Bad Case of Benedictus Spinoza

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

  • Genesis 1:1-2

“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
    to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
    and by your will they were created
    and have their being.”

  • Revelation 4:11

God is the Cause of all things – which are in Him.
“First, we should n
ote that Spinoza, in common with most philosophers before him, uses the word ‘cause’ in a much richer sense than we do now – a sense that originates in Aristotle’s definition of four types of cause.  These are (using a statue as an example): a formal cause, or the relationship between a thing’s parts (its shape or form); a material cause, or the matter a thing is made of (the bronze, marble, and so on); an efficient cause, or that which brings a thing into being (the sculpting process), and a final cause, or the purpose for which a thing exists (the creation of a work of art, the desire for money, and so on).
“For Aristotle and Spinoza, these together define ‘cause’, and provide a complete explanation of a thing – unlike today’s usage, which tends to relate to the ‘efficient’ or ‘final’ causes only.  Therefore, when Spinoza speaks of God or substance being ‘self-caused’ he means that it is self-explanatory, rather than that it is simple self-generating.  When he talks of God being the cause of all things, he means that all things find their explanation in God.
“God, therefore, is not what Spinoza calls a ‘transitive’ cause of the world.  This means that God is in the world, that the world is in God, and that the existence and essence of the world are explained by God’s existence and essence.  For Spinoza, to fully appreciate this fact is to attain the highest state of freedom and salvation possible – a state he calls ‘blessedness.’”

  • Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained

Since the author of the book makes a “note that Spinoza,” I would like to make a note as well.  I took twelve college credit hours of Philosophy in summer school back too many years ago to admit, twelve college credit hours meaning three hours Monday through Friday for 10-12 weeks of the summer.  We started with such characters as Thales of Miletus, continuing to the usual Greek greats like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and then a lot of modern philosophers, like Kierkegaard, Berkeley, and Nietzsche, but I cannot remember ever studying Spinoza.  I have heard a lot about him since then, but when I hear the name, Spinoza, I think it might be a type of pasta, maybe something like rotini.  Or maybe it’s the latest dance exercise craze, “going to a Spinoza class at the Matnasium.”  I saw “matrnasium” on a business building sign the other day.  “Move your business here.  We have a matnasium.  It’s a gym, but with mats.”  But no, when you add the first name, Benedictus, it sounds like a deadly disease.  “Sorry, I can’t come over.  I am having a bad case of Benedictus Spinoza.  You know, that disease that turns your spinal column into rotini.  Very painful.  Can’t talk.  Gotta go.”

I know that was inappropriate, but I enjoyed it.  And I truly cannot remember studying or reading Spinoza.

But seriously, Benedictus (or Baruch) Spinoza (1632-1677) was born in Amsterdam.  At age 23, he was excommunicated from his Portuguese Jewish synagogue, since the synagogue wished to distance itself from his philosophy.  Not only did the Jewish community not like his philosophy, but his work, Theological – Political Treatise was banned by the Christian community.  And his greatest work, Ethics, was blocked from being published until the year that he died, possibly of pneumonia, possibly brought on by grinding lens for a living – refusing lucrative teaching positions.  With this much notoriety, it is amazing that I cannot remember reading his works.  Then again, I was reading a few hundred pages of small print every day that summer, and none of it for fun.  But I had fun in doing it.

Other than the “church” of his day not liking any new way of looking at things, his discussion of God is in all things and all things are caused by God is elegant.  In drawing between the lines on that thought alone, God must exist, because there would be nothing if God did, at any time, fail to exist.  Yet, when God is presented in a rational view to people who wish that the followers simply followed blindly, having someone rationally determine that God exists in the terms of “The I Am” could rock the world of the status quo religious leaders that would argue against such people as Galileo and Francis Bacon (only 80 years or so senior to Spinoza).

Yet, not having read Spinoza’s works, there could be a lot of odd ideas in the details.  There are countless quotes regarding the details mattering, the small things, and Spinoza could be off on many of those.  Okay, Spinoza, to rid us of Descartes’s duality over mind and body, he came up with the idea that everything that existed had an existence in both worlds, body and thought (or mentality). Thus, for Spinoza, all animals have a mentality, all plants have mentality (possibly where talking to plants and playing soothing classical music for plants comes from?), and all minerals have mentality (please do not sit on that rock, you may hurt its feelings. And does the rock become offended with the “it” pronoun??) But the main ideas are sound.  They were determined in the school of Rational thought, using the concepts established by Rene Descartes, but resolving the mind-body dualism of Descartes, sort of.

God must exist, for without God nothing could exist.  God is the cause of all things.  All things are in God and God is in all things.

All we need for a complete explanation of “faith” is a belief that Jesus is fully God and fully man and we can trust Jesus and believe in Him.  We can work out the details later.

If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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