RELIGION: An Outroduction

The criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.

–Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right’, 1970


Religion and the Sacred

The appearance of the sacred in the world cannot be regulated by any institution or organized system. Religion is the institutionalization of the sacred that appears in the world randomly and chaotically. Dawn is sacred for the man tormented by the night; tree tops sway in a sacred light to a poet who looks up at the sky for hope. The sacred exists. It is a pure world imbued with one’s inwardness; the externalization of one’s inner life. Religion is built around this sacredness like a fortress, a fortress that makes the sacred vanish.

At the root of all religious feeling is the heroic character in man. When a man sets out to do the impossible and accomplishes it to a certain extent the religious feeling is born, this religious feeling is institutionalized to form religious systems. Developed religious systems are dead, they resemble bureaucracies and their attempts to move people resemble state propaganda. Developed religious systems have little or no place for the sacred, so they resort to ritualism. But religion is built upon the sacred, a radical, non-status-quo-ist affect-of-truth and is therefore dynamic and transformatory. All religions constantly renew themselves by undergoing transformations and revolutions: a revolution resurrects a dead religion. But religious bureaucracies are terrified of revolutions – because they are the death-knell of the religious establishment. Religious bureaucracies replace living religions, and they try to crush the resurrection of dead religions. Bureaucracies strive to maintain an appearance: structure, order and hierarchy. For the bureaucracy, system is everything, and the system crushes all emotions and ideas which undermine its authority. Living religions cannot, and do not, respect any earthly authority; even the divine authority is created as a ruse for liberation. So the religious institution itself is the greatest enemy of that which is at the heart of all religions: the heroic and sacred feeling, the courage and passion to question all earthly authority.

Religion is man’s glorious realization of something beyond and greater than man, and because this realization is coded in words, symbols, totems, myths and stories it soon becomes something other than the realization: it turns into a lie.

Religion as realization demands us that we treat it like a flower, and indeed religious realization as a process of absolute abandonment and strange rescue does end up making one feeling like a flower. It is a lump in the throat, it is an experience of absolute communion; it is a triumph and a submission. Religious feeling is cathartic, it seems to contain more of me than what I could ever contain in me – and yet this intimate feeling of warmth and trust doesn’t stay; I can’t always hold this feeling tenderly on the palm of my hand like a flower. I have to install it in the sky and let it shine like the sun over all of us – but alas that is the end of religion as poetry and the beginning of religion as fascism. The sun which we want to shine over all of us turns dark and organizes its dark beams into the iron bars of a totalitarian religion: religion, which we invariably store in our memory as a deeply stirring and sublime experience of the transcendent, fails us, and fails us so horribly that we begin to wonder what led us to embrace it with such mad fervor in the first place. Religion with its promise of the transcendent and its seductive paraphernalia of music and art deceives us so often that it is important to examine it rationally and with a dispassionate objectivity. The feeling which warms the cockles of our heart, that makes us beautiful and ecstatic and limitless – why do we identify this feeling with a religion and why do we lose it after identifying it with a religion?

“Hinduism,” does not exist but if one wants to call “Hinduism” the collection of theistic and non-theistic religious sects and philosophical systems broadly identified as “Vedic sects” (as opposed to non-Vedic sects of Buddhism, Jainism and the materialist school of Lokayata/Charvaka) which has existed in India since the Rig Veda, then the religion is about 4000 years old[1]; Judaism, 3200 years old; Jainism, 2900 years old; Buddhism, 2500 years old; Zoroastrianism, 2400 years old, Christianity, 2000 years old and Islam 1400 years old. The religions of the world are thousands of years old, and their “founding” texts are full of the sense of wonder and fear that possessed the primitive thinking man who looked up at the cosmic phenomenon and the world around him. The religions of the world are the result of this primitive thinking man trying to make sense of the world. What he has understood of the world, with his limited capacities, is both profound and beautiful; his very courage and ingenuity moves us, his descendants, and makes our hearts swell. The primitive man who gave us all our religions was a thinking man: he was heroic and courageous. We, who feel that one has to know for oneself, are following in his illustrious footsteps. The primitive man who founded the religions was the scientific man of his age; he presented a vision of the world based on his observation and thinking. He didn’t understand the world very well, we know that now, and whatever he didn’t understand filled him with fear, dread and insecurity. He often overcame these fears and anxieties by offering sacrifices; the sacrifices, he believed, appeased and satisfied a mysterious, supernatural power. He hunted and did his best to feed himself and his family; when he couldn’t find game and had to starve, he was miserable and attributed his inexplicable and helpless misery to the wrath of god. He devised an elaborate psychological system to keep himself sane; he felt secure by doing things that he thought kept the unknown power in good humour. He sacrificed animals, sometimes even men, and offering what he had to the gods, asked for his benevolence and protection. These primitive practices, of appeasing an unknown power, grew in complexity over the centuries, until it turned into the monstrous institutions that survive even to this day – inciting religious hatred and conflict, crushing free thought, oppressing women and the downtrodden, and keeping humanity in a thrall.

When an Idea which wants to destroy the earth to keep itself alive presents itself, humanity is divided into two sides – those for the earth and its inhabitants and those for the imagined realm beyond. The poor and the wretched of this earth, who have always nurtured religions, still need the hope of another world to survive the horrors of this world, and religion always exploits their helplessness and misery to its own benefit. The affluent and middle-classes that are ruled by another religious Idea – the hollow order of capitalism and free market – are also indifferent to the destruction of earth and the pillage of its finite resources. So the battle against religion, the battle for life and the earth, the battle for our very existence is not going to be an easy one. But easy or not, we have to fight this battle – and with our only weapon: Reason.

Religion as a Primitive Belief System

My mother is a very religious person. She prays every day, performs the rituals of pooja, and thinks that a God, a benevolent Hindu God, looks down upon all of us and protects us. But she is also a scientific-minded person; she has a graduate degree in science and knows that religion muddles the minds of people. She accepts scientific explanations for most material and cosmic phenomena and she believes that the universe came into being with the Big Bang. “But what caused the Big Bang?” She asks me. “Surely there must be a power behind all this?” Whatever science cannot explain she calls god; her god is a god of the gaps, the gaps in explanation. Her everyday prayer to god is her way of dealing with the fears and insecurities instilled in her by a world she doesn’t fully understand; religion gives her hope and the moral strength to reconcile with tragedy, loss and failure. Religion is a poetic sphere – an individual cosmos – that she has created around herself, to feel at home in the world. While it is true that even her god of the gaps can sometimes muddle her thinking, make her smug, make her assume that she knows when she actually doesn’t, her practice of religion does not constitute any real danger to the world because it is a belief system deeply influenced, and informed, by the rational secular worldview. This is not so much religion as a personal value system, and a spiritual support system; this is a poetic re-creation of the cosmos based on scientific facts.

This kind of religion didn’t seem like one that deserved condemnation; it, in fact, seemed like an inalienable part of the human living system. It seemed natural for god, or an unknown power, to have a place in the gaps in our understanding. I was willing to accept this seeming usefulness and harmlessness of religion until I discussed religion with my mother on her recent visit to Delhi. I was astounded to discover how irrational and unscientific she had gradually become; she was no longer curious to know or learn about the underlying processes behind physical phenomena. “I appreciate what the scientists and doctors do,” she said, “but they don’t create anything. It is god who creates everything.” I asked her what god was like, and what it meant to create something. “Thunder, rain and lightning: god creates them. Scientists only understand them; they can’t create thunder, rain or lightning.” “But don’t you know these are physical processes which have been explained? Don’t you know how water is turned into vapour, how vapour condenses into clouds which collide against each other to cause lightning, thunder and rain?” “Yes,” she said, “we can only understand the processes but it is god who creates them. Without him not a blade of grass moves.” “What do you mean he creates them? Who is this “he”? These processes are taking place on earth and in the empty space above the earth – are you calling the empty space god? Cars are produced in the car factory, does that make the factory the god of cars? And what does this god look like, is it a person or a power? And what do you add to the process behind the production of ‘lightning thunder and rain’ by calling it god-made or godly? Can’t it be explained just as clearly without the concept of god?” I asked. “I don’t know what god is like, it is a power and it is behind every phenomenon,” she said. “So you want to call everything godly, and you have no interest in knowing how things work? If every natural philosopher and scientist had thought like this how far do you think we would have progressed scientifically? Do you think people would have built telescopes, observed planets, stars and star-constellations for months and years, calculated the speed at which planets moved, devised equations to describe the structure of their orbits and built the coherent and realistic picture of the universe we have today—with that kind of attitude?” I asked. “I believe what I believe, and I don’t allow anyone to convince me that god does not exist,” she replied dogmatically. It took me hours of discussion to get her to accept the fact that this kind of attitude bred a mental passivity and an indifference to the true nature of things which killed science and the very spirit of enquiry. This was precisely the mindset that religion exploited to brainwash and control people with irrational fears, and this attitude lead only to superstition, irrationalism, bigotry, religious hysteria and violence.

It was evident that the god of the gaps wasn’t content to live in the gaps. He had fought and gradually extended the space of the gaps so much that he had usurped my mother’s entire consciousness. God had multiplied like virus and had filled her mind with the sad passions of a dogmatist, dulling her senses and killing the natural curiosity of her mind. The god of gaps had turned my mother, who had once instilled scientific temper in me, into a religious muddlehead.

But I was relieved to learn that this was a temporary stage; relieved to know that Reason could fight god’s usurpation of the mind and re-conquer its domain; that the fascist kingdom of irrationalism could be replaced by the open meadows and roads of Reason. But this experience taught me something fundamental: that religion is not good in any sense of the term, that religion is the ideology of ignorance and stupidity, that religion is the nemesis of Reason and Science and would always try to end their reign.

So, the following can be said without any hesitation: Religion is a primitive belief system that exploits our fear of the unknown; it manipulates our fears and insecurities and flattens us into a state of subservience and passive obedience; it demands and instills a blind faith in its tenets, induces blind action and banishes all thought and willingness to know for oneself. Religion buys a place in our heart by blackmailing us with the fear of hell, torture and punishment, and by tempting us with heaven, its riches, allures and comforts. In short, religion is an illusion which induces stupidity and mental slavery.

Religion: a Destructive Assemblage of Desire

All religions, in their fundamentalist forms, are assemblages of desire which have at their centre a void, an emptiness, a nihilism covered up with the floating signifiers of ‘God’ (Allah, the Christian ‘God’, Brahma) ‘Jihad’, ‘racial or religious purity’, ‘establishment of holy empire’, ‘Rama Rajya’ (the State of Rama) etc which can only “desire” death, destruction, annihilation and total mayhem. All fundamentalist religions deny this earth for a better one, and they want the destruction of this earth to realize the dream-ideal of a better earth. The spiritual core of all fundamentalist religions contains a negation of everything that exists and a yearning for everything that doesn’t. This constitutes the essential poetry, and romance, of fundamentalist religions. People buy into this illusion and get ready to die and kill and destroy.

Religion is the most powerful institutionalized irrational force and constitutes a great threat to our existence as a species on this planet. If man’s progress on earth is a result of his use of Reason, characterized by an urge to understand and build, religion preaches unthinking belief and fills man with an urge to destroy. No one can deny the transformatory role of Reason – from roads, city organization, electricity and health-care to machines large and small, sanitation, transport systems, art, literature and the internet – it is behind the creation of our entire lived cosmos. The urgent problems that this Reason-created-world faces today – problems like climate change, depletion of fossil fuels, overpopulation, fear of a nuclear war, poverty and hunger – demand the solutions of Reason. Religion offers no solutions to these problems, instead it aggravates the problems by being the problem – one of the greatest fears of mankind is the misuse of nuclear weapons by fundamentalist religious and nationalist elements.

When a rational person learns that about 22,000 children die every day, mostly out of hunger, poverty and preventable diseases, (Moccia & Antony (eds.) 2009) he is naturally disturbed and feels he should do something about it: the pain of others makes him empathetic and goads him into action. A religious person, on the other hand, responds to this news in the most perverse and cruel way imaginable: ‘This is what they get for their karma,’ he says, overjoyed that he isn’t among the ones dying of hunger and poverty, ‘my own good karma saved me.’ The misfortune of others defines the fortune of the religious person; someone has to be unhappy for him to be happy; the sinfulness of the sufferer is the shining proof of his own virtue. The religious temperament is a curious alchemy of self-obsession and mean-spiritedness; it is characterized by a parasitical reliance on the pain of others. Suffering, it is the suffering world, which stamps the foreheads of the non-suffering religious maniacs with the radiance of virtue. The suffering of people justifies religions and keeps its self-righteous army of dunces upbeat. ‘See, we are not suffering,’ they say every time they see someone in pain. Empathy is an emotion unknown to them. Theirs is the language of revenge and retribution. Everybody is paying for his sins or karma; the world is the way it is because that is how it is meant to be. They call their cruelty their strength, lack of compassion their virtue. Their kindness they express through a calculated gesture of charity, and in return they expect unlimited fawning and religious conversion. They feed the hungry and ask for his soul; they clothe the naked and enslave him for life. Everything for something, that is the formula, I will give you something and I want everything in return.

Even if we forget the misplaced intentions and perversions of religion we cannot forget the fact that it has no solutions to the problems of modern man. And because religion is so impotent, and ignorant, it wants to take revenge on the modern world, a world in which it no longer has any relevance. Religion has a simple impulse: it wants to reorder man and his world based on its own primitive ideal; from dressing and eating, to marriage and cohabitation, religion wants to shackle, enslave and dictate terms to everyone. And those who profess religion have clipped their own wings, terrified of the freedom of the modern world. Now they are filled with an impotent rage, and they swear to clip the wings of all those who still dare to fly.

Nine countries of the world today possess nuclear weapons. Yes, we must urge these countries to slowly dispose of these weapons, but we must also get rid of the abstract machines which run these weapons – the thought-machines of hatred and wanton destruction called religion and nationalism. The dangerous assemblage of religion must be dismantled and replaced with the creative assemblages of Science, Reason, Art and Love. The assemblages of destruction must be replaced with assemblages of creation.

The Need for a Psychiatric Paradigm to Deal with Religious Fundamentalists

I am tempted to think of the religious fundamentalists as creatures we have left behind on the evolutionary ladder. The chimpanzees are our closest cousins with whom we share 99.4% of our DNA. Their faces look so much like ours that if a chimpanzee walked erect and wore a shirt and a pair of trousers I would mistake it for a fellow human being. If appearances were the only thing to go by I would have argued that the chimpanzees had better cognitive abilities than the religious fundamentalists. But unfortunately this is not the case. The religious fundamentalists, in spite of their intelligence, behave like imbeciles because their belief system handicaps them, making them blind to the most obvious facts. So it may not be incorrect after all to diagnose them as ‘Mentally Challenged owing to Primitive Belief System’.

For a long time it had seemed to me that the rational person had a much more complex brain-wiring than the religious fundamentalist, enabling the former to handle an array of conflicting information, and ambiguity, without having to jump to absurd and irrational conclusions like the latter. Scientific research has now cleared the air on this vexed and contentious issue, confirming the long-held conviction of freethinkers on the relationship between intelligence and dogmatic belief. In a remarkable research involving the meta-analysis of 63 studies which explored the correlation between intelligence and religiosity, conducted between 1928 and 2012, 53 studies showed “a significant negative association between intelligence and religiosity.” (Zukerman et al., 2013) This lack of intelligence of the religious – which has led them, among other things, to burst with unconcealed joy on being addressed as sheep – is often demonstrated in their mode of argumentation, which can put even an elementary school child to shame: Is there pain, lawlessness, injustice, greed, poverty and violence in the world? Yes? This is because people have no fear of god. They do not follow religious principles. They fornicate, use people, disrespect the sanctity of marriage and bring about a general level of depravity and degeneracy. You know how to set it right? Make them follow religion, and not any religion, MY religion. It is indeed very hard to talk to a person who argues like this. There are lots and lots of research data as to why there is poverty, why people act in greedy and selfish ways, why people act violently and so on, what we need is a public which is ideologically oriented to access this data, and process it rationally and come up with intelligent solutions. But to want to blow up a building, to destroy a mosque or a temple or a church, to wish to eliminate an entire a religious sect and to think that it would bring peace and harmony to the world is not just absurd but barking mad.

So how do we deal with these fundamentalists when reasoning with them becomes impossible? How do we deal with them when they become vicious, mindless and dangerous? I think the need of the hour is to identify these people with primitive belief systems, segregate them from the mainstream and treat them with the same solicitude, attention and disciplinary control with which we treat the mentally challenged and the mentally ill. We cannot afford to laugh off this suggestion as outrageous. There is an elephant in the room, and it is ticking like a time bomb; it can blow up any time and take all our lives. Religion is this invisible elephant. Religious fanatics have no respect and concern for this world, their heads are filled with delusions and dreams of the other world, and to realize these delusions they must destroy this earth. This is the one-point agenda of all religious extremism; and religious moderationism, which is the unthinking acceptance of this insanity in the name of tolerance, is no different: it creates divisiveness, social and emotional conflict and a deep suspicion of the other. Religious fundamentalism looks for a preconceived primitive order and sameness; life is fundamentally heterogeneous, and tends towards differenciation and individuality. So religious fundamentalism is anti-life, the barest of analysis would show us that it is, and this remains true no matter how many happy and harmonious images of religious life we are presented with. Religious fundamentalism and the tendency of life for free and divergent growth cannot be reconciled. So religion which is anti-life must be pulled out from the roots and destroyed.

Religion as the “Humanization of Nature”

Freud (1975: 16-17) sees religion as the ‘humanization of nature’; religion, according to him, replaces natural science with psychology. This psychology induces man to behave in the strangest of ways. Religion makes man deal with the forces of nature like one deals with one’s fellow human beings – as beings one can please, appease, bribe and influence; that is, as beings from whom power could be robbed. Religion, in this sense, is the defense mechanism of a collectivity of humans bound by a common illusion. But how does this illusion persist even when we know that it is only an illusion erected to ward off our fears? Religion persists because this illusion becomes a part of our everyday practice and takes on an artistic and cultural form; it becomes the outermost membrane of our lived universe protecting us against a universe that is unknown, hostile, unpredictable, strange and infinite. Religion, as an illusion, suffuses the very ground of our everyday living; becomes that which we take for granted, that which we take as given, and structures and codifies our everyday practices and beliefs. And by thus falsely grounding the everyday it tries to take over the whole of our cultural universe.

Religion as the Codification of Ethos: the Hijack of Art and Poetry by Religion

Everyone wants to live in a poem. This primeval desire explains why there are so many religious people in the world. But the poem, like religion, is not a fossil or a corpse, it is the lightning in the living – the expression of the intensive differences in man – and it is this fact that the religious, in their ignorance, forget: they forget that what they call their home is a rotting corpse.

No one can object to religion as a form of sociality, as a mode of social, cultural and artistic getting together, as an institution enabling the identification of people as an artistic and cultural collective. But the question is whether this kind of sociality can be called religion. People who are not singers, go to a church and sing hymns, or listen to songs being sung for an imaginary being – in itself this is beautiful; the very act of singing or listening to songs liberates man, though this feeling of liberation, which comes from indulging in artistic, cultural and collective activities, has always been falsely attributed to god, his grace, the power of faith and so on. Religion has woven around itself artistic and cultural practices which naturally exalt man and fill him with an energy and emotion which transform him. This energy, this feeling of being in touch with one’s purer element, is the very heart of artistic and creative activity. The very act of imagining a lofty being, an all-loving omnipresent superpower, is a creative act, and it is this act of collective creation of a supreme being and submitting oneself to it which give[s] religious places their unearthly aura, their larger-than-life energy and regality. This aura, this delirious sense of ecstasy, this sense of being witness to something glorious are pure attributes and effects of art, which religion appropriates and attributes to god. When a devotee kneels and supplicates before an image of Christ it is not so much the son of god who fills her with religious ecstasy but the icon of a suffering Christ on the cross (an artistic creation) and the story of a Christ who suffered unspeakable agonies for all our sins (another artistic creation). Religion thus uses art and artistic phenomena to seduce people into blind unthinking belief which is what religion is in its essence. And it is not just the icons and the stories, architecture is perhaps the most prominent art form used by religion to seduce and entrance people. The very architecture of soaring churches, magnificent high-ceilinged cathedrals, intricately designed temples with dark sanctum sanctorums and the narrow walkways to them, the mosques with their imposing domes and free unimpeded spaces, the gurudwaras with their marble structures and pristine golden cupolas and the enigmatic egg-like stupas with their seemingly endless circular corridors – show how effectively and powerfully art can be used to sweep people off their feet, make them feel small and insignificant and in need of a protector and benefactor.

So when people say religion is beautiful, that it fills their hearts and overwhelms them with a sublime emotion they are, of course, mis-identifying something else as religion, and that something else is the assemblage of art, architecture, hymns, songs, colours, silences, flowers, fruits, incense, white garments, bare feet and the expression one’s innermost feelings of pain, fear, insecurity, inadequacy as well as patience, exaltation, fulfillment and peace. Religion has long been a confluence of the arts and poetry and an exaltation-inducing behaviour which can be called artistic austerity and restraint. The artistic austerity and restraint of the religious is no different from the austerity and restraint of the painter painting a nude or a poet writing a poem on his loved one: they both operate on the same principle which brings about a feeling of immersion and exaltation: the principle of disinterested interest or detached attention. Religion is an appropriation and the supernatural codification of this artistic ethos. This is not an unexpected marriage given what lies at the source of both art and religion: man’s search for rapture in the face of inescapable death.

How Religion Founds its Good Earth on Poverty

Anyone who has observed religion as part of the human living system would know that poverty-afflicted areas are fantastic breeding grounds for it. All one needs to do in a place filled with the cries and groans of the starving, the unclothed, the needy and the sick is to install a totem pole – a totem which connects the impoverished earth with an imagined bountiful heaven; and the totem pole could be a religious icon, a self-manifest statue (udbhavalinga), a miniature temple, a tomb, a religious relic or even an ordinary tree like Peepul. Religion is a monster which feeds on the hopes and dreams of people, and the people who hope and dream most intensely are the poor, the needy, the helpless; religion is the magnificent dream temple that the poor and helpless fashion with their imagination.

Poverty attracts religion because poverty breeds fear and dread. The poor are the most fearful, they fear the present and dread the future, and a pleasant illusion to overcome their wretchedness is an existential need for them. And their illusion and balm is religion: an all-powerful supernatural protector, a bountiful heaven that the meek and the impoverished will inherit in the hereafter—these are ideas that they need to live through their painful and miserable lives. So religion is wedded to poverty in a way we cannot even imagine, it is religion which makes the lives of the poor bearable and livable; and this being a fact it is futile and pointless to fight religious superstition and dogma without fundamentally improving the material conditions of the poor.

Pantheism is Joyous Atheism

A free mind is a curious mind. A curious mind is a happy mind. A happy mind is a creative mind. But when is the mind free? Spinoza calls something free when it “exists from the necessity of its nature alone, and is determined to act by itself alone.” (Spinoza 1996: 2) And for the mind to be free it should act, and exist, solely from the necessity of its own nature. A mind which acts either to please, or out of the fear of, a personal God, is a mind which is compelled to act by an agency outside itself; it is not acting on its own, out of the necessity of its nature. So a mind that conceives of a personal God is an unfree mind, enslaved by, and always acting under the compulsion of, a foreign force. Spinozist system does not allow for a personal God, because Spinozist God, as I show below, is one which cannot be conceived, and experienced, by an unfree mind.

Spinoza conceived God as “a substance” (meaning, “what is in itself and is conceived through itself”) “consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each one expresses an eternal and infinite essence.” (Spinoza 1996: 1) So God, for Spinoza, is the universe itself, conceived as something which doesn’t need anything else to describe it because all attributes belong to it, and whose every attribute expresses an essence both infinite and timeless. This conception of God as impersonal substance with eternal and infinite essence which inspires in us an intellectual love of God to understand things in their ‘eternal aspect,’ and which can only be understood by a proper application of Reason, is indistinguishable from the atheistic position characterized by the negation of the supernatural power and the assertion that nature and its creatures, forms on the earth and cosmic bodies are all immanentist expressions of the materiality of the universe. God for Spinoza “is absolutely the first cause” and all things “follow from the necessity of his essence.” (Spinoza 1996: 13) This view of the world may be very deterministic, but it is similar to that of a contemporary physicist who, though he may not see every event as following from the first cause of Big Bang, still sees the Big Bang as the beginning of space-time, as the event which gave birth to the universe. What the Spinozist worldview is not is theism, with a creator who created the world, who looks after the world, and constantly intervenes in its affairs, to ensure the reign of the good and the victory of the virtuous. Spinoza’s God is an impersonal God who can only be loved by someone who “understands himself and his affects clearly” and who becomes capable of loving God more “the more he understands himself and his affects.” (Spinoza 1996: 169) So the irreligious philosophical position which has come to be called pantheism is clearly not about seeing divinity in everything. It is first and foremost a conviction that Deus sive Natura, God or Nature, can only be understood through the proper application of Reason. Reason is supreme and Reason is the key, it is our only means of connecting with the absolute which is the material world itself in its eternal aspect. So Spinozist pantheism is, above all, a celebration of the questioning spirit combined with a deep sense of appreciation for the beauty and mystery of Nature. But Nature, though mysterious, and challenging of the very limits of human intellect and ingenuity, is nevertheless comprehensible. This is the faith that Spinoza’s system of rationalism reposes in the power of reasoning, and it is interesting to note that faith is reposed in Reason which is a means to know God or Nature and not in the impersonal God itself.

Spinozist pantheism, therefore, is not a theism but arguably the most positive form of atheism, unleashing the full creative force of the thinking man by making Reason a force of affirmation. If Spinozists do not bemoan the absence of God it is not because they believe in a more benign force at work in the universe; it is rather because they see in the morphogenetic force which shapes all matter, and in the natural laws according to which the universe functions, an impersonal God: a God which neither loves not hates. It is, moreover, a God which cannot be hated but only loved, because “the idea of God which is in us is adequate and perfect,” and “insofar as we consider God, we act.” (Spinoza 1996: 169) This, of course, follows from the formula, “the mind is more liable to passions the more it has inadequate ideas, and conversely, is more active the more it has adequate ideas.” (Spinoza 1996: 71) God has all the adequate ideas in him and God himself is an adequate idea and “the actions of the mind arise from adequate ideas alone.” (Spinoza 1996: 74) This means the very act of grasping the ideas that are in God frees our mind in action; the mind acts, and makes the body capable of unimpeded action, unimpeded by affections, by grasping adequate ideas. It is in this sense that Spinoza’s rationalist system unleashes the creative nature of man; it provides him a way of being creative, it provides him the means through which he can become. The force which makes the heart beat, a flower bloom, a bird fly and the wind blow – pantheists appreciate these forces by grasping the adequate ideas present in them. Rational understanding of nature is the way in which one can participate in the workings of nature itself. And far from taking away anything from the beauty of Nature this enables an intense and many-sided encounter with, and human participation in, the workings of Nature. A participation that is very much required for the working of Nature itself to attain the fullness of meaning, because it is only when the adequate ideas in Nature are grasped that they become truly meaningful and valuable. And this is the beauty of Nature – our recognition in it of something meaningful and valuable, and our recognition of it as something meaningful and valuable.



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[1] Doniger (1991), King (1999), Lorenzen (1999) and numerous other scholars hold that “Hinduism” is the name given to a collection of extremely diverse – and sometimes mutually antagonistic – sects brought together in opposition to Islam and given a nationalistic character in the 19th century.

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