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Spinoza and "religion"

This was part of an email discussion on various religious groups:


    I do not consider myself to be "religious" in any ordinary sense of the term and I will go even further and say that I do not consider Jesus himself to be a "Christian" in any way in which I perceive that term to be used by others around me. I also do not consider Spinoza to be "Jewish" (nor, apparently did he consider himself as such once he came to a clear idea of his own nature and of God), nor do I consider Buddha to be a "Buddhist". Such is the nature of the human imagination that we each automatically come to have mostly confused and fragmentary ideas involving the "external world" in which our body is formed. Particular "religions" are merely labels for one or another common set of emotions and other confused ideas shared by one or another particular group of individuals. I suspect that this might sound terrible to most people but I equate "particular religions" with "superstition". Spinoza wrote:

======= E3: DOE. 27:
...This is perhaps the place to call attention to the fact, that it is nothing wonderful that all those actions, which are commonly called wrong, are followed by pain, and all those, which are called right, are followed by pleasure. We can easily gather from what has been said, that this depends in great measure on education. Parents, by reprobating the former class of actions, and by frequently chiding their children because of them, and also by persuading to and praising the latter class, have brought it about, that the former should be associated with pain and the latter with pleasure.

    This is confirmed by experience. For custom and religion are not the same among all men, but that which some consider sacred others consider profane, and what some consider honourable others consider disgraceful. According as each man has been educated, he feels repentance for a given action or glories therein.

    Now, Spinoza also uses the terms "God", "religion", "piety", etc. but he does not apply them exclusively to any particular group of individuals or set of moral rules, etc., each of which varies according to the common imaginations of those individuals involved (as indicated above), but, rather, he applies the terms strictly to clear and adequate ideas and to those who live according to Reason which is common to all and which cannot be identified with any particular group or set of moral rules. He wrote:

======= E4: PROP. 37, Note 1:
--He who, guided by emotion only [that is, by Confused Ideas -TNeff], endeavours to cause others to love what he loves himself, and to make the rest of the world live according to his own fancy, acts solely by impulse, and is, therefore, hateful, especially to those who take delight in something different, and accordingly study and, by similar impulse, endeavour, to make men live in accordance with what pleases themselves. Again, as the highest good sought by men under the guidance of emotion is often such, that it can only be possessed by a single individual, it follows that those who love it are not consistent in their intentions, but, while they delight to sing its praises, fear to be believed. But he, who endeavours to lead men by reason, does not act by impulse but courteously and kindly, and his intention is always consistent.

    Again, whatsoever we desire and do, whereof we are the cause in so far as we possess the idea of God, or know God [not imagine "God", of course, but have an adequate idea of God or Nature -TNeff], I set down to Religion. The desire of welldoing, which is engendered by a life according to reason, I call piety. Further, the desire, whereby a man living according to reason is bound to associate others with himself in friendship, I call honour [Honestas]; by honourable I mean that which is praised by men living according to reason, and by base I mean that which is repugnant to the gaining of friendship.

    I have also shown in addition what are the foundations of a state; and the difference between true virtue and infirmity may be readily gathered from what I have said; namely, that true virtue is nothing else but living in accordance with reason; while infirmity is nothing else but man's allowing himself to be led by things which are external to himself, and to be by them determined to act in a manner demanded by the general disposition of things rather than by his own nature considered solely in itself.

    Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, etc., and even "Spinozaism" in so far as it is considered by some to be rooted in Judaism, or in anything other than Reason, each belongs only to our imagination. Reason is common to all and has nothing to do with any historic sequence of events or particular set of beliefs or moral rules whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, etc.


Best Regards,


I welcome any thoughts on the above subject.
You may send email to:
tneff [at] earthlink [dot] net

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