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Renegade Jew

In January, Jewcy showcased an email dialogue between associate editor Michael Weiss and novelist/scholar Rebecca Goldstein, in what Michael described as “a sort of epistolary book review and kibitz on Spinoza’s life and philosophy.” For in-depth interchange on Spinozist thought … Read More

By / July 3, 2007

In January, Jewcy showcased an email dialogue between associate editor Michael Weiss and novelist/scholar Rebecca Goldstein, in what Michael described as “a sort of epistolary book review and kibitz on Spinoza’s life and philosophy.” For in-depth interchange on Spinozist thought and the like, see the first of three installments of their dialogue. Goldstein writes that the philosophical career of Spinoza was "inextricably bound up with the Jewish question." Spinoza, a Portuguese Jew born in Amsterdam, was abruptly excommunicated from the Jewish community in the 17th century for "monstrous deeds" and "abominable heresies." Michael wrote in the introduction to the dialogue, “Meet the brooding loner of the Enlightenment, a Clint Eastwood for the life of the mind crowd.” Spinoza went on to write The Ethics and the much lesser known Theological-Political Treatise, in which he argued that "toleration and government protection of liberty are imperatives of religion rightly understood." In a new Hoover Institution review of Goldstein’s book, Peter Berkowitz focuses on Spinoza’s Treatise and what it means for religion in the 21st century. Goldstein sees, in historical and theological terms, that the modern-day ambition to overcome the intricacies of any and all faiths bespeaks the Jewish spirit. An excerpt from Berkowitz’s review of Goldstein's new book asks why we fear the deeply faithful:

Scratch the surface of the opinions of men and women of the left and you will find, more often than not, the conviction that though we are alas obliged to tolerate it, religion — and particularly biblical faith — is at its core intolerant and a menace to liberty and democracy. Unfortunately, our neo-Voltaireans ill-serve toleration, liberty, and democracy. Nor do they advance the cause of knowledge. Their heavy reliance on scorn, mockery, and ridicule to defeat, once and for all, their self-proclaimed enemy contravenes the commitment to rational argument, grounded in observation and experience, in whose name they would consign religion to the dustbin of history.

Today, are too many on the educated left dismissing religion to bolster their own identities and egos? Goldstein, writes Berkowitz in his review,

enlarges our understanding of Spinoza and the varieties of Jewish faith. [...] She reads Spinoza differently than he would have wanted to be read but with a driving desire to understand that he would have very much admired. This is in contrast to our contemporary publicists for atheism. They put forward a critique of religion that renders the world smaller and narrower based on claims to knowledge that far exceed their evidence and argument. They do not respect either the varieties or the limits of human understanding. They are the ones betraying Spinoza.

As both renegade and believer, in Spinoza we find an antidote to today’s “casual and confident disbelief in religious faith” which holds as the “dominant view at our major newspapers, national tv networks and radio stations, and certainly at our leading universities.”

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