Sunday, December 25, 2005

Was Spinoza an Atheist?

When ever discussing the philosopher Spinoza, and his beliefs in God the question that always comes up is was he an atheist or not? In his letters he out right denied being an atheist, and his book on ethics is all about God, so much so, that he has been called a "God intoxicated man". So, on the face value the answer would be no, that he was not an atheist.

But not so fast, many claim that he only used the term God because atheism was frowned upon by the religious authorities, and he didn't want to make them upset. But in fact his views were really atheistic. If Spinoza believed everything is God, they claim, then doesn't that mean that nothing is God?

I've been reading a Yahoo group dedicated to Spinoza recently, and I saw an interesting point about this topic in one of the threads:

If a person was brought up in an environment, or by any
other means, has arrived at a point where they favor, lean toward, or
in any way take pleasure in something that might be termed Theism or
Theology or Religion or Faith or etc. The term Atheism might be used
to refer to anything that does not seem to also favor or lean toward
or that in any way seems to be negatively disposed toward what they
term Theism etc. On the other hand a person who's life experiences
cause them to associate the terms Theology or Religion, etc. with
oppression, exclusivity, etc. might come to favor, lean toward, or in
some way take pleasure in something that might be termed Atheism. The
first person has a negative association (a pain for them) while the
second person has a positive association (a pleasure) with the same
term; Atheism. Other might just say; Huh?
His point being that there are certain ideas which may have negative emotional connotations, that we wish to avoid even though the substance we may largely agree with. I speculate that in Spinoza's time the term atheism was associated with a certain kind of hedonistic connotation which he wanted to avoid, which is why he wanted to distance himself from the word atheism. He probably saw himself in the spiritual tradition of philosophers who believed in God and spiritual ideas rather than the pure materialists.

I have a similar issue. In modern times the term atheism is generally associated with the philosophies of materialism and scientism. I myself am not attracted to this philosophy so I tend to avoid being characterized as an atheist. On the other hand, God is usually associated with the religious view of life, and a conscious, willful, and personal idea of God. This is not something I agree with either. So it looks like I'm stuck in the middle. I'm not really comfortable with either term.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the terms we use to describe our views aren't as important as the views themselves, so I'm not so bothered by the fact that neither term really fits me. However, it makes it difficult for me to give a straight answer to the question "are you an atheist?", which is a little annoying.

4 Comments:

Blogger Orthoprax said...

"So it looks like I'm stuck in the middle. I'm not really comfortable with either term."

Some might call that being a religious unbeliever. ;-)

4:51 PM  
Blogger Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Reb Benedict,

I would like to email me. Please send me an email (found on my blog) so that I can reply. Thank you.

11:00 AM  
Blogger David said...

You could call yourself a Pantheist. Or you could call yourself nothing at all and just elaborate your views to anyone who really wants to listen.

The more you think about your position, the less pressure you will feel from both sides. Trust me, I was there.

11:52 PM  
Blogger Ar said...

Have you ever read The Ethics? it seems like you have not.

5:22 PM  

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