Spinoza’s God (Don’t Worry. He’s Not Angry.)


Spinoza seems to believe that he believes in God.

Spinoza writes Jarig Jelles (SPINOZA: The Letters, edited by Shirley, et al) that God must exist because we can conceive that he does.  He explains this by saying that humans cannot think greater than Nature, therefore, if we can think of God, then God must exist.

This is one of the worst proofs of God I’ve ever heard! (and I’ve seen some dandies).  First off, we humans are part of Nature– therefore, it is Nature that is, in a sense, doing the thinking when we think– hence, our power is Nature’s power– thus, what we do or think is not beyond Nature, but part of it.

Secondly, Spinoza gives no good reason why we couldn’t think outside the bounds of Nature.  I can think of a perfect horse that pisses perfect beer– don’t mean he real, though.

The reader may wish at this point to quickly peruse another of my posts on Spinoza wherein I talk at length about Spinoza’s Eternal Substance.  This is relevant because Spinoza equates this Eternal Substance with God.  Here’s the link:  https://hammeringshield.wordpress.com/2013/10/27/spinozas-eternal-substance/

The post cited above explains why Spinoza believes that God is the underlying Reality of the Universe and its First Cause, and as such is:  Primary, Pure, Perfect, Eternal, Indivisible, and Necessary.

Spinoza believes a number of other things about God, too.

For one, Spinoza believes that God is the only entity that subsists by its own sufficiency.  I pass by this contention for one of even less practicality…

Spinoza believes God to be beyond number.  This is because God is beyond any categorization, and to number some thing, the numberer has first to perceive the thing as being part of some category or class.

I won’t dawdle on this contention, as it seems rather unfruitful, but I must remark that I think it’s a shaky sort of proposition.  After all, I can count my “one” mother– and yes, I know… we can imagine that my mother is in the class of mothers– but can’t we just as easily put her in a class by herself (which she is, believe me) and say that she belongs in the class of “all those who are the mother of Hammering Shield?”  And that, without some contortionings of reason (which I can already imagine), is a one-item set.

What I find intriguing about Spinoza’s take on God is that Spinoza believes that God is constantly, in every instant, actively supporting the Universe.  I find it intriguing because, judging by the rest of Spinoza’s philosophy, I would have guessed he would consider God more in the role of First Cause, and hardly active, if at all , any more in Creation.  Yet, I would have been very, very wrong, for Spinoza believes quite the opposite… He believes in a extremely active God…

Spinoza tells Blydenbergh in March 1665 that all things “constantly depend on God.”  And ten years later, we find Spinoza telling Oldenburgh (December 1675) that God is the “immanent cause” of all things and that “all things, I say, are in God and move in God.”

Spinoza is then at pains to say that this is not, contrary to how his detractors have been spinning it, to be interpreted as a statement of belief in the “identification of God with Nature”— that is… not if, adds Spinoza doing a bit of spinning of his own, by this identification one means that God is merely “a kind of mass or corporeal matter.”  For centuries, many have considered Spinoza to be a proponent of a God-As-Nature theory, and to this day this may be what his is most (incorrectly?) infamous for.

Oh Spinoza… You and your clever tricks to avoid being cornered when it comes to your beliefs about God…  As I’ve said in another post, Spinoza was an atheist who did not know (or admit?) that he was an atheist.  Or if he did truly believe in “God” it was a God very idiosyncratically created by Spinoza (if not vice versa as well), and Spinoza’s God was certainly no personal God.

Here’s another thing about Spinoza’s God:  He’s limited.  For example, He cannot help but know Himself… in other words, God cannot NOT know Himself.

Also, God has no imagination.  Spinoza writes Blydenbergh in January 1665… “God does not know things in abstraction,” […] “nor does He formulate general definitions.”  This follows from Spinoza’s contention that God’s “Will is identical with his Intellect” and God’s Power, or “Providence,” is identical to His Will– Therefore, He has no need to think in abstraction.  I guess if God wants to picture a stack of blueberry pancakes– He just makes one.

Furthermore, Spinoza believes that God could not, if he wanted to, make a “round square”– which, taken together with all the above about God’s Will equaling his Power, means, I suppose, that He could not even consider a round square.

These types of conjectures about the Nature of God strike me as castles in the sky, and little more soundly supported than if Spinoza had told us that God lived on Mount Olmpus and subsisted on manna and nectar.  Not that I mean to hurt God’s feelings or anything– wait a minute… What about God’s feelings?

Well, Spinoza’s God seems a rather unfeeling bloke.  God, Spinoza tells Blydenbergh, feels no sympathy or antipathy for others, and nothing we do pleases or displeases Him.  Additionally, God does not want anything that He cannot possess.  Nor can anything happen that is against His will.

All this taken together supports Spinoza’s belief that God does not sit in judgment over us.  To put it frankly: nothing that is happening in the Universe much bothers God.  Dude’s on a permanent high.

I was hoping to get to Spinoza’s writings on Christ and Scripture, but I guess I’ll have to save that for another post.   I guess I shouldn’t be in a hurry.  As much as I tease Baruch, his thought is WELL worth close and careful study.

—–   —–   —–

Other Posts on SPINOZA from Hammering Shield:

On Walking The Path Of Truth With Spinoza

Some Of Spinoza’s More Heretical Notions

Spinoza’s Evil

Free Will And The Art Of The Spinozan Spin

How Reading Spinoza Is Like An Acid Trip

The Modes, Attributes, and Imagination Of Baruch Spinoza

Spinoza’s Eternal Substance

So Did Spinoza Not KNOW He Was An Atheist?


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