The Spinozist

writing by Paul Mendrik

Spinoza and the idea of tolerance

May 5, 2020

In this paper, I would like to show that Spinoza is not (contrary to conventional wisdom) an apologist for religious tolerance, because he believes that the idea of ​​tolerance is part of an inaccurate interpretation of religion.

Religious tolerance is the tolerance of evil: heresy. This idea is based on the prejudice that religion has the function of unifying men around orthodox beliefs. However, for Spinoza, religious representations are necessarily heterodox since they depend partially on individual imagination. Moreover, religion is not  aimed at answering theoretical questions. Its purpose is to unify the social body by establishing intersubjective norms. Spinoza also points to a direct correlation between religious conflicts and this misunderstanding of the religious phenomenon. By depicting the ideal of orthodoxy, theologians have diverted religion from its true purpose, which is to subject men to imaginary rules for a political purpose.