Research in Phenomenology

Research in Phenomenology 41 (2011) 374–395

Sovereign Gratitude: Hegel on Religion and the Gift
Christopher Lauer
University of Hawai’i-Hilo

Abstract In this paper I argue that one of the most important impulses that structure Hegel’s account of religion is the need to show gratitude for the gift of creation. Beginning with the “Love” fragment and 1805–6 Realphilosophie, I first explore what it means to see God’s relationship to spirit as one of externalization or divestment (Entäusserung). Then, relying on the Berlin Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, I argue that Hegel takes Christianity to be the Consummate Religion because it not only offers its own divestment to match God’s, but actually takes itself to participate in God’s own divestment. This leads to a discussion of revealed religion in the Phenomenology, which, in contrast to simpler forms of religion such as the worship of luminous being (Lichtwesen), is able to conceive of a divine generativity in which spirit actively participates. I conclude by identifying two political implications of the centrality of divestment in Hegel’s account. First, it means that, since Hegel takes Christianity to be unique in its representation of divine divestment, he cannot be a simple pluralist on religious truth. Second, Hegel’s emphasis on divestment in his various accounts of religion helps set up his critique of sovereignty from the standpoint of philosophy or absolute knowing. While religion still clings to a vision of humanity as sovereign over nature, its origin in gratitude for creation proves to be incompatible with this vision. Keywords Hegel, Philosophy of Religion, gift, sovereignty, Entäusserung

In a Zusatz to the Encyclopedia Philosophy of Spirit, Hegel is reported to have called spirit’s release from nature an act of “sovereign ingratitude [souveräne Undankbarkeit]” (§381z).1 In its depiction of spirit’s unquestioning confidence in its own integrity and ignorance of every underlying force that made it what it is, this characterization seems to capture perfectly the insouciant blindness that Hegel is so often accused of turning toward anything outside

Hegel, Werke in 20 Bänden, Bd. 10: Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse (1830), Dritter Teil (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1986), 25.
DOI: 10.1163/156916411X594459

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2011

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the realm of spirit. The rest of the doctrines of Subjective and Objective Spirit can be read as giving life to this ingratitude, as spirit gradually comes to know its own freedom by suspending the particularizing urges of animal embodiment, the solipsistic leanings of phenomenal consciousness, and the bewildering foreignness of cognitive psychology. While Hegel repeatedly affirms that spirit is driven in this movement by the Delphic imperative to know itself,2 this drive for self-knowledge tends to turn away from the conditions of spirit’s existence in favor of exploring the breadth of its possibilities for selfactualization. Whenever spirit catches a momentary reminder of its natural origins, as in the mother’s womb or the nuclear family,3 its impulse is to turn away in embarrassed ingratitude.4 What is often overlooked in this caricature of an ungrateful spirit is that Hegel calls for a suspension of this ingratitude in his various formulations of a philosophy of religion. If the doctrine of Subjective Spirit is organized around spirit’s progressive release from the conditions of its existence, then the philosophy of religion is organized around spirit’s progressive ability to appreciate these conditions as gifts. In religion (regardless of the determinate form it takes), spirit grasps the world as a gift and gradually learns to identify itself with God, not by usurping his place as the ultimate creator, but by deepening its grasp of its own role in this process of gift-giving. In its highest or consummate form, religion does not just take God as a generativity into nothingness (as for instance the Phenomenology’s religion of light does) but works to develop its own institutions of gratitude to meet and reciprocate divine beneficence. This move is particularly interesting in light of twentieth-century phenomenology, since Hegel frames Christianity’s insight as a move away from a
Hegel, Vorlesungen über die Philosophie des Geistes, vol. 13 of Vorlesungen (Hamburg: Meiner, 1994), 7. 3) In his consideration of the Anthropology’s moment of the genius of the mother’s womb, JeanLuc Nancy explains how subjective spirit’s willful ignorance of its natural conditions follows from the character of its relation to nature: “ ‘Consciousness’ is knowing that there is no knowledge of this genius, not because it would be out of reach, the object of a worship beyond reason, but because this ‘nature’ is never a nature. It is nothing given or already given; it is not past and passed over. It ‘is’ the gift, which cannot be given; the offering, which cannot itself be offered” (“Identity and Trembling,” in The Birth to Presence, trans. Brian Holmes [Stanford University Press, 1993], 34). Qua Subjective Spirit, spirit cannot acknowledge its natural givenness because it cannot foresee how the two could ever be reconciled. 4) Earlier in the same Zusatz, Hegel has already begun to distinguish the ingratitude of merely subjective spirit from the more broadminded approach of religious spirit. Whereas finite spirit brings its world into its interior realm of ideas and thus treats its objects merely as external, the religious consciousness grasps this externality as belonging to God’s infinite power (§381z, 22).


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conception of divestment as a pure gift and toward a more interactive understanding of gift-giving and -receiving.5 Whereas twentieth-century philosophy sought ever purer forms of givenness, from Husserl’s Gegebenheit to Heidegger’s Schicken to Marion’s donation, Hegel finds in Christianity a greater liveliness in its willingness to corrupt the gift. For Hegel, an appreciation of givenness entails not merely making way for an as yet unknowable gift but using divine givenness as an opportunity to revel in communion with God. The first four sections of this essay will explore Hegel’s account of the logic of the gift. Before turning to the religious uses to which Hegel puts the gift, I will first examine a few orienting passages on the function of the gift in ordinary ethical life. Then, beginning with his early conception of divine divestment in the 1805–6 Realphilosophie, I will show why he thinks spirit must be involved even in the self-sundering by which God gives life to creation. In the third section, I will use the Berlin Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion as a general framework to show the place of the gift in Hegel’s thinking on religion and why he takes Christianity’s appreciation of Christ’s human embodiment and suffering as a paradigm of active engagement with divine givenness. Then, in the fourth section, I will return to the Jena Phenomenology to show why Hegel thinks Christianity’s engagement with the gift is qualitatively different from that of other religions. This background will allow me to conclude with two important political implications of Hegel’s conception of religion as gratitude. First, I will argue that, while conceiving nature as a divine gift requires a substantial level of tolerance from the religious community, it is incompatible with the thoroughgoing religious pluralism that Peter Hodgson finds in Hegel’s philosophy of religion. Hegel does indeed advocate more ecumenical openness than he is often given credit for, but his exclusive praise for peculiarly Christian ways of conceiving God’s gift assumes that Christianity is unique in its ability to participate in the giving of the world. And second, I will argue that Hegel’s conception of God’s gift as a divestment expands on a critique of sovereignty that he had begun developing as early as the


William Desmond has argued that Hegel’s efforts to integrate spirit into divine giving have obscured the transcendence that is crucial to the the Christian conception of agape as pure giving (Desmond, Hegel’s God: A Counterfeit Double? [Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2003], 184). While I do not take a stand in this paper on whether Hegel accurately presents the early Christian understanding of agape, I will argue that he does present a coherent and fruitful account of what it means for spirit to be intimate with God, regardless of whether it conforms to Christian dogma.

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Differenzschrift. Christianity’s embrace of God’s dissemination,6 I hope to show, ultimately implies a politics of radical openness to nature. What the representative thinking of religion fails to grasp is that its assumption of spirit’s dominion is incompatible with the lessons of revelatory religion. Though spirit’s sovereign ingratitude has been replaced in religion with what might be called a sovereign gratitude, this is only a transitional stage to a form of gratitude that does not appeal to a gift at all. It is not just ingratitude that spirit must learn to reject but the very sovereignty that initially makes religious gratitude so appealing.

Hegel on Gift-Giving in Ethical Life While in the social sciences the twentieth century saw works like those of Marcel Mauss and Pierre Bourdieu that argued there is no such thing as a “pure” gift isolated from economies of exchange and self-interested considerations,7 much of twentieth-century phenomenology looked to double down on the gift and find a way to identify phenomena in their pure givenness. Jean-Luc Marion, for instance, has responded to Derrida’s suspicions that there might be no gift that meets the conditions of pure generosity8 by arguing that a gift could be identified in its pure givenness only if the phenomenologist could posit cases in which the donor, recipient, and gift
6) Though in Derrida’s Glas (trans. J. P. Leavey and R. Rand [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990], 31a), Derrida depicts Hegel’s account of the relation between God the Father and God the Son as one in which all dissemination is reintegrated into the Father, I argue below that one of the defining characteristics of religion is its appeal to a divine generosity without return; and though the Christian religion attempts to find Father and Son reunified in this giving, even here there remains a sense in which spirit has not been fully reconciled with the divine. 7) Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. W. D. Halls (New York: Norton, 1990). Pierre Bourdieu, The Logic of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1990). 8) To the extent that every gift intends to have at least some effect on the recipient, Derrida argues, a gift that does not seek at least some return for the donor would be im-possible. Even if the donor expects her gift to be met with hostility or indifference, either of these is still a recognition that a gift has been given. This is not to say, Derrida is careful to note, that no gifts are ever given but merely that we cannot observe phenomenologically a gift that meets all the conditions for being a gift. A gift would thus always be a surprise, incomprehensible in advance and unexpected (Donner le temps: 1. La fausse monnaie [Paris: Galilée, 1991]). See also “On the Gift: A Discussion between Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion, Moderated by Richard Kearney,” in John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon, eds. God, the Gift and Postmodernism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999), 54–78 and Caputo and Scanlon’s Introduction to the exchange, p. 4.


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itself were each absent or put out of action.9 Anticipations of this approach can be found as far back as Husserl, who intimates in The Idea of Phenomenology that the task of the phenomenological reduction is to isolate the bare givenness (Gegebenheit) of phenomena from what has been given and the process of giving itself.10 And as is well known, Heidegger emphasizes in several places11 that we will misunderstand the Es of “Es gibt sein” so long as we suppose that there is something which does the giving of being. As Derrida argues in an exchange with Marion, this entire line of thinking supposes that a gift given in active consultation with the recipient is no gift at all.12

9) Very briefly, these reductions imply that in order to show that a gift is phenomenologically possible, a gift must be posited that 1) is unnoticed or misinterpreted by the recipient, 2) is unconscious or forgotten immediately by the donor, and 3) involves a gift that fails to appear. According to Marion, it is not necessary to posit that all three conditions be met in a single gift, since it is enough to show that each of these three reductions can be accomplished (Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness, trans. J. L. Kosky [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002], 79–113). See also Robyn Horner, Rethinking God as Gift (New York: Fordham University Press, 2001), 123–41, and Russell W. Belk, “The Perfect Gift,” in C. Otnees and R. F. Beltramini, eds. Gift-Giving: A Research Anthology (Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1996), 61. Clearly there is much more to be said here regarding the contrasts with Hegel’s conception of the divine gift not only in Marion’s ostensibly phenomenological work but also in his explicitly theological work. In God Without Being, for instance, Marion argues that seeing creation as a gift emphasizes God’s distance from, rather than closeness to, creation (God Without Being, trans. T. A. Carlson [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991], 104). 10) Husserl, The Idea of Phenomenology, trans. W. Alston and G. Nakhnikian (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990), 34. 11) Heidegger, “Brief Über den ‘Humanismus’,” in Wegmarken, Bd. 9 of Gesamtausgabe (Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1976), 165. Heidegger, On Time and Being, trans. J. Stambaugh (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 8. 12) Caputo and Scanlon, God, the Gift and Postmodernism 58–59. In the same passage, it should be noted, Derrida also questions whether any definitive connection can be drawn between the structure of the gift and Husserl’s Gegebenheit or Heidegger’s es gibt. All the same, Derrida agrees that his own project in Given Time engages, as Marion’s own work does, with the questions of how and to what extent the gift should be secured as a concept. Such a securing, for Derrida as for Marion, would involve a careful restriction on the conditions under which a gift could appear. Indeed, once the concept of the gift has been purified to the point where, in Caputo’s words, “no one intends to give anything to anyone and no one is intentionally conscious of receiving anything,” there is a temptation to reject these “Grinch-like conditions” in favor of a more accommodating concept ( John D. Caputo, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida [New York: Fordham University Press, 1996], 143).

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For the mature Hegel, on the other hand, a gift in the most ordinary sense is a type of contract,13 and thus its success or failure is not a matter of individual conscience but of collaboration in the sphere of objective spirit. In the Philosophy of Right, Hegel defines a contract as a form of relation to things such that they become not merely things but, through the agreement of two or more parties, objects of will (§72).14 Gifts are the simplest form of contract in that they do not require even a nominal reciprocity, but they are still mutual in that the gift cannot be accomplished without the consent of both parties (§76). Presumably this would mean that if I surreptitiously slipped a banknote into my friend’s pocket, and he never noticed that his funds had increased, then this would not be a gift, for there would not even be implicit participation in the gift on his part. I would have voluntarily alienated my property, but this alienation would not have been recognized by my friend. The gift thus gains its meaning from its mutuality, from the commitment of both parties to participate in the transaction. Yet because gifts are mere things or external services, they can only ever achieve a partial unification of wills. The limitation of such a fixation on things is part of what motivates the transition in the Philosophy of Right from Abstract Right to Morality, that is, from questions of property to questions of conscience, but we find a more specific account of the limitations of the gift in a deleted passage from the early “Love” fragment (1797/98): “Gifts are externalizations [Entäusserungen] of a thing that nevertheless cannot lose the character of an object. Only the feeling of love, of enjoyment, is mutual. What is a means of enjoyment is dead, is property. And because love does nothing onesidedly, it cannot subsume anything that maintains through appropriation or mastery the character of a means, of property.”15 While gifts can be spurs to intimacy or even commemorations of it, they do not participate in the movement of love itself. The gift externalizes the love, but only in the form of something lifeless. When, for instance, my partner and I endeavor to express our love through gifts, we may be successful in expressing our selflessness or even sensitivity to each other’s personality and desires, but the gifts themselves
13) John Milbank has observed that in contemporary English, we often think of contractual and generous exchanges as antithetical. A gift, after all, is something that is never required (John Milbank, “Can a Gift be Given? Prolegomena to a Future Trinitarian Metaphysic,” Modern Theology 11, no. 1 [1995]: 122). But Hegel’s inclusion of gifts under the category of contracts reflects a broader understanding of the contractual. Strictly speaking, contracts are not coercive but reflect a specified ground of mutual agreement. 14) Hegel, Grundlinien der Philosophie des Rechts (Hamburg: Meiner, 1995). 15) Hegel, Werke in 20 Bänden, Bd. 1: Frühe Schriften (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 2003), 249n.


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remain dull, dead things whose value consists mainly in the (now past) act of giving. If later the relationship should sour, these gifts will grow obtrusive as evidence that, even in our moments of greatest mutuality, we still did not achieve any real unity of wills. In the ethical sphere, gift-giving for Hegel is a transaction that achieves a limited concord between the donor and recipient but which leaves a barrier to their ultimate unity. This would seem to imply, and indeed this is what we find in Hegel’s later writings on religion, that insofar as religious consciousness strives to receive nature as a gift, it will be increasingly successful in doing so the greater it takes its own role to be in the act of giving. If such a gift should fail to bring God and spirit together, it would not be because it was given or received with ambivalent intentions but because gifts as such are fixed externalizations of what must remain a dynamic interplay.

Entäusserung in the Jena Realphilosophie As far as I can tell, Hegel first develops his conception of creation as a divine gift in the 1805–6 Realphilosophie.16 In this early text, Hegel has not yet developed his later distinction between the philosophical studies of the concept of religion, the various determinate religions, and Christianity’s status as the consummate religion, but he has already begun to explore what it means to think of the world and a religious community as given by God. Here God is “the self of all, he is essence, pure thought; but, divested [entäussert] of this abstraction, he is actual self, he is a human being who has common spatial and temporal existence—and this individual human being is all individual human beings” (GW 8: 280). God makes himself actual through a process that Hegel here calls an Entäusserung of his essence. Variously translated as “externalization”17 and “divestment,”18 Entäusserung can signify either the sacrifices that individuals and communities make to show their faith or the process by which God suspends his simple self-presence and makes himself available to spirit in the form of his Son. Unlike in the Berlin Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion,
16) This work appears as Naturphilosophie und Philosophie des Geistes, vol. 3 of Jenaer Systementwürfe, in vol. 8 of Gesammelte Werke (Hamburg: Meiner, 1976); hereafter cited as GW, followed by volume and page numbers. 17) This is the usual translation for Baillie (Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, trans. J. B. Baillie [New York: Dover, 2003]) and Miller (Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979]) in their respective translations of the Phenomenology of Spirit. 18) For the most part in Hodgson’s translation of the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion.

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the Son is here identified with the community of believers.19 He is the side that God has divested of himself in an act of pure generosity. The religious spirit thus recognizes the world as a divine gift, but a gift of a peculiar kind. It is not a gift intended to establish or strengthen a relationship between two partisans, but an externalization that at once releases God’s love into an outer manifestation and transforms a mere abstraction of otherness into a being with the potential for real growth. Yet this is not a mutual giving of actuality, as when two friends help each other grow through mutual love and recognition. Instead, religion first accepts God’s gift through a denial of its own actuality. When a religious community establishes itself by withdrawing from the state, “religion is what lacks actuality [das Wirklichkeitslose], having its selfhood in the actual spirit, [and] thus is as suspended [als aufgehobenes]” (GW 8: 284). The initial move of the religious spirit’s self-divestment is a renunciation of the actual world and thus of its own spiritual conditions. In its withdrawal into itself, it refuses its conditions of growth as mere externalities and thus either withdraws from the broader community entirely or pulls it down into nihilistic fanaticism. The promise of God’s gift is emptied, and even the promise of heaven comes to be rejected as spiritual vanity: “Heaven flees from religion in the actual consciousness—man falls to earth and finds the religious only in the imagination. That is, religion is so intrinsically selfless that it is the spirit merely representing itself” (GW 8: 285). Religion as such directly mirrors God’s divestment. Just as God opens the possibility of genuine alterity by externalizing himself into the world, the religious consciousness prepares for a reunion with God by divesting itself of its particularity. In both cases, it is precisely through a suspension of self-seeking that both sides come to actualize themselves in one another.

Suffering and the Divine Gift in the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Thus we find already in the 1805–6 Realphilosophie the general structure of Hegel’s later account of revelatory religion. In representing itself as united with the divine, the religious spirit divests itself of its finitude in order to restore its connection to God. But what is not yet clear in the Realphilosophie
19) In the Lectures, the Son represents a distinct moment of the divine trinity from the community of believers, and the logical necessity of the trinitarian division is distinct from God’s free act of self-divestment. See Peter Hodgson, Hegel and Christian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 143. Hereafter cited as HCT, followed by page.


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is whether this movement belongs to religion in general or merely to the Christian religion. Hegel’s answer in the Berlin Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion20 (which I will argue below is broadly in accord with his approach in the 1807 Phenomenology) is that all the world’s religions have recognized some degree of divine divestment, but only the Christian religion fully appreciates its own role in receiving God’s generosity. In particular, Hegel takes Christianity to be unique in its self-understanding as the revealed ( geoffenbarte) religion. Religion distinguishes itself from prior moments of spirit by the “affirmative relation” it takes to its content, by its realization that the world is not an alien realm for spirit but has been given to it as its home (LPR 1: 315),21 but only Christianity grasps that this gift is something that spirit itself helps to make possible.22 For God to reveal himself fully entails that everything that God is be accessible to the human spirit. God must give himself over to spirit without remainder. “Among the Athenians,” Hegel (rather credulously) asserts, “the death penalty was exacted if one did not allow another person to light his lamp from one’s own, for one lost nothing by doing so. In the same way God loses nothing when he communicates himself ” (LPR 1: 382–83). For the revealed religion, creation is not so much transferred from God to humanity as it is shared between them. Yet, insofar as all religions take themselves to be divine gifts, a revealed religion cannot assume an immediate knowledge of God, as if the gift of creation were really nothing, for this would imply that God does not actually give of himself. In order to walk this narrow line between taking creation to be a gift from beyond and dismissing God’s generosity as necessary, revealed religion
20) While there are a number of significant differences between Hegel’s four Berlin courses on religion, particularly concerning the Concept of Religion and the order and relation of the determinate relations, I have encountered no significant differences among the courses concerning my thesis on the place of the gift in consummate religion. Thus while I will refer most frequently to the 1827 lectures, of which we have the most complete transcripts, I will also refer liberally to the other three courses. 21) Following recent convention, references to the Berlin lectures follow the English pagination in the three-volume edition of Hodgson’s translation: Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, ed. Peter C. Hodgson, 3 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008). 22) This claim of Hegel’s calls out for much more comparative theological work than I am equipped here to do. To take only one set of examples, it is not clear at first glance why various Jewish rituals, meant to establish and demonstrate the peace among humankind necessary for the coming of the messiah, would not count as the same sort of participation in the divine gift that Hegel finds in Christianity. But my aim in this paper is not to determine whether Hegel is right about Christianity or any of the other determinate religions he considers but to examine and evaluate the systematic role of his conception of a divine gift.

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takes God’s gift to be infinitely difficult even as it is complete and unwithholding, which entails in return that the religious community make an infinite divestment of its own in order to receive this total gift. In the 1821 manuscript of his religion lectures, Hegel insists that the Egyptian and Tibetan representations of divine presence fail to grasp the truth of this divestment, and it is only the figure of Jesus on the cross that adequately presents the unity of infinite love and infinite anguish (LPR 3: 137). Where other religions may ask for a divestment of worldly goods or even relationships to secure one’s connection to the divine, Christianity asks its adherents to divest themselves of sociality itself. While his contemporaries had noted the peculiarity that the Jesus of the Gospels seemed to disparage both friendship and sexual love among his followers, Hegel argues that this was entirely consistent with his teaching because friendship is inevitably “burdened by subjective particularity” (LPR 3: 139). As such, friendship and sexual love may indeed endure, but they are secondary for Christians, as the bond of the disciples “is not attraction as such” but lies “in the intuition of the speculative, the infinite love that comes from infinite anguish, i.e., from the worthlessness of particularity and the mediation of love through it” (LPR 3: 139). In this call for a sacrifice of particularity to match God’s own divestment, Christianity allows itself to accept a divine divestment that infinitely exceeds the world without assuming an unbearable debt. Humanity may feel guilty at its inability to match God’s sacrifice, but to the extent that it recognizes the worthlessness of its own particularizing desires, it need not worry that it has failed to match God’s grace. By promising to divest the community of the “subjective particularity” of interpersonal relations, it leaves no fixed community to accrue a debt. Unlike in the Realphilosophie, in the Berlin Lectures Hegel marks a sharp distinction between this love that is possible only in anguish and divine selflove. In each version of the lectures, Hegel is careful to distinguish God’s internal differentiation into a trinity from the externalization that creates the world and its religious community. Before there is any world at all, God’s infinite beneficence requires him to divide himself into Father and Son so that this beneficence might give itself someone to serve.23 But the very necessity of this
23) Somewhat confusingly, in David Strauss’s transcription of the 1831 lectures (as in the anonymous student notes from the 1831 course compiled in Hegel’s Werke), Hegel identifies God’s internal differentiation into Father and Son with the “kingdom” of the Father and the actual differentiation from the world and subsequent reconciliation in Christ with the kingdom of the Son (LPR 3: 363–68). The trinity thus has at least two distinct meanings: it refers both to the internal differentiation that follows from God’s nature and to the release from this nature required for a full enactment of spirit’s freedom.


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division gives it an introverted playfulness. Because this process of division occurs solely within God, “distinction in the process [is] already in and for itself a show, a game, just as reassurance and enjoyment [are] only the abstract form of movement in the reciprocity of love” (LPR 3: 83). Just as the closed structure of arithmetic (pre-Gödel) allows children to find pleasure in calculations that present diversity without ever presenting a real challenge to the system, lovers can find pleasure in positing distinctions—“Would you still love me if I lost all my teeth?”—that pose no real threat to the bond. God’s initial self-division is structured by such playfulness. Father and Son partake in a single enjoyment, but not one that opens either to a free relation. Thus this Urteil is only the initial step; God must also release (Entlassen) a world really distinct from himself, as the 1827 lectures explain more fully: “The act of differentiation is only a movement, a play of love with itself, which does not arrive at the seriousness of other-being, of separation and rupture” (LPR 3: 292). By recalling the language of the Phenomenology of Spirit’s critique of the Spinozist and Schellingian systems (GW 9: 18; PhG ¶19),24 Hegel shows how his account of God seeks to avoid pantheism. Any effort to understand God’s relation to creation must not simply posit a finite world as inhering in the infinite but must attempt to capture the actual labor involved in this release. God’s love does not merely play with itself but works to establish a genuine relationship with creation, which the spiritual community must learn to reciprocate.25 For revealed religion, creation is more than a simple outflowing from God. It consists in a relationship between spirit and God, which entails a separation of the two and subsequent reconciliation (LPR 1: 323). But if an adequate account of divine freedom needs to observe the distinctness of creation from God, it is equally important not to focus solely on the created world. Considered in isolation, the being of the world is negligible: “For the world, to be means to have being only for an instant, so to speak, but also to suspend [aufheben] its separation or estrangement from God” (LPR 3: 293). The value of the divine gift is found not just in the product but in the ceaseless generosity that gives rise to it, for a creation entirely abstracted from its relation to God would be a mere thing. If the religious spirit were to
References to the Phenomenology give page numbers from volume 9 of the Gesammelte Werke (Hamburg: Meiner, 1980) and the paragraph numbers found in the Miller translation (hereafter PhG ). For an argument that Spinoza is Hegel’s primary target in this passage, see H. S. Harris, Hegel’s Ladder I: The Pilgrimage of Reason (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997), 56. 25) Hegel makes a similar point in the Phenomenology’s discussion of Revelatory Religion. While initially absolute spirit reveals its subjectivity only in its inwardness and thus appears as a loving recognition (ein Anerkennen der Liebe) of itself, it must step out of pure essence and reveal itself to a genuine other (GW 9: 411; PhG ¶772).

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focus its gratitude entirely on the created world itself, its relationship with God would be a mere fetishism with none of the grace and gratitude necessary for a dynamic relationship. The created world is thus inseparable from the evil inhering in its separation from God and the fulfillment of reconciliation with God. It finds itself free to restore its connection to God, but its freedom does not extend to the divine essence, since to dissolve its relation to God entirely would amount to putting itself in God’s place. God’s role in this relation, on the other hand, is completely free, for it is precisely God’s freedom that allows him to release the world as a genuine other and not cling to it as necessary for his own constitution (LPR 3: 292).26 Whereas God’s own nature necessitates his original division into Father and Son, the creation of the world arises solely from his limitless generosity. Thus while the endless task of restoring creation to unity with the divine can seem like the assignment of a demanding God, it is fairer to say that divine creation appears simply as a gift. In Hodgson’s memorable turn of phrase, “God is an inexhaustible fount that releases its fecundity into that which is not-God” (HCT 144). But in this release, God suspends the sharp distinction between himself and his creation and thus, again in Hodgson’s words, “becomes involved in the brokenness of the world process” (HCT 263). God’s generosity is thus far from one-sided. The gift of creation is not shipped from afar but emerges in actual consultation with spirit. A fully realized religion must thus be able to represent the participation of spirit in the divine gift. While Lamaism, Egyptian religion, and others have found ways to represent the presence of the divine on earth, Hegel argues that only the Christian conception of the Passion adequately represents both the agony of divine divestment and the freedom that it yields to spirit. Human beings share Christ’s suffering with God, and it is precisely through this sharing that it becomes possible to represent spirit’s release from and reconciliation with God.27 Though suffering can isolate the individual by drowning out everything outside her private pain, the very intensity of this internalization allows Christianity to represent God’s act of divestment without imagining it as a stark separation.28 Because death is the highest form of finitude, and
Here Hodgson’s explanation is especially helpful (HCT 144). As Robert Williams has argued, the appearance of Jesus as a suffering human being must appear in history and not just as a metaphysical separation of the creator from his creation; “Suffering is not ontological, but gratuitous, i.e., for the sake of an other” (Robert R. Williams, “Theology and Tragedy,” in New Perspectives on Hegel’s Philosophy of Religion, ed. David Kolb, [Albany: SUNY Press, 1992], 51) (hereafter TT). 28) Williams helpfully clarifies, “The death of Jesus is God’s highest self-divestment (Entäusserung): in it God has died, God himself is dead. This fearful picture brings before the imagination the deepest abyss of alienation” (TT, 48–49).
27) 26)


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anguish the most extreme example of interiority, the image (Vorstellung) of Christ’s death is the most complete representation of divine divestment that still admits the possibility of human participation in divinity (LPR 3: 125). It is not just the extremity of this anguish that allows Christianity to imagine this divestment; it is also the very structure of the sacrifice. Christianity grasps that Christ’s sacrifice is not just a gift given to loyal or favorite children but “has occurred in and for itself. It is not an extrinsic sacrifice that is performed” (LPR 3: 128). Rather, it occurs out of the very necessity of divine divestment. Simultaneously infinitely distant and infinitely near to Christ’s anguish (LPR 3: 140), Christianity takes this anguish not as a gift to be repaid, but as a condition of possibility for the mutual love of God and humanity. By commemorating God’s externalization, the Christian community takes part in it and thus recognizes its own freedom in relation to the divine. Yet it would be a mistake to conclude from this that the community forms itself as a proper receptacle for divine beneficence. While we might be tempted to view religious ritual as both a solicitation of and expression of gratitude for God’s gifts, Hegel argues that tradition is not an autonomous gift to repay a gracious God, for “it, too, is something given, not created from itself. It is the spirit of the community as a whole [überhaupt]” (LPR 3: 151). The giving and receiving of the world are not two separate acts, but help to establish each other.29 As such, Christianity has learned to emphasize the faith of the community above that of the individual. Whereas individual faith can arise from all sorts of accidental occurrences, the faith of the community resists such contingencies and represents instead a sharing of the image of God (LPR 3: 150). Community itself is a gift, but this means reciprocally that this gift must be met with a parallel divestment. Since religious consciousness in general assumes that the spiritual substance of any particular age is nothing but God’s objectification of himself (LPR 3: 144), history is the externalization of selfconsciousness so that it might meet God’s generosity. Christianity’s reconciliation with God is thus one that posits its own participation in their very separation. Rather than taking its falling away from the divine as forced upon it and their reconciliation as an event simply to be awaited, it takes both the suffering of separation and the work of reconciliation to be the responsibility of both God and spirit. Though God has divested himself of creation as a gift, this gift occurs with spirit’s full participation.

In the 1824 lectures, Hegel adds that faith and the community are mutually constituting: “It is the community as it begins from faith; but on the other hand, it is the faith that is brought forth as spirit, so faith is at the same time the result” (LPR 3: 226).


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Reciprocating the Divine Gift in the Phenomenology of Spirit But this formulation explains neither how Christianity is related to the various determinate religions nor how Christianity’s reception of God’s externalization qualifies it as “the Consummate Religion.” While Hegel expounds upon the religious community’s role in receiving the divine gift in each of the four Berlin lecture courses, the reasons for Hegel’s preference for Christian rituals can be seen more clearly in the Jena Phenomenology of Spirit, where he considers revelation primarily from the side of spirit rather than from that of God. In the Phenomenology, Hegel frames God’s externalization as a rebundling of the previous shapes of spirit. Whereas consciousness, self-consciousness, and so on, present merely single aspects of the totality of spirit and thus progress in a more or less linear fashion, in religion the sequence of spiritual shapes “is now, as it were, broken at these nodes, at these universal moments, and falls apart into many lines which, gathered up into a single bundle, at the same time combine symmetrically so that the similar differences in which each particular moment took shape within itself meet together” (GW 9: 367; PhG ¶681). In religion, the development of spirit is no longer simply an unfolding of the various abstract shapes that spirit can take but, in reflecting on the various ways these shapes can combine and mutually implicate one another, spirit releases itself into the concrete human forms in which these shapes manifest themselves. And since religion is spirit that knows itself as such, this release is not just in-itself, but constitutes a key part of the content of religious representation. Thus in its first determinate shape in the Phenomenology, God is nothing but pure externalization. In the section titled “Das Lichtwesen,” God is identified with the simple outflowing of light, and “the movements of its own externalization [Entäusserung], its creations in the unresting element of its otherness are flows of light; they are in their simplicity at once its being-for-self and its turning back from its existence [Dasein], the fire streams that destroy all concrete shapes” (GW 9: 371; PhG ¶686). Here Hegel echoes Schelling’s Von der Weltseele in representing God as pure and constant divestment, an immediate self-presence of spirit that nonetheless releases itself into otherness.30 For
Walter Jaeschke has noted the obscurity of the term Lichtwesen and argued that while it seems indebted to Schelling’s Von der Weltseele, the form of religion it describes seems to have little to do with Schellingian physics and thus probably represents either early Iranian religion or, more likely, the Jewish God (Jaeschke, Vernunft in der Religion. Studien zur Grundlegung der Religionsphilosophie Hegels [Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 1986], 209–15) (hereafter VR). I find much that is persuasive in Jaeschke’s account, but I also think the link to Schelling is closer than he lets on. Harris, on the other hand, unproblematically identifies this stage of religion with


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Schelling in Weltseele, the Lichtwesen is the primary natural force that seeks uniformity by spreading itself throughout all of nature.31 It is divestment pure and simple and thus corresponds quite neatly to the movement of this first shape of the divine. For Hegel, while this form does express the basic externalizing structure of the divine, its activity is “an essenceless playing-away [wesenloses Beiherspielen] which merely ascends without descending into its depths to become a subject and through the self to consolidate its distinct moments” (GW 9: 371; PhG ¶687). As pure revelry (Taumel ), it is incapable of any genuine revelation, since it leaves no space for spirit to arise and receive God’s infinite abundance. Like the pure loss that Bataille describes in The Accursed Share, it is a fecundity without offspring, a productivity without return.32 Thus spirit gradually learns to mobilize more of this excess, and this reverence for God’s pure generosity is transformed through sacrifice (zum Opfer) into a worship of plants and animals (GW 9: 372; PhG ¶688). After various natural forms of worship give way to a reverence for artistic productivity, spirit eventually finds that even the ever new gifts of the Muses leave it cold. Hegel writes: “The works of the Muse now lack the power of the spirit. . . . They have become what they are for us now—beautiful fruit already picked from the tree, which a friendly fate has offered us, as a girl might set the fruit before us. . . . Our act of enjoying them is therefore not one in the service of God through which our consciousness might come to its perfect truth and fulfillment; it is an external activity” (GW 9: 402; PhG ¶753). To judge oneself a mere recipient of divine gifts, even ones as spiritual as artistic gifts, is to remove oneself from the life of their production. Thus a properly revelatory religion would need to see God’s gifts as given not simply through divine inspiration but through spiritual divination. To grasp how God’s externalizing generosity can be identical with the individual self, spirit must learn to picture this generosity as both ongoing and mediated through spirit’s own activity. Religion becomes manifest or revelatory (offenbar) when it grasps God’s externalization as speech. While speech is external in the sense that it escapes the pure self-relation of the speaker, it maintains a fluidity that even the most perfect works of the Muses fail to
Zoroastrianism, hedging only by saying that Hegel’s account is “oversimplified” (H. S. Harris, Hegel’s Ladder II: The Odyssey of Spirit [Indianapolis: Hackett Press, 1997], 549). 31) F. W. J. Schelling, Schellings sämmtliche Werke, ed. K. F. A. Schelling (Stuttgart-Augsburg: J. G. Cotta, 1856–1861), 2: 369. See also Joseph Esposito, Schelling’s Idealism and Philosophy of Nature (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 1977), 88–89. 32) Georges Bataille, The Accursed Share, trans. Robert Hurley, vol. 1 (New York: Zone Books, 1989).

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equal. A spoken word is given to the listener to interpret, and yet it also carries with it the promise of future speech. By placing his essence into an externalized word, God commits himself to presence before spirit, should his word ever need clarification (GW 9: 410; PhG ¶770).33 And because speech needs a hearer to be fully actual, the gift of divine speech is not just a gift to spirit but a gift in concert with spirit. Hegel’s point here is subtle, and it can perhaps be elucidated by comparing the divine logos with more tangible gifts. As Derrida has observed, “When I give something to someone, in the classical semantic of the gift—be it money, a book, or be it simply a promise or a word—I already promise to confirm it, to repeat it, even if I do not repeat it.”34 One of the factors that distinguishes a gift from a mere divestment is the donor’s implicit promise that the act of giving, even if it is without any other motive than generosity, at least attempts to establish a relationship. Here I take Hegel to be arguing that when creation is understood as the Word, this promissory structure of the gift is brought to the fore and divine beneficence is taken to be something in which spirit participates. As Hegel recalls from the book of Job in the Berlin lectures, when “God thunders with his thundering voice,” he is not recognized.35 Only insofar as the religious spirit takes God to be something with which it can share language does it begin to recognize nature as a gift rather than an alien presence. Thus revelatory religion finds God not in any of his particular gifts but in the creation of the world itself. When God gives birth to the world in speech, he externalizes himself into a world that is at once a collection of inert, externally related objects and an existing reflection of God himself (GW 9: 412; PhG ¶¶774–75). The divine act of giving the world is one in which spirit actively participates. While the representative (vorstellendes) structure of religious cognition can lead spirit to take either God or the finite self as the essential side of this relation (GW 9: 414; PhG ¶778), in the end the relation is only intelligible as a free and mutual act of giving. Yet because the religious consciousness “does not grasp the fact that this depth of the pure self is the power by which the abstract divine being is drawn down from its abstraction and raised to a self by the power of this pure devotion” (GW 9: 420; PhG ¶787)—because, that is, it does not fully grasp that its receipt of God’s gift is,

See Harris, Hegel’s Ladder II, 678, for a helpful elucidation of this point. Derrida, “On the Gift: A Discussion Between Jacques Derrida and Jean-Luc Marion,” in God, the Gift, and Postmodernism, 67. 35) Job 37:5; LPR 3: 295n, 3: 365.



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taken from the standpoint of the concept, the very same act as the gift itself—it still sees its natural side as something that it must divest from itself.36 The primary act of Christian worship is thus one of grateful divestment meant to reciprocate God’s own divestment. Such acts are, of course, common to religion in general, from pagan sacrifices meant to thank the gods by divesting personal property to Hesiod’s repeated thanking of the Muses for the ability to produce an external commemoration of the origin of the gods.37 But in Christianity we see a unique unity of internalization and externalization in the expression of gratitude. Because God’s externalization is represented as the Word, the reciprocal externalization of the community is taken to be a sentence (Satz). In the speculative proposition, the revelatory religion raises itself above the binary logic of representative thinking by declaring that God both is and is not nature, that the principle of all goodness both is and is not evil (GW 9: 416; PhG ¶780). Regardless of whether it is externalized in the formal process of confession or remains internal in private prayer, the asking and granting of forgiveness reveals the essential unity of God and spirit and allows for a kind of gratitude that does not posit any absolute distinction between benefactor and beneficiary. Christian prayer thanks God in a manner that comes from both an individual and a community and speaks to a God who both is and is not separate from the individual self.

God’s Divestment and Religious Pluralism Thus in both the Berlin lectures and the Phenomenology, Hegel makes explicit what he had not yet specified in the Jena Realphilosophie: first, that religion only reaches its developed form when it finds a means of self-divestment that is not just opposite and equal to God’s own divestment, but that takes itself to be participating in God’s divestment, and second, that Christianity is the only
36) In absolute knowing, on the other hand, self-consciousness reflects that since it has externalized itself into objects, not only is it capable of being an object, but objects are capable of being spiritual (GW 9: 422; PhG ¶788). As Hegel puts it in the 1827 lectures, philosophy “presents the reconciliation of God with himself and with nature, showing that nature, otherness, is implicitly divine, and that the raising of itself to reconciliation is on the one hand what finite spirit implicitly is, while on the other hand it arrives at this reconciliation, or brings it forth, in world history” (LPR 3: 347). Philosophy grasps that nature’s externalization is no disavowal of its divinity but reflects its participation in divine gift-giving. 37) Hesiod, Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia, trans. Glenn W. Most, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), lines 1–115.

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religion that has achieved this self-representation. Given Hegel’s frequent insensitivity to non-Western cultures, we would do well to examine these claims closely before jumping to the conclusion that Hegel advocates a kind of religious imperialism. In this vein, Peter Hodgson has argued that the “release” (Entlassen) of the spiritual community that makes religion possible in the first place is already a release of any particular doctrine and thus is incompatible with a position that holds Christianity as the sole culmination of religious development. Indeed, no single religion could be the consummate religion, since a truly free religion would have to foster and benefit from “a productive dialogue of existing world religions, in the process of which each will change” (HCT 242–43). Moreover, it seems unlikely that Hegel would remain stubbornly insistent on an exclusive claim to truth for Christianity when his various versions of the history of religious consciousness vary so widely and seem to lack any governing principle.38 While Hegel may at times argue or imply that the historical religions are developing into a single consummate form,39 it would seem that his philosophical heart was not in this claim. Though the pluralism of this reading is undoubtedly appealing from a geopolitical perspective, it conflicts with Hegel’s largely consistent claims that Christianity is the Consummate Religion because it alone comes to terms with God’s divestment. As Jaeschke helpfully observes, Christianity is the Consummate Religion not because it stands at the endpoint of the various determinate religions or because it incorporates their content into a complete relation to God. Its consummateness consists, rather, in its incorporation of the moments of the Concept of Religion (VR, 295). Specifically, it meets the concept’s demand that God be distinct from spirit and nevertheless entirely revealed to it (LPR 1: 382–83). For Christianity, revelation itself is reciprocal: God and the community come together in their mutual embrace of Christ’s suffering. This reciprocity explains why the religious pluralism that Hodgson advocates is only partially compatible with Hegel’s position. On the one hand, Hodgson is right that God’s release into the world requires that he be “known in the mode of dispersal rather than of finality” (HCT 219). The centrality of God’s divestment in Hegel’s account of religion means that there can be no

See Jaeschke, VR, 288–89. Further evidence of this resistance to a single narrative is Hegel’s claim in the 1824 Lectures that “[w]hat spirit does is no history [Historie]” (LPR 3: 232). 39) In the 1824 lectures, for instance, he argues that the path of determinate religions must be traversed because “something cannot be perfect from the very beginning, but only when it attains itself, attains its goal” (LPR 1: 143).


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such thing as a final religion and that Christianity does not so much close off the possibility of any other possible revelation as grasp the anguish of divine separation at its greatest depth.40 But because this divestment is reciprocal, we cannot simply say that every community has been given an equal allotment of grace, if such an idea is even conceivable. Divestment of self-consciousness is not an entreaty or a making way for God, but it is nevertheless a condition for God’s presence, and in Hegel’s account it appears most saliently in Christian communities. This of course does not rule out the possibility that another religion could find a way to represent the unity of spirit and God in a mutual act of interiorizing divestment; and given the limitations of the anthropological resources to which Hegel had access, it is quite plausible that he overlooked some important convergences in world religions. But to assume with Hodgson that if Hegel were alive today he would be a religious pluralist (HCT 243) requires us to unduly emphasize Hegel’s open and experimental readings of the world’s determinate religions over his largely consistent accounts of Christianity as the Consummate Religion. However, this rejection of a thoroughgoing religious pluralism does not imply that Christianity fully captures the unity of God and spirit. As Hegel repeatedly notes in all four of the lecture courses, religion as such is the consciousness of God and thus carries with it the division of subject and object that makes consciousness possible (LPR 3: 250). Christianity is the Consummate Religion because it recognizes the content of God to be spirit itself and thus brings the religious consciousness back to itself. But if this difference were entirely effaced, then there would be no religion at all. Thus the Christian religion can only be consummate in a manner that preserves the distinction between God and the worshiper and thus ceaselessly expresses rather than cognizes its gratitude to God. Even in Christianity, God and spirit are taken to be distinct poles that must be reconciled through the relationship cultivated through the divine gift. In tying itself to particular images of divine beneficence, such expressions of gratitude still fail to grasp conceptually spirit’s unity with its gift. This is not to say that philosophy makes the differences between religions moot—after all, representation, though a privative form of cogni40) For this reason, while I agree with Kolb’s claim that Hegel does not see all religions as more or less equally embodying various structures of spirit, I do not think he goes as far as to make Kolb’s stronger claim that Christianity achieves an “inclusive closure that helps establish the absoluteness of absolute spirit” (David Kolb, “The Final Name of God,” in Michael Baur and John Russon, Hegel and the Tradition [Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1997], 170). As Hodgson reminds us, absolute knowing is not a completion but an acceptance of the inevitability of incompletion.

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tion, is not nothing—but it does mean that none of these representations or systems of representation has an absolute claim to superiority over the others. While Christianity may reconcile itself with God’s gift in a way that Hegel finds lacking in other religions, this does not imply that Christianity ought to replace determinate religions or even that it deserves to sit at the head of the table of religions. Rather, it means that the gratitude expressed in the Christian religion entails a relinquishment of such facile narratives of completion.41

Overcoming Sovereignty This moves me to my second contention about the political implications of Hegel’s philosophy of religion. As spirit moves from religion to absolute knowing, it must learn to suspend not only the ingratitude with which it throws off its merely natural side, but also the sovereignty. As early as the Differenzschrift, Hegel had dismissed Fichte’s assumption of humanity’s sovereignty over nature as an archaism that the times were already beginning to reject.42 To assume that nature becomes significant only in its relation to human cognition is to assume a sovereignty that absolute knowing must learn to suspend. Christianity expresses its gratitude for creation both in prayer and in remembrance of the Passion, but this is a gratitude that treats nature as a mere thing, as a gift that has been passed from the divine to the human. Religion does indeed teach spirit to see nature as something more than merely its opposite (LPR 3: 294n) and even to appreciate the evil toward which its own nature inclines it (LPR 3: 309), but it can only see nature as an object of exchange between God and humanity and not as a vital moment of spirit itself. So long as its representative (vorstellendes) thinking continues to distinguish between the gift and its giving, religion will fail to see that its gratitude is incompatible with its assumption of sovereignty. And as Hegel had also shown in the Difference essay, this assumption of sovereignty over nature transforms all too easily into a form of


See Hodgson, HCT, 275. Thus while I think Cyril O’Regan is right to criticize Hodgson’s radically pluralistic reading of Hegel’s account of religion, Hodgson has a reasonable defense against the claim that this pluralism forces him “to downplay Hegel’s emphasis in the Lectures on narrative completion or ‘return’ (Rückkehr) and ‘recollection’ (Errinerung) as a condition of truth” (Cyril O’Regan, “Philosophy of Religion in the Context of Hegel’s Philosophy,” The Owl of Minerva 37, no. 1 (Fall/Winter 2005–6): 21). While narratives of completion do indeed play a significant role in Christianity’s representation of its own relation to God, these narratives begin to dissolve as Christianity begins to fragment (LPR 3: 157). 42) Hegel, GW 4: 50.


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political totalitarianism (GW 4: 58). Without the humility and tolerance that accompanies philosophy’s grasp of the concept’s ability to turn into its opposite, any religion—even one as committed to universal love as Christianity—can grow intransigent and thus lapse into the crusades and pogroms that give the lie to its founding act of self-divestment. Near the end of the Phenomenology’s final chapter, Hegel notes that the externalization of the path of spirit into the atemporal form of science is insufficient, for spirit must also divest itself of its assumption that it can know itself completely. Hegel writes, “The self-knowing spirit knows not only itself, but also the negative of itself, or its limit; to know one’s limit is to know to sacrifice oneself ” (GW 9: 433; PhG ¶807).43 Absolute knowing thus entails a renunciation of the sovereignty that spirit claims over nature. To the extent that spirit remains mired in the representative thinking of religion, it will tend to view nature as a gift from God and thus as its sovereign dominion. For the religious consciousness, nature is to be valued as participating in the divine, but nevertheless nature begins as a beyond and is accessible only to the extent that it has been given to spirit. But for a philosophy that grasps the necessity of nature’s release from reason, the strangeness of nature is no longer a threat. Spirit can be thankful for the simple presence of the world without reducing nature to a mere object of exchange between the divine and the human. Indeed, there is something perverse in the religious consciousness’ demand that creation as a whole be taken as a gift. Just as it is more than a little ridiculous for self-help books to suggest that patients learn to accept their cancer as a “gift,”44 absolute knowing must learn to absolve itself of the image of a world created expressly for it. There is of course much to be said for a form of consciousness that is able to affirm the world as spirit’s proper home rather than fear it as a swarm of alien forces, and Hegel would never want to reduce Christianity to the self-help book’s demand that one learn to look on the “bright side.” While Christianity for Hegel has learned to embrace spirit’s suffering as providential, it has done so only through the long and arduous work of faith, rather than from an a priori certainty that everything will turn out all right (LPR 1: 315). Nevertheless, the representative thinking of religion embraces a
“Seine Grenze wissen, heißt, sich aufzuopfern wissen.” Miller’s translation, “. . . to know one’s limit is to know how to sacrifice oneself ” (p. 492) misleadingly implies that in absolute knowing spirit gains the ability to sacrifice itself rather than knowledge of the necessity of this sacrifice. 44) Barbara Ehrenreich explores this almost comic position in her recent anti-self-help treatise Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009).

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sense of being at home in the world that the fluidity of the concept cannot abide. The suspension of religion is a suspension of the need for a sovereign dominion and thus of the assumption that spirit can be entirely comfortable with its place. Only in this peaceful release of all claims of sovereignty can it finally make good on the gratitude it professes in religion.

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