Contrary to the false claims of religious fundamentalist cults and their leaders, the United States of America was not conceived as a “Christian nation” in the slightest. It was a child of the Paris-centered Enlightenment that challenged blind faith and allegiance to institutions and wildly-cultish authoritarian belief systems.
Instead, the Founding Fathers, albeit few of them flawless saints, followed a new path grounded in rational thought and egalitarian principles. They gravitated to the rational philosophy of, among others, Baruch de Spinoza.
Princeton professor Jonathan Israel, a foremost scholar of the Enlightenment and the American Revolution, has argued that Spinoza was the single most influential intellectual source of the American revolutionary era.
So, here is some of Spinoza’s wisdom, on the issue of believing in God (borrowed from the Internet):
“God would have said: Stop praying and punching yourself in the chest!
“What I want you to do is go out into the world and enjoy your life. I want you to enjoy, sing, have fun and enjoy everything I’ve made for you.
“Stop going to those dark, cold temples that you built yourself and say they are my house! My house is in the mountains, in the woods, rivers, lakes, beaches. That’s where I live and there I express my love for you.
“Stop blaming me for your miserable life; I never told you there was anything wrong with you or that you were a sinner, or that your sexuality was a bad thing! Sex is a gift I have given you and with which you can express your love, your ecstasy, your joy. So don’t blame me for everything they made you believe.
“Stop reading alleged sacred scriptures that have nothing to do with me. If you can’t read me in a sunrise, in a landscape, in the look of your friends, in your son’s eyes… you will find me in no book! Trust me and stop asking me. Would you tell me how to do my job?
“Stop being so scared of me. I do not judge you or criticize you, nor get angry, or seek to punish you. I am pure love.
“Stop asking for forgiveness, there’s nothing to forgive. If I made you… I filled you with passions, limitations, pleasures, feelings, needs, inconsistencies… free will. How can I blame you if you respond to something I put in you? How can I punish you for being the way you are, if I’m the one who made you?
“Forget any kind of commandments, any kind of laws; those are wiles to manipulate you, to control you, that only create guilt in you.
“Respect your peers and don’t do what you don’t want for yourself. All I ask is that you pay attention in your life, that your consciousness is your guide.
“My beloved, this life is not a test, not a step, not a rehearsal, nor a prelude to paradise. This life is the only thing that exists here and now, and it is all you need.
“I have set you absolutely free, no prizes or punishments, no sins or virtues… no one carries a marker, no one keeps a record. You are absolutely free to create in your life heaven or hell.
“I could tell you if there’s anything after this life, but I won’t… but I can give you a tip. Live as if there is nothing after… as if this is your only chance to enjoy, to love, to exist.
“So, if there’s nothing, then you will have enjoyed the opportunity I gave you. And if there is, rest assured that I won’t ask if you behaved right or wrong, I’ll ask: Did you like it? Did you have fun? What did you enjoy the most? What did you learn?…
“I want you to feel me in you when you kiss your beloved, when you tuck in your little girl, when you caress your dog, when you bathe in the sea.
“The only thing for sure is that you are here, that you are alive, and that this world is full of wonders.
“Look for me outside… you won’t find me. Find me inside… there I am beating within you.”
Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]