Tag Archives: spinoza

Wrestling with Bento

In an essay by the Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss, I find this passage, quoted from Ghandi:

What I want to achieve–what I have been striving and pining to achieve these thirty years–is self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain Moksha (Liberation). I live and move and have my being in pursuit of that goal. All that I do by way of speaking and writing, and all my ventures in the political field, are directed to this same end.

I am certainly no Ghandi. Far too little of my living, moving and being is in the pursuit of anything much more than maintenance and distraction. But I often sense something of that deep longing for a kind of union with that which is eternal and infinite, a bonding that paradoxically promises true freedom. If, like Spinoza, we conceive Natura Naturans as that very substance, on which we depend and in which we participate, then as Næss proposes, we see that Self-realization comes when we identify with the whole of nature as a “wide and deep ecological self”. And just as nature itself is limitless, this identification is necessarily without limit, and by virtue of this we come to realise that genuine or intellectual self-love is nothing less than God’s love for Himself.

As I struggle with forming a clear and distinct idea of Spinoza’s God, I sometimes feel like Jacob wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:24-32). The battle with the mysterious adversary continues through the hours of darkness and there is no victor–only the breaking of the day. In the undimming of the light, I am exposed: I can only, weakly, profess my individuality, my identity, only to be told that it is not my true name at all. And when I try to balance the books, demanding, like St Augustine (self-)definition from the Other, He only interrogates my question, “Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name?”

The questioning of the question is itself puzzling. But maybe the reward, the blessing, the revelation which we are insufficiently attentive to hear, is that which we could receive every waking moment, but in fear we avert our eyes. Like R.S. Thomas’ bright field, we have to be prepared to give all that we have, indeed give up all that we hold true, to possess it. In that instant of letting go, we glimpse God’s face, and as with Jacob our life is preserved.

It sometimes seems to me that every attempt to pin down (another wrestling term) Spinoza’s God by equating it with a tidy, contemporary concept is a form of misrepresentation, as much a deception (or selfdeception) as Jacob’s fooling of Isaac: “I am Esau thy first-born.”

Maybe I should not demand a resolution for the vexed questions of the relationship of substance and mode; whether Spinoza’s God should be understood as the God of the Philosophers or at least derivative of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; as the laws of physics or the Lawmaker; as the totality of things or the single essence expressed by the infinite attributes. Rather, could I just learn to live with the blessing of this ancient dance, an eternal striving with God?


A Dutchman enters the debate

Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677) preferred reason to prejudice.

Mr. B. Spinoza of The Hague, Holland writes:

But if the greatest secret of monarchic rule, and its main interest, is to keep men deceived and to disguise in the false name of Religion the fear by which they must be held back, so that they will fight for slavery as much as they  would for freedom, and  think that it is not shameful, but a very honourable achievement, to give their life and blood so that one man may have a basis for boasting, nevertheless, in a free republic nothing more miserable can be imagined or attempted. For, it is completely against common freedom to fill the free judgement of each man with prejudices, or to enchain it in any way.

Not sure what he’s on about but, great quote anyway. Maybe the point Mr Spinoza is making is that if any one person or institution is held to be beyond criticism, and when rational argument is shouted down, then the outcome is tyranny.