Spinoza’s “God”

  Spinoza was excommunicated, cursed and expelled as a persona non grata in his youth for doubting God. On the 200th anniversary of his death, people raised a bronze statue for him and erected it next to his former residence in The Hague. A historian said: “There has never been a monument built on such a broad base of love.” Then, why did this person who sat on the “base of love” meditate wait 200 years before being accepted by the people in his hometown? And it was generally respected by people all over the world after more than 300 years?
cursed by the church

  On November 24, 1632, Spinoza was born in a Jewish family in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His father named him Baruch Spinoza in Hebrew, and his mother named him in Portuguese. Bento Spinoza, both names have the meaning of blessing.
  Spinoza’s ancestors were originally Spanish Jews. Around the middle and late 16th century, they were racially discriminated against and religiously persecuted by the Spanish authorities, so they fled to Portugal and the Netherlands successively, and lived in Bougvars, a wealthy Jewish neighborhood in Amsterdam. His father, Michael, ran an import-export trade and succeeded his grandfather as president of the Jewish Sanhedrin and head of the synagogue school. Her mother, Deborah, was also a Jewish refugee. Although she was half the age of her husband, she was killed by lung disease when she was less than 30 years old, and the 6-year-old Spinoza lost her maternal love. Although the family conditions are rich and there are several half-brothers and sisters, Spinoza has tasted the pain of losing his mother and the bitterness of life since he was a child.
  When Spinoza was 7 years old, he studied Hebrew and Jewish classics in a school run by local Jews. He was talented and intelligent, with excellent grades, and was highly regarded by his teachers. He was once regarded as the “light of Hebrew”. Due to the death of his elder brother at the age of 17, he had to interrupt his studies to take over from his elder brother to help the family manage business. But he had little interest in doing business, and still liked to read, and studied Latin and various subjects in a school founded by the free thinker Van den Enden; he also worked as a teacher in this school for a time, teaching Hebrew Chinese and mathematics, and participated in a philosophy group that is keen to explore new ideas, becoming an outstanding young man with energy and active thinking.
  1654 was a catastrophic year for Spinoza. At the beginning of the year, his merchant ship for importing goods was robbed by pirates, and his assets suffered serious losses. What is even more unfortunate is that his father died of illness and the family broke up. The family had a dispute over the division of the inheritance. Although Spinoza won the case, he gave his share of the inheritance to his siblings, and only wanted the bed where his parents had slept in as a souvenir.
  The 17th century was an era in which talents emerged in large numbers. Europeans experienced the baptism of the Renaissance, and scientific culture flourished. When Spinoza was still a middle school student, Galileo, Bruno, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes and others were already famous. The person who influenced him the most was Descartes, a French philosopher who lived in the Netherlands for more than 20 years. Influenced by Descartes’ free thought and universal skepticism, he doubted many concepts he had received.
  Spinoza first questioned the concepts of eternal life, reincarnation, heaven and hell in Judaism and Christianity. The more he doubted, the more he pursued, and thus he became more and more disdainful of religion, God and related complicated prayer rituals. In the religious world, God is not only the ruler of all things, but also the benefactor who makes golden rice bowls for all levels of clergy who serve God. It did not take long for Spinoza to be hit by a series of blows.
  In July 1656, Spinoza was excommunicated by the Jewish church for doubting the existence of God and angels, and was also expelled from the Jewish community. Later, those who studied Spinoza’s life wanted to know what crime he had committed, so they kept looking for this proclamation to punish him, and finally found the original copy of the hidden Portuguese deportation order in 1880: the
  Speaker already knew Spinoza’s evil views and writings, they tried every means to rescue him from evil, but it was useless. …After examination, the elders unanimously agreed that Spinoza should be excommunicated and disassociated from the nation of Israel; , in front of the Bible, we expel, sever, and curse Baruch de Spinoza. … Curse him by day, curse him by night, curse him when he sleeps, curse him when he wakes, curse him when he goes out, and curses him when he comes in. God will not forgive him, the wrath of God will follow him at all times, and all the curses written in the law will be placed on him. God will destroy his name in the sun, isolate him for his destruction of all Israel, and curse him with the heavenly curse written in the book of the law. … We warn you not to talk to him, write to him, help him, not to live under the same roof as him, not to be less than 4 meters away from him, and not to read his books.

Spinoza’s Tombstone

  It can be seen from this that his so-called guilt is “heretical theory” and “evil acts” that despise religious rituals. This punishment order made him isolated and expelled. He lost his family, lover, friends and the family business he ran.
  According to contemporary biographers of Spinoza, among the various methods used by the church, there was the temptation to promise him an annuity of 1,000 florins (gold coins), as well as intimidation and murder. On the day Spinoza was assassinated, the assassin was not stabbed because he was wearing a baggy coat. Spinoza, who would later keep the hole in the coat punctured by the murderer, said constant viewing of it was both a warning and a reminder that thinkers were not always liked by those in power. At the beginning of his expulsion, he found a small attic to live in the village of Auwerkek in the southern outskirts of Amsterdam. He changed his name with the Latin “Benedict” and learned a craft of grinding lenses. Grinding mirrors for a living.
Spinoza changed “God”

  In both Judaism and Christianity there is a supreme, unique creator of the universe, who is called God, God, God, Creator, or Yahweh. Since Spinoza was punished for doubting God, in order to decipher this omniscient, omnipotent, perfect, eternal, omnipresent concept of God, he studied the universe and everything, trying to uncover the mystery of God.
  In 1660, Spinoza completed the first work on God, “A Brief Discussion on God, Man and His Spiritual Health”, trying to reveal the essence of God and get a precise definition. At the beginning of this work, Spinoza did not directly confront the core theory of the religious world – the existence of God, but also said that God must exist! But in the title of the second chapter, he asked: “What is God?” He came to the conclusion: “God is the cause of everything.” . “I see natural rights as the laws of nature or laws of nature by which all things come into being, i.e., the forces of nature themselves.” Sadly, the book was written and somehow never published, and a manuscript was not discovered until 1852, 1862 Another manuscript was discovered in 2000, and they have been in circulation in the Netherlands for about 200 years.

  In 1662, Spinoza completed “Principles of Descartes’ Philosophy”. At the beginning of the book, he asked, why should Descartes doubt? Then he replied that Descartes was not a skeptic, but to free the mind from all prejudices and finally find a solid and difficult foundation of knowledge. It is said that this book is a lecture note he wrote when he lectured on Cartesian philosophy to his students. It can be seen from this that Spinoza is also laying a solid foundation of knowledge for his own philosophical system. This book is the only work he published under his own name during his lifetime.
  In the same year, Spinoza made another ambitious systematic research plan: find out the position of God from the universe, sort out the concept system of traditional human philosophy and theology, and explore the relationship between man and God, man and man. , the relationship between man and society, and the causal relationship formed by major religious organizations and their related moral and etiquette rules in human history, etc. So he began to write this “Ethics”, which was hailed as a bold masterpiece.
  In “Ethics”, Spinoza used mathematical language and geometric proof methods for the first time to demonstrate the real attributes of God. He first emphasized that “God must exist”—”Everything that exists is in God, and nothing can exist or be conceived without God.” However, he resolutely opposes the personal God who created the world and transcended the world in the Bible. His God is an infinite, necessarily existing (ie self-caused) unique entity in the universe. God did not create the world, but the world itself is God. In short, God and nature are one and the same. Thus, his theory of God’s view of nature was elevated to the height of natural philosophy and cosmology.

portrait of spinoza

  Religious leaders in the past always preached that God is the creator of the universe, and God directs all things for human use. They molded God into a God with a plan, purpose, and supreme judgment authority, thus making people prostrate at God’s feet, willing to worship God with the highest honor. Spinoza believes that all things in the world are generated by natural evolution, each has its own reasons and inevitability of existence, and must operate according to its own essence and method, and it is by no means planned and arranged by God, and it is impossible to deviate from it. natural law. Since many people do not understand the power of nature, they ascribe what they do not understand to God’s creation and worship God. God does not perform miracles, and it is a misunderstanding of God (nature) to see him as a giver who fulfills wishes, and it is absurd to expect God to grant benefits to one’s destiny. He believes that the Bible does not explain natural phenomena but uses miracles to arouse people’s admiration for God, and we must not rely on miracles to infer the existence of God; on the contrary, these so-called miracles that violate the laws of nature just make us doubt the existence of God.
  Spinoza defines the substance of God as nature. The natural God has no emotion and will, neither good nor evil, neither wise nor just, let alone any moral qualities. It is indifferent to the appeal of all events, good and evil. For a long time, people who believe in religions have prayed when encountering disasters, asking God to help them turn disasters into good fortune. But where is the real God?
  It is through the series of arguments in “Ethics” that Spinoza successfully reduced the traditional personal God to a natural God who is self-caused, free, and self-circulating, and contains everything in the world—”Spinoza’s God”. His God was later accepted by many scientists, the most typical figure being Einstein. As a Jewish descendant, Einstein was often questioned whether he believed in God or not. After he became famous, he was questioned by the audience whether he believed in God or not in many speeches. In 1929, a rabbi in New York City sent a telegram asking him whether he believed in God. Einstein always replied: “I believe in Spinoza’s God.” He also explained that this God manifests all things in a harmonious and orderly universe and does not interfere with the fate and behavior of human beings. This gave “Spinoza’s God” wider reach.
Spinoza’s legacy

  Spinoza died at the age of 45 due to silicosis caused by long-term inhalation of glass dust while grinding lenses. He remained unmarried all his life, and his relatives were worried about inheriting his inheritance. How much inheritance does he have?
  Although Spinoza has a good reputation as an optician, but for writing, he only earns enough living expenses every day and no longer grinds his glasses. In order to support his writing, his friend Simon de Vries left a will on his deathbed, wanting to give him the inheritance, but he refused. After repeated persuasion by the Simon brothers, he only received an annuity of 300 florins, which was enough to maintain his life. Except for the bed he inherited from his parents, the most valuable thing is the more than 160 books on the bookshelf. The house was rented, and his daily necessities were auctioned off, and his sister Rebecca, seeing that the amount was too small, felt that it was not worth applying for inheritance.
  Spinoza died young, although he did not buy valuable material wealth, but left behind immeasurable spiritual wealth. After his death, his friends cleaned up his relics, and compiled his unpublished manuscript “Ethics” and unfinished “Politics”, “On the Improvement of Intellect”, “Hebrew Concise Grammar” and “Collected Letters” into one The Posthumous Works Collection was published in that year (1677). According to Spinoza’s cautious character during his lifetime, the posthumous author’s name is only marked with BDS, and neither the editor nor the place of publication is signed. The following year, however, the Dutch authorities banned the distribution of the collection.
  The government’s ban cannot completely deprive people of their desire and determination to inherit Spinoza’s spiritual heritage, and those who like Spinoza are still trying their best to find his books. In particular, some discerning booksellers in Europe have worked hard to search for and publish his works since his death. The previously lost manuscripts “On God, Man and Their Mental Health”, “The Calculation of Chance”, the paper “The Algebraic Calculation of the Rainbow” and some of the letters were all unearthed after repeated searches. During the more than 200 years after his death, his works were collected into three volumes and published three times. The Collected Works of Spinoza in 1914 has increased to four volumes, and has been successively translated into dozens of languages ​​including English, French, Dutch, German, Russian, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese, and has become an invaluable theoretical heritage of people all over the world. .

“Relics Collection”

  Friends discovered a large number of letters when they helped Spinoza sort out the relics. Only then did they know that this hermit, who was regarded as a recluse, had an extremely large social group! What surprised them most was that many of these people who corresponded with Spinoza were important figures in Europe. For example, Oldenburg, the first secretary of the British royal family, had been talking with Spinoza as a friend for many years; Fabrizius, a professor at Heidelberg University, wrote to invite him to be a professor of philosophy at Heidelberg University at the order of the prince; Hood, who was sometimes the mayor of Amsterdam, often discussed scientific, philosophical and theological issues with Spinoza in letters. In addition to many dignitaries and world-renowned scientists, there are friends, students, followers and opponents. In order to avoid bringing disaster to his friends, he destroyed some letters during his lifetime. In order to avoid taking risks, the publisher discarded some letters involving sensitive political and religious views, and also concealed the names of some Dutch people who corresponded with him. The editor selected 75 of his letters from 1661 to 1676 to be included in the Posthumous Works Collection, and the reason for choosing to publish these letters was that “it would be helpful to explain the author’s other works”. At that time, the friend who compiled his posthumous works was hiding in an orphanage in Amsterdam before completing the preparations for publication.

  When “Spinoza’s Letters” was first published, it was a part of “Posthumous Works”. Although “Spinoza’s Collection” was banned by the authorities only half a year after its publication, Spinoza’s researchers still In the pursuit of some lost letters, the collection of letters has been revised several times as new letters have been found. The reason why people pursue these letters is that they are so important for the study of Spinoza’s life and thoughts. They not only hide many unknown secrets in Spinoza’s life, but also hide his own life and thoughts. noble character and foresight. They prove with facts that Spinoza is not as reclusive and aloof as people say, but a warm, kind, approachable and enthusiastic scholar who actively participates in various social activities. He has an incredibly large circle of friends and followers, which can be seen in these interactive letters. Therefore, according to the publisher, his letters have as much theoretical value as his academic works.
tribute to spinoza

  After the baptism of the Enlightenment, Spinoza’s theory has been widely disseminated, and his life story has been written into poetry, novels, film and television and opera works. The famous British scholar Russell said in “History of Western Philosophy”: “Spinoza is the most noble personality and the most gentle and amiable among the great philosophers. In terms of intelligence, some people surpassed him, but in terms of morality, he is supreme.” This great philosopher moved later generations with his rare noble character and profound knowledge.
  People who admire Spinoza come to the Netherlands and hope to visit the relevant relics of this world cultural celebrity. However, there are no relics to follow in the Netherlands, which makes many visitors from afar regret deeply. Since the late 19th century, in order to allow this wronged sage to enjoy due respect, colleagues from all over the world have paid tribute to Spinoza in various ways: researching and propagating his theories, restoring his former residence, Renovate the mausoleum, establish the Spinoza Academy, and hold various commemorative ceremonies, etc., to show respect.

Statue of Spinoza

  The earliest (1880) statue dedicated to Spinoza is on the corner opposite the Pavellinis Graziet street in The Hague where he once lived. This is a seated bronze statue, with his head slightly tilted forward, a pencil in his right hand resting on his cheek, and a few pieces of paper in his left hand on his left knee, in a contemplative state. According to the researchers, this is an outstanding sculptural work of dystocia. As early as 1871, the Dutch scholar J. van Vloten had the idea of ​​erecting a statue of Spinoza after reading Spinoza’s works, so he sought donations from various famous philosophical institutions in the world, and received positive responses. An international competition for the design of a statue of Spinoza. Out of 16 contenders, French sculptor Frédéric Hexamer won. It was originally planned to install the statue in 1877, the 200th anniversary of Spinoza’s death, but it was delayed for three years for some reason. At the unveiling, French historian Ernest Renan described the generous love of the figure on the granite monument’s pedestal, saying he “showed for all the path to happiness that he discovered, even in the ages After ten thousand generations, educated travelers who pass here will surely say in their hearts, ‘The person who has the most sincere insight and understanding of God is probably here'”.
  Rheinsberg on the outskirts of Leiden in the Netherlands is a former residence where Spinoza rented in his early years. At the end of the 19th century, William Meyer, a Spinoza researcher and translator, bought the house in the name of establishing the Spinoza Society, restored and rebuilt it with reference to the style of Spinoza’s residence, and used it as a Spinoza house. The House Museum officially opened in March 1899. The museum is set up according to the scene of his life and work: there is a living room inside, a study room with a large desk and bookcases around it. The books in the bookshelf include Spinoza’s works and various translations, and some Scholars from all over the world study Spinoza’s treatises; there is a studio next to the living room, where a small machine tool for grinding lenses in the 17th century is placed; various movies and videos about Spinoza can also be watched here and animation works.
  There is a bronze bust of Spinoza in the woods in the back garden of the former residence museum. It is said that the homeowner who admired him carved it in 1945 to celebrate the victory of the anti-fascist war. It is intended to show that Spinoza is immortal after the war . An alley in front of the former residence was named “Spinoza Street”. Backpackers paying homage to Spinoza also found a marble standing statue of Spinoza by the river at the end of the alley, which was a new work in 1988.
  When Spinoza died, he could not be buried in the Jewish cemetery because he was an “evil man” excommunicated by the Jewish Church. His friends rented a cemetery in the Protestant cemetery for 12 guilders so he could be laid to rest. However, those who came to visit Spinoza’s cemetery in The Hague later found it difficult to find the location and sign of the cemetery. In 1956, on the 300th anniversary of his expulsion, Dutch Jewish artist Job Wertheim rebuilt Spinoza’s cemetery behind the New Church cemetery on the island of Spinoza, building a low wall next to it, In the middle of the wall, a gray stone tombstone with the head of Spinoza was erected, and a black basalt slab inscribed with Hebrew (translated as “your people”) was inlaid below it to show that the Jews embraced Spinoza again Sarah.
  Among the Spinoza statues we have seen, the most majestic is the bronze statue in front of the Amsterdam City Hall. Spinoza was born here and was driven out of here. After more than 300 years of changes, the street has changed beyond recognition, leaving only the place name “Jewish Broad Street”. The statue monument to Spinoza was erected here as a result of an initiative of the “Spinoza Monument Foundation”. At the beginning of the 21st century, they hired Dutch artist Nicholas Dings to create this monument statue: Spinoza with curly hair, solemn expression, tall and stalwart. He wore a long coat adorned with many rosebuds and a parakeet—the rose for his name (“Spinoza” means “thorn” in Portuguese); a parakeet is a An exotic migratory bird, it represents the immigrant nature of the city and also symbolizes the multiculturalism of Amsterdam. In front of the statue is a geometric model with 20 facades, representing the shape of the universe and human perception of it. The edge of the pedestal is engraved with Spinoza’s name and his famous quote: “The end of the state is liberty.”

Dutch banknote with Spinoza portrait

  In 1972, the Dutch central bank issued a large-denomination currency note – 1,000 guilders, with Spinoza on the front. Since the Dutch guilder was withdrawn from circulation in 2002 due to the Netherlands’ accession to the European Union, the note bearing Spinoza’s portrait is now treasured.
  The establishment of the Spinoza Prize is also an important way of commemoration and publicity. The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) has established a Spinoza Award since 1995 to reward scientists who have made outstanding contributions to Dutch science and technology. The prize is 2.5 million euros per year. As a result, young scholars in the Netherlands have always cherished reverence for Spinoza.

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