Religion, Hegel, and Marxism: Fragments of a Pantheist Approach

Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification.

Marx’s Contribution to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

[These comments originated in a discussion of Hegel on Facebook.]

My motives for possibly returning to a study of Hegel – which I dropped in the late 80s – are hopefully constructive, though they feel ambiguous. I am not convinced that I would learn anything helpful, and yet, Hegel often comes in at relevant points of discussion.

To take a very crucial example, when I try to discuss religion and socialism especially with Marxists, they often try to reformulate the points I raise into a “dialectical analysis” that results in atheism being the only logical conclusion of the historical evolution of humanity. I find that conclusion fails to grapple with the sources of religion that seem to go back into the earliest glimmers of culture. Human beings seem unable erase religious thinking, which I find true of even the most ardent atheists.

My theory is that our “religious orientation” is built into our relational drives, such as affection, aggression, curiosity, and creativity. Now, I am not talking about either supernaturalism nor theism proper. Those are specific forms that the religious orientation took in ancient societies, and I already see those forms being drastically abandoned in modern times. A post-theistic naturalistic religion is possible and has already begun to emerge within every religious tradition. Rather than discarding Jesus or Buddha, leading religious thinkers transcend the outdated myths surrounding each figure, while reinterpreting the crucial distinctive contributions each made to human culture. That may be called a dialectical process. Ken Wilber calls it “integral development.”

My personal view is that the process of reshaping human relationships into a global communion can be provisionally characterized as a differential convergence with unpredictable, but imaginable, outcomes.


Question from 1st respondent: Please elaborate on how our “‘religious orientation’ is built into our relational drives… [as a] post-theistic naturalistic religion.”


Human beings’ lives and mental stability depend on affectionate caregiving that we call parenting. We are helpless at birth and unable to feed or clean ourselves for many months of our early conscious lives. This predisposes us to desire affectionate nurture and to reciprocate it. Freud also points out that we come to resent our powerlessness and therefore develop an aggressive drive as well.

As we develop our relational circles beyond our core family, we extend the circle of affectionate caregiving (life-drive) and our circle of feared enemies (death drive). Religion is the projection of these drives onto the natural world as polytheists create invisible agents who created the world and evil gods who create our enemies and diseases. Monotheists simplified this scheme into one all-powerful life-drive agent Jehovah and a subordinate death-drive agent Satan.

A post-theistic evolution of religion will accept that these invisible supernatural agents are not actually non-physical deities, as science and atheism have discovered, but the projection of our life-drive onto the cosmos itself compels us to view it as a divine gift, both the source of life and death. Thus, pantheism, not atheism is the mature expression of the religious impulse.


Comments and questions from 2d responder:

You seem to be confusing symbolic kinship with “religion”
And also there are a lot of stagist presumptions which are basically circular in this.
“Religion is the projection of these drives onto the natural world as polytheists create invisible agents who created the world and evil gods who create our enemies and diseases. ”
Is that what religion is? Or is that an element of religion? (For example for what I mean by stagist assumptions that are circular).


The core of religion, I maintain, is web of human desires that create our social relations. Theism is the projection of these desires onto the powerful natural forces that we could not control. Science has effectively depersonalized and disenchanted the natural world, yet our emotional make-up persists as an irrevocable part of our mental health or disease.

We cannot become rational Vulcans who entirely repress our emotions. Thus, the war between reason and emotion in matters of truth is adjudicated by science. However, science cannot decide which of a number of achievable ends is most desirable, as science has no grounds for determining what is of the highest possible value to humanity as a whole.

Capitalists believe that a world economy structured for the profit of the elite is the end of history, the rational organization of aggregate human interests. Socialism denies this and aims to transcend the class domination of this rational order. To do so, socialism must place the interests of the many over the interests of the few. This ethical decision is motivated by the elevation of the life drive over the death drive, as capitalists do the opposite.

I realize that my schema appears stagist, and in its oversimplified form of polytheism<monotheism<atheism<pantheism it is not complex enough to take in the whole of human religious development. Of course, I would argue that Hegel and many socialists make similar sequences out of history. Such as primitive communism<slave society<feudalism<capitalism<socialism<communism.

I am open to being schooled in proper Hegelian historical theory. Earlier, I offered the hypothesis that the future will be a “differential integration” of the diverse (religious and secular) cultures of humanity. As someone born and reared as a Christian, my intellectual development has taken the form of monotheist<nontheist<pantheist. However, I also retain a fascination with neo-paganism and Buddhism, which I have yet to integrate into my developmental analysis. Over time, I hope to continue working on the incompleteness of my approach.


1st Responder: If religion is defeasible because it is a merely human the product of ‘relational drives’, then it would seem that, a forteriori, any notion of reality that emerges from amidst human relations to be projected upon the world must be defeasible. However, since this very naturalistic critique of religion is, in some sense, a product of human relations and is no less projected upon the world, then so must this naturalistic critique, which aims to defeat religion, defeat itself in the critical endeavor. Since this criticism is self-defeating it amounts to no criticism at all. How, to the contrary, might we imagine that we can we know that “the projection of these drives onto the natural world” in religion to be more than merely a projection, and, for this reason, not equally defeasible?


I would not use the term “defeasible” but rather hold that religion is not fixed nor static, but dynamic and open to new truth. The split between nature and supernature was premised upon ignorance, not actual verifiable knowledge of nature.

One common form of dogmatic theology holds that only divine revelation is absolutely true. Human knowledge is viewed as hopelessly fallible, since it cannot penetrate to eternal truth. However, for those who hold to a more naturalistic worldview, science has been steadily increasing our knowledge of the world over time, and indeed, it has done so far more successfully than any previous model of truth-discovery.

However, science is inherently incomplete, since it relies on abstract intellectual knowledge, and has no basis for integrating all knowledge within a unified worldview that contains a great deal that is not abstractly factual, such as love and the arts. Religion in its pre-modern form tried to integrate all truth, arts, and ethics into one whole. We moderns accept that this task can never be completed in any single lifetime, but can only be advanced as each person contributes their distinct experience to the advancement of the whole.

It is possible that all our naturalistic knowledge might just be the dim perceptions of a brute animal. However, if that is one’s view of human knowledge then how do the dictates of revelation, which are themselves produced by talking apes, hope to claim to be a divine exception?


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