Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Intellectual Questions Breed Uncomfortable Challenges

One of the plays we saw this past week-end, "Spinoza on Trial", challenged the social norm of Judiasm and the Church. One had to question which was of greater value or significance, reason or revelation.

Christianity has its roots in Judiasm but has developed whole theological systems to "explain God". Judiasm is more of a "wisdom tradition". The Christian faith in certain circles is an exclusive faith. And it is the theological tradition that underwrites the exclusivity.

Judiasm is a tradition that is handed down through the generations and is an ethnic identity, whereas Christianity is not in some segments of Christiandom. Christianity is a "gentile religion" and was underwritten by "Paul", using Jesus as a means to that end.

Judiasm is a tradition that is grounded in the real world of everyday life, not in the "ideal" world of an after-life. Judiasm is a humanistic understanding of life, not a de-valuation of human life.

Spinoza had the liberty to "think outside the box" of his Judiasm in what was called a tolerant Amsterdam. Spinoza's parents had fled the Spanish Inquisition and the Jews were told by the Dutch to remain silent concerning their religion. (The Dutch are Reformed and Catholic in thier religious background. ) Although Spinoza was Jewish, Spinoza had made a Reformed friend and had fallen in love with a Catholic girl. How was he to "be himself" apart from sharing his thoughts about God?

Spinoza's "God" was a god based on mathmatical precision that underwrote his logic. Because his intellect was a strong force in his life, he couldn't help but "think out loud" concerning his faith. But, his faith was a challenge to the ruling authorities to his Jewish community and the Dutch civic authority.

Spinoza found himself betrayed by the Reformed friend, and eventually shunned by his Catholic girlfriend. His thinking and questioning of theism was at issue in his trial. His mentor was torn over whether to stand with his student and his brillant challenge to "tradition", or to stand with his traditional community. What was he to do? Was he to loose his place in his own society to defend Spinoza, and what then? What about his own life?

His mentor chose to stick by his own community, even though he had to agree that Spinoza's logic was equal to none, and one could not question the thoroughness of his "solution" about God.
Spinoza's view of "god" was monistic. God was nature, or Nature was God. People's essence is "who they are". God was no longer seen as an outside source of value, but "what is" was and is God.

The fatalistic mentality has it problems and its benefits. Those that adhere to such a view can relax, and refresh themselves on the knowledge that all that is, should be embraced. But, is this fatalism wise? Is there no moral judgment or value? And what of evil? Is evil seen as part of God, too? Certainly, this is what scriptures teach, as there is no dualistic universe. God is one, in nature. His was as monistic view of God. And monism falls in line with a scientific view of man. But, is man only his physicality?

The real world does not function on such a view. The reality is, there are "weeds" and these weeds need to be seen in our own garden, as well as the world. And the judgment on the weeds are what we are responsible for. Terrorists are alive and well. Crime exists, social evils prevail and one doesn't have to be a "rocket scientist" to know that our society is being destroyed from within. How do we "see" the world and its problems? What do we think is important to do about it? These are practical questions that impinge on what one chooses to do with one's life.

Judiasm would see the need of rectifying societies "ills" and to do so, begins with the family. The Catholic tradition also would concur with this evaluation. The family is the environment of formation for the child and unhealthy families breed unhealthy children and disturbed young adults.

All the intellectual questions in the world will not answer the child's need for his family. So, Spinoza's mentor was impressed with his mind, but he chose to stick with his community for the overall importance and value of "heritage". The mentor was challenged to challenge his tradition's social conventions. In this case, social conventions were a more important value to uphold. Spinoza was banned from his community and his mentor oversaw the judgment.

How was the mentor to encourage the young Spinoza to 'think" and continue to do so? Was Spinoza's work important and of value? Why, of why not? Did Spinoza's challenge to his community bring about their own struggle to understand or was there a prejuidice that was born our of 'self-defense'? One must think about these things.....


Pinky said...

Interesting commentary.
Spinoza was the product of his time and a bit too precocious for the tastes of his contemporaries.

Pinky said...

Spinoza was the product of early stages of separate cultures in conflict with each other.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think that there is a book about the two cultures. I think I remember the name Snow.

Strauss's view of reason and revelation are similar aren't they? That is, when it comes to two "societies" or two types of people...just as Nietzche...slave morality and supermen....