One of the most interesting philosophers I studied was Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677), who was born and raised in the Netherlands. What makes Spinoza an interesting figure is that he is considered to be the first modern Jew and his philosophy as also very logical, following from a series of proofs and axioms. Being the first modern Jew means he identified as a Jew in a secular, but not religious sense. What made him go secular was his excommunication from the Jewish faith for his controversial ideas about God that followed from a series of proofs and axioms.
In a nutshell, Spinoza taught that God has infinite attributes and that God is in all things and/or that all things are in God. That is the conclusion of his proofs and axioms. This has led to some confusion about whether or not Spinoza was a pantheist (all is God) or a panentheist (God is in all things).
The distinction is that pantheism teaches that everything we see is God or a mode of his existence: The tree is God, the rock is God, the butterfly is God, each human being is God, etc. As for panentheism, the belief is that not only is the tree God, the rock God, the butterfly God, etc. It also teaches that God is beyond what we can see and that there is something about God that is beyond our understanding. In other words, he’s in all things and beyond.
But there is a third door that one can also go through when it comes to addressing Spinoza: Atheism. Is it really best to say that Spinoza was an atheist? The reason being is that Spinoza’s ideas of God are so controversial that one has to wonder whether or not he really believed in God at all. At the very least, if he did believe in God, God to him was not an anthropomorphic being as Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe. If his concept of God is so radically different from what everyone thought of God, might it be better to say he was really an atheist using pantheism/panentheism as a shield?
I always contended that Spinoza was not an atheist, but that he was either a pantheist or a panentheist. I don’t think it matters which one he is as they’re both in the same zip code. But, if I had to pick one, I would say panentheist because I believe Spinoza leaves room for there to be substances not yet discovered or known, which would also be God. He also leaves room for the possibility of substances that not yet are to enter into being as a result of God.
But regardless, I don’t think he was an atheist for one simple reason: He called his infinite, all powerful substance “God.” If Spinoza was truly an atheist, I don’t believe he would have used God in his axioms and proofs. He would have called it something different or just said that everything we see is in all things, not mentioning the name God.
I don’t feel you need to be a Baruch Spinoza expert to weigh in on this. I personally don’t think Spinoza was an atheist, but there are some who do for the reasons I mentioned above. Namely, that he was using pantheism/panentheism to shield what he really believed: That there is no God.
So, what do you guys think? Was Baruch Spinoza an atheist? Does he sound like one to you? I have attached below a link to his axioms and proofs from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for those that want to read them. As I said, I think his use of the name “God” is indicative that he was a religious person. Just not one in the Judeo-Christian sense.