"Either the gods have no power or they have power. If, then, they have no power, why dost thou pray to them? But if they have power, why dost thou not pray for them to give thee the faculty of not fearing any of the things which thou fearest, or of not desiring any of the things which thou desirest, or not being pained at anything, rather than pray that any of these things should not happen or happen?"
I've been reading through Marcus's Meditations, and it's been delightful. For a Roman emperor known for his persecution of the early church, he sure does sound a lot like Jesus and the apostle Paul.
I was struck by this passage because of its relevance for religious believers today. Here, he presents us with a dilemma. Either God is in control, or God isn't.
If you believe that God isn't in control, then Marcus has this to say: you can't control most of what happens in your life, even if you devote your life to doing so. What happens, happens according to chance and the laws of nature. So order your life accordingly. What this amounts to is letting go of what is not in your control.
On the other hand, most of those who adhere to a religious system believe God is in control. If this is so, then it seems unfaithful to order one's life in a way that completely ignores God's providence. This thought is not captured by this particular quote, but it comes out throughout Marcus's writings. If you believe in God's providence, then the responsibility of running the world is not on you.
So what is on you? The answer is to act according to your nature. For Marcus, it is in our nature to act according to reason, and reason demands that we do our duty. Now, depending on what your religious faith demands, you will need to fill in 'duty' for yourself. But for Christians, the duty is clear. They must love God and love their neighbor. What this amounts to is letting go of what is not in their control, and living according to God's will.
I am struck by how many Christians, especially, do not live this way politically. They act as if the responsibility of running the world is on them. They think that if they can keep others out of America, such as Muslims or Syrian refugees, then their lives will run smoothly. They ignore God's will in order to worship the illusory idol of safety and security. I know -- I used to be one.
Marcus, tragically, did not take his own advice. Instead, he chose to persecute Christians. But let us not make the same mistake. Instead, let us pray that God would take away our fear of others so that we may love one another as God has loved us.
God of earth's climate,
The nations gathered and listened to your voice, spoken long ago through your prophets, the climate scientists. You've warned of the coming doom resulting from our selfish use of resources, our avaricious scramble for more energy, and disregard for the poor at the equator. You told us to be stewards of your earth, and in our sinfulness, we have used that as a license to do whatever we want with the earth's resources.
We have not yet repented of our need for comfort and luxury, but we have begun to think about change. Thank you that our politicians are starting to listen. Thank you for the accord in Paris.
Our people in Syria need you. We've heard more and more of devastating crimes, beheadings, torture, hatred, execution, and war.
Many of us in the US sit around debating whether we should allow refugees into our borders.
Others of us cry out for justice. We think that war on the Islamic State will stop the violence and the suffering. We want to fight the world on the worlds terms.
As always, the darkness of the present leaves us terrified. We ask ourselves: What if it were to happen here? What if it were to happen to us? How can we prevent it?
We forget that its our people in Syria who are suffering. We forget that you love all of your people, not just those of us in the West. Our dividing walls are historically contingent illusions. More violence lays more brick for more walls.
Help us to see as you see. Help us to trust you as our ruler. God, save your people from the darkness. Give us peace. Amen.
For more on Syria, click here.
Writing philosophy is hard. Also, writing about writing philosophy is hard too, so I let someone else do it for me...
"The best kinds of intro-level Philosophy essays:
~ Demonstrate detailed and precise knowledge and understanding of the arguments and concepts relating to the question.
~ Give a clear, detailed and precise analysis of the arguments and theories relating to the question.
~ Make good use of illustrations and examples to support your analysis, and more importantly, the line of argument you choose to reach your conclusion.
~ Interpret and combine the points you’ve chosen to talkabout to create a coherent, and well-reasoned argument that directly addresses the question...."
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I'm participating in my Stoic Week 2015. Join me at ModernStoicism.com!
This will be my first time participating in a stoic week. They have been doing them since 2012, and I'm only just hearing about it. I've been happy to learn that I've been practicing Stoic principles for years. I just never related them to Stoicism. The connections seem obvious to me now.
For instance, a fundamental Stoic principle is to only focus on the things that are in my control. Most of the time, this means that I need to focus on my own behavior, attitudes, and emotions. This is definitely the case in my relationships. I can't control the way other people think or feel, but I can control the way I react to those people. I can also let them know about how their behavior and words affect me, emotionally.
This requires the use of "I" language, rather than "you" language. For instance, if someone says something that is hurtful to me, rather than responding with an insult or assumption about their character ("You're a jerk"), I can say, "I feel insulted when..." At that point, it is up to them to respond in a mature way.
This is something I've been learning and practicing for years, and a tool that has helped me is the Serenity Prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference." Essentially, this is a Stoic prayer. It emphasizes two of the four cardinal virtues of the Stoics (wisdom & courage), while also reminding me to reflect on what is and is not in my control.
I hope to have more posts on Stoicism in the future. Because of my interest in virtue ethics, Stoicism is right up my alley.