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SPINOZA AND GOD

In a recent review of Rebecca Goldstein’s Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity (Nextbook/Shocken, 2006), literary critic Harold Bloom notes that “Spinoza’s God is scarcely distinguishable from Nature, and is altogether indifferent to us, even to our intellectual love for him” [“The Heretic Jew”, The New York Times Book Review (June 18, 2006), 7]. Despite some critical remarks about Spinoza as a thinker, Bloom feels that his Ethics is quite illuminating, though “light without heat” [ibid., 7]. I could not help but think of Jonathan Edwards when I read this remark, for Edwards loved to use this metaphor of light and heat. But how different Edwards’ philosophical reflections: there we find both heat and light.

And, although Bloom calls Spinoza “greatly cold and coldly great” in his thinking about God, he feels that this perspective is vastly better than the situation that currently prevails in what he calls “our religion-mad” United States. For in the latter, many are “persuaded that God loves each of them, personally and individually” and this, from Bloom’s vantage-point, is surely one of the reasons for “the daily slaughters on the streets of Baghdad” during “this era of George W. Bush.” [ibid., 7].

The logic here is tenuous at best and at worst is a mockery of what is at the heart of biblical Christianity. Belief in a personal God who is active in history and loves men and women as individuals does not necessarily entail what Bloom claims. And how can one explain the passion we feel and the longing for both heat and light if our Maker is merely Cold Light?

Isn't Bloom a self-proclaimed Gnostic, anyway?

Thanks for your post, Michael. I agree with your assessment of Spinoza (and with Bloom's logic), and would add a few thoughts. Contra Descartes’ claims, Spinoza assets that there is only one substance as defined by Spinoza, which means that God is substance (which as you point out, really means God =Nature or the laws of Nature) consisting of infinite attributes. Spinoza’s God is the necessary being, but not in the way that St. Augustine or St. Anselm understood God as a se. Given Spinoza’s schema, God/substance has a material component—something inconceivable to the medievals. In effect, substance or God or Nature constitutes the totality of existence and all things are affections of Him. God is then understood as nature in two senses: (1) Natura naturans—all things come from God/Nature and He is the origin of all things; (2) Natura naturata—God/Nature does not create anything apart from Himself, i.e., “He is the emerging, budding things themselves.» Thus, with Spinoza’s philosophy we encounter an extreme monistic and pantheistic system. Given this impersonal conception of God/Nature, I still wonder whether Spinoza’s conception is really without “heat” or passion. That is, I would suggest that his passion is quite strong and is manifest in his ethical hostility toward the Triune God, which can be seen in his attitude toward Scripture, his take on miracles, view of the prophets, etc. (just take a look at his Theological-Political Treatise).

Cheers,
Cynthia

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