Social Political Theory
The best explanations of Spinoza’s philosophical views would make us believe that, according to Spinoza, religion is superstition. Spinoza’s overall attitude to the arguments of revealed religion is significantly clear from our consideration of the Ethics, according to his work. Basically, belief in the teachings of conventional religions, as largely interpreted, is equated with superstition. The source of such faith is based on imagination, and its control of the mind of the public can be explained in terms of its strong relation to the passions of fear and hope. Therefore, not only does Spinoza uphold that this faith lacks any sensible basis; he also states that the virtues, which its supporters affirm, such as fear of God, repentance, a sense of guilt, and humility are principally at variance with the dictates of rational reasoning. This consideration of religions as superstition is maybe hasty.
Spinoza explicates the origin, nature and significance of an intellectual prejudice, the necessity of which is in human nature. Such a prejudice is considered to include a set of interconnected ideas that constitutes what would, in a normal situation, be referred to as religious belief. However, Spinoza’s philosophy of religion might be regarded merely as an argument that religion is a form of anthropomorphism. According to the supporters of religion, Spinoza’s arguments are either ignored or misrepresented. Wherever his contributions are considered, his philosophical discreditations of classical theistic beliefs are highlighted, which he considers as forms of intellectual prejudice, and of his creation of an approach of religious criticism.
Spinoza`s philosophy in regard to religion is highly celebrated as a courageous attempt to question the legitimacy of the Bible hence belief in its teaching. It is not surprising that Spinoza’s naturalistic explanation of religion as a social institution of eliminable value is entirely obstructed by the beacons of secular Insight. Spinoza considers religion and faith as thing which can make it possible to overcome the horrors of illiberally established democratic regime. He condemns inadequate sectarianism for religious ferocity, while defending regimes as asymptotic to reason and requires states to exercise limited supervision over religion (Spinoza, 2007, pg. 68-72).
Considering Spinoza’s avant-garde position, one finds that his historical critical approach was directly connected to political hypotheses designed to establish a freer society that would be open to new view of life and solutions that include a secular approach to religion. All the threads of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus argument culminate in chapter 14 where faith is defined as the subjective state of passion and belief, which leads an individual to piety, in matters of charity and justice, as judged exclusively according to human behavior. The chapters seven through 13, which are devoted to hermeneutics, are tasked to demonstrate that exhortation to religiousness, in obedience to the requirements of charity and justice, is the teaching of the Bible, where alone, the Bible is consistent, a virtue by which exhortation to religiousness constitutes the word of God, which has not been corrupted (Spinoza, 2007 pg.98).
“The teachings of the Bible that are concerned basically with the philosophical matters may be summarized as follows: that there exist a God or supernatural Being who made all things and who sustains and directs the universe with supreme wisdom and authority; who takes utmost care of humanity, that is, people, who live righteous and moral lives; and that he severely judges others and separates them from his goodness. Here Scripture highlights this by appealing to experience or by its historical narratives; however, it does not provide any definitions of the terms it applies, although its language and reasoning are adapted to the knowledge of the common people. And although experience may provide unclear understanding of these issues, and may not teach what God is or in what ways he directs and sustains the universe and care for all men, it still enlightens and teaches people as far as it aims to impress on their minds devotion and obedience.” (Spinoza 2007, 68)
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The chapters, devoted to miracles and prophecy (1-6), establish religious legitimacy in the capacity to motivate ordinary people to act religiously.
According to Spinoza, religion may be seen as superstition. This assertion and all other aspects of Spinoza’s theory of religion are outlined in the preface of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Rather than philosophically and scientifically equating religious belief with superstition, Spinoza views religion as a requisite to the solution of superstition.
Spinoza` theory has its origin in fear that is generated by the convergence of ignorance and weakness in which the lives of all men begin. The issue of superstition is not inaccuracy of faith as such but its instability. As long as we observe practices simply for their momentous ability to subdue fear by persuading hope, which ability is based merely on the ground that the desired course of action has not been taken previously, people shift from one promise to another, never establishing the foundation for a solid body of aggregated experience that may form an initial point of knowledge.
As a result “the mass remains ever at the same stage of wretchedness” and their culture does not progress. In addition, there is political instability that causes endless wrangles. When we lack wisdom and knowledge we are barred from attaining them by the perpetual cycle of hope, fear and despair, the solution to the issue of superstition may not be overcoming of superstition but a modification of it. According to Spinoza, religion is merely a modification of superstition, which ritualizes its form but retains its content.
Operating on the level of imagination and emotion, the drama of ritual raises the ability of any superstition to alleviate fear and introduce faith. Moreover, it shifts the position of its efficacy, from the fleeting promise of the innovation of that, which has not yet failed and triggered despair, to the authority and persuasiveness of religion. The stability of religious rituals attenuates the issues of superstition, restricts the naivety of fearful ignorant people, thereby creating a foundation for both cultural and political firmness. These, in turn, make the development of knowledge and the exercise of reason possible, which would solve the problem of superstition.
The two products of religion, born of the steadiness of superstition, are connected: the more knowledgeable a society, the less despotic its regime. The given equilibrium, attained by a specific society, between superstition and reason determines the proper obligation of religion in its affairs. For Spinoza the most important is the lasting relationship between religion and people’s perception of liberty. Tyranny, the regime the system that heavily depends on ignorance and in which men are less free, is also the most unstable regime (Spinoza, 2007 34).
Since religion addresses our passions in motivating us to act according to the expectation of our society it collides with the features of human nature that Spinoza’s naturalistic realism stresses: people are united by reasons but divided by passions. Consequently, by the nature of things, religion ought to be pluralistic enough to accommodate a wide range of differing sensibilities and can seek homogeneity only at high level of abstract principles. Tyrannical mind control that religion establishes is likely to cause philosophical hatred and lead to ennobled sedition of the martyr since the ceremonies and stories that inspire people’s piety may stir contempt in others, who are edified by practice and faith of differing kind. Dominance of variants of true religion creates fearless rebellion of the righteous that must be avoided.
According to Spinoza, the ultimate mystery of despotism, its support and stay, is to sustain people in a state of deception, and with the baseless title of religion to cover the fear by which they ought to be held in check, so that they would fight for their bondage as it were salvation, and are not ashamed of it, but the highest reward to spend their lives for the exaltation of one man. (Spinoza 2007, 3)
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Consequently, in direct opposition to Hobbes, Spinoza argues that inadequate sectarianism is a leading cause of civil instability. The only way out of this mess is to advance toward providing people with freedom of judgment in the issues of religion and faith. According to Spinoza’s doctrine on the religion and freedom, restricted freedom is recommended requiring state regulation. State regulation is required for such reasons as: protection of political dominion, essential irrationality in which religion is established, relationship between common good and piety, and dominance of reason.
At the core of the four reasons is the quest for the political and cultural unity that reasoning could afford had it been possible for people to live on the basis of reason.
According to Spinoza’s argument, only an exceptional degree of understanding and wisdom can be motivationally effective in overcoming harmful contentious desires. Such an understanding is too rare to be significant politically. Consequently, even the wellbeing of a developed society protects the piety created by religion by engaging emotion and imagination.
In a democratic regime, therefore, state regulation of religion is akin to the dominion of reasons over passion. The smaller the portion in which sovereignty is vested the less efficient the regulating mechanism that protects it from folly. This notwithstanding, Spinoza claims that regulation of religion by most regimes would be better that anarchy, since governments are focused on interests of self-preservation to perform reasonably in line with the public good.
In Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza views the relationship between reason and faith from a practical point of view. Concerned with the consequences of social violence of religious intolerance, Spinoza tries to show that any belief that advocates for love and good behavior towards one’s neighbor is admissible, since such religions would be beneficial to society. In expressing this, Spinoza outlines his opinions that, though religion is a positive practice, the average individual’s faith sums up to little more than superstition, a form of faith that has little to do with rational reasoning.
Spinoza outlines faith as a set of beliefs that, if accepted, dictate belief in and reverence of God (Spinoza, 2007 222). These beliefs, in a nutshell, are that God is omniscient, omnibenevolent and omnipotent and that worshipping God assumes a form of loving their neighbors, and those terrible penalties will follow from believing and doing otherwise (Spinoza, 2007 224-225). Thus, faith is supported by the word of God, and, especially, miracles. Thus, Spinoza states that faith is logically and metaphysically impossible.
We must consider that no one, according to Spinoza, has sufficient idea of God. Therefore, it does not make sense to indicate that everyone’s faith in God is not merely incomplete, but ultimately false. We may argue that given that ideas are uncertain, according to Spinoza, falseness may not be supported in his work.
When it comes to issues regarding God, Spinoza is unable to sufficiently argue that man is able to have faith that is anything less that false. Though it is normal for people to advance knowledge of God, Spinoza seems to indicate that most people have their belief based on misconception of who God is. Further, his complete dismissal of faith in his work (Theological-Political-Treatise) supports the idea that all religious perspectives that did not meet his own are unworthy of his attention.
According to Spinoza, faith lacks any relation whatsoever to what he assumes to be the truth about God. He appears to believe that correct understanding of God has little to do with having faith.
Spinoza highlights an extremely demanding requirement for the adequacy and truth that have significant consequences on knowledge of God and religion. His distinction between acceptable and unacceptable ideas that distinguish between falsity and truth leaves nothing to consider between these extremes.
Considering that competence requires complete conviction and the ability to logically prove an argument, true faith is difficult to achieve under any circumstance, but more so in regard to the divine.
While Spinoza tries to apply his conception of God as a way to prove that understanding God is accessible to everyone, his arguments do not adequately acknowledge the difference between God’s infinite and finite nature.
Practically, it seems that it is almost impossible for anyone to comprehend God’s infinite form. Spinoza, in his work, Theological-Political Treatise, provides us with more reasons as to why we should doubt the honesty of these attempts. He outlines faith as separated from human reasoning and founded on ideological falsehood, like the practicality of miracles. He further compares faith to obedience to God, thus minimizing the prominence of knowledge of a faith-driven religion and therefore, washing away the aspect of faith in religion.
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