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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spinoza as Role Model

The DC Jewish Community Center is hosting a Spinozafest.  Two weeks ago Bernie and I saw a new drama in formation called Spinoza's Solitude.  It was a wonderful experience because after the play, we the audience discussed and actually made suggestions for improving the drama.

Last week we saw New Jerusalem: The Interrogation of Baruch Spinoza.  On April 1, after an all day discussion (a "Spinozium"), the congregations (attendees of the play) will be asked to vote on whether the herem, the excommunication and banishment of Baruch de Spinoza should be reversed. We will be out of town for the Spinozium so we were able to vote by absentee ballot.

What a courageous, enlightened activity on the part of the Washington DC Jewish Community.  Would the Catholic Church or even a local parish be willing to do the same for the inquisition and burning at the stake of Giordano Bruno?  I think not.

All this has me reading Spinoza, especially his Ethics, anew.  And I find this 17th century "free thinker" so totally relevant for today.  I think that as Spinoza and Bruno were at the birth-pangs of the Enlightenment assisting culture (including religion and art) appreciate reason, especially scientific method, and embrace modernity.  So we do well to consult them near the end of the old Enlightenment and into the new, from modernity and into post-modernity.

They follow in the path of many who were considered heretics, atheists, immoral corrupters of youth.  They in fact exemplify the faith that exceeds inherited and easy beliefs.  They took on the culture and religion of their day and were poisoned, crucified, banished, or burnt as a result.  And yet they were happy persons unlike their detractors and judges.  They were able to be secure in the truth--not the easy truth of the already-said, but the truth as emerging in their quest.

I was especially struck by the portrayal of Spinoza in New Jerusalem. He is excited to explore wherever it might lead him.  He follows his conscience even when it hurts him.  He is very happy even in pain because he is enjoying his quest.  He accepts and values doubt, ready to question all that he previously thought or learned.  He is willing to be corrected and even judged, and is ready to correct but never judges a persons moral worth.  He is avid to learn from the rabbi and elders, but also avid to question and surpass them.  He exemplifies a seeker open to new ideas and evidence.

Spinoza was precursor of the modern man who looked for nature's unchanging laws, scientific ideas to replace religious tales, an Absolute God or Necessary Substance ultimately accessible through reason.

But I think he is also a model in the new post-modern age of the new Enlightenment in which Einsteinian relativity has surpassed Newtonian necessity, quantum indeterminacy has surpassed classical determinacy, evolutionary emergence and selection has surpassed architectonic design.  He is a person that can accept ambiguity without cynicism, complexity without insecurity, irony without fear, criticism without anxiety, and meaning without righteousness.

Baruch, be my guide to the new Enlightenment!

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