Church or State

Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza was a seventeenth century Dutch philosopher of Sephardic Jewish descent who developed highly controversial ideas regarding the authenticity of the Hebrew Bible and the nature of the Divine. Jewish authorities issued a cherem [1] against him, excluding him from Jewish society and the Catholic Church placed his books on the Index of Forbidden Books. Despite, or perhaps because of the concerted Judeo-Christian objections to his ideas, he achieved significant renown [2] and long-lasting influence on the rapid growth and dominance of secular societies.

He has the whole world in his hands

He has the whole world in his hands

Spinoza espoused and formalized a theology and philosophy on pantheism, the belief that nature, as the totality of everything, was identical with the divine; that the totality of all matter in whatever form is an all-encompassing, immanent god.

Spinoza collapsed creator and creature, destroying the essential distinction introduced at the very beginning of the Bible. Pantheism makes a god of this world and thus completely undermines the entire Judeo-Christian understanding of reality that flows from the creator-creature distinction in Genesis. Removing that creator-creature distinction allows for a reintroduction of pagan animism and idolatry, the worship of the divine in creatures. Spinoza’s ‘monism’ was a radical rejection of the First Commandment” thus “, … history becomes God, and human beings worship their own actions and efforts as divine. And since the political state is the most powerful expression of collective human action, the state itself becomes the greatest manifestation of the divine.” [3]

Since God and the world and all matter are the same, it must be obvious that the supernatural is a mere fairy tale for the uneducated masses (Spinoza called them the ‘vulgar masses’) and therefore there could be no heavenly kingdom either. The practical results of Spinoza’s Pantheistic vision have been a transfer of religious devotion to a sacralized state, now made divine. With the creator collapsed into the creature, the logical next step is for the church to be collapsed into the state, the most direct example being Henry VIII declaring himself the sovereign head of the Church of England, the state of which he was then civil sovereign.

Spinoza’s vision took the form of a pyramid, where those who ruled were Spinozan monists who have the right to rule because they are the only ones who are rational (to be rational is to deny immaterial reality.) Below the philosophic elite are the scientific elite who support the philosophic elite with their materialistic understanding. And at the bottom of the pyramid are the vulgar masses who blindly bow to the scientific elite or “experts” who define reality as entirely material.

The Christian distinctions between immaterial and material reality, soul and body, next world and this world, city of God and city of man, and church and state are all ridiculed out of existence. The church that stands over and against the state, teaching all the wrong things, must be firmly subordinated to the state—and hence to the rule of the philosophic elite.” [4]

We are witnesses to Spinoza’s world-vision today.

More next week.



[1] Cherem, Hebrew: חרם, a kind of ban, shunning, ostracism, expulsion, or excommunication.
[2] Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel said of Spinoza, “You are either a Spinozist or not a philosopher at all” and Gilles Deleuze called him “the prince of philosophers.”
[3] Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D. Worshipping the State: How Liberalism Became Our State Religion, March 25, 2013, Regnery Publishing.
[4] Ibid.

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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