As I’ve shared in another post, Hegel had a philosophy of history. He believed that history was the progression of the consciousness of freedom. He thought he saw evidence in history that there was an upward trend in the spread of freedom. Yet when something didn’t fit in with this upward progression (such as the terrors of the French Revolution) Hegel had to develop a mechanism to make his philosophy work. This is when he came up with the dialectic. While history is progressing upward, he explained, there are often times when something challenges this forward motion. This hindering event or idea doesn’t need to be the end of progress, he argued, because the clash could actually be part of what catapults the change that is needed for freedom to expand.
The dialectic is the clash of two ideas or events. Hegel called the status quo the “thesis” and the challenge to the thesis the “antithesis.” As the two clash, change is created and the new situation is a “synthesis” of the thesis and antithesis. An example of a deliberate attempt to bring about a synthesis, for example, is the “third way” movement which tries to synthesize communism and capitalism.
I’m always amazed that so many have focused on the dialectic since it is merely a contortion created to make Hegel’s philosophy work. But I have a different view of history and it doesn’t make contortions necessary.
My philosophy of history is that the Gospel is the plumb line that all ideas and events must be measured against.
When the Gospel is kept pure, blessings are unleashed, and when the Gospel is corrupted, or hindered, the world suffers. Jesus said Christians were the salt of the earth. We are the preservers of society. We keep society from becoming completely evil as we submit to and love the Gospel of grace and truth.
This truth has played out in history. When the early church enjoyed the teachings of the pure Gospel, as taught by the apostles, the world was blessed. The poor and sick were cared for, slaves were redeemed, emperor worship was challenged, unwanted babies were taken in by the church, rather than left to the beasts and the elements, blood sport was ended, and lives were changed as they were set free from religious bondage and sin.
But when the church went astray, and began to add Greek philosophy to the Gospel, the truth was corrupted and the world was plunged into darkness. Jesus is the light of the world, but his Word was hidden under the philosophies of Aristotle and Plato. His light was squelched by layers of ecclesiastical perversion and intellectual gymnastics. The good news of God’s grace was lost and there was no spiritual power or true scriptural knowledge to empower humanity to become good. Science was squelched. Superstition reigned.
Out of this darkness came Wycliffe, Huss, Erasmus, and especially Luther. They heroically challenged the twisted and corrupt doctrines of the Catholic church and restored the truth of the Gospel of grace. “Sola scriptura!” was their rallying cry. These words, which mean “scripture alone” would change the world. Science blossomed. Education expanded. Political freedom and religious toleration would grow. Family and work would be honored as being a service to God. The power of the priesthood would be dismantled along with the power of the church/state theocratic structure. Truly, the “unfolding of thy words give light.” (Psalm 119:130)
The scriptures blessed the world, but then a new challenge presented itself against biblical truth. Racial theories that were in opposition to the teachings of the Bible began to rise up, and men began to believe they could enslave one another because darker skinned people were part of a sub-human race. The Enlightenment gave rise to “scientific” racism. As the Word of God lost its influence due to its subjection to the new god created by the blend of Newtonian physics and Christianity (deism), scientific “truth” was no longer subject to spiritual truth. Instead, spiritual truth was subjected to scientific truth. This led to the head of the National Academy of Science (George Morton) going off on ethnological quests for the perfect skull. It also led to the justification for southern slavery. The southern slaveholders kept their Baptist and Methodist faith, but they added the latest science, which was contrary to Acts 17:26, and corrupted the Gospel.
Opposing the scientific “truth” of polygenism (another term for scientific racism) were the monogenist abolitionists. The courageous stands they took for biblical truth have made them heroes in the annals of history. How many schools have been named after, or books written about, the efforts of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, John Newton, William Wilberforce, or William Knibb (of Jamaica)? They were mocked, derided, and persecuted for their views, but they were right.
Scientific racial theory would soon die out and be replaced by Social Darwinism, which would argue that the lighter races were more evolved, thus they had the right, and responsibility, to rule over and care for the darker races–thus the term “white man’s burden” was coined. This led to much of the colonial abuse found in the 19th and 20th centuries. Cecil Rhodes, William Graham Sumner of Yale University, Josiah Strong, and Frederick Ward Putnam of Harvard University are examples of those who promoted this view. It was this imperialism that motivated Karl Marx to come up with his views on class and religion.
If the Gospel had been honored and lifted up as the truth, racial theories couldn’t take root. It took rejection and disobedience to the scriptures for men to kidnap, hold captive, and abuse other men. The Second Great Awakening would reach people with the Gospel and encourage men to live for “benevolence,” teaching Christians to impact the world with their beliefs. Antislavery efforts, along with other reform movements, grew as a result. Even the missions movement of the 19th century was a direct effort to counter racial theories.
Hegel’s philosophy was a combination of Herder’s “expressivism” and Kant’s “categorical imperative.” Herder’s expressivism was a racial theory that said God expressed himself through different cultures. Each culture had a “volkgeist” or national spirit that, in community, would provide a particular creative impulse. For example, the Athenians produced the Parthenon, democracy, and great philosophers. The Egyptians produced the pyramids, hieroglyphics, and mummification. Darwinism and expressivism both contributed to Hitler’s views on race.
Opposing Hitler was the Confessing Church, a group of pastors who declared their allegiance to the scriptures in the Barmen Declaration. They were arrested, exiled, and put in concentration camps, but they remained faithful to the scriptures.
Most of the opposition to tyranny has been led by Christians whose biblical views were in opposition to the trendy philosophies of the time. Christians have been the leaders of most of the underground movements in history.
No. History is not the consciousness of the progression of freedom. History is a record of humanity’s faithfulness or unfaithfulness to the Gospel of grace and truth.