Spinoza is one of the old generation philosophers who lived in the 17th century. His contribution in the field of philosophy was controversial. This controversy stems from the fact that he did not only reject some religious views but also some philosophies made by Aristotle. This stance made him unique in the Dutch society.
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Moreover, Spinoza offered groundbreaking defense for his controversial viewpoints by, among other things, defending the right to philosophize. However, Spinoza acknowledged the challenges of achieving this end, citing that the Dutch government was vulnerable to unfounded religious views since it considered these views as the only benchmark for establishing norms in the Dutch republic (Zabe 2).
Given the presence of these controversial statements and observations concerning the republic of Dutch, Spinoza could not publish some of his works even though several people accredited his viewpoints. The Theologico-Political Trease is one of Spinoza’s works that elicits intense debates, as it contains contentious issues facing the republic of Dutch.
The cause of disagreement entails the relationship between philosophical, religious, and political views. And while some people consider Spinoza as radical, others consider him as an atheist (Zabe 5). However, after Spinoza’s death, most people accredited his works and started using his philosophical views as a vehicle for building philosophy. Thus, this paper will examine Spinoza’s works in detail, with a view of contextualizing his viewpoints in relation to political, religious, and scientific views.
Nature of Religious Truth
Spinoza explains the nature of religious truth in a manner that raises a series of questions. First, Spinoza claims that “…what appears hurtful, evil, horrible, unjust, or base, assumes that appearance owing to our own disordered, fragmentary, and confused view of the universe” ( “Spinoza: Thirty Practical Principles” 1).
Thus, the philosophical views that Spinoza embraced concerning the nature of God were questionable. The first view states that even though God is the creator, his work is involuntary, as he does not have a free will (Zabe 3). This stance is at variance with the Christian views, which considers God as a person/king with a free will, rather than an infinite power.
In his defense regarding this viewpoint, Spinoza holds that the reason why most people consider God as a person is that they can only envisage God in relation to what they are able relate to. Thus, in spite of the increase in knowledge, Spinoza’s illustration concerning the nature of God highlights the presence of quacks in the Dutch society.
Moreover, Spinoza ridicules the religion of his time, while challenging the church to authenticate its religious claims (Zabe 4). After one of his friends joined the Roman Catholic Church, Spinoza pointed out that giving up one’s personality in exchange of a testimony of the Holy Spirit in order to prove that God is a person/king does not suffice (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 19).
Further, Spinoza supports his argument by alleging that there are people who do not belong to the Roman Catholic Church, and yet they are able to declare the evidence of their God with equal measure. Moreover, Spinoza claims that such declarations are unfounded because they are founded on intuition rather than knowledge.
According to Spinoza, intuition is not a factual gauge for measuring truth; rather, it is the main foundation for antithesis (Zabe 5). Further, Spinoza affirms that true religion constitutes worshiping God in a manner that the worshiper understands, rather than giving up one’s personality in exchange of doctrines and dogmas that are unwise (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 19).
Given his position on the nature of religious truth, Spinoza shows his readers a noticeable difference of how various philosophers interpret the scriptures from the religious people. First, Spinoza tries to separate philosophy from religion by using the rules that define a universal religion.
In his explanations on interpretation of the true religion, Spinoza provides a philosophical method for interpreting the Scriptures. Spinoza affirms that while the philosophical interpretation of the scripture assumes that God/nature is supreme, the religious interpretation assumes that the universe is comprised of two powers: God’s power as a person/king and the natural power (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 27).
Spinoza points out to the readers that anyone who considers adopting religious teachings must first consider the rationale of its teachings in relation to the modern science (Zabe 6). This means that applying intuition to defend Christianity does not suffice, as the light of the evolving knowledge should serve as a benchmark for verifying the authenticity of the scripture.
In this regard, Spinoza emphasizes the need for this analysis, in a bid to discard all forms of religious practices that are unable to pass logical tests. Further, Spinoza affirms that this sacrifice is not too big for any freethinking mind. In addition to this, Spinoza suggests that the true nature of religious truth should pass logical test. This means that for any teaching to be termed as the truth, it must be able to account for its inconsistencies (Belfiore 132).
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Spinoza’s Conception of the Correct Relationship between Religion and Politics
Spinoza perceives that the separation thesis should guide the relationship between religion and politics. Thus, Spinoza affirms that philosophical freedom would only add value to the community “if we would separate ourselves from the crowd and escape from theological prejudices” (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 34).
Thus, Spinoza considers this perception to be of paramount importance in ascertaining the correct relationship between religion and politics, as it allows independence between religion and politics. And even though Spinoza affirms that he is not an atheist, he continuously discredits the scriptural verses as the source of groundbreaking knowledge, citing that “scripture requires anything else apart from obedience, and it does not condemn ignorance” (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 46).
And in order to illustrate the correct relationship between religion and politics, Spinoza recommends that philosophy and religion should be separated since they are mutually exclusive (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 51). He elaborated this point of view by affirming that while the philosophical views are verifiable, the religious views are not. Therefore, separating religion and philosophy would help to resolve many problems experienced within the society.
Moreover, Spinoza discredits the viewpoints of philosophers who suggest that the philosophical views should not go against scripture whenever a discrepancy between the two schools of thought arises. Spinoza further states that scripture is not a viable benchmark for establishing the authenticity of philosophical views (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 67).
However, Spinoza was not threatened by the nature of scriptural verses since he had his own interpretation of the true nature of God, his major threat stemmed from the power of the Dutch reformed Church, which served the role of regulating philosophy.
Distinction between the Truths and Superstition
Spinoza illustrates the differences between the truth and superstition in a number of ways. First, he affirms, “superstition is a form of deformation, which emanates from extreme misconception of religious doctrines” (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 71). Second, he explains superstition as a form of ignorant misconception of what constitutes nature.
Third, he explains superstition as manipulation of ideas in order to acquire a religious or a political milestone (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 73). As such, superstition, unlike the truth, inhibits a person’s capacity to build logical paradigms.
Moreover, as the general conception of what constitutes superstition, Spinoza defines superstition in relation to obsessive anxiety. He argues that superstition emanates from fear. Thus, Spinoza recommends, “the presence of fortune and management of all things in a definite plan would significantly reduce the presence of superstition” (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 73). Moreover, Spinoza clarifies that fear that leads to superstition does not only emanate from achievement but also from hope of achieving something.
This state of affairs makes a person’s state of mind to swing between anxiety and confidence. And even as the subconscious mind is overwhelmed with fear, the conscious mind acquires the status of being over-optimistic. This makes a person become blind to the limitation of his/her knowledge concerning the subject at hand. Most people, faced with this challenge, tend to become defensive, in a bid to rationalize the presence of this fear (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 81).
Spinoza refers to this rationalization as superstition since it depends on the most absurd hypothesis (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 97). Spinoza calls this rationalization absurd because it cannot pass logical test. And even as the person who holds these superstitious views establishes the truth, it becomes hard for him/her to change his/her mindset despite the presence of enough evidence. Therefore, Spinoza distinguishes superstition from the truth by pointing out the irrational acts that people perform out of anxiety.
Key amongst these acts include turning into an imaginary deity and offering sacrifices that, ostensibly, help relieve their fears despite the irrationality within the practices. Moreover, Spinoza affirms that superstition is also evident in the political arena. He confirms this allegation by highlighting how Alexander the Great employed a number of seers when he was overwhelmed with fear (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 104).
Therefore, Spinoza suggests that a profound understanding of philosophical views is critical in eliminating superstition since it changes people’s attitudes by transforming and increasing their knowledge. This means that Spinoza’s viewpoints act as a solution to averting passions and anxieties held by the churches in Holland. Spinoza explains that the effects of superstition tend to undermine the sovereignty of the state (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 113).
The primary reason is that the seers and the prophets, who claim to alleviate fear, may ultimately undermine the sovereignty of the state. Moreover, Spinoza points out the challenge of relying on the seers and the prophets since the only information they are able to provide is superstitious in nature and holds no truth in it (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 115).
Power That the State Needs to Possess Regarding the Regulation of Religion
The 17th century is a century that contained diverse regulations, including regulation of religion by the state. According to Spinoza, the single authority should control these regulations (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 109). Spinoza does not acknowledge the clergy to exercise their authority in public affairs. Failure to regulate religion promotes an extension of clergy’s power to the political level. Eventually, this hinders the rights of some citizens.
However, the Dutch republic defends itself against this accusation by using two major platforms. First, the state claims that promoting justice within the country is not the responsibility of the clergy but of the state. Second, the state claims that involving the clergy in political matters is premised on the clergy’s expert power to advice on matters concerning justice and moral duty.
However, Spinoza believes that such consultations compromise the sovereign power of the Dutch republic. Moreover, Spinoza condemns the concerted efforts between the church and the state after coming up with principles for guiding piety (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 116). This position created a challenge for the Dutch republic owing to lack of a specific criterion for establishing the extent to which a particular act contributes to piety.
And even as the Dutch government continues to delegate some of its authority to the church, Spinoza discredits this position, citing the dangers of the priestly authority in the Hebrew state as a case in point. He supports his claim by pointing out that the priestly orders contributed significantly to the fallout of the first Hebrew state (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 127).
Moreover, Spinoza substantiates his claim by adopting explanation from the Old Testament concerning the fallout of ancient states (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 193). He is quick to point out that the Jews lived peacefully during the rule of Moses owing to convergence of laws between religion and politics.
However, after the Levites started interpreting the divine law, each Levite was quick to do it according to his own interests. This made religion acquire the state of superstition (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 129). Thus, according to Spinoza, the single authority thesis should define the relationship between religion and the state. This would help limit the religious powers, while upholding the sovereign power of the state.
Do Church Organizations Have any Place in Politics?
Despite the fact that Spinoza declares that religious dogmas are the most critical factors hindering a county’s development, he gets optimistic in some religious viewpoints. Thus, Spinoza affirms that since the subject of obedience dominates the religious teachings, religion can help people obey the civil law.
This obedience contributes greatly to eradicating social and psychological problems in the community. Spinoza uses the religious teachings, especially the Old Testament, to support his claim. For case in point, the idea of Jews to accommodate the nomadic populace emanates from obedience of ceremonial laws of the Jews. Moreover, the teaching of loving your neighbor helps promote compliance with the civic law.
However, Spinoza asserts that religious doctrines that seek to persecute people who interpret religion differently promote disobedience of the civil law. And since all people cannot be subjected to one belief system and one interpretation of religious views, as confirmed by the presence of many denominations in the Christian religion, Spinoza advocates for a civil law that should be subscribed by every citizen in order to promote a peaceful co-existence (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 204).
What Rights should Religious Believers as well as other Citizens Enjoy Regarding Freedom of Expression and Worship?
Spinoza affirms, “Individuals are best placed to co-operate when they are as free as possible to live as their own ideas dictate” (Spinoza Theological-political Treatise 237). This means that people need the freedom to philosophize, as well as freedom to worship God in accordance with their own understanding. Spinoza highlights two major platforms of freedom: outward and inward. While the outward platform entails outward expression of one’s belief systems, the inward platform entails inner worship of God.
However, even though Spinoza expresses concern over liberty in beliefs system, it is still impossible for the Dutch government to withhold people from holding their personal beliefs. Given this premise, it can be argued that the Dutch people enjoy the right to worship God the way they want. Moreover, Spinoza expresses his argument concerning freedom of expression and worship by establishing the most critical action that the government should undertake to ensure that this freedom becomes evident within the community.
Thus, he points out the need for the right to declare their beliefs systems. However, this viewpoint is not groundbreaking since the fact that the Dutch government lacks the ability to regulate personal beliefs makes it impossible to regulate their speech. Therefore, it can be concluded that the Dutch people enjoy the right of freedom of speech.
Apply Spinoza’s Ideas to an Analysis of Conflict between Creationism and Evolutionary Biology
Despite the fact that Spinoza does not subscribe to most teaching from the religious faith, he affirms that God created all things. However, the interpretation of God as nature, rather than a person/king, is consistent with the evolution theory. This theory affirms that the world emanated from a natural force. Moreover, even though Spinoza uses the name God regularly, referring God as a powerful force or nature that works in an involuntary manner is a clear indication that Spinoza’s faith system contradicts the creationism (Zabe 7).
Moreover, Spinoza declares that this nature is responsible for making each creature to exist and behave differently. He supports this point of view by providing a case in point: that nature determines how human beings are born through sperms and ovum, as well as how they adapt to the subsequent environment for their survival.
This suggestion is consistent with Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, which proclaims survival for the fittest (“Overview: The Conflict between Religion and Evolution” par 11). And since Spinoza considers this nature as supreme, he entirely believes that a person’s capability is entirely dependent on this nature for survival.
This essay has examined Spinoza’s works in detail, with a view of contextualizing his philosophical views in relation to political, religious, and scientific viewpoints. The essay has pointed out that Spinoza was a controversial philosopher who managed to come up with unique philosophies that were at variance with the some religious viewpoints. The essay has managed to establish the discrepancy by analyzing how Spinoza interprets a number of themes.
These themes include nature and religious truth, the correct relation between religion and politics, distinction between the truth and superstition, regulation of religion by the state, the role of church in politics, freedom of expression and worship, and conflict between creationism and evolution. Thus, through his philosophy, Spinoza clearly puts his message across to the readers: understanding how religion, politics, and science should co-exist would save us from social and psychological problems.
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