I had set aside this summer to read Spinoza’s Ethics. I have seen it referred to in many places. It is usually held up in high esteem. Will Durant, a historian, recommends reading it through once, studying it with a study guide, then reading it again slowly. It is no easy summer read. In mid-summer it gets so buggy, I usually spend a week or two sitting by the air conditioner, reading, so it seemed like a good fit.
Spinoza dared to say some things that no one else would at the time. He did it with precision, using a system of reference in his work so he could make a statement and say it was supported by Chapter X para 4. It made it difficult to argue with his conclusions. Somewhat difficult to read also, but anyway. For his effort, he was ostracized. He was Jewish, and I don’t remember what they call it, but he was “kicked out”.
He is often referred to as an early atheist. He was accused of it by Christians and officially of writing things about God that didn’t fit the official doctrine by Jews. I expected to start reading it and find some primitive psychology, a little existentialism and maybe he would skirt the god issue, saying just enough in the hopes he could later argue that he was still a believer and avoid the ostracism.
He spends the first three chapters basically doing classic arguments FOR God. Everything must have a cause. Our sense of morality must have a basis. Our ability to reflect on the universe must have been instilled into us from some cosmic source. He considers some arguments to those but frequently dismisses them as “absurd”.
Spinoza is pre-Darwin, pre-Faraday, pre-Big Bang Theory, but he was a contemporary of Galileo. He was post-Protestantism. He offers little to today’s discussion of what ethics are and what god is. But I can forgive him for not adding to the 21st century conversation. I can’t be so light on his modern day evangelists.
Most of his admirers will call him a pantheist; a believer in “god is everything”. I think you can glean that from Spinoza, but he doesn’t come out and say it. He doesn’t even disguise it in a way to attempt to avoid excommunication. He says God exists and speaks of knowing God by observing the laws of nature. He defended himself to the Jews, saying he did believe in God. Many writers ignore these facts. This kind of selective exposition is no better than cherry picking the Bible and claiming God is always merciful.
Why Jews and Christians had a problem with him, I can’t tell. I’m sure I could look into it, find the specific things that Spinoza said that went against doctrine. There are probably things about how miracles happen, or something that indirectly diminishes God’s all knowing and all powerful nature. Should I care? No more than I should care if someone who broke a traffic law in
in 1776 was dealt with justly and morally. There were dirt roads and horses
back then. I would have to do an awful lot of research to understand the
There is something to be learned from Spinoza. At the moment, my free time is extremely limited so I probably won’t be discovering that. Primarily, we can learn that as recently as the 17th century, if you even hinted that God might not be what the Bible says, you could forget about marriage, a job, or any kind of community support. Spinoza was excommunicated by the Dutch. About that same time, some other Dutch folks were setting up shop in little town that we now call
. Coincidence? I don’t think so. New