A Book Forged In Hell


A Book Forged In Hell
Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age
By Steven Nadler
Princeton University Press – £13.99

Even those who could read and understand the message of the Treatise would not be able to make a fair and balanced judgement of it […]. The breadth of Spinoza’s intended audience for the Treatise indicates his great ambitions for the work, but it also made his task a rather complicated, even dangerous one.

                    (‘The Theological-Political Problem’)

Spinoza concludes that if the self-appointed guardians of piety possessed but a spark of the divine light, they would not indulge in such arrogant ravings, but would study to worship God more wisely and to surpass their fellows in love, as they now do in hate.

                    (‘Gods and Prophets’)

”As they now do in hate.,” hmm, do these words kind of remind you of those current souls, for want of a more apt description, who currently reside amid the American White House of human contempt?

Talk about a book forged in hell.
How about a presidency forged in hell?

That said, this is a book review and ought to rightly remain as such.
But, to denounce the Treatise as ”the most dangerous book ever published,” is surely as unwarranted and vindictive an indictment of clarity, as to momentarily believe – even if for a mere micro-second – that the stewardship of the most powerful nation on earth, actually cares about humanity. As for Baruch Spinoza’s task being a ”dangerous one,” it just goes to substantiate how (very) deluded so many of those in position(s) of power and authority, really are.
And still are.

So one doesn’t even realistically need to complete this book in order to assimilate the sheer amount of audacity that reigned supreme when Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise was first published in 1670. As Steven Nadler (author of Rembrandt’s Jews) already writes in the Prologue: ”We do not know for certain why Spinoza was punished with such extreme prejudice. That the punishment came from his own community – from the congregation that had nurtured and educated him, and that held his family in high esteem – only adds to the enigma.”

The word ‘enigma’ being rather key here; as it’s just one of the many aspects that accounts for A Book Forged In Hell – Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age perhaps being a little risque itself. Simply because it tells it as it cries out to be told. Or, as quoted in Booklist: ”This is a groundbreaking analysis of an incendiary text.”

Indeed, thee 240 pages (excluding Preface, Acknowledgements, A Note on Texts and Translations, Abbreviations, Notes, Bibliography and Index) shine an astutely learned and more than bright light on what to my mind at least, has to be one of the most reasoned and rational of theologically/philosophical books ever written.

As Nadler writes in the final chapter, ironically entitled ‘The Onslaught’: ”More than any other work, it laid the foundation for modern critical and historical approaches to the Bible. And while often overlooked in books on the history of political thought, the Treatise also had a proud and well-deserved place in the rise of democratic theory, civil liberties, and political liberalism. The ideas of the Treatise inspired republican revolutionaries in England, America, and France, and it encouraged early modern anticlerical and anti-sectarian movements.”

And let’s to be totally honest here: anything that promotes anticlerical, as well as anti-sectarian thinking, can only be a good thing.

As such, A Book Forged In Hell – Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age is, as already mentioned, something of a groundbreaking book.

It’s real. It’s substantial. So read it.

David Marx

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