by Rebecca Goldstein
When this book landed in my hands last month, but for the inside flap I couldn't have told you who Baruch Spinoza was. And that can be the best kind of reading -- a random book, this one in the form of a birthday gift, that can lead to further reading. (In this case, though, I'm not sure I'm ready for further reading. I think my understanding of of Spinoza's rationalism has more to do with Rebecca Goldstein's teaching than my intellect.)
If you can really wrap your head around Spinoza, then you can solve the problem of the self and therefore solve the problem of God and evil and death. I am far from there, but Goldstein is an able guide who has made the concept clear. (Can I explain it to you? No. You will have to read the book; I am sorry.)
Spinoza was excommunicated from his Jewish community in 1656, but he was certainly not irreligious:
"All the ceremonies of the superstitious religions, all the slanted versions of their own histories, are founded on the irrational -- and irreligious! -- desire to make God love us in return, and the indulgence in the jealous fantasy that he loves us -- our kind, our people --more than others.
"... Men worship as if it is an arbitrary and exceedingly vain tyrant whom they must placate and flatter, each religion declaring itself more worthy of His favor. This is how all religions distinguish themselves from one another. ... Like children fighting for their parents' attention, they never realiza that everyone's true happiness and blessedness consists solely in the enjoyment of good, not in priding himself that alone he is enjoying that good to the exclusion of others."
Even with centuries of hindsight, though, it is difficult to grasp Spinoza's version of salvation and easy to see why it earned a hostile response from organized religion.