Pekka Luukkola: The Mo[nu]ment (2010)
God, or Nature; Nature, or God
Nature is everything. There is mass, energy, atoms, molecules, life, plants, animals, thought, people, human consciousness, intellectual activities and konwledge, science, violence, religions and entertainment, art, societies, galaxies and perhaps even multiple universes.
There is nothing outside nature, including spiritual visions and other phenomena we don’t yet understand, and science doesn’t give any explanations. If they exist, they are part of nature. Whatever it exists, it is part of nature and under the nature’s law and order. This clear understanding can be reached by the a Jewish-Dutch philosopher Benedictus (Baruch) Spinoza (1632 – 1667).
Spinoza was excommunicated from his
Jewish community in Amsterdam and condemned by Christians as well for being an atheist. In his investigations he was very interested in the concept of God and different religion’s explanations of the man and universe.
Spinoza asserted that for a concept of God to make any sense at all, it must simply be nature. That is, God cannot be something outside nature but in it. What does this mean?
In the Ethics, his philosophical masterpiece, Spinoza says that God is ’immanent’ in nature, not some supernatural entity beyond the world. [Immanent means 'to be present'.] Does this mean that we can describe Spinoza as a pantheist, as someone who believes that God is revealed in every aspect of the natural world that lies around us? This is certainly a simplistic popular interpretation. This judgement has been common in the discussions on Spinoza’s thinking, even in opinions of some philosophers.
It is not false to insist, that Spinoza believed God exists, but in the same time we have to say that according to Spinoza God is an abstract and impersonal concept. Thus, sorry but there does not exist any God like an old man controlling us from heaven. Impersonal – what does this really mean then?
Spinoza contended that everything that exists in Nature (everything in the Universe) is one Reality (substance) and there is only one set of rules governing the whole of the reality which surrounds us and of which we are part. However, we are not able to see and understand the total entirety of the whole reality. We are able to use just comptences and features which are characteristic for our species Homo sapiens. (This does not mean that we already have reached our opportunities and borders in knowledge and science, of course.)
Impersonal God - what does this exactly mean? Spinoza saw the traditional anthropomorphic (man-like) god as an abomination, completely rejecting the wonder of nature, from which all kinds of life comes.
God IS Nature
According to Spinoza, nature is not be an expression of God (as theists often say) but God IS nature, in its entirety. God is the system on nature in its entirety.
Spinoza contends that ”Deus sive Natura” (”God or Nature”) is a being of infinitely many attributes, of which thought and extension are two. His account of the nature of reality, then, seems to treat the physical and mental worlds as one and the same. The universal substance consists of both body and mind, there being no difference between these aspects. This formulation is a historically significant solution to the mind-body problem. Spinoza’s system also envisages a God that does not rule over the universe by providence, but a God which itself is the deterministic system of which everything in nature is a part. Thus, according to this understanding of Spinoza’s system, God would be the natural world and have no personality.
He viewed God and Nature as two names for the same reality, namely the single substance (meaning ”that which stands beneath” rather than ”matter”) that is the basis of the universe and of which all lesser ”entities” are actually modes or modifications, that all things are determined by Nature to exist and cause effects, and that the complex chain of cause and effect is understood only in part.
As to pantheism, it is still a kind of theism. For while atheists and pantheists might agree that ontologically there is nothing else to the world but nature, they would part company when the pantheist goes on to insist that the identification of God with nature makes it appropriate to hold the religious psychological attitudes demanded by theism. In effect, the pantheist who asserts that ’God is nature’ is divinising nature and claiming that the world is in some sense holy or sacred, and that therefore one’s attitude towards nature must be akin to a religious experience. Nature is properly regarded with worshipful awe, perhaps even fear and dread.
Atheists disagree. While they too may (at least in terminology if not in substance) identify God with the natural world, in so doing they are not divinising nature but naturalising God. They see no justification for regarding nature or the world with anything like worshipful awe. They may, of course, still fear nature and its destructive forces, or admire its awesome and dignified beauty. But this is very different from religious fear and awe in the face of the inscrutable and ineffable divine, and very different from the spirit of Spinoza’s philosophy. By definition, and in substance, pantheism is not atheism. Spinoza is an atheist.
Spinoza does not believe that worshipful awe is an appropriate attitude to take before God or nature. There is nothing mysterious, holy or sacred in a religious way about nature, and it is certainly not the object of a religious experience as often said in the popular thinking. Instead, one should strive to understand God or nature, with the kind of adequate or clear and distinct rational intellectual knowledge that reveals nature’s most important truths and shows how everything depends essentially and existentially on higher natural causes.
The key to discovering and experiencing God/nature, for Spinoza, is philosophy and science, not religious awe and worshipful submission. The latter give rise only to superstitious behaviour and subservience to ecclesiastic authorities; the former leads to enlightenment, freedom and true blessedness (it means: peace of mind).
The point is, we all come from our environment, shaped by it, live for a while, and return to it. Nothing magical or mystical; just nature and all its various expressions – most of which we do not yet comprehend. Each of us is part of it… Perhaps we will never do it as such limited, restricked creatures. As human beings we can see and understand just a part of the reality.
To be sure, Spinoza used in his writings language of his time, language that seems deeply religious. In the Ethics, he says that ”we feel and know by experience that we are eternal”, and that virtue and perfection are accompanied by a ”love of God (amor Dei)”. But such phrases are not to be given their traditional religious meaning.
Spinoza’s naturalist and rationalist view demands that we provide these notions with a proper intellectualist interpretation. Thus, the love of God is simply an awareness of the ultimate natural cause of the joy that accompanies the improvement in one’s condition that the highest knowledge brings; to love God means to understand nature and the place and responsibilities of human beings. And the eternity in which one participates is represented solely by the knowledge of eternal truths that makes up a part of the rational person’s mind. As individual persons we all will die and we will return into the other kind of form as atoms in the universe - the energy still exsists in the universe. The human being’s desire for know and understsanding stays forever as long as homo sapiens will exist in the universe.
There is no place in Spinoza’s system for a sense of mystery in the face of nature. Such an attitude is to be dispelled by the intelligibility of things. Religious wonder is bred by ignorance, he believes. Spinoza contrasts the person who ”is eager, like an educated man, to understand natural things” with the person who ”wonders at them, like a fool”. For Spinoza, anyone who would approach nature with the kind of worshipful awe usually demanded by the religious attitude represents the latter.
* * *
Spinoza’s philosophy is largely contained in two books: the Theologico-Political Treatise, and the Ethics. The former was published during his lifetime, but the latter, which contains the entirety of his philosophical system in its most rigorous form, was not published until after his death in 1677. Unfortunately, Spinoza’s highly technical, mathematical style of writing (which was the usage of science in his time) limited widespread appreciation of his work.
Pekka Luukkola: Taking Off (2011)
- By M. Laurentius Anning.
Sources & Read more:
Genevieve Lloyd: Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Spinoza and the Ethics. Routledge, 1996.
Stiven Nadler: Baruch Spinoza. Stanford Encycklopedia of philosphy. 2008.
Steven Nadler: Spinoza’s Heresy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.
Stiven Nadler: Spinoza’s Ethics: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Pietarinen, Juhani (1993). Ilon filosofia. Spinozan käsitys aktiivisesta ihmisestä. 1993.
Roger Scruton: Spinoza. Routledge, 1999.
Edwin A. Suominen: An Examination of the Pearl. 2012.
Tuomas: En jaksa uskoa Jumalaan
Valtteri Viljanen: Spinoza, Benedictus de. Filosofia.fi
Vanh.lest. ateisti: Vanhoillislestadiolainen ateisti: Jumalan terve!
* * *
Pekka Luukkola, the Finnish photo artist and writer:
”I use fire to express movement, the passage of time and the presence of humans without a visible, recognisable form. – - All my photographs are taken in Finland. In theory, they could have been taken at any time n history. We first settled in these latitudes some 10,000 years ago and yet, in all that time, the bedrock and the landscapes have changed but little where they have not been shaped by human hand. I want the viewers to take a break from the fast pace of modern life and to reflect on the value of our shared landscapes.
My work seeks to define our relationship with time and place, the universe and the passage of history. The photographs are often a blend of nature, art and science, the imaginary and the real. Approaching these images and landscapes from the viewpoint of the past and the future can lend them an entirely new set of meanings. My photographs are inteded to be viewed and experienced but many of them can also be read. I hope that while depicting the real, my photographs also convey another world and transport the viewers to a new dimension I have attempted to create.” Pekka Luukkola website.
Pekka Luukkola: Matka Suomeen (Journey into Finland), Otava 2003.
”Matka Suomeen is in all respects a masterpiece of both camera techniques and the secrets of the printing trade. The photographer also proves himself to be a competent writer of prose, and these capabilities combined have created the basis for a book that will be a long-term favourite with all those who enjoy gazing at Finnish landscapes.” – Markku Saiha, in the magazine Luontokuva 4/2003.