Spinoza on Ceremonial Observances and the Moral Function of Religion

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This article forms a critical reflection on the views of Spinoza, developed in the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, on the role of the ‘ceremonial law’ in the moral life of ancient Hebrew culture. According to Spinoza, a merely external obedience to the ceremonial law should not be confused with the sense of obligation towards the moral Divine Law of ‘justice and charity’: only in this last one can true piety be found. The idea is defended that Spinoza’s critical attitude towards the Jewish ceremonial law should be understood against the larger background of his hermeneutics of superstition throughout the TTP. In the TTP superstition is unmasked as a form of undue adherence to a particular religious tradition and to merely outer ceremonies and practices. Superstition should be distinguished, however, from true religion, which, according to Spinoza, leads towards piety and virtue. How the idea of true religion, identified in the Ethics as the practical disposition and form of life of the truly wise philosopher, could be accounted for within the context of the TTP is investigated. The central thesis of this article is that despite his critical attitude towards the Jewish ceremonial law Spinoza should acknowledge – according to his own religious anthropology – that a genuine religion for ordinary human beings presupposes the adherence in one form or another to a religious tradition . Without a religious tradition, it appears, no concrete moral life, so no piety, is possible. This implies, however, that in Spinoza’s view there remains a gap between the true religion of the philosopher and true religion as it can be found in the life of ordinary humans
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Archival date: 2011-02-02
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