Welcome to The Spinozist Mormon
by Christian Y. Cardall
The title "The Spinozist Mormon" exposes me to the charge of false advertising. Those looking for technical analyses of Spinoza's philosophy will be disappointed at not finding it here (at least initially); those looking for discussions that presuppose a believing Mormon viewpoint will also be frustrated (at least initially).
But a desire to try my hand at blogging requires that I come up with some title; and as I intend to blog about my thoughts, questions, studies, and attempts to discover truth, meaning, and beauty in life---in short, because this blog begins as an egocentric exercise of exploration I embark upon to iron out my identity---I have chosen this title as a concise attempt to convey something about where I'm at presently.
Taking upon myself the name of Spinoza began with the scantiest of justifications: my personal resonance with a book review in Nature (subscription required) of Antonio Damasio's Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. According to this review,
Spinoza stands out from his contemporaries by virtue of his resolute adherence to the rational, an attitude that makes him a supremely modern figure. He dared to deny the validity of the Bible's revealed truth, a stance that threatened every political structure that was underpinned by religious belief and dogma. He went so far as to argue that faith was "a mere compound of credulity and prejudices — aye prejudices, too, which degrade man from rational being to beast". Not surprisingly, such radical views made him an outcast from his family and community, culminating in a ritualistic excommunication from his synagogue.I did eventually read the book; while I'm not bold to say it's a "must read" for everyone, I certainly recommend it warmly. Containing a neurobiologist's modern understanding of the nature of and distinctions between emotions and feelings, it also describes how Spinoza anticipated some of these views centuries ago. Spinoza's humanity---as well as Damasio's---are conveyed better than the reviewer's rather stark quote above manages. Upon reading the book, I found my initial resonance with Spinoza amplified; hence friends and relatives perplexed by the changes in my thinking, who find it uncomfortable to discuss them with me directly, might find an entree to understanding by proxy through a reading of this book.
I am also, indelibly, a Mormon born and bred. Whatever adjectives might ever describe me, I suspect they will remain modifiers to one noun---Mormon---that forms a core part of my identity. I have been produced from distinguished Mormon stock, passed the standard milestones, partaken of the usual experiences, and continue to attend Church weekly and participate in many of the rituals of Mormon family life. Whatever else my interests may encompass, some sliver of my attention will always be fixed on the history and doctrine of the faith and culture that shaped my early sensibilities and channeled the choices of my youth and young adulthood. Like intimate underclothing worn daily, Mormonism is more than the external Sunday best donned but weekly. It is the air one breaths, one's all-encompassing milieu. It sustains all things, it demands all things, it "explains" many things, and hopes to be able to explain all things. The shock and pain of detachment are such that I can barely bring myself to declare myself "apart", finding the heart to say so only elliptically and tentatively, through partial identification with a book review!
Let me, then, summon the courage to characterize my situation a bit more directly: I have not suffered Spinoza's fate, but still wish to avoid it; and while heterodoxy is too mild to describe my current state, my hope is that there is discernable daylight to be found between heresy and apostasy.
While this blog may turn out to be mainly an exercise in soliloquy, I would be much gratified by colloquy. I am particularly interested in thoughtful responses from the faithful, who might help me see alternative views on vexing issues. Because the gulf between secular and sacred perspectives often feels vast (I hope bridges may be built!), it is probably unavoidable that some of what I say will grate on the sensibilities of typical believers. I can also have a tendency to 'hammer away' in forceful argument. Should this happen, and offend anyone, I apologize in advance. I will try not to sound like I have a chip on my shoulder; in return, I ask that those who "[suppose] me to be deluded to ... [endeavor] in a proper and affectionate manner to ... [reclaim] me" (Joseph Smith---History 1:28). Feel free to disagree passionately---but strive to do so without anger, defensiveness, or condescension. Strive for elevated (or at least playfully witty) language, which covers a multitude of sins---at least in my book!
The Spinozist Mormon stands at the crossroads of the sacred and secular, where values are chosen and truth claims are strictly evaluated---all upon the sacred ground of individual minds and hearts, with their tentative thoughts and fragile feelings---a process fraught with profound consequences for precious relationships. May openness, curiosity, free expression, understanding, and mutual respect hallow this space. Let all who cross its threshold share a fearless love of truth, an abiding passion for its pursuit, and bold courage in expression; but recognizing that we are all thrown together headlong into a world short on manifest cosmic truth, but nevertheless impatient and insistent on forcing daily choices upon us, may any and all who pause here for deliberation find sweet refreshment and warm companionship---regardless of the particular paths arrived from, or chosen upon departure.
Welcome, and enjoy!