“…though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.” -John 1:10
A popular article on the God of Spinoza has been doing the rounds on social media and has garnered a great deal of support from all and sundry. But what is most disturbing is that a good part of the support group is comprised of practising Catholics who have grown and matured in a tradition that is rich in bible teachings, regular church visits and family prayers.
The article builds its authenticity by quoting Einstein who was often asked the question – Do you believe in God? In answer, he claimed he believed in the God of Spinoza, apparently referring to the Dutch philosopher Baruch De Spinoza and his interpretation of the nature of God. The description is undeniably appealing, especially in the way it pictures a God that is entirely a product of the human mind.
Spinoza’s God rejects prayer and penance of any form and endorses the joys and pleasures of this world as the true form of worship. Many concepts from the Bible are subtly woven into the philosophy surrounding Spinoza’s God. This God also claims to be pure love and this Godly love can be experienced in the beauty and pleasure of Nature. Till here, there is not much of a contradiction between the two ways of worship, but just when the readers have lowered their mental and spiritual defences, the deviations come thick and fast. Spinoza goes on to speak of a God who is not found in ‘cold temples’ but in the outdoors, in the higher pleasures of mankind and their sensual and emotional experiences. All this winds down to a most alien conclusion. “This life is the only thing there is, here and now and the only thing you need.”
In many ways Spinoza’s conception of God has an uncanny resemblance to the golden calf that the Israelites carved out to worship in the absence of Moses. The worship was in the form of eating, drinking and revelry, much like the worship advocated by Spinoza. Even while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments from the great Yahweh, people had opted for a life free from the hassles of laws that curtailed their freedom and stood between them and an Epicurean existence. Likewise, Spinoza also speaks of a religion that has no commandments, and rejects the notion of guilt and punishment calling them unnecessary control mechanisms.
This appeal for freedom to live life as one pleases, and to taste the pleasures the world has to offer seems to hold an attraction that is becoming increasingly difficult for netizens to resist. Many of those who read the article came out with rapturous comments in its favour. Some hailed it as the best definition of God they had come across. Others felt that Spinoza had put into words what they had always felt about God and His relationship with mankind. Others remained silent, unwilling to go against the tide.
As Christians who have been born and brought up in the faith, we need to guard ourselves against being lulled into a ‘drowsy numbness’ as Keats aptly describes it. Points of view like Spinoza’s, co-branded and endorsed by Einstein, can easily sway us into believing that our physical comforts and sensual pleasures are the only thing that matter. It helps us forget that the way of life we are committed to, is found in the Bible, the Word of God which is God Himself. When we follow Jesus who showed us the Way, we do so because we believe that we are inheritors of the eternal life that He gained for us through His death on the cross. Why, then, should we walk on the slippery ground of earthly pleasures that promises nothing beyond this life on earth?
Let us, as a New Year resolution, anchor ourselves firmly in the Word of God, which alone holds out the promise of peace in this world and a home in heaven when our life journey ends. Let us hold on to the values enshrined in God’s commandments and be warned against false prophets. St John lashes out against those whose teachings deliberately mislead God’s people, and exhorts us to stand by the belief we have been brought up in. “….the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you” 1 John 2:24.