Nothingness Pregnant with Everything: Hegel and the Dialectics of History

Hegel famously writes that “what is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational” (1991, 20). This should not be misconstrued as a statement that justifies a conservatism which seeks to maintain the status-qou or that would suggest that all ‘actually’ existing forms or patterns present are the the utmost pinnacle of reason and rationality and should therefore be preserved. Rather, as Ian Fraser explains, it is “that the rational is present even within an imperfect world and the Speculative philosopher’s task is to comprehend this rationality” (1997, 90). To understand this one must equally understand Hegel’s view of history, his dialectic, the importance of Geist (translated as Spirit or Mind) and the immense interconnectivity of all three.

Peter Singer writes that “one of Hegel’s central beliefs” was simply “the belief that history has some meaning and significance” (2001, 14). While Hegel can be said to be a teleological thinker his belief in the “meaning and significance” of history is far more a statement explaining that “reflection on our past enables us to discern the direction history is taking, and the destination it will ultimately reach” (Singer 2001, 15). Indeed, Hegel’s teleology should not be considered classical, strong, or wholly deterministic. It seems to be not so much a teleology of the future but, a teleology of the present. Perhaps one could say that Hegel’s is a ‘realized’ or a ‘sapiential’ teleology, especially as it is wholly dependent upon the efforts and actions of humanity for its realization. Here, as Peter Thompson explains, in relation to history, the dialectic, and Geist, “becoming was the password to understanding how the ‘absolute spirit’ [Geist] not only expressed itself but, more importantly, generated itself through the process of history” (2011, para. 7). Thompson continues saying that Becoming is “the process by which Hegel’s absolute spirit was not only working in the world but creating itself at the same time” (2011, para. 7). This becoming is the very essence, purpose, and function of the dialectic (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) in which Being is negated by its contradiction Nothingness which is then sublated by Becoming. Hegel makes such a determination through analyzing the sociological patterns and formations constructed throughout ‘actual’ events within human history and reveals the ‘unfolding’ of the dialectic motion of Geist through the speculative approach of a kind of philosophical/historical hindsight. Here, Hegel’s relation to history and teleology is not linear but, is more of a spiral, as the ‘synthesis’ that comes about through the interaction of the thesis and its antithesis is often open ended. As Peter Singer explains “Every dialectical movement terminates with a synthesis, but not every synthesis brings the dialectical process to a stop” (2001, 102) In many cases as Hegel illustrates with his historical overview of societal progression the synthesis is “the thesis for a new dialectical movement, and so the process will continue” (Singer 2001, 102).
This process is representative of a kind of dialectical transcendence and a radical immanence, that is, it is a transcendence (transcending that which exists) that occurs without the Transcendent (a ‘beyond’ or wholly other). For Hegel, history, humanity, the World, and Geist are a holistic totality. Hegel proposes that “spirit[/Geist] is not something individual, but the unity of the individual and the universal” (1991, 197). The Becoming of the world and history is at once the Becoming of Geist, for Geist and the world are one and the same. Thus, the evolution and progression of the world is nothing other than the self-consciousness of Geist realizing itself through itself. It is the world coming to know itself as itself. Any supposed separation is an illusion and brings about what Hegel terms ‘alienation’. Sean Sayers explains that “it is part of the essence of self-conscious spirit to strive to overcome its alienation, its separation, from nature” and as such Geist “strives to heal its breach with nature and be at home in the world” (2003, 120). As Hegel himself writes this “is not intended [as] a self-recognition that regards the specialties of one’s own weakness and defects: it is not the individual that is admonished to become acquainted with his idiosyncrasy, but humanity in general is summoned to self-knowledge” (2004, 220).
Fraser, Ian. “Two of a kind: Hegel, Marx, dialectic and form.” Capital & Class 18, no. 61 (Spring97 1997): 81-12. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed August 5, 2013).
Hegel, G.W.F. Elements of the Philosophy of Right. Translated by H.B. Nisbet. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Hegel, G.W.F. The Philosophy of History. Translated by J. Sibree. New York: Dover Publications, 2004.
Sayers, Sean. “Creative Activity and Alienation in Hegel and Marx.” Historical Materialism 11, no. 1 (March 2003): 107-128. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed August 5, 2013).
Thompson, Peter. “Karl Marx, Part 3: Men Make their Own History.” The Guardian, Feb. 27, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2011/apr/18/karl-marx-men-mak
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Hegel and Integral Philosophy?

 

 

Several months ago I finished reading Ken Wilber’s book A Theory of Everything. I have often been skeptical of Integral Philosophy and Spiral Dynamics. I can’t say I was very impressed by the text and while I still remain unconvinced and very suspicious of Integral philosophy there were a few glimmers of interest within Wilber’s book.

In the preface to A Theory of Everything, Wilber writes the following:

“‘An integral vision’ – or a genuine Theory of Everything – attempts to include matter, body, mind, soul, and spirit as they appear in self, culture, and nature. A vision that attempts to be comprehensive, balanced, inclusive. A vision that therefore embraces science, art, and morals; that equally includes disciplines from physics to spirituality, biology to aesthetics, sociology to contemplative prayer…”

Wilber is aiming at articulating a holistic and polyvalent experience of all the nuances, complexities, intricacies, and eccentricities of lived reality.

This book is a brief overview of a Theory of Everything. All such attempts, of course, are marked by the many ways in which they fail. The many ways in which they fall short, make unwarranted generalizations, drive specialists insane, and generally fail to achieve their stated aim of holistic embrace. It’s not just that the task is beyond any one human mind; it’s that the task itself is inherently undoable: knowledge expands faster than ways to categorize it. The holistic quest is an ever-receding dream, a horizon that constantly retreats as we approach it, a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow that we will never reach.

Wilber seems to begin the project of his text with the assertion of its failure. He not only states that the work falls short but, seems to allude that its inadequacy is actually an integral feature of the project. Failure is, in effect, part of the system. The short-comings are an implicit part of the structure. Wilber, then, goes to say:

So why even attempt the impossible? Because, I believe, a little bit of wholeness is better than none at all, and an integral vision offers considerably more wholeness than the slice-and-dice alternatives. We can be more whole, or less whole; more fragmented, or less fragmented; more alienated, or less alienated – and an integral vision invites us to be little more whole, a little less fragmented, in our work, our lives, our destiny.

Wilber is calling for the utter embrace of the impossible, a fractured holism, an alienated inclusion, and a fragmented integration. Wilber suggests that a good theory is defined as “one that lasts long enough to get you to a better one.” A Theory of Everything, then, as Wilber proposes, “is not a fixed or final theory.” It is, in fact, “simply one that has served its purpose if it helps you get to a better one.”
Is this not, in many way the Hegelian vision of speculative philosophy and history?
Is not this alienated inclusion and fragmented integration, in many ways, a depiction of Hegel’s dialectic?
Is not this fractured attempt at an impossible wholeness a description of the process by which Hegel’s Absolute Spirit or Geist ‘unfolds’ into self-realization, an open-ended dialectic that knows no ultimate or conclusive synthesis?
What if Integral Philosophy, as Wilber explains it, an incredibly useful reading of Hegel?

Is Saturday Forgotten on Sunday?

 

Holy Saturday is too often passed over far too quickly on the way to resurrection Sunday. It is a day that fully inhabits the death of God, a day that is utterly saturated with complete and total absence of the divine. If the cry from the cross marks the kenotic self-emptying moment in which God himself becomes an atheist and then dies, then Holy Saturday marks the fullness and completeness of radical theology as it wholly embraces the loss of God and the negation of totality. It is the radical theological tradition that is most devotedly and adamantly true to originality and unaltered ending of the Markan gospel. Mark’s gospel in its original form does not contain an account of resurrection but, rather ends abruptly at verse 8 of chapter 16 with the discovery of an empty tomb and Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome fleeing in fright.  Sightings and appearances of the resurrected Christ, the Comissioning of the disciples, and the ascension are all later editions and have no true home in the gospel of Mark. This is a gosepl most wholly adhered to by radical theology; a gospel that does not find its culmination in Resurrection, nor is it fulfilled amidst the rapturous ecstatic light of Ascension. Radicality of Mark’s text is instead its fulfillment in a fracturus and fragmented ending that witnesses only terror, fear, emptiness and absence.
Thomas J. J. Altizer writes that:

“Only Christianity among the world religions enacts the fullness and the finality of a truly actual death, a death that is an ultimate death, and a death that is inseparable from what Christianity knows as an absolute fall.”

Here, we must recognize, as Altizer states, that “the proclamation of the death of God is a Christian confession of faith, and a uniquely Christian faith in the ultimacy of the Crucifixion.”

But,  this loss,  this negation,  the ultimate death of God still does not go far enough for all this is found present within Good Friday. Holy Saturday is not only the dialectical destruction of the divine, it is at once a much stronger,  more foreboding, and a more menacingly traumatic event. It marks the actualized descent into hell. This is incarnational theology at its fullest. This is the incarnate followed through to its absolute end. For a fully realized incarnation cannot simply stop at the descent to earth, the descent to humanity, or even the descent into death but,  must ultimately and fully descend into hell. Here God is not only dead but damned.

Altizer writes that “if Jesus is the name of Incarnation, and of a once and for all and absolutely unique incarnation, that incarnation finally realizes itself as absolute death, and only that death makes possible or actualizes a uniquely Christian resurrection.” The centrality of this move within Holy Saturday is key to a proper understanding of resurrection Sunday. This must be the lenses through which resurrection is seen otherwise it not only improperly framed but mistaken, misconstrued, misinterpreted, misread, and incomplete. “[T]he deepest negation embodies the deepest affirmation, or the deepest death is ultimately the deepest life, or the deepest darkness finally the most ecstatic light (Altizer, 56).

Altizer concludes clearly:

“Christianity knows an absolute death as the one and only source of redemption, proclaiming that Christ’s death inaugurated the new creation, and all humanity is now called to participate in this death as the way of salvation. Death, it is true, is a universal way of ultimate transformation, but only in Christianity is redemptive death an actual and historical death, and only in those worlds that have come under the impact of Christianity can we discover records of a full and concrete experience of the factuality and finality of death”

The truest possible form of a total resurrection, that is, a resurrection of any deep actual meaning or abiding operative significance, can only come about as a consequence of this absolutely dialectical death.
“Only the most ultimate and absolute negation can realize that apocalyptic totality, but this negation is a self-negation or a  self-emptying, and only thereby can it make possible an absolutely new totality. Only this totality is a truly resurrected body, so here the resurrected body is a resurrected totality, and a resurrected body only possible as a consequence of an absolute self-emptying”(Altizer, 60).

This is resurrection. This is the importance of Easter Sunday. A wholly new totality emerging, resurrecting from the absolute death of the Godhead plunged into the very depths of Hell. Sunday morning is only seen clearly from vantage and scope of Saturday night.

Altizer, Thomas J.J., New Gospel of Christian Atheism. Aurora: The Davies Group Publishers, 2002. Print

Protest of the “Nones”: Religious Disavowal as Social Critique

Due to the incredulous pace of my normative work-a-day life, between wife, kids, work, school, and all that comes with them, there is often an immense gap between the event in which an idea for a post is sparked and its actual construction. The negative of this is that sometimes the post verges upon being outdated before it is ever published, however, interestingly enough, what often occurs as a result of this delay is that the initial event and the originating idea begin to correlate and connect themselves to other unpublished thoughts and events that otherwise may have appeared to be unrelated. This writing is certainly one such example. With that in mind, I hope you will excuse the fact that portions of this writing are based on news stories that are now almost a month or so old. Yet, I hope you will alos still see the relevancy that they still maintain. Enjoy!

A few months back I was reading a fantastic book by Jenifer Michael Hecht called Doubt.In this work Hecht offers an in depth historical overview of the greatest doubters of the world throughout the ages. There were so many elucidating passages that years worth of blog posts could be composed of all the impacting snippets.
One such passage that was particularly striking came from a section of the book highlighting the work of Fredrick Douglas. Here Hecht quotes a portion of a speech Douglas gave in 1852 entitled “The Meaning of Fourth of July for the Negro.” Douglas states the following:
The church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors…. For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! Welcome atheism! Welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by these Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke put together have done!
Douglass then goes goes on to say that the antislavery movement will cease to be an antichurch movement as soon as the churches join the antislavery movement. So far, he howls, “YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF BLOOD.”
These words penned by Douglas are stirring to say the least and they have remained stored in the back of mind since I read them. Douglas’s critique gets to the very heart of the way in which many religions, and Christianity in particular have blatantly betrayed the tenets of its own tradition, favoring power, exploitation, and oppression over compassion, equality, and justice. In his own words this is precisely why the antislavery movement was also an antichurch movement, because the church had failed to stand on the side of the antislavery movement, choosing instead to remain complacently tucked into the deep pockets of the powerful. Though slavery has been abolished his words are no less cutting, no less poignant, and no less relevant. The church has continued to neglect its duty to serve those that are the refuse of a greedy capital driven society, choosing instead to continue its apathetic stance within the comfort and security of consumeristic civilization.
The prick of Douglas’s commentary became all the more clear when I came across a news article several weeks ago describing how activists from the Occupy London movement chained themselves to the pulpit in St. Paul’s cathedral. It seems that during a Sunday service on the anniversary of the forced dismantling of the Occupy encampment formerly located outside the cathedral, four women dressed in white entered St. Paul’s and chained themselves to the historic pulpit. Written upon a white umbrella held by one the protestors were the words “throw the money changers out of the temple.” Simultaneously similar signs and banners were held outside of the cathedral. Surely such measures would have pleased Douglas, as it seems to be a performative enactment of his brand of  protesting a/theology.

If this were not enough of a correlation, when the Occupy encampment was forcibly removed by legal means the protestors released a statement “accusing the cathedral authorities,” in Douglasian fashion, “of neglecting their Christian duty by siding with the rich and powerful.” The Occupy activists stated, “In the fight for economic justice, Jesus threw the money changers out of the temple, but you invited them and instead evicted us.” Rather than unite with those that could very well be they’re greatest allies the Church once again chose to align itself with the elite idols of the empire. In a centuries old occurrence of Stockholm Syndrome the church continues to hold the hand of its captors, embracing tyranny, inequality, injustice, and playing the part of a harlot, going to bed with capitalism.

Is it then any wonder that a group that is on its way to becoming the fastest growing, and the second largest, religious affiliations is a group that adamantly claims no religious affiliation. This demographic known as the religious “Nones” now account for one in five American adults. One article also points out that “Now, more than one-third of those ages 18 to 22 are religiously unaffiliated. These ‘younger millennials’ are replacing older generations who remained far more involved with religion throughout their lives.” These under-thirty individuals have no interest in identifying themselves religiously and no desire to “label themselves in any way when it comes to their faith or lack thereof.” They do not see themselves as being a part of any religion. While “Nones” are not necessarily antagonistic towards religion(many do in fact think that churches as well as religious and faith based communities can and do make positive contributions to society), the common consensus voiced by 70% of the “Nones”, however, is one that remains suspicious and distrustful of religious institutions, stating that they “believe…religious institutions are too focused on money, power, rules, and politics.”
In an interview in September of this year even former Catholic Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini himself stated that “Our culture has aged, our churches are big and empty and the church bureaucracy rises up, our rituals and our cassocks are pompous.” Martini went one to say that “The Church must admit its mistakes and begin a radical change.”
This seems to sharply coincide with Gallup poll findings which indicate that U.S. confidence in religion is at an all time low and that most Americans believe religion is losing clout. Its seems now that some 56% of Americans express having little to no confidence in religious institutions. Though this should come as no surprise, especially given the rapid and dramatic rise of the “Nones”, it seems remarkable when compared to the statistics of just seven years ago when 50% of Americans believed that the influence of religion was on the “upswing.” Yet, as one reviews the near five decade span of this question being posed, one will unavoidably see the indication of a distinct downward trend. This could be indicative of not only a further move into a post-Christian and post-ecclesiastical world but, potentially a movement towards a post-religious world.

Perhaps then, revisiting the critique of Fredrick Douglas, Occupiers, Activists, Millennials, Protestors, and “Nones” will all cease to be anti-church movements when the church becomes part of anti-capitalist, anti-hierarchical, anti-authoritarian, and anti-corporate movements, joining the fight against the social and economic inequality and injustice rather than supporting the systems and structures that perpetuate and uphold oppression and exploitation. I would venture so far as to say that those who oppose the church and other religious institutions will cease to do so when the church begins to oppose itself, dialectically negating its own structures and traditions and in essence becoming anti-church itself.