While Hegel never actually framed his own ideas in terms of “thesis, antithesis, synthesis“, it is still a decent way of understanding the issue I would like to present. In opposition to the “formalistic” reasoning of a mathematical and mechanistic worldview (a la Newton), he suggested a much more organic view wherein conflicting forms of thinking/consciousness are synthesized into a “higher” form of reasoning through history. Art, philosophy and Christian religion each give us insight into the future culmination of this rational process.
Kierkegaard, in stark and explicit opposition to Hegel, claimed that such a synthesis of traditions amounts to a wishy-washy corruption of each in which we attempt, but fail to have it both ways. Self-defining choices must be made. He thus contrasted the aesthetic, ethical/rational and religious lives (Kierkegaard’s view of the ethical/rational life is VERY close to the moral society which I have been discussing in recent posts), insisting that none of these consists of a synthesis of the other two. He especially objected to any attempts at synthesizing religion and reason together – using Abraham as his go-to counter-example.
The question, then, is which of these models better expresses Mormon thought on the subject? On the one hand, we frequently find references in the scriptures to a choice which we all must make between trusting and following the religious ways of God and the secular arm of flesh. On the other, we also find directions (which are strangely difficult to come by within the scriptures) to take the good from the rest of the world and build it into the gospel, thus creating one great whole (again, a phrase which does not seem to be all that scriptural).
I think a full Hegelian reading is totally and utterly contrary to the gospel, despite those bloggers who wish to pit the church against those who are “on the side of history” (a very Hegelian phrase). While I do think Kierkegaard is a bit closer to LDS sentiment, I also think that his either/or reasoning does not accurately represent the openness which Mormons do have to science, etc. The half-way point which probably best expresses what I take the church to teach would be that we are free to pick and choose those rational elements that we wish to integrate within our religion, but never the other way around. (To be learned is good, if…)
Of course, this half-way point is FAR closer to Kierkegaard than it is to Hegel. Hegel holds that all sides must compromise and transform each other in a dynamic process that tends toward higher reason and consciousness. Kierkegaard, by contrast, holds that one must choose which side they will not compromise on in a very unilateral and asymmetrical sense that is quite foreign to Hegel. (Hegel’s master/slave dialectic is a clear illustration of how the master achieves a higher state of consciousness through allowing the slave to transform him.) Religious faith can transform reason and art, but never the other way around. It is the incompatibility between these worldviews, combined with the non-negotiability of religious faith that makes it (religious faith) utterly incapable of rational justification.
It is for reasons such as these that I am so strongly suspicious of theology and apologetics. Such practices encourage the Hegelian idea of synthesizing of reason and religion in a way that leaves the latter open to transformation from the former. In Hegelian language, I am perfectly comfortable with reason being the slave, so long as it remains the slave without any ideas that the religious master can or will “progress to a higher level” by being open to transformation by of synthesis with it.