace’; the way it calls truth- occluding night, ‘day’. He cites two fi rst-hand testimony accounts of the ‘front-line experience’, specifi cally, of the First World War: on the French side, that of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, on the German side, that of Ernst Jünger. And then asks, ‘How can the “front-line experience” acquire the form which would make it a factor of history? Why is it not becoming that?’ He is thinking of the ‘front-line experience’ as an inescapable revelation of the destructiveness of Force, shaking one free from the propaganda-fantasies that conceal it. Certainly, the actual experience itself had plenty of, in this sense, shaking-power! But, alas, that shaking-power has not become ‘a fac- tor of history’ – in the sense of generating truly effective forms of political creativity, against the operation of Force, as such. Why not? The trouble, he suggests in this passage, is that

in the form described so powerfully by Teilhard and Jünger, it is the experience of all individuals projected individually each to their sum- mit from which [however] they cannot but retreat back to everydayness where they will inevitably be seized again by war in the form of Force’s [propagandist] plan for peace.

In other words: the experience of shakenness, intense though it is, has not yet, in itself, been made the explicit basis for organized solidarity. As Patocˇka poetically defi nes it, the ‘solidarity of the shaken’ would be an ideal coming together of those who have been ‘shaken in their faith in the day, in “life” and “peace” ’: it would be a form of solidarity in resistance to ‘Force’ in all its various propaganda manifestations, alike. Inasmuch as the culture of modern governmental politics is essentially given over to ‘Force’, the organizations embodying the ‘solidarity of the shaken’ will not, in Patocˇka’s view, come forward with their own ‘positive programmes’ for government. They will hold back from the sort of propagandist struggle necessarily involved in trying to implement such programmes. But, instead, they ‘will speak, like Socrates’ daimonion, in warnings and prohibitions’ alone. He envisages such organizations primarily recruiting from among ‘researchers and those who apply research, inventors and engineers’. And their aim will be

to shake the everydayness of the fact-crunchers and routine minds, to make them aware that their place is on the side of the front [i.e. the immediate experience of being shaken by horror] and not on the side of even the most pleasing slogans of the day which in reality call to war, whether they invoke the nation, the state, classless society, world



unity, or whatever other appeals, discreditable and discredited by the factual ruthlessness of the Force, there may be.

The anti-propaganda rhetoric of Patocˇka’s argument acquires special resonance and poignancy in view of his own actual role as co-founder of a project seeking to embody the ‘solidarity of the shaken’, a role that actually cost him his life. Two years after the publication of his Heretical Essays he joined Václav Havel in launching the human rights campaign, Charter 77; which was exactly such a project. He was then arrested and roughed up by the Czech secret police, to the extent that he died as a result of his injuries. As a philosopher, however, in the Heretical Essays Patocˇka immediately goes on to link the ideal of the ‘solidarity of the shaken’ back to the thought of Heraclitus. Thus, with reference to Teilhard and Jünger, he has been think- ing about the trauma of the First World War, in particular, as a potentially revelatory experience. It is potentially revelatory by virtue of its sheer shaking-power. But for Heraclitus (2,500 years earlier) ‘war’ appears to function as a general term, in effect, for everything that has shaking-power, of any kind. What does Heraclitus mean by ‘war’? For him, it is a cosmic principle, with special relevance to questions of religious and political identity. ‘War is father of all, king of all’, he declares. ‘Some it shows as gods, some as men; some it makes slaves, some free’. 39 In what sense is this so? As Patocˇka understands it, Heraclitus’ basic argument is that one can only comprehend the truth of one’s destiny insofar as one allows oneself to be shaken by fresh experience, thereby breaking free from the essentially pacifi c infl uence of thought-gone-stale. The disastrous allure of familiar prejudice lies in the way it pacifi es the mind, concealing the restless energy of true reality. On the surface it produces an illusion of peace. But hidden underneath is the reality of – ‘war’. And then there is also another reported saying of Heraclitus that goes further:

One should know that war is xunon, and that justice is strife, and that all things come about in accordance with strife and with what must be. 40

The word ‘xunon’ is usually translated ‘common’. Yet, at the same time, it has normative connotations, directly expressed in fragment B2: ‘You must

follow what is common

.’ What it really means, therefore, is something

. . like ‘that aspect of common experience which ought to bind us together in solidarity’. The identifi cation of this with ‘war’ is, in fact, very close in

meaning to the identifi cation of ‘justice’ with ‘strife’; these are two parallel

  • 39 Heraclitus, fragment Diels-Kranz B 53.

  • 40 Heraclitus, B 80.



affi rmations. ‘War’ and ‘strife’ refer here, in general, to what Patocˇka calls the experience of being ‘shaken’. Moreover, it seems that Heraclitus is affi rming such experience to be the proper basis for the very highest form of solidarity. ‘War is xunon, strife is justice’: ‘the shared experience of being shaken – out of the peace of mind that cliché-thinking affords – is what in itself ought, above all else, to unite us’. So Patocˇka has Heraclitus, prophetically, address the twentieth century, as represented by Teilhard and Jünger. But now I want to add a further element to the collage that Patocˇka himself has begun: compare his notion of the ‘solidarity of the shaken’ with the

solidarity-ideal suggested by the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. ‘War is xunon, and justice is strife’, says Heraclitus. ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth’, says Jesus. ‘I have not come to bring peace, but a sword’ (Matthew 10: 34). Jesus is the true Prince of Peace just because he is so militantly resistant to the false peace of devout thought- gone-stale. He revives the intransigent testimony of Amos; only, in a new more agapeic form. Heraclitus is already acutely alert to the intrinsic slipperiness of all termino- logy applied to God, the complete dependence of properly sacred truth on

its context: ‘God is day night’, he declares, ‘winter summer, war peace

.’ 41

. . Already, Heraclitus sees that no formula for divine reality is automatically correct. Every formula is ideally waiting to be infused with the spirit of ‘war’, in the larger, benign sense; that is, the shaking-power that alerts us to the imperatives of perfect truth-as-openness. Theological discourse as a medium for that shaking-power is, as he puts it, ‘like olive oil when it is mixed with perfumes’. 42 But when Jesus, in the Synoptic Gospels, speaks of the ‘kingdom of God’, is he not, after all, talking about the very same shaking-power, converted into a basis for solidarity, albeit in another way? Jesus, of course, inhabits quite a different sort of cultural world. And if one only sees the stamp of cultural particularity, one will scarcely spot the potential for agreement here. Nevertheless, this is just what genre-fusion thinking, in general, is all about: seeking out such hidden, implicit points of contact and, as far as possible, trying to unlock their poetic potential. It is, in fact, remarkable how quickly the ‘kingdom of God’, as preached by Jesus, ceased to be a central theme of Christian preaching in the early church. Even when, in the early fi fth century, Augustine, at great length, discusses the obviously rather similar notion of the ‘city of God’, he makes no reference at all to the Synoptic Gospel records of Jesus’ preaching about the ‘kingdom’. Augustine cites, and comments upon, many other biblical texts. However, even though one might have thought that the actual words

  • 41 Heraclitus, B 67.

  • 42 Ibid.



attributed to Jesus would have had special authority, it simply seems not to occur to him that they might be relevant to his own project. He develops his doctrine of the ‘city of God’ as if Jesus, himself, had never taught anything comparable. But if – unlike Augustine – one does compare the spirit of Jesus’ preaching with the developing ethos of the church, the changes are plain to see. To be a good member of the church, it was, from the outset, vital that each believer should subscribe to a certain set of ever more closely specifi ed metaphysical doctrines, and conform to quite a rigorous code of priest-prescribed, and priest-enforced, moral behaviour. (For how other- wise could such a persecuted community have held together to survive?) There are however no such tests for membership in the kingdom of God, as Jesus presents it. On the contrary, membership in the kingdom of God requires great generosity of spirit, radical humility, and a sense of the whole world being turned upside down, with everything called into question, a whole multitude of new opportunities emerging for fresh insight; and nothing more. This experience, at once both troubling and joyful, is surely, at a certain level, very close indeed, if not identical, to the troubled yet defi antly hopeful impulse that generates the solidarity of the shaken, as Patocˇka envisages it. Yet church tradition, developing the solidarity of Christians with other Christians, has overlaid it with so much else. As for Patocˇka: he prefers not to get embroiled in the problematics of Christian faith, opting to invoke Heraclitus instead. Czech intellectual culture has long been rather secular, and the Charter 77 movement, even though it had many Christian parti- cipants, was not, in itself, religious. In thinking through the basic principles underlying it, Patocˇka, in effect, brackets all questions of theology. By contrast, my basic project in what follows is, precisely, to try and get to grips with the challenge of the solidarity of the shaken to the solidarity of Christians with other Christians. My primary concern, as I have said, is with trans-metaphysical theology. In other words: a devising of strategy for the solidarity of the shaken in a Christian context. The ‘solidarity of the shaken’ is not a Hegelian concept. It arises out of a historical context quite remote from Hegel’s own. And yet, I think that it nevertheless fi ts very well with the core rationale of the Phenomenology of Spirit; as I shall attempt to show.

9. Faith / knowing / faith

The solidarity of the shaken, alone, is surely the most direct solidarity- expression of God’s truth. Yet it is, by nature, the most diffi cult form of solidarity to organize. For, after all, any form of solidarity, in order to be effective, requires a clear recognition of who is friend and who is foe. The more immediately obvious the external markers discriminating these two



basic categories, the more effective it is liable to be. But shakenness is so very much an inner condition, without immediately obvious external markers to identify it. And hence, once again, we are faced with a strategic need to mix the highest will-to-truth with other motives, so as to stiffen it, give it staying-power: the solidarity of the shaken always needs mixing with other, easier-to-recognize solidarity principles. It seems that it can only ever really fl ourish as one ingredient among others, in some sort of composite enterprise. Charter 77, for instance, was a movement that manifested the solidarity of the shaken mixed with a particular sense of embattled national identity:

the resistance of the Czech people to their subjugation by the Soviet Union. It transcended political ideology in the sense that its participants, the signat- ories to the ‘Charter’, included people of every different political persuasion, other than uncritical supporters of the Soviet-imposed government. As regards religion, likewise, it included Roman Catholics, Protestants, atheists and agnostics of every kind. The Chartists were just those Czechs who were suffi ciently shaken, by a yearning for greater openness in public life, to risk expressing that aspiration in public, thereby exciting the wrath of a violent police-state. They were united by two things alone: fi rst their shakenness, and second their being Czech. What interests me theologically, on the other hand, is the question of what it would take, in strategic terms, to stiffen the trans-confessional solidarity of the shaken with an appropriate admixture of the confessional solidarity uniting Christian with Christian. And this is the basic reason for my interest in Hegel. For, although Hegel does not explicitly frame his project as a Christian theological stiffening of the solidarity of the shaken, that is very much, I think, in effect what it already is. Thus, Hegel begins in his Early Theological Writings by seeking to recast the Jesus story, in such a way as to rescue its deeper critical potential from its distortion by mere church ideology. Then in the Phenomenology he switches from the medium of gospel narrative to that of ‘speculative’ philosophy; but still with the same underlying moral intent. His earlier recasting of the Jesus story makes strategic sense as the basis for a more or less sectarian alternative to orthodox Lutheranism. So it is in direct rivalry to the founding narrative of that orthodoxy; above all in the essay ‘The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate’, presenting Jesus essentially as a prophet of pure shakenness. But there is an immediate contradiction here, inasmuch as the solidarity of the shaken is intrinsically inimical, in its openness, to any sort of sectarianism. The shift of thought that results in the Phenomenology goes with a fresh acceptance of the broad Lutheran mainstream. And so it enables a quite un-sectarian understanding of the solidarity of the shaken. But now compare this with Desmond’s position. Hegel is in my view the great theological strategist for the solidarity of the shaken; yet every strategy



for the solidarity of the shaken mixed into other forms of solidarity risks damaging it. There is always the danger that the solidarity of the shaken will so merge into its host culture as to fade away. In order that it should survive, there is a need for a constant insistence on the imperatives of shakenness in all their distinctiveness. Unlike Hegel, Desmond is no solidarity-strategist. He is, rather, a great philosophical poet, of what I would call the ‘pathos of shakenness’, in its very purest form. The solidarity of the shaken is, in the fi rst instance, a form of campaigning organization. By contrast, agapeic community – Desmond’s ideal – is in the fi rst instance a form of pastoral organization. But just as the solidarity of the shaken is the most diffi cult form of solidarity to organize, so, too, agapeic community is the most diffi - cult form of community to organize – because it is so extremely demanding. Again, therefore, it can only fl ourish, for any length of time, in amalgam with other forms of community. And, again, it forever risks being swallowed up and lost within that with which it is mixed. Therefore Desmond sees it as the fundamental task of philosophical theology to recall us to the proper distinctiveness of agapeic community in itself. Shakenness, by the imperatives of perfect truth-as-openness, is a condition of soul that is completely beyond any rational calculation of self-interest. Desmond speaks of it, in this sense, as ‘idiot wisdom’. His philosophical writing is the most sophisticated homage to such wisdom; the raw essence of faith, prior to all interpretation. He is attempting, as he puts it, to evoke the ‘hyperbolic’ nature of divine truth. That is to say, in Patocˇka’s terms: its sheer shaking-power, forever in excess of any intellectual mastery. But whereas Patocˇka uses the metaphor of ‘shakenness’, Desmond tends rather to think of intellectual defences being penetrated, as by the fl ood waters of divine reality. He rejoices in the intrinsic, ultimately unpreventable ‘porosity’ of human existence, in that sense. One might say that whereas Hegel’s thought is framed as a movement from fi rst-order faith to philosophic ‘knowing’, Desmond by contrast traces a philosophic movement from ‘knowing’ to second-order faith. First-order faith is endlessly ambiguous: between that which opens towards the solidar- ity of the shaken and that which is closed off from it, supplanting it with a rigid insistence on orthodox conformity, as it were, for conformity’s sake. Hegel sets out to dissolve that ambiguity. The ‘knowing’ that he celebrates is thus primarily an ideal kind of strategic nous, identifying the truth of faith in effect with the solidarity of the shaken. But the trouble is that every potentially successful strategy for the solidarity of the shaken, in order to be successful, is more or less bound to introduce fresh ambiguities. Does the successful strategy still in fact truly stand for shakenness? Or has the solidarity-building success been achieved by changing the real basis for the solidarity, making it easier? Such questions are indeed inescapable at the level on which Hegel is operating. And Desmond, who is simply not



interested in the criterion of political success, then seeks to sweep all such ambiguity away. Still, these opposing movements may also, in the end, be regarded as two complementary aspects of the same. I want to affi rm the solidarity of the shaken. Therefore, I am with Hegel. Everything, however, depends upon its truly being the solidarity of the shaken. Therefore, I am with Desmond. After all, it seems to me that the fullness of truth arises out of a constant oscillation, back and forth, between philosophic ‘knowing’, in the Hegelian sense, and second-order faith, the truth with which Desmond is concerned. Neither, I would argue, invalidates the other. Both are, equally, needed.



desmond’s hegel:

a counterfeit double?

1. Hegelian grand narrative: ‘theodicy’ or ‘kakodicy’?

Desmond calls his book, Hegel’s God, ‘an adieu to Hegel’. 1 Because he regards Hegel’s God as a ‘counterfeit double’, and Hegelian theology, therefore, as idolatrous, he frames the book very much as a case for the prosecution. There are, however, two basic weaknesses, I think, with this approach. On the one hand, Desmond is so impatient always to show what is missing in Hegel’s theology that he fails to stay with what is actually there – I will discuss what I consider to be the prime example of this in Chapter 3. And, on the other hand, he fails properly to register ambiguity as ambiguity. Instead, where Hegel’s thought remains ambiguous, he assumes the worst, and then accuses Hegel of cunning concealment; of deliberately blurring his real, malignant meaning. This is above all the case in his interpretation of Hegel’s philosophy of history. Thus, let us distinguish between two possible Hegels here: ‘Hegel 1’ and ‘Hegel 2’. ‘Hegel 1’ is an impassioned lover of perfect truth-as-openness. He is a thinker essentially shaken into thought by that love, which he sees as the very essence of the divine. When he looks at history ‘Hegel 1’ is fi rst and foremost interested in fi nding grounds for hope, as inspiration for solidarity with others who are likewise shaken: hope serving to energize a form of solidarity grounded, purely and simply, in that shared experience of shaken- openness, and struggling towards the ideal of a public culture that would be, in the most powerful possible way, celebratory of perfect truth-as-openness recognized as God’s will. He seeks to construct an all-encompassing historic narrative, to that end. The story he sets out to tell is the history of ‘Spirit’, divine revelation as a process at work everywhere, throughout the whole of

1 Hegel’s God, Preface, p. ix.



human experience. This narrative needs to be as global as possible, so as to refl ect the global, cosmopolitan nature of the solidarity of the shaken, in itself. And it necessarily involves a considerable degree of philosophic detachment in the way that it is narrated, since its basic purpose is to justify hope, helping people committed to such solidarity look beyond the more immediate frustrations of their present plight, and see the bigger picture. As we stand back we can see the experimental workings of Spirit down the ages, as a whole, steadily clarifying what the ideal requires. ‘Hegel 2’, however, is a somewhat different fi gure. His ideal is philosophic detachment, in effect, for its own sake. For him, this is wisdom: Spirit is the ascent of Mount Olympus, as it were, to look down upon the affairs of the world from afar. He is akin to the Nietzschean Übermensch; glorying in his superhuman cool. And the sheer scale of the resultant philosophic grand narrative demonstrates this. Desmond’s Hegel is, unambiguously, ‘Hegel 2’. The Hegel who interests me is ‘Hegel 1’. I remarked above that my admiration for Hegel is related to my admiration for that very different fi gure, the prophet Amos, the fi rst of the great Hebrew writing prophets. 2 ‘Hegel 2’ has nothing whatever in common with Amos. The prophet represents God in an explosion of passionate engagement: God repudiating any sort of mere fl attery, and launching a furious, infi nite demand for ‘justice and righteousness’, that is, for Honesty, perfect truth-as-openness, infused with compassion for the sufferings of the poor. Nothing could be more opposed to the divine rage of God as represented by Amos than the ideal of sheer Olympian cool advocated by ‘Hegel 2’. But in the thought of ‘Hegel 1’, by contrast, the prophetic rage that Amos pioneered is aufgehoben, not cancelled but sublated, into a solidarity-strategy designed to further the same ends by other means. Amos himself has no apparent solidarity-strategy. The whole history of biblical religion, as it has bifurcated into the traditions of Judaism and Christianity, may be regarded as one long quest for effective solidarity-strategies that would not be too betraying of the testimony to radical shakenness that fi rst appears, as a literary phenomenon, in his prophecy. And, although Hegel does not see this, I think he represents a key moment in the process. Thus, take Hegel’s presentation of his philosophy of history as the true form of ‘theodicy’. 3 The problem of evil, he argues, is not just an abstract metaphysical conundrum, the way Leibniz for instance thinks of it. Far more signifi cantly, faith in God is tied up with historic, this-worldly hopes. God commands such hope, our experience of evil in history argues against it. In order to justify faith in God, we need to justify historic hope in quite concretely narrative terms.

  • 2 See p. 18.

  • 3 Hegel, The Philosophy of History (trans. J. Sibree; New York: Dover Publications, 1956), pp. 15, 457.



But hope for what? In his Lectures on the Philosophy of History, Hegel answers: for ‘freedom’. ‘The History of the World’, as envisaged in these lectures, ‘is nothing but the development of the Idea of Freedom’. 4 This notion of ‘freedom’, however, is admittedly quite ambiguous. Does Hegel mean freedom for perfect truth-as-openness, sheer Honesty, being altogether opened up to the otherness of other people; freedom from whatever would inhibit that? That would be the viewpoint of ‘Hegel 1’. Or does he simply mean ‘freedom’ in the sense of maximum moral autonomy, not being subju- gated by the will of others? This is the thinking of ‘Hegel 2’, Desmond’s idea of Hegel. There is of course a good deal of overlap, in practice, between these two notions of freedom. So many of the conventional prejudices by which our thinking is closed down are actively promoted and reinforced by those others who exercise power over us, to serve their own interests. Very often the cause of truth-as-openness takes shape as a political movement of people self-assertively demanding their ‘rights’ to autonomy, against an oppressor. Again, one has only to think of Charter 77, Jan Patocˇ ka’s movement, for instance. The Chartists were both laying claim to their basic human rights, against the Soviet oppressor, and also campaigning for a public culture of openness. In that context, the overlap was complete. Nevertheless, there is in principle a signifi cant opposition between the two views. For ‘Hegel 1’ is intent on constructing a grand narrative that will trace the gradual emergence of the possibility of our coming to see the ideal of perfect truth-as-openness as the very essence of the divine. ‘Hegel 2’, very differently, is interested in tracing humanity’s progress towards a world valuing the intrinsic value of moral autonomy above all else. But mere respect for moral autonomy, unlike truth-as-openness, remains in itself entirely compatible with a good deal of actual indifference to the suffering of others. Uninterested in political solidarity-strategy as such, Desmond’s whole concern is with what I have called the pure ‘pathos of shakenness’. What he values in religion is just its unique capacity to intensify the pathos of spiritual struggle; precisely, its awakening of heart-felt agapeic compassion. When he reads Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of History what he fi nds there is ‘Hegel 2’, apparently identifying true theological insight, on the contrary, with the very loftiest, all-surveying Olympian detachment. For him, this is anathema. There is no true theodicy in such an outlook, he argues; no true justifi cation of God. Rather, what is justifi ed is the very opposite: a grandiose ‘philosophic’ acquiescence in evil. It is a kakodicy! 5 As I have said, it seems to me that the essential truth-potential of Hegel’s theology lies in the way he begins to dissolve the basic political ambiguity of popular Christian faith. Namely: the ambiguity between that in popular Christian faith which opens up towards the solidarity of the shaken, and

  • 4 Ibid., p. 456.

  • 5 Hegel’s God, pp. 144, 178.



that which resists it. But here, between ‘Hegel 1’ and ‘Hegel 2’ is a trans- political ambiguity which still remains unresolved. For political purposes, in order to develop an appropriate founding narrative for the sort of solidarity he seeks to promote, Hegel steps back from the immediacy of the present historical moment, to take the long view: to what extent does the resultant vision of history-as-a-whole remain tied to a real passion for truth-as- openness, or to what extent does it start to come loose from such passion? One may read Hegel’s texts either way; this is undoubtedly, I think, a real failing in his work. Only, let us not exaggerate the failing. The more open-minded reading still does, at any rate, remain possible.

2. Schiller’s dictum, quoted by Hegel:

‘Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht’

Another example: Hegel quotes, with approval, Schiller’s dictum, ‘Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht’. 6 The conventional translation of this into English, ‘The history of the world is the world’s court of judgement’ rather misses the theological undertow of the thought. An alternative rendering would be ‘World history enacts divine judgement’. Just who, though, is quoting Schiller here: Is it ‘Hegel 1’ or ‘Hegel 2’? ‘Hegel 2’, that is, Desmond’s Hegel, approves of Schiller’s formula for the simple reason that he believes in the apotheosis of historical Success. In his Olympian fashion, he surveys world history and straightforwardly identifi es ‘divine judgement’ with the long-term success of particular ideas. This is not a doctrine of ‘might is right’ – Hegel explicitly denounces that sort of world view. 7 But it differs from ‘might is right’ only inasmuch as ‘Hegel 2’ is inter- ested in the success of ideas, and ‘might’, as such, is not immediately a property of ideas. Rather, for ‘Hegel 2’, the divine thumbs-up is accorded to whatever set of ideas, in the long run, achieves the greatest intellectual authority. As a matter of fact, ‘Hegel 2’ observes, the most successful sort of thinking, long-term, is that which most effectively hooks onto people’s self- assertive aspiration to ‘freedom’, in the simple sense of self-determination. And therefore, he concludes, this aspiration is divine. Desmond cites Hegel quoting Schiller, and he protests: ‘Even the Last Judgement, it seems, will be refused its transcendence’ in this ruthless theology of immanence. But ‘if there is nothing transcendent to history, is it,

  • 6 Philosophy of Right, §§ 340–41 (Knox, p. 216); Encyclopaedia, § 548, that is, Hegel’s Philosophy of Mind (trans. William Wallace; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 277.

  • 7 Philosophy of Right, § 342.



as Hobbes described the Leviathan, a “mortal god”?’ Indeed, ‘why should we sing a speculative Te Deum to this monster? Does this being true to history become false to God, hence untrue to history?’ 8 If the real Hegel is ‘Hegel 2’ then yes, I would agree, it does. And yet, the fact is that this formula, ‘Die Weltgeschichte ist das Weltgericht’ is also susceptible of quite a different interpretation. Suppose it is ‘Hegel 1’ speaking. For ‘Hegel 1’ the criterion of judgement in world history is that we are looking for what most effectively advances the political-theological cause of perfect truth-as-openness. In order to see what does this, he is say- ing, look at the way ideas actually play out in world history. For example: is Rousseau right? In order to answer that question, it is not enough just to consider Rousseau’s own good intentions. One has also got to look at the actual infl uence of his ideas, notably on the course of the French Revolution:

To what extent have they, in historic practice, contributed to the cause of truth-as-openness? This may seem obvious. And so it is – Hegel is not above saying things that are pretty obvious, at times. But what is interesting is the way in which he takes the simple idea of Weltgeschichte as Weltgericht and then develops it into a pioneering grand narrative. The divine judgement of world history, which is the topic of this grand narrative, may well vindicate all sorts of self-assertive political movements, groups of people rising up to demand their ‘rights’ – such as Charter 77. But, crucially, what is divine is never, for ‘Hegel 1’ – as it is for ‘Hegel 2’ – that self-assertion in itself. Rather, it is the impulse towards an intellectually ever more open culture, which such self-assertion, in cases like that of Charter 77, serves. ‘We notice again’, Desmond remarks, ‘how some Hegel interpreters are quick to reassure us: do not worry, there is nothing offensive here, do not be alarmed. The Weltgericht is not any Last Judgement’. 9 Well, it is not. Whereas the traditional imagery of the Last Judgement represents God confronting each human individual strictly as an individual, the Weltgericht of Weltgeschichte is the divine judgement of whole cultures as such. Unlike the judgement of whole cultures, the judgement of single individuals surely does tend to remain history-transcendent: at the Last Judgement I am judged for what I personally have done, not for my place in the larger fl ow of world history. In the exceptional case of ‘world-historical individuals’ the two forms of judgement do, to some extent, come together; for most of us, however, they remain clearly distinct. ‘But if Hegel does not mean the last judgement, why not speak less equivocally?’ 10 There is in fact nothing equivocal about Hegel’s identifi cation of the Weltgericht of Weltgeschichte as being, in the fi rst instance, a judgement of whole cultures rather than of individuals. He is

  • 8 Hegel’s God, pp. 144–45.

  • 9 Ibid., p. 178. 10 Ibid.



certainly not arguing for a new form of Christianity in which there will cease to be any reference to the history-transcendent Last Judgement. Rather, I think that, preoccupied as he is with the problematics of this-worldly solidarity-building, he just does not have much that is at all interestingly new to say about the more other-worldly aspects of religious truth. And so does not talk about them. But is this one-sidedness of Hegel’s really as sinister as Desmond suspects? Or does it only look that way to Desmond because he himself has opted for a yet more militant, but polar opposite, one-sidedness of his own?

3. ‘The hand that wounds is the hand that heals’

Then again: closely related questions also arise with regard to the way Hegel interprets the traditional dogma of the Fall. Thus, he is a prime advocate of felix culpa doctrine: viewing the Fall as a ‘happy fault’. The biblical story, as he puts it, represents the development of the human species beyond the simplicity of its ‘natural’ condition, its transition into the world of the ‘spiritual’. From the philosophical point of view, this is to be celebrated:

‘Paradise’, as he puts it, ‘is a park, where only brutes, not human beings, can remain’. 11 In Genesis 3, on the contrary, the mythic event is shown as a catastrophe. God (Genesis 2: 16–17) has forbidden Adam and Eve to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, on pain of death:

These words [Hegel remarks] evidently assume that humanity is not

meant to seek knowledge, and ought to remain in the condition of


. . .

But it is a mistake to regard the immediate harmony of

the natural condition as ideal

Childlike innocence no doubt has

. . . something fascinating and attractive about it; but only because it reminds us what Spirit must win for itself. The harmoniousness of childhood is a gift from the hand of Nature; the second harmony must spring from the labour and culture of Spirit. And so the words of Christ, ‘Except ye become as little children’, etc., are very far from telling us that we must always remain children. 12

The story of the Fall is regularly invoked whenever the upholders of church ideology want to argue against disobedience to established tradition in general, against free thinking, and hence against any sort of authentic philosophy; in other words, whenever theology has set itself against the most basic preconditions for the advancement of truth-as-openness. ‘Do not disobey as

  • 11 The Philosophy of History, p. 321.

  • 12 Encyclopaedia § 24; that is, Hegel’s Logic (trans. William Wallace; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 43.



Adam disobeyed!’ cry the upholders of rigid church ideology. Hegel counters that it is the very same impulse to questioning, and to rebellion against the established order, that both, in one form, originates the Fall and also, in another form, brings about Salvation. Granted, questioning and rebellion, gone wrong, may end up producing the very worst forms of tyranny – look at what happened to the French Revolution under the Jacobins. But Christianity presents us with a Saviour who dies as a crucifi ed dissident: that is, precisely, a symbolic embodiment of questioning and rebellion. As Hegel puts it: ‘The hand that wounds is also the hand that saves’. 13 Philosophy, as Hegel conceives it, is forever dissolving the all too simple distinction that naïve faith draws between what is divine and what is human. So it is systematically open to the possibility that what at fi rst sight looks to us like mere disobedience to divine law may in actual fact be a fresh upsurge of divine grace; and that the historic progress of divine grace may very often require developments which to the devout, at fi rst sight, appear sinful. Naïve, fi rst-order faith sharply distinguishes what it sees as the work of God’s grace, namely the established ethos of its own given religious community at its best, from that which expresses mere human self-assertion. And Desmond also, seeks to restore at least something of that sharp distinction in sophisticated, post-Hegelian terms: counter-posing agape to eros. But Hegel, for his part, loves the word ‘Spirit’ for the very reason that one may equally speak of ‘human Spirit’ and of ‘divine Spirit’. His whole concern is to reopen, and to hold open, the properly unresolved question of how these two modes of ‘Spirit’ are to be distinguished, which fi rst-order faith has pre-empted. ‘Hegel 1’, though, does this in one way; ‘Hegel 2’ does it in quite another. For ‘Hegel 2’ divine Spirit is what appears when one, as it were, steps right outside the whole struggle-process of human Spirit to view it absolutely as a whole, with ideal Olympian-contemplative detachment. To see the struggle- process of human Spirit as a whole, according to ‘Hegel 2’, is to see it transfi gured: in its wholeness, it is revealed to be the all-encompassing cre- ative enterprise of divine Spirit. So the latter appears fully immanent within human Spirit: not only as human Spirit is liberated, but also as it errs. For, from this point of view, it is just the wholeness of the process that is divine. The thought of ‘Hegel 2’ thus essentially replicates that of Spinoza, with the addition of a grand narrative, but nothing more. Altogether purged of bitterness, blame and indignation – but also of all other moral passion – it observes how everything, good and bad alike, hangs together. And it identifi es the highest wisdom with an ideal anaesthetic fatalism. Taking Hegel, without question, to be ‘Hegel 2’, Desmond is infuriated by the militant refusal of what he regards as proper religious pathos in this

13 Ibid.



high-above-the-world outlook. He objects, fi ercely, to the apparent theological implications. ‘Consider’, he writes:

the hand that wounds is the hand that heals. But then it is always the same hand. Consider then: if my hand wounds the relation to God, is it my hand that heals the wound? If so I redeem myself. What

need then have I of God? You say, no, no: we must think of God as forgiving. But if it is God’s hand that heals, it is God’s hand that wounds, since the ‘two’ hands are one and the same. But what then does God’s hand wound? God’s relation to humanity? Why must God wound that relation? Or God’s relation to Godself? Then it is God’s hand that heals God, but why does God have to wound God? What could such a self-mutilating God be? The self-wounding God would be the same as the self-healing God. But what could one make of the self-forgiveness of this self-mutilating God? And if Hegel is right that it is a matter of knowing, God seems to have to fool himself in order to make himself wise. What kind of stupid God is this? What kind of evil God is this, if evil is necessary for God (to be God)? What good is such a ‘God’? What good could you expect from such a ‘God’? These are questions Hegel’s admirers do not put to him. A pity. They may even dismiss them in exasperation. So much the worse for


. .



And yes, if the true Hegel is ‘Hegel 2’, I agree, they are good questions. But please, now, let us go back a few steps. Where Desmond imagines his interlocutor interrupting, ‘No, no: we must think of God as forgiving’, I would actually rather not follow that script. To be sure, the ‘healing’ in question is an act of divine forgiveness. I do not redeem myself. However, this is not to say that the ‘hand’ of which Hegel is speaking is God’s hand. The ‘hand’ surely represents human Spirit, in all its questioning, rebellious turbulence. For ‘healing’ to take place, the initiative must indeed come from God. But, to quote St Teresa of Avila,

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hand, no feet on earth, but yours.

When ‘Hegel 1’ says, ‘The hand that wounds is the hand that heals’, unlike ‘Hegel 2’ he is not constructing some grand new-fangled Gnostic myth about the wisdom of Olympian detachment. No, he is thinking, in quite practical terms, about the sort of political action that is needed, so that the ultimate philosophical truth for which Christ stands, the ideal of perfect truth-as- openness, may in general be disseminated. What the cause of Truth demands

14 Hegel’s God, pp. 156–57.



(he is saying) is a real readiness for the kind of Adamic rebellious questioning, the basic challenge to question-suppressing power, represented by the Second Adam, the Crucifi ed. It demands a project of solidarity-building, very much, on that explicit basis. The ‘hand’ in question is the hand of the rebel, as such. It ‘wounds’ when the rebellion is of the kind represented by the First Adam, it ‘heals’ when the rebellion is of the kind represented by the Second Adam. Hegel’s point is just that the healing required necessarily involves rebellion. There is no true healing in the spirit of mere conformity endorsed by conventional church ideology. ‘What need then have I of God?’ ‘Hegel 1’s’ answer is that God redeems us by opening us up, where by nature we would instinctively remain closed. For this is just what God is: that impulse, in all of its various manifestations. For ‘Hegel 1’, to see God is not merely to gaze, from afar, upon the universal struggle-process of human Spirit and see it as a whole. Rather, one sees God by pondering one’s own personal experience of being spiritually opened up, at every level of experience. Unlike ‘Hegel 2’, in other words, ‘Hegel 1’ does not identify wisdom with sheer all-surveying, all-accepting remoteness from the struggle-process. On the contrary, he remains absolutely immersed in it; with blazing passion, aufgehoben. This immersion is qualifi ed by a grand-narrative outlook for two quite specifi c reasons. Hegelian grand narrative is not only theodicy, in the sense discussed above. It also arises out of a systematic discipline of openness towards what is alien to one’s own culture in the various cultures of the past, or the various cultures of elsewhere; a serious desire to try and do those other cultures proper justice. To think in grand-narrative terms is thus to stand back, not necessarily from the whole struggle-process of the human spirit as such, but at any rate from the more limited sacred narratives of one’s own immediate spiritual environment. Desmond is scornful of the very notion that the relationship of God to Godself may involve error and mutilation; and that it may therefore be in need of healing. But why? God, reaching out to sinful humanity, inevitably appears as ‘God’ in a great variety of forms more or less exposed to contamination from human sinfulness. So Meister Eckhart cries out, ‘I pray God to rid me of “God” ’. 15 Eckhart remains a loyal churchman but, nevertheless, urgently seeks God beyond ‘God’; that is, beyond the ‘God’ of conventional church ideology. True, such fl amboyant self-distancing from what, after all, still remains one’s own religious culture is rare in Christian theology. Christianity is, by every instinct, evangelistic for itself; its theology has always been intimately tied up with its own self-promotion to potential converts, an orientation which must always tend to inhibit the sort of corporate self-critique towards which

15 Meister Eckhart, The Essential Sermons, Commentaries, Treatises and Defense (trans. Edmund Colledge and Bernard McGinn; Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1981), from sermon 83, ‘Renovamini spiritu’, p. 208, with inverted commas added.



Eckhart is pointing. Desmond’s scorn accords closely with the natural (all too natural) refl exes of conventional Christian evangelism. Compare, however, the much less evangelistic culture of rabbinic Judaism. In that very different context there has emerged a whole wealth of mythic traditions, those of classical Kabbalah, that are indeed all about the Fall of ‘God’, as manifest in the various faces of the Sefi rot, from true God, ’Eiyn Sof; and about the struggle to mend what is thereby broken. Does not the ultimate fullness of God’s truth require both the kind of evangelistic enthusiasm so powerfully present within traditional Christianity, seeking as it does to draw the whole of humanity together into a single open conversation, and also a real openness to the sort of fundamental corporate self-critique that one thus fi nds predominant in classical Kabbalah, largely thanks to its relative freedom from the strategic constraints which Christian evangelistic ambition imposes? As it happens, although Hegel had read a certain amount about Kabbalah, he does not appear to have been particularly interested in it. After all, he was not inclined to think in anything like the Kabbalist mythical fashion, abstracted from history. He constructs philosophic grand narrative instead. Nevertheless, like Eckhart before him, he surely does represent the possibility of a thinking that would, with pioneering radicalism, fuse together universal evangelism with corporate self-critique. And this, to me, seems altogether admirable.



the ideal of ‘atonement’

1. Hegel on Eckhart: ‘There, indeed, we have what we want!’

‘I pray God to rid me of “God” ’, said Meister Eckhart. ‘I was often with Hegel in Berlin’, writes Franz von Baader. ‘Once I read him a passage from Meister Eckhart, who was only a name to him. He was so excited by it that, the next day, he read me a whole lecture on Eckhart, which ended with: “There, indeed, we have what we want!” ’ 1 The essay is lost. But the affi nities are clear. One might describe Hegelian theology, very simply, as a systematic project for defi ning the trans-metaphysical criteria by which to distinguish, as Eckhart would have it, ‘God’ from God. Thus, again, what interests him is the way in which one and the same set of religious ideas may either channel God or ‘God’. The criteria for distinguishing between these two possibilities are not immanent to fi rst- order faith. It is not just a question of fi nding the ‘correct’ metaphysical formulae; the difference is not a metaphysical one. But, rather, it is entirely a matter of how the data of fi rst-order faith are appropriated. Hegel’s term for the state of mind that remains trapped in a relationship to ‘God’ precluding relationship to God is ‘das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’. In English, literally: the ‘unhappy consciousness’.

2. ‘Unhappy consciousness?’ A problem of translation

Das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’: this is Hegel’s comprehensive term, in


Phenomenology of Spirit, for everything that true faith, as such,

1 Franz von Baader, Sämmtliche Werke, Vol. XV (ed. Franz Hoffman; repr., Aalen:

Scientia Verlag, 1987), p. 159. (There is actually also some evidence of Hegel’s having been aware of Eckhart as early as 1795: see H. S. Harris, Hegel’s Development: Towards the Sunlight, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972, pp. 230–31.)



theologically overcomes, and for what most fundamentally renders false faith false. The truth of authentic divine revelation symbolically overthrows das unglückliche Bewußtseyn, as such. But then das unglückliche Bewußtseyn fi ghts back. It re-insinuates itself into religious traditions originally founded

on its overthrow, and dresses itself up in the clothes of theological orthodoxy. The whole task of trans-metaphysical theology, then, is to identify it; to unmask it and to point beyond it. Another basic formula for affi rming Hegel’s signifi cance as a theologian:

he is the great pioneer of trans-metaphysical theology, in the sense of

theology essentially focused on the problematics of das unglückliche Bewußtseyn as such. But now let us reconsider the literal English translation: the ‘unhappy consciousness’. There are problems with this; problems indeed already intrinsic to Hegel’s German. In the fi rst place, what Hegel has in mind is not necessarily a form of ‘consciousness’ in the current sense of that word, the way its meaning has evolved since his day. And secondly, therefore, neither does it need to be all that ‘unhappy’, in the ordinary sense. Nowadays we have become accustomed to distinguishing between the ‘conscious’ and the ‘subconscious’. But when Hegel speaks of ‘Bewußtseyn’, ‘consciousness’, he does not have that distinction in mind at all. He is talking about a spiritual condition, partly conscious, yet also very largely subconscious. To some extent, indeed, das unglückliche Bewußtseyn really must be subconscious. For to suffer this condition is to be committed to fooling oneself, and one cannot do this in full awareness of what one is doing. Das unglückliche Bewußtseyn is an objectively ‘unhappy’ condition, in the sense that it is pitiable, but the sufferer is unaware – precisely – of how pitiable it is. As regards his or her conscious, subjective state, therefore, the sufferer may not be unhappy at all. In fact, there is even a certain sort of happiness that is quite typical of the condition in an intense form: the compulsory, neurotic, forever smiling ‘happiness’ of those who positively revel in emotional pretence. What Hegel calls ‘das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’ is a condition of inner servitude. Famously, earlier in the same book he has discussed, in quite abstract terms, the dialectical relationship between ‘master and slave’, as two individuals. Das unglückliche Bewußtseyn, on the other hand, is introduced as an internalization of the ‘master-slave’ relationship. That is to say, it is the dialectical interplay between two aspects of one and the same self: a ‘master’ aspect and a ‘slave’ aspect. He is, in effect, talking here about the spiritual condition of one in whom the power of thought-gone-stale, broadly speaking, has become despotic. It is a condition of being inwardly split apart. As regards the individual’s relationship-to-self, it is just the most fundamental corruption of ‘Spirit’. (‘Spirit’: ‘Geist’ – J. B. Baillie, in his translation of the Phenomenology, alternatively renders it as ‘Mind’.) For, again, when Hegel speaks of ‘Spirit’ he basically means the impulse that



opens up reality, the very purest antithesis to thought-gone-stale in general – the Phenomenology, as a whole, is nothing other than a systematic survey of the resultant struggle at every different level of experience. The better to engage with Hegel’s real meaning – when it comes to translating – I would propose that, for the reasons given above, we actually try dropping his own terms, ‘unhappy’ and ‘consciousness’. In general, we need as far as possible to get a fresh take on Hegel’s thought; to make it strange again, unlearning some of the lazier preconceptions of the interpretative tradition. And here, at a key point, is a chance to do so. Therefore, by way of thought-experiment, let us render ‘das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’ not as the ‘unhappy consciousness’, but, instead, as the ‘unatoned state of mind’. Not ‘consciousness’, but ‘state of mind’: das unglückliche Bewußtseyn is simply an ever-present resistance to diffi cult reality, more or less subcon- scious, that then underlies, and mixes with, all sorts of secondary formations of spiritual inertia. Objectively, but by no means always subjectively, ‘unhappy’, it is more precisely the condition of being ‘unatoned’. Divided as it is between a ‘master’ aspect and a ‘slave’ aspect, it is a basic incapacity to live ‘at one’ with the reality that the latter all too timidly apprehends. This reality is too diffi cult for the ‘master’ aspect, and so the apprehension is censored, distorted or interpreted away. What else, indeed, is true ‘religion’ if not a corporate discipline of opening-up towards diffi cult reality? In other words: the cultivation of a quite unfl inching willingness to recognize what is actually the case, even when it does not fi t what we want to be the case. We need no such discipline to recognize the more congenial aspects of reality. Merely comforting, comfortable religion is religion that is failing to do its proper job. But true religion, in this sense, is a disciplined opening-up towards reality that we fi nd diffi cult to recognize inasmuch as the recognition-process involves, on the one hand, facing up to our own mortality; and, on the other hand, sympathetically entering into the world view of other people who see things quite differently from ourselves, acknowledging the elements of disturbing accuracy in that alien, and perhaps also hostile, world view. ‘Spirit’, for Hegel, is just the impulse to openness, at every level of experience. But ‘das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’ is, very simply, the condition of the self insofar as it no longer feels able to live ‘at one’ with the diffi culty of that impulse. And so the impulse of Spirit is here suppressed; subjected to intra-psychic servitude. Traditional Christian theology, of course, speaks of ‘atonement’ as what Christ accomplishes on behalf of the faithful, and then within their souls:

rendering them ‘at one’ with God, and so able to live in harmony with the supremely diffi cult reality of divine justice. Here then is one particular religious mode of ‘atonement’, in the broader sense that I am proposing. Since ‘atonement’, in this context, comes to mean a bearing of punishment in restitution for sin, as Christ is said to have ‘borne our sins’ on the cross,



we tend to use the noun ‘atonement’ with the preposition ‘for’: ‘atonement for sin’. Or the verbal form, ‘to atone’, likewise: ‘to atone for sin’. But I want to revive the now largely forgotten, original usage in which ‘atoned’ can also be an adjective, applicable to souls. So that one may speak of souls being either ‘atoned’ or ‘unatoned’. In the old ritual of the Jerusalem Temple for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16) two animals were sacrifi ced, a bull and a goat, and their blood symbolically intermingled – that is, at-oned – before being sprinkled on the altar. The blood of the bull, it seems, represented the spirit of God reaching out towards Israel through the medium of the Temple liturgy. As the failings of the clergy tended to impede this, the bull was sacrifi ced especially for the sins of the High Priest ‘and his house’. But the blood of the goat represented the spirit of the people reaching out towards God and therefore repenting their corporate sins – the goat was sacrifi ced on behalf of all. The spirit of God reaches out; the spirit of the people reaches out: two streams of blood, at-oned. As a regular event, this symbolizes the overcoming not of any particular sin, but of humanity’s primordial insensitivity to sin in general. It represents the overcoming of religious ‘thought-gone-stale’, in the sense of whatever helps render us insensitive to our need for atonement. The Temple ritual for the Day of Atonement was thus a programmatic rep- resentation of what all the ritual of Israelite religion was, most fundamentally, meant to achieve. If, however, one considers the matter in trans-metaphysical terms, then one would have to say that not only Christianity and Judaism, but all true religion – all religion to the extent that it truly wages war on thought- gone-stale – is essentially a project of at-one-ment, so defi ned. Our existence is always more or less split: we both belong to reality and are cut off from it, insofar as we fi nd it diffi cult. In other words: we are never fully at-oned. And we need strategies to awaken us, imaginatively and emotionally, with ever-greater intensity, to the problem of our being unatoned. As I would understand it, just this is the core impulse of authentic religion, in all its forms; whether God is explicitly recognized, or is only implicitly at work in it. In order properly to understand religious truth as such, one has to begin by analysing our primordial need for atonement; looking beyond the way it is represented in different particular religious cultures, to sense its real universality. Or, to approach the same point from another angle: I am talking here about religion in its true character as the very purest antithesis to propaganda. Never has any previous generation been as bombarded as we are now by propaganda: so many campaigns, at work in all the various mass media, to infl uence what we buy; how we vote; our whole lifestyle. Propaganda may no doubt serve many good purposes, as well as bad ones. But the one thing it can never do is, confront us with the true diffi culty of diffi cult reality. How could it? Propaganda looks for immediate effects by



prodding at our simplest behavioural refl exes. Diffi cult reality is what most of all takes time to approach, time that the propagandist does not have. True prayer is the opposite to propaganda, in that it is a deliberate slowing down of the mind, so as to attend, as far as possible without distraction, to diffi cult reality. Indeed, the proliferation of propaganda, in the world of mass communication, actually I think creates a whole new purpose for prayer. For propaganda might very well perhaps be defi ned as the systematic exploitation of unatonement. And, moreover, it incidentally reinforces what it exploits, as it seeks, in effect, to invest the unatoned life with the maximum possible glamour and excitement. Increasingly therefore, now, the true discipline of prayer has to be understood as a form of therapy for those exposed to propaganda. Now more than ever, it is all about building up our inner capacity for resistance to the propagandists’ seductive artistry. The ‘unatoned state of mind’ is, not least, a general term for our (never willingly acknowledged) vulnerability to propaganda.

3. ‘A condition of sheer inner contradiction’

Hegel begins his discussion of this absolutely primordial, universal phenom- enon by drawing a basic distinction between two forms of ‘splitting into-two’ (Verdopplung), a healthy and an unhealthy one:

There is [already] a certain splitting-into-two intrinsic to the concept of ‘Spirit’. But here [in this internalisation of ‘master and slave’] we have the splitting-into-two without the [restorative] unity of Spirit. And the unatoned state of mind is a condition of sheer inner contradiction. 2

The necessary splitting-into-two that immediately belongs to Spirit is the development of a capacity for two sorts of thinking: not only the direct, fresh registering of concrete reality, but also abstract refl ection on experience. In the unatoned state of mind, however, the problem is that the proper partnership between these two sorts of thinking has broken down. It has become a rivalry. And the capacity for abstract refl ection has started to tyrannize over the capacity for direct, fresh registering of concrete reality. Theoretical hypotheses and imaginative pictures have gone stale, and the staleness has, moreover, been invested with repressive authority. In the ensuing, introductory passage Hegel sets out to defi ne ‘das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’ purely and simply as such, decisively abstracted from any particular cultural manifestation. As a matter of fact, I think it helps render

2 My translation. For the paragraphs I am working on here, compare Miller, pp. 126–27, Baillie, pp. 251–53.



Hegel’s meaning clearer if, in translating this passage, one renounces any use of the word ‘consciousness’, not only in rendering the phrase ‘das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’, but also in every other instance where Hegel writes ‘Bewußtseyn’ . The German text repeats ‘Bewußtseyn’ over and over again – it is a stylistic tic, infesting the Phenomenology in general. And the context shifts disconcertingly. Not only is the unatoned state of mind, as a whole, a Bewußtseyn; so are both of the two warring elements within it. Sometimes the word refers to a viewpoint, at other times to a process. The repetition of the word has a fog-like effect. But translation gives us an opportunity to dispel that fog. Besides ‘state of mind’, in my English version I have rendered it with a whole range of variants: ‘force fi eld’, ‘identity’, ‘aspect’, ‘self’, ‘aspect-of-self’, ‘soul’, ‘working-through’, ‘persona’, ‘condition’, ‘thinking’, ‘thought’. Thus:

This unatoned, and to that extent pitiable, state of mind constitutes a single force fi eld of contradictory impulses, the interplay of two mutually dependent identities. There is no possibility of peaceful unity being achieved through the triumph of one aspect over the other. But, rather, the self bounces back and forth between the two. [It is ausgetrieben, literally ‘driven out’, from each in turn.] – Indeed, what does it mean for Spirit truly to come alive, and enter into actual existence? First and foremost, it is the reintegration of what has here disintegrated; the reconciliation of what is here in confl ict. Or it is what happens when we recognise the properly complementary nature of the two aspects-of-self that have been split apart. This state of mind is itself the gazing of each ‘self’ upon the other. It is both at once; its essence is the unity of the two. Only, it is not yet conscious of its own essence, as that unity.

For, again: being unatoned means fooling oneself. To be atoned with, and opened up to, reality is to lay oneself fully open to being changed by fresh experience. Yet, the inner despot-self of the unatoned state of mind, addicted to cliché and reassuring prejudice, is a spirit of sheer, censorious resistance to all such change. Therefore, Hegel calls it ‘das Unwandelbare’, literally ‘the Unchangeable’. Or, perhaps better in this psychological context: ‘the Rigidity Principle’. Its workings include every sort of resistance to thoughtful change-of-mind; stubborn, arrogant or sanctimonious. The Rigidity Principle projects itself: so it purports to speak on behalf of ‘God’, or whatever other idolatrous concept its immediate cultural environment supplies. 3 Set over against it, on the other hand, is another sub-self, potentially the agent of thoughtful change, but too

3 This is why, as translator, I opt to write ‘the Rigidity Principle’ with a capital ‘R’ and ‘P’.



insecure to push such change through against the Rigidity Principle’s resistance. This second, adaptable (wandelbare) sub-self keeps rising up, only straightaway to be put down again:

Since, to begin with, the unatoned state of mind is only the immediate unity of the two aspects – not appreciating how they are in fact complementary, but supposing them to be rivals – it considers just one of them, the Rigidity Principle, to be what really counts [das Wesen, literally ‘the essential’]. The other, the adaptable aspect, it regards as being of much lower status [das Unwesentliche, literally ‘the inessential’]. For this soul, these two are quite alien to one another – and, as the working-through of their contradiction, it identifi es itself with the adaptable aspect. As such, it depreciates itself. And in response to the demands of the Rigidity Principle, it feels obliged to set about freeing itself from all that belongs to its own adaptable nature. Thus, whilst, for itself, it is identifi ed with the adaptable, and it thinks of the [projected] Rigidity Principle as an alien being, yet, in itself, it still remains no less identifi able with the Rigidity Principle, [the projection really is only a projection], even though [out of false humility] it declines to recognise this. So the relationship between the two can never be one of mutual indifference. That is to say, the unatoned self can never be indifferent to the demands of the Rigidity Principle. But it is, itself, immediately both aspects at once; even as it under- stands the proper relationship between them to be that of boss and subordinate, in which the latter is required to be entirely self-effacing [aufzuheben ist, literally ‘has to be cancelled out, sublated’]. Because both contradictory aspects are equally essential to this state of mind, what ensues is just the ceaseless movement of their contradiction – the inter-relatedness of the two opposite impulses means that neither may come to rest, but that both are forever regenerating themselves out of their opposition. Here, in short, we have a struggle against an enemy, victory over whom is really defeat; and where what one wins in one persona one loses in the other. The whole experience of life, its being and doing, comes to be pervaded by a distressing sense that, really, one is meant to be and do the opposite, that it is all mere nothingness. One raises oneself up, to adopt the point of view of the Rigidity Principle. Yet this elevation is merely another twist of the same condition. And so one is immediately recalled to what opposes it: the point of view of one’s own particularity. As the Rigidity Principle enters into our thinking it is straightaway affected by the particularity of the particular thinker, from which it can never be disentangled. Instead of this particularity being expunged in the thought of the Rigidity Principle, again and again it springs back.



One must certainly be grateful that the adaptable aspect of the self does keep springing back – for otherwise we would become mere robots. But this constant return of the repressed is just what makes the unatoned state of mind ‘unhappy’.

4. Luther / Kant / Hegel

The Phenomenology of Spirit was originally published in 1807. It was Hegel’s fi rst great work. But we can trace the emergence of his thinking over the preceding 15 years, as it is recorded in a series of writings, many of which remained unpublished until long after his death. 4 And there is in fact already an extensive critique of unatonement in these earlier essays. The one difference is that prior to the Phenomenology he always discusses it in quite culturally specifi c forms. Indeed, it was not until that 1801 that he began to think of himself as an academic philosopher at all; his writings up that date are essentially the work not of a philosopher, but of a would-be religious reformer. As such, they are fi rst and foremost an attack on what he saw as the prevailing corruption of Christianity. In typical Lutheran fashion he associates this with a rather crude caricature of the Judaism rejected by the early Church. Later on in his career his understanding of the Jewish heritage little by little began to grow more generous; but his initial strategy was an attempt to adapt the old Lutheran approach. Thus, the trouble with contemporary Church-Christianity, the young Hegel wants to suggest, is that it has lapsed back into patterns of thought and behaviour all too similar to those that St Paul sought to criticize in fi rst-century Judaism. In effect, he is radicaliz- ing this traditional Lutheran pattern of argument: turning it now against all existing forms of Church-Christianity, also including Lutheranism itself. And his basic complaint is that Church-Christianity consistently fails in actual practice to be atoning enough. Like pre-Christian Judaism (he polemically suggests) it is always, in one way or another, far too much about mere social control. And so it generates a mentality of inner servitude, inhibiting any challenge to the religiously endorsed established moral order, even where that order may be quite corrupt. At fi rst, he had combined this Lutheran mode of argument with an allegiance to Kantian philosophy. His ambition had been to retell the gospel story in something like the spirit of Kant’s ‘religion within the limits of reason alone’. But, then, in the essay entitled The Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate (written 1798–1800) he makes a dramatic new move, beyond that initial approach: he turns against Kant. For, after all, Kant is not really

4 See Stephen Crites, Dialectic and Gospel in Hegel’s Development (University Park:

Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998).



a critic of unatonement, per se. Instead, what Kant criticizes is, fi rst of all, any notion of divine revelation in history, and then, more generally, any serious investment of authority in a cultural tradition. Kant does not exactly ask to what extent traditions have gone stale. He asks, instead, to what extent they lay claim to authority. That is to say, how ambitious they are to build emotionally intense bonds of solidarity on the basis of a shared community narrative, emphasizing the particularity of the community in question. And, in the name of our common sheer humanity, he deplores such ambition. Nor does it matter to Kant how sophisticated the tradition in question is. From this point of view – he goes so far as to argue – there is no difference between, say, a well-educated Western European prince-bishop or American Puritan and an ignorant shaman like those of the Tungus or Vogul peoples in Siberia. 5 (He is referring to recent anthropological reports on Siberian shamanism). Inasmuch as each of these, alike, seeks to invest their own cultural tradition with maximum sacred authority, they are all of them, for Kant, equally guilty of the same elementary error. The authentic love of Truth, in his view, demands an utterly individualistic repudiation of any such project. Not so, however! Hegel, in this essay, now starts to argue. What matters is inner liberty from traditions that have gone stale. But to be loyal to an authoritative cultural tradition is by no means necessarily to be servile, in this sense. Everything depends upon the nature of the tradition. It is indeed quite possible to imagine an authoritative cultural tradition that was essentially a celebration of inner liberty: precisely, identifying true authority with authentic freshness of thought. Instead of dismissing all such tradition, we need on the contrary, as far as possible, to try and to mobilize its power in ever more liberating fashion. Simply to reject the authority of authoritative

5 Kant, Religion

within the



Reason Alone

(trans. T.

M. Greene


H. H. Hudson; New York: Harper & Row, 1960), iv. 2. § 3, p. 164:

We can indeed recognize a tremendous difference in manner, but not in principle, between a shaman of the Tunguses and a European prelate ruling over church and state alike, or (if we wish to consider not the heads and leaders but merely the adher- ents of the faith, according to their own mode of representation) between the wholly sensuous Wogulite who in the morning places the paw of a bearskin upon his head with the short prayer, ‘Strike me not dead!’ and the sublimated Puritan and Independ- ent in Connecticut: for, as regards principle, they both belong to one and the same class, namely, the class of those who let their worship of God consist in what can never make man better (in faith in certain statutory dogmas or celebration of certain arbitrary observances).

Just as, if one was being harsh, one might say that traditional Lutheranism mobilizes antisemitic prejudice to attack Roman Catholicism by association, so this sort of Enlightenment thinking mobilizes European contempt for ‘primitive’ non-European peoples, to attack its real target: European church-Christianity in general. It is, I think, rather an ugly move.



tradition by no means guarantees a true, thoughtful openness to reality; all it guarantees is a certain poetic impoverishment of one’s thinking. Moreover, the sort of thinking bound up with a hard-line Enlightenment repudiation of traditional religious authority may very well, itself, go stale. And then, to the extent that this happens:

Between the shaman of the Tungus, the European prelate who rules church and state, the Voguls, and the Puritans, on the one hand, and the man who [in accordance with Kantian moral individualism] listens to his own command of duty, on the other, the difference is not that the former make themselves slaves, while the latter is free, but that the former have their lord outside themselves, while the latter carries his lord in himself, yet at the same time is his own slave. 6

With that startling move – for the fi rst time to identify, deep down, a possib- ility of spiritual slavery equally present in shamanism, Church-Christianity and also the most radical Enlightenment rationality – Hegel has, in effect, already arrived at the critical standpoint he later goes on to develop in the Phenomenology. The unatoned state of mind is, in principle, an absolutely universal phe- nomenon, to be found, at least to some extent, in the thought processes of every ordinary human individual. No form of thinking is immune from lapsing into this condition. Thus, one might say that Hegel’s argument, here, is his philosophical reinterpretation of the old Christian-theological dogma of the fall of Adam and Eve. It is an attempt to defi ne in purely conceptual terms what that dogma seeks to express in pictures: the ‘fallen’ condition of all humanity. As his discussion of the phenomenon develops, beyond the initial defi nition that I have translated above, it is illustrated by various veiled, but nevertheless unmistakable, allusions to Christian history. And this has led some commentators to suppose that he considers das unglückliche Bewußtseyn to be an especially Christian phenomenon. But they are quite wrong. He does not. If he did, he would surely have said so; such an inter- pretation makes it seem that he has veiled his allusions to Christianity, in this context, out of sheer obscurantism. In fact, these allusions are veiled just because he does not want us to put too much emphasis upon any particular examples belonging to one specifi c culture. As for his, nevertheless, choosing these Christian examples – the real reason for this choice, I think, is not that he judges Christian culture to be peculiarly badly infested with the unatoned state of mind, in itself. Rather, it is because he is himself a Christian. And, as a Christian, he takes a special interest in the double-edged expressive power of Christian theology. What

6 Hegel, Early Theological Writings (trans. T. M. Knox; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1948), p. 211.



interests him is Christian theology’s special capacity, in popular-religious terms, to express both sides of the struggle: both, at its best, the atoning impulse of Spirit; and, where it is corrupted, the resistance to that impulse by the unatoned state of mind. Both sides: not only the despotism that governs the unatoned state of mind, but also the forever resurgent, countervailing impulse of Spirit. For us to grasp what he really means here, though, everything depends upon our constantly looking beyond the narrow limits of particular culture- specifi c examples, to apprehend the phenomenon in question as a whole. The unatoned state of mind, as a corrupter of religion, is far from being only a Christian phenomenon; it appears in all sorts of different religious forms. Nor is it only a religious phenomenon. It also appears in all sorts of different secular manifestations, as well. What we are confronting here is an element- ary distortion of the sheer will-to-truth that may equally come to expression at every different level of crudeness or sophistication. To one degree or another, it is everywhere, in every culture without exception. We are every one of us, more or less, unconsciously subject to it.

5. Desmond’s response

Theology has always tended to be somewhat unclear as to its ultimate truth-criteria. To what extent does it prioritize truth-as-openness? Or to what extent does it simply seek to defend the sheer data, as such, of a particular religious tradition? In most notions of sanctity, there is at least some appreciation for the virtues of openness: open-mindedness; open- heartedness. But to what extent is this understood as the proper essence of sanctity? Or how far is it overlaid with other supposed ‘virtues’, belonging rather to an ethos of moral conformism, loyalty to one’s religious tradition as a mere form of ethnic identity; ‘virtues’ that have nothing to do with openness? Most theology muddles its testimony to truth-as-openness with a whole lot else, and leaves it a muddle. And so too: when theology identifi es particular elements in its own tradition as especially authoritative, how is this authority supposed to be justifi ed? How much weight is put on apologetic arguments of a metaphysical nature, in the sense that metaphysics is a systematic philosophic celebration of the quest, in general, for truth-as-correctness? To what extent, in other words, are we meant to rely on philosophic ‘proofs’, suggesting, as such ‘proofs’ are liable to do, that the highest truth of faith is a form of demonstrable theoretic correctness, rather than lived openness? Hegel pioneers a certain basic clarity here. More systematically than any other Christian thinker, in the Phenomenology of Spirit he opens up a form of theology in which the pursuit of truth-as-openness is unequivocally prioritized, in strategic terms. Metaphysical apologetics is not ruled out



altogether. But when it comes to the defi nition of salvation – and hence to the interpretation of salvation history as a whole – the over-riding criterion is quite clear: primary theological truth, ‘saving’ truth, is whatever serves most effectively to mobilize religion against das unglückliche Bewußtseyn, the unatoned state of mind. Insofar as theological orthodoxy achieves this, orthodoxy is true; its authority claims are vindicated. But where the self- same doctrine fails to do so, as is also quite possible, it becomes false. Hegel’s theological genius lies in the sheer unprecedented radicalism with which he thus tries to highlight the intrinsic ambiguity of fi rst-order faith. And so how, then, will theologians still in thrall to the unatoned state of mind respond to this challenge? One would not expect them really to engage with it at all. They will in all likelihood deplore the element of innovation in Hegel’s thinking, just for its newness. Missing the trans-metaphysical point, they will also accuse him of metaphysical error. ‘Pantheism’ is a suitably vague sort of charge. Although Hegel himself did not see his doctrine as in any sense ‘pantheistic’, the term seems somehow to fi t the all-comprehensive ambition of his approach. And these critics will draw on the hostile ‘Hegel myth’ in general. In order not to have to deal with the challenge he represents, they will use anything that seems liable to discredit him, no matter how fallacious. There is plenty of such crude argumentation around! And then, other more serious critics, not at all apologists for the unatoned state of mind but nevertheless with different philosophical priorities from Hegel, have also felt impelled to clear a space for their own insights by pushing him roughly away. It is as though the gravitational pull of his thought would otherwise be too strong. I take this to be a decree of divine providence: that, as the essential truth Hegel represents is, in existential terms, so diffi cult, it has needed – in order to purge it of ambiguity and hence of possible diver- sionary misinterpretation – to pass through the very fi ercest, and most sustained, ordeal of a hostile reception. Desmond, indeed, is certainly no defender of the unatoned state of mind, in its primary form; his critique of Hegel represents another impulse altogether. And yet, one may well question whether he has, in the end, done justice to Hegel’s own critical concerns. Thus, consider especially his discussion, in Hegel’s God, of das unglückliche Bewußtseyn: there is no serious acknowledgement here of any potential truth in Hegel’s argument, whatsoever. 7 He shows no interest in the real, religion-reforming spiritual impulse by which Hegel is in fact driven, but rather, when faced with the prime evidence of this, he straightaway changes the subject: launching into a fi erce attack on Hegel for what he does not say. So, in response to Hegel talking about das unglückliche Bewußtseyn, he immediately starts talking about – ‘transcendence’. This is, as he addresses it, a quite different topic. It is relevant only inasmuch that, whereas Hegel puts the concept of das

  • 7 Hegel’s God, pp. 49–56.



unglückliche Bewußtseyn right at the heart of philosophic theology, Desmond for his part wants to put the concept of ‘transcendence’ there instead. Changing the subject, therefore, Desmond distinguishes three theologically signifi cant, valid forms of ‘transcendence’ 8 . These he calls, in shorthand, ‘T1, T2 and T3’:

T1 is simply the relationship of beings, as created by God, to our ideas of them; the way in which the actual richness of their reality forever transcends the expressive power of human language, to convey it. T2 is the ‘self-surpassing power of the human being’, that is, our never altogether extinguished capacity to transcend the limitations of given, or habitual, identity. T3 is agape – the ‘asymmetrical superiority’ of God-as-agape – transcending the ideal of ‘symmetrical’ reciprocation, in inter-personal relationships, which eros, by contrast, always yearns for.

Not only does Hegel ignore T3, Desmond argues. But he also falls short with regard to T1. Apprehended in sheer wonder, the truth of T1 demands

the most poetic sort of thinking for its evocation; Hegel is far too prosaic a thinker ever properly to get to grips with it. In fact, the only form of transcendence that Hegel does appreciate is T2: as the impulse of Spirit transcends the limitations of unatoned identity, in all its various permutations. This though, on its own, is not enough. In the end, Desmond suggests, Hegel’s failure to appreciate T1 and, still more, T3 also vitiates his appreciation even of T2.

But the fact that Hegel does not himself focus on T1 or T3 by no means necessarily means that he must be ill-disposed towards other forms of thought

that do. In criticizing das unglückliche Bewußtseyn, he is not criticizing Desmond’s celebration of divine agape, or anything like it. He is neither explicitly nor implicitly devaluing such a celebration at all. Is he not denying a certain form of divine transcendence? Well, ‘transcendence’ is not a word he uses, it is Desmond’s term. But yes – he clearly is. Only:

the ‘transcendence’ he denies is none of the three forms that Desmond has identifi ed. What Hegel argues against is not the sort of thinking that is responsive to T1. Nor is it the sort that is responsive to T3. It is, let us say, the thinking of ‘T4’. Namely: the false transcendence of ‘God’, as ‘God’ is mis- conceived by the unatoned state of mind. The specifi c form of ‘asymmetrical superiority’ Hegel repudiates is that which the theologically informed una- toned state of mind attributes to its ‘God’, the Divine Despot. What is at issue here is not divine ‘asymmetrical superiority’ in general; it is just the ‘asymmetrical superiority’ of that oppressor-‘God’, the mere theological projection or apotheosis of the Rigidity Principle. Hegel repudiates the false

  • 8 Ibid., pp. 2–7.



authority of the deifi ed Rigidity Principle, as it is said by its devotees, in effect, to transcend all possibility of open, rational challenge. The way Desmond uses the concept of ‘transcendence’, however – in criticism of Hegel – it unfortunately seems to function like a patch of philosophic black ice. Hitting this black ice, Desmond’s Hegel abruptly skids away from the critique that the real Hegel seeks to develop, of T4. All of a sudden, this Hegel has swung right around; he ends up facing in quite the wrong direction. The Hegel whom Desmond rejects is, above all, a critic of any sort of philosophy that primarily attends to T1 or T3. – Why? It all seems so arbitrary! The polemical attitude that Desmond attributes to Hegel does not follow, by any sort of logic, from the real Hegel’s primary critique of T4. Nor do I see any compelling evidence to suggest that the real Hegel himself has confused the two. But now let us stay where Desmond will not: let us try and delve a little deeper into the underlying rationale of the actual Hegelian argument.



aetiology of unatonement

1. A sieving process

What is wisdom, for Hegel? One might, indeed, well say that it is maximum conversational openness. Thus, his thinking takes shape, so to speak, as the assembly of a vast symposium. In the fi rst place, he is a pioneer of the history of philosophy, systematically assembling together different philosophical voices. And then he also constructs systematic philosophically informed histories of politics, art and religion, as all-inclusive as the state of know- ledge in his world allowed; with a view to bringing philosophy, also, into conversation with all manner of pre-philosophic points of view. In his later writing these histories are separated, each into its own lecture series. But in the Phenomenology they are all, rather wonderfully, compressed together. Hegelian wisdom is a cultivation of the very widest possible intellectual sympathies. That does not mean being uncritical. On the contrary, consistency is still required, and, as a matter of consistency, such a project immediately implies a militant distaste for any sort of thinking, whatever the context, that merely closes conversation down, in defence of rigid, predetermined notions of what is ‘correct’; even where such rigidity is dressed up in the maximum of intellectual sophistication, so as to justify not seriously attending to alternative outlooks. In itself, this is a very simple basic criterion for wisdom. However, Hegel sets out to apply it in the most complex way: mediating between starkly contrasting modes of thought. Always the same simple criterion for wisdom – maximum openness – and yet with the scenery forever shifting, never allowing us to feel comfortably settled in. This is, as it were, a sieving process: again, the point is to separate that core principle of consistency, in itself, from all its various particular applications. It is not easy to do so! But it is, quite simply, a matter of practising maximum conversational openness at full stretch. ‘Spirit’ is the impulse to true openness, at every level of experience. The argument of the Phenomenology is a sieving process. And what is left behind at the end is just the ideal of a self fully ‘at one’ with the impulse of



Spirit – the general ideal of ‘atonement’, in that sense –understood as being the very essence of the truly sacred. There is, however, yet another way to continue the same sieving process, by introducing a further mode of thought, unknown to Hegel himself. I have said that I want to try and open up the Hegelian argument to the post- Hegelian discoveries of scientifi c neuropsychology. Time now, I think, to do that.

2. What Hegel has inadvertently stumbled upon

Hegel speaks of the two parties to the inner civil war of das unglückliche Bewußtseyn – the pseudo-divine ‘Rigidity Principle’ and its human-all-too- human ‘adaptable’ opponent – as two ‘consciousnesses’, together constituting a single ‘consciousness’ of ‘unhappiness’. Yet, as I have remarked, if this ‘consciousness’ were ever truly to become conscious, its confl ictedness would surely be intolerable. Das unglückliche Bewußtseyn can only be a stable condition of the self insofar as it remains unconscious. Consciousness is just what destabilizes it. Only the atoned individual achieves true consciousness, in retrospect, of what this condition of unatonement, now overcome, really meant. And for my part, therefore, I prefer to speak of the Rigidity Principle and its adaptable opponent as two ‘sub-selves’: two differently functioning structures of habit and desire, more or less antagonistically yoked together within every whole self, as they promote rival models of self-identifi cation. In the condition of unatonement the Rigidity-Principle sub-self is consti- tuted by a disabling addiction to certain fi xed ideas. This sub-self internalizes prejudice and clings to it, invoking religious and secular ideologies to justify it, and is therefore always ready to side with external bullies and oppressors. Hence, it tends to become what one might term an ‘inner quisling’. On the other hand, the adaptable sub-self is the inner quisling’s never entirely extin- guished potential challenger from within. For it is always potentially open to the lessons of fresh experience, even where these contradict established prejudice. From the point of view of the despotic Rigidity Principle, the adaptable sub-self needs forever to be censored, cowed into submission. However, as we have seen, Hegel describes this unglückliche Bewußtseyn, or unatoned state of mind, as the fundamental corruption of a pre-existent, necessary, and in itself potentially redeemable, duality. He remarks,

There is [already] a certain splitting into two intrinsic to the concept of ‘Spirit’. But [in the unatoned state of mind] we have the splitting- into-two without the [restorative] unity of Spirit. 1

1 Phenomenology of Spirit, para. 206; Miller, p. 126, Baillie, p. 251.



And so how then, exactly, are we to understand this pre-existent duality, proper to Spirit in general, which the unatoned state of mind corrupts?

It seems to me that what Hegel, without being aware of it, has stumbled

on here is none other than the elementary duality deriving from the physio- logical division of the brain into two distinct hemispheres.

Hegel names the disease: ‘das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’. He also constructs a multi-layered grand narrative around the theme of its cure: considering how different cultural traditions of every kind may either infl ame it, or help overcome it. And yet, this remains an exclusively teleological interpretation. He does not discuss the disease’s aetiology. For how could he? He was writing in a period pre-dating even the most tentative beginning of modern scientifi c neuropsychology. His genius was to make the political and reli- gious unveiling of the unatoned state of mind, purely and simply as such, a central theme of systematic philosophical historiography, as no one else before him ever had. But now, thanks to the development of this science, a new possibility is opening up. We are also able to analyse the phenomenon in trans-historical terms, as a universal product of human biology. Let us, then, consider the sense in which this might be so.

3. Dialectic of the cerebral hemispheres


I am arguing that the duality which becomes pathological in the unatoned state of mind derives, in the fi rst instance, from the dual-purposiveness of the left and right cerebral hemispheres. Note immediately, however: the division between the right and left cereb- ral hemispheres is not the only source of spiritual struggle intrinsic to the physical structure of the brain. There is also the interaction between the front and the back. Indeed, when one compares human brains to the brains of other animals, the most obvious difference is in fact the much greater size of the frontal lobes, and the far greater proportion of white matter in them, the myelin sheath, serving to speed up the transmission of messages there. Whereas in dogs, for instance, the frontal lobes represent about 7 per cent of total brain volume, and in the lesser apes about 17 per cent, in humans it is nearer 35 per cent. As regards the function of the frontal lobes, it is clear – not least from the evidence of the effect on people who suffer damage to them – that they are essentially agents of inhibition. They enable us to stand back from our immediate concerns; to be detached; to see things objectively. McGilchrist puts it like this:

Clearly we have to inhabit the world of immediate bodily experience, the actual terrain in which we live, and where our engagement with the



world takes place alongside our fellow human beings, and we need to inhabit it fully. Yet at the same time we need to rise above the land- scape in which we move, so that we can see what one might call the territory. 2

There is a balance required between these two capacities:

To live headlong, at ground level, without being able to pause (stand outside the immediate push of time) and rise (in space) is to be like an animal; yet to fl oat off up into the air is not to live at all – just to be a detached observing eye. 3

Wisdom is, not least, the negotiation of a proper accommodation between terrain-thinking and territory-thinking. To all intents and purposes, the fi rst three chapters of the Phenomenology actually trace the emergence of territory-thinking out of terrain-thinking. Thus, Hegel sets out here to demonstrate the extent to which, in general, one’s ability to describe the particulars of a terrain depends upon a learnt skill in the handling of territorial concepts. More specifi cally, in chapter 2, he tries to show the impossibility of ever at all coherently distinguishing one thing from another in terms of raw terrain-perception alone, without an accompanying skill in analysing territorial networks of causality. And then, in chapter 3, he discusses the way in which territorial thinking, about the laws of nature or of history, tends, further, to fl oat off into the exploration of counterfactual or utopian dreams; losing itself in contemplation of infi nite possibility. In neuropsychological terms, indeed, much of human spiritual endeavour is essentially a bid to enhance the power of the frontal lobes. So we are taught to pursue ever greater contemplative detachment. Without such detachment, after all, we would not be capable of empathy. Our imaginative capacity to see the world as it appears to other people – the emotional intel- ligence that enables genuine compassion and deep friendship – all depends, in the fi rst instance, upon our rising up above the sheer immediacy of ego- istic impulse. And this is the work of the frontal lobes. Yet, considered simply in itself, the power at work here is by no means only a capacity for compassion and friendship. Its moral signifi cance is, on the contrary, very ambiguous. For it is just as much a capacity for cold calculation, in the pursuit of game-playing rivalry, or outright enmity:

working out one’s opponent’s next move, to forestall it. And as to which of these two possibilities, the achievement of authentic empathy or the practice

  • 2 McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, p. 21.

  • 3 Ibid., pp. 21–22.



of mere cold calculation, will prevail – this, we will fi nd, is all down to the complex interplay between front / back and left / right.


Note further: the two sides of the brain are not perfectly symmetrical. The right side tends be generally larger, and in particular more protuberant at the front; the left side tends to be wider at the back, in the area chiefl y asso- ciated with language skills. Moreover, the right side tends to have more white matter, accelerating internal communication. Nevertheless, either side is capable of sustaining life all on its own, even when the other is completely knocked out of action. They are joined together at their base by a band of neural tissue called the ‘corpus callosum’. But only 2 per cent of cortical neurones are connected through the corpus callosum, and many of these connections are inhibitory in effect, designed to help keep the functioning of the two hemispheres separate, not confused by one another. So: why this separateness? The modern study of brain-hemispheric difference actually dates from the mid-nineteenth century. It was the French surgeon Paul Broca who fi rst pub- lished a series of scientifi c papers on the subject, in the 1860s. 4 Broca began from the evidence of autopsies conducted on brain-damaged patients who had suffered severe disruption or loss of speech. In each case, he had found an area of damaged tissue in part of the left frontal lobe. But other patients with equivalent damage to the right hemisphere of their brains had not suf- fered speech loss. From this Broca deduced that the faculty of speech, at least for the majority of people, is localized in the left hemisphere. It had long been observed that injuries to either side of the brain resulted in dam- age to the sensorimotor control of the opposite side of the body; a fact tending further to suggest that right- or left-handedness derives from differ- ent balances in power between the two hemispheres. How then, Broca also went on to ask, does the prevailing association of speech with the left hemi- sphere relate to that other obvious asymmetry? Does the 90 per cent predominance of right-handedness in the population directly correlate to the localization of speech control? Is it that each hand is controlled from the opposite side of the brain, and that the dominant hand is controlled from the same side as speech? Does it follow that the minority of people who are left-handed have right-hemisphere speech-control? In fact, it turns out that the matter is not quite so simple. Broca’s proposed rule mostly seems to hold good for right-handed people. But it has been

4 Broca’s insights had, as it happens, been partly anticipated – although without his being aware of it – as early as 1836, by a paper delivered to a medical society in Montpellier by a certain Marc Dax, an obscure country doctor, who died the following year. But Dax’s work had made no impact, and would have been completely forgotten had not his son then risen up in response to Broca’s work, to remind the world of it.



discovered that a substantial proportion of left-handed people also have left-hemisphere or bilateral speech-control. Thus, the predominance of left- hemisphere speech-control in the population is greater than the predominance of right-handedness. And another major question which Broca’s pioneering work, by implication, opened up, but which he did not himself attempt to answer was what – in the great majority of cases where the left hemisphere controls speech – the exact role of the right hemisphere is. John Hughlings Jackson, the great ‘father of English neurology’, was the fi rst who began, at any rate, to speculate about the special functions of the right hemisphere, in a series of articles beginning in 1865. ‘If’, for example Jackson wrote, ‘it should be proven by wider experience that the faculty of expression resides in one hemisphere, there is no absurdity in raising the question as to whether perception – its corre- sponding opposite – may be seated in the other’. 5 But no one immediately took up Jackson’s suggestions, to develop them. For a long time all attention was devoted to the functions of, in Jackson’s own phrase, the ‘leading’ hemi- sphere. Indeed, it was not until the 1930s and 1940s that any real progress at all began to be made in appreciating the special role of what was often called the ‘minor’ half of the brain. And then came the great breakthrough. What most decisively transformed this whole fi eld of study, from the later 1950s onwards, was the development of a new type of surgical procedure, in the treatment of epilepsy: ‘commis- surotomy’, or ‘callosotomy’. This involves nothing less than a complete severing of the various bands of nerve fi bre linking the two halves of the brain, so as to limit the spread of epileptic discharges. 6 Most patients who undergo this split-brain operation are able to continue life as normal, with no immediately discernible side effects. There are just a few bizarre cases in which the left hand starts to behave as if it had a mischievous, uncontrollable will of its own. Sometimes, for example, it may start to pull down trousers that the right hand was pulling up. It may close doors that the right hand had opened; unfold papers which the right hand had folded; snatch back money which the right hand had offered to a cashier; or, in a car, dangerously wrench the steering wheel from away from the right hand. But these cases are very rare. On the other hand, the procedure does open up all sorts of new possibilities for research, in carefully devised experiments. Thus, it renders it possible for experimenters to channel

  • 5 J. H. Jackson, Selected Writings of John Hughlings Jackson (ed. J. Taylor; New York: Basic Books, 1958), 1865 article.

  • 6 This procedure was fi rst tried in the 1940s, but with disappointing therapeutic results. It was then reintroduced in the early 1960s, in a more thoroughgoing and effective way. The development of more effective pharmacological alternatives has meant that it has since become much rarer.



particular sensory inputs to just one hemisphere at a time. Not only does the left hemisphere primarily relate to the right hand, and vice versa, but the same also applies to eyes and ears. In a normal, intact brain, information transmitted to one hemisphere is swiftly shared with the other; in split-brain patients however, this does not happen. The experimenter, therefore, may for example give such an individual something to hold in one hand, unseen, or may show an image to just one eye, or use headphones to deliver stimuli to just one ear at a time, and then compare responses. Increasingly, also, new neuro-imaging techniques make it possible to observe which parts of the brain are activated by particular tasks. And then there is also the ‘Wada test’:

when, before a brain operation, surgeons use the rapid-acting sedative sodium amitol to close down one hemisphere at a time, checking whether or not the patient conforms to the ordinary pattern, with the left hemisphere controlling speech. This is possible since each hemisphere has a separate blood supply, and the shutdown may last for a period of two to three minutes. Or, likewise, either hemisphere may also be inactivated by electro- convulsive means. The technology now available thus makes it possible to compare the two hemispheres across the whole range of their complement- ary functioning. The isolated right hemisphere is normally unable to speak. Other than in the small minority of cases where the usual roles of the two hemispheres are simply reversed, it only learns to speak where it has been compelled to do so, by damage to the left hemisphere, already early in childhood. Neverthe- less, it can still communicate through the actions of the left hand. And it actually turns out not only to have a number of skills that the isolated left hemisphere in most cases lacks, but also to have a remarkably different whole outlook on life.


It is not only human brains that are laterally divided. What, then, are the original evolutionary advantages of this arrangement? It may well help in the doing of two quite different things at once. McGilchrist cites experi- ments with creatures as different as chicks and marmosets, showing that they chiefl y use their right eyes, connected to the left hemisphere, for the close-up business of foraging and feeding, while at the same time they chiefl y use their left eyes, connected to the right hemisphere, for surveying the wider environment, on the lookout for threatening predators. Likewise, studies of predatory creatures have shown that they chiefl y use their right eye (left hemisphere) for spotting prey; and, in the case of birds, their right foot for grabbing it. But when interacting socially with others of their own kind, all sorts of creatures seem to use their left eye (right hemisphere) more.



In short, as McGilchrist puts it, it seems the general rule is that

the left hemisphere yields narrow, focussed attention, mainly for the purpose of getting and feeding. The right hemisphere yields a broad, vigilant attention, the purpose of which appears to be awareness of signals from the surroundings, especially of other creatures, who are potential predators or potential mates, foes or friends; and it is involved in bonding in social animals. It might then be that the division of the human brain is also the result of the need to bring to bear two incom- patible types of attention on the world at the same time, one narrow, focussed and directed by our needs, and the other broad, open, and directed towards whatever else is going on in the world apart from ourselves. 7


Especially in the 1970s, the new focus on brain lateralization, resulting from experiments with split-brain patients, led to a great explosion of popular writing, more or less amounting to a ‘right brain liberation movement’, part of the ‘counter-culture’ of the day. Lifestyle and management consultancy gurus set themselves up to be the standard bearers of this movement. For a while, a form of brain-hemispheric ‘dichotomania’ was fashionable. It was all perhaps a bit silly. 8 Yet, whatever the attendant silliness, there surely are some quite serious and signifi cant philosophical implications here. For the evidence is that, while, in all normal situations, both hemispheres are constantly at work together, they do differ, to quite a remarkable extent, in what they bring to this collaboration. And these differences are manifest at every level of human spiritual life. Thus, the two hemispheres differ

in their initial perception of things; in their range of emotional response; in their contribution to mutual understanding between people; in their general styles of moral refl ection; in their approach to the sacred.

  • 7 McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, p. 27.

  • 8 For a summary account of this literature, see for instance Robert Ornstein, The Right Mind (San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1997), chapter 7. Ornstein had indeed played quite a role himself in helping generate the intellectual fashion that he ironically describes here, with his earlier, very widely read book, The Psychology of Conscious- ness (San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1972).



3.1. Perception

In the 1860s John Hughlings Jackson speculated that whereas, in the great majority of people, the left cerebral hemisphere specialized in ‘expression’, the right cerebral hemisphere is perhaps the primary agency of ‘perception’. This now turns out to be not entirely wrong, as a partial formulation of their contrasting roles; but to be a bit misleading nevertheless. For it all depends on what is meant by ‘perception’. If ‘perception’ is understood in the primary sense of recognition, then yes, Jackson was right. The most primitive difference between the two hemispheres is what already appears in other species. At this level, the right hemisphere is specialized in recognition. It scans the environment, and recognizes, within it, the presence of the potential predator, or mate; the presence of others belonging to its own fl ock, its own herd or pack. And so, by extension, in humans the same hemisphere becomes specialized in learning to recognize the familiar ‘thisness’ (haecceitas) of this particular person, this particular place, this particular animal or object. The left hemisphere, meanwhile, is fi rst of all specialized in foraging and feeding. As human beings are predators, that specialization then develops into a special capacity for the skills required for successful hunting: calculat- ing odds, developing schemes, picturing what is most likely to work. The left hemisphere becomes the prime agency for the communication skills of the human hunting pack, as such. These skills evolve, as the rules of the hunting pack are extended, to become the rules of social collaboration more generally. Thinking in accordance with rules involves the use of general categories: ‘in this category of situation, we do such and such’. This hemisphere does not so much recognize, as categorize; it becomes the ‘perception’ of things in the secondary sense of identifying, not their individual ‘thisness’, but the general categories to which they belong. And it likes to work deductively: ‘if that is the case, then such and such a general rule comes into play’. The isolated right hemisphere is typically very good at recognition, much better than the isolated left hemisphere. But it is, by contrast, pretty incom- petent at logical deduction, inasmuch as this depends upon an abstract categorizing of experience. That is work of the left hemisphere . It is not just that the left hemisphere controls language. More generally, it specializes in the perception of things as they relate to the various interpretative codes that each human culture has created, in order to organize experience for sharing, and so render possible communal projects, seeking to control the world. Thus, as a rule: ‘the right hemisphere presents the facts, the left hemisphere re-presents them’. 9

9 John Cutting, Psychopathology and Modern Philosophy (Scaynes Hill: The Forest Publishing Co., 1999), p. 219.



In view of the fact that, in a small minority of cases, the role usually played by the right hemisphere is actually transferred to the left, and vice versa, let us therefore, from now on, speak in terms of the ‘presenting hemisphere’ and the ‘representing hemisphere’. To put it in the most general terms: the representing hemisphere is concerned with the operation of consciously learned techniques and collaborative strategies, of every kind. So it immedi- ately re-presents the experience that the presenting hemisphere presents to it, codifying the data in accordance with the predetermined requirements of technique and strategy. It has evolved from a simple preoccupation with get- ting and feeding to a concern with the most sophisticated forms of technical or strategic domination over the world at large; while the presenting hemi- sphere remains preoccupied with a sheer registering of what actually is, albeit with ever greater aesthetic sophistication. ‘Unatonement’, then, is simply defi nable as a morbid separation between these two functions, inasmuch as the impulse to dominate tends to suppress one’s capacity to register any aspects of reality not perceived as being useful to the purposes of that impulse. What Hegel calls ‘das Unwandelbare’, the Rigidity Principle, is the rigidifi cation of the representing-hemisphere sub-self; whereas what he calls ‘das Wandelbare’, the adaptable aspect, which the Rigidity Principle seeks to enslave, is the presenting-hemisphere sub-self. And hence, also, the difference between the two basic species of truth:

truth-as-correctness and truth-as-openness. The former is what the repre- senting hemisphere needs in order to achieve maximum effectiveness in its efforts to control the world. But the latter is what consists in a maximum openness to the actual primary reality of that which is simply, and perhaps uncontrollably, present as such. Or again, one might for example also express the difference at this level in Thomist, Aristotelian-theological terms. One might say: the representing hemisphere perceives things in what Aristotle calls their ‘formal’ aspect; the presenting hemisphere, in what he calls their ‘material’ aspect. For ‘matter’, here, is that which individuates. God as Creator, according to Thomist doctrine, knows all things in both aspects, perfectly co-ordinated – in a sense, indeed, God just is the creative power of that ideal truth. But human perception differs, above all, precisely inasmuch as, in it, the formal and material aspects of reality tend to come apart. At certain moments our perception of the world remains fi xated on its ‘materiality’. This is a simply unthinking apprehension of phenomena, a sheer failure to make any refl ec- tive connection between them. At other moments our thinking is all too ‘formal’: a different sort of failure to connect, the failure of an over-abstract mode of thought, not allowing fresh perceptions to impinge on, and reshape, old ideas. In the fi rst instance (to mix Hegel with Aquinas) the unatoned state of mind rigidifi es this disjunction between our perceptions of ‘form and ‘matter’.



3.2. Emotional Tone

It seems that the presenting hemisphere (usually on the right) develops somewhat earlier in the growth of an infant than the representing hemi- sphere (usually on the left). This makes evolutionary sense, inasmuch as at fi rst our parents take care of our survival needs to the extent that these require planning, that is, representing-hemisphere thought. But right from the outset we need to be alert to danger, with presenting-hemisphere wariness. And it is that original wariness which then essentially determines the whole emotional range of presenting-hemisphere experience. So the presenting hemisphere specializes in the emotions most necessary for survival, from the beginning of life: those prompting us to turn away, in alarm, from immediate danger, or to cry out for help. It is more prone to all forms of restless emotion, whatever is mixed with fear or hope. When the left hemisphere is sedated and the mute right hemisphere takes over completely, some patients become disoriented; some are agitated; some are disinhibited; some are just morose or desolate. If any speech function remains, it is sometimes just the utterance of obscenities, as an expression of shock. Everything, apparently, feels infused with danger. The later developing hemisphere, by contrast, tends to operate in much more tranquil emotional terms. More detached and contemplative, it has a greater capacity for contentment or bliss. But by the same token, the more it prevails, the more emotionally bland and superfi cial life is liable to become.

3.3. The Understanding of the Other

When it comes to conversation, in general, the two hemispheres seem more or less to share the work between them. Thus, the representing hemisphere is primarily tasked with what one might term the ‘text’-element in speech:

that is, the literal or direct meaning of what is said, both by oneself and by one’s interlocutors. But when it comes to all the other, additional elements of meaning which depend on context – so crucial for truth-as-openness! – they are primarily registered by the presenting hemisphere Note: when I speak of ‘text’ here, I do not just mean the semantic content of written or spoken communication, but also the messages conveyed by the deliberate use of non-verbal coded gestures, of any kind. It is any form of communication insofar as it is a deployment of signifi ers with invariable, objective representational meaning. In itself, the meaning of any ‘text’ is fi xed. However, the specialist concern of the presenting hemisphere is, on the contrary, with the endless fl uctuation of meaning, according to context. So, at one level, it is charged with picking up the deliberately multifaceted suggestiveness of poetic metaphor; the play of irony, sarcasm, humour in general, as a subversion of surface ‘textual’ meaning. But then, at the same time – to borrow the terminology develop by Emmanuel Levinas – it also responds to the sheer inchoate ‘proximity’ of face to face encounter,



considered in itself. In Levinasian terms: the presenting hemisphere registers the simple bodily presence of the Other, as a claim on one’s attention, quite apart from any words; or, in speech, everything that belongs to ‘the saying’, in contradistinction to ‘the said’. One’s refl ective, representing-hemisphere response to ‘the said’, as such, always involves a certain judgement of the Other, a certain placing of them, to assess how seriously to take what they say. However, at the level of presenting-hemisphere response to ‘the saying’, behind ‘the said’, one ceases to have any critical, categorizing knowledge of the Other. One is left only with what comes from ‘substitution’, the sympathetic act of putting oneself in the Other’s place. And herein lies the possibility of an ethical impulse decisively transcending the mere calculation of enlightened self-interest, in relation to others: the possibility of that urgent fear- and hope-laden impulse which Levinas, for his part, extravagantly or provocatively calls ethical ‘obsession’. And which he celebrates. 10

3.4. Styles of Moral Refl ection

People who have suffered damage to the right hemisphere sometimes lose any immediate sense of responsibility for their own actions; feeling that everything they do is, in fact, all down to the infl uence of some other agency. One’s sense of responsibility derives from the sheer unmediated experience of proximity to the Other – beyond all representation, all prejudice, all cliché – which Levinas so strikingly seeks to evoke. Those with left hemisphere damage, however, are much more likely to suffer an impaired sense of social identity, in the sense of losing any instinctive feel for what is expected of them. This is because the left hemisphere is usually dominant not only for speech, but also for any sort of representa- tional thought, including how one represents one’s own identity to oneself, and to others. Insofar as one’s sense of identity is a matter of ‘image’ and status, and is enshrined in spin-doctor autobiographical narratives, it is a representing-hemisphere creation. At the same time, broadly speaking, one might say that the presenting hemisphere tends to specialize in synthetic, context-sensitive moral Intuition, and the representing hemisphere in analytic moral Reason. But, by way of immediate qualifi cation to that statement, it needs to be noted, fi rst, that the word ‘Reason’ does not always mean the antithesis to Intuition. For Hegel, in particular, it does not. Thus, Hegel distinguishes between three basic modes of Reason: ‘Understanding’, ‘Speculative Reason’ and ‘Dialectical Reason’. 11 ‘Understanding’, here, is just the sort of rationality that is most

  • 10 See especially Levinas, Otherwise Than Being, or Beyond Essence.

  • 11 Hegel, Encyclopaedia (trans. William Wallace; Hegel’s Logic), §§ 79–82. (And see the discussion in John Burbidge, Hegel on Logic and Religion, Albany: SUNY Press, 1992, chapter 4: linking ‘Dialectical Reason’ to the logic of Being, ‘Speculative Reason’ to the logic of Essence, ‘the Understanding’ to the logic of Concept.)



immediately useful as a guide to effective planned action of any kind. ‘Spec- ulative Reason’ is the sort that, above all, generates the specifi c enterprise of philosophy, at its boldest: it is the rationality involved in a truly systematic thinking about thinking. But ‘Dialectical Reason’ is different again, precisely inasmuch as it is a form of representing-hemisphere thought that pays hom- age to the potential truth of presenting-hemisphere Intuition. So it is forever dissolving the results of both Understanding and Speculative Reason. Returning to the actual experiences they seek to re-present and analyse, its whole function is to highlight the context-dependent slipperiness of their ideas. Second, in distinguishing between Reason and Intuition, it is important not to assume that Reason is always rational! The word ‘rational’ is gener- ally applied to the operation of Reason at its healthiest. But then there is schizophrenia. In the sense of ‘Reason’ intended here, the irrationality of schizophrenia is by no means an irruption of energies alien to Reason. Far rather, it is a morbid, irrational hyper-activity of Reason, without adequate external restraint. It is a sheer riot of representational thinking, unrestrained by sober Intuition. And third, the popular literature of the ‘right brain liberation movement’ often represents itself, with a self-indulgently bohemian fl ourish, as a cham- pioning of imaginative creativity, against the dreary unimaginativeness of the left brain Establishment. But this may be misleading. Indeed, there surely is a sense that, considered purely and simply in itself, Intuition – with its immediate connection to actual reality – must tend to be imaginatively somewhat restricted. The capacity for creative fantasy, as such, goes with the capacity for abstract, de-contextualized thinking: one would expect it to be a speciality of the representing hemisphere. Imagination involves input from both hemispheres. But what is suppressed in the unatoned state of mind, where corrupted Reason lords it despotically over Intuition, is by no means imaginative creativity. Far rather, it is what one might perhaps call the raw experience of shakenness. Thus, the presenting hemisphere, with its troubled emotional tone, is the organ of shakenness: being shaken free, by troubling experience, from the control of received ideas. This, again, is why Hegel speaks of the suppressed aspect of the unatoned state of mind as ‘das Wandelbare’, that which is ‘changeable’ or ‘adaptable’: it is intuitively shaken loose from rigidifi ed habit, of every kind. The unatoned state of mind is analogous to political tyranny, which may indeed be highly imaginative and creative. Schizophre- nia is analogous to the chaos of a failed state. But the liberation of the adaptable sub-self is analogous to a rich fl ourishing of civil society, informed by the solidarity of the shaken. It is Intuition setting strict, sober limits, from below, on the otherwise arbitrary governance, or warlord recklessness, of pure Reason. To be sure, the more the insurrection of the adaptable sub-self also enlists an oppositional form of representing-hemisphere imaginative



creativity to counter that of the unatoned state of mind, the better. Only, let us not confuse the means of struggle, the imaginative creativity, with its primary cause, which is shakenness. ‘L’imagination prend le pouvoir’ (Paris, May 1968) is a fi ne slogan for a moment of revolutionary euphoria. The truth capacity of shakenness, however, does not depend upon such moments; it is of quite another order.

3.5. Orientations toward the Sacred

The unatoned state of mind involves a corruption of both its two constitu- ent sub-selves. The sub-self associated with the representing hemisphere is corrupted into a despot, and the sub-self associated with the presenting hemisphere is corrupted into a slave. It is just this corruption which may be said to create one’s ordinary, banal ‘self’, as opposed to one’s true Self. In order for the atonement constituting the true Self to be achieved, both sub-selves need to undergo a transformation. The representing-hemisphere sub-self needs to relax, to cease its striving for control. This relaxation, at its most vivid, is what in theistic cultures is expressed as an experience of blissful union with God. (Physiologically, it seems, this involves some vigorous blocking activity by the frontal lobe of the representing hemisphere. God is made most directly manifest to us in an intense, still, sheer presence of mind, beyond all representation.) But then, at the same time, the presenting-hemisphere sub-self also needs, as energetically as possible, to confront and evade the censorship imposed upon it by the deifi ed Rigidity Principle. The deifi ed Rigidity Principle’s authority is backed up by various forms of consolation: at one level, the beauties of the tradition it claims to represent; at another level, the emotional rewards of close, unquestioning integration into the community of those who are obedient to its demands. Objectively unhappy though it is, the unatoned state of mind is not devoid of pleasures; liberation from this mentality depends, not least, upon one’s unlearning one’s attachment to them. And hence the necessity, also, of what St John of the Cross, for instance, calls the two ‘dark nights’. First: the night ‘of the senses’, where one loses all pleasure in beauty. Then: the night ‘of the spirit’, which (in a theistic context) leaves one subjectively quite God-forsaken. 12 For these are the experiences of one who persists with disciplines of prayer and thoughtful attention to what, beyond all conventional representations, actually is, even when these disciplines have been stripped bare of all seductive consolation. And only so can the pure will to truth-as-openness

12 ‘The Dark Night’, in The Collected Works of St John of the Cross (trans. Kieran









Sons, 1966),

pp. 295–389.



be properly separated out, and clarifi ed. Only so is the presenting-hemisphere sub-self able to fi nd its authentic religious way.

4. A tale of two creations

In theological terms, the interplay between the two hemispheres – that is, between the two types of sub-self, the two spirits, deriving from the differentiation of the hemispheres – might well be described as a tale of two creations. Thus, the presenting hemisphere responds directly to the world that God creates. That is to say, it registers what one might call primary reality. Or, in the broadest sense: the world of nature. But primary reality, in itself, is a set of challenges to which we can only adapt, piecemeal. This is what lies, and must forever lie, beyond our strategic control. The representing hemisphere, on the other hand, is the organ by which we ourselves, each of us, collaborate in the creation of another, secondary reality. Culture by culture, sub-culture by sub-culture, we create our own artifi cial worlds, our own conceptual and imaginative reworkings of God’s world. We create maps, models, pictures, fi ctions, theories. And with them we go on to generate the necessary consensus for social collaboration; allowing us, in general, to impose the strategic control over things that we would otherwise lack. The serpent spoke to the woman:

‘Did God really say you were not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?’ The woman answered the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden. But of the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden God said, “You must not eat it, nor touch it, under pain of death.” ’ Then the serpent said to the woman, ‘No! You will not die! God knows in fact that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, knowing good and evil.’ (Genesis 3: 1–5)

You will become like gods – for you too will become creators. Like upstart gods, you will create all-encompassing simulacra of reality, in your minds. Indeed, the whole essential, trans-metaphysical truth inherent in the notion of God as Creator surely consists in the way it evokes the proper claims of presenting-hemisphere experience, against the censorious counter-creativity of the unatoned representing hemisphere. And false gods are false, purely and simply, to the extent that they fail to call that censoriousness into question. God creates us, and to the extent that it is free to do so the presenting hemisphere of the brain registers its own createdness. But, to the extent that – on the contrary – we remain trapped in unatonement, the representing hemisphere creates another ‘God’. The simplest possible defi nition of true



religion: it is, in general, just that form of secondary reality which is most transparent to primary reality. True religion is atoning religion; it atones by being transparent. But ‘Human kind cannot bear very much reality’. 13 Das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’ is Hegel’s comprehensive term for all the various strategies by which the secondary reality created by the representing hemi- sphere is used to close us off, and so protect us, with its dogmatic rigidity, from the true moral challenges of primary reality, as potentially apprehended by the presenting hemisphere. Again, the presenting hemisphere is the organ of shakenness. In ethical terms: to the extent that it is allowed to, it con- fronts us with the primary, trans-cultural reality of our moral responsibilities; theologically speaking, that is to say, our responsibilities in the order of God’s creation. So it confronts us with the primary reality of our neighbours’ suffering and need, the primary reality of our own moral failings in relation to that suffering and need. But then this primary ethical reality is overlaid by another, quite different, secondary level of ethical injunction, the work of the representing hemisphere; which, in the unatoned state of mind, is essentially designed to promote social control, group conformity. And the unatoned state of mind feels safe, inasmuch as, where it prevails, what one might call the sheer shaking-power of the primary reality is then dimmed, by corporate prejudice. Theology is, so to speak, a sort of systematic negotiation between the moral energies corresponding to the two cerebral hemispheres. It is that negotiation pursued in the most comprehensive form, within a theistic con- text. (Buddhist philosophy, for instance, may be said to do just the same, within a non-theistic context.) The theologian has to balance the claims of both parties, with scrupulous care. For, in the fi rst place, theology is an enterprise properly oriented to developing strategies for the cultivation of the most catholic – that is, open to all classes – solidarity. To this end it requires the very richest possible heritage of widely recognized representations to work with; it has to work hard at preserving, and transmitting, that heritage. Secondly, however, it also has to try to open up these authority-laden re-presentations to the sheer shaking-power of the primordial presence behind them. What theology, therefore, surely has to cultivate is the solidarity of the shaken. And yet this is, by nature, the most diffi cult of all forms of solidarity ever actually to organize. For it is the politics of perfect atonement between the two hemispheres. Hence it demands a culture absolutely dedic- ated to honouring and promoting atonement by every means possible. The unatoned state of mind, in general, takes the mental world created by the representing cerebral hemisphere and converts it into a protective shelter against the sublime, but unfortunately terrifying, world that God has created. The shelter may take shape as an opaque religious creed – at its most shame- less, this is the impulse towards fundamentalism. But it may just as well take

13 T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets, Burnt Norton, 1.



secular form, as a political ideology. Or, more frivolously, it may appear as a preoccupation, of one sort or another, with what is fashionable, as such. Every sort of intense, exclusive commitment to a particular culture or sub- culture is liable to have the same distractive effect. The common factor in each case is just that morality has been reduced to a mere ethos of social control, group-conformity, more or less suppressing people’s sensitivity to the primary moral reality of their neighbours’ suffering and need, especially when the neighbour does not belong to the in-group. That is: the group of those who share the same tastes in self-representation.

5. ‘Just a game?’

Here is a little parable-like case in point. I work at Manchester Cathedral. In March 2007 the SONY Corporation released, in Europe, a new Playstation computer game, designed by California-based Insomniac Games, a spectacu- lar ‘fi rst-person shooter’, involving virtual-reality gun battles with ‘alien’ enemies. And, to our dismay, we discovered that one of the scenes, a quite tremendous massacre, was actually set inside our church. The people from Insomniac Games had photographically scanned the interior, and then reproduced it. But they had not asked permission to do so; perhaps because they realized that, if asked, we would not have given it. The game, theologically entitled ‘Resistance: Fall of Man’, has a background science fi ction narrative that sets the action in the year 1951; history having diverged from its actual course from 1908 onwards, the time of the Tunguska meteorite-impact in Siberia, which is supposed, in the story, to have intro- duced a malign alien species on earth. These aliens have now overrun Asia and the rest of Europe, before also arriving in Britain. The game player is in the role of a lone United States Army soldier, equipped with a whole arsenal of high tech weaponry, who eventually, somehow, fi nds himself at the back of Manchester Cathedral, confronted with a horde of these aliens darting back and forth behind the pillars; his task, the task of the player, is to shoot down as many of them as possible. The echoes of Cold War propaganda are obvious. But the killing is fi ne, since the victims are, after all, hideous aliens. And there’s a good deal of skill involved in the handling of the guns. We protested. Look, we said, we have major problems in Manchester with gun crime. In the neighbourhoods where the culture of gun crime is rife, often the churches are the only organizations of local people actively stand- ing up for alternative ethical principles; not least, at the funerals of the victims. Manchester Cathedral itself regularly hosts services for those who have been left bereaved by such crime. We don’t like anything that looks as though it glamourizes the use of guns the way this does. The sharp-suited SONY executives who came to visit us professed to be baffl ed. Could we not see that it was ‘just a game’? At length, though, they agreed to make a public



apology in the Manchester Evening News. They had not meant to give offence, but if we were offended – (if we were so foolish!) – then they were sorry. We suggested that they back up their apology with a donation to com- munity groups in the city campaigning against gun crime, and supporting those bereaved by it; but they declined to do so. As a result of the furore, sales of the game surged. And we received a great quantity of hate email. As a Church of England priest, I regard it as a point of honour, as far as possible, never to take offence at mere insults to my religion. But I must say that when I saw what this game involved it did make me feel a bit queasy. (I think I may have lost touch with my inner adolescent.) Could we not see that it was ‘just a game’? Well yes, but then – why set it in a virtual-reality representation of our church? Nothing that takes place in the sacred space of a church is ever ‘just a game’: indeed, that is precisely what it means for a space to be sacred. Two cultures had, at this point, collided:

On the one hand: a culture of prayer. For this culture, what matters above all is that we cultivate the closest possible attentiveness to primary, real reality. The more we do so, the more clearly we realize that everything is always, really, far more serious, in moral terms, than we have yet realized. (And that, by way of corollary, our human folly is always also more comical.) On the other hand: the exact opposite, a culture of anti-prayer. The world of virtual reality that such games conjure up is pleasurable not least, surely, because it is a realm of total irresponsibility, entirely diverting. In this world, everything is just a game. One may be as cruel and murderous as one likes, in play. Such games engage the representing hemisphere of the brain at its most distracted. This is doubtless their attraction: that they serve so vividly to insulate it, at least for the time being, from the moral counter-pressures of presenting-hemisphere attentiveness.

Why set the battle in a church? Of course, it is ‘just a game’. But was there not, also, a certain element of latent propaganda inserted into the game, when it was given this setting? Was there not a bit of a jeer, at those of us who believe in the ethos of prayer? Maybe it was not consciously intended. But the hate emails we received did rather indicate that a good many of those for whom this game is intended are, in fact, very ready to jeer. Compare the action of Nazi vandals daubing swastikas on the graves in a Jewish cemetery – was not this action of SONY somewhat similar? Just as the vandals superimpose upon a certain set of sacred symbols – in their case, the grave stones – another set of symbolic images, expressive of the exact opposite principles, so too, in our case, had the game designers. We called it ‘virtual desecration’. Of course, the two situations are also very different: the vandals’ action can be readily cleaned away. They are not



making huge sums of money by what they do. And neither do they have such teams of expensive lawyers to defend them. Using a church as back- ground-scenery for something so aggressively ‘just a game’ certainly feels to me like a jeer at those of us who think that some things are sacred, and therefore more than ‘just a game’. Does it not imply that, in the end, the whole of life is ‘just a game’, nothing more? The hate emailers actually seemed to feel that, by objecting, we had somehow blasphemed against what they believed in. ‘Free speech’ was often invoked. But something that is really ‘just a game’ does not need defending in those terms. The right to free speech is a defence of argument. I also regard free speech as a sacred ideal, but I scarcely think that propagandist jeers are a good way of advan- cing a moral argument. On the contrary, they immediately, in my view, tend to refute the argument they were intended to reinforce.

6. McGilchrist’s story

In one sense, the life of what St Augustine calls the ‘earthly city’ – as opposed to the ‘heavenly’ – is always ‘just a game’, in this way. It is never, in itself, truly serious, even when it goes well beyond just jeering at those who aspire to citizenship in the heavenly city, and has far more seriously damaging, even cataclysmic and murderous, consequences in real life. Augustine is speaking about two opposing species of solidarity, with regard to what they express:

We see then that the two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the heavenly city by the love of God carried as far as con- tempt of self. 14

Let us adopt and adapt Augustine’s categories. It seems to me that his thinking is an amalgam of profound truth and distorting metaphysical dogmatism. Remove the latter, however, and the ‘love of God’ constitutive of the heavenly city is none other than a rigorous openness towards primary reality, God’s creation as such. That is to say, it is the truth-impulse of the presenting hemisphere, at its most emancipated. And the ‘heavenly city’ is then just another name for the solidarity of the shaken. In which case, the ‘earthly city’ may, likewise, be regarded as an Augustinian name for every form of organized life bound up with the secondary, mental creations of the repre- senting hemisphere insofar as these remain corrupted by unatonement.

14 Augustine, City of God (trans. Henry Bettenson; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984), Book XIV, chapter 28, p. 593.



Poetically, Augustine links the founding of the ‘earthly city’ to the story of Cain, murdering his brother Abel, Genesis 4: 1–16:

Scripture tells us that Cain founded a city [Genesis 4: 17], whereas Abel, as a pilgrim, did not found one. For the city of the saints is up above, although it produces citizens here below, and in their persons the city is on pilgrimage until the time of its kingdom comes. 15

He contrasts the story of Cain and Abel with the story, associated with the foundation of the city of Rome, of Romulus murdering his brother Remus. In the case of Romulus and Remus, he argues,

The difference from the primal crime was that both brothers were citizens of the earthly city. Both sought the glory of establishing the

Roman state, but a joint foundation would not bring to each the glory

that a single founder would enjoy

Therefore, in order that the sole

. . . power should be wielded by one person, the partner was eliminated.

Whereas, by contrast:

the earlier brothers, Cain and Abel, did not both entertain the same ambition for earthly gains; and the one who slew his brother was not jealous of him because his power would be more restricted if both wielded the sovereignty; for Abel did not aim at power in the city which his brother was founding. But Cain’s was the diabolical envy that the wicked feel for the good simply because they are good, while they themselves are evil. 16

‘Power’ in the earthly city is by defi nition, for Augustine, sheer corruption:

lust for exploitative domination, love of glory, in the sense of mere glamour. In neurological terms, it is clear that this sort of strategic concern with status, which Cain symbolizes, is an impulse that in essence belongs to the representing cerebral hemisphere. For social status is all a matter of how one is publicly represented. But Abel then, as personifying the heavenly city, symbolizes the opposite: the spirit of the presenting hemisphere. Cain grows angry, out of envy, because Abel’s sacrifi ce – symbolically, the sacrifi ce of pure self-presenting before God – is accepted, and his own sacrifi ce is not. That is to say, his self-representation is rejected. And, having killed, he goes on to misrepresent himself before God: he lies, denying his responsibility. This is the whole logic of the earthly city.

  • 15 Ibid., XV, 1, p. 596.

  • 16 Ibid., XV, 5, pp. 600–01.



A little later on the same logic is portrayed again, on another scale, in the story of the tower of Babel: Genesis 11: 1–10. Augustine interprets the building of this tower as the vainglorious symbolic self-representation of a ruler, ‘Nimrod’. (Although Nimrod is not named in the actual story of the tower, he appears earlier, in Genesis 10: 8–10, as the founder of Babel.) The tower project fails when God intervenes to muddle communication among the builders. As Augustine comments:

It is right that an evilly affected plan should be punished, even when it is not successfully effected. And what kind of punishment was in fact imposed? Since a ruler’s power of domination is wielded by his tongue, it was in that organ that his pride was condemned to punishment. And the consequence was that he who refused to understand God’s bidding so as to obey it, was himself not understood when he gave orders to men. 17

The failure of the tower builders symbolizes all the failings of language, indeed the whole work of the representing hemisphere, insofar as it tends to exceed its proper role. In a sense, both these two stories – the story of Cain and Abel, the story of the tower of Babel – are simply amplifying the primordial story of Adam and Eve. Immediately upon eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve, likewise, become preoccupied with self-representation: they sew fi g leaves together and make loincloths for themselves. Are not those loincloths, simply, an anticipatory general symbol for every sort of human self-concealment and self-expression? McGilchrist, in the same vein, offers an alternative parable by way of fundamental metaphor for human fallenness; in this case, however, a less ostensibly theological one. He calls it the story of ‘The Master and his Emissary’. And the basic narrative goes as follows:

There was once a wise spiritual master, who was the ruler of a small but prosperous domain, and who was known for his selfl ess devotion to his people. As his people fl ourished and grew in number, the bounds of this small domain spread; and with it the need to trust implicitly the emissaries he sent to ensure the safety of its ever more distant parts. It was not just that it was impossible for him personally to order all that needed to be dealt with: as he wisely saw, he needed to keep his distance from, and remain ignorant of, such concerns. And so he nurtured and trained carefully his emissaries, in order that they could be trusted. Eventually, however, his cleverest and most ambitious vizier, the one he most trusted to do his work, began to see himself as the

17 Ibid., XVI, 4, p. 658.



master, and used his position to advance his own wealth and infl uence. He saw his master’s temperance and forbearance as weakness, not wisdom, and on his missions on his master’s behalf, adopted his mantle as his own – the emissary became contemptuous of his master. And so it came about that the master was usurped, the people were duped, the domain became a tyranny; and eventually it collapsed in ruins. 18

The true master in this story is the truth-giving power primarily at work in relation to the presenting hemisphere of the human brain; the emissary who usurps the true master’s authority and becomes a tyrant is the corrupted spirit of the representing hemisphere, insofar as it is given over to censorship and spin. McGilchrist’s parable does not name the true master as God. But otherwise it belongs to the same order as the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the tower of Babel. It is clearly very close, especially, to the epic development of these stories in Milton’s Paradise Lost. In effect, it is the story of Paradise Lost infl ected to address a more secular world. This parable provides the decorative frontage to a mighty philosophic argument. Indeed the book which begins with it is the most comprehensively systematic attempt so far made to explore the philosophic implications of contemporary neuropsychology. 19 Thus, McGilchrist approaches the matter here from various angles:

First he looks at the evolutionary rationale of our having bicameral brains. (I have already sketched out this argument, above.) Again, he considers how language has emerged as a response to two quite different sorts of impulse. On the one hand: the impulse to communicate, simply for communication’s sake, an impulse already at work, he suggests, before language, in music. But on the other hand: the impulse to manipulate, or language as an extension of tool-use. In evolutionary terms, he suggests, the fi rst of these two impulses is essentially what has driven the development of the presenting hemisphere; while the development of the representing hemisphere has been driven by the second.

  • 18 McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary, p. 14.

  • 19 For notable previous attempts at the same: see especially the writings of John Cutting, Principles of Psychopathology: Two Worlds – Two Minds – Two Hemispheres (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) and Psychopathology and Modern Philosophy (Scaynes Hill: The Forest Publishing Co.), 1999. McGilchrist is also signifi cantly infl uenced by the work of Louis Sass, Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the Light of Modern Art, Literature and Thought (New York: Basic Books, 1992), and The Paradoxes of Delusion: Wittgenstein, Schreber, and the Schizophrenic Mind (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press, 1994). And, while he does not altogether accept it (The Master and His Emissary, pp. 260–62) he refers with great respect to the eccentric pioneering argument of Julian Jaynes, The Origin of Conscious- ness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Boston: Houghton Miffl in, 1976).



Then he considers the different ways in which the two hemispheres relate to reality. That is to say, how they generate what I am calling, within each individual, opposing sub-selves. As he puts it, the great problem when it comes to arguing about their rival claims is that the representing hemisphere is ‘the Berlusconi of the brain’: a ruler who also owns most of the media. Argument, itself, is so very much a representing-hemisphere activity. But he praises those philosophers – Hegel, as he recognizes, not least among them 20 – who have nevertheless sought to insist on the prior truth claims of presenting-hemisphere experience, as a direct opening to primary reality. Finally, he develops quite a substantial grand narrative account of attitudes to these two species of truth: how the comparative evaluation of them has, in actual practice, shifted through history. Thus, his argument moves on from the comparison of two opposing types of sub-self within each individual, to a consideration of two interactive spirits within society as a whole. It becomes, more and more, a prophetic lament over the progressive unfolding of what is summarily pictured in his parable. In Classical Antiquity he sees a widening separation between the two spirits, as manifested in the ‘Dionysian’, presenting-hemisphere celebration of empathy, above all, in early drama, and the ‘Apollonian’, representing-hemisphere impulses towards abstraction, in philosophy and science. And then, over the fol- lowing centuries: something like trench warfare between the two spirits, with a gradual shifting back and forth of the front. The upholders of the true master’s cause have launched several offensives of their own, in the Renaissance for instance, and in the period of Romanticism – McGilchrist is an admirer especially of Wordsworth, Blake and Keats. But overall the protagonists of the usurper are winning. They have been variously active in aspects of the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, aesthetic Modernism, the whole prevailing tendency of contemporary ‘Western’ politics to bureaucratic utilitarianism. He sets out, in some considerable detail, to demonstrate the all-encompassing nature of the usurpation. It is, I think, a breathtaking performance.

And yet, I come back to the question of how it all then relates to theology. One cannot do everything at once; McGilchrist’s work is a secular philo- sophic meditation on the meaning of recent neuropsychological discoveries. It surely does also have quite radical implications for theology – in fact, he fully recognizes this, and is by no means hostile to religious faith. But, in order to say what he wants to say, he has nevertheless decided, at least for

20 See in particular The Master and His Emissary, pp. 203–06. Besides Hegel’s texts on the unatoned state of mind, McGilchrist also cites the Preface to the Phenomenology, Miller pp. 32–33, para. 53, Baillie pp. 112–13. (Indeed he calls this ‘the most extra- ordinary instance of the mind by introspection “cognising itself”’.)



the time being, to steer clear of what, for his immediate purposes, would be the massive distractions of theological debate. And therefore he has simply bracketed the question of God, as such. His parable is both a doorway open- ing into his philosophic argument, and also, in the way that it opens, a poetic announcement of this bracketing. That it is not (explicitly) about God, but only about an earthly empire, appears to be a crucial part of its function here. The empire of which McGilchrist speaks is essentially a regime of bracketing. His bracketing of theology defi nes the empire’s borders. As a theologian, however, I am interested in what is lost, as a result. Thus, again, compare McGilchrist’s story to Milton’s in Paradise Lost. Apart from his bracketing of the question of God, the basic structure of the little story McGilchrist tells is identical with that of Milton’s epic. And yet, because of the bracketing, the difference is not just that it is so much shorter. The fact is that it can only work at that length. There is no way one could develop this little parable into an epic like Paradise Lost. Or rather, it seems to me that one could only do so by re-converting it into another version of Paradise Lost: openly putting God back into it. For this is surely just what theology is all about. It is a wrestling with the huge world-transformative power – for good or ill – intrinsic to the epic imagination, at its boldest. Everything that I have said about the potential contribution of modern neuropsychology to the defi ning of the philosophic ideal, as such, is already said, far more thoroughly and authoritatively, by McGilchrist. However, in order to do this without being sidetracked, he has bracketed theology. I just want to pose the question: what might happen if one attempted to remove those brackets again? And so I want to ponder the distinction between what (as I have said) I would see as the two basic origins of God-talk: the authen- tically revelatory one, and the ideological one. The authentically revelatory origin is from the moral demands of pure presenting-hemisphere experience, as an abandonment of one’s defences against the sheer otherness of other people. For here God is revealed, in richly metaphorical fashion, above all as the Revealer of those demands, pressing them home. But the ideological origin, by contrast, is from the moral demands more immediately bound up with representing-hemisphere creativity: where ‘God’ is understood, by the unatoned state of mind, far rather, as the celestial Enforcer of an orthodoxy, valued less for its metaphoric suggestiveness, in the service of truth-as-openness, than for its supposed theoretic truth-as-correctness. Of course, there are other ways of articulating the demands of pure pre- senting-hemisphere experience, besides the theological. For most purposes, God may perhaps be revealed, and served, just as well anonymously as by name – indeed, such anonymity has the obvious positive advantage that it completely avoids the clichés introduced by unatoned theistic ideology. Yet, good theology, as I would understand it, is nothing other than a systematic attempt to discern, within theistic tradition, the endless interplay of the contradictory impulses deriving from these two origins; and so to mobilize



the particular poetic resources of that whole tradition against cliché in general. What, in short, above all interests me, as a theologian, is the busi- ness of discriminating the genuine heavenly city from its various devout and, undeniably, orthodox counterfeit doubles.

7. The ‘cause’ of atonement

Hegel recognizes that das unglückliche Bewußtseyn is the corruption of a necessary and redeemable duality. He does not spell out what this redeem- able necessity is. But contemporary neuropsychology enables us to do so. ‘The right hemisphere presents the facts, the left hemisphere re-presents them’. We need both to register the problems inherent in our lack of imme- diate control over reality, and also to develop techniques and strategies to deal with these problems. First, then: an uninhibited exposure to reality, as primordially presented. Second: a systematic ordering of representational thought about reality, fi tting it to the given categories that enable us to handle and modify it. Clearly, the truth-potential of the latter sort of think- ing fundamentally depends upon its being well subordinated to the freshness of the former. But how much reality can we bear? To be exposed to primary reality is to be shaken. And the problem is that the skills of the representing hemisphere may also be deployed to protect us against shakenness: representing the world as less problematic than it truly is. To the extent that this happens, the operations of the two hemispheres have ceased to be at one with each other. They need to be atoned again; however, a system of mental defences builds up, positively to resist such remedial atonement. The unatoned repre- senting-hemisphere sub-self usurps the true atoning authority of God. It projects its censorious will, objectifi es it either as the falsely imagined will of ‘God’, or else as some other non-theistic alternative bully-principle. The metaphysical form of the problem may vary enormously. And the variations may be endlessly distracting. Nevertheless, let us focus on the core problem in itself. To do so is to be committed to the cause of atonement, purely and simply as such. Hegel’s theology, in the Phenomenology, springs from that commitment. In principle, it presupposes nothing else. His sole interest here is in identifying the most effective possible strategy for the cause of atonement; and in assem- bling the most open sort of conversation-realm oriented towards that goal. The argument moves towards certain forms of religion only because, as he sees it, this is what the cause of atonement demands. The cause of atonement needs reinforcement by all possible means. Not least the reinforcement of philosophically purged religion: turned towards training whole populations in a proper spirit of respect for it, as only such religion can.



hegel’s gospel

1. Pathos and solidarity

By the ‘cause of atonement’ I mean simply the struggle for truth-as-openness in public life; the political struggle of what Hegel calls ‘Spirit’. In effect, the basic project of his theology is to give that cause, as such, a systematic thinking-through. Again, though, what is involved here? Essentially, I think, the cause of atonement demands of us two basic types of complementary thought. In the fi rst place, it requires a certain quality of poetic thinking. Namely: a direct poetic invocation of Spirit, at its most intense, driving towards atonement. This is what I have called the ‘pathos of shakenness’; a category in which I include any sort of artistic or philosophic work that records, and celeb- rates, the experience of being shaken, with real intensity, by the promptings of Spirit in the Hegelian sense. The pathos of shakenness: a truly radical, and all-encompassing, resistance to cliché-thinking, simply as such. 1 And then, secondly, there is further required a corresponding form of strategic thought. Thus, I would argue, it is not enough just to conjure up the pathos of shakenness. But at the same time we have to try and devise effective strategies for translating the pathos of shakenness into a well organized solidarity of the shaken. The cause of atonement needs organizing. It requires to be promoted through alliance-building, the more extensive the better. As far as possible, it needs to be rendered catholic, integrated into popular culture.

2. Hegel as strategist

Other philosophers have analysed the experience of shakenness, in some ways, more exhaustively, and with greater poetic energy than Hegel. Desmond is a prime example; his writing is a truly prodigious meditation on that experience. The secularizing critics of Hegel whom I consider in

1 Shanks, ‘What Is Truth?’ Towards a Theological Poetics (London: Routledge, 2001).



Chapter 7 – on the one hand, Heidegger, on the other hand Deleuze and Guattari – are likewise, for all their very obvious stylistic differences both from Desmond and from one another, quite brilliant at evoking the pathos of shakenness in philosophic terms. (That is why I choose to engage with them.) Kierkegaard is a great anti-Hegelian philosopher-poet exponent of the pathos of shakenness. Levinas, to whom I have also referred, is another. Yet Hegel, I would argue, still remains unsurpassed as a pioneering strat- egist for the solidarity of the shaken. This is not his own terminology; but I am talking about the content of the ‘absolute knowing’ with which the Phenomenology culminates. For what such ‘knowing’ knows is, surely, nothing other than what it takes to build that sort of solidarity, the sort on which the cause of atonement depends. Now, clearly there will always be a certain tension between the strategic thinking required for the organization of effective solidarity and the not at all strategic thought required for the sheer poetic registering of shakenness. After all, strategy in itself is, altogether, representing-hemisphere business. From the point of view of one who values shakenness – the condition of being opened up by, and to, fresh presenting-hemisphere insight – there will always be some tendency to compromise involved in the development of workable strategy, building effective alliances. And Hegel, like any other strategic thinker, is straightaway therefore, inevitably, exposed to criticism from the militant purists of shakenness. But what, in the end, does such purist intransigence achieve? When it is taken up by such outstanding thinkers as those I have mentioned – beautiful books, certainly. However, is that really enough? I do not think so. Besides beautiful books, it seems to me that the cause of atonement also needs the most potent educational, political and liturgical organization, to disseminate itself as widely as possible. The solidarity of the shaken, being in principle the most diffi cult of all forms of solidarity to organize, can only thrive in the context of other forms of solidarity, playing host to it. Hegel is interested, above all, in the potential of Christianity to serve this purpose. As a strategist (in effect) for the solidarity of the shaken, he values Christian tradition, not least, for its vast, already established organizational presence. He has, to begin with, a basic conservat- ive respect for deep-rooted folk religion just because of its binding power, the relationships of mutual trust it helps sustain, as a context for fruitful public conversation. His mistrust of what he calls ‘liberalism’ – that is, a political culture largely devoid of such mutual trust – is strongly enhanced by his observation of what had happened in France when the Jacobins attempted to abolish the folk religion of their people. In general, he deplores the ‘atomistic principle’ at work in irreligious ‘liberal’ ideology, for the way it tends to distort public debate into a merely partisan battle between particular competing interests. 2 At the same time, moreover, Christianity

2 Hegel, The Philosophy of History, p. 452.



retains, from its earliest origins, a more or less forgotten potential for articu- lating true ‘freedom’ (i.e. the solidarity of the shaken); and Hegel’s philosophic move beyond fi rst-order ‘faith’, as such, is in effect a bid to reconnect with that buried potential, in the most direct way. In relation to established religion, he is not a confrontational thinker. Quite unlike Kierkegaard, say – that latter- day Amos, urging Christians to boycott church worship until the Church at any rate owns up to its betrayal of the gospel – Hegel, the horse-whisperer, does not want to spook the Church with any too violent a form of critical rhetoric. But, rather, he wants to win it round gently. This is the reason for his scholarly, detached, grand-narrative approach to theology: the grand narrative being a vindication of both hope and patience, as it traces the gradual historic emergence of atoning gospel truth into the full light of philosophical explicitness. And yet, the challenge is ‘absolute’. So he sets out, in effect, to liberate the gospel, understood as a primordial atoning testimony to the solidarity of the shaken, from the grip of unatoning church ideology. The ideal environment for the fl ourishing of the solidarity of the shaken will surely be a secular state, priding itself on providing the most open space possible for conversation between all different social groups. He sees the Lutheran Reformation as a great breakthrough moment in Christian history, inasmuch as it creates the future possibility, at least, of a church fully attuned to that ideal. And increasingly, throughout Europe, in place of the spiritual leadership provided by the Roman Catholic priesthood – with its intrinsic predisposition (in his view) to unatoning church ideology – he sees a new sort of public-spiritedness emergent. In his day, a new ‘universal class’ was being formed: the increasingly professional-minded civil servants of secular modern states. 3 And these, above all, were the people whose world view he aspired to infl uence. In his later writings he set out, single-handedly, to shape a whole curriculum for the philosophic education of this new class. It was indeed a heroic enter- prise! I think it also led him somewhat astray. Unfortunately, the teaching of these later works – in particular the Philosophy of Religion lectures – has, I think, somewhat obscured the deeper insights of the Phenomenology. It is notable that the concept of ‘das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’ actually drops right out of his thought here. The concept only really makes sense in the larger context of his argument in the Phenomenology; and, in general, the whole approach of the Phenomenology is far too diffi cult for Hegel’s later pedagogic purposes. Those purposes constrain him to operate on another, altogether more superfi cial level. He does so without comment on the shift, and it may well be that his new dreams of academic hegemony have blinded him to how much he is sacrifi cing. To me, the sacrifi ce actually seems, from a theological point of view, to have been considerable. The later Hegel did not quite know how the

3 Hegel, Philosophy of Right, § 205, §§ 287–97.



Phenomenology fi tted into the pedagogic ‘system’ he was devising. Indeed, it seems that he never altogether realized just what he had achieved in the Phenomenology.

3. ‘Das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’: the two prime texts

But let us go back, now, to the original moment of theological insight in that work, as it is primarily developed in two quite separate passages; the separa- tion of which corresponds to the movement of his argument, from trans-culturally universal fi rst principles to a much more specifi c concern with the history of Christianity, as such. The fi rst passage follows immediately after his initial defi nition of ‘das unglückliche Bewußtseyn’, discussed in Chapter 3. In Miller’s translation the paragraphs are numbered, and this passage runs from paragraph 210 to 230. Here the discussion of Christianity is only in the form of allusive illus- tration, since the primary phenomena in question are to be found, variously manifest, in all sorts of different cultural context. And then the second passage comes much later in the book, in chapter 7 (‘Religion’) section C, paragraphs 748 to 787. By this point he is speaking much more openly about the history to which he had, in the earlier passage, only been alluding; although still, it must be said, in quite impressionistic fashion. These are neither of them, to say the least, easy passages to read. The prob- lem is that he is struggling with such a fresh way of thinking; so fresh that he does not yet have anything like adequate terminology for his thoughts. But let us consider how the basic logic of the argument fl ows.

3.1. Persistent Unatonement, Distorting a Symbolic Promise of Release

The unatoned state of mind is torn between the claims of ‘individuality’ – this is Hegel’s term for what one knows directly as an individual, one’s own fi rst-hand presenting-hemisphere intuition of primary reality – and the Rigidity Principle, that is, the compelling power of given, habitual, representing-hemisphere preconceptions, the more or less clichéd prejudices of one’s world. It invests the latter with disastrous, domineering, sacred authority to censor the expression of the former. In paragraph 210, however, Hegel speaks of a dawning awareness of ‘individuality mixed with the Rigidity Principle’ and ‘the Rigidity Principle mixed with individuality’. He is clearly thinking fi rst and foremost, here, of the Christian dogma of the Incarnation. Thus, in the context of biblical culture the unatoned state of mind identifi es the Rigidity Principle with the will of God. But for Christian faith, on the



contrary, God is symbolically made present in the form of a particular,

indomitable human individual, who dramatically defi es the moral prejudices of his world. The argument will be that Christ has to be recognized as a symbolic representative of the claims of indomitable individuality in general, over against the repressive power of the Rigidity Principle. Or, to switch away from Hegel’s own terminology: that he represents the absolute opening up of representational thinking, as such, to the actual primary reality that lies beyond it. For Hegel, in effect, everything theologically depends upon recognizing the Incarnation as a symbol of atonement, a symbolic summons to atonement, in that broad philosophic sense. God has, so to speak, come down out of the false heaven of the Rigidity Principle where unatonement had put him, to proclaim the opposite.

The symbolism of the gospel has this potential. However, it is a potential that is very often unrealized. To the extent that the will of God continues, on the contrary, to be identifi ed with the dictates of the Rigidity Principle, Christian spirituality remains locked into the unatoned state of mind. Unatonement is cunning in its persistence. Yet, for Christian faith, the deifi ed Rigidity Principle has become unthinkable apart from the particular individuality of Christ, always at any rate potentially recalling us to the opposite: the general principle of indomitable individuality, as also more or less manifested in the individuality of each believer, insofar as he or she truly breaks free from the confi nes of herd-morality. The actual practice of traditional, in the Hegelian sense sub-philosophic, Christianity oscillates between this implicit promise of atonement and the ineradicable inertia of unatonement, forever tending to suppress it. And it is this oscillation that Hegel now wants to explore, in illustration of the sheer diffi culty of actually achieving atonement in any culture, even when the religious context is, in principle, most favourable. He is concerned with the sheer slipperiness of unatonement. There is always, he remarks (paragraph 211), a twofold movement involved in the shiftings of this mentality. On the one hand: a fl uctuation in the affl icted individual’s self-esteem, one’s sense of one’s own individuality. On the other hand: a fl uctuation in how the Rigidity Principle is perceived. He is thinking of the ways in which the Rigidity Principle is rendered sacred; in a theological culture, therefore, how God is conceived. The argument, in the fi rst instance psychological, is also, implicitly, theological. For what Hegel wants to develop here is in fact a whole new way into theology, begin- ning from psychological observation. He wants to illustrate the nature of the unatoned state of mind by allusion to its persistent manifestation in Christian form. In other words: he is ana- lysing the all too common failure of faith in the Incarnation to do its proper job. Where faith in this sense fails, it is not because of any lack of sincerity; faith may indeed be intensely heartfelt, and yet fail. The cause of the failure is not insincerity, but the way the dogma has been misinterpreted. For the



unatoned state of mind in Christian form, naturally, cannot grasp the real atoning logic of salvation-by-Incarnation. Hegel will analyse this logic, the necessity of Incarnation as a remedy for human fallenness, deriving it from the prior inevitability of the Adamic Fall that elicits it, the fall into unatonement, understood as a fundamental corruption of the intrinsically twofold nature of Spirit. But from the point of view of unatoning Christianity (paragraph 212) both Fall and Incarnation are essentially just contingent events, sheer data of traditional orthodoxy, brute objective facts. And insofar as the still unatoned individual soul then comes to think of him- or herself as having been ‘saved’, this merely serves to reinforce the authority of the conventional ‘God’-image with which the dictates of the Rigidity Principle have been rendered divine. Far from signifying atonement, in other words, the experience of ‘salvation’ here may, in actual practice, even accentuate the opposite. Where this happens, the individuality of the Saviour is not understood as representing the universal principle of true individuality at all. Indeed:

Whilst the ‘beyond’ [i.e. the Rigidity Principle, identifi ed with God] may seem to have been brought closer to us by the individualised actuality of this fi guration, henceforth – on the other hand – it appears set over against us as an opaque, fl esh-and-blood one-off; an actuali- sation of sheer [unyielding] disengagement. 4

So, for the unatoned state of mind, the fi gure of Christ, now ascended and enthroned in heaven, functions in practice not as a symbol of God indwelling the true individuality of each individual, but, on the contrary, as yet another intim- idating evocation of divine tyranny. As Hegel puts it in paragraph 213, the only difference this sort of Christian faith makes is that the unatoned soul ‘replaces its relationship to the pure formless [divine] Rigidity Principle, and submits itself instead to the incarnate [divine] Rigidity Principle’ in just the same way. Beyond this mere formality, nothing has changed. The Rigidity Principle, as a spirit at work in society as a whole, has acquired a new face, a new public relations strategy. Yet, otherwise, it remains just as infl exible as ever. Now, however, beginning at paragraph 214, we come to what Hegel con- siders to be the ‘threefold movement’ of the unatoned state of mind, seeking to appropriate the Christian gospel. This threefold movement basically involves three different levels of thoughtfulness, and hence self-awareness:

starting from a complete lack of self-awareness, and rising, in two stages,

4 Paragraph 212; again, my translation. This last phrase, in the original German, is ‘mit der ganzen Sprödigkeit eines W i r k l i c h e n’. More literally translated: ‘with all the obstinate reserve of a something that is actual’. Sprödigkeit (‘unyielding disengagement’ / ‘obstinate reserve’) ordinarily means brittleness; then shyness, or prudery. C.f. Miller, p. 129, Baillie, p. 255.



not to actual atonement, but at any rate to a real intensity of implicit, restless discontent with unatonement. The description of the fi rst level – the unatoned state of mind (in Christian form) as ‘pure consciousness’, as opposed to self-consciousness in the sense of self-awareness – runs from paragraphs 215 to 217. Earlier in the same chapter Hegel has been discussing two forms of free thinking, high-minded ‘stoicism’ and playful ‘scepticism’, both of which fall short of what is needed because of their individualism, in the sense that they lack any adequate strategy for community building, to enshrine freedom. By contrast, the Christian Church obviously has some very effective strategies for commun- ity building. But, of course, insofar as the unatoned state of mind persists within it, the resultant community does not enshrine freedom. Hegel begins his survey of the ‘threefold movement’ of the unatoned state of mind within Christianity by going back to the contrast with stoicism and scepticism. There is a sense in which Christian faith has immediately ‘advanced beyond’ these two standpoints, by virtue of its potential, at least, for a truly strong community-embodiment of free-thinking. But everything depends upon completing faith with true self-awareness. And this in turn depends upon a radical re-conception of what the Incarnation truly means with regard to the nature of God. Once again, the basic trouble with the Christian unatoned state of mind is that – as it splits off one aspect of itself and then projects that aspect, the Rigidity Principle, into heaven:

It remains unaware that this, its object, the Rigidity Principle, which [by virtue of the Incarnation] appears to it essentially in the form of individuality, is indeed [a projection of] its own self. [It fails to recog- nise that the individuality of this divine individual] itself represents all individuality. 5

Indeed, the Christian unatoned state of mind does not want to recognize either the actual genesis of its own idea of God, or the atoning logic of the gospel. It is the more secure the less it thinks. And as ‘pure consciousness’, therefore, to begin with,

its thinking as such is no more than a discordant clang of pealing bells or a warm cloud of incense, a musical thinking, that does not attain to real concepts, that is, to anything at all rigorously engaged with reality (immanente) or objective. 6

Such ‘thinking’ is simply a ‘movement of infi nite yearning’; an undeveloped form of subjectivity, not yet shaped by any ‘objective’ stimulus to serious self- questioning. It yearns with intense sincerity (a ‘pure heart’) for an intimately

  • 5 C.f. Miller, p. 131, Baillie, p. 257.

  • 6 Ibid.



personal relationship with the Saviour. But, since it does not understand atonement as such, and remains trapped in a form of thought-gone-stale, the connection it dreams of is not an atoning, spiritual imitation of Christ. At best, rather, it would be a connection with the mere physical mementoes of Christ’s life. And Hegel, therefore, alludes here to the Crusades, as a bid to recapture those mementoes. The Crusaders’ fanaticism is, as it were, emblematic for him of this largely mindless form of Christian faith. So much for the fi rst level of the ‘threefold movement’ – the second level is then discussed in paragraphs 218–22. It differs from the fi rst in that it is altogether more refl ective. To be sure, the self-awareness of the second level is still drastically limited by the delusions of unatonement; and yet it never- theless goes beyond the simple, yearning piety of the fi rst level by virtue of developing a real discipline of spiritual inwardness. Thus, it represents a basic critical reorientation towards ‘desire and work’. That is: the whole domain of family and economic life. In the earlier passage of the Phenomenology where he discusses the relationship of ‘master and slave’ Hegel is talking basically about the quest for respect. The master seeks to gain respect by dominating the slave, but is frustrated, because this implies a degree of contempt for the slave that effectively devalues whatever respect he may compel the slave to show him. However, the slave, by contrast, is able to achieve serious respect from others, for the skill he develops in his work. And so the slave, unlike the master, arrives at truly serious self-respect. With regard to the second level of the ‘threefold movement’, Hegel is looking at what happens, in the con- text of not-yet-atoning Christianity, to this achievement. The actual term he uses is ‘die Gewißheit seiner selbst’, literally ‘the certainty of oneself’ or ‘self-certainty’, which is how both Baillie and Miller – I think, rather confusingly – render it. However, what he means is serious self-respect. And in fact he means it in a twofold sense: not only feeling good about oneself, because of one’s skills, but also recognizing the positive spiritual value of such self-assurance, as it emboldens one to think for oneself. The unatoned state of mind is, by defi nition, incapable of this latter recognition. The unatoned Christian believer may indeed feel good about him- or herself, because of good work done. But then that initial surge of self-respect is, at once, stifl ed. This mentality wilfully renounces the necessary self-confi dence that alone enables one to think, with real inner freedom, for oneself, beyond the mere repetition of thought-gone-stale. It fails to recognize the true spiritual meaning of such self-confi dence; misunderstands it as a mere form of sinful pride; and, by way of remedy for this sin, deliberately in fact sets out to intensify its own inner servitude, which it calls ‘humility’. The inner logic of the unatoned believer’s faith is inexorable. First, everything useful or beautiful is to be reckoned as a gift from God. Then, my own talents and skills in helping produce what is useful or beautiful are themselves to be regarded in the same way. All comes from God – therefore, it is concluded,



I have no right to challenge what ‘God’ (here, the deifi ed voice of the Rigidity Principle, the inner quisling, the Usurper) decrees. With this aber- rant conclusion the true spiritual lessons of creative work are effectively lost, and everything is reduced to the utmost ‘superfi ciality’ (paragraph 221). We are left with nothing but a mere supposed demonstration of the need for thanksgiving, to ‘God’ the deifi ed Rigidity Principle. Still, there is hope. And, just as in the previous case of the ‘master-slave’ relationship hope came from the irrepressible resilience of the slave, so too here, hope comes from the irrepressible resilience of the inner slave, as such. The unatoned believer adopts the persona of the inner slave, and gives thanks to the deifi ed Rigidity Principle, the despot ‘God’. But (paragraph 222) the religious discipline of prayerful thanksgiving is itself a form of skilled work, in which one may well take virtuous pride. To do such work properly and diligently can, also, serve as a basis for serious self-respect. And, in so far as that happens,

The whole movement can be regarded – entirely – as a showing-forth [or vindication] of individuality: not only the [secular] process of desiring, toiling and enjoying, but also the [religious] thanksgiving, which [at fi rst sight] seems to signify the opposite. Despite the deceptive show of renunciation [in that thanksgiving], closer inspection shows it to involve no real abandonment of individual selfhood. But, on the contrary, it actually renders one all the more aware of being the particular individual that one is. 7

Thus, the ideal of Christian humility, in general, is profoundly ambiguous. It may, with equal power, either express unatoned servility or else, on the contrary, the most radical, dissident thoughtfulness. In the fi rst case, it is understood as involving a quite unquestioning acceptance of Christian herd- morality; the truly ‘humble’ individual is one who recognizes their sheer unworthiness to think for themselves. But in the second case, ‘humility’ has precisely become the self-respecting self-assertion of one’s individuality – now, on the contrary, by way of antithesis to the recognized arrogance and conceit of the herd as such, the herd’s lack of corporate humility. Everything is thus turned around. Humble thanksgiving evolves into self-confi dent social critique, for thank God, such is the believer’s clear sense of personal vocation from God. Unatoning Christianity lacks the insight to distinguish between these two absolutely opposite possibilities. But the point is that, by the same token, it can never altogether impose the servile mode, to the exclusion of the liberated alternative. And when fi nally we come to the third level – paragraphs 223–30 – the same ambiguity is, moreover, intensifi ed. The second level of the ‘threefold

7 C.f. Miller, p. 134, Baillie, p. 262.



movement’ has involved a basic spiritual discipline, applicable to all Christians alike. At the third level, however, the difference is that Hegel is talking, far rather, about the discipline of small, would-be spiritual elites, chiefl y to be found within the monastic world. Here, as he puts it, ‘the enemy is discovered in its own-most form’: that is, at its angriest and most demanding. For, in this context, the domination of the Rigidity Principle has become the imposition of a fi erce, neurotic asceticism, expressive of sheer loathing for the wretchedness of the adaptable sub-self, inasmuch as this is essentially identifi ed with the ‘animal functions’ of the fl esh. Yet, even in the monastic context – or rather, in a certain sense, above all there – the healing impulse of conventionality-dissolving Spirit is, again, resurgent. For, on the one hand, the ascetic discipline of the third level is premised on a systematic rejection of pride in straightforward, conventional Christian respectability, (paragraph 229), understood simply as a temptation to conceit. But on the other hand,

the actual fulfi lment, in itself, of the sacrifi ce, the successful giving up of any credit accruing to oneself, also serves to release one from one’s affl iction. 8

It brings about a real sense of reconciliation with God, by the infusion of divine grace into the soul, much more powerfully felt, because it involves so much more inner struggle, than at the other, less ascetic levels. And so, again, it begins to inspire the ascetic individual with the necessary self-confi dence to question and challenge the mere conventions of his or her world. At this level, the sense of reconciliation continues to fall short of true atonement basically because it is still not understood in its true nature, as a primary precondition of wisdom, but instead itself remains conditional upon all manner of more or less servile submission to prevailing ideology. In the Roman Catholic tradition especially, the ascetic individual’s reconcili- ation with God has, in effect, come to be seen as requiring the mediation of a father c