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The Owl of Minerva

Volume 49, Issue 1/2, 2017/2018

Cyril O'Regan
Pages 107-135
DOI: 10.5840/owl2017/2018491/212

Robert Williams’s Hegelian God

This essay focuses on the way Williams elaborates, defends, and recommends Hegel’s revision of Christianity, which makes possible a Christianity free from the defects of its pre-modern form without collapsing into atheism and humanism. The essay begins by examining the development of Williams’s case in Hegel on the Proofs and Personhood of God and in Tragedy, Recognition, and the Death of God. This examination shows that (1) Williams uses Hegel’s critique of pre-modern Christianity to demonstrate that modernity, in which discourse, practices, and forms of life are regulated by freedom and reason, means the end of orthodox theology, and (2) uses Hegel’s logic of relations and reciprocal determination to interpret the God-world relation and the internal constitution of the divinity so that it preserves divine transcendence and independence. The second section of the essay challenges Williams’s position by showing (1) how reciprocal determination does not just revise and qualify the asymmetrical dependence that is the lynchpin of classical theism, it completely disqualifies it, (2) how the analysis of the Trinity involves the divinity in a complete emptying of itself into the world and its being as the world, (3) so that Williams’s God cannot preserve even a hair’s breadth of the transcendence required for qualifying as a form of Christianity. The essay concludes from this that Williams’s appropriation of Hegel’s revised Christianity is infected with an element that destabilizes its ability to mediate between pre-modern insistence on God’s transcendence and independence and modernity’s insistence on human freedom and the universal status of its rational subjectivity, with a decisive leaning towards the humanistic posture.