[freedom of conscience]
Hosted free by tripod.com
Outcast and loner
three centuries ahead of his time?
Novalis called him "God-intoxicated"
Novalis called him "God-intoxicated"
Born in 1632, Baruch Espinoza was descended from the Sephardi Jews who were forced out of Spain and Portugal by the Spanish Inquisition of Torquemada, et al. Spinoza was educated in the orthodox Jewish manner, but he also studied Latin and the works of Descartes and other writers of the period. Descartes wanted to break free from the false (or possibly false) mental bondage of the past, and this Cartesian attitude struck a common chord with Spinoza, who like Descartes had an independent strain in him. But it led to reprimands from his Jewish kinsmen, and finally led to his excommunication in 1656.
Until approximately 1660, Spinoza lived in or near Amsterdam, his birthplace, and afterward in Rijnsburg, Voorburg, and The Hague. By trade a lens grinder of great skill, he lived modestly, devoting much of his time to the development of his philosophy. His learning became known in spite of his retiring mode of life., and he had wide correspondence, was visited by other philosophers, and was offered (1673) a professorship at Heidelberg. This he declined, preferring to retain his peaceful life. He died at a young age (1677) of tuberculosis caused, it is thought, by glass dust from his lens grinding.
Though influenced strongly by Descartes, Spinoza was a thinker all his own. Where Descartes had once (jestingly?) recommended that all the libraries be burnt so that philosophy could start afresh, Spinoza reverenced traditional learning, even when his own exercise of reason was challenging it. Spinoza began a translation of the Bible yet was one of the first to raise questions of higher criticism. His system of philosophy, developed in his Ethics, was based on a monistic theory in which all existence is embraced in one substance -- God.
This divinity, sometimes called Nature, has an infinite number of attributes but is known in only two of them -- thought and extension. All existence as we know it is thus comprehended in these two facets of the divine life. Spinoza's pantheism left no room for freedom, chance or traditional ideas of immortality. What strikes the human mind as evil is in reality part of God's perfection. Man is free in the sense that he may understand and accept his participation in the divine order; he is not free when out of egoistic blindness he resists its necessity.
The wise man through an "intellectual love of God" arrives at joy, but Spinoza believed that popular religions and the Bible could achieve a corresponding happiness for the common man. He was an exponent of democratic government and (in Tractatus Theologico-Politicus) urged the subordination of the Church to the state. He defended freedom of opinion, freedom of religion, and sought above all to liberate man from fear. His pantheism seemed blasphemous to his time, and some of his works were not allowed to be published during his lifetime.
It would be wrong to think of Einstein as a ritualistic Jew. He was one of the most religious of men, but his religious beliefs, too deep for adequate delineation in words, were close to the seventeenth century Jewish philosopher Spinoza, whom Jews had excommunicated. Einstein, with his feeling of humility, awe, and wonder and his sense of oneness with the Universe, belongs with the great religious mystics. In a letter in 1929 he spoke of himself as a "disciple" of Spinoza, who looked upon all nature as God. Shortly before, when asked via transatlantic cable if he believed in God, he cabled in reply, "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings." His attitude toward Spinoza was one of profound reverence. In 1932 h3 declined an invitation to write a brief study of the philosopher, saying that nobody could do it since it required not only expertise but also "exceptional purity, imagination -- and modesty."
In that same letter is this passage: "Spinoza was the first to apply with true consistency to human thought, feeling, and action, the idea of the deterministic constraint of all that occurs." In a letter in 1946 Einstein spoke of Spinoza as "one of the deepest and purest souls our Jewish people has produced." And in the next year, when asked to sum up his views on belief in a Supreme Being, he wrote in English:
It seems to me that the idea of a personal God is an anthropological concept which I cannot take seriously. I feel also not able to imagine some will or goal outside the human sphere. My views are near those of Spinoza: admiration for the beauty of and belief in the logical simplicity of the order and harmony which we can grasp humbly and only imperfectly. I believe that we have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and morl obligations as a purely human problem -- the most important of all human problems. [pp 94-95]
"Gott würfelt nicht!"
Dukas emphasizes Einstein's firm rejection of anthropomorphic conceptions of God. While he used the term "God"in a metaphorical sense, God does not play dice, he later explained that his own idea of God was akin to "Spinoza's immanent God."
Dukas writes: "In Einstein's scientific work God was the governing concept -- an ill-defined concept, for who can define God? -- but a symbol not only of Einstein's passion for wonder and beauty but also of that intuitive sense of communion with the universe that was the hallmark of his genius -- another word that defies all our attempts at definition." [p 195]
Einstein: "I am a deeply religious unbeliever." [Certainly, for all his spirituality, for all his stated mysticism, Einstein would have to be called heterodox, even for a Jew. He would have had a hard time with Genesis 1:26 -- "in the image of God made he him (Adam)." [B'reshith ~ first word in the Bible]
One quoted aphorism of Einstein goes:
Science without religion is lame.
Religion without science is blind."
In this busy century, dominated like no other by science -- and exalting the ideal
of pure intelligence -- Einstein stands alone as our emblem of intellectual power.
Spinoza's Traditionalism (or NOT)
Spinoza's attack on the Bible was an early and influential one
Spinoza may have reverenced aspects of the Hebrew tradition, but he also attacked some of the core elements of that tradition. The modern world rightly praises Spinoza for his call for religious freedom, for separation of church and state, for respecting the individual in matters of conscience. But isn't there still a place for biblical faith and observance?
Rabbi Heschel tells us that modern philosophy in the West by and large has adopted Spinoza's depreciation of the intellectual relevance of Bible. The attitude that has taken over modern philosophy is that the Bible is "a naive book, it is poetry or mythology. Beautiful as it is, it must not be taken seriously, for in its thinking it is primitive and immature." It was Spinoza who originated this view.
Heschel says that "Spinoza's insistence upon the intellectual irrelevance and spiritual inferiority of the Bible has proved to be of momentous importance, and has shaped the minds of subsequent generations in their attitude toward the Bible. Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and the thinkers of the romantic school, even when rejecting Spinoza's views about metaphysics, adopted his attitude toward the Bible.
A surprising mention of Spinoza I find in the Autobiography of Malcolm X (Alex Haley). While in prison, not yet a convert to Islam, Malcolm found himself impressed by Spinoza, partly he concedes, because he learned Spinoza was a black Spanish Jew. He says, "The Jews excommunicated him because he advocated a pantheistic doctrine, something like the "allness of God," or "God in everything." The Jews read their burial services for Spinoza, meaning that he was dead in their eyes.
On the other hand, Malcolm had nothing but contempt for the rest of Europeaan philosophy -- Schopenhauer, Kant, Nietzsche. In fact, those three laid the groundwork on which the Fascist and Nazi philosophy was built. [page 181]
A Few Related LinksOutcasts of science
Spinoza in context
Einstein and God
Einstein's unorthodox "theism"
Interface of science and faith
The Future of Einstein's Faith
Respecting One Another
There's no question we live during a time of irreverence and almost disrespect of religion. The book of Jude speaks of the Last Times, when people will "despise dominion" and "speak evil of dignities." This was unheard of in earlier times. The Romans called it scandalum magnatum, to defame the "great" -- persons of authority or dignity. The Jews, in the Law of Moses, had a commandment that "Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people." The command included respect due to spiritual leaders. "Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm."
A worldwide furor was provoked not long ago when a Danish cartoonist depicted Islam's revered Prophet Muhammed in an unflattering manner. Religious leaders from several traditions joined the wide-spread Islamic reaction over the incident. All the more ironic, Muhammed himself was always very respectful of the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact,the Koran refers to Jesus in the tone of respect reserved for the greatest prophets of the Bible, and Jesus himself is called Isa al Masih, Jesus the Messiah. For More
What is wrong with a little respect?
friend me (facebook)
site created by
last save 4/19/12