Healing Arts with Patrick Moore


The Spirit / The Muse?
September 27, 2016, 12:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The word, spirit, literally means wind in Hebrew, with the additional meanings, voice, because voice is operated by breath, which is a kind of wind. Spinoza begins his Tehologico-Political treatise  , describing the many uses of “Spirit” in the Hebrew Bible.

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The Spirit and the Muse

Spinoza said the Bible is the record of God’s messages spoken through the Prophets. Since God is so vast and inconceivable to a finite human, an intermediary is required. The Holy Spirit, Spinoza said in 1670 (Theologico-Political Treatise) The Holy Spirit, Spinoza defines, is that intermediary that conveys God’s Will into words. So the spirit sort of works the Prophet’s voice for him. The Prophet needs to be that kind of person who can set his ego aside, to allow his body to be the mouthpiece of this Higher Power. The Prophet would then stand and shout the message to a crowd of people.

Then we have other authors of the Bible. These works were not copied-down speeches by Prophets, but were originally composed in writing. Writing is not breath work. Does that mean it is not of the Spirit? Spinoza answers, yes. He said that the written parts of the Bible were not God’s messages, but human interpretations. But I differ with Spinoza in this. I imagine the writers, like the prophets, set aside their egos to allow Something Greater to move their hands. What I don’t know, is who or what moved the hands of Bible Writers? Was this the same Being or Process that vibrated the voices of the Oral Prophets? Even though I don’t know the answer, still I feel strongly this is worth asking and discussing.

The inspiration of writers has traditionally been called The Muse. Is The Muse the same being or process as The Holy Spirit? Was there a Special, Holy Muse that inspired the Bible writers? And was this a different being or process from the Muse that inspires secular writers?

Rescuing the Bible — the Literary Approach

I am reading a book called the Literary Guide to the Bible, compiled in 1987 of twenty-ish experts. The Literary Guide attempts to give new validity to the Bible as a work of poetry or literature. This movement seems to have been motivated in part as a reaction to a prior movement of Textual Analysis that most people thing began in Germany in the 1800s.

Textual analysis has recently been made famous by Dr. Bart Ehrman. The Bible is critiqued as if it was intended to be a factual historical account, or journalism. You may not be surprised that under this kind of analysis, the Bible comes up short. It turns out the original facts may not have been accurate, and then things were added and subtracted by later scribes, editors and councils, for motives that appear to have human gains rather than Divine guidance. Before Ehrman, this discussion was held largely among post-doctorates in their scholarly journals. Ehrman brought this discussion into the public eye. Not surprisingly, many non-scholars have used Ehrman’s work to degrade the Bible as worthless. If it ever was Holy, if it ever was God’s Word, by the time it got into human hands it became degraded beyond all recognition of God, is the interpretation of Ehrman’s followers. While Ehrman himself has never said that, he has implied it, and done nothing to stop this interpretation.

Against this devaluation of the Bible, the Literary movement hopes to restore the Bible’s Glory and Holiness. The literary view of the Bible is, “No, it was never intended as eyewitness journalism or historical report. It was intended all along as God’s Poetry, to inspire humans to holiness. And as Poetry, it still stands, it still has Holy Power and Effect.”

I won’t take sides between Ehrman and the Literarians. Anyway, I think there are problems with both views. And I don’t have an alternative view to offer, so I apologize in advance!

A Bible Quote under Textual Analysis and Literary Critique

At twilight, as evening falls

In pitch-black night and darkness

Proverbs 7:9

This couplet has troubled some scholars. The report seems to contradict itself. Is it twilight, or night time? The difference would be a couple of hours. It is bad journalism. Maybe an editor patched-together two accounts, justifying differences as if they didn’t matter. If so, it loses credibility as history.

A literary interpretation rescues this couplet. The Hebrew word that is interpreted as “pitch-black” gets its meaning from the pupil of the eye, which is black. Did the speaker (or author) intend for hearers (or readers) to feel this effect, that blends the setting–the dimming of the evening–with the personal window of one’s soul?

The literary view of this couplet is, it was never intended to be an eyewitness report of what time of day it was. It was intended as a poetic inspiration to give a feel, a mood, an effect upon the hearer (when recited) or reader (when read). In fact, people reading it today would probably agree, this couplet is intended more as poetry than as eyewitness report. Round One goes the Literarians.

In his book, Janus Parallelism in the Book of Job , Scott B. Noegel claims the author of Job intended dual meanings in many words. The Hebrew language as originally written used only consonants. The vowels were not written. A set of consonants could mean two different words. You would know which of these were intended when that word was pronounced, because the speaker would fill in the vowels. On the page, however, you wouldn’t know which of two meanings was intended. Noegel claims that the author of Job intentionally used this ambiguity, as a poetic device, to give the poem more depth and literary richness.

Later, at some council of Rabbbis, the book of Job was given vowels. Which of two interpretations were then written? Whichever the council felt was the best single meaning. Spinoza claims this council was made of Sadducees, a Jewish sect that derived their power from the written word. They were motivated to have One Authoritative Bible, not a bunch of variant readings. So they worked to make the various texts invariant, and threw away all the originals so nobody could doubt them. Whenever that council met, or whatever their motives, the result was a bible punctuated with vowels. No longer could anyone misread the interpretation they gave the book of Job, and the rest of the Hebrew Bible, at that time.

If Noegel’s book is accurate, the author of Job would have wanted multiple readings of his work. If Job is considered part of the Bible, then Round Two goes to the Literarians.

Who Is The Muse?

I don’t claim to know who this Muse is, but I know her influence when I see it. If the book of Job was intended by its author to have dual meanings on many of its words, to me, that is the Muse at work. The Muse influences poetry and literature to be written in a way that many readers can get things beyond what the author could have achieved by narrowing his work to a single meaning. Muse-inspired writing is considered to serve a greater number of people, in a greater number of ways. Muse-inspired writing is considered timeless.

In Moby-Dick, the whale is a symbol of nature. Are we to gain from the book that nature is cruel and opposes human civilization? Do we get a sense in Moby-Dick that Nature should have a capitol N, or a small n? It appears the author Herman Melville intended for us to ask these questions. It appears the author did not care to give us a single judgment, as if his novel were a courtroom and after the evidence was brought before us, only one answer remains. I believe Moby-Dick was writing guided by The Muse.

I have participated in dozens of literary workshops, readings and critique groups. Here is a funny thing that I’ve seen many times. After a reading, a fan will come up to the author and say something like, “I really like how that word bee, also has the extra meaning of be, you know, to be?” And the author will nod sagely and accept the praise, even though that never occurred to him when he was writing it. Is this just authors taking credit where none is due? Not at all. The author gets credit! Why? Because he set his ego aside to allow the Muse to guide his hands. That’s not easy! You get credit for suspending your ego’s impulse to control the writing.

Muse-friendly writing attracts certain kinds of listeners and readers. It’s a thing. While you are there, at one of these things, when you say you found a new way to interpret the piece, this is a compliment to the author or artist. If the work can be interpreted on many levels: morally, biologically, spiritually, politically and so forth, then the compliment exponentially increases.

There was a word coined in the 20th century by E. O. Wilson: superorganism. We can re-read Moby-Dick today and say, “Hey, that Herman Melville was showing us that the Sea is a superorganism, and that all of Nature is a superorganism.” A certain kind of literary critic would say, “No, you can’t interpret literature that way. That would be anachronistic, since the term and concept superorganism had not been introduced yet when Melville was writing. Your interpretation is wrong.” But what if the Muse is … timeless? Could the Muse have inspired Melville in a way that his writing would have a new meaning in the 20th Century? Can a work set in printing, continue to give new meanings hundreds of years later? And would this be a good thing?

I am not saying it could, or it would–just asking the question.

The Unity Stance on Biblical Interpretation

There is a church–calls itself Christian–that has a Muse-Friendly policy on interpreting the Bible. Passages from the Bible are read on Sunday, just as in other Christian churches. But at Unity, the preacher does not interpret it for you. She encourages you to interpret it for yourself. How did you feel when you were hearing it? Did the passage remind you of anything going on in your life right now? That is the meaning! God works in mysterious ways, and the thoughts and feelings you have today while hearing the Bible read, are intended by God, as Her purpose in inspiring the Bible.

I’ve seen banners on churches that say, “God is Still Speaking.” I think they mean God would be pleased with new interpretations of the Bible for today’s issues, even with people making their own interpretations. These too, are Holy.

I am not advocating that, just reporting.

Wait—Can the Bible Have Various Interpretations?

We come to the main battle. The Holy Spirit versus the Muse.

The Bible contains sections that record the spoken words of the Prophets, who were instructed by the Holy Spirit what to say to crowds of listeners. The Bible also contains sections of work that was originally composed in writing. According to Spinoza, the Bible itself claims that the spoken prophecies came from God, but gives no such authority to the parts that originated in writing.

Is The Bible as God’s Word something that has a clear, single meaning, once true and always true? Or is The Bible as God’s Word something that had many meanings to many people at that time, and new meanings to new people in new times, just as valid as the old meanings? I hate labels but we could for a moment call the first group Biblical Singularists, and the second group Biblical Multiplists.

I do not know the answer. I do know there is a conflict and I am intensely curious to know more about this and to inspire more dialogue.

Unfortunately, whether you choose one side or the other, there are still problems.

Ehrman’s Critique Assumes God would Not Be Okay with Multiple Interpretations and Revision

Ironically, Bart Ehrman agrees with the Biblical Singluarists on one thing: For the Bible to be God’s Word, it must have singular meaning, that same meaning remaining true for all time. For the Bible to be God’s Word, it must not be swayed by editors in later generations toward new meanings that support one sect over another. For the Bible to be God’s Word, it must have made sense in the context of the time in which the story was originally told, and not in a later context. For the Bible to be God’s Word it must be multiply attested, by many eyewitnesses, and their stories must match. Ehrman and the Singularists agree on these tenets. They disagree on whether the Bible is successful at these tenets.

Apparently Ehrman has not considered that God might have been a Poet. God might have been fine with the editors and councils bending the old meanings to mean new things that support their sect. God might be fine with the debates today over abortion, homosexuality, and promised lands, all using different quotes from the Bible as their evidence. If God’s book, The Bible, is a Muse-Friendly book, He would support all the interpretations of his work, even those that may cause Him to cringe. At least that is how a Muse-Friendly Author would see it.

If God were Muse-Friendly, this would undermine Ehrman’s conclusion that the Bible is faulty. Ehrman’s conclusion rests on the idea, that God would not have been okay with multiple interpretations, nor with later tampering, slanting, adding and subtracting from the words on the page. But if God was okay with all that, if God was a Poet, the Bible can’t be de-authorized by Ehrman’s work.

Literarians Undermine God’s Commands

While the Literary View of the Bible may have been intended to rescue Reverence for the Bible from the likes of Ehrman, (and it may have succeeded), the win brings an unwanted loss. Once the Bible is God’s Poetry, then any and all interpretations are okay with God. There was never any original single purpose or point. Do Not Kill? Could have been intended as a metaphor. Love Your Neighbor? Could have been advocating sexual promiscuity, sort of like the dual meanings in the Crosby Stills Nash and Young song, “Love the One You’re With.”

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t take the Bible as commanding us to love others as ourselves, in some passages, and in other passages, maybe it meant x, y or z, or new letters when new alphabets come around.

Or can you? Anyone who still advocates for a literary view of the Bible, I think, would have to explain what happened to its commands. Does the literary view nullify the commands? If the commands are still valid, exactly where and when are we supposed to apply the literary view? Is it a section by section thing—this book is command, this book is literary? This needs to be explained by those who present a literary view.

Singletarians Undermine the Book of Job and other Poetry in the Bible

Many people believe, for the Bible to be God’s Word it must have only One Interpretation. I have a question.

The book of Job. Did the author of Job intend for many words to have double meanings in Hebrew? If so, can a Muse-influenced book–one intended to have dual meanings–be included in the Bible, as representative of God’s Word? For the book of Job to be included in the Bible, must each of its dual-meaning words be deliberated over in a council of religious Elders, to concur on which of the two meanings is the one God intended?

There are practical consequences. Why can’t we read a version of Job that has preserved it’s original intention? Where are the alternate meanings—are they erased from every Bible currently in print? Is the project of reviving the Book of Job worthwhile? Is it worth the time and money to invest in its republishing? Who is responsible to provide versions of the Bible that are true to their original intentions? How soon could we read a revived version of Job? And if not worthwhile, if not republished, if not soon, Why Not? Can you give any good reasons?

 

I hope I did not offend any particular group or belief. I consider myself a reverent and respectful person. I want to know and understand more, so that I can be even more reverent and respectful going forward. If you have comments or questions that add to our understanding, please comment. Thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

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Blame Ruins Relationship Satisfaction
September 26, 2016, 2:35 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Dr. David Burns wanted to know what kind of relationships were satisfying. He asked 1,200 people a bunch of questions about a relationship. This could be any relationship–a romantic partnership, people at work, family, or friends. He had them rate their agreement with 16 Beliefs, some of which were beliefs about oneself, and the rest were beliefs about the other person in the relationship. Finally he asked how satisfied they were with the relationship. He wanted to know if one’s own beliefs, the other person’s beliefs, or what pairs of beliefs, let to satisfied relationships.

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What makes relationships satisfying? Why do we hurt the ones we love?

Dr. Burns made some predictions before he looked at the data. For example, imagine one person has belief #2,  People who love each other shouldn’t fight. Anger is dangerous. The other person has belief #7, I’m right and you’re wrong and you’d better admit it! He predicted the more aggressive person would find this relationship more satisfying than the more passive person would. He and his colleagues made many other predictions. To his surprise, all of their predictions were wrong. There was no correlation among any of the pairings of beliefs.

Beliefs Listed in the Study:

 

Submissiveness/Demandingness

Submissiveness:

  1. Pleasing Others. I should always try to please you, even if I make myself miserable in the process.
  2. Conflict Phobia/Anger Phobia. People who love each other shouldn’t fight. Anger is dangerous.
  3. Perceived Narcissism. You can’t tolerate any criticism or disagreement without falling apart.
  4. Self-Blame. The problems in our relationship are all my fault.

Demandingness:

  1. You should always treat me in the way I expect. It’s your job to make me happy.
  2. Justice/Fairness. If you don’t meet my expectations, I have every right to get mad and punish you.
  3. I’m right and you’re wrong and you’d better admit it!
  4. Other-Blame. The problems in our relationship are all your fault.

Dependency/Detachment

Dependency:

  1. Love Addiction. I can’t feel happy and fulfilled without your love.
  2. Fear of Rejection. If you rejected me, it would mean I was worthless. I can’t be happy if I’m alone.
  3. Approval Addiction. I need your approval to feel happy and worthwhile.
  4. Mind Reading. If you really love me, you’ll know what I need and how I feel without me always having to explain myself.

Detachment:

  1. Achievement Addiction. My self-esteem depends on my achievements, intelligence, or income.
  2. I must never fail or make a mistake. If I fail, it means I’m worthless.
  3. Perceived Perfectionism. You won’t love or accept me as a flawed and vulnerable human being.
  4. Disclosure Phobia. I can’t tell you how I really feel inside. I have to keep my true self hidden.

 

from Feeling GOOD Together by David D. Burns, MD, 2008, p. 56.

Of all 16 beliefs, only one strongly correlated with relationship satisfaction. None of the beliefs correlated with high satisfaction, but one belief strongly correlated with low satisfaction. That one was #8, The problems in our relationship are all your fault. He labels this belief, Other-Blame. Those who blame others, are very unsatisfied with the relationship.

At first Dr. Burns was disappointed with the result of all that work. But once he began using this one simple fact in his counseling practice, he found it helped people improve their relationships significantly and quickly. At least, it helped the ones who were willing to reduce how much they blamed the other, and instead to take responsibility for what they could do differently.

 

People who blamed their partners (or other people in general) for the problems in their relationships were angry, frustrated, unhappy, and intensely dissatisfied with their relationships. In addition, this mind-set accurately predicted what would happen in the future. Individuals who blamed their partners for the problems in their relationship were even more miserably unhappy three months later. Things were clearly going downhill for this group. In contrast, people who were willing to assume complete personal responsibility for solving the problems in their relationships, and who felt a strong commitment to making their partners happy, not only reported the most satisfying and loving relationships at the time of initial testing, but their positive feelings seemed to increase over time. …individuals who focused on changing themselves … were usually able to work wonders in their relationships. In most cases, it didn’t take long at all.

In the following section of the book, Dr. Burns wanted readers to know that, once you stop blaming others, that does not mean you should blame yourself instead. That doesn’t help either! The cure is to stop blaming altogether, to be nonjudgmental [his word, p. 62]

This is great information! Still, I feel Dr. Burns does not describe well enough how to be nonjudgmental, or even how to not judge oneself. In fact, many of his terms seem loaded with judgment about oneself. Yes, in his earlier book, The Feeling Good Handbook  he demonstrated nonjudgment VERY well. But in this book … not as well. Which is unfortunate because to learn to be nonjudgmental, we really need examples, someone to demonstrate it for us.

In particular we need a nonjudgmental explanation for how and why we appear to be hurtful and blaming of our partners and other people. We need an answer to the ages-old question, “Why are we so hurtful to the ones we love?” … an answer that does not in turn hurt or judge US. Dr. Burns does not provide that kind of explanation in this book. I think the book lacks something without this explanation, so here is my attempt:

In our culture, we are trained from an early age to determine who is to blame. If one person is found not-guilty, then there must be another person who is guilty. But in relationships, most of the time neither person is blameworthy. We are trained from an early age to see blame as a black-or-white subject, when it is not that way at all.

Let’s take an example. Mickey is a person described earlier in the book. Here is a sample of Chapter One of Feeling GOOD Together that tells Mickey’s story.. scroll down about 60% and look for the bold heading, “Why Should I Have to Change?!”

Mickey blames his wife for all kinds of things that make the relationship unsatisfying to him. As Dr. Burns asks Mickey more questions, it becomes clear Mickey is doing far worse things to his wife, than the things he listed she was doing to him. In fact, Mickey is having extramarital affairs, and waving the evidence in front of his wife, to torment her. Why is Mickey doing this? The explanations Dr. Burns gives, seem to shift the blame to Mickey. Dr. Burns says Mickey is “intentionally doing things that are certain to demoralize her and ruin the marriage.” I have a different explanation.

I think Mickey fears his wife’s complaints about him would undermine the basis for his identity. Her criticisms would make him feel like the very foundation for his value could be lost. Who would he be without his values, core beliefs, and chosen identity? If this identity is shattered, he fears something like death. He can’t bear to have his basis questioned, or even revealed (for I am guessing, he too is suspicious that his foundation might be built upon sand). Therefore he pokes, even tortures his wife–just to keep her off balance so she doesn’t expose his inadequate foundation. It’s not that he really wants to do her harm, he doesn’t. He loves her. But when it comes to the survival of what he thinks of as his very Self, he can’t let his Self be destroyed, so he feels he must go on the offensive.

By the way, nobody on their own would think this offensively. It is not natural. Animals don’t naturally do this. Plant’s don’t naturally do this. It is not an inherent part of nature, not even human nature. It is artificial. How do artificial patterns get established? Two ways. One is that it is shown to you repeatedly. As an impressionable child, people demonstrated for Mickey the Offensive Method of Protecting Your Identity. His parents demonstrated it, his teachers, his leaders, the great books he read and the media he heard and saw. Repetition repetition repetition. The second way artificial patterns are instilled is by being the recipient. Somebody did this to Mickey when he was young. They used the offense upon him, terrifying him, demoralizing him. At some point being the recipient, he told himself, “Never Again!” Since that time, whenever a scenario smells as if he might have his identity or value destroyed, he now offends, rather than feel that pain again. In particular, it is only people who get close to him who are likely to see the foundation of his self, and this explains why he only hurts the people who love him.

This has happened to all of us. There may still remain a few indigenous cultures on Earth where this is not done, but everyone who partakes in Civilization has experienced both the repetitive demonstrations and being the recipient. It is done to us early, when we can’t defend against it. Then we carry it forward into our own relationships. I call this Enculturation (after learning this concept from Stephen Bruno).

Dr. Burns has made a misdiagnosis of Mickey, in my opinion. Mickey is not to blame. It’s our cultural heritage. Everyone does it, even Dr. Burns.  As terrible as Mickey’s behaviors are, as offensive and deliberate as they seem, they are only intended as self-protection. Mickey didn’t “intentionally demoralize his wife and ruin their marriage.” He only did those things the only way he knows to protect himself when he thinks his value is being questioned. If he knew another way, or learned that his Self does not need protecting, he would no longer do this.

Dr. Burns has some good advice: “Don’t blame others, and instead look at what you can do differently.” Yes, that will work, but nobody will actually do it until certain things occur:

  • the person needs to gain some accurate perception of who he truly is.
  • accurate perception of one’s true self naturally gives the person a true sense of value. Mickey’s true self is far more admirable than he had ever thought of himself.
  • One’s true self is naturally influential, safe and secure. It does not require protection because it cannot be injured or destroyed. There is no point in protecting what can’t be damaged. Defending oneself (one’s TRUE self) is silly, amusing.
  • the person needs to gain some accurate understanding that all people have this true self, that is inherently admirable, altruistic, influential and safe. Mickey’s wife has her true self that is far more than he ever thought her possible of.

When psychologists give a test to measure “self-esteem,” this only measures how strongly the person identifies with the cultural identity, the foundation built upon sand. This is why “high self-esteem” does not correlate with satisfying relationships, virtuous acts, or any other positive quality.

Knowledge about the true self, or essence, is more a matter of philosophy than psychology. Think Plato, Plotinus, Aquinas and Spinoza. I think this distinction between the true self and the cultural identity is necessary for understanding a couple of things in the book, Feeling GOOD together.

Dr. Burns’ describes frustrations he has when giving relationship counseling. Individual counseling works well using his prior methods, but relationship counseling falls flat. He doesn’t understand why people are so horrible to their partners. It appears to them these people are just plain mean, and he says he can’t help them.

I think none of these people (at least none of the ones he describes) are just plain mean, intentionally demoralizing others. They are simply insecure, because their identity has been built upon sand. So they are overprotective. I am this way too. I do all the things on Dr. Burns’ lists. But if I were to agree with Dr. Burns, this is my “dark side.” I don’t think it is a dark side. I think it is just my being defensive, because I am still insecure about what gives me value, so I strike out at anyone who questions my value.

The people in Dr. Burns’ book are not petty, vindictive, shallow, narcissistic, or mean. They are just uncertain about who they are.

Think of it this way: When your favorite person in the whole world, the one you chose to be your special person forever, starts questioning your value—that’s a big deal! You’ve put all your eggs in that basket! You’ve given that person extra power over you. And now they are using that power to examine whether your value rests upon a firm foundation or not. Ouch! That hurts! That person is supposed to be on my side and it sure feels like they are against me when they do that. I have to stop that activity! I will do anything to stop that pain! And so we react with extreme measures.

Once this less-judgmental explanation of Why We Hurt the Ones We Love is added to Dr. Burn’s book, I find his suggestions very useful. I am learning a lot from his books.

 



Spinoza’s TPT Upholds Compassion as the Means to Salvation
September 6, 2016, 10:46 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have recently read Spinoza’s 1670 book Theologico-Political Treatise (TPT) for the third time. I would like to share my increasing excitement with others in a little series of blog posts.

Reading the TPT’s early chapters you get the feelingthat Spinoza is Bart Ehrman 340 years earlier. The first chapters of the TPT find faults in the bible’s prophets, who spoke in a slanted manner, more fault in the first writers who slanted the messages again, faults with the subsequent copyists who slanted it again for new generations, and even evil intentions in the final compiling committees who slanted it again to bolster their own sects against opposing sects of the same religions. So far, all Ehrman.

But unlike Ehrman, Spinoza has another, hopeful message, one he is far more passionate to tell:

after all this mangling, the bible’s core message still shines through!

God always communicated the same essential simple message: Love Others As Yourself, Spinoza says. By Love, Spinoza means not the emotion of love in one’s thoughts, but actual works of service to others. Spinoza includes in God’s injunction both charity (do works that serve others) and justice (make efforts to protect others’ needs and rights). As yourself, means you do for others, as fervently and frequently as you do for yourself. Spinoza claims that all the prophets who spoke God’s wishes, including Jesus and the apostles, were speaking versions of this one simple command.

spinoza-public-domain-unknown-source

Spinoza – public domain – unknown source

Yes, Spinoza says, the prophets slanted the message according to their own perspectives of life. They slanted the message according to what they thought would change the current population. That is a good thing, not a bad thing, Spinoza claims. It serves those who are listening to the prophet speak.

This is why one prophet will say God is Love and will Reward you if you Do Charity and Justic, and another will say God is Angry and will Take Revenge if you Don’t. God never told the prophets He is angry, that He will punish or reward. Those parts were all the prophets’ ideas. But this slanting doesn’t make the bible flawed, Spinoza says. It shows that the message was always communicated in ways that (prophets believed) would change these listeners on this day. Some generations needed to imagine a rewarding God while other generations needed to imagine a vengeful God, in order to be willing or compelled to be more charitable and just. Later when humans were recopying the documents, they would again slant the messages to what they felt would be most effective with the new generation. And again when the councils codified the books of the bible once for all, these councils again slanted the meanings to be what they felt most effective or would benefit their own sect against competing sects.

Still, the slanting of the message by every prophet, every copyist, and every council is not evidence that the bible lost God’s message or is entirely fictitious (or whatever Ehrman is trying to prove), but evidence that that the bible maintains God’s simple message across thousands of years and thousands of communications, regardless of how it is retold to each generation:

  1. do compassionate service to others.
  2. behave justly to others.

The ten commandments follow from these two. Jesus’ three additional “love commandments” and beatitudes were fuller expressions of these two, Spinoza adds in the TPT.

Besides proving that God’s Word (be charitable, be just) remains intact in the bible, Spinoza claims that nothing else in the bible is worth believing. When the bible says God has hands and feet, don’t believe it, Spinoza says. That was just one way that one prophet used to inspire awe in a particular crowd. Nothing in the bible is worth believing, Spinoza says, except the key message, that God commands humans to love others as self. All the rest of the bible is simply either various prophet’s methods of getting this message across, or history of the people who attempted to follow God’s orders. The fact you can’t believe anything else in the bible is not bad news, but good, Spinoza claims. It means you don’t have to worry you didn’t understand the bible. The bible is extremely simple to understand because it comes down to be charitable to others, be just to others. The simplicity of the message means the bible is impervious to misunderstanding, Spinoza says.

Does the bible teach us what God Is? No, Spinoza says. The bible, or shall we say prophecy, which is God speaking orally through humans, was intended by God only to give the simplest message that would work for all people, that would lead all people out of the danger of being lost in life’s troubles. The simple message in 1) and 2) is the path to salvation, being saved from misery and despair, being elevated to the quality of life we are capable of experiencing. How and why do the two things lead people from misery to salvation? The bible was not intended to explain the how and why. What kind of being is God? The prophets didn’t ever attempt to explain that accurately. The purpose of the prophetic utterances of God’s Word was to give the simplest possible message that all people could understand, not to explain complex concepts to scholars and theologians. Any indications that God is large or small, angry or vengeful, that he leaves one place and enters another, are fabricated by prophets in order to have a convincing effect on the ones in hearing distance of their speeches. The bible contains no theology. If God had intended to describe His nature, the hows and whys of theology through simple illiterate prophets, the bible would be incomprehensible. This is why God chose to keep the message simple, to reveal only through prophets the simple, understandable orders, be charitable, be just.

God is depicted by prophets as only two things consistently: God is charitable. God is just. Spinoza believed God is many more things. In fact, God so vast, with so many attributes that finite humans could never conceive of even a portion of God’s attributes. God’s demonstration of these two things, and only two, serves two purposes. The first is to demonstrate the simplicity of two things that humans are capable of emulating. More of God’s attributes, would only confuse many people and so God deliberately kept the message, and the demonstrations simple. You won’t find any theology in the bible, Spinoza claims. If you think you found theology in the bible, you are reading into it things that were not originally intended, Spinoza repeats.

The second reason God kept his demonstration to two things was because these two things He had already previously written in their hearts, Spinoza says. When people heard the prophets orally speaking about God’s two qualities, the people would be able to verify the truth of charity and justice, because they would feel their hearts vibrating with the same.

Imagine it’s eight thousand years ago and a shaggy man is standing on a box shouting about God. Things shouted that resonate what is written in the heart, awaken the heart. Things shouted that do not resonate, fall to the side without much effect. When prophets adequately spoke God’s Word–serve and protect others with the same effort you serve and protect yourself–this resonated what was already written upon their hearts, so a sort of glow occurred in that group of hearers. A halo effect. The prophet was revered, and what he had said was written down.

I’d like to make a side point here about Dr. Bart Ehrman’s work. I love Dr. Ehrman. I have listened to all his early tapes and his voice soothes me with its reasonable though passionate critiques. I think he has been very careful and I can find fault with not one thing he has ever said or written. However, it appears his only intention is to destroy, and not to fill in the space with something better. He never tells us, is there anything in the bible worth salvaging? Is there any message that is consistent, contextually credible, multiply attested and different from what sectarians would have fabricated? He won’t say. Does Ehrman even believe in God? Or at least some cosmic principle of compassion? Or at least some purpose or meaning to life on this planet? Anything that could be considered hope or salvation from life’s miseries? He won’t say. Spinoza gave the same bad news Ehrman gives, (centuries earlier) but Spinoza does it to give what he feels is an even greater gift to humanity; the two things that cannot be tainted. How is Ehrman’s work received? Does it help humanity? Or does it divide us? I have read books and reviews of Ehrman’s work. The reactions to his work may be worse for humanity than the truthful things he writes. Not that I am advocating he stop sharing his useful messages. But I wonder, is there time for Dr. Ehrman to somehow fix the divisiveness he has exacerbated? But back to Spinoza.

Oh yes. Spinoza was passionately reminding us that each of us has written upon our hearts. Spinoza says the Word of God is nothing but the two things: be compassionate, be just to others. Spinoza says the Holy Spirit is nothing but the feeling you get when you are doing the two things. This explains why, when we hear about the two things, or see it happen in the news, in events we witness, when we hear it in stories or see it in movies, we feel.. exalted. Our hearts melt. We love those we had hated. We know there is something there. It resonates deeply with a part of us—maybe this is the soul.

Spinoza includes both the old and new testament when he describes the mutilation done by copyists, scribes and councils. He includes both the old and new when he shares the good news that the bible still contains the essence of God’s simple commands. Oddly, though Spinoza was raised Jewish, and began training as a Rabbi, he seems to hold Jesus as a clearer conduit of God’s word, than he holds the earlier prophets. Still, in a further oddity, Spinoza never converted to Christianity, even though he had several close friends who were Quakers who said he’d be a great Quaker. As an adult he didn’t go to any church, but on Sunday afternoons he would ask his friends kindly what they heard in the sermon that day. While he had good reasons to hate organized religion (after all, he was excommunicated from the Jewish faith and actually cursed with damnation in a written decree), still he cared for people deeply and wanted them to have the consolation that the bible and religion provided them, the means to salvation through the simplest method that Religion advocates: by behaving with loving service to others. What was Spinoza’s belief? He clearly believed God exists, and has influence in all beings. To explain Spinoza’s beliefs further we’d need to talk about his other work, the Ethics, which I may do another day. Suffice to say Spinoza was more concerned with the effects of our thoughts, more than the belief that is held. Does the belief lead to charitable actions and protecting others’ needs and rights? Then that belief is fine even if inaccurate, he said. On the other hand, accurate beliefs, followed by harmful actions to others, is not fine. Not at all fine, to him.

What’s political about the theologico-political treatise? Spinoza spends the vast majority of the book on religion and finally makes a few political statements at the end that I will summarize.

Since the prophets of the old testament, and the apostles of the new, used many different approaches to persuade people to be more just and charitable, we, today, must be tolerant of other people’s ways of becoming more just and charitable. That means religious tolerance. If a group of people believe they are inspired to be more just and charitable through stringent food preparation, let them do it that way. In fact, support them. Make it easier for them to get the ingredients, implements and space they need for their special food preparation. If a different group feel they are better inspired to be more just and charitable by imagining the end is near, let them do it that way. Support them!

Problems only arise when I insist you must become just and charitable in the same way I choose to be more just and charitable. This insisting takes the form of political force, shunning, and brute force, or violence. How sadly ironic it would be, to be unjust and uncharitable to others in order to force them adopt your way of being just and charitable! Finally Spinoza tells us, the bible itself, old and new, demonstrates a thousand different ways of getting the same effects of charity and justice—who are we to narrow down to only one of these ways to the exclusion of others?

Spinoza’s TPT was an early influence on the idea that an ideal government would hold religion and science in different categories, two realms that do not bear upon each other. This influenced what was later called separation of church and state. The TPT also suggested that each person should have the right, defended by the ideal government, to think what he likes, and speak what he thinks, which influenced the ideas of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. [It is not well known that many of the founding fathers of the United States had read Spinoza and some had copies of his books in their libraries. In fact, what the founding fathers called “Deism,” largely matches Spinoza’s writings about God. Unfortunately even current books on the Founding Fathers’ Deism, do not take into account this strong influence of Spinoza. Einstein also said, when asked his beliefs, that he believed in “Spinoza’s God.”] Now, these rights to religious freedom, in Spinoza’s reasoning, derive from the fact that all religions encourage people to be more compassionate and more just to others. Would a particular person or religion lose its political right to tolerance, if it demonstrated harm and injustice to others? Spinoza didn’t write his answer to this. Is the right only natural, while the person or group is supporting others’ right to the same?

In part two of this series on Spinoza’s TPT I ask the question, what would Spinoza say about Pastafarians? What about people who don’t care whether God exists or not like Unitarian Universalists? What about people who clearly state God does not exist? Should tolerance also be extended to these people? Would Spinoza Allow Atheists in the Ideal State? Tune in next time.