By Michael Strawser

Michael Strawser, University of Central Florida


Can a religion be imagined in which heresy and blasphemy are impossible? Would such a religion need to be beyond discourse on a transcendent God and instead based on freedom and the love of the other? An affirmative answer to these questions will be suggested in the following pages, which present the “religion” of “Saint Baruch” and “Saint Jacques,” both who may, in a sense, “rightfully pass for atheists.”1

Although commonly viewed as dangerous and heretical by their contemporaries, the Jewish philosophers Baruch Spinoza and Jacques Derrida offer readers complex yet compelling visions of a “pure religion” beyond ordinary religion, because their key writings on ethics and religion (e.g., Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise and Ethics and Derrida’s The Gift of Death and On Forgiveness2) are centered on the values of freedom, love, giving, and forgiving—in other words, their visions are oriented towards an understanding and affirmation of the other, rather than a transcendent God.

In this paper I shall present for praise the “pure religion” and related themes that emerge from the key writings of these “Saints.” Despite the many great differences that separate our philosophers (e.g., differences of place and time), it may be possible to find a harmony in the voices of Spinoza and Derrida on matters concerning religion. I would also like to suggest that an examination of these visions will show that when followers of “ordinary religion” have developed an ear or an eye for the blasphemous and not the tout autre, they miss that which lies at the center of the truly religious life.

The structure of my panegyric is this: I shall initially present the heretical perspective of each philosopher and then identify what we can learn from the heretic that is praiseworthy in his philosophy. I shall argue that what Spinoza understands as “true religion” is centered on the ethics of love, and that what Derrida writes of as “religion without religion” may be interpreted as a dream of a “pure religion” analogous to his dream of “pure forgiveness.” In Derrida, as we shall see, love will also be highly significant, and for both philosophers love lies arguably at the root of their visions of democracy.

Last, as the title of this paper indicates, its point is not primarily comparative, although such a work could be pursued. As is well-known, Spinoza’s vision is based on rational human intuition (not prophecy and scripture). What is surprising to note, however, is that Derrida’s vision may also involve a sort of Platonic appeal.3 Perhaps this apparent similarity—which will be left in suspense— could provide the basis for a common mysticism of our saintly Jewish heretics.

What We Can Learn from the Heretic Spinoza

In 1656 the Jewish community of Amsterdam excommunicated the 24 year-old Spinoza for practicing “horrible heresies.” In the formal record of his excommunication it is written:

Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down, and cursed be he when he rises up; cursed be he when he goes out, and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not pardon him; the anger and wrath of the Lord will rage against this man, and bring upon him all the curses which are written in the Book of the Law, and the Lord will destroy his name from under the Heavens.4

Fortunately, for Spinoza, the core of what he supposedly taught—although never formally, for he had rejected a professorship at Heidelberg because he could not accept the stipulation that “he would not abuse his freedom of speech to ‘disturb the established religion’”5—the core of his horrible heresies was his criticism of theology. The transcendent God of wrath, “the legislator and judge, the planner and protector, simply does not survive”6 the court of reason. That God could be moved by feelings of anger or hatred (negative passions for Spinoza) is a product of our anthropomorphic imagination. Other such products are the doctrine of free will and final causes, which when taken theologically lead to the view that God desires a particular end and works toward achieving this end. As Spinoza explains in the posthumously published Ethics, this view “completely overturns Nature” and “takes away the perfection of God; for if God acts on account of an end, he necessarily desires something which he lacks.” God, of course, can lack nothing. Thus “the will of God” is nothing more than “the asylum of ignorance.”7

While these few points are developed in the conception of God Spinoza establishes in Part One of his Ethics, the likely historical source of the “horrible heresies” is the criticism of theology found in Spinoza’s anonymously published Theological-Political Treatise. Here Spinoza’s central aim is to separate theology and politics and to show “that freedom of philosophizing can be allowed in preserving piety.”8

These anti-theological reflections in Spinoza’s works have to be seen, although this is not usually the case, as preparatory for the major emphasis of his philosophy, namely the affirmative ethics of love and joy which lie at the heart of pure religion. Spinoza understands that true piety and religion is based on the ethical practice towards others, and that such practice in turn strengthens one’s own self. Thus in the Preface to the Theological-Political Treatise he marvels at those who profess “the Christian religion, which is a religion of love, joy, peace, temperance and honest dealing with all men,” and yet “display the bitterest hatred towards one another day by day, so that these latter characteristics make known a man’s creed more readily than the former.”9 Religion, for Spinoza, is defined by one’s conduct, not one’s belief, or, as Kierkegaard would put it, by the “how” and not the “what.”10 In Chapter 7 of the Theological-Political Treatise, Spinoza explains that in practice religion has taken the form of “defending what men have invented. Indeed, religion is manifested not in charity but in spreading contention among men and in fostering the bitterest hatred, under the false guise of zeal in God’s cause and a burning enthusiasm.”11 Thus Spinoza wishes to understand the “religion” of these men, while affirming the true religion—without this common “religion”—the true religion, which quite simply put involves obedience to the divine command (or divine intuition) to love your neighbor as yourself.12 “This is the basis of the whole structure of religion,”13 Spinoza writes, making clear that the essence of religious teaching is moral, not theological, metaphysical, or epistemological doctrine. Because of this ordinary religion can be either sacred or profane. When it leads people to act virtuously—which involves upholding justice, helping the helpless, not murdering and coveting, etc.14—it is sacred, but when it leads them “to give rein to their own desires”15 and forget how they ought to treat others, then it is profane or impure. Thus when a religion based on an interpretation of God’s Word leads people to act violently towards others, then God’s Word becomes “nothing more than paper and ink” and to worship paper and ink is blasphemy. Consequently, Spinoza, the great heretic as he is commonly known, can be taken as moving beyond blasphemy through an affirmation of a “religion without religion.” When such a “faith” is based on the practice of justice and love then “there can be no doctrines in the Catholic, or universal, religion, which can give rise to controversy among good men.”

Because the true religion is practical in nature and not theological, one is free to philosophize about God’s nature. “The intellectual knowledge of God which contemplates his nature as it really is in itself,” Spinoza writes, “has no bearing on the practice of a true way of life, on faith, and on revealed religion, and that consequently men can go far astray in this matter without sinning.”16 In this way Spinoza sharply divides the word and the deed. Although in his Ethics, Spinoza may be read as showing how the “intellectual knowledge of God” should become an “intellectual love of God” that pervades one’s whole way of being, it is likely that such a unity of thought and being is more than difficult and rare, but an essentially impossible dream. Given that true knowledge of God is so difficult to obtain—is it not essentially impossible?—this would explain why Spinoza advocates the separation of faith and philosophy in the Theological-Political Treatise. He writes:

So faith allows to every man the utmost freedom to philosophise, and he may hold whatever opinions he pleases on any subjects whatsoever without imputation of evil. It condemns as heretics and schismatics only those who teach such beliefs as promote obstinacy, hatred, strife and anger, while it regards as the faithful only those who promote justice and charity to the best of their intellectual powers and capacity.17

Given that Spinoza strives to subvert theology and emphasize the practice of the ethics of love, it is ironic that what he is best known for is his monistic conception of God. Let us not make a similar mistake in our praise of Spinoza; let us turn to the heart of the matter.

Spinoza’s Noble Love18

We all know that coming to terms with love is difficult, and to complicate matters, we have to contend with explicit ambiguity in Spinoza’s understanding of love in his Ethics.19 There are three distinct conceptions of love at work in this text, which can be designated as the aesthetic, ethical, and religious conceptions of love. Briefly stated, these conceptions are: (1) love as a passion defined as “pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external cause,”20 (2) love as an action, equated with “nobility,” which can be expressed as the desire to do good for others, and (3) love as an action based on understanding God, which brings about pleasure and the idea of an internal cause. Of these three conceptions—although the first is, strictly speaking, a perception for Spinoza, and the third may bring us into the realm of onto-theology—it is only the second, ethical conception that is relevant here. Let us consider some of the details.

Spinoza initially writes of love as a passion, and consequently an emotion that a free, active person would strive to avoid. Although the term “love” is not defined and geometrically discussed until Part Three of Ethics, the ambiguity appears earlier in the text. The first use of “love” occurs parenthetically in E1p31, where he claims it is “related to passive and not to active Nature.” “Love” does not appear again until it is found in the lengthy and significant scholium that closes Part Two. This scholium is significant because in responding to criticisms against determinism and explaining the practical benefits of this doctrine, Spinoza projects themes that are central in the last part of his work. The mention of “love” is in the following sentence:

This doctrine, therefore, besides the fact that it makes the mind entirely calm, has the further benefit that it teaches us in what our supreme happiness, or, our blessedness, consists: namely, solely in the knowledge of God21, from which we are led to do only those things which love and piety advise.

Love advises. Love advises us to do only those things that will lead to our blessedness. Consequently, this is clearly not the kind of love that belongs to our passive nature as initially mentioned in Part One and further explained in Part Three. It is rather the kind of love that acts, rather than reacts, that prevents or weakens the passive emotions of hate, as well as love in the first sense, anger, and envy. This love advises us to help our neighbors, “not from effeminate pity, bias, or superstition, but solely from the guidance of reason.” Perhaps it could be called rational love, perhaps intuitive love, perhaps undeconstructible love. Perhaps.

The ethics of love is thus not primarily concerned with “love” defined by Spinoza as “pleasure with the accompaniment of the idea of an external cause” (E3p13s), and for this reason it is not necessary for us to distinguish the different manifestations of this kind of love as determined by its objects, e.g., the love of one’s spouse, the love of one’s children, the love of sports, etc. However, in the course of explaining the passive dynamics of love and hate Spinoza writes this:

Proposition 43: Hatred is increased by reciprocal hatred, and conversely can be destroyed by love.

This proposition should make readers pause for at least two reasons: first, because of the powerful idea expressed—there is a way to remove hatred—and second, because of the inconsistent use of “love.” It seems obvious that we are now dealing with a different kind of love. One cannot easily substitute Spinoza’s essential definition into this proposition and have it make sense. The love that is now being referred to is active rather than passive.

There is another term Spinoza uses to refer to what we may understand as active, ethical love, and that is “nobility.” Not surprisingly, this term is repeatedly equated with love, which further deepens the ambiguity. After fifty-seven propositions in Part Three that explain “the origin and nature of the emotions” and categorize forty-six passive emotions, Spinoza writes only two propositions which explain active emotions rather than passions. The scholium to the last proposition states that all the active emotions are related to fortitude, which covers two categories of emotions: courage and nobility.

For by ‘courage’ I understand ‘the desire by which each person endeavours to preserve his being in accordance with the dictate of reason alone’, and by ‘nobility’ I understand ‘the desire by which each person, in accordance with the dictate of reason alone, endeavors to help other men and join them to him in friendship’.

Thus for Spinoza it is essential for an active person to try to help others, and it should be pointed out that the notion of “friendship” is not that which we normally consider to be based on personal preferences. It cannot be, since it is commanded by reason alone. A “friend” in Spinoza’s sense is what Kierkegaard will call the neighbor, and what philosophers like Derrida generally designate as the other.

Nobility has now been defined, but what’s love got to do with it? In a significant proposition in Part Four Spinoza writes:

Someone who lives in accordance with the guidance of reason endeavors, as far as he can, to repay the hatred, anger, contempt, etc. that another has for him with love, i.e. with nobility (E4p46).

So, now, for Spinoza, “love” is nobility. This means we are no longer to think of it as a passion defined as “pleasure accompanied by an external cause.” Love is now a purely internal movement of the self, although it is intended to have external effects—to decrease hatred, anger, contempt, etc.— works of love, if you will. Following the command of reason, it is clear that one shall love, and through acts of love one strengthens and preserves one’s own being. Without love one lives miserably (E4p46s).

There are other passages in Ethics where Spinoza indicates the equivalence of love and nobility, but we do not need to continue our exposition of this point. We are now justified in discussing Spinoza’s Ethics as an ethics of love, in which love is understood as an active internal movement whereby one acts to strengthen the other. This is the substance of Spinoza’s true religion.

What We Can Learn from the Heretic Derrida

If it is true that few philosophers have “occasioned as many refutations, anathemas, insults, and maledictions”22 as the Portuguese-Dutch Spinoza, then the Algerian-French philosopher Jacques Derrida must be counted as one of the few. Ever since the famous triple-play of 1967 (i.e., the publications of Speech and Phenomena, Writing and Difference, and Of Grammatology) deconstruction has been attacked as ugly and dangerous, and its “father” has been the subject of pointed controversy throughout his career and even in his death.

What is perhaps at the root of the maddening effect of Derrida’s texts is his playful style of writing and the strategy he pursues to subject our highest concepts (e.g., meaning, reason, and tradition) to a whirlwind that dislocates and displaces. That Spinoza’s philosophy should be taken as a “series of whirlwinds” has been nicely highlighted by Gilles Deleuze. And it is worthy to consider that a Marronite background may be at work in the lives and philosophies of both Spinoza and Derrida. As Marrano23 Jews they are masters of “dual language and equivocation.”24 With respect to Spinoza this has been shown quite impressively by Yirmiyahu Yovel in his study Spinoza and Other Heretics: The Marrano of Reason.25 While Derrida has called himself “a kind of Marrano,” it is seldom that he explicitly refers to Spinoza in his work. Nevertheless, Warren Montag, the editor of The New Spinoza, writes that “there is ample evidence of Spinoza’s presence…in the work of…Derrida.”26 But whether Spinoza invites readers to take a “witch’s ride”27 as Deleuze suggests and Derrida “always has the devil in his eyes”28 as he has “circumfessed,” the point of this paper is not primarily comparative. Rather, it is to praise and affirm, which is hardly what the academics who opposed that an honorary degree be conferred on Derrida by Cambridge University had in mind. In the letter they signed in protest we read:

Academic status based on what seems to us to be little more than semi-intelligible attacks upon the values of reason, truth, and scholarship is not, we submit, sufficient grounds for the awarding of an honorary degree in a distinguished university.29

While there are some who may view Derrida as “the Mick Jagger of Cultural Philosophy,”30 to his many detractors he is an “intellectual con artist, a polysyllabic grafter who has duped roughly half the humanities professors in the United States.”31 Even in his death he provoked controversy as he was cruelly attacked by “both liberal and conservative media,”32 thus solidifying a common perception of Derrida as a philosophical outcaste.

Having seen how Derrida has been viewed as a heretical philosopher, let us begin to consider the saintly aspects of his thought. This endeavor itself will be unorthodox, as Hélène Cixous notes at the beginning of her Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint.

What is a Young Jewish Saint [Saint Juif]? Given that the subject is Jacques Derrida, the inventor of difference, the poet who makes writing and hearing—and what an extraordinary sense of hearing he has—pair up and dance, this portrait is sotto voce and homophonically—do you hear?—that of a young sainjuif, I mean a Jewish monkey [singe juif], if there is such a thing, and why shouldn’t there be a saintly monkey or a monkey of a saint?

And you are correct if, by paronomasia, you thought you saw the lightning silhouette of Saint-Just, figure of revolutionary exactitude, signifier (of the) rebel against all bounds and limits, slip in among the saints in Je.33

Perhaps what separates the monkey from the man is the dream, for Bento and Jackie alike, the dream of a pure religion.

Dreaming of a Pure Religion

Although it may be a surprise to some, from his earliest writings on diffèrence forth Derrida acknowledges a correlation between his writing and prophetic religious discourse.34 While this suggests that there is a continuity (of sorts) in Derrida’s writings—after all there are not two Derridas as there are two Heideggers or two Wittgensteins—the focus on religion is more prominent in Derrida’s later works. In these texts his concern is to project a “religion without religion,” which is, of course, a thoroughly ambiguous phrase that reveals dual meanings of the word. The kind of religion Derrida wishes to do without is what could be considered to be “ordinary or common religion,” the kind of religion involving a supposedly fixed theological doctrine. This is the kind of religion that leads to divisions and wars, that has witches burnt at the stake, that ostracizes homosexuals and that finds heretics everywhere. Because of this religion, the Dutch saying quoted by Spinoza in his Theological Political Treatise, Geen ketter sonder letter35 (“No heretic without a text”), makes sense.

In contrast to Nietzsche, whose shocking proclamation that “God is dead” seemingly allows for no compromise with or affirmation of religion, Derrida’s expression “religion without religion” embraces and affirms “religion,” for it retains the term that contains a tension within while signifying the idea of a “pure religion” without all the corruptions of an impure religion. On my reading Derrida’s view of “religion” parallels his discussion of “forgiveness,” so that much of Derrida’s analysis of forgiveness can be applied to his understanding of religion. In his essay “On Forgiveness,” Derrida is seeking for a “proper” meaning of the word and distinguishes between common forgiveness and pure forgiveness. What may be taken to be the sole proposition that Derrida risks is this:

[E]ach time forgiveness is at the service of a finality, be it noble and spiritual (atonement or redemption, reconciliation, salvation), each time that it aims to re-establish a normality (social, national, political, psychological) by a work of mourning, by some therapy or ecology of memory, then the ‘forgiveness’ is not pure – nor is its concept. Forgiveness is not, it should not be, normal, normative, normalizing. It should remain exceptional and extraordinary, in the face of the impossible: as if it interrupted the ordinary course of historical temporality.36

There are two important points I would like to make regarding this passage. The first is that we can replace the word “forgiveness” with “religion” and gain insight into Derrida’s “pure religion.” Religion “should not be, normal, normative, normalizing. It should remain exceptional and extraordinary, in the face of the impossible: as if it interrupted the ordinary course of historical temporality.” Is this not a way of suggesting that pure religion will always appear as heresy? Does this not also explain why we can find the heretics Spinoza and Derrida saintly? The second point relates to the first, through the doubly written and doubly italicized “should” Derrida is here envisioning a “hyperbolic” ethical ideal of “forgiveness” and “religion.”37 It is important to note that Derrida is not thus repudiating religious practice focused on achieving psychological well-being, national unity, or eternal salvation, but instead he wants to make clear that any such practice is always questionable when it is taken as an economic arrangement meant to achieve a particular end. And of course “terrorism” is the extreme form of religious practice attempting to achieve a social- political end. As such, it is easy to see how far removed it is from “pure religion.”38 Only when religious practice is unconditional will it be “undeconstructible,” and the love of the undeconstructible is but another way that we may paraphrase “religion without religion.”

Thus Derrida defines “pure forgiveness” paradoxically as the forgiveness of the unforgivable, which is to say that which one could never conceive oneself called upon to forgive. The possibility of forgiveness thus “requires us to do the impossible, to make the impossible possible.”39 Richard Kearney provides a helpful interpretation here, for he explains that “what Derrida is trying to do is to think a postmetaphysical category of the possible by rethinking the category of the impossible in a way that is not negative or disabling.”40 Derrida can thus be read as endeavoring to enable the positive practice of pure forgiveness, and he concludes his reflections on forgiveness like this:

What I dream of, what I try to think as the ‘purity’ of a forgiveness worthy of its name, would be a forgiveness without power: unconditional but without sovereignty. The most difficult task, at once necessary and apparently impossible, would be to dissociate unconditionality and sovereignty. Will that be done one day? It is not around the corner, as is said. But since the hypothesis of this unpresentable task announces itself, be it as a dream for thought, this madness is perhaps not so mad . . .41

While the dream of pure religion may indeed be an impossible dream, it is a dream that presents itself nonetheless. Perhaps suggesting “some kind of Platonic account,”42 but with a very significant difference, for its true meaning lies not in the transcendent realm, but rather in the immanent expression of love. Derrida, however, does not frequently write about love and its role in his work, perhaps because he, like his friend Emmanuel Levinas, found “love” to be “a worn-out and ambiguous word.”43 Nevertheless, in a 1982 interview he explains the significance of love for deconstruction.

Deconstruction as such is reducible to neither a method nor an analysis. . . . This is why it is not negative, even though it has often been interpreted as such despite all sorts of warnings. For me it always accompanies an affirmative exigency, I would even say that it never proceeds without love.44

For Derrida, then, love is the practice of affirming the singularity of the other, no matter whom, whether a human or an animot.45 But such affirmation of the other involves a sacrifice, although not a sacrifice of the other as in the unsettling ritual of animal sacrifice, but rather a sacrifice of the self. Such sacrifice can be understood as a “letting-go” of one’s self in order for a “letting-be” [Gelassenheit]. In Gelassenheit Derrida recognizes love itself: “To give oneself up and to surrender one’s weapons without defeat, without memory or plan of war: so that this renunciation not be another ruse of seduction or an added stratagem of jealousy.”46 Love, then, becomes “this infinite renunciation which somehow surrenders to the impossible.”47 All that I am, including “my God” and “my religion,” especially when understood as exclusive and divisive, is given up in infinite renunciation, so that the other names of God—“names like justice, hospitality, testimony, the gift—and democracy,” “[f]or God is the name of the other, any other, no matter whom”48 can be affirmed. John Caputo, who has perhaps best understood the insights of Derrida’s “religion without religion,” clarifies the form this deconstruction takes.

Deconstruction takes the specific form of a democratic messianism, by which [is meant] a thought and practice in which everything is turned toward a democracy to come, which takes the form, as Derrida says, of “absolute hospitality, the ‘yes’ to the arrivant(e), the ‘come’ to the future that cannot be anticipated.”49

Notwithstanding their criticisms of actually existing democracies, our saintly Jewish heretics agree that a pure religion embraces both love and democracy. Such an ideal democracy is more than a merely formal democracy of legal rights, but one where individuals are truly recognized and “do freely what is best.”50 However laudable this may sound, there is still a note of heterodoxy to be detected in our philosophers. For it follows as a practical consequence of these views, which seek not to deride, bewail, or execrate human actions, but to understand them”51 and to affirm the actors involved, so that doing freely what is best may actually become possible, that “the other” should likewise be met with calmness and love, not hatred and anger. Of course the great practical difficulty of a democratic messianism, a democracy of love, is to affirm all singularities, “any other, no matter whom,” whether religious terrorist or secular cartoonist. Indeed, “all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.”52


What is crucial to our heretics’ ways of thinking, which are to become ways of living, is that the positive, affirmative life replaces the life of bondage that people most commonly lead. Of course, pure positivity, as Derrida knows perhaps better than Spinoza, is part of the impossible dream, and yet such total affirmation is what he, ironically known as the father of deconstruction, strives towards.53 The goal of pure religion is to replace theologies and politics of reaction with an active affirmative life. What makes Spinoza’s Ethics such a brilliant example of the active way of being is its geometric method, which is the attempt to master the act of understanding while avoiding the imaginings of reactive thinking. An example of such reactive thinking is satire.

Through the use of the geometrical method Spinoza opposes satire, but he does not directly denounce the satirist, nor does he condemn him, or argue that he should not be free to satirize whatever he likes. Rather, as Deleuze explains, Spinoza understands that “satire is everything that takes pleasure in powerlessness and distress of men, everything that feeds on accusations, on malice, on belittlement, on low interpretations, everything that breaks men’s spirits.”54 The free person thus rises above satire and related forms of protest in an effort to awaken and inspire others to affirm an ethics of love and joy.

Shall we thus conclude by affirming the saintliness of our Jewish thinkers? True, our philosophers are both Jews of questionable Jewishness. True, they represent a “religion without religion” that at first glance appears as heresy. But a closer look reveals a “heresy” that when appropriated has the surprising effect of eliminating heresies. “Religion without religion” thus becomes “heresy without heresy.” All monkeying around aside, let us conclude with a prayer for Saint Baruch and Saint Jacques:

Blessed be they by day and blessed be they by night; The Lord will bring upon them all the blessings which are written in the Book of the Law, and the Lord will preserve their name in the Heavens.



Caputo, John D. “Jacques Derrida (1930-2004).” Cross Currents 55.4 (Winter 2005-06). <>.

Caputo, John D. The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997.

Caputo, John D. and Jacques Derrida. Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida. New York: Fordham UP, 1997.

Cixous, Hélène. Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint. Trans. Beverley Bie Brahic. New York: Columbia UP, 2004.

Derrida, Jacques. The Animal that Therefore I Am. Ed. Marie-Louise Mallet. Trans. David Wills. New York: Fordham UP, 2008.

Derrida, Jacques. Circumfession: Fifty-nine Periods and Periphrases. In Jacques Derrida. Eds. Geoffrey Bennington and Jacques Derrida. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993.

Derrida, Jacques. On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness. Trans. Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes. New York: Routledge, 2001.

Derrida, Jacques. Points…: Interviews, 1974-1994. Ed. Elizabeth Weber. Trans. Peggy Kamuf, et al. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995.

Derrida, Jacques. On the Name. Trans. John Leavey, Jr. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995.

Deleuze, Gilles. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. Trans. Robert Hurley. San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 1988.

Goldstein, Rebecca. Betraying Spinoza. New York: Schocken, 2006.

Chris Kaposy. ‘“Analytic” Reading, “Continental” Text: The Case of Derrida’s “On Forgiveness.”’ International Journal of Philosophical Studies. Vol. 13 (2005): 203-226.

Goldblatt, Mark. “Derrida, Derrida, Etc.: The Philosopher as King.” National Review Online. 16 Jan. 2003. <>.

Kearney, Richard. “Deconstruction, God, and the Possible.” Derrida and Religion: Other Testaments. Eds. Yvonne Sherwood and Kevin Hart. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Kierkegaard, Søren. Concluding Unscientific Postscript. Vol. 1. Trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992.

Levinas, Emmanuel. Entre Nous: Thinking of the Other. Trans. Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshav New York: Columbia UP, 1998.

Lloyd, Genevieve. Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Spinoza and the Ethics. New York: Routledge, 1996.

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Morris, Wesley. “‘Derrida’ an Amusing Portrait of the Master of Deconstruction.” The Boston Globe. 5 Feb. 2003. <>.

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Powell, Jason. Jacques Derrida: A Biography. London: Continuum, 2006.

Reynolds, Jack and Jonathan Roffe, eds. Understanding Derrida. New York: Continuum, 2004.

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Strawser, Michael. “The Ethics of Love in Spinoza and Kierkegaard and the Teleological Suspension of the Theological,” Philosophy Today 51.4 (Winter 2007): 438-446.

Strawser, Michael. “A Place for Forgiveness? A Derridean Response to Terrorism.” Politics and Religion in the New Century: Philosophical Perspectives. Eds. Philip Quadrio and Carol Besseling. Sydney UP, forthcoming.

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  1. As Jacques Derrida says of himself in Circumfession: Fifty-nine Periods and Periphrases, in Geoffrey Bennington and Jacques Derrida, Jacques Derrida (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993) 155. Accordingly, John Caputo explains: “For Derrida is Jewish without being Jewish, Jewish sans Judaism, married outside Judaism, his sons uncircumcised, he an atheist.” See The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997) xvii. For an interesting discussion of “the question of Spinoza’s atheism” see Merold Westphal, Transendence and Self-Transcendence: On God and the Soul (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2004) 41-48. According to Westphal “it immediately becomes clear that there is a sense in which Spinoza is indisputably an atheist and a sense in which he is indisputably not” (44).
  2. Certainly there are other key works by Derrida, such as Acts of Religion (2001) and Spectres of Marx (1993), the latter of which is, according to Jason Powell in Jacques Derrida: A Biography (London: Continuum, 2006, 207), the beginning of Derrida’s directly religious writings, but I shall have to limit my focus here. Moreover, I wish to suggest below that certain aspects of what Derrida explains as “pure forgiveness” in “On Forgiveness” (in On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, trans. Mark Dooley and Michael Hughes [New York: Routledge, 2001]) may be thought of as characteristic of “pure religion.”
  3. Such a claim in made by Chris Kaposy in his ‘“Analytic” Reading, “Continental” Text: The Case of Derrida’s ‘On Forgiveness,’” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 13 (2005): 213. Although I find this claim to be highly questionable and shall not pursue a consideration of it here, I do agree with Kaposy that the key to Derrida’s argument on pure forgiveness is the ethical interpretation.
  4. A. Wolf, ed., The Oldest Biography of Spinoza (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1927) 146.
  5. Genevieve Lloyd, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Spinoza and the Ethics (New York: Routledge, 1996) 3.
  6. Robert Hurley, trans., “Preface” to Gilles Deleuze’s Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1988) i.
  7. Baruch Spinoza, Ethics, ed. and trans. G. H. R. Parkinson (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000) 108-9. References to this text will be given parenthetically throughout this paper and will follow the standard pattern where “E” stands for the Part of Ethics, “p” for proposition, and “s” for scholium.
  8. This appears on the title page of the Theological-Political Treatise in Spinoza: Complete Works, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002) 387.
  9. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 390.
  10. Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, Vol. 1, trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992) 189f.
  11. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 456.
  12. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 511.
  13. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 508-509.
  14. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 509.
  15. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 504.
  16. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 513.
  17. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 519.
  18. This section has previously been published in “The Ethics of Love in Spinoza and Kierkegaard and the Teleological Suspension of the Theological,” Philosophy Today 51.4 (Winter 2007): 440-441.
  19. Additional examples of ambiguous terms are “freedom” and “emotion.”
  20. E3p13s.
  21. The phrase “knowledge of God” is ambiguous in Spinoza’s writings as well. It should not here be understood as having any propositional content, but rather as a reference to whatever the mysterious source of love may be.
  22. Deleuze 10.
  23. According to Rebecca Goldstein, “the word marrano is believed to derive from the old Castilian ‘swine,’ a particularly apt slur to insult those believed to be concealing Jewish practice beneath Christian performance.” See Betraying Spinoza (New York: Schocken, 2006) 4.
  24. Lloyd 4.
  25. Princeton UP, 1992.
  26. Warren Montag in his Preface to The New Spinoza, ed. Warren Montag and Ted Stolze (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1997) ix.
  27. Malamud, The Fixer, quoted by Deleuze in the opening epigraph to his Spinoza: Practical Philosophy.
  28. See John Caputo’s obituary for Derrida, “Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)” in Cross Currents 55.4 (Winter 2005-06). <>.
  29. Quoted in Understanding Derrida, eds. Jack Reynolds and Jonathan Roffe (New York: Continuum, 2004) 1.
  30. Wesley Morris, “‘Derrida’ an Amusing Portrait of the Master of Deconstruction,” The Boston Globe, 5 Feb. 2003. Available at <>.
  31. Mark Goldblatt, “Derrida, Derrida, Etc.: The Philosopher as King,” National Review Online, 16 Jan. 2003. <>.
  32. See Caputo’s “Jacques Derrida (1930-2004).”
  33. Hélène Cixous, Portrait of Jacques Derrida as a Young Jewish Saint, trans. Beverley Bie Brahic (New York: Columbia UP, 2004) vii.
  34. See Dermot Moran, Introduction to Phenomenology (London and New York: Routledge, 2000) 470. Nevertheless, it is usually thought that Derrida’s religious writings begin much later in his authorship. As noted above (note 2), Powell argues that they begin in the 1990s, whereas Caputo suggests that Derrida’s “religion without religion” develops in the 1980s with his reflections on the other. See Caputo, The Prayers and Tears of Jacques Derrida: Religion without Religion.
  35. Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, 514.
  36. Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 31-32.
  37. See Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 51.
  38. Some of the ideas in this section reappear in a more detailed discussion of the relationship between terrorism and forgiveness in my forthcoming article: “A Place for Forgiveness? A Derridean Response to Terrorism,” Politics and Religion in the New Century: Philosophical Perspectives, eds. Philip Quadrio and Carol Besseling (Sydney UP).
  39. Richard Kearney, “Deconstruction, God, and the Possible,” Derrida and Religion: Other Testaments, eds. Yvonne Sherwood and Kevin Hart (New York: Routledge, 2005) 300.
  40. Kearney 302.
  41. Derrida, On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness, 59-60.
  42. Kaposy 213.
  43. Emmanuel Levinas, Entre Nous: Thinking of the Other, trans. Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshav (New York: Columbia UP, 1998) 108.
  44. Jacques Derrida, “The Almost Nothing of the Unrepresentable,” Points…: Interviews, 1974-1994, ed. Elizabeth Weber, trans. Peggy Kamuf et al. (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995) 83.
  45. Derrida coins this neologism precisely to signal and to emphasize the singularity of all the different animals who when referred to by “the general singular that is the animal” are reduced to a commonality that separates them from what is proper to humans. Derrida’s radical thinking of the other as animal or animot calls the dominant tradition of western philosophy into question. The implications of this profound thinking have not yet been fully appreciated. See Jacques Derrida, The Animal that Therefore I Am, ed. Marie-Louise Mallet, trans. David Wills (New York: Fordham UP, 2008) esp. 37-41.
  46. Jaques Derrida, “Sauf le nom (Post-Scriptum),” On the Name, trans. John Leavey, Jr. (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995) 74.
  47. Derrida, “Sauf le nom (Post-Scriptum),” 74.
  48. Derrida in John D. Caputo and Jacques Derrida, Deconstruction in a Nutshell: A Conversation with Jacques Derrida (New York: Fordham UP, 1997) 173.
  49. Caputo in Caputo and Derrida, Deconstruction in a Nutshell, 173.
  50. E2p49s.
  51. Baruch Spinoza, Political Treatise, in Spinoza: Complete Works, trans. Samuel Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002) 681.
  52. E5p42s.
  53. Nietzsche, who had found a kindred spirit in Spinoza (see The Portable Nietzsche, ed. and trans. Walter Kaufman [Penguin, 1972], 72), also tried to embrace an affirmative philosophy symbolized by everything that is meant by Dionysus, and yet his work is known much more readily for its provocative negative emphasis than for the affirmative perspective that he sought to develop.
  54. Deleuze 13. Thus Deleuze understands Spinoza’s geometrical method as an invention for inspiration, which is a helpful interpretation, although he gets some points wrong when he writes of the virtues that humility—which Spinoza repudiated—is required, and that Spinoza didn’t believe in courage—which for Spinoza is a sub-species of fortitude and an active emotion.

Michael Strawser

Michael Strawser is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Central Florida. His research interests are Kierkegaard, Continental Philosophy (both modern and contemporary), and Ethics. He is the author of Both/And: Reading Kierkegaard from Irony to Edification (New York: Fordham University Press, 1997) and “Looking for the Common Watermark: Loving Others in Kierkegaard and Levinas” in Despite Oneself: Subjectivity and its Secret in Kierkegaard and Levinas (London: Turnshare, 2008). His journal articles have appeared in Philosophy Today, Soundings, The International Journal of Philosophical Studies, The Journal of the History of Philosophy, Teaching Philosophy, Philosophia, and Topicos. [email protected]