No, no, and double no! Well, maybe.

Spotted this object of some curiosity. One Chris Hedges, NYT Middle East guy, debates Sam Harris on religion at UCLA. Hedges actually claims that monotheistic religion is responsible for the open society, viz

This individualism—the belief that we can exist as distinct beings from the tribe, or the crowd, and that we are called on as individuals to make moral decisions that at times defy the clamor of the tribe or the nation—is a gift of the Abrahamic faiths.  This sense of individual responsibility is coupled with the constant injunctions in Islam, Judaism and Christianity for a deep altruism.  And this laid the foundations for the open society.  This individualism is the central doctrine and most important contribution of monotheism.  We are enjoined, after all, to love our neighbor, not our tribe.  This empowerment of individual conscience is the starting point of the great ethical systems of our civilization.  The prophets—and here I would include Jesus—helped institutionalize dissent and criticism.  They initiated the separation of powers.  They reminded us that culture and society were not the sole prerogative of the powerful, that freedom and indeed the religious life required us to often oppose and defy those in authority.

First I am flabbergasted, think to myself: what a dick, clearly never heard a goddam thing about Spinoza (my opinions about anyone are coloured about whether they have heard, written about or othewise engaged with Spinoza, just deal with it, I’m not going to stop). Tell that shit to Copernicus. Then I think: he’s a bit down on the classics. Yeah, they killed Socrates but didn’t Plato, essentially Socrates’ bitch, get a lot of attention? Isn’t Aristotle all about empiricism, reason, free enquiry?

Then I think, well, actually. . .  Spinoza was an exiled jew who lived in a christian country. He straddled 2 of the “sandbox” religions. Hedges defines his own idea of “religion” as something outside the authoritarian, providential god structure of organised faiths. It’s about thinking of things that are eternal, outside the world, and making decisions about things you cannot see. If you deal with him solely on those terms (Sam Harris doesn’t, and points out in a bitter rebuttal that billions do not take this very limited view of religion), then I can’t really fault what he’s saying. In my own way I guess I am religious about my faith in limited reason. Spinoza called himself the most “pious” and “religious” of men; his faith was in logic, Logos, the laws of cause and effect which make the universe possible. Check out this fascinating objet trouvé (trouvé, like many good things, by Andrew Sullivan) on Einstein’s own intellectualism, his “Spinozist monism”, by Robert Oppenheimer. I don’t know whether that’s really what Hedges is going on about. But if it is, then I am not going to disagree with him.

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