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Logos and Providence and God, OH MY! – Episode 2


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A virtuous and good person, keeping in mind who he is, and where he has come from, and by whom he was created, concentrates on one thing alone: how he may fill his post in a disciplined manner, remaining obedient to God. (Discourses 3.24.95) I grew up watching The Wizard of Oz every year when it was broadcast on live TV. I always loved the famous scene where Dorothy, Tin Man, and Scarecrow enter the scary forest. As a young child, I was gripped by the almost palpable fear in Dorothy's voice as she asked the Tin Man, "Do you suppose we'll meet any wild animals?" This is the prelude to the familiar scene where the trio skips through the forest chanting: Lions and tigers and bears, Oh my! Lions and tigers and bears, Oh my! The tension of the scene mounts until the Lion bursts from the forest and confronts the trio with loud roars. Dorothy responded to the impression of the roaring Lion Dorothy by running and hiding behind a tree; Tin Man raised his ax in anticipation of an imminent attack, and Scarecrow fell over backward, trembling with fear. Fortunately, it did not take long for the trio to discover this was a false impression and there was no reason to fear this Lion—he was all roar and no bite. In fact, after a brief, tense introduction the Lion became their friend and trusted traveling companion for the remainder of their journey to Oz. As strange as it admittedly sounds, this scene from The Wizard of Oz brings to mind my early experience with the Stoic texts in 2011. I had been a committed atheist for more than twenty years by that time. I was not a mere agnostic; I was an antitheist as a result of my personal experience with organized religion as a young man. Therefore, as I turned the pages of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, I found myself in the midst of a scary theological forest, filled with logos and providence and God. Oh My! I was not prepared to face my aversion to these religious bogeymen, and I nearly turned and ran from this Stoic text a second time. You see, I tried to read Marcus' Meditations more than a decade earlier, but my aversion to anything remotely religious made me incapable of dealing with the "God talk" I found within its pages, so I returned it on my bookshelf. Now, here I was, a decade later, in that same scary theological forest. This time, however, there was a sense of desperation. I was grasping for something to help me make sense of my life, and Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Happiness Hypothesis, pointed to the wisdom of Stoicism for guidance. Therefore, I purchased and read William Irvine's A Guide to the Good Life, and Lawrence Becker's A New Stoicism, where I discovered an affinity for Stoic psychological and ethical principles and practices. However, neither of those books included all of this God talk that confronted me within the pages Marcus’ Meditations. At first, I hoped Marcus get this God talk out of his system in the early pages of his Meditations; but alas, the God talk did not cease. It was there on nearly every page: Logos and Providence and God, Oh My! In my ignorance about the Stoics, I thought this might be limited to the writings of Marcus Aurelius; therefore, I turned to Epictetus’ Discourses hoping to find some reprieve from the God talk. Oh, my! Was I in for a big surprise. Marcus’ emphasis on a relationship with a divine and providential cosmos paled in comparison to Epictetus’ piety and expression of his relationship with the Stoic divinity in rather personal language. Logos and Providence and God, Oh My! As I read, I recoiled each time I encountered the word "God.” Worse, the concept of “providence” truly made my skin crawl. Nevertheless, Lawrence Becker and William Irvine had convinced me that Stoic theology was not essential to the practice of Stoicism, so I continued my effort to glean what I could from the Stoic texts while ignoring the God talk. In late 2011, I enrolled in the School of Essential Studies course (SES) offered by The College of Stoic Phil...

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