RELIGION: HEGEL’S PHENOMENOLOGY OF SPIRIT

YOUTUBE: RELIGION. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.

This is the seventh lecture covering Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit. In this lecture we will be focusing on the chapter “Religion”. This is the final chapter before the final chapter, titled “Absolute Knowing”.

The chapter focused on “Religion” is in large part about the transcendence of the individual. You can think about this in the context of contemporary culture where there is an excessive emphasis on individual spirituality, and the common phrase: “I am spiritual but not religious”, and the general decline of religion in Western culture, if not worldwide.

Hegel is thinking about spirit, from the last chapter, and thinking about religion, in a dialectical context. That means that before spirit comes to an understanding of religion, spirit must come to an understanding of spirit. In that context, Hegel would perhaps say, in our contemporary culture, that we have yet to advance, in our culture, to a proper religious notion, and we are in a mass phase of individual spirituality, for that reason.

With that being said, in the chapter on Religion, Hegel does not refer to a specific religion, he is talking in terms of “natural religion”, which he equates with the transcendence of individual spirituality for a universal spirit. There is place in this dialectic for the revelation of the absolute, and this is a natural revelation. In this revelation, the individual comes to know a spirit greater than oneself; you could say the individual comes to know a spirit beyond oneself; you might even say that the individual comes to know a spirit that transcends particular humanness. In that sense, Hegel is really pushing towards an understanding of religion that is not necessarily tied to or reduced to the human world, but is pushing towards something which is greater than us in a universal context, which is hard to say, but could be universal to cosmological scales.

Within this revelation, even revelation of universal spirit becomes dialecticized as only a moment for the individual spirit. Hegel pushes towards the idea that the divine spirit of the individual, meaning the universal spirit realized in the individual, can then be translated to the whole society, and where we do reach a horizon that Hegel comes to call “Absolute Knowing”. However, the description of Absolute Knowing will have to wait for the final lecture.

Here is an overview that will articulate what Hegel refers to as “natural religion”. Hegel does not refer to one religion in particular, but many commentators, including the editor of this volume of Phenomenology of Spirit, will emphasize Hegel’s influence by Christianity and the historical figure of Jesus. However, Hegel did read widely on religion, and attempts to speak on religion in a universal historical context.

What you see in the above representation is the dialectical logic, the coincidence of the opposites A=B, and the strange nature of the third entity, C. The logical entity C is not a synthesis or a whole which remains static, but rather as a mediating logical category towards a new dialectical set of relations. Namely, here we are transitioning through the chapters of the book Phenomenology of Spirit. We started with consciousness, and we have a dialectic between consciousness and self-consciousness, with self-consciousness being absent. We then move to the level of self-consciousness developing the categories of reason, where reason has yet to be achieved by spirit. We then move from reason and its relationship to spirit itself, namely, that the rational self-consciousness has yet to achieve a spiritual life. Then, finally, in the achievement of a spiritual life, emphasizing individual spirituality. To again echo a mantra of our contemporary culture, “I am spiritual but not religious”, here Hegel is against applying dialectical logic, in the absence of religion, individual spirituality comes to understand religion in the “universal I”, again, universal spirit. And spirit comes to see its identity with the universal, transcending its individuality, its particularity, and even its humanness. This is the development of religion. Then in the development of religion, we will then come to a further dialectical relationship, in absolute knowing, in the formation of divine society, but that is for the next lecture.

Here a quote from Hegel:

672. In the […] forms hitherto […] distinguished in general as Consciousness, Self-consciousness, Reason, and Spirit, religion, too, as consciousness of absolute Being as such, has indeed made its appearance[.] [/] 677. The self-knowing Spirit is, in religion, immediately its own pure self-consciousness. […] In this, Spirit conceived as object, has for itself the significance of being the universal Spirit that contains within itself all essence and all actuality[.] [/] 678. [Thus] the perfection of religion consists in […] self-conscious Spirit, [becoming] actual to itself and object of its consciousness. [/] 679. Spirit’s existence […] consists in the totality of Spirit so far as its moments exhibit themselves in separation [as temporal succession], [i.e.] consciousness, self-consciousness, Reason, and Spirit — […] their totality, taken together, constitutes Spirit in its mundane existence generally[.] Religion presupposes that these have run their full course and is their simple totality or absolute self.

We here see Hegel’s logic of the development of spirit, from consciousness, self-consciousness, reason, and spirit. He is referring to this logic as spirit in its mundane existence, and that in the achievement of religion, religion presupposes that these previous stages have been worked through dialectically. Perhaps in our modern day religions, you could say one of the main critiques of religion could comes from the fact that both religion does not properly assume that spirit has gone through these stages, has not accounted for the dialectical process as well as it could; on the other hand, most of the criticisms of religion, is coming from spirit that is at a lower stage of dialectical development, perhaps at the level of self-consciousness, religion, or spirituality, but not yet at the level of religion as a notion. Also, the temporality that Hegel is describing is very important, because you get the retroactivity of the dialectical process clearly articulated, namely, that once a stage has been achieved by spirit, here the stage of religion (i.e. “religion presupposes that these have run their full course and is their simple totality or absolute self”), once the new stage is achieved, it redefines the previous stages, in other words, the past gets redefined in the present moment of the spirit.

Here you have the supra-personal divine, namely a universal I, an I that transcends all the individual I’s, but in coming to understand this universal I, there are dialectical stages within this discovery of the universal I, what Hegel will refer to as general forms of individual religious expression. Of course, the religious consciousness or spirit is still experiencing itself as an individual. These four stages include light, the first stage as a formless divinity, a simple light, what Hegel calls as universal to the universal I. From this light, Hegel dialecticizes this to the understanding, as simple form or simple geometry, which he sees universally expressed in ancient religions/civilizations; simple geometrical forms which are universal and coming from the simple light. From simple geometrical forms, or inanimate forms, we have the emergence of what Hegel calls the art and artificer, or living form, as distinct from physical form. This can take the form of animal life, this can take the form of the living artist himself. Finally, we have the emergence of the good and beautiful spirit, namely ethical conscience, and the cultivation of the universal I as such. From simple light to simple form to living form, and finally, ethical conscience.

686. Spirit beholds itself in the form of being […] pure, all-embracing and all-pervading essential light of sunrise, which preserves itself in its formless substantiality. […] The movements of its own externalization […] are torrents of light[.] [/] 688. However, this reeling, unconstrained Life must determine itself as being-for-self and endow its vanishing ‘shapes’ with an enduring subsistence. […] Pure Light disperses its unitary nature into an infinity of forms, and offers up itself as a sacrifice to being-for-self, so that from its substance the individual may take an enduring existence for itself[.] [/] 690. Superseded being-for-self is the form of the object, a form produced by the self, or rather is the produced self, the self-consuming self, i.e. the self that becomes a Thing. [/] 692. The first […] is the abstract form of the Understanding[:] crystals of pyramids and obelisks, simple combinations of straight lines with plane surfaces and equal proportions of parts, in which the incommensurability of the round is destroyed[.]

Here you see Hegel describing the universality of the simple light, and then dialecticizing its vanishing shapes with an enduring subsistence, which takes a crystallization in the abstract form of the understanding, here referring to shapes like pyramids and obelisks, geometries that you would see perfected by ancient civilizations.

693. The artificer himself, Spirit in its entirety, has not yet appeared, but is the still inner, hidden essence[.] [/] 694. The surrounding habitation […] which has been raised at first only into the abstract form of the Understanding, is fashioned by the artificer into a more lifelike form. [/] 698. In this work […] the activity of the artificer, which constitutes self-consciousness, comes face to face with an equally self-conscious, self-expressive inner being. In it he has worked himself up to the point where his consciousness is divided against itself, where Spirit meets Spirit […] which preserves its shape in harmony with itself and is a lucid, intelligible existence. Spirit is Artist. [/] 702. Later on, Spirit transcends art in order to gain a higher representation of itself, viz. to be not merely the substance born of the self, but to be, in its representation as object, this self[.] [/] 712. The universal truths […] are claimed by conscious thought for itself […] for what was good and beautiful[.] 

What you are seeing here is the emergence of living form, the emergence of spirit as artist. In other words, when spirit was pure light or geometric form, spirit has yet to come face to face with itself as an artist, as a living artwork. Finally, spirit coming, you could say, the life of religion, and the life-blood of religion, for the social community, bringing its conscience to the good and beautiful, in other words, spirit starting to turn itself into its ultimate art project.

Then moving from individual expression of religion into the social expression of religion, what Hegel will refer to as a “Cult”. Hegel does not put any judgement on the name “Cult”, of course the word “Cult” has a negative connotation in our culture. Hegel is here referring to the formation of small and early-phase religious expression on a social level. He dialecticizes the formation of these social groups. First, he will say that the cult will form as a collective devotion, you could say it is a form of collective devotion to the universal I, to something beyond the individual. Second, the individual’s sacrifice their own possessions, their own individuality, you could say they empty themselves of possession, in name of, and service to, this universal I. Third, what is revealed to these individual spirits, from their sacrifice of possession, is what Hegel will call a pure enjoyment, and the whole purpose of spirit as this enjoyment. In this enjoyment their is a frenzy, and a wild passionate nature of this spirit, which then leads to tame a new form of discipline on the level of the universal I, and after the expression and experience of this enjoyment.

714. In the Cult, the self gives itself the consciousness of the divine Being [/] 715. This devotion is the immediate, pure satisfaction of the self by and within itself. The abstract Cult therefore raises the self into being this pure divine element […] [via] the path of spiritual training in general, i.e. of ridding itself of its particularity, as a result of which it reaches the dwellings and the community of the blest. [/] 717. This makes the act a spiritual movement […] of superseding the abstraction of the divine Being (which is how devotion determines its object) and making it actual[.] [/] 718. The act of the Cult itself begins, therefore, with the pure surrender of a possession which the owner, apparently without any profit whatever to himself, pours away or lets rise up in smoke. In so doing, he renounces before the essence of his pure consciousness all possession and right of the property and enjoyment thereof, renounces [his] personality and the return of his act into himself; and he reflects the act into the universal, or into the divine Being, rather than into himself.

You here see the first two stages, first the formation of a cult of devotion, devotion to the universal I, which starts to form the community of the blest; and then secondarily, a sacrifice of possession, which is a sacrifice to something higher than the individual, this relates to individual property and rights.

721. Self-consciousness, then, comes forth from the Cult satisfied in its essence, and the god enters in to it as into its habitation. This habitation is, by itself, the night of Substance or its pure individuality, but no longer the tense individuality of the artist, […] it is the satisfied night [of substance] which has its ‘pathos’ within it and not in need of anything[.][/] 722. In this enjoyment, then, is revealed what that divine risen Light really is; enjoyment is the mystery of its being. For the mystical is not concealment of a secret, or ignorance, but consists in the self knowing itself to be one with the divine Being and that this, therefore, is revealed. [/] 725. This undisciplined revelry of the god must bring itself to rest as an object, and the enthusiasm which did not attain to consciousness must produce a work that confronts it, […] as a living, self. [/] 726. It has gained a lucid and universal content: a content that is lucid, because the artist has worked his way out of the initial enthusiasm, originating wholly from substance, into a definite shape.

So you here see that from the sacrifice of possession the individual comes to know itself in a way that it has never known itself before, namely as a pathos, as the mystery of enjoyment, and that this mystery of enjoyment is a revelation, which is not concealed as a mystery, there is no secret, this is what it is about, the self-referential enjoyment of spirit in the universal I. Then what needs to happen, is that once spirit connects to this undisciplined enjoyment in the mystery of its being, it must then work with this true nature of its being, and this will give it a shape and form, that can maintain itself in time, and as a part of the cult as a whole. That is the dialectics of the cult, for Hegel.

Next, Hegel dialecticizes the cult itself, and reaches the level of national religious expression. You might say this is the formation of religion on a wider scale than the primitive cult, or an early-phase social formation. In this dialectic, we first get the religion embodied or solidified into a statue. This follows from the previous section where the cult starts to discipline its authentic mysterious being. We get the nation or religion as statue. We then get the nation as individual body, living body, as opposed to a static statue. We then get the nation as a story, and the story of the individual body, and this epic is necessarily, first and foremost, a tragedy, involving death, and a deep challenge to the formation of the nation. Finally, once the tragedy has been overcome, and the nation becomes more mature in its final stages, the nation unveils a domain of spirit, which Hegel calls “comedic”.

727. The national Spirits which become conscious of their essence in the shape of a particular animal coalesce into a single Spirit[…] and for this task forms a collective nation and therewith a collective Heaven. [/] 728. The [collective] assembly […] constitutes a circle of shapes which now embraces the whole of Nature as well as the whole ethical world. [/] 732. The content of the world of pictorial thought [qua nation] freely unfolds itself in the middle term [of universal self] on its own account, gathering itself round the individuality of a hero who, however, in his strength and beauty feels his life is broken and sorrowfully awaits an early death. For the individuality that is in itself firmly established and actual is banished to its extreme and split into its moments which have not yet found and united themselves. The one individual moment, the abstract non-actual one, is Necessity[;] […] the actual individual […] is lost in his performance. 

You see the formation of the nation as statue, before the formation of the nation under an individual, which we see, starts to become tragic. First, in terms of the statue, we see the solidification of a living form into a statue, following from, again, this dialectical levels of the formation of religion, from the individual to the cult to the national experience of religion. Then you see the formation of religion around a particular individual who is particularly strong, particularly beautiful, perhaps in aesthetic appearance, but first and foremost, in the way he is living as an ethical conscience, as good and beautiful. Nonetheless, this strong and beautiful individual internally struggles, and wishes upon himself an early death, and we also start to see that the religion starts to tarry with the unity of its own necessity, in relationship to the non-actual one. This is metaphysically very important to reflect on, the abstract non-actual one.

732. The content formerly left to itself [as an individual] must receive within it the certainty and the fixed character of the negative. [/] 733. This higher language, that of Tragedy, gathers closer together the dispersed moments of the inner essential world and the world of action: the substance of the divine, in accordance with the nature of the Notion, sunders itself into its shapes, and their movement is likewise in conformity with the Notion. [/] 746. The essence [of the Notion] […] have become the simple thoughts of the Beautiful and the Good, which tolerate being filled with any kind of content. […] The pure thoughts of the Beautiful and the Good thus display a comic spectacle[.] [/] 747. This self-certainty is a state of spiritual well-being and of repose therein, such as is not to be found anywhere outside of this Comedy. [/] 753. In the condition of right or law, then, the ethical world and the religion of that world are submerged and lost in the comic consciousness[.]

You here see the formation of the nation qua religion in the narrativization of a tragedy, before then evolving into the narrativization of a comedy. The tragedy revolves around the heroic individual, or the fallen individual, who necessarily dies for the nation or religion, and the collective organizes itself in actuality in substance, around this tragic narrative, building for themselves a collective notion that is good and beautiful, and which can house comedy, which can maintain a house of comedy, which does not exist outside of this bubble, outside of this religious sphere.

Here summarizing the dialectical stages of religion, you have it on the individual level, the cult level, and the national level. On the individual level you have four distinctions between light (simple light), physical understanding (simple geometry), into art (living art/artist), before reaching the level of ethical conscience (good, beautiful), and the artist turning himself or herself into the ultimate work of art.

On the second level, cult religion, we have the formation of small-scale religion, which forms on the basis of collective devotion, of de-possession of individual rights, the discovery of the mystery of being as an enjoyment, which then becomes disciplined into what becomes the national religion. The national religion first takes form on the level of statue, then on the level of the living body, of an important character that necessarily becomes narrativized as an epic tragedy where the individual dies, before then maturing into a strong religion or nation, which can house a spiritual well-being that is comedic.

We are now moving onto, let’s call it the ontological level of the universal I. Namely discussing Hegel’s understanding of revelation. This is the relationship of the individual self striving for oneness (recall the “non-actual one”), to the universal I, which we can place in the beyond of the individual, and the transcendence of the individual. Hegel describes the relationship between this individual and universal as the individual striving towards oneness, and the other way around, of a oneness coming down to self and spirit. Hegel is describing both movements.

760. That the supreme Being is seen, heard, etc. as an immediately present self-consciousness, [..].] qua supreme Being. [/] 761. Here, therefore, God is revealed as He is […] in Himself, i.e. He is immediately present as Spirit. God is attainable in pure speculative knowledge […] and this speculative knowledge is the knowledge of the revealed religion. Speculative knowledge knows God as Thought or pure Essence, and knows this Thought as simple Being […] as the Self that is at the same time this individual, and also the universal, Self. It is precisely this that the revealed religion knows. [/] 762. Absolute Being is Spirit, i.e. it has appeared, it is revealed; this first revelation is itself immediate[.] [However] looking at this more closely, Spirit, in the immediacy of self-consciousness, [is] in an antithesis to the universal self-consciousness. It is an exclusive One […] which has the still unresolved form of a sensuous ‘other’ for the consciousness […] it is immediately[.]

Here Hegel is describing the relationship between an individual who has experienced the supreme being, on the level of vision and voice, the individual has seen and heard it, it has happened for that individual. But that individual is still dealing with an anti-thesis, namely, universal self-consciousness, namely, that it is still existing in the mundane world. It has had revelation occur to it, but it is still existing in the mundane world. That is why Hegel calls it an exclusive One, with a still unresolved form of a sensuous other. What it is immediately, namely a normal individual human being, still has to deal with that fact, even though it has tasted, sensuously touched, seen, heard, full-body revelation, it has to deal with the fact that it has to deal with the world.

On the second level, we have Hegel trying to deal with the appearance in the world of a divine individual. A divine individual being an individual who has had an experience of the universal I, an individual who has experienced revelation, an individual who has to make the ethical decision of what to do with him/herself after revelation, and dealing with “two natures”, “human and god in one spirit”, which is still dealing with the day to day world, unmediated and unresolved.

763. This individual man, then, which absolute Being has revealed itself to be, accomplishes in himself as an individual the movement of sensuous Being. He is the immediately present God[.] [However,] in the vanishing of the immediate [Spirit] receives its negative moment; Spirit remains the immediate Self or actuality, but as the universal self-consciousness of the [religious] community [it is] not […] together with the consciousness of the community and what he is for this community[.] [/] 765. This combination of Being and Thought is, therefore, defective in that spiritual Being is still burdened with an unreconciled split into a Here and a Beyond. [/] 780. This Notion of the transcended individual self that is absolute Being immediately expresses, therefore, the establishing of a community which, tarrying hitherto in the sphere of picture-thinking, now returns into itself as the Self.

So what Hegel is talking about is the way this individual who has experienced a divine revelation, starts to move in sensuous being with this unresolved other, and starts to form the germs of a religious community, which is still divided between an unreconciled split, here and a beyond. There is still a gap there. The transcendent individual is still trying to work with the practical day to day issues of community life. And it cannot do that in picture thinking, utopian visions, these pictures-utopian visions have to return into the day to day tarrying of the self.

This gives us the next level, pointing towards the divine society, pointing towards what Hegel will refer to as the holy spirit, and definitely will refer to as beyond good and evil. Here there are many parallels between Hegel and Nietzsche’s thoughts, specifically as it relates to good and evil, and dialecticizing good and evil. Good and evil as it relates to the conscience is absolutely fundamental-essential to trying to think and trying to act out divine society.

784. The coming into existence of God’s individual self-consciousness as a universal self-consciousness, or as the religious community. The death of the divine Man, as death, is abstract negativity[.] Death loses this natural meaning in spiritual self-consciousness, i.e. it comes to be its just stated Notion; death becomes transfigured from its immediate meaning, viz. the non-being of this particular individual, into the universality of the Spirit who dwells in His community, dies in it every day, and is daily resurrected. [/] 787. Just as the individual divine Man has a father in principle and only an actual mother, so too the universal divine Man, the community, has for its father its own doing and knowing, but for its mother, eternal love which it only feels, but does not behold in its consciousness as an actual, immediate object. [/] The Spirit of the community is thus in its immediate consciousness divided from its religious consciousness […] or has not yet become an equally absolute being-for-self.

What Hegel is saying here is simply that the types of individuals that are day-to-day working for the religious community qua divine society are dying to themselves daily. They are dying everyday and everyday resurrected. This is a daily work with death that brings us closer to an understanding of absolute knowledge, and the difficult work of religion, and the real work of religion which our society has lost touch with, or has repressed. Here Hegel is saying in the dialectic of the notion that it is immanent that we confront this consciousness, namely religion as notion.

Hegel has interesting ways to frame the father and mother of the community. The father is nothing but the doing and knowing of the individual members in their day to day practice; and the mother is the feeling of eternal love which the community feels separated from, and that is why Hegel says, on this level of the absolute, there is still a division from religious consciousness proper.

You have here three levels that we are dealing with in the formation of religion. You have the absolute revelation, the transcendence of the individual, the individual who sees, hears, tastes, touches the absolute, who has it revealed to him of something bigger than his or her particular individuality and humanness. You then have the historical revelation and the historicity of revelation, which means, what does the divine individual do after revelation, how does the divine individual deal with the unmediated sensuous other, which points towards the formation of divine society. And finally, the work of holy spirit, where the father is nothing but the doing and knowing of the community, and the mother is nothing but the feeling of eternal love, and this is what the work of the religious notion is about.

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