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Spiritual Spinoza 
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Post Spiritual Spinoza
Spinoza, being a man of his time, took the existence of "god" for granted; however, he got himself in trouble first with spiritual and then secular authorities for defining god so broadly as to almost render it meaningless. As close to atheism as a 17th centurian can come.

Toward the end of Damasio's Spinoza, he delves into the topic of spirituality in general. I was left with the sense that Damasio doesn't necessarily accept any of the voodoo that spirituality is supposedly "about", gods and angels and such, but sees the feeling of "spiritual" as a real human feeling, equivalent, say, to love.

I haven't sorted out what, if anything, this means for who we are



Sat Jan 03, 2004 5:44 pm
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Post Re: Spiritual Spinoza
Jeremy

Sounds like the book doesn't adequately answer our questions about Spinoza's religious views. You've read the entire text so I'm sure you would have found what you were looking for if it existed.

When I ran a search for Damasio and his religious beliefs I came up blank. There is a chance that Damasio keeps his spirituality close to his chest, not wanting to lose precious readers who might shy away from an atheist author. How can Damasio be anything but an atheist? He is one of the world's leading neuroscientists, completely cognizant that the mind and body are one. What other conclusion could an honest man with intellectual integrity arrive at other than a world without design?

And an even more interesting question would be why would Damasio admire Spinoza so much if Spinoza were a mystic that believed in supernatural influences? I think we may have to seek our answers in outside sources. Looking for Spinoza might not openly discuss the subject. Gould was an atheist, but he too avoided direct confrontation by claiming religion and science are two different areans that do not need to be in conflict with one another (NOMA). These authors must make a living, and in a nation composed of over 90% theists...I bet they must walk on eggshells.

There were several statements in Ch. 1 that gave me the impression that both Spinoza and Damasio qualify as atheists by my defintion of the term. I'll cite the quotes later.

Chris

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Sat Jan 10, 2004 12:47 pm
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Post Feeling Spiritual
One challenge to anyone working to identify a universal 'feeling' called 'Spirituality', is the diverse mix of often conflicting attitudes, beliefs and practices found within and between various 'Spiritual' traditions and communities.

As for those seeking a 'feeling' called 'Spiritual' within the long and complex traditions of Judaism and Christianity- I offer these verses from Hebrew Scripture and the Gospels as a context for the discussion.

Important, as I see it, is accent upon action within the world; radically engaging world- and a choosing of sides, against the powerful and wealthy, for the impoverished and oppressed.

In this context, 'Spirituality' is an active confrontation contra the systems of inequality and oppression.

Looking to the Hebrew Prophets:

Quote:
Amos 2:6-7 "For they have perverted justice by accepting bribes and sold into slavery the poor who can't repay their debts; they trade them for a pair of shoes. They trample the poor in the dust and kick aside the meek. At their religious feasts they lounge in clothing stolen from their debtors, and in my own Temple they offer sacrifices of wine they purchased with stolen money."

Amos 5:12 "For many and great are your sins. I know them all so well. You are the enemies of everything good; you take bribes; you refuse justice to the poor."

Amos 8:4-7 " Listen, you merchants who rob the poor, trampling on the needy; you who long for the Sabbath to end and the religious holydays to be over so you can get out and start cheating again -- using your weighted scales and under-sized measures; you who make slaves of the poor, buying them for their debt of a piece of silver or a pair of shoes, or selling them your moldy wheat."


Quote:
Isaiah 1 "Learn to do right! Seek justice , encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow."

Isaiah 58:1-10 "The kind of fast I want is that you stop oppressing those who work for you and treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and destitute. Clothe those who are cold, and don't hide from relatives who need your help. If you do these things, God will shed his own glorious light upon you. He will heal you. Your godliness will lead you forward, goodness will be a shield before you, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then, when you call, the Lord will answer. 'Yes, I am here,' he will quickly reply. All you need to do is to stop oppressing the weak and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors! "Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day."

Isaiah 3:14-16 "First to feel his wrath will be the elders and the princes, for they have defrauded the poor. They have filled their barns with grain extorted from the helpless peasants." . . . "How dare you grind my people in the dust like that?" the Lord Almighty will demand of them. Next he will judge the haughty women, who mince along, noses in the air, tinkling bracelets on their ankles, with wanton eyes that rove among the crowds to catch the glances of the men." "In those days the ungodly, the atheists, will not be heroes! Wealthy cheaters will not be spoken of as generous, outstanding men! Everyone will recognize an evil man when he sees him, and hypocrites will fool no one at all. Their lies about God and their cheating of the hungry will be plain for all to see. The smooth tricks of evil men will be exposed, as will all the lies they use to oppress the poor in the courts. But good men will be generous to others and will be blessed of God for all they do."

Micah 6: 8-12 " What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? The voice of the LORD cries to the city : . . . Can I forget the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the accursed scant measure? Can I tolerate wicked scales and a bag of dishonest weights? Your wealthy are full of violence; your inhabitants speak lies, with tongues of deceit in their mouths. Your rich men are wealthy through extortion and violence; your citizens are so used to lying that their tongues can't tell the truth!


Or, from the Canonical Gospels:

Quote:
Matthew 25 " 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me I was in prison and you came to visit me."

Mark 12: 41-44 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."

Matthew 19 "If you want to be perfect, go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." But when the young man heard this, he went away sadly, for he was very rich. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "It is almost impossible for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven. I say it again -- it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God! When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?" And Jesus replied, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."

Luke 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted and to announce that the blind shall see, that captives shall be released and the downtrodden shall be freed from their oppressors."


As I see it, a 'Spiritual Feeling' would be something that is revulsed by injustice, sickened by social and economic inequality, driven to action by hypocrisy and oppression, and willing to sacrifice one's body, prestige and life for the healing of those who hunger and suffer with crippled bodies.






Sat Jan 31, 2004 8:06 pm
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Post Re: Feeling Spiritual
Sorry for being out of the discussion the past few days. I've had an out of state client monopolizing all of my time. Heck, I even missed the Thursday night chat. I'll be around more now. Not that anyone really cares. :\ :b

Chris

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Mon Feb 02, 2004 11:06 pm
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Post Re: Feeling Spiritual
Chris

Spinoza's philosophy is most often associated with pantheism. This is the idea that God is everywhere and nowhere. Spinoza thought that God did not manage things from outside like a puppeteer, but he saw God as being equivalent to nature, and managed things from within.

Jeremy might be right about him being as close to being an atheist as he could be in the time he was living.




Sat Mar 06, 2004 9:20 am
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Post Re: Feeling Spiritual
Peter

Pantheism has always confused me as I just don't see the point in calling it a religion. Most scientists I know have a deep and profound respect and admiration, or sense of awe, for the complexity and order of the cosmos, but they don't worship it. Worshipping is submitting, and how can you submit to a non-sentient or conscious thing?

Chris

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Sun Mar 07, 2004 10:23 am
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Post Re: Feeling Spiritual
Peter

I just found someones personal web site about Spinoza, which explains how Spinoza was considered the first modern pantheist...or scientific pantheist. By some definitions I too am a pantheist I suppose.

Quote:
Spinoza was born in Amsterdam in 1632, into a family of Jewish emigrants fleeing persecution in Portugal. He was trained in Talmudic scholarship, but his views soon took unconventional directions which the Jewish community - fearing renewed persecution on charges of atheism - tried to discourage. Spinoza was offered 1000 florins to keep quiet about his views, but refused. At the age of 24, he was summoned before a rabbinical court, and solemnly excommunicated.

Spinoza refused all rewards and honours, and gave away to his sister his share of his father's inheritance - keeping only a bedstead for himself. He earned his living as a humble lens-grinder. He died, in February 1674, of consumption, probably aggravated by fine glass dust inhaled at his workbench.

His philosophy is summarized in the Ethics, a very abstract work, which openly expresses none of the love of nature that might be expected from someone who identified God with nature. And Spinoza's starting point is not nature or the cosmos, but a purely theoretical definition of God. The work then proceeds to prove its conclusions by a method modelled on geometry, through rigorous definitions, axioms, propositions and corollaries. No doubt in this way Spinoza hoped to build his philosophy on the solidest rock, but the method, as well as some of the arguments and definitions, are often unconvincing.

Spinoza believed that everything that exists is God. However, he did not hold the converse view that God is no more than the sum of what exists. God had infinite qualities, of which we can perceive only two, thought and extension. Hence God must also exist in dimensions far beyond those of the visible world.

Significantly, Spinoza titled his chief work The Ethics. He derived an ethic by deduction from fundamental principles, and so his ethics were closely linked to his view of "God or nature" as everything. The highest good, he asserted, was knowledge of God, which was capable of bringing freedom from tyranny by the passions, freedom from fear, resignation to destiny, and true blessedness.

At first Spinoza was reviled as an atheist - and certainly, his God is not the conventional Judo-Christian God. The philosophers of the enlightenment ridiculed his methods - not without some grounds. The romantics, attracted by his identification of God with Nature, rescued him from oblivion.


Color me a moron, but I just don't get it. Not even a little bit. And I've talked extensively with pantheists. Naturyl, one of our members here at BookTalk, is a pantheist. He has offered to do a special chat session with us where he will do his best to explain pantheism and answer questions. Soon we'll be taking him up on this generous offer, as I'm completely baffled at this point.

Quote:
Spinoza believed that everything that exists is God.
What the hell does this mean? I hear it over and over from pantheists, but the concept eludes me completely.

From the Ethics...

Quote:
God is one, that is, only one substance can be granted in the universe.

Quote:
Whatsoever is, is in God, and without God nothing can be, or be conceived.

Quote:
God is the indwelling and not the transient cause of all things. All things which are, are in God. Besides God there can be no substance, that is, nothing in itself external to God.
Quote:
Individual things are nothing but modifications of the attributes of God, or modes by which the attributes of God are expressed in a fixed and definite manner.
Quote:
The more we understand particular things, the more we understand God.
So why worship God, or even consider God a god if...

Quote:
Nature does not work with an end in view.For the eternal and infinite Being, which we call God or Nature, acts by the same necessity as that whereby it exists. . . . Therefore, as he does not exist for the sake of an end, so neither does he act for the sake of an end; of his existence and of his action there is neither origin nor end.
and...

Quote:
God is without passions, neither is he affected by any emotion of pleasure or pain . . . Strictly speaking, God does not love anyone.
Quote:
He who loves God cannot endeavour that God should love him in return.
Arrgghh....I don't get it. Is pantheism simply the remnants of spirituality in people too damn intelligent and rational to believe in a personal deity, yet not strong enough to deal with the cold stark reality of atheism?

The above comments and quotes, while many are Spinoza's, are pulled from the personal web site of Paul Harrison, apparently a pantheist and admirer of Spinoza.

Chris

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Sun Mar 07, 2004 10:43 am
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Post Re: Feeling Spiritual
Chris
I agree with you. I think it is all a bit obscure. Pantheism seems to me to be a bit like deism in that it doesn't give you a clear definition of anything. But I suppose Spinoza's monistic view of the mind/body problem is a hell of a lot more rational than Descarte's dualism.

I'm not sure whether in proposing his philosphical position Spinoza wasn't just reacting to Descarte. But I think he did point out that Descarte was wrong to think that thought and the mind were completely seperate from bodily existence and physical reality. Maybe Spinoza's monism fed into his theology.

But then I'm not an expert on this.




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Post Re: Feeling Spiritual
Chris,

Good post. I would also be interested in understanding why one would be a pantheist rather than one who has a sense of wonder and awe for nature.

Eric




Sun Mar 07, 2004 5:25 pm
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Post Re: Feeling Spiritual
Right!

I've delved into my philosophy books and tried to understand the famously impenetrable philosophy of Baruch Spinoza

I won't go into his personal history Chris has provided an excellent account of that in his post.

Spinoza was influenced by Descarte, and like him he was a member of the rationalist school of philosophers. They tried to define indubitable premises and proceed from there using logical reasoning. He disagreed with Descartes view that there were two substances in the universe. Descarte thought that there was thought and (what he called) extension. Extension comprises what we can see and feel in the physical world. Thought is of a higher realm shared with the soul, and it is completely separate from the mundane world of physical reality.

Spinoza seems to start from the indubitable premise that there can only be one reality. Everything is contained in the one wider reality. Whatever caused the totality of everything therefore must be contained within that totality of everything.

Descarte must be wrong about his dualistic position, thought Spinoza, because how do Descarte's two worlds interact? A stone can't be moved by a thought; and a stone can't initiate a thought. (Most philosophers now agree with Spinoza on this point.)

The sum totality of everything must, according to Spinoza, contain God. God cannot be outside of this totality therefore he cannot be dictating or controlling our lives from outside. So to answer Chris's earlier point about praying - there would be no point in asking God for anything because he is not dictating or guiding our lives. However it is not clear to me whether Spinoza would suggest we worship God - my feeling is that he wouldn't.

So if God is contained in Spinoza's wider totality of everything how do we know he is there and why do we need him? It seems as if Spinoza subscribed to a version of the ontological argument for God (as did Descarte).

Spinoza's argument was:

Quote:
...existence appertains to the nature of substance (and must pertain to the divine substance), this being derived in turn from the impossibility, established in previous propositions, of one substance producing another (because such causation requires a community of nature that it is impossible granted that two substances cannot share their nature).
(Quote from: The Oxford companion to Philosophy.)

What this seems to mean is that if a rational mind can conceive of a God, and, if God is not a mere variation of something else, then God must exist because his existence is implied in the fact that we can conceive of him. This is a lot more obscure than Descartes version, which was that if he (Descarte) could conceive of a perfect being, and if he (Descarte) was not a perfect being, then the perfect being must exist, because how could an imperfect being conceive of a perfect one? For a being to be perfect it is bound to exist (otherwise it wouldn't be perfect). And if a perfect being did exist, being perfect, it could not deceive Descarte into thinking it did exist when it didn't.

I assume the obvious circularity of both forms of this argument is easily apparent to Booktalk readers so I won't go into detail about why both arguments are rationally unsustainable.

So for Spinoza, God and nature are one. Sometimes he says nature is "in God", but the laws of nature are the laws of God. Human beings are essentially quasi-entities they are not autonomous and are merely a part of the totality of existence. Man should, he says, strive to understand his place in the universe and find oneness with god, or nature, in what he called the intellectual love of God. To do this he advises us (in his most famous statement) to see ourselves 'sub specie aeternitatis' which translates as "from the perspective of eternity".

I hope that covers the basics of his philosophy - but why does Damassio admire him so much?

Spinoza's rejection of Cartesian dualism is certainly appealing to the modern mind. But there are other things of interest about Spinoza: he was an unashamed determinist, he denied that human beings had free will because we are subject to the laws of nature and our thoughts are guided by natural forces, evil therefore cannot exist. So in the former sense we can start to see why he has an appeal to modern neurologists.

According to Spinoza every finite thing had a conatus: a striving, or endeavour, to persist in its own being. The human mind is especially good at this. Spinoza thought that one could only understand the nature of conatus and human nature by the scientific study of psychology.

Of the four books I consulted about Spinoza, three associated his ideas with pantheism the other one said that his views were more strictly monism. (Confused? I am!)

So what kind of person was Spinoza. Bertrand Russel said of him he "is the noblest and most loveable of the great philosophers". He spoke against organised religion and in favour of openness and tolerance of different beliefs. He stood up for free speech and against religious absolutism. He was certainly highly principled: he threw away his family and their fortune because of his beliefs. He was the first to argue that the bible should be read with recognition of the historical context in which it was written, implying that it should be read critically - for his time this was staggering - no wonder he was excommunicated.

I don't know about you but I like him.

Edited by: PeterDF at: 3/8/04 3:13 pm



Mon Mar 08, 2004 3:06 pm
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Post Re: Feeling Spiritual
What extremely interests me is where Damasio stands, not Spinoza. I re-read the last chapter of the book in preparation for the chat, and I still don't quite get it. The best I can extract is that Damasio sees the feeling of spirituality as a real physical event in the brain, analogous to love or hate. What confuses me is what exactly this means, given the traditional correlation of "spiritual" and "god", now that we know "god" was an invention of our intellectually primitive forbears. Does this make spiritualism a vestigial mechanism, like xenophobia? An unfortunate relic of our past? But Damasio obviously doesn't see it that way, because he speaks of spiritual feelings as an important (and implies positive) part of the human experience.

Maybe the answer is, spirituality is real (a real feeling), so do something positive with it; since we know "god" doesn't exist, open your mind to the awe of an eagle in flight. Experience the joy of life for the sake of being joyful, separate from the question of whether or not there is "really" anything to be joyful about.


If you make yourself really small, you can externalize virtually everything. Daniel Dennett, 1984




Sun Mar 21, 2004 4:28 pm
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Le GuinThe Genius of the Beast by Howard BloomAlice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Empire of Illusion by Chris HedgesThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner The Extended Phenotype by Richard DawkinsSmoke and Mirrors by Neil GaimanThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsWhen Good Thinking Goes Bad by Todd C. RinioloHouse of Leaves by Mark Z. DanielewskiAmerican Gods: A Novel by Neil GaimanPrimates and Philosophers by Frans de WaalThe Enormous Room by E.E. CummingsThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeGod Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher HitchensThe Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama Paradise Lost by John Milton Bad Money by Kevin PhillipsThe Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson BurnettGodless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists by Dan BarkerThe Things They Carried by Tim O'BrienThe Limits of Power by Andrew BacevichLolita by Vladimir NabokovOrlando by Virginia Woolf On Being Certain by Robert A. Burton50 reasons people give for believing in a god by Guy P. HarrisonWalden: Or, Life in the Woods by Henry David ThoreauExile and the Kingdom by Albert CamusOur Inner Ape by Frans de WaalYour Inner Fish by Neil ShubinNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthyThe Age of American Unreason by Susan JacobyTen Theories of Human Nature by Leslie Stevenson & David HabermanHeart of Darkness by Joseph ConradThe Stuff of Thought by Stephen PinkerA Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniThe Lucifer Effect by Philip ZimbardoResponsibility and Judgment by Hannah ArendtInterventions by Noam ChomskyGodless in America by George A. RickerReligious Expression and the American Constitution by Franklyn S. HaimanDeep Economy by Phil McKibbenThe God Delusion by Richard DawkinsThe Third Chimpanzee by Jared DiamondThe Woman in the Dunes by Abe KoboEvolution vs. Creationism by Eugenie C. ScottThe Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael PollanI, Claudius by Robert GravesBreaking The Spell by Daniel C. DennettA Peace to End All Peace by David FromkinThe Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey NiffeneggerThe End of Faith by Sam HarrisEnder's Game by Orson Scott CardThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark HaddonValue and Virtue in a Godless Universe by Erik J. WielenbergThe March by E. L DoctorowThe Ethical Brain by Michael GazzanigaFreethinkers: A History of American Secularism by Susan JacobyCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared DiamondThe Battle for God by Karen ArmstrongThe Future of Life by Edward O. WilsonWhat is Good? by A. C. GraylingCivilization and Its Enemies by Lee HarrisPale Blue Dot by Carl SaganHow We Believe: Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God by Michael ShermerLooking for Spinoza by Antonio DamasioLies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al FrankenThe Red Queen by Matt RidleyThe Blank Slate by Stephen PinkerUnweaving the Rainbow by Richard DawkinsAtheism: A Reader edited by S.T. JoshiGlobal Brain by Howard BloomThe Lucifer Principle by Howard BloomGuns, Germs and Steel by Jared DiamondThe Demon-Haunted World by Carl SaganBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee BrownFuture Shock by Alvin Toffler

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