Some context

What I really want to do is to read the New Testament, and Spinoza’s Ethics, … also the Old Testament and maybe the Qu’ran, … writing about the bits that move me, that stand out to me for whatever reason. What I’d really like to do is not worry about why at all, or where I’m going. But it might be helpful to give some context at least.

The most important piece of context for many people will be “Do I believe in God?”

Well, I consider myself a materialist and a humanist, so I have to say “No” here, but that doesn’t communicate how I feel. Since the spring, the answer that comes most naturally is, “I don’t understand the question.”

I’ve always been irrationally drawn to the Jesus story, although before the summer I’d only read the Gospels. I use “irrationally” to mean only “I can’t give a good reason for it”. One of the things I hope this blog to is bring this irrational attraction into the light of day—not to destroy what is there already, rather to make the attraction rational.

In the Spring I read Spinoza’s Ethics. I found it moving and inspiring and it has had a profound effect on the way I think of myself and the way I live my life. No other book I’ve ever read has really effected me that strongly.

Spinoza’s Ethics is a strongly deterministic set of propositions, logically deduced from a small number of definitions and axioms. One of the earliest definitions is a definition of God:

VI. By God, I mean a being absolutely infinite–that is, a substance consisting in infinite attributes, of which each expresses eternal and infinite essentiality.
Explanation.–I say absolutely infinite, not infinite after its kind: for, of a thing infinite only after its kind, infinite attributes may be denied; but that which is absolutely infinite, contains in its essence whatever expresses reality, and involves no negation.

Much of the early part of the work is very abstract, but in later parts Spinoza goes on to discuss the emotions, their power over us, how reason gives us power over our emotions, and finally how and why the love of God is the most important and beneficial thing of all.

Spinoza’s definition of God is so abstract it can easily be accepted by a materialist, and yet his later propositions have a definite whiff of Christianity about them.

I read Spinoza’s Correspondence and his Tractatus and in these Spinoza is much clearer on what he thinks about Jesus:

From the Correspondence:

… with regard to the Eternal Son of God, that is the Eternal Wisdom of God, which has manifested itself in all things and especially in the human mind, and above all in Christ Jesus, the case is far otherwise. For without this no one can come to a state of blessedness, inasmuch as it alone teaches, what is true or false, good or evil. And, inasmuch as this wisdom was made especially manifest through Jesus Christ, as I have said, His disciples preached it, in so far as it was revealed to them through Him, and thus showed that they could rejoice in that spirit of Christ more than the rest of mankind.

From the Tractatus:

To Him [i.e., Jesus] the ordinances of God leading men to salvation were revealed directly without words or visions, so that God manifested Himself to the Apostles through the mind of Christ as He formerly did to Moses through the supernatural voice. In this sense the voice of Christ, like the voice which Moses heard, may be called the voice of God, and it may be said that the wisdom of God (i.e. wisdom more than human) took upon itself in Christ human nature, and that Christ was the way of salvation.

(These are just random examples taken from the web at speed. I’ll go through both texts more thoroughly in the fullness of time.)

Suddenly, and enticingly, it seemed I might be able to have my cake and eat it: could I remain a materialist and still open myself up to the teachings of Jesus that had been attracting me for so long?

Over the summer I read the New Testament, reading the acts and the letters for the first time. With Spinoza as a kind of ghostly presence at my side, I was able to read in a more open state of mind than I had hitherto.

My response as a reader was a vague blend of emotional and intellectual. I’d like now to re-read and to write up my responses — as much for myself as for anyone else.

So am I using Spinoza to find Jesus? Or am I using the New Testament to help me understand Spinoza? Or am I doing something else?

Dunno.

Right now all I want to do is explicate my responses to what I read in the the New Testament. I’ll follow this sincerely and I’ll bring in anything else that seems to help me.

I realise that deferring or not understanding questions like “Do I believe in God?” might sound like a cop out, and it might even be offensive to some people but, for me, I think I need to put these questions aside in order to follow my own investigation.

So, as far as the name goes, I am like those Greeks the apostle meets in the marketplace, trying to work out who or what this unknown God might be.

3 Comments

  1. candidchatter said

    “Seek and ye shall find”
    I am so excited for you and your journey!!

    heidi reed

  2. Ivan said

    Thank you for this message Heidi.

    I’ve just read your comment at your own blog. I didn’t want to spam your blog yet again but I wanted to respond to what you say about prayer. I recently wondered about praying for or about some people who are close to me, but I couldn’t get started. I ask about it here: What is prayer? e.g. I say, “If God is infinitely powerful and wise then everything that happens is His will and is for the best.” So what is the point of praying? I’ve Googled around but not found anything helpful. Sometimes I think I should just watch other people doing it.

    Ivan

  3. […] building myself a framework to help me work through the messages in the New Testament. Using Spinoza’s definition of God, I read Jesus as the perfection of the human, and the Holy Spirit as the human striving after […]

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