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.

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A Spinozian Job: On Stephen Mitchell’s Translation

God speaks from the whirlwind, by Walter Russell.
Reposted from St-Takla.org

I used to think of the book of Job with the utmost contempt. You know, it’s that bit of the Bible where God torments poor Job to win a bet, and then bullies him into being damn well thankful for the favor. As for many people who’ve rejected Christianity, for me the book seemed to embody the worst aspects of religion. It seemed, that is, to be propaganda encouraging us to embrace our own domination and degradation—pawns to be manipulated by a cosmic thug, as well as by anyone who can dupe us into thinking that they wield his authority.

This was before my friend Howie Wettstein introduced me to Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the book. Since then, it’s become one of my favorite works of literature. This isn’t, however, because I’ve embraced Christianity or Judaism, or because I love it on its aesthetic merits alone. Rather, I see it as a text with deep religious significance, but of an unusual, Spinozian sort.

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Blog mission statement

For years now, I’ve been preoccupied with Spinoza’s religious thought. This hasn’t been the case simply in my role as an academic philosopher who spends time writing, teaching, and giving talks about Spinoza. More importantly, I often think of myself as a Spinozian religionist—a believer, so to speak, in the religiously loaded sense of that word. Of course, there are no Spinozian churches of which to be a member, no Spinozian sacraments or Sunday bake sales. Nor, arguably, should there be: Spinoza didn’t think religion is fundamentally a matter of institutional affiliation or ritual. So, my ‘conversion’ has simply consisted in the onset of a private conviction: not simply that Spinoza ought to be taken seriously as a religious thinker, but that there’s something essentially correct in his vision of the religious life.

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