Religion is not getting a lot of slack nowadays. Maybe in reading those who were first to be overtly critical of religion we can learn exactly what occasioned the onslaught. This is an exercise in that, FWIW.
In tracing back the questions raised in the early modern period we may hope to trace back the current secular attitude to religion. To make a start with this analysis, I focus on 2 short texts by Baruch Spinoza, The Metaphysical Moralist (1), and David Hume, On Superstition and Enthusiasm (2), where they explicitly treat of the threats inherent to religions when the imagination goes unchecked by rationality. My analysis tries to bring to light that there is a crucial difference in their treatment: whilst Spinoza sees linear progress in using reason to eliminate ‘uncalled for’ imagination, Hume puts reason as a mediator between two extreme uses of imagination (one leading to docile superstition – the other to fanatic enthusiasm). In my view there is something of fanatic enthusiasm to Spinoza’s view on rationality which, in denying a constructive impetus in imagination, denies something more basic to the human condition than the arbitrary conventions of specific religions. Both Hume and Spinoza utter profanities against religion, but only Spinoza utterly desacralized the human condition. Continue reading
“(..) it is correct to insist, as Spinoza does (..), that ´the Body cannot determine the Mind in thinking, and the Mind cannot determine the Body to Motion”. We should take this to mean that we cannot infer from a cause described in physical terms that a specific mental event will ensue as effect (..): mental and physical concepts belong to independent explanatory systems.” D. Davidson in Truth, Language, and History, Oxford University Press (2005), p. 305-306.
[Re-posted from The Old Site, original dd. 17-05-2008. The original stated at the end that it was [to be redone] and I’ll try to redo it but I don’t know whether I have the stomach for it. I kind of hope it will set me up for something I wanted to do on ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ after seeing a documentary on the nth physicist (B. Alan Wallace or so) trying to find ‘deeper truths’ (and naming one specific person only serves the purpose of maybe catching some lost souls via google and, who knows?, rescueing one of them from the stupidities characteristic of the intersection of science and religion). Anyway, the basic reason why so much of religion is appealing is because it focuses on the right kind of conclusions such that it is tempting to also buy the absolutely false premises that go with it. The truth is not found in the past – or by stripping a lot of surface layers. The truth is found in the future – and the new surfaces that are constantly created.]
I cleaned the quote above from the jargon. What follows here can do without.