Dear people,

We stop here at the monument of Spinoza. Baruch de Spinoza was born in 1632 in Amsterdam as the child of refugees from Spain. In Spain the Jews were heavily persecuted. The Jewish parents of Spinoza fled to Portugal and in 1593 they sailed from Lisbon by boat to the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands the Treaty of Tolerance had been proclaimed. This treaty guaranteed a relative freedom of religion. Jews were allowed to build their synagogues and confess to their religion and culture. This meant that Spinoza could go to a Jewish school. He learned Hebrew and studied the works of Jewish, Arabic and Christian theologians. He received his education from the orthodox rabbi Saul Moreira as well as from the liberal rabbi Menasseh ben Israel, who belonged to the circle of friends of the painter Rembrandt.

Soon Spinoza developed his own ideas about religion, politics, equality and freedom. The orthodox Jewish community was shocked by these ideas. In 1656 he was excommunicated. Later on his ideas were also condemned by the Protestant religious authorities. His Tractatus theologico-politicus, anonimously published in 1670, was forbidden. His main work Ethica was published after his death in 1677.

What was so shocking about Spinoza’s ideas? The shock came from one tiny word: in.

According to Spinoza there is only ‘in’, there is no ‘out’. There is no other world elsewhere, all is inside. The world itself is God or Nature, he said. We are all in here, there is nobody out there. That was completely different than the world view of most people in those days. It was generally believed that next to the world that you can know, there is a world that you cannot know, a world that is elsewhere, a world or a God that surpasses, transcends everything that you can think of. In the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic faiths there was separation between creation and God, between nature and God, between humankind and God.

Spinoza thought the opposite. According to him the world itself is God or Nature. The world is immanent. All is in, he said. That is why he was called an a-theist: he denied the existence of God as an entity dwelling somewhere else, in heaven. At the same time he was called a pan-theist, an all-theist, because he said that God is in nature and in each of us and in everything.

It is important to realize that Spinoza was a rationalistic thinker. He believed that because we are part of everything we can reach knowledge of everything. Through reason, through our capacity to think we can understand everything. So we can also understand each other.

Spinoza’s opinion can help us to think about hospitality. If we are all ‘in’ then we are somehow already connected. Somebody knocking at your door might look like a stranger, he or she might think differently and act differently, but in fact this other person is equal to you, equipped with reason just like you, somebody you can understand, somebody who is also part of where you are part of and part of what you can think of. In the other you can recognize yourself, and vice versa. This insight can be a positive motivation to welcome people who are in need of hospitality.

But if you can recognize yourself in the other, how different can the other be?

Do you welcome another person only insofar you can understand the other?

What if you don’t understand the other?

What if the other is other in ways that you cannot think of?

In that case maybe curiosity can help. A curiosity for what you can bring to each other and that can be something of which you would never be able to think yourself.

Let’s go on.