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July 27: Baruch Spinoza

July 27, 2010

sephardic3Philosopher and lens-grinder Baruch Spinoza was excommunicated by the Jewish community of Amsterdam on this date in 1656, at the age of 23. (All of his works were eventually banned by the Catholic Church as well.) The nature of his “crimes” was not defined in the kherem (writ of excommunication), but eventually his heretical ideas would include that nature’s laws are inviolable (there are no miracles), that God and nature are two terms for the same reality, and that good and evil are concepts extrapolated from human pleasure and pain, and that the world’s seeming imperfections testify to our limited perceptions, not to the reality of imperfection. Spinoza’s philosophy, set forth in The Ethics (1677) and several other books, was a forerunner of modern atheism and a catalyst to the Enlightenment.

“I believe in Spinoza’s God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with the fates and actions of human beings.” —Albert Einstein