The Holy Trinity, the Origin of Spinoza’s Pantheism

A few weeks past the Southern Israelite gave much attention to the influence of Baruch Spinoza and his influence on modern atheism and Heliocentrism, to which I will add the following.

Spinoza held that there is one substance underlying all things, which he called God, this is not Abraham’s Elohim but all of reality as one thing, another way of saying Nature, a God without will, intellect, or distinction from nature. There is no creation, only emanation without beginning or end and therefore no limitation in space or time. Spinoza has been accurately described as a more rigorous and consistent Cartesian than Rene Descartes himself, surnamed by historians as the father of modern philosophy and of tremendous importance in fully detaching philosophy from religion, but whence did Spinoza’s ingenious theory of reality stem from? The answer is that he was influenced by none other than the Christian Trinity as received from Descartes.

Descartes made it sharply clear that he was a Roman Catholic and had the project in mind only of establishing philosophy on a firm rational footing, not on the turgid and restrictive Scholastic education where a premium was placed on the authority of ancient masters especially Aristotle. But amidst all this talk of reason and consistency one glaring nonsense stands out, and here Spinoza becomes the more consistent Cartesian. In his Discourse on Method is a most startling statement of Descartes’ view of what God is:

“Besides, I had ideas of many sensible and corporeal things; for although I might suppose that I was dreaming, and that all which I saw or imagined was false, I could not, nevertheless, deny that the ideas were in reality in my thoughts. But, because I had already very clearly recognised in myself that the intelligent nature is distinct from the corporeal, and as I observed that all composition is an evidence of dependency, and that a state of dependency is manifestly a state of imperfection, I therefore determined that it could not be a perfection in God to be compounded of these two natures, and that consequently he was not so compounded; but if there were any bodies in the world, or even any intelligences, or other natures that were not wholly perfect, their existence depended on his power in such a way that they could not subsist without him for a single moment.” (1974, p. 65)

This is the common Christian belief of God for those that take the Trinity seriously: that He is an ineffable entity, hardly a personable being, without parts or composition, contra Exodus 33:11-23 where Yahovah is depicted as having some sort of physical form, though what composes Him is not for us to know. Likewise Descartes contradicts Genesis 1 where the created world is described by Elohim as ‘good’ six times and then observed to be ‘very good’, just to reinforce the point to anyone who would dare condemn His creation, whereas Descartes holds composition to be by definition imperfect with or without sin. Descartes for all his critical reasoning had not liberated himself from the Neo-Platonism of the Church. The proposition that God is an uncomposed point, or something else without any spatial and temporal place is that taught by the Trinity, because none of the three person therein can be the sovereign creator of the world. To create requires a will and consciousness, hence component parts. I can testify from discussing the Trinity with two particularly dense Pentecostal women and later with a very intelligent Catholic man that their primary defence was that God is not “in space or time”, therefore He is “incomprehensible” a claim the Southern Israelite has drawn from churchmen when debating the Flat Earth.

The lesson to be drawn is that Spinoza took this ‘God’ of Descartes and the Church, this formless whatever which the Christians call God is so removed from the Bible that it takes only a small conceptual leap to go from Descartes uncomposed God to Spinoza’s universal Monad. This is a strong argument also against the Trinity, for a God without parts can have no distinct faculties of will, intellect, or emotion. It is pointless to argue in defence of such a God considering that there is no reason for positing entities “beyond space and time”, all such talk is meaningless rot; from the Christian position, with one foot in Monotheism and the other in Mysticism, to Spinoza’s atheist pantheism, there is not much of a distance to go.

The Ulsterman

References

Descartes. Rene, Discourse on Method, trans. John Veitch in The Rationalists (Anchor Books: New York, 1974) pp. 39-99