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Spinoza’s Political Philosophy in the Tractatus Theologico-Politics

Spinoza stands out among most philosophers who existed at his time for several reasons. Perhaps he is better known for his work, principles, and arguments concerning ethics. Here, Spinoza’s monumental work was carried out and structured in a confounding way to explain ethical attributions and relations with God. The monumental setting of Spinoza’s work was argued in the concepts that aimed to present an ethical vision responsible for unfolding out and extruding monistic metaphysics. Here, Spinoza aimed at presenting the argument of identification of nature and God. Spinoza was a vital post-Cartesian philosopher in the 17th century in his sphere. Spinoza’s arguments and knowledge were generally set in a wide philosophical scope where he is known to have contributed to various philosophical constructs. It is often difficult to categorize him effectively through his diverse engagement and borrowing from various philosophers and sources such as Hobbes, Machiavelli, and Stoicism. However, his argument of religion, especially nature and God, represents unparalleled originality. Based on this, it is essential to outline Spinoza’s critique of religion; based on the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus. Therefore, this write-up aims to analyze the nuances of Spinoza regarding religion and the state. This analysis will be effected using Spinoza’s critique to clearly outline the role of religion and the state and the possible interplay between the two.

Understanding the scope of Spinoza’s nuances on religion can be better achieved through his work on ethics and their role in the totality of these outcomes. Spinoza argues that God is no longer the transcendent creator of the universe and all that therein. This is true, on its own accord, but according to Spinoza, God’s influence and rule on the universe is better experienced through nature (Tănăsescu 3). Here, Spinoza argues that nature, in itself, is an infinite, essential and system that is fully deterministic. Spinoza fronts that human beings are not separate from nature but part of nature through this argument. Attributing and orienting nature and the triggers of happiness, humans need to exude and extend a rational understanding. This is done with human beings acknowledging their part in nature and living within it.

However, these arguments made Spinoza to be accorded with enormous controversy. In specific terms, Spinoza was accorded with the controversy based on the arguments that he fronted concerning the role of the religion and the state in his critique Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (Garret 4). The arguments fronted here are strongly opposed by various philosophers of the time. One most relevant example is the case of Leibniz, who recorded the disagreements and the conflicts he had with Spinoza’s work in the “Refutation of Spinoza”. For instance, analyzing Leibniz’s refutations can be used as the best front to account for the viewpoints that Spinoza argues out in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (de Spinoza 2). Here, Spinoza highlights the presets that should dictate the relationship between the church and the state, specifically religion and politics (Laerke 8). According to Spinoza, the state’s goal and target should be to engage in activities that guarantee liberty to its citizens.

However, the most criticism associated with Spinoza’s work is tied to his nuances and skepticism about religion. Understanding Spinoza’s take on faith and religion, with the relevance these preset hold to, from faith can be approached from his view on ethics. Here, Spinoza’s general attitude concerning his views on religion is better understood from the culmination of his arguments on ethics (Garret 8). In his words, Spinoza believes that the source of belief is not ceded in the teachings regarding religion and its development;-not the teachings of traditional beliefs, as it was generally believed but a factor that is equated to superstition. The source of belief, according to Spinoza, is a factor that was only gained from the imagination of the believer (Laerke 9). Here, in attempts to explain how religion manages to be held in the minds of masses (believers), Spinoza argued out that this facet was attained only through instilling fear and hope in the masses. Getting a perfect grip of the combination of these factors, according to Spinoza, was the only insult to achieve mass adherence to religion;-adherence to the passions.

Owing to this, it is only clear that Spinoza decided to hold onto his belief of the total lack of rational basis in religion’s activities. Instead, he inherently figures out that there is a lack of reason in religion and the connection of some of the specific activities and practices relating to the practice of religion (Laerke 6). Spinoza points out the understanding and adherence extended to “virtues” in specific terms. According to his viewpoint, virtues are proponents applied in this scene to complement the desires and the arguments of religion. Specifically, Spinoza attributes the developments made around virtues (and their application) to have the ability to reason greatly. Here, fear of God, humility, a sense of guilt, repentance, forgiveness, and several “virtue” approaches in religion greatly compromise people’s viewpoints and orientation to several issues (Tănăsescu 9). Specifically, Spinoza nuances that these virtues and engagements are drawn from the depths of factors that introduce a wide variation of thoughts, ideas, and personalities. Therefore, according to his argument, there could never be a better reason to tie down the involvement of religion in hampering the dictates of reason.

Perhaps the accreditation of Spinoza’s work and arguments in Tractatus Theologico-Politics concerning reason and religion with superstition may seem hasty. It is not specifically an engagement that Spinoza brings out, but there are various pointers to his statements that make it possible for this to take root. First, his work begins with explaining ethics in totality;-creating a perfect understanding of the topics of origins, nature, and the consequence of an intellectual prejudice (Laerke 8). Spinoza attests and agrees with the idea that these factors have an innate connection to human nature and they are, in the real sense, deeply seated among the most confounding matters that can explain human understanding. He creates an understanding that bases the interrelation between these matters (nature, origin, and the consequence of intellectual prejudice) with religious beliefs (Garret 5). He picks out intellectual prejudice as the tenet that can be used to explain religious beliefs, where he notes that “this prejudice (intellectual prejudice) is said to include a set of interrelated ideas that constitutes what would normally be called religious belief” (Tănăsescu 4). However, in his arguments that elucidate and expound ethics and ethical undertakings, Spinoza agrees that religion is “a form of anthropomorphism” through his theory of religion.

What stands out most in Spinoza’s theory of religion is not the criticism that he faces from various philosophers but the originality of his reason and arguments. Therefore, it is not surprising that his naturalistic nuances basing religion as a social institution are inherently denied, argued against (Tănăsescu 9). In this account, Spinoza attaches religion (as a social institution) to indeterminable value that is obstructed by beacons of secular Enlightenment. Spinoza attributes religion to being seen as an appointed and selected way of getting over the injustices and issues of tyranny (Garret 6). Here, he taunts religion as responsible for equalizing the illiberal founds of democratic governance. Besides, Spinoza concentrates on this factor to argue that religion creates a necessity for governments to be aware and tolerant of a wide range of religious sensibilities.

Additionally, he lays blame upon the understanding of religion in society as the source and explanation behind insufficient sectarianism. Spinoza finds a reason to explain the insurgencies and strives that constitute religious violence in sectarianism. However, in a twist of his arguments, Spinoza defends the democratic government and democratic governance (Laerke 4). He states that the government is “asymptotic” to reason, with the facet of withdrawing the nationality of participants. Therefore, Spinoza uses this understanding to conclude what religion and the state should be interacting for. As per his conclusion, the state is required to extend and exercise limited supervision of the totality of religious matters and the religion within these states.

Spinozism and the totality of arguments Spinoza held towards religion can be regarded as the initial basics that fought for freeing religious studies from fideistic and ideological nuances. This is true to the work of Spinoza, at least through the arguments of Roberto Cipriani (Tănăsescu 9). According to Cipriani, his historical introduction to sociology can only be best understood if the scientific understanding of religion is brought to the book. He suggests that Spinoza’s argument in Tractatus Theologico-Politics is the basis of the scientific study of religion. However, as much as this suggestive observation from Cipriani holds a deep connection to the outcomes of Spinoza’s theory of religion, he misses out on the naturalistic perspective of his theory of religion. Instead, Cipriani believes that Spinoza’s theory of religion is solely based on biblical hermeneutics (Laerke 7). It is important, however, to acknowledge that Cipriani brings out Spinoza’s position in religion through the criticism that he extends to his work. Here, Spinoza is brought out as having incepted a historical-critical approach directly tied to political questions crafted to achieve a freer society. Spinoza had anticipated that through this, it could be possible to have a more open society that was open to new solutions (de Spinoza 7). The approaches he anticipated from this freedom were tied to a varied societal perspective. However, his main argument that connected politics and religion regarding freedom was based on the likelihood of his argument to incept “a secular approach” to religion.

Spinoza’s arguments on religion are also based on his understanding of faith and its role in religion. In Tractatus Theologico-Politics, his arguments in chapter 14 expose his understanding of faith and what it entails in state-religion affairs. Faith is construed as a subjective state (considering the role of passion and belief) that creates piety in an individual. The factors resulting from this type of righteousness are then directly attributed to the results in an individual’s behavior. This way, Spinoza believes that issues such as justice and charity, which can be used to judge an individual’s behavioral outcomes, are directly sourced from religion-related piety (de Spinoza 8). Because of biblical hermeneutics, Spinoza argues that they can be used as an appeal to purity. This is effective and attainable in cases where, according to Spinoza, there is a need to exert obedience to the requirements of charity and justice, which are essential aspects of biblical teachings. Spinoza alludes to the Bible’s consistency in explaining the importance of virtue as the main connection to the exhortation of piety. The “word of God,” as put by Spinoza, has the effect of extending and triggering obedience and chastity because it is understood in “uncorrupted” ways (Garret 4). Earlier on, his arguments are devoted to explaining the facets of miracles and the likelihood of using miracles to manipulate people through motivation. Using religion, according to Spinoza, miracles are engagements that are applied in the religious aspect to trigger mundane people to engage in pious acts.

Perhaps Spinoza’s greatest expose of religion in Tractatus Theologico-Politics is his elucidation of religion being a “stabilized superstition”. His work presents this claim from as early as the preface (de Spinoza 3). Spinoza does not attribute or qualify this argument with any equation. Rather, he diverges from the need to have a philosophical or scientific backing to this claim and instead sees religion as the solution to the problem of superstition. Here, he locates the role of religion in the origin and source of fear. Consequently, he cedes that the convergence of humankind’s weakness and ignorance are used to instill the application of this facet in religion (Deleuze 8). According to Spinoza, the issue faced in superstition is not inherently tied to the need to falsify the beliefs or expose the instability that rests therein. He clarifies this by noting that this concept is proven as long as there is some degree of adherence to practices just out of their ability to overcome fear through inducing hope. Hope is seen as the possible outlet to superstition because of the ability it has to alter the courses of action.

Besides, Spinoza argues that religion can be used as a source of political instability. Endless wars, as per the results of this, are relevant extrudes. When people have limited access to knowledge and wisdom, they rely on superstition. However, relying on superstition leads to a perpetual cycle of fear, despair, and hope (Garret 7). Spinoza agrees that it is not possible to overcome superstition but offers a way of overcoming it. His argument on overcoming religious superstition is not likely to succeed in the “overcoming”. Rather, he feels that getting over religious superstition is attainable by introducing measures that can be used to modify the superstition (Laerke 3). Here, he creates a workable and irrefutable front to expose his stand on religious superstition, which he believes is “a modification of superstition that ritualizes its form while retaining its content”.

Regarding emotion and imagination, Spinoza believes that these facets play a significant role in effecting religious superstition. The drama and the undertakings involved in spiritual rituals boost the power of superstition (Laerke 6). Through this, the power of an individual to alleviate fear and incept hope is set upon the efficacy range of the extent of superstition. According to Spinoza, this is irrespective of the belief in the transient promises of the novelty of the triggers of failure and despair or the persuasiveness and authority associated with religion (Garret 7). This argument further attributes the stability of religious rituals to the supreme advantage and effect they hold in attenuating superstition. Additionally, this stability limits the gullibility of the fearful ignorant. This way, religious superstition garners a base that creates a beginning point for political and cultural stability (Laerke 7). The totality of these activities makes it possible to improve and advance knowledge. Through knowledge, Spinoza sees a front that exposes reason, which, in the end, can be used to solve the problem.

Nevertheless, Spinoza’s nuances on religion attribute it to being responsible for producing two elements:-stabilization and superstition, which according to him, have an inverse relation. Here, he believes that an increase in societal enlightenment accounts for a relevant drop in despotic regimes (Garret 5). In any direction (more or less of either of the components), this equilibrium is used as a scale to determine the role of religion in the affairs of its running. However, an essential aspect of this equilibrium (the resulting) is the enduring relationship between religion and the consequential perception of the people to liberty. At this point, Spinoza introduces the concept of tyranny to explain these arguments best. As a regime, tyranny is set on people’s ignorance, and it is totally free but highly unstable. He describes this setting as trapped in mutual suspicion, fear, and disposed to dangerous rulers. This is unless their rule is religion-sanctified (5). In this system, Spinoza agrees that domination of all thought by religion is necessary as it introduces subjects to the law enforcers as an outcome of piety, as they strive to attain salvation.

However, the comforts and benefits that religion introduces in tyrannical settings (both to subjects and the tyrants) are, in itself, inherently unstable. This is because religion is used to address societal passions to motivate people towards societal requirements. The human nature in Spinoza’s naturalistic realism is brought to understanding through this. The prompt argues on the need that human beings are united by reason and inherently divided by passions (Laerke 5). Due to this, it is therefore clear that religion turns out as pluralistic enough to account for and accommodate a varied collection of divergent sensibilities. Additionally, it can obtain a form of uniformity at higher levels ceded with abstract principles that are in no way in a specific implementation. Therefore, it is clear in this case that Spinoza’s argument makes it possible to connect religion and authoritarian mind control. Tyrannical mind control is elucidated to result in profound hatred and consequently result in the ennobled sedition of ceremonies carried out under religious concepts to inspire people’s piety. Here, Spinoza bases and extends supreme control of this issue by granting people the optimal control of religion. This is also supposed to be accosted by extending similar freedom of judgment to these individuals (Laerke 2). Explained through his emancipation of the preservation of political sovereignty, Spinoza creates a link that extends beyond his religious views and society.

In conclusion, Spinoza’s nuances in Tractatus Theologico-Politics create a workable approach that can be used to understand religion and its influence on society. Political understanding of religion and the carrying out of politics itself is seen as the chance to ensure an equilibrium set in uttermost spiritual freedom. Through this argument, Spinoza believes that religious freedom is an outcome of understanding the working of spiritual matters and extending a “systematic overhaul that extends freedom of judgment in religion”.

Works cited

de Spinoza, Benedictus. The Philosophy. Strelbytskyy Multimedia Publishing, 2021.

Deleuze, Gilles. Expressionism in philosophy: Spinoza. Princeton University Press, 2021.

Garrett, Don, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza. Cambridge University Press, 2021.

Laerke, Mogens. “JUS CIRCA SACRA: Elements of Theological Politics in 17th Century Rationalism: From Hobbes and Spinoza to Leibniz.” Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory 6.1 (2005): 41-64.

Tănăsescu, Gabriela. “Philosophy and Theological Rationalism: Spinoza and Hobbes.” Dialogue and Universalism 31.2 (2021): 123-144.


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