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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte


Shanks, Andrew


Hegel and Religious Faith. Divided Brain, Atoning Spirit.


London u. a.: T & T Clark International (Continuum) 2011. VI, 175 S. Geb. £ 60,00. ISBN 978-0-567-53230-5.


Anselm K. Min

Does Hegel still hold possibilities for contemporary theology? Is Hegel really a Christian theologian? What sort of political theology would a Hegelian paradigm be today?

Andrew Shanks, a progressive British political theologian, here continues his long-standing project to transform Christianity as a conventional, conformist, confessional, oppressive, ideological religion into a Christianity that is radically open and committed to what he calls, after Jan Patocha, »the solidarity of the shaken.« This solidarity goes beyond the confessional solidarity among Chris­tians and embraces »all those who have been ›shaken‹ by the demands of perfect truth-as-openness; ›shaken‹, that is, out of the shelter of fixed preconceptions, standard judgments, and clichés« (27). The most urgent task of Christian theology today is to »break loose from its traditional, conversation-constricting entanglement with metaphysics« (27) and join the project of this solidarity. The model par excellence of this project is his life-long hero, the Hegel of the Phenomenology of Spirit.

The book, therefore, is mainly an exploration of the possibilities of the Phenomenology as a model of contemporary political theol­ogy dedicated to the solidarity of the shaken, but also provides a running critique of William Desmond, whose book, Hegel’s God (2003), challenged Hegel’s Christian credentials by dismissing Hegel’s God as »a counterfeit double« (subtitle). The book does this in eight relatively short chapters (often rather repetitious in content).

The book raises three issues: the nature and adequacy of S.’ own political theology proposed for today, the plausibility of his Hegel interpretation for the purpose of contemporary theology, and the fairness of his critique of Desmond’s critique of Hegel.

First, S.’ idea of contemporary political theology. Like a good Hegelian he wishes to be, S. looks for signs of freedom in solidarity in the contemporary world and finds them in the various public conscience movements such as Amnesty International, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and Charter 77. As secular movements they are not confessional but open to all, and as non-governmental organizations they are not directly involved in the use of power, seeking instead to influence public opinion and political changes by the moral authority they wield. As yet these movements are scattered, ephemeral, often confused, and what is urgent is to give a comprehensive, coherent, and enduring theoretical expression to the »spirit of the times« evident in these movements whose goal is to realize and extend the scope of human freedom in community beyond the narrow boundaries of confessional identities, beyond the class conflicts of Marxism and the individualism of liberal capitalism. S.’ central concept here is »the solidarity of the shaken,« i. e., the organized community of those who have been »shaken« out of narrow conventional, conformist, ideological identities and awakened to the need for radical openness, inclusivity, and tolerance of the other. The experience or pathos of shakenness is not enough; it must be organized into the solidarity of the shak­en in order to be politically effective, without which the pathos would suffer the impotence of what Hegel calls »the beautiful soul«. The most compelling task of Christian political theology today is to break loose from its narrow confessionalism, embrace this public, cosmopolitan movement of freedom precisely as the revelation of God in contemporary history recalling the churches to the original demands of the reign of God Jesus proclaimed, and nurture it with the benefits of Sittlichkeit by providing it with a larger popular base, deeper historical roots, and a broader, more enduring vision of life.

S. outlines this political theology throughout the book but especially in chapter 8, but does so in rather bold, sweeping, general strokes. As a political theologian of »the solidarity of Others in a divided world,« I find myself in profound sympathy with this outline, especially his use of the Hegelian idea of historical hope and its need for social embodiments. However, I find it in great need of what Hegel would call »Ausführung« or elaboration and development with regard to some of the central concepts of that theology. The concept of »shakenness« needs to be spelled out in terms of its concrete content. As S. himself points out, Heidegger, Deleuze, and Guattari may share the pathos of shakenness, but its content is opposed to political involvement and historical hope. Not all ex­-periences of shakenness are appropriate for solidarity, but precisely what kind of experience? Nor does S. provide an extended historical analysis of the contemporary globalizing world, the very context of his political theology, to show why such a world demands pre­cisely the solidarity of the shaken, not some other kinds of solidarity. Some elaboration of the signs of the times would have been quite appropriate to make his political theology more concretely plau­-sib­le. Such an elaboration would have included a discussion of his two central hermeneutic categories, openness and closure, with regard to their adequacy to conceptualize the central problems of the globalizing world. Finally, one may wonder whether it is appropriate to call Christianity first modernity and the contemporary world third modernity when »modernity« for Hegel has a very de­finite meaning, the reign of the principle of infinite subjectivity with a certain connotation of anthropocentrism in the modern West. Is Christianity simply an anticipation of the modern West and the contemporary world with all its immense globalizing woes simply its extension?

Second, S.’ interpretation of Hegel. S. employs two basic her-meneutic categories, openness and closure. The source of all oppres­sion is the tendency to closure, i. e., conformity, dogmatism, ideol­ogy, exclusivity, confessionalism. Liberation lies in openness, i. e., resistence to closure of all kinds, openness to fresh experience and fresh perspective, willingness to cross all hallowed boundaries and limits. The solidarity of the shaken is precisely the solidarity of those shaken out of oppressive conformity into the passion of the new.

For S., Hegel is the model of this solidarity. His Phenomenology provides a new theological method as the fusion of genres in the sense that it crosses and mixes different disciplines and perspec­tives in an unconditionally open movement of the spirit to all truth and all reality. His analysis of »the unhappy consciousness« is a de­scription of a universal statement of mind split between two aspects of the self and therefore un-at-one-d, between the closure brought about by the unatoned religion of the external authority of a despotic God and the impulse of the Spirit to greater openness. Hegel’s analysis of Christian »representation« (Vorstellung) is likewise that of an unatoned religion with its dualism and externality needing to be sublated into »absolute knowing,« which embodies S.’ »solidar­ity of the shaken.« The God of the Phenomenology is the divine impulse to openness and resistence operative in all human exper­ience, both religious and secular. S. has no use for Hegel’s Logic, which he dismisses as metaphysics, or for his Lectures on the philosophy of world history or on the philosophy of religion, which he dismisses as detached, Olympian, contemplative wisdom.

Those who know Hegel may have some idea of where S. is going with his Hegel, but his interpretation and use of Hegel begs a number of questions largely because his approach is very general and abstract and rarely provides an adequate textual analysis in terms of their concrete dialectic peculiar to Hegel. Are openness and closure really adequate categories for interpreting the richness of Hegel’s texts? S. does not take the time to explain the concrete content of openness and closure, what openness or closure is about, and tends to reduce the intrinsic richness and complexity of the Hegel­ian dialectic to an easy triumph of open-mindedness as such taken abstractly without its complicating, dialectic-inducing content. Hegel is known for many things, but certainly a dialectic of form and content is one of them as is evident in his critique of modern rationalism as infinite »form« without infinite »content« and his insistence on the »absolute form« for the »absolute content« of the revealed religion. S., however, applies openness and closure as purely formal categories to Hegel without the appropriate analysis of the dialectic of the content so impressively given in the texts. S. discusses three things in the Phenomenology, »the unhappy con­-sciousness,« »the revealed religion,« and »absolute knowing,« but, sorry to say, in none of the discussions does one really learn the concrete dialectical content of Hegel’s own analysis, although one hears much about openness and closure. The result is the reduction of Hegel to a harmless progressive liberal humanist thinker. One learns more about S.’ own ideology than about Hegel’s dialectical thought.

Third, S.’ critique of Desmond. S. makes two criticisms of Desmond. First, Desmond is a perfectionist and, like the »beautiful soul« of the Phenomenology, lacks the will to actualize his ideal (a purely »agapeic« community as opposed to the »erotic«) in concrete history, a critique he also applies to Heidegger, Levinas, Deleuze, and Guattari. Such an ideal can survive only on the margins of history. Second, Desmond conflates Hegel’s critique of the »false infinite« who acts like a dictator with a rejection of God’s asym­-metrical transcendence over the world. Hegel was so preoccupied with the historical actualization of freedom and neglected the question of God’s asymmetrical transcendence, but without denying it. Let me respond by saying, without elaborating, that I agree with his first criticism of Desmond, but not with his second. I am inclined to agree with Desmond that Hegel’s theology is not compatible with a recognition of God’s genuine transcendence, al­-though I thought it was many years ago. S. simply provides no exegetical account of Hegel’s concept of God and still less comes to grips with the many serious objections that Desmond was raising to that concept.