During George W. Bush’s first Presidential campaign, an interviewer asked him which great men he most admired. The reply was “Jesus Christ.”
I thought at the time… Here is a man who obviously does not read if he can only come up with such a limited answer. My diagnosis was intellectual penury.
Then I wondered… What if someone were to ask me the same question? I would choose Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677). Spinoza believed in “a universe ruled by the cause and effect of natural laws without purpose or design.” In his ethical system, reason is the supreme value. This is a truly down-to-earth philosophy without esoteric principles. Because he did not believe in the conventional God but equated God with Nature itself, he was expelled from the Jewish Community of Amsterdam by a “cherem” which translates into excommunication. It’s something like a Muslim fatwa.
Was Spinoza a deist, a pantheist or an atheist? I don’t think it matters what label you attach to him. He was just an early secular thinker, totally unencumbered by preconceived ideas. But unlike another 17th century thinker, Rene Descartes, he did not believe in the duality of body and soul or that “the soul” survived after death.
When Einstein was asked whether he believed in God he replied, “I believe in Spinoza’s God.” There are, of course other great thinkers who strike a responsive chord in me. They think what I think, only they express it so much better.