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Hegel to Marx and atheism

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  • Greg Schofield
    I am new to these listings and have limited knowledge of Hegel (which must be improved). I will not therefore make any grand statements about the connection
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 29, 2002
      I am new to these listings and have limited knowledge of Hegel (which must be improved). I will not therefore make any grand statements about the connection between Marx and Hegel.

      If it does not stretch things too far in this new forum, I would like to begin with one small facet of Marx which I believe is directly connected to Hegel and has not been sufficiently explored (at least in English) - that of atheism (inspired by some threads in the Hegelian-Hegelians forum - especially the references to Bruno Bauer).

      To begin with I would like to assert the centrality of Marx's atheism in his transformation of Hegelianism, specifically its descent from Hegel's theology. Asserted because I believe, especially in the English speaking world that the concept of atheism has been too narrowly understood and thus glossed over, so argueing by quotes does not hit the mark.

      The thesis is that atheism far from being a simple rejection of theology is its natural product. That Hegel's reasoned and properly philosophized theology was the critical step for all his works. That Hegel took on to a large degree the whole of theological thought and imbued it with moving reason, much in the same way as he took Kant's logic to a much higher level.

      Historically and logically theology had to proceed the logic, shape its limits and gave it form (ie not just within his system but as a necessary precondition for its progress) - yet another assertion.

      Feurbach and Bauer (I don't know about Stiener) seem to have progressed this theological aspect of the system to the very borders of positive atheism. If Hegel made the God head the universal spirit, Feurbach located it in humanity itself (at least from my limited understanding garnered from Marx). Bauer's work seems to have plunged into the historical nature of Christianity, thrusting in a theological manner against its recieved versions and believing that a truely new religion would emerge (and thus change the world).

      For me the critical point is that this prepares the ground for Marx. Theology of its own accord, within its own confines abstracts the Godhead until nothing is left but humanity itself, at which point humanity requires its own logic and in steps Marx. There is the shift found in the Philosophic and Economic notebooks - steming not from the philosophy of right or history (though informed by both) but from the theological tenent, now exhausted, which provides humanity in naked form as its own subject matter.

      What Bauer was doing with the New Testiment, Marx began applying to humanity itself.

      So much for the assertions, which are nothing other than a generalizied impression which may have very little wieght.

      Atheism in such a context is not a mere expression of materialism, nor of disbelief, nor of anti-clericalism. In a sense Marx's atheism, the philosophical and positive aspect, is a development of theological exploration beyond its own limits. Positive Atheism is in this sense - theology by extension rather than rejection.

      My point therefore is that the interpretation of Marx has suffered because the theological aspects have been neglected. Marx's atheism has been read as mere disbelief or simple materialist assertion. However, this seems too mechanically materialist and glossing over Marx's earlier submersion in religious studies.

      The fact that religion does not figure largely in Marx's works, that reference to it is often in disparaging contexts, there nonetheless also remains an underlying understanding of it that speaks of its actual virtues as a human expression.

      Well might we remember the rest of the lines of his famous religion is the opiate of the people... no blank criticism is being given here, he speaks of heart of a heartless world and soul of a souless society which stems directly from his philosophic-theological background (apparently a quote taken from Bauer).

      No negeative atheism, but an atheism which acknowledges the religious experience as real as the effects of poetry, music etc., That in this sense society does have a soul and the world a heart, which is presently perveted, but has not always and will not in the future be so burdened.

      This vision of atheism as fully developed theology brings much more into perspective Marx's many sided understanding of alienation which cannot be reduced to economic existence, nor mere pyschological terms, but something moving beyond present circumstance towards humanity's species being. Again more understandable in theological terms then the drier more common interpretation.

      I am not saying the God head should be put back, or that a mystic spirit moves through us. But that there is something much more to human existence than its existence in the mechanical material sense. There is no mystery about this, it is self-reflection, not as a rational or reasoned but felt and experienced (ie the notion of religious experience) and expressed in action.

      Being an atheistic materialist I am quite happy to shove this together with the experience of art and music and all the rest of the emotional landscape of reason. It too has its logic and for want of a better term it is the subject matter of theology. There is a rich field once the connection between Hegel's theology and Marx's atheism is acknowledged as a continuum. Without this acknowledgement Marx is the poorer, Historical Materialism just that much lessened and made more lifeless.

      This post, may well be out-of-place in this forum, but make of it what you will as I would very much like to see this forum take-off regardless of this attempt.

      Greg Schofield
      Perth Australia
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