Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hegel, Schlegel!

Caveat (need I repeat this?): This is a blog post, not scholarship!

Let's recap where I'm heading: I started out to write a post titled "Why I'm not a Barthian." Then I decided I needed to check my theses by starting over (yet again) with some intensive reading in Barth. But since I've tried that many times before and tend to get lost in the forest, I decided I better clarify my questions a bit first. Then I thought, to really get at Barth, I had better first reread Feuerbach (then, perhaps, a little refresher in Schleiermacher and Luther).

So I started to read Feuerbach, the 19th century German philosopher who emerged mid-century from the circle of left-wing Hegelians. And there, already in the preface to the book, he's trying to distinguish himself from Hegel's absolute idealism.

I admit that I'm afraid of Hegel. Don't get me wrong: I'm not afraid that I'll ever understand him. Rather, I fear that if I started to trying again to read him I'll get lost forever in the thicket. That I'll become like Pannenberg, except without the brilliance and erudition. That I'll turn into that most dreaded entity, the ontotheologian. So I've tried to avoid Hegel since dipping into the bits required by my graduate education, but it seems to be impossible.

My wife was a philosophy major. But she didn't have to read Hegel, because, as she puts it, her advisor "didn't believe in Hegel." She doesn't read Hegel and absolutely (get it?) refuses to discuss this stuff with me. This is one of the reasons I married her, though certainly not the most important one.

In my view, the trajectories exemplified by Hegel and Schleiermacher represent the Scylla and Charybdis (sorry, I know that's hackneyed, but I just can't resist) of modern theology. I'm trying desperately to avoid being sucked into either of these directions without becoming a fundamentalist. It's hard. That's why I read Karl Barth, even though I'm not a Barthian.

But I'm not sure that Feuerbach's negative characterization of his master is fully reliable. So may I dip into a rough and dirty cram course on Hegel in a pinch, perhaps? I'll lean on an expert, Prof. Peter C. Hodgson. Maybe I can get by for now with his anthology.

This is my second plug in this blog for the Making of Modern Theology series. I'll be expecting my kickback check from Fortress Press to arrive in the mail soon.

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