Hegel on the Death of God: The Inseparability of Love and Anguish

Robert R. Williams

in Tragedy, Recognition, and the Death of God

Published in print September 2012 | ISBN: 9780199656059
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191744846 | DOI:
Hegel on the Death of God: The Inseparability of Love and Anguish

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This chapter focuses on Hegel’s treatment of the death of God as an affirmative theological thesis. Hegel retrieves the classical Christian theology of the cross that has been obscured by Christian appropriation of Platonic metaphysics that suppresses the tragic. Hegel rejects Dante’s Divine Comedy, because in it the absolute exists without serious opposition. Traditional Divine Comedy is a monism of divine grace, but a monism nevertheless. Such ontotheological triumphalism embodies what Hegel calls the impotence of reason, i.e., reason’s lapse into the abstract identity that suppresses difference, and the one-sided privileging of being over becoming constitutive of traditional metaphysics. The task of reason is to correct such one-sidedness. Hegel is neither a monist, nor a dualist. His view is closest to panentheism, to wit, a dialectical unity in duality that threads the needle between monism and dualism. The true infinite does not stand aloof from the world in isolation, but includes serious otherness, negation, suffering, and death, and endures these. This inclusion qualifies and corrects ontotheological triumphalism. But there is a price for this correction: for Hegel, reconciliation cannot be understood apart from the opposition and alienation that it corrects. Divine love cannot be separated from divine anguish and suffering. This inseparability of love and anguish reflects and implies a tragic suffering absolute. This inseparability of love and anguish becomes not only the principle of the cultus that celebrates the God who dies daily and rises daily; it becomes the critical principle from which Hegel criticizes modern culture for its oscillations between optimism and despair. The dialectic of civil society is an example of this. The disintegration of civil society into the extremes of wealth and poverty tends to separate love from anguish and anguish from love. Love separated from anguish becomes mere enjoyment—e.g., the self-indulgent narcissism of consumer culture. Anguish, separated from love, constitutes the plight of the poor and marginalized who are abandoned to their misery, not only by civil society, but also by their religious teachers and institutions. Hegel is a critic of capitalism not in spite of his theology, but because of it.

Keywords: theology of the cross; death of God; tragic tradition; triumphalism; reconciliation; theopassianism; Michael Hardimon; Iain Macdonald; Stephen Crites

Chapter.  17244 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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