The Art of Living-struggle and serenity

Here is a comparison between the same passage in a  literal translation and Lebell’s free translation:

George Long: As to piety toward the Gods you must know that this is the chief thing, to have right opinions about them, to think that they exist, and that they administer the All well and justly. . .

Sharon Lebell: The essence of faithfulness lies first in holding correct opinions and attitudes toward the Ultimate.  Remember that the divine order is intelligent and fundamentally good.  Life is not a series of random, meaningless episodes, but an ordered, elegant whole that follows ultimately comprehensible laws.

She understands the gods of Epictetus as a symbol for the “Ultimate”.  And she feels she has to explain “the All” with a longer elaboration of the concept.  I guess you might say she is trying to demythologize Stoicism.  Yet she still refers to the “divine order”.

Personally, I prefer to just acknowledge that Epictetus was a polytheist.  “The Gods” is a more meaningful way to speak than “the Ultimate.”  I prefer the concrete to the abstract.  The “divine order” might be a bridge concept.  It cuts against modernity showing that perhaps C.S. Lewis was right that Christians and pagans have more in common than Christians and secular naturalists.

In Christianity and Judaism there is a place for things to happen outside the will of God.  I am not sure that in Epictetus’s philosophy anything can happen outside the divine order.

Christianity and Judaism make the problem of why bad things happen to good people more complicated.  Epictetus would say that you have to trust the justice of things the way they are.  Christians say that there is injustice, and we need to struggle against it.  God is on our side in this struggle.

The practical question is whether people who struggle against some aspects of the universe can be as tranquil as the Stoics.  The Stoic understanding, I think,  is not that there is no struggle, but that struggle has more to do with overcoming mistaken attitudes toward reality.  So it is an inner struggle.

I am with the folks who see us struggling against things outside ourselves.  It is part of the point of the “outward quest.”  However, an inward struggle also goes on.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  We do struggle with our inward attitudes, dispositions, moods, and so on.

Christians pray all the time that God’s will gets done on earth as in heaven.  But, since we live in a world where that prayer goes unanswered, we have to deal with the reality of this flawed age.  One way we deal is by fighting for things to improve without becoming Utopian in our expectations. But the Stoics may help us supplement that with another way:  embracing this world as the best we can have, for now.

This seems to me something needed to deal with the Puritanism, over earnestness, and lack of humor that people who give themselves over to struggle for causes often display.  It is as if these people can have no peace until their cause prevails.   They need to chill out.  Reading the Stoics might help.

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About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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