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20210129

Spinoza’s Critique of Religious Fanaticism

Date: 29.01.2021
Start Time: 18:00
Place: Microsoft Teams
Organiser: The research team of the project “Between Secularization and Reform,” principal investigator: Dr Anna Tomaszewska (anna.tomaszewska@uj.edu.pl)
Contact: anna.tomaszewska@uj.edu.pl

The research team of the project “Between Secularization and Reform. Religious Rationalism in the Late 17 th Century and in the Enlightenment” organises the eighth seminar in the “Enlightenment and Religion” series. The seminar, to be held on 29 January 2021 from 18:00 to 20:00 CET (6 p.m. to 8 p.m.) on Microsoft Teams, will host Prof. Przemysław Gut (Catholic University of Lublin) who will deliver a lecture titled Spinoza’s Critique of Religious Fanaticism. All willing to join the meeting are kindly requested to sign up via the website of the project (https://www.religiousrationalism.com/event-info/online-lecture-by-prof-przemyslaw-gut-catholic-univ-of-lublin) or by sending an expression of interest to the following address: religious.rationalism@iphils.uj.edu.pl. More information about the project and the seminar is available on the website: https://www.religiousrationalism.com/events. The event is open to everyone interested.

The aim of the paper is to present and analyse Spinoza’s critique of religious fanaticism as it was delivered for most part in chapter 20 of Theological-Political Treatise and in Appendix to the first part of his Ethics. I argue that Spinoza represents a revealing case study of the origins, nature and consequences of fanaticism. His view on this issue, despite the passage of time, is not only a respectable past, but is still a living and important source of inspiration for all those who ask about the place of religion within the public sphere.

The paper consists of three parts. In the first part I try to explain why Spinoza claimed that religious fanaticism is not merely a failure in man’s thinking or just a cause of individual disaster but it forms also a grave social and political problem against which state and its institutions need be on their guard.

In the second part I attempt to answer the question what Spinoza understood by religious fanaticism and to explore his view on the nature and origin of religious fanaticism. In my interpretation, religious fanaticism is – according to him – the combination of three factors: a) deeply rooted prejudice the essence of which is a teleological (anthropomorphic) view of nature; b) superstition whose essence is obsessive fear of losing what one loves (these two factors alone make people susceptible to excessive confidence in their own religious outlook); c) a strong conviction that one has been ‘elected’ or ‘chosen’ by God to teach others and if one has been elected by God and called in this way, this means that one is not only entitled but also obliged to persuade others to accept this particular religious outlook (this factor makes people hold in contempt all those who do not share their religious outlook).

In the third part I attempt to explain why Spinoza argued that religious fanaticism cannot be eradicated simply by cultivating critical thinking but to combat it we need to take more drastic measures. To exhibit the scope of those measures I have divided them into three groups related to the field of reflection within which they were established. The first group comprises the means coming from purely philosophical reflection. The second group comprises the means coming from reflection on the Scripture. Spinoza thought that through the analysis of the meaning of the Scripture we may show that the only message of the Bible is a simple moral imperative: love of God and one’s neighbour. This simple principle does not require any theological backup nor does it assume any philosophical knowledge on the nature of God or nature. Anybody who possesses the ability to study historical facts can get to know it. The third group comprises the means coming from considerations regarding social and political issues. In Spinoza’s view the first means of defence against fanaticism within the political system is to observe the rule that religion is subordinated to the state; the second consists in unrestricted freedom of thought and speech and the third – is restricted freedom of action.

Prof. dr hab. Przemysław Gut – historian of philosophy, lecturer at the Faculty of Philosophy of John Paul Catholic University of Lublin. His research interests are primarily in the field of early modern metaphysics and epistemology, as well as contemporary philosophy, in particular theory of action and the problem of freedom. He has authored a number of articles, book chapters and books, including: Spinoza o naturze ludzkiej (2011), Stefan Swieżawski – osoba i dzieło (2006), Leibniz. Myśl filozoficzna w XVII wieku (2004), and co-edited the volume titled Z dziejów filozoficznej refleksji nad człowiekiem (together with P. Gutowski, 2007).

A poster can be found here.