Friday, May 6, 2016

Expel, excommunicate, curse, and damn Baruch de Spinoza

From Why Spinoza still matters: At a time of religious zealotry, Spinoza’s fearless defence of intellectual freedom is more timely than ever by Steven Nadler.
In July 1656, the 23-year-old Bento de Spinoza was excommunicated from the Portuguese-Jewish congregation of Amsterdam. It was the harshest punishment of herem (ban) ever issued by that community. The extant document, a lengthy and vitriolic diatribe, refers to the young man’s ‘abominable heresies’ and ‘monstrous deeds’. The leaders of the community, having consulted with the rabbis and using Spinoza’s Hebrew name, proclaim that they hereby ‘expel, excommunicate, curse, and damn Baruch de Spinoza’. He is to be ‘cast out from all the tribes of Israel’ and his name is to be ‘blotted out from under heaven’.
The question which Nadler addresses is whether Spinoza, after all these centuries, should be readmitted to the Jewish congregation in Amsterdam. Nadler describes Spinoza's role in the blossoming of the Age of Enlightenment and the pertinence of his ideas, particularly in terms of respect for the individual and commitment to freedom of communication, today.

One passage in particular resonates with the repressive tendencies of Universities and fringe voices at universities who are fully committed to silencing any word against the sanctioned orthodoxy.
People who are led by passion rather than reason are easily manipulated by ecclesiastics. This is what so worried Spinoza in the late 1660s, as the more repressive and intolerant elements in the Reformed Church gained influence in Holland. It remains no less a threat to enlightened, secular democracy today, as religious sectarians exercise a dangerous influence on public life.
Indeed. While many of these protests are couched in secular terms of social justice and other jargon, the emotional discourse is entirely designed to prevent exchange of ideas and formal argument. They are intolerant, totalitarian, censoring scolds seeking to emotionally blackmail their way towards childish goals imagined incorrectly to support noble ends.

Spinoza had the mark at the time that emotionalism, while well and good in its place, has no place in civil dialogue.

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