When reading the Western Philosophers of foregone years, it is important to place their thought in the Zeitgeist of that time. For centuries that Zeitgeist was dominated by religion, be it the Gods on the Olympus, the Catholic Church or also after the Reformation, Protestantism.
The prevailing thought remained that there was an omnipotent God in charge of the universe and perhaps more important of all aspects of human life.
Obviously well-thinking philosophers throughout the millennia would have come across problems with that concept. On the one hand they were the children of their Zeitgeist, so that would provide a significant straight jacket, secondly if they indeed did have more radical thoughts about God, they risked ostracising, banning, exile and even execution. So, for whatever reason they had to find a way around it.
Plato used the ‘Idea of the Good’ for the concept of original knowledge.The words God and Good are rather close.
Baruch Spinoza used the word Nature as a ground principle for our existence, it was not too difficult to align this with God. But he never reached into religion for his philosophical thoughts. He was severely criticised by the Catholic Church as well as by the Jewish Community.
George Hegel wrestled with the same problem. He comes up with the concept of the ‘Truth of the Idea’. He talks about speculative philosophy and a process rather than something concrete. He philosophies that humans ultimately – but most likely never – could reach the ultimate(eternal) truth through the dialectic process of humanity. He believed that this dialectic process has taken place through the history of religion, each religion build on the ones before them, ending in the Reformation. He wants a rational approach to religion through philosophy. At the same he questions if that ever will happen. Up till today this has split his pro- and anti-religion Hegel followers.
Nevertheless, what I pick up is that these thoughts brings us closer to modern day secular ideas about ultimate knowledge or ultimate truth. Like Spinoza, Hegel’s IDEA of God did not seem to be a religious one to many in his time, particularly as it remains abstract.
However, Hegel and many philosophers before and after this time did believe that there was a supreme being of some sort, but Hegel most certainly strips it of any ‘anthropomorphic’ elements. He calls this the ‘Spirit’ and wants to place this opposite ‘Material’ , in his eyes we need a balance between these two.
We are still no closer to those deep philosophical questions and if you look at just these three philosophers, all working in periods dominated by religion, I have no issue if such ideas are given the name God. Obviously, my Zeitgeist is different again and for me there is no link to any form of religion and I don’t believe in any form of a supreme being. It would be interesting to contemplate if Hegel today would still have hold on to his belief in a Supreme Being.
If religion could indeed continue through its own dialectic process it might be possible to eventually bridge the gap between religion (spirit) and science (material). Many if not all religions started in one way or another with the sun, light and or fire. Of course their would not be earth without our sun and there won’t be a universe without the stars. Light and enlightenment are also strongly related to our inner thoughts. Hegel thought that we here might have a common starting point.
His followers split in the Left and Right Hegelians. The Left Ones were led by people such as Carl Marx and the Right Ones led to what became Liberal Democracy; Freedom was another key element in Hegel’s philosophy. So 200 years later the gap between religion and science has not been bridged any closer instead it seems to have widened and it looks like it will not be bridged any time soon. Perhaps we do need a totally different narrative to grasp the importance of Spirit. In general theses modern times are in need of new good national narratives. These are critical in building cohesive communities. The big issue here is to get them right as they can both be used for good and bad purposes and with polarised politics they in general turn out to be polarising narratives.
One of the philosophers after Hegel was Nietzsche and he was a clear atheist, rather than a dialectic process through religion he came up with the concept of human evolution towards the Ubermensch.
It could be argued that over the last 50 years the balance has clearly tipped over to the material and that is not the best way forward for humanity.