quotations you have just heard used to hang framed on the wall in my
church office, that is, when I had a church office. When I went, so did
they, and that, I suspect, in more ways than one. But I have always
taken these mighty words of Spinoza as the two pillars on which my
ministry rests, like the cosmic pillars Boaz and Jachin in Solomon's
We must have
the courage to take an unflinching look at the scriptures, even if the
resultant faith looks to others like the rankest unfaith. And we must
eschew any religious opinion that has as its
inevitable result bigotry and exclusivism, with how ever sweet a smile
and benign a tone of voice.
right: any so-called "faith" in the scriptures that seeks to shield them
from honest scrutiny is no faith at all. Any creed which logically
entails the damnation of another is as obviously
false as a creed which might command us to be cruel and sadistic,
because that, in fact, is what it is doing!
There is a
fundamental flaw, a San Andreas Fault line, running beneath all
religious bodies based on a common creed, an ancient set of beliefs.
They are based on the denial and suppression of individual thinking and
freedom. As Eric Hoffer says in The True Believer, groups of that
kind exist in the first place because people cannot bear the burden of
their own individual freedom, its problems or its greatness. The burden
of freedom is too great for them to bear--or so they think. And they
gladly trade in that selfhood to the Grand Inquisitor who promises them
solace though a religious and intellectual lobotomy be the price paid:
the infamous sacrifice of the intellect.
happens in such a religion when one raises questions, when one can no
longer critically accept the party line? Doubts are met not with
encouragement to seek the truth. Far from it, as many of you know too
well. Instead, doubt is treated like a disease, a perversion, a straying
from the right path, and the "help" offered is patient directions on how
to rejoin the straight path with the rest of the flock.
In such a
religious body, the role of the religious leader is that of the spin
doctor, the apologist, the one whose job it is to explain away every
problem, evade every objection, as if one were a PR man, a handler for a
political candidate, explaining how every defeat is really a victory,
every foolish statement was a wise one misconstrued. Making the bad look
you and I have adopted a spirituality of inquiry, the realization that
spiritual experience is found more in the questions than in any supposed
answers, more in the quest than in the prize, that the quest is itself
the prize, the Grail. And that in a community of inquirers there can be
no heresy because no question is off limits. There is no apple cart to
In fact, I
wonder if that is not really the import of the strange scare story in 1
Samuel where a Levite makes to keep the sacred ark of the covenant from
bouncing off the unsteady ox-cart and into a ditch--and is blasted by an
angry Jehovah for his trouble! Why? Because he had not ritually prepared
himself to touch the sacred object (which he couldn't have done anyway).
His real crime was to upset the apple cart. And that is the one
blasphemy that cannot be allowed in traditional religion.
I am thinking
of another Jew who did touch the ark, who upset the apple cart, and was
expelled from the synagogue for his efforts. That is, again, Baruch
Spinoza. His statements about fearless scrutiny of the scriptures and
intellectual freedom were not isolated sentiments. He did not make them
in a vacuum.
one of the pioneers of the source criticism of the Pentateuch. He noted
that various stylistic criteria implied the so-called books of Moses had
been compiled from various source documents later than Moses. He showed
how the extravagant miracle tales of the
Bible could not be literally true.
And he had
certain views of God that did not fit the established norm. In some
measure they were reminiscent of the Kabbalah, but just as much so of
Stoicism. It is on those views that I would like to concentrate for the
remainder of my remarks this morning.
was the object of very different evaluations by his contemporaries. Some
called him "God-intoxicated." That is, like the drunk who sees pink
elephants in the air about him, Spinoza saw God everywhere he looked.
Others called him an atheist. Can they have been talking about the same
man? Yes, and I will venture to say that both were
Spinoza was a Pantheist. This is the belief, just a notch short of
Shankara's Nondualism, that God is everywhere and that, more, God is
everything. God is the only substance that exists. All persons
and objects are so many manifestations of God. If God is infinite, how
can anything else even exist? If something else does, that would mean
God's being must have become restricted to allow even an inch of
ontological space for any thing else's reality. So God is all; all is
God. The world as we see it is by no means illusory. No, it is quite
real. But it is all God.
mystics, Spinoza did not say when you view the visible world you are in
the grip of illusion, but rather that you are in the grip of delusion.
You are wrong about it; you are drawing the wrong inference from it. You
think it is mere matter, mundane, profane, ordinary. The Sacred, if it
exists, is somewhere else, is something else. A God somewhere off in the
But the thing
you must see is that the Sacred is nowhere else but here. There
is no other place for it to be. It lies at your feet. It is within
and beneath the Profane, if you will learn to see its witchfire
glow. It is subtle; one must gain a certain kind of second sight. Just
as Krishna says to Arjuna: "You cannot see me with the eye of flesh.
Behold I give you a supernatural eye."
says, the world, even in its post-industrial tawdriness and defilement,
"is charged with the grandeur of God. Why do men then now not reck his
rod?" That is, why can they not discern his
rod and his staff in the midst of it all, which would be to the soul's
this truth, that Nirvana is not to be found away somewhere, but is the
deeper level of this sad world of Samsara. In fact, this old world,
this veil of tears, only seems like Samsara in the first place
because we do not see that it is Nirvana!
Last week, I
spoke of the Zen masters and the Russian Formalist critics who said our
problem is that we grow so habituated to everything. We lapse into the
torpor of familiarity and can no longer behold the flaming wonder of the
world. One can grow used to even miracles if they happen every day, and
We tell our
children that we must finally put away the Christmas tree and the
decorations, because if it were Christmas Day every day, we would grow
tired of it. Even Christmas would become mundane. So with miracles. As
Schleiermacher said, "To me, all is miracle." So it should be, but as he
also admitted, we cannot remain always conscious of that fact. We grow
unconscious of God. And religion, he said, is the effort to wake
ourselves up again.
conventional religion does not even make the effort! Instead it decides
that sleep is the normative state of the spirit. It drives forth miracle
from the world and places it, falsely, in some other
world, a world of fairy tales and angry Gods and sticks turned to
snakes. Not the real world which is full of miracles which we despise
because familiarity breeds contempt.
said, we drive forth the true divinity within ourselves and pin it on an
imaginary personal God up there in the sky somewhere. We cease to seek
divinity where it may be found: within ourselves.
was God-intoxicated. That was true. Filled with the Spirit.
Everywhere he looked, he saw God. But this was quite different from
traditional religion which put it differently: everywhere you look,
God sees you. He is inescapable, like modern surveillance
satellites. Today we can say to the government, "Thou hast searched me
and known me. Before a word is on my tongue, thou knowest it."
did not have the satellite God. He had shot it out of the sky. His
detractors were right: he was an atheist of sorts. He rejected the
God they believed in. Tillich, too, says that the atheists are right:
the God in whom they disbelieve in fact does not exist. He is a
figment of theism. But there is a God beyond the God of theism.
And that is Spinoza's God. The God, as 1 Corinthians says, who is
that it is vain and foolish to imagine God as a person, because that is
to shrink God down to the proportions of a human being. If God is
infinite, can God be restricted to single set of
personality characteristics? To ascribe some personality to God would be
like saying God has a particular hair color!
It is only our
childishness that makes us imagine God in our own image, just as
primitive people personified the forces of nature. It is as silly to
picture a personified God as it is to imagine the Storm personified, or
the Ocean or the Sun personified, which is what ancient myths did.
And you know
what else that means? God cannot have a will! A plan! You and I have
plans, but that is only because we are desperately finite and must
contrive and design to get from here to there, to attain some thing
which we do not have. But for the Infinite, for the Eternal, all these
needs and motives are simply out of the question. Infinite Completeness
requires nothing, therefore seeks nothing, intends nothing.
there is no plan of God for you, no will of God for you, no orders you
must follow, no test for you to pass. Surely this is the truth of the
Grace of God. There is infinite freedom and spontaneity for you
to create the meaning of your life! You are a driver, not a car being
driven. You must dare to take the burden of free responsibility. There
is no rule-making God, no homework-assigning deity, to tell you what to
do. That God is dead.
Jung says that
each of us grows first into an Ego, and then into a Self. Or we ought
to, though not everyone goes the whole way. The Ego is a necessary
stage: we must know who we are, define ourselves over against others,
raise our protective walls, seek our own good, because no one else will.
But then we
need to go farther and shed the Ego like an outworn cocoon, transcend it
to become a Self. This means that the circumference of your circle
continues to grow till it encompasses more and more people. You actually
start loving your neighbor as yourself. If you lived long enough and
kept on growing, your Self would finally be synonymous with everyone and
that sermon before. For now, let me just say that Spinoza is in effect
saying that the personal God of traditional theism is like the Ego. It
was probably a necessary stage to go through, but
it was too limited, too narrow. It has to expand to something more
capacious, more comprehensive. It can't be the tribal totem of a single
religion. It can't be a god who likes you but not your enemy. It can't
be male and not female. It can't be a god who favors one theology over
another. It can't be the personal God of theism. It must be the
It is the
glory and the wonder that secretly radiates from every face, within
every place. If you know in truth that the world is charged with the
grandeur of God, that Nirvana is right here under the veil of Samsara,
then you will require no other god, ache for no better heaven.