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Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
The Philosophy of Religion
Squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
"God is the absolute truth."

Wikipedia - Full Text - Print Edition: ISBN 0199283524

INTRODUCTION TO The Philosophy of Religion

Born in Stuttgart, in the Duchy of Württemberg, (in what is now in south-western Germany), son of a senior civil servant. His progress through school was spectacular, despite, aged thirteen suffering badly from a 'biliary fever' which killed his mother. He was no stranger to death, his brother died as a soldier in Napoleon's Russian campaign of 1812, and his girlfriend passed away leaving their son in an orphanage.

Through a series of senior posts at German universities Hegel developed a philosophical explanation of more-or-less everything, which, whether they have agreed with or derided him, has been immensely influential on other thinkers, including Bauer, Feuerbach, Marx, Bradley, Dewey, Sartre, Schelling, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Peirce and Russell.

Hegel is not a clear writer, to the point where the philosopher Theodor W. Adorno has asserted that some passages are simply incomprehensible - and Herr Adorno had the advantage of reading Hegel's own language. To those who have to read him in translation - good bloody luck.


This abridgement is the version first published by Sir John Hammerton in 1919.


Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1837
The Philosophy of Religion
"God is the absolute truth."

Philosophy and religion are essentially identical - they both aim to discover God. Religions offer us diverse representations of the divine essence. But for us who have a religion, God is a familiar being, a substantial truth existing in our subjective consciousness. But, scientifically, God is a general and abstract term. The philosophy of religion develops and grasps the divine nature and teaches us what God is.
Pantheism means that God is all things, but Spinozism and Oriental pantheism merely express the essence in individual things.
If we halt at substance, we fail to grasp this Universal under its concrete form. When God creates the world there comes not into existence an evil, a contrary, existing in itself independently of God. This beginning is an object for us or a content in us. Thought is the field in which this content moves; it is the energising of the universal, or the universal in the reality of its activity.
This universal which can be produced by thought, and which is for thought, may be a quite abstract universal. This content we cannot yet call religion, because to religion belongs subjective spirit, consciousness.
God is first determined as substance only. It has never entered any man's mind that everything is God; that is to say, that God is things in their individual and contingent existence. In God is no evil. But the difference between good and evil can exist only on condition that God is the evil. The distinction of good and evil begins with the distinction of God from the world, and particularly from man. It is the fundamental principle of Spinozism with regard to this distinction of God and the world that man must have no other end than God. In religion, the Notion of religion has become its own object.

The Squashed Philosophers Edition of...

The Philosophy of Religion
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes © 2011


THE object of religion is the same as that of philosophy; it is the eternal verity itself in its objective existence; it is God. Nothing but God and the unfolding of God. Philosophy is not the wisdom of the world, but the knowledge of things which are not of this world. It is not the knowledge of external mass, of empirical life and existence, but of the eternal, of the nature of God, and of all which flows from His nature. For this nature ought to manifest and develop itself. Consequently, philosophy in unfolding religion merely unfolds itself, and in unfolding itself it unfolds religion.

In so far as philosophy is occupied with the eternal truth, the truth which is in and for itself; in so far as it is occupied with this as thinking spirit, rather than in an arbitrary fashion and in view of a particular interest, philosophy has the same sphere of activity as has religion. And if the religious consciousness aspires to abolish all that is peculiar to itself and to be absorbed in its object, the philosophic spirit likewise plunges with the same energy into its object and renounces all particularity.

Religion and philosophy are thus at one in having one and the same object. Philosophy, in fact, also is the adoration of God, it is religion; for, seeing that God is its object, it involves the same renunciation of every opinion and every thought that is arbitrary and subjective. Philosophy is, in consequence, identical with religion. Only it is religion in a peculiar manner, and this it is which distinguishes it from religion commonly so called. So philosophy and religion are both religion, and that which distinguishes one from the other is no more than the characteristic mode in which respectively they consider their object, God.

Here is the difficulty of understanding how philosophy can make but one with religion, a difficulty which has even been mistaken for impossibility. Thence also arise the fears which philosophy inspires in theology and the hostile attitudes which they assume towards each other. What brings about this attitude is, on the side of theology, that for her philosophy does nothing but corrupt, pull down and profane the content of religion, and that she understands God in a totally different manner from that after which religion understands Him.

It is the same opposition which long ago among the Greeks caused a free and democratic people like the Athenians to burn books and to condemn Socrates. In our own day, however, this opposition is considered a thing which it is natural to admit - more natural indeed than the other opinion concerning the unity of religion and philosophy.

Diverse religions offer us, it is true, only too often the most bizarre and monstrous representations of the divine essence. But we must not confine ourselves to a superficial consideration and consequent rejection of these representations and the religious practices which follow upon them as being engendered by superstition, by error, or by imposture, or even by a simple piety, and so neglect their essential value. There is need to discover in these representations and in these practices their relation with truth.


FOR us, who have a religion, God is a familiar being, a substantial truth existing in our subjective consciousness. But, scientifically considered, God is a general and abstract term. The philosophy of religion it is which develops and grasps the divine nature and which teaches us what God is. God is a familiar idea, but an idea which has still to be scientifically developed.

The result of philosophic examination is that God is the absolute truth, the universal in and for itself, embracing all things and in which all things subsist. And in regard to this assertion, we may appeal in the first place to the religious consciousness, and to its conviction that God is the absolute truth whence all things proceed, whither they all return, upon which all things depend and in respect of which nothing can possess a true and absolute independence.

The heart may very well be full of this representation of God, but science is not built up of what is in the heart. The object of science is that which has arisen to the level of consciousness, and of thinking consciousness; in other words, which has attained the form of thought.

In so much as He is the universal, God is, for us, in relation to development, Being enclosed in itself, Being at unity with itself. When we say God is Being enclosed in itself, we enunciate a proposition which is bound to a development which we await. But this envelopment of God in Himself which we have called His universality we must not conceive, relatively to God Himself and His content, as an abstract universality, outside of which, and as opposed to which, the particular has an independent existence.

So we must consider this universal as an absolutely concrete universal. This sense of fullness is the sense in which God is one, and there is but one God - that is to say, God is not one merely by contrast with other gods, but because it is He that is the One, that is, God.

The things which are, the developments of the worlds of nature and of mind, show a multiplicity of forms and an infinite variety of existences. But whatever may be their difference of degree, of force, of content, these things have no true independence; their being is consequent and, so to speak, contingent. When we predicate being of particular things, it is not of absolute Being that we speak- -Being of and from itself; that is, God - but a borrowed being, a semblance of being.

God is His universality - that is, this universal Being which has no limit, no bounds, no particularity - is a Being which subsists absolutely, and which subsists alone; all else which subsists has its root in this unity, and by this alone subsists. In thus representing to ourselves this first content we may say that God is absolute substance, the only veritable reality. For not everything which has a reality has a reality of its own, or subsists by itself. God is the only absolute reality, and thereby the absolute substance.

If we stop at this abstract thought we have Spinozism, for in Spinozism subjectivity is not yet differentiated from substantiality, from substance as such. But in the pre-supposition just made there is also this thought - God is spirit, absolute and eternal; spirit which comes not forth from itself in differentiation. This ideality, this subjectivity of spirit, which is transparency, ideality excluding all particular determination, is precisely the universal, pure relation to self, Being which remains absolutely within itself.

If we halt at substance, we fail to grasp this Universal under its concrete form. In its concrete determination spirit always preserves its unity, this unity of its reality which we call substance. But one should add that this substantiality, the unity of the absolute reality with itself, is but the foundation, but a moment in the determination of God as spirit. Hence, principally, arises the reproach which is directed against philosophy - to wit, that philosophy, to be consistent with itself, is necessarily Spinozism, and consequently atheism and fatalism. But at the beginning we have not yet determinations distinguished one from another as aye and nay. We have the one but not the other.

Consequently, what we have here is, to start with, content under the form of substance. Even when we say, 'God,' 'spirit,' we have only words, indeterminate representations. The essential point is to know what has been produced in the consciousness. And that is, first, the simple, the abstract. Here, in this first simple determination, we have God only under the form of universality. Only we do not halt at this moment.

Nevertheless, this content remains the foundation of all further developments, for in these developments God comes not forth from His unity. When God creates the world - to use the expression of every day - there comes not into existence an evil, a contrary, existing in itself independently of God.


THIS Beginning is an object for us or a content in us. We possess this object. Immediately the question arises, Who are we? We, I, spirit - here also is a complex being, a multiplied being. I have perceptions; I see, I hear, etc. Seeing, hearing; all this is I. Consequently, the precise sense of this question is, Which among these determinations is it in accordance with which this content exists for our minds? Idea, will, imagination, feeling - which is the seat, the proper domain of this content, of this object?

If we accept the common answers to this question, God will abide in us as the object of faith, of feeling, of representation, of knowledge.

We shall have to examine more closely later on in a special fashion with respect to this point, these forms, faculties, aspects of ourselves. In this place we shall not seek a reply to this question; nor shall we say, basing our answer on experience and observation, that God is in our feeling, etc. But, to begin with, we will confine ourselves to what we have actually before us, to this One, concrete Being.

If we take this One, and ask for what power, for what activity of our mind does this One, this absolutely universal Being, exist, we cannot but name the one activity of mind which corresponds to it as constituting its proper natural domain. This activity, which corresponds to the universal, is thought.

Thought is the field in which this content moves; it is the energising of the universal, or the universal in the reality of its activity. Or, if we say that thought embraces the universal, that for which the universal is will still be thought.

This universal which can be produced by thought, and which is for thought, may be a quite abstract universal. In this sense it is the unlimited, the infinite, the being without bounds, without particular determination. This universal, negative to begin with, has its seat not elsewhere than in thought.

To think of God is to rise above the things of sense, exterior and individual, above simple feeling into the region of pure being; being at unity with itself - that is to say, into the pure region of the universal. And this region is thought.

Such is the substratum for this content considered on the subjective side. Here the content is that Being in which is no difference, no schism; Being which abides in itself, the universal; and thought is the form for which this universal is.

Thus we have a difference between thought and the universal which we have called God. It is a difference which in the first place belongs only to our reflection, and is by no means to be found in the content on its own account. There is the result to which philosophy comes - a result already comprised in religion as under the form of faith - to wit, that God is the sole veritable reality, the Being without, which no other reality would exist.

IN the unity of this reality, in this cloudless shining, the reality and the distinction which we call thinking-being have as yet no place.

What we have before us is this absolute unity. This content we cannot yet call religion, because to religion belongs subjective spirit, consciousness. Thought is the seat of this universal, but this seat is absorbed in this being which is one, eternal, in and for itself.

This universal constitutes the beginning and the point of departure, but only as unity which so abides. It is not a mere substratum whence differences are born; rather, all differences are included in this universal. No more is it an abstract and inert universal, but the absolute principle of all activity, the matrix, the infinite source whence all things proceed, whither all things return, and in which they are eternally preserved.

Thus the universal is never separated from this ethereal element, from this unity with itself, this concentration within itself.


AS the universal, God could not find Himself faced by a contrary whereof the reality should p
etend to rise above the phantasmal level. For this pure unity and this perfect transparency matter is nothing impenetrable, and spirit, the ego, is not so independent as to possess a true, individual substantiality.

There has been a tendency to label this idea pantheism. It would be more exact to call it the conception of substantiality. God is first determined as substance only. The absolute subject, spirit, is also substance; but it is determined rather as subject. This is the difference generally ignored by those who assert that speculative philosophy is pantheism. As usual, they miss the essential point and disparage philosophy by falsifying it.

Pantheism is commonly taken to mean that God is all things - the whole, the universe, the collection of all existences, of things finite and infinitely diverse. From which notion the charge is brought against philosophy that it teaches that all things are God; that is to say, that God is, not the universal which is in and for itself, but the infinite multiplicity of individual things in their empirical and immediate existence.

If you say God is all that is here, this paper, etc., you have indeed committed yourself to the pantheism with which philosophy is reproached; that is, the whole is understood as equivalent to all individual things. But there is also the genus, which is equally the universal, yet is wholly different from this totality in which the universal is but the collection of individual things, and the basis, the content, is constituted by these things themselves. To say that there has ever been a religion which has taught this pantheism is to say what is absolutely untrue. It has never entered any man's mind that everything is God; that is to say, that God is things in their individual and contingent existence. Far less has philosophy ever taught this doctrine.

Spinozism itself, as such, as well as Oriental pantheism, contains this doctrine: that the divine in all things is no more than that which is universal in their content, their essence; and in such sense that this essence is conceived of as a determinate essence.

When Brahma says, 'In the metal I am the brightness of its shining; among the rivers I am the Ganges; I am the life of all that lives,' he thereby suppresses the individual. He says not, 'I am the metal, the rivers, the individual things of various kinds as such, nor in the fashion of their immediate existence.'

Here, at this stage, what is expressed is no longer pantheism; but rather that of the essence in individual things.

In the living being are time and space. But in this individual being it is only the changeless element that is made to stand out. 'The life of being that lives' is in this latter sphere of life the unlimited, the universal. But if it be said 'God is all things,' here we understand individuality with all its limitations, its finity, its passing existence. This notion of pantheism arises out of the conception of unity, not as spiritual unity, but abstract unity; and then, when the idea takes its religious form, where only the substance, the One, is possessed of true reality, there is a tendency to forget that it is precisely in presence of this unity that individual and finite things are effaced, and to continue to place these in a material fashion side by side with this unity. They will not admit the teaching of the Eleatics, who, when they say 'There is only One,' add expressly that nonentity is not. All that is finite would be limitation, a negation of the One, but non-entity, the boundary, term, limit, and that which is limited, exist not at all.

Spinozism has been accused of atheism. But Spinozism does not teach that God is the world, that He is all things. Things have indeed a phenomenal existence - that is, an existence as appearances. We speak of our existence, and our life is indeed comprised in this existence, but to speak philosophically the world has no reality, it has no existence. Individual things are finite things to which no reality can be attributed; it may be said of them that they have no existence.

Spinozism - this is the accusation directed against it - involves by way of consequence that, if all things make but one, good and evil make but one; there is no difference between them; and thereby all religion is destroyed. In themselves, it is said there is no difference between good and evil; consequently it is a matter of indifference whether one be righteous or wicked.

It may be granted that in themselves - that is, in God, who is the sole veritable reality - the difference between good and evil disappears. In God is no evil. But the difference between good and evil can exist only on condition that God is the evil. But it cannot be allowed that evil is an affirmative thing, and that this affirmation is in God. God is good, and nothing else than good; the distinction between good and evil is not present in this unity, in this substance, and comes into existence only with differentiation.

GOD is unity abiding absolutely in itself. In the substance there is no differentiation. The distinction of good and evil begins with the distinction of God from the world, and particularly from man. It is the fundamental principle of Spinozism with regard to this distinction of God and the world that man must have no other end than God. The love of God, therefore, it is that Spinozism marks out for man as the law to be followed in order to bring about the healing of this breach.

And it is the loftiest morality that teaches that evil has no existence and that man is not bound to permit the substantial existence of this distinction, this negation. Yet it is possible for him to desire to maintain the difference and even to push it to the point of sheer opposition to God. In this case man is evil. But he may annual this distinction and place his true existence in God alone and in his aspiration towards Him; in this case he is good.

In Spinozism there is indeed the difference between good and evil, opposition between God and man; but side by side with it we have also the principle that evil is to be deemed a non-entity. In God as God, in God as substance, there is no distinction. It is for man that the distinction exists, as also for him exists the distinction of good and evil.


THE superficial method of appraising philosophy is exemplified also in those who assert that it is a 'system of identity.' It is perfectly true that substance is this unity at one with itself, but spirit no less is this self-identity. Ultimately, all is identity, unity with itself. But when they speak of the philosophy of identity they have in view abstract identity or unity in general; and they neglect the essential point, to wit, the determination of this unity in itself; in other words, they omit to consider whether this unity is determined as substance or as spirit. Philosophy from beginning to end is nothing else than the study of determinations of unity.

In the sphere of the Notion many unities are comprised. The combination of water and earth is a unity, but this unity is mixture. If we bring together a base and an acid, we have as the result a crystal; also water; but water which cannot be discerned and which gives no trace of humidity. Here the unity of the water and of this matter is a unity different from the mixture of water and earth. The essential point is the difference of these determinations. The unity of God is always unity, but what is of primary importance is to know the modes and forms of the determination of this unity.

Manifestation, development, determination do not go on to infinity, nor yet do they stop accidentally. But in the course of its true development the Notion completes its course by a return upon itself, whereby it has attained the reality adequate to it. So it is that the manifestation is infinite in nature, that the content is adequate to the Notion of spirit, and that the phenomenal world exists, like spirit, in and for itself.

In religion, the Notion of religion has become its own object. Spirit which is in and for itself has now no longer in its development individual forms and determinations, it knows itself no longer as spirit in such determinability or such a limited moment; but it has triumphed over these limitations and this finiteness, and is for itself that which also it is in itself. This cognisance in which spirit is for itself what it is in itself constitutes the in-and-for of spirit which is in possession of knowledge, the perfect and absolute religion, in which is revealed what spirit is, what God is. That is the Christian religion.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Hegel's grave at Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichswerder Cemetery, Berlin

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