BARUCH SPINOZA: Clarity Is King!

…had a poetically appropriate day job for a philosopher - he crafted glass lenses for telescopes so the heavens might be better viewed.

BARUCH SPINOZA: Clarity Is King!

written by Fred Van Lente drawn by Ryan Dunlavey colored by Adam Guzowski

Script for Action Philosophers: Spinoza


Panel 1: BARUCH SPINOZA hunched over his workbench, turning the wheel to grind lenses for a telescope. Show antique telescopes in various states of completion around him. Rembrandt and Spinoza were Dutch contemporaries, and I’ve looked through his paintings like The Philosopher in Meditation for inspiration. 


CAPTION: (1632-1677) had a poetically appropriate DAY JOB for a PHILOSOPHER… 

CAPTION: …he crafted GLASS LENSES for TELESCOPES, so the HEAVENS might be better VIEWED. 

CAPTION: (The modern telescope had just been invented in 1600 by a Dutch EYEGLASS maker.)

Panel 2: Spinoza’s Jewish “friends” pester him with questions by one of Amsterdam’s many canals. Here’s Rembrandt’s depiction of a well-to-do Dutch-Jewish man in The Jewish Bride. (Scene from Stewart 30)

CAPTION: Born into a prosperous Jewish MERCANTILE family, Spinoza SHOULD have enjoyed a much more LUXURIOUS lifestyle than that of a humble ARTISAN.

RICH JEWISH DUDE #1: COME now, Bento, tell us your REAL VIEWS. You can TRUST us. Are we not your FRIENDS? 

RICH JEWISH DUDE #2: If one reads the Talmud, it would seem the soul is not IMMORTAL – that there are no ANGELS – and that God has a CORPOREAL BODY. 

CAPTION: Unfortunately, some of the NOSIER members of his Amsterdam TEMPLE had heard RUMORS about the conclusions Spinoza had reached in his amateur PHILOSOPHICAL writings. 

Panel 3: Close on Spinoza somewhat haughtily answering his non-friends.

CAPTION: Barely TWENTY-FOUR years old, Spinoza had not yet learned the value of CAUTION over PRIDE. 

SPINOZA: “I confess that since NOTHING is to be found in the Bible about the immaterial or incorporeal, there is nothing OBJECTIONABLE in believing that God is a BODY.”

SPINOZA: “All the MORE so since, as it says in PSALMS [48:1], ‘God is GREAT,’ and it is IMPOSSIBLE to comprehend greatness without extension, and, therefore, without BODY.” 


Panel 1: A black-garbed assassin attacks Spinoza as he leaves the synagogue! According to Matthew Stewart, Spinoza “glimpsed the flash of a knife and stepped back just as the blade came swooping down toward him. The knife penetrated his overcoat but missed his body” (Stewart 31).

CAPTION: Spinoza spoke of OTHER heretical things – that the existence of angels and other SPIRITS and the immortality of the SOUL cannot be proven by SCRIPTURE.

CAPTION: He might have realized he OVERspoke when an unknown ASSASSIN tried to STAB him as he left TEMPLE! 

Panel 2: Cut back to Spinoza’s worktable – as he labors, we see over his head, FRAMED on the wall, a piece of his coat – with the knife wound clearly visible! 

CAPTION: Bento KEPT the coat, TEAR and all, for the REST of his life… 

CAPTION: …presumably to always REMIND him that the life of the mind is not always a PEACEFUL life! 

Panel 3: Stat last panel of Page Seven of “Machiavelli” (p. 19 of Giant-Size Thing Vol. 2)—Jews & Moors getting booted out of Spain. 

CAPTION: Dutch Jews were in an ODD position in the mid-1600’s. Holland had agreed to take them in after Spain’s King Ferdinand expelled them from the Iberian Peninsula (Spinoza’s family was ethnically PORTUGUESE) only so long as they didn’t stir up RELIGIOUS TROUBLE. 

CAPTION: European CHRISTIANS had enough problems of their own with the bloody Protestant/Catholic schism without shouldering the blasphemies of OTHER faiths. 

Panel 4: Like whiny little brats, the two Dutch young men from Page Twenty-Five, Panel 2, tug on a rabbi’s sleeves, crying and pointing off at the innocent-looking Spinoza in the background who points at himself like “Who, me?” Here is Rembrandt’s incredibly flattering etching of learned rabbits of 1600’s Amsterdam, Jews in the Synagogue

CAPTION: Amsterdam’s rabbis had always assumed that, as Spinoza was such a LEARNED youth, he was also PIOUS. 

RICH DUTCH GUY #1: Waaa! Bento said we’re not IMMORTAL! 

RICH DUTCH GUY #2: AND he doubts MOSES wrote the whole TORAH! Waaa!

CAPTION: His ENEMIES soon convinced them OTHERWISE.  

Panel 5: Before the rabbinical council in the front of the synagogue, Spinoza haughtily spurns a bribe in the form of a huge moneybag offered by the rabbis. (Stewart 33)

CAPTION: Hauled before the leaders of Dutch Jewry, Spinoza was offered the awesome sum of ONE THOUSAND GUILDERS to publicly RECANT. 

CAPTION: His reply?

SPINOZA: “In return for the trouble you have taken to teach me the HEBREW LANGUAGE, I am quite willing to show you how to EXCOMMUNICATE me.”*

CAPTION (small): *: Actual quote!  


Panel 1: The furious rabbis put Spinoza in the 1950’s science fiction movie-looking “DE-JEWIFYING” machine (labeled as such), where he is bombarded with (labeled w/arrows) “De-Jewifying Rays”. 

CAPTION: Jews aren’t the excommunicating TYPE, but Spinoza managed to really PISS OFF the rabbis. They decided to make an EXAMPLE of him. 

CAPTION: On July 27, 1656, a writ of cherum was read aloud before the ARK of Amsterdam: 

CAPTION: “The said Spinoza should be excommunicated and EXPELLED from the PEOPLE OF ISRAEL…” 

Panel 2: Spinoza stands, stunned, looking out of the storefront window of his store, which reads “SPINOZA DRY GOODS” over the top. Despite the sale sign in the window – “100% off! Everything must GO!” Jews pass by on the street with their noses upturned, ignoring him. 

CAPTION: “…the Lord will not SPARE him, but then the ANGER of the Lord and his JEALOUSY shall SMOKE against that man, and ALL the curses that are WRITTEN in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall BLOT OUT his name from under Heaven.” 

CAPTION: The cherum also forbade any Jew from coming within SIX FEET of him … so Spinoza had to get out of the MERCHANT game! 

Panel 3: Close on Spinoza back in his workshop, grinding a lens. Important: GLASS DUST filters up from the edge of the lens where the grinder meets it. 

CAPTION: OPTICS was the cutting-edge TECHNOLOGY of the 17th century, kind of like what COMPUTER PROGRAMMING is today. So it’s no surprise that a BIG BRAIN like Spinoza would have gravitated toward LENS CRAFTING as a replacement career. 

CAPTION: In the ensuing decades spent REFINING GLASS, Spinoza would also REFINE his ideas into two great works, the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus and Ethics

Panel 4: Stat Panel 1 of Page Two of “Epictetus the Stoic”: Except SPINOZA is the speaking finger nearest to God’s thumb.  

CAPTION: Heavily influenced by the STOICS, Spinoza told a friend:

SPINOZA: “I do not DIFFERENTIATE between God and Nature in the way that all those known to me have done.” 

SPINOZA: His formulation was DEUS SIVE NATURA – “God or Nature” – six of one, half dozen of the other! 

Panel 5: Inside a CIRCULAR PANEL we see God: and inside God’s huge tummy is a perfectly round world. He pats his gut self-satisfied, as if he just had a big meal. (Quote: Stumpf 249)

CAPTION: As the nature of a CIRCLE, for example, lies its ROUNDNESS… 

CAPTION: …“ALL things, I say, are IN God and move IN God.” 

CAPTION: “Whatever is, is IN God, and nothing can exist or conceived WITHOUT God.”


Panel 1: Stat Panel 3 of the previous page, except it’s GOD creating the lens, not Spinoza. A banner over the panel reads “NO”. 

CAPTION: What drove the rabbis NUTS about Spinoza was his insistence that God was not a TRANSITIVE but rather an IMMANENT cause of reality. 

CAPTION: This very ARISTOTELIAN distinction simply means that the “Old Man on a Cloud” figure of God is completely ERRONEOUS – God is not a PERSONALITY, objectively CREATING reality the way an artisan crafts a LENS. 

Panel 2: Stat Panel 3 of Page One of “Epictetus the Stoic”: God, God, God everywhere! (Stumpf 249-250) 

CAPTION: No-- God creates reality by BEING reality! Spinoza:

CAPTION: “God I understand to be a being absolutely infinite, that is, a substance consisting of infinite attributes, each of which expresses eternal and infinite essence.” 

CAPTION: Everything that IS, therefore, is merely a “MODE” of God. 

Panel 3: At a bar, Spinoza is drunk on a flask that is made from a God head. The bartender is a rabbi, cleaning a glass. 

CAPTION: No wonder Spinoza has been nicknamed by his fellow philosophers as “that GOD-INTOXICATED man!”

BARTENDER: Awright, buddy, you’re CUT OFF. 

Panel 4: At a “pitch” session several DESIGNERS show God three sketches of a PLATYPUS. Only one, however, looks like the actual platypus; the rest can be made up entirely of your diseased mind, Ryan. (Quote: Stewart 160)

CAPTION: And just as a circle MUST be round, Spinoza writes, “Things could NOT have been produced by God in any manner or in any order DIFFERENT from that which in fact EXISTS.” 

GOD: Hmmmm… I like ALL these designs, so it’s tough to DECIDE…

CAPTION: In this way Spinoza demolishes Aristotle’s two millennia-held distinction between POSSIBILITY and ACTUALITY: If something COULD BE, it IS. If it CAN’T, it’s NOT. 

Panel 5: God like the famous picture of Superman bursting chains with his chest. 

CAPTION: Since FREEDOM is nothing more than the ability to act according to one’s own NATURE, God is also absolutely FREE.

Panel 6: Stat previous panel, except it’s Spinoza bursting the chains. 

CAPTION: Therefore … and this is where “The Man” REALLY can’t stand Spinoza … so are WE, who are PART of God! 


Panel 1: Spinoza suddenly appears before MOSES descending Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments. (q.v. “Rabbi of the Mystic Arts”), interrupting their presentation to the thirsty and hungry Israelites below by denouncing Moses. (QUOTE: Stewart 162)

SPINOZA: “God gives no LAWS to mankind so as to REWARD them when they fulfill them and to punish them when they TRANSGRESS them!” 

Panel 2: Spinoza shows the angry Israelites surveillance photos that show an evilly cackling MOSES carving the Ten Commandments himself! 

SPINOZA: “Or, to state it more CLEARLY:”

SPINOZA: “God’s LAWS are not of such nature that they COULD BE TRANSGRESSED!” 

Panel 3: In the background, angry Israelites smash Ten Commandments over Moses’s head and otherwise kick his ass while Spinoza sniffs a plucked flower in the foreground contentedly. (Quote: Stewart 167)

SPINOZA: “Man is a part of Nature and must follow ITS laws…”


Panel 4: On the floor of a car are two pedals: the break has a BRAIN symbol, and the gas has a HEART symbol. 

CAPTION: PLEASURE is Nature’s way of POINTING us toward true HAPPINESS, and it is REASON’s job to CONTROL the emotions in order for us to secure that which we DESIRE, which will SECURE for us happiness. 

Panel 5: EMOTION – a being with a heart for a head – appears like a Devil on the shoulder of a a kid who sees a girl he likes walk past in the hall of his high school. 

CAPTION: Though Spinoza himself would have never put it this way (for OBVIOUS reasons), the PASSIONS – the EMOTIONS – are the FUEL that makes your life GO, that DRIVES you through your daily routine … 

EMOTION: Ooh, Mama! Let’s ask her OUT! 

KID: But how can I get HER to like ME?

EMOTION: Who CARES? Let’s just GO for it! 

Panel 6: On his other shoulder appears REASON, an Angel with a brain instead of a head.  The kid listens intently. 

CAPTION: …but REASON is the BRAKE that lets you manage and modify your passions, that lets you set the best PATH to your goal, and understand why SOME passions are better than OTHERS. 

REASON: Here’s what you do: Send her a note, but don’t SIGN it; then send FLOWERS – anonymously – to her table in the CAFETERIA. 

REASON: Build up the fact she has an ADMIRER, then when she least EXPECTS it, here’s what you’ll do: Psst, psst… 


Panel 1: Combine Panels 3 and 4 of Page Twenty-Five of ACTION PHILOSOPHERS #7 (“Epictetus the Stoic”): Epictetus’s swirly interior between yelling folk. (Stewart 176)

CAPTION: Reason’s SECOND role is to help us UNDERSTAND the difference between what we CAN and CANNOT control, so we might not be unnecessarily DISCOURAGED by the latter. 

CAPTION: “Insofar as we understand, we can desire nothing but that which MUST BE, nor can we find contentment in anything but the TRUTH,” Spinoza writes. 

Panel 2: Emotion (from previous page) is enormous hulking brute that effortlessly bats away scrawny, weak Reason. (Stewart 177)

CAPTION: The passions are POWERFUL, however, and mere reason ALONE cannot hope to stand against them. All the time we “follow the WORSE course even when we know the BETTER.” 

CAPTION: No – we need to fight Emotion with its EQUAL – Reason’s OWN passion, which Spinoza calls “the INTELLECTUAL LOVE OF GOD.” 

Panel 3: Spinoza as a 1960’s teenage girl lying on his bed, kicking feet in the air, flipping through Teen Beat magazine…which, of course, depicts GOD. 

CAPTION: Unlike our OWN emotions, which so often are utterly DISPROPORTIONATE to their objects, the love of GOD is wholly “ACCURATE” (controlled, as it is, by REASON).  

SPINOZA (w/notes): To know him is to love, love, LOVE him… And I DO… 

CAPTION: Spinoza calls love of God a THIRD function of Reason, “INTUITION” – KNOWING God IS loving God, and vice-versa. Further, it is the greatest love POSSIBLE! 

Panel 4: Teenage boy with Kleenex and porno mag sits on closed toilet, reacting to a knock at the door. (There are a lot of masturbation jokes in this comic, did you notice?) 

CAPTION: After all, as we are PART of God, our love of God is ALSO God’s own love for HIMSELF. When we love OURSELVES, we love the UNIVERSE.



Panel 5: TEEN POPE moons away the time in class scratching out on his desk the words (in a heart) “MAN + GOD” (Stewart 179)

CAPTION: However, “it CANNOT be said that God LOVES mankind, much less that he should love them because THEY love HIM, or HATE them because THEY hate him.” 

TEEN POPE: >Sigh…< … will He EVER notice me? 

CAPTION: “He who loves God CANNOT endeavor that God should love him in RETURN.” 

Panel 6: God passed out on the couch while, through the mail slot on his door, massive amounts of letters – labeled “PRAYERS” – stream through, adding to the huge pile already there. 

CAPTION: Spinoza’s God doesn’t do MIRACLES. He doesn’t answer your PRAYERS. 


CAPTION: He doesn’t watch over you or your LOVED ONES any more than you spend all YOUR time watching over distinct parts of your BODY. 


Panel 1: Stat Page Thirty, Panel 4. 



CAPTION (small): Oh, STOP. You KNOW what we mean… 

Panel 2: God removes his face, revealing the UNIVERSE swirling inside.  

CAPTION: That’s because Spinoza’s God isn’t a FATHER, SON, or GHOST, Holy or not. He’s not nor has He ever been a PERSON like you or me.

CAPTION: He is the UNIVERSE. He is NATURE. He is YOU.  

CAPTION: Nature/God has already given you all you could ever NEED, along with the REASON that can comprehend this fact.

Panel 3: Big shot of God wearing a conductor’s hat and sitting in the engine of a Disneyland-style miniature train. From this angle, we see the circular track leaves the station and simply circles around and comes right back to it again. (Quote: Stumpf 251)

CAPTION: Because everything that IS is as it MUST BE, there is no “PURPOSE” to life – we’re not “MOVING towards” any END, as we humans constantly wonder and/or hope. 


CAPTION: We are ALREADY THERE! Spinoza says it was only the invention of MATH, “which does not deal with FINAL CAUSES but with the ESSENCES of things, offered to men another standard of TRUTH.”

Panel 4: At an open-casket funeral, a spirit drifts out of the dead man’s body – but he looks down at himself, and is stunned, to see he looks just like GOD!! (Quote: Stewart 177)

CAPTION: The GOOD NEWS, however, is that your LIFE can’t end, either! “The human mind CANNOT be destroyed with the body,” Spinoza writes. 

CAPTION: But Spinoza’s conception of the AFTERLIFE, not unlike his conception of GOD, is without PERSONALITY: We merely RETURN to the GOD-SOURCE from which we SPRANG. When we DIE, our feelings and memories do not go WITH us. 

GOD: !!!

CAPTION: But is that not FITTING, as what ARE our selves other than a collection of DESIRES for what we had ONCE, and things that we don’t have YET? After death, what PURPOSE could your desires SERVE? 

Panel 5: SPINOZA’S LANDLORD (who was a painter by trade – here’s Rembrandt’s The Artist in His Studio) walks in his door, and is STUNNED to see Spinoza’s body lies sprawled across the floor of his workshop. He is dead. 

CAPTION: On February 21, 1677, Spinoza’s Protestant landlord returned home from CHURCH to find, completely UNEXPECTEDLY, the great philosopher DEAD. 

CAPTION: The nearly microscopic GLASS DUST from his twenty-one years of LENS GRINDING had floated up, into his lungs… 

Panel 6: Tighter detail of the blood oozing out of Spinoza’s mouth, pooling near one of his lenses lies, cracked, near his head. 

CAPTION: …DESTROYING them. He died of advanced CONSUMPTION at FORTY-FOUR years of age.

CAPTION: He persisted in clarifying OTHERS’ sight, no matter WHAT the risk … and ultimately, that risk caught UP to him.  

CAPTION: Poetic TOO, no?