Spinoza’s dual perversity

Spinozian religion inhabits a strange space somewhere between secular atheism and traditional Abrahamic religion. For this reason, it can seem equally perverse to people in both camps—and despite all their differences from each other, for similar reasons. That is, in the religious life that Spinoza proposes, we take joy in our finitude: in the fact that we’re inescapably dependent on and vulnerable to a world that is utterly indifferent to us. For many secular and religious persons alike, though, our finitude is anything but a cause for joy, let alone joy of any religious sort.

First, to people of a religious bent, Spinoza’s worldview can seem bleaker than damnation. And this is because, as I suggested in last week’s post, for him we live in a radically non-theodical world.

Now, the term “theodicy” is most commonly used in a somewhat narrow sense: to describe attempts to account for God’s reasons for permitting the existence of evil. A theodicy might, for example, tell us that, despite appearances, everything works out for the best in the divine plan, but that in order for it do so, some evil needs to exist. Views that are theodical in this narrow sense presuppose a very specific religious doctrine: monotheism.

However, when I talk about theodicy, what I have in mind is a way of looking at the world that doesn’t, by itself, presuppose the existence of divinities at all, let alone that of a single god: namely, the idea that ‘everything happens for a reason’. When people use this common idiom, they typically have a very particular kind of reason in mind. By itself, to say that something happens for a reason is simply to say that there’s an explanation for why it happened. An epidemiologist might, for example, claim that the reason why a certain disease outbreak happened is that the rainy season caused a spike in the mosquito population. However, theodicists typically mean something quite different: namely, the kind of reason a person might give to justify something she’s done. Thus, they’ll find the epidemiologist’s explanation for the outbreak to be insufficient.

That is, to justify an action of ours, we usually cite some purpose it served, some good that it did, or some ideal or virtue that it embodied. I took the job to save more money. I donated to the campaign because I think the candidate will really turn things around. I ran into danger because it was courageous, or, quite simply, the morally right thing to do.

Theodicists think is that there are reasons of these kinds that account for what happens in the world at large. Theodicies in the narrow sense offer these as God’s reasons for creating the world as he has. A Christian might, for example, say the outbreak served some divine purpose; or that it was just for God to have allowed it. However, you don’t have to profess any traditional religion to be a theodicist in the present, more general sense. In my experience, many people who in fact reject traditional Abrahamic religion are theodicists. Because they’re detached from institutionalized bodies of doctrine—‘spiritual, but not religious’, in common parlance—their theodical views might be much more nebulous and mercurial: some New Agey business about energy and forces, for example. However, they share something quite fundamental in common with those who embrace such doctrines: the sense that we live in a justified world.

What is it that drives theodical views? Theodicies in the narrow sense are responses to the so-called problem of evil: why would God permit there to be evil in the world? But just as monotheistic theodicies are simply one kind thereof, so the problem of evil comes in a generalized form. The driving question of the latter is: why is there evil? The “why” here, again, though, must be understood as requesting reasons that justify. Why, theodicists might ask, for example, do bad things happen to good people? Why, indeed, do they happen at all? When they ask these things, they need not presuppose that the answer to their question will take a particular form—for example, that it will make reference to some one and only God. Rather, insofar as posing a sincere question presupposes hope for an answer, they need only hope for a justified world: a world that ‘make sense’, as people sometimes put it.

In the Appendix to Ethics I, Spinoza imagines a scenario in which we try to answer some theodicists who repeatedly ask “why?” in this spirit:

For example, if a stone falls from the roof on somebody’s head and kills him, by this method of arguing they will prove that the stone fell in order to kill the man; for if it had not fallen for this purpose by the will of God, how could so many circumstances (and there are often many coinciding circumstances) have chanced to concur? Perhaps you will reply that the event occurred because the wind was blowing and the man was walking that way. But they will persist in asking why the wind blew at that time and why the man was walking that way at that very time. If you again reply that the wind sprang up at that time because on the previous day the sea had begun to toss after a period of calm and that the man had been invited by a friend, they will again persist—for there is no end to questions—”But why did the sea toss, and why was the man invited for that time?” And so they will go on and on asking the causes of causes, until you take refuge in the will of God—that is, the sanctuary of ignorance.

(I Appendix [p.241])

When explaining why the stone fell and killed the man, Spinoza imagines, we give our theodicist interlocutors reasons of the sort the epidemiologist gave for the outbreak. Yet, they remain unsatisfied. Why, though? Because they live in hope of a justified world, and the reasons we’re giving them provide nothing of the sort.

It’s crucial that Spinoza chooses the kind of example he does: a death that seems ‘senseless’—theodical hope being undermined. This is one common way in which the drive to theodicy becomes manifest: in suffering from its frustration. Most of the time, theodicists live in what Camus calls “the sleep necessary to life” (p.13), and what Spinoza calls “the sanctuary of ignorance” (ibid). They see the world as one that is justified—perhaps even doing so unbeknownst to themselves. They don’t, perhaps, think that they know the reasons—they needn’t, that is, endorse any particular theodical doctrine. Nevertheless, to use the same idiom, they experience the world as one that ‘makes sense’: because of this, they feel safe and secure, as if slumbering in bed, or as if locked behind the doors of a secure fortress.

Then, however, something terrible strikes. As a result, their theodical drive becomes palpable as it announces itself and fixates on the terrible thing. “Why are things this way? Why did this happen?” they ask in agony—even if only in private moments to themselves, and even if only in ways they don’t even realize. Looking out, though, they can’t find any answer of which they can be confident. Consequently, to whatever suffering that is caused by the terrible thing—in Spinoza’s example, the unexpected death—is added suffering of another kind: theodical suffering, the suffering of Job. The world’s refusal to live up to their image of it feels like a nightmare—like being lost, or barren, or completely alone.

Spinoza’s choice of example is important because it makes clear precisely why many will find what he proposes perverse. First of all, he’s telling us: there is no justification for the world! The reasons why things happen just aren’t of this sort. The world, in other words, is non-theodical in character. Or to put it in another way, it’s indifferent to us. Nowhere in it, that is, will we ever find, except in comforting illusions, the world offering us reasons to justify itself.

However, this, by itself, would only raise the usual hackles in most religionists. After all, this is a familiar point of secular contempt for religion: mockery of the religious for holding on to a silly hope. Spinoza, though, is no such garden variety heathen. Instead, he’s something much stranger. For him, that is, people on both sides of this familiar conflict are equally heathens. A non-theodical world doesn’t, as he sees things, give him any reason to waver in his religious convictions. And this is because among these convictions is that the unjustified, so-called senseless world isn’t a barren landscape deprived of the sacred and divine. Rather, that world is God, and the religious life is one led in light of it.

I suspect—in fact, I know from experience—that many religious and secular people alike will find this stupefying. And this is because they think religion—love it or leave it—is of its essence a theodical business. It’s for those who, in their terms, seek ‘sense’ in the world: who want to know that all of it has some point, some purpose, some mission—that it’s ‘headed somewhere’, or has ‘meaning’. Here, then, we come to the first reason Spinoza seems perverse to them. For him, there’s a third way that lies outside the opposition between secularity and traditional religion altogether: neither embracing nor rejecting a religion that’s conceived in these terms, but revolutionizing our sense of what religion’s about. The theodical conception of religion is so deeply ingrained, though, that the very idea tends to fall on deaf ears all around: a monstrous attempt to have to have the impossible—religion and its absence, all at once.

Spinoza’s second perversity runs just as deep. This is because in the religious life he imagines, we don’t simply live in light of a radically non-theodical world. More than this, we take profound joy in our inescapable dependence on and vulnerability to that world. In doing so, he seeks something altogether more extreme.

To see why, we can begin by noting that the very condition in which he’d have us take joy is what prompts the generalized problem of evil in the first place. Spinoza tells the tale in the Preface to his Theological-Political Treatise. Our dependence on and vulnerability to the world makes much of our suffering unavoidable. This, in turn, leads to a distinctive kind of panic. The panic isn’t a matter of attempting to flee the particular causes of our suffering, or to enlarge the scope of our power and understanding in order to accomplish this. Rather, it’s a matter of desperately attempting to flee our dependence and vulnerability altogether.

The kind of confusion that Spinoza describes in the Appendix to Ethics I—confusion about causes: about why things happen—is what commonly besets us in our panicked state. Why, though, does this confusion tend to take a particular, theodical form? There are many ways we might be confused about causes. Why is this one so common?

Because, Spinoza thinks, we tend to flee in a particular direction. We tend, that is, to seek for some agency that has the power and understanding we lack—that seems, in the extreme case, to be utterly limitless—and try to submit ourselves to it in the hopes of enjoying a share of its power and knowledge. This is what we might call the authoritarian impulse: the desire, that is, not to wield authoritarian power, but to become its willing slaves. It is this impulse that is implicit in the generalized problem of evil. When posing this problem, we take up a stance in which we long to know why the world treats us as it does. We approach it, thus, like supplicants pleading for judgment by a sovereign.

Again, though, these points are familiar from standard secular criticisms of traditional religion: traditional religion as escapism. As an alternative to such escapism, secularists typically propose acceptance. We must, that is, learn to accept our finitude: the fact that we’re inescapably bound to the blind vicissitudes of an indifferent world. We must, they tell us, accept it with Stoic calm, or at least resignation, or perhaps the defiant courage of Camus’s Sisyphus. In other words, they agree with Spinoza that we must find our way to something other than theodical escapism.

However, I suspect that many secularists will find Spinoza’s proposed alternative just as perverse as traditional religionists do. It would be nice if we didn’t live in an indifferent world, they might think. Alas, though, we don’t, and we must accept it. Acceptance, yes: but joy? Why would we take joy in our finitude? What is there to celebrate in the indifference of a world we can never fully conquer or comprehend?

A similar bafflement can easily arise from the idea that we ought to rejoice in our status as inescapably dependent, vulnerable beings. Our dependence and vulnerability are what keep us from any hope of completely understanding the world. They make us into fools. Dependence and vulnerability are what make us powerless to ensure the success of our aspirations, and the well-being of the people and things we care about. They’re what sometimes make us unable to keep ourselves from doing wrong. They make us weak.

Why would one take joy in them? To do so would be a curious sort of masochism. This is precisely Lewis Feuer’s charge against Spinoza in his book Spinoza and the Rise of Liberalism. “A slave is a slave,” Feuer exclaims, “even if it is to God, not man, and a slave is a slave even if he is a metaphysical, rather than a political, one” (p.241). Thus, Spinoza’s view is, he thinks, no better than the authoritarian impulse that drives the generalized problem of evil: he wants us to rejoice in our enslavement to an indifferent master—the world as a whole.

These two seeming perversities in Spinoza’s views prompt, then, the following questions:

  1. In what sense is Spinoza’s view a religious one at all, given that it posits a radically non-theodical world?
  2. What reason could we have for taking joy in our finitude? Is the Spinozian religious life the expression of a strange sort of masochism?

Next week, I’ll be taking a brief detour, and begin an ongoing series of essays on literature with one on James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. However, beginning the week after that, I’ll begin considering various ways a Spinozian religionist might respond to these worries.

Works cited

  • Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus, trans. Justin O’Brien. New York: Penguin Books, 1979.
  • Feuer, Lewis Samuel. Spinoza and the Rise of Liberalism, New York: Routledge, 2017.
  • Spinoza, Benedict de. Complete Works, trans. Samuel Shirley, ed. Michael L. Morgan. Indianapolis, 2002.
    • Theological-Political Treatise, trans. Michael Silverthorne and Jonathan Israel. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

5 thoughts on “Spinoza’s dual perversity

  1. Esther

    Thanks for turning my questions into this eloquent blog post. Though it’s not entirely about my questions.

    If it’s okay, I’ll unpack a few more questions that you don’t have to answer. Just know that I only know things partially and this language I’m using is not my first one so I may sound rather raw and reductive, at times.
    First, I’ll just accept that I’m ignorant and address the obvious. Of course, when we consider our being mortal, it almost always helps us to appreciate more of the life we’re having right now, or the things that are right in front of us. A larger perspective to be reminded everyday again and again, yes. But are you saying just this or more than this?

    If the possibility of the supernatural can be ruled out because, conceptually, we don’t need such a world, do we need to have a religion without the hope of transcendence? Why is it necessary that nature is indifferent?

    Which one is easier, rejoicing in our enslavement to the seemingly indifferent world or rejoicing in the belief that things may have more than one single meaning, that everything is deeply related, intricately connected in a way that we’ll never find out? (In this sense, nature is wondrous, indeed. And here we can say God is in all things.) I don’t know how exactly, but I think this can give some sort of answer to the question, “Why the distinction ‘here’ and ‘there’ should matter to us?” ‘This’ world, in a way, can be also ‘that’ world, simultaneously. Like time has two concepts, the horizontal time (chronos), and the vertical, ‘deep’ time (kairos.)

    Would it also possible to think that all are, in fact, interested in each other and relational, because, instead of humans’ punitive, narrow sense of ‘justice’ or of ‘justifiable’ world, there may be this other possibility of a strange, all-embracing redemption of all imperfect things, owing to the surrender in love and freedom, and the absolute, complete solidarity with all existing sufferings, especially of the most despised in this world? A kind of justice that looks much like love?

    William James would put it, “By their fruits ye shall know them, not by their roots.” On a personal note, I had to re-examine what I believed to be rational and reasonable, not because it made more sense. On the contrary, I saw the grains of wheat that fell into the earth and died. So pointlessly. Over and over again. But then the fruits from those nameless deaths were quietly growing, hidden. And then everywhere. It didn’t make any sense at all. I returned because it was beyond my understanding.

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    1. Mandel Cabrera

      Thanks for all these questions! I have the beginnings of answers to your questions, but I’m sure they are under-developed. I’m going to start with just addressing your first, and then gesturing more vaguely on this basis to your other questions.

      My starting point concerning death is a bit different, I think. I’m attracted to the idea that one key element of wisdom is having learned not to fear death. This is a different issue from whether death is in and of itself *bad*. Perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t: philosophers have certainly gone both ways on the issue. But even if *is* bad, and profoundly so, the question of whether we ought to fear it or aspire *not* to do so is simply a different question. Certainly, one reason you could have for thinking the absence of the fear of death is an element of wisdom is that it allows you to *appreciate* the value of what your life contains. However, this isn’t how I think of it. Appreciation sounds a lot like enjoyment or pleasure, whereas I, with Spinoza, have in mind the idea that this kind of fearlessness contributes something different to human life than enjoyment or pleasure. In glossing Spinoza’s view, I used a lot of ‘joy’ language, which, I realize now, can be misleading. Instead of thinking of joy in the sense of enjoyment or pleasure, think of a different phenomenon: rejoicing. When a dancer rejoices in dancing, this concerns, at least in part, the manner in which she’s *engaging* in the activity. She whirls with abandon, a giddy lack of restraint. Perhaps she smiles and laughs, not bashfully, but ostentatiously. In her movements, she gives herself over to the music, to the space, to the lights, letting them carry her along as they will. In doing this, she unleashes capacities that ordinarily she’d keep under wraps.

      Rejoicing, in other words, is more than just a quality of her *experience* of dancing. And, in fact, I don’t think rejoicing need even be *accompanied* by any particular sort of enjoyment or pleasure in pursuit of which we o it. Perhaps the dancer, as she dances, recalls the darkest and most painful experiences, and feels their pain more vividly than she would ordinarily be able to tolerate. Perhaps this is *why* she rejoices in the dance. For her, imagine, the dance has an almost incantatory power. The reason she usually avoids re-experiencing those memories is that ordinarily, their pain makes her shrink down into herself, restraining her powers of action and expression, and thus curling herself up in a proverbial ball. But, there’s something about the dance that allows her to uncouple pain from disempowerment: when, that is, she gives herself over – rejoices in it. It might be quite true that she *enjoys* or *takes pleasure* in her own empowerment, but to say that this is the extent of its attractiveness to her trivializes it, I think. Pleasure and enjoyment are all well and good, but this is something better: something like self-affirmation. Perhaps she can and does sometimes seek various ‘anasthetic’ activities – activities whose pleasure ‘dulls the pain’, whether it be a drug, or listening to music, or zoning out in front of Netflix. The dance, though, is something different, and because of this, something altogether wonderful.

      It’s rejoicing in living that I have in mind when I talk about taking joy in finitude. This is in line with Spinoza’s use of the term “joy”: he thinks of joy not as a kind of feeling or experience, but as an increase in one’s power. And for the above reasons, I think rejoicing in living is more than just finding enjoyment or pleasure in life. Perhaps, as with the dancer, such a life would involve many instances of rejoicing that aren’t motivated by pleasure and enjoyment, and don’t provide either in any significant measure.

      The absence of the fear of death is an element, I think, of rejoicing in living in this sense. But it’s only one element, because the fact that we will die is only one manifestation of finitude: our status as dependent, vulnerable beings. What Spinoza is interested in achieving is, in part, the absence of the fear of finitude in general. And, he thinks that part of getting rid of this fear is rejoicing in living.

      What is the connection here? This is one key question I have to answer. Mostly, Spinoza answers this question by identifying many particular ways in which the fear of finitude disempowers us, which is what he calls the phenomenon of superstition: a concept that, I think, has wider application in his use than just to the beliefs and practices that people usually call superstitious. One of my most urgent tasks right now is finding ways of motivating the connection, which is work that Spinoza doesn’t do. The project of the _Ethics_ is, I think, an unfinished one. Perhaps my comments about the dancer hint at the vague picture I have in mind.

      When you talk about ‘this’ world being ‘that’ world simultaneously, I’m not sure what you mean. There are many things this could mean, though your example of ordinary vs. kairotic time is very suggestive. I think my question would be: however the distinction between ‘this’ and ‘that’ is construed, why do we need a ‘that’ at all? I suspect that another thing you mention – the desire for redemption – is one of the root motivations for making such distinctions. That strikes me, though, as a narcissistic desire, rather like the desire of someone who behaves repentantly before the person they’ve wronged, but only because they want the other to assure them they’re good people after all. Someone who seeks assurance of their own virtue rather than virtue itself are missing the target in a profound way. It’s as if we want the world to embrace us, pet our hair, an purr to us that we’re good little boys and girls. I have suggested to traditional religionists a number of times, using their language: if you love God because you think you will be *redeemed*, it isn’t true love. It’s some transactional impostor for love. I have positive regard for my barista, insofar as he gives me something I want, but in doing so, I don’t *love* him. Love is something far different.

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      1. Esther

        Thanks for the reply! Here’s something I’ve noticed –

        Your presumption1: I think I meant something similar to your definition when I said ‘appreciate’ Rather than connoting mere pleasure or enjoyment, – though it’s almost always unfair to qualify anything with the adjective ‘mere’ – I meant ’appreciate’ in the sense of recognising something in the fullest sense within one’s capacity in terms of perception, understanding and yes, also feeling.

        ‘Joy’, too. It’s not a passing feeling or experience, I agree. It’s the utmost life-affirming Yes. (I’m almost tempted to say ‘just like Molly’ in the final chapter in Ulysses, but honestly, to this day, I haven’t entirely decided what the true nature of Molly’s Yes is.) A full, fearless, yet loving acceptance of whatever is coming.

        Your presumption2: I’m a little wary of the popular notion of redemption. When it becomes merely a matter of individual decisions between God and themselves, which is a deplorable sort of side effect resulted from over-emphasising Luther’s doctrine, ’salvation only by faith’. Rather, I’m fascinated by the imagery found in the Jewish folklore about “The Shattering of the Vessels.” In the beginning, the world consisted of ten holy, fragile vessels. Too fragile, they broke open, and now the holy tiny pieces were all scattered everywhere, each being containing one such spark. To make them whole again, we need everyone, everything. Perhaps not exactly this, but that’s how I took the myth and remember it anyway.

        I agree that loving or enduring something/someone with the expectation of some form of reciprocation may not be love in its purest sense. Judging from the way you defend love, I have a feeling that what I meant by love was not altogether different from your definition of love. I suppose I was referring to the kind of relationship you have with understanding, writing, reading, thinking and analysing in the act of which, you completely forget yourself. The state in which the question, ‘Who am I?’, becomes utterly irrelevant. There’s a beginning of that love, though. There are moments that such recognition between two things/beings happens. The recognition that they’re given to each other, unconditionally, regardless of the outcome. And this continuous flow ensues between them like a joyous but, at times, also painful dance. (Even writing isn’t always joyful to you, is it?:-)) Having said this, I think Love itself wouldn’t mind too much about what’s truly, essentially, technically love or not. We all have our own limitations of all sorts. Love understands and is kind. Love is love is love.

        On the fear of being finite. How about this. I think I have no fear of death, not because I expect to have some form of another life in a certain place, but because I am already living in eternity. The quality of attention may change the content of perception, you know. Of course, ‘Attention to what?’ is also an important question, as a certain kind of perception is impossible in a single plane of reality.

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      2. Mandel Cabrera

        Thanks, that’s really helpful. This discussion is feeding into some things I’m going to address at my talk in Utah next week, and your objections are quite helpful, so thanks! Apologies ahead of time: below, I don’t address all of your points. Hopefully, though, I say enough to further the discussion a bit.

        *Presumption 1*: Yes, I realize I was using a bit of a straw man now. Appreciation needn’t be a matter of enjoyment or pleasure. When you talk about recognizing, perception, understanding, and feeling, though, it still sounds like you’re talking about matters that have to do with one’s experiences, attitudes, and emotional states–whereas rejoicing, as I was describing it, is a manner of *action*.

        However, maybe I’m still attacking a straw man. Appreciation can be a manner of action as well: acting *appreciatively*, as it were. Now, you can do something appreciatively in the sense that you do it *with appreciation*–that is, with appreciation in the sense I was just attributing to you (maybe wrongly): you savor it, take enjoyment from it, attend to what is good in it, and so on. What I have in mind here, though, is, again, some manner of action. When I appreciatively open a birthday present, this concerns the *way* I’m going about this activity.

        This still, though, this seems different from what I was calling rejoicing, though I’m not sure I’ll do a good job at clarifying what I have in mind. When I do something appreciatively, my doing of it has an *expressive* dimension: I do so in a way that expresses my positive regard for what I’m doing and/or the things I’m engaging with in doing it. You hand me the present, and I smile with a joyous ‘wow’ expression, and take it from you with gusto, or else special care. As I open it, I purr with anticipation, and cast affectionate looks at you. And when I see what’s inside, I declare my excitement and thanks.

        Rejoicing, as I’m thinking of it, isn’t a matter of expressing one’s positive regard for that in which I’m rejoicing. The dancer I envisioned isn’t dancing appreciatively. Her rejoicing is something altogether more wild: to the point of ecstasy. In short, she’s not *expressing* herself but *unleashing* herself: empowering herself precisely by abandoning herself to the dance.

        Maybe you’ll think that what I’m calling rejoicing can still be called appreciation. If so, at the very least I hope the above comments show that the kind of appreciation I have in mind ought to be distinguished from others.

        *Presumption 2*: The imagery of “The Breaking of the Vessels” is quite suggestive. I’m not sure what to make of it. My first impression: it still seems to involve some qualitative distinction between the sacred and the profane. Earlier, you mentioned a dual aspect view, which I took to be something like the idea that everything, looked at one way, is profane; but, looked at another way, is sacred. So, I’ve gathered (correct me if I’m wrong) that you’re into this distinction as well. I, for one, don’t know why we need to say that there is a dimension of things that *isn’t* sacred. Profaneness strikes me as simply a confused way of thinking about what’s sacred. When I hear this kind of dual aspect view, that is, my first reaction is to think that it’s a way of holding on to what really matters in the natural/supernatural distinction: some distinction between what is ‘profane’ or ‘fallen’, and what is sacred. But the image of the profane or fallen world, I suspect, is that of the world as something on which we’re inescapably dependent, and to which we’re inescapably vulnerable – such a world, that is, cast in a terrifying light. We recoil at our dependence and vulnerability as such. So, we seek another world: or in a dual aspect view, another way of looking at it.

        Again, I know, I might be attacking a straw man. When you talk about realizing we already live in eternity, it makes me think that, although you mentioned a dual aspect view, you don’t really have one. That is, a dual aspect view as I was describing it above is one according to which things can *correctly* be viewed as profane when looked it one way, and *correctly* be viewed as sacred when looked at in another. But what I think I’d suggest is that the former way of looking at things just isn’t a correct one: it’s a confusion. If you think this, then we’re closer than I realized.

        However, one key to settling our differences would be, I suggest, clarifying eternity. Spinoza famously thinks that we achieve beatitude through seeing ourselves *sub specie aeternitatis* – under the aspect of eternity. However, we must be careful. Eternity often suggests *escape* from the world of time: for example, into a condition wherein we no longer have to suffer the ravages of dependence and vulnerability. For Spinoza, though, seeing oneself under the aspect of eternity precisely *is* seeing oneself as inescapably dependent and vulnerable. Such a view doesn’t offer us the promise of escape. Quite the contrary: it shows escape to be utterly impossible.

        And, instead of flinching away, we rejoice.

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  2. Esther

    There must be some reason why you want to distinguish “rejoicing” from what I was plainly referring to. Some function of that difference that I’m unaware of.

    As much as anyone who is bound to describe things on the spectrum of two extreme poles, I may be dualistic. But I wonder is all “dualistic” views are of the same kind. I see there’s the difference between part and whole. I see the difference between transparency and opacity. The reality I perceive is situated somewhere between the two poles, if always changing. Between the extremes, there’re numerous points where I’m always being transformed from one degree to another. “What do I see when I see?” is, I think, a question of degree between part and whole – and perhaps also between the actual and the potential.

    Why do we need to say that there is a dimension of things that isn’t sacred? I now noted that this question is different from asking if some things aren’t sacred. I’m only speculating here, but perhaps we will need different dimensions for things being potential, possible, and actual. In a sense, I think we can say all these dimensions are sacred. But a more interesting question may be something like, “What defines/causes the difference between the three?”, or “At which point does the separation happen?”, or “What do we mean when we say that something is potentially sacred or actually sacred?”.

    One way for me to approach eternity is to think what includes all that happened, are happening and will happen, and lets these happen simultaneously. Similarly, one way to understand how Christians see Jesus of Nazareth may be to see a certain potential, in his interdependent, triune relationship with the Father and the Spirit, which was already actualised, being actualised and will continue to be so and, at the same time, somehow to hold this kairotically. A sense of wonder may help this exercise, the act of perceiving a depth of time, as William Blake seems to have done so: “Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/ And Eternity in an hour”

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