Conscience holds the moral truth within itself. Instead of waiting for the day of judgement, conscience judges its own actions in the here and now. But conscience is fooling itself. The universal law that the moral self-consciousness holds within itself, and that determines what is right and wrong, is closed up within self-consciousness, and “superseded” by what conscience has already decided is right and wrong. The universal is suffocated, and does not have the form of “free otherness” that you find, for example, in nature. Conscience would not know how to respond to a sudden change in external circumstances, and so it remains closed off from the outside world, following its own little rules in its own little world.
Religion is “spirit that is conscious of itself as spirit”. As we’ve seen, to be conscious of oneself as spirit always involves looking out into a beyond, to find the universal which constitutes the essence of the human soul and which cannot be found in the here and now. It leads to thoughts of death and the afterlife in which the journey of the soul will be completed.
In order for “the perfection of religion” to come about, it’s necessary (says Hegel) for spirit, conscious of itself as spirit, to exist “in its own world.” Clarity must be found in the here and now. Moral self-consciousness knew this, but wound up at a dead end: the universal that it held close to itself was no longer free and so no longer true. What the conscience of morality lacked was transcendence, which is essential to religion.
The puzzle that Hegel is setting out for himself is: how can transcendence be found immediately in the here and now?
(I’ve been reading A.V. Miller’s translation of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.)