Thursday, November 28, 2019

Stoics and the Divine

In the 16th and 17th Centuries more humanist thinkers blended the Christian tenets with Stoicism. And the principle reason for this had to do with the Stoic idea of a natural order, or what they sometimes called Divine Reason. My own argument would be that the natural order or Divine Reason are expressions that simply attempt to explain those parts of our world over which we as individuals have less, or no control and where we feel most unsafe. Take for example the more ancient idea of The Fates. On the one hand they were three Goddesses who weaved our individual destiny, and to give a narrative of hope, each Goddess had different personalities ranging from nice to nasty. Each Goddess had a name and no doubt far too often the nicer Goddess got lots and lots of presents on her special day, which really pissed off the nastier Goddess who only very rarely got a present for being particularly unpleasant to someone every one hated. On the other hand The Fates in mythology were much less motivated, they were three angry blind men, dour as aging gardeners in the shorter days, randomly hacking away at the invisible strands that determine our destiny, a brutal but necessary business. In this respect for Stoics it was Knowledge that supplied us with the necessary armor to protect us from reacting poorly to the shears of the blind men or the moods of the weavers. Then, when Divine Reason becomes an Almighty Creator, an all knowing entity, and often he or she passeth our understanding, a problem arises. Is Nature fundamentally good or fundamentally evil. Difficult to tell. One answer has always been an iteration of good battling evil which reaches a zenith of absurdity with "Good Guys with Guns, Bad Guys with Guns." From other branches of understanding there's Survival of the Fittest.

By the end of the 20th Century, in what's called Modern Stoicism, the Ancient idea of Divine Reason was modified so as to better fit the templates of thinking, or the conceptual frameworks, of recent times. In terms of Knowledge, a great deal has happened in the last 2500 odd years, just look around, yet how to maintain emotional balance when confronted by that over which we have no control remains a singular preoccupation in just the same way as it always has. Modern Stoicism seeks a clearer understanding of the nature of Divine Reason in scientific areas such as cognition, psychology and so on. These are areas where the language used is the language of science. In other words The Fates as weavers of destinies, or The Fates as bad tempered blind men, might well be up there somewhere, but they are interpreted not through the Knowledge of myth, but through a Knowledge built around how our minds physically interact with our daily life. It's also the case that very often from these recent explorations of mind it emerges that we people are motivated to find a meaning in life, without which we are more prone to an unhappiness, frustration or whatever. Worth noting it's not The Meaning, it's A Meaning. And here you can never really get away from that ancient prophet who fortunate enough to find himself in conversation with his God, asked "What are you. what shall I call you?" Clearly not a question God had ever been asked before. On that occasion God was a Stoic, his most unsatisfactory reply was, "I am THAT I am." And you can kind of see in the Divine answer a Being in Progress, a going somewhere, who knows where, trust me, even though I'm eternal, I'm as adrift as everyone else, so just get over yourself.

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