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Re: Stoicism and Religion

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  • Donald Robertson
    You might be interested in this article about Stoicism and religion on my blog: http://philosophy-of-cbt.com/2012/10/07/stoicism-god-or-atoms/
    Message 1 of 16 , Feb 5, 2013

      You might be interested in this article about Stoicism and religion on my blog:

      http://philosophy-of-cbt.com/2012/10/07/stoicism-god-or-atoms/

      The question over to what extent ancient Stoics tolerated the possibility of atheism or agnosticism keeps coming up so I tried to bring together some passages from the primary sources that seemed to be relevant.

      Regards,

      Donald Robertson


      --- In stoics@yahoogroups.com, "Richard" wrote:
      >
      >
      > «All religions must be tolerated... for every man must get to heaven in his own way. »
      > Epictetus
      >
      > Epictetus Quotes - BrainyQuote Mobile
      >
      > http://mobile.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/epictetus.html
      >
      > It seems that Epictetus suggested that each religion has value to the individual. I understand this that each path makes its own individual contribution to the sum total of humanity or of human wisdom.
      >
      > Did Stoicism somehow or at sometime take a turn away from religion towards rationalism?
      > Long Live and Flourish,
      > Richard
      >

    • TheophileEscargot
      I think this quote might be misattributed. I don t recall any statement like that in Epictetus, and getting to heaven wasn t a big concern of Greco-Roman
      Message 2 of 16 , Feb 6, 2013
        I think this quote might be misattributed. I don't recall any statement like that in Epictetus, and "getting to heaven" wasn't a big concern of Greco-Roman religion.

        This page attributes the same quote to Frederick II, but again there's no specific source:

        http://www.searchquotes.com/quotation/All_religions_must_be_tolerated..._for_every_man_must_get_to_heaven_in_his_own_way./70382/


        --- In stoics@yahoogroups.com, "Richard" wrote:
        >
        >
        > «All religions must be tolerated... for every man must get to heaven in his own way. »
        > Epictetus
        >
        > Epictetus Quotes - BrainyQuote Mobile
        >
        > http://mobile.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/epictetus.html
        >
        > It seems that Epictetus suggested that each religion has value to the individual. I understand this that each path makes its own individual contribution to the sum total of humanity or of human wisdom.
        >
        > Did Stoicism somehow or at sometime take a turn away from religion towards rationalism?
        > Long Live and Flourish,
        > Richard
        >
      • Richard
        This page attributes the same quote to Frederick II, but again there s no specific source» Indeed. I Googled this quote and it s attributed to either
        Message 3 of 16 , Feb 6, 2013
          This page attributes the same quote to Frederick II, but again there's no specific source»

          Indeed. I Googled this quote and it's attributed to either Epictetus or Frederick II, about 50-50.
          Long Live and Flourish,
          Richard
        • Richard
          I guess in my own life I d restate that sentiment like this All paths to wisdom Matter EG - Only when I first started learning French in High School did I
          Message 4 of 16 , Feb 6, 2013
            I guess in my own life I'd restate that sentiment like this

            "All paths to wisdom Matter"

            EG - Only when I first started learning French in High School did I "get" the many nuances of English grammar, nuances a native speaker usually does unconsciously. So learning French raised my linguistic consciousness re: English or any language for that matter.

            And I was privileged to have learned Physics from a Professor who was into the Philosophical side of it. It really opened my eyes to a new realm, EG the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.


            Long Live and Flourish,
            Richard
          • Kevin
            I agree, I think Epictetus held standard Stoic beliefs regarding such things; after death our body and soul would dissolve back into the elemental components
            Message 5 of 16 , Feb 7, 2013
              I agree, I think Epictetus held standard Stoic beliefs regarding such things; after death our body and soul would dissolve back into the elemental components from which they are made, for reuse according to the desire of Nature. Our ruling faculty or soul being composed of the Pneuma or fire element, depending on the Stoic, was the fragment of the Logos which we are given also returns to the whole.

              From: TheophileEscargot <snailman100@...>
              To: stoics@yahoogroups.com
              Sent: Wednesday, February 6, 2013 4:52 AM
              Subject: [stoics] Re: Stoicism and Religion
               


              I think this quote might be misattributed. I don't recall any statement like that in Epictetus, and "getting to heaven" wasn't a big concern of Greco-Roman religion.

              This page attributes the same quote to Frederick II, but again there's no specific source:

              http://www.searchquotes.com/quotation/All_religions_must_be_tolerated..._for_every_man_must_get_to_heaven_in_his_own_way./70382/

              --- In mailto:stoics%40yahoogroups.com, "Richard" wrote:
              >
              >
              > «All religions must be tolerated... for every man must get to heaven in his own way. »
              > Epictetus
              >
              > Epictetus Quotes - BrainyQuote Mobile
              >
              > http://mobile.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/epictetus.html
              >
              > It seems that Epictetus suggested that each religion has value to the individual. I understand this that each path makes its own individual contribution to the sum total of humanity or of human wisdom.
              >
              > Did Stoicism somehow or at sometime take a turn away from religion towards rationalism?
              > Long Live and Flourish,
              > Richard
              >

            • Grant Sterling
              ... ***** Surprisingly, Gich pointed out to me some years ago that there are a surprising number of passages where Epictetus at least hints at the possibility
              Message 6 of 16 , Feb 7, 2013
                On 2/7/2013 7:09 AM, Kevin wrote:
                >
                >
                > I agree, I think Epictetus held standard Stoic beliefs regarding such
                > things; after death our body and soul would dissolve back into the
                > elemental components from which they are made, for reuse according to
                > the desire of Nature. Our ruling faculty or soul being composed of the
                > Pneuma or fire element, depending on the Stoic, was the fragment of the
                > Logos which we are given also returns to the whole.


                *****
                Surprisingly, Gich pointed out to me some years ago that
                there are a surprising number of passages where Epictetus at
                least hints at the possibility of individual immortality. So
                he may have been an atypical Stoic in this regard.
                I think the quote is spurious because I can't imagine
                Epictetus regarding the manner in which we relate to the
                gods as unimportant. Suppose my religion teaches that we
                please god by rejecting reason and working ourselves into a
                frenzy of passion--should we regard such a religion as just
                as good as any other? I think such a doctrine conflicts with
                Epictetus' teachings...

                What Epictetus _does_ say about religion in neatly
                summarized in section 31 of the _Handbook_.
                1) What really matters to the gods is that we accept their
                decisions as wise and good, accepting whatever happens without
                being upset.
                2) "And it is always appropriate to make libations and
                sacrifices and give firstfruits according to the customs
                of one's forefathers, in a manner that is pure and neither
                slovenly nor careless, nor indeed cheaply nor beyond one's
                means." So outward traditional displays of respect to the
                gods are correct, but should be conducted in rational ways.

                I don't think this view can be summarized as
                "every religion is OK no matter what it says".

                On the other hand, this doesn't mean that
                Epictetus sanctions state oppression of religion...
                nor does it mean that he didn't.

                Regards,
                Grant
              • Richard
                I don t think this view can be summarized as every religion is OK no matter what it says . On the other hand, this doesn t mean that Epictetus sanctions state
                Message 7 of 16 , Feb 7, 2013
                  I don't think this view can be summarized as
                  "every religion is OK no matter what it says".

                  On the other hand, this doesn't mean that
                  Epictetus sanctions state oppression of religion...
                  nor does it mean that he didn't.

                  Regards,
                  Grant»

                  I understood this quote less literally
                  Namely that each path has its own unique contribution, often neglected by other paths.

                  EG some religions teach faith, others love, others right action, etc.


                  "All Paths to Wisdom Matter",
                  Regards, Richard
                • Kevin
                  I would have to see the quotes; there is a place or two I can recall that he (according to Arrian) said pretty much what I wrote down, but I would need to hunt
                  Message 8 of 16 , Feb 7, 2013
                    I would have to see the quotes; there is a place or two I can recall that he (according to Arrian) said pretty much what I wrote down, but I would need to hunt for the references so this is only as good as my memory.Haha.

                    From: Grant Sterling <gcsterling@...>
                    To: stoics@yahoogroups.com
                    Sent: Thursday, February 7, 2013 11:05 AM
                    Subject: Re: [stoics] Re: Stoicism and Religion
                     
                    On 2/7/2013 7:09 AM, Kevin wrote:
                    >
                    >
                    > I agree, I think Epictetus held standard Stoic beliefs regarding such
                    > things; after death our body and soul would dissolve back into the
                    > elemental components from which they are made, for reuse according to
                    > the desire of Nature. Our ruling faculty or soul being composed of the
                    > Pneuma or fire element, depending on the Stoic, was the fragment of the
                    > Logos which we are given also returns to the whole.

                    *****
                    Surprisingly, Gich pointed out to me some years ago that
                    there are a surprising number of passages where Epictetus at
                    least hints at the possibility of individual immortality. So
                    he may have been an atypical Stoic in this regard.
                    I think the quote is spurious because I can't imagine
                    Epictetus regarding the manner in which we relate to the
                    gods as unimportant. Suppose my religion teaches that we
                    please god by rejecting reason and working ourselves into a
                    frenzy of passion--should we regard such a religion as just
                    as good as any other? I think such a doctrine conflicts with
                    Epictetus' teachings...

                    What Epictetus _does_ say about religion in neatly
                    summarized in section 31 of the _Handbook_.
                    1) What really matters to the gods is that we accept their
                    decisions as wise and good, accepting whatever happens without
                    being upset.
                    2) "And it is always appropriate to make libations and
                    sacrifices and give firstfruits according to the customs
                    of one's forefathers, in a manner that is pure and neither
                    slovenly nor careless, nor indeed cheaply nor beyond one's
                    means." So outward traditional displays of respect to the
                    gods are correct, but should be conducted in rational ways.

                    I don't think this view can be summarized as
                    "every religion is OK no matter what it says".

                    On the other hand, this doesn't mean that
                    Epictetus sanctions state oppression of religion...
                    nor does it mean that he didn't.

                    Regards,
                    Grant

                  • TheophileEscargot
                    I think it s important to remember that the ancient Greco-Roman Pagan ideas about religion were very different to later monotheistic ideas, or we can end up
                    Message 9 of 16 , Feb 8, 2013
                      I think it's important to remember that the ancient Greco-Roman Pagan ideas about religion were very different to later monotheistic ideas, or we can end up with a lot of confusion.

                      The Greco-Roman religions were polytheistic. They believed in a lot of different gods. They also believed that the same gods were worshipped by different names in different societies. If you meet a new society, and they have a thunder god or a grain goddess who seems a lot like yours, they might well be the same god under different names. ("Hey, your thunder god is burly, bearded and has a bad temper too, must be the same guy!"). Prayer and curse inscriptions often go to a lot of trouble to mention many different potential names for the same god, to maximize the chance that the message got through.

                      So, the result was that they tended to believe other people's gods were as real as your own gods. It was a good idea to treat them with respect if possible: firstly because they might be real and might punish you, secondly because they might turn out to be one of your own gods under a different name.

                      The Greco-Roman religions also had very little emphasis on the idea of immortality. Some thought that a few chosen heroes might be selected by the gods for some kind of immortality in Elysium. Some of the "mystery" cults taught secret knowledge and rituals that might give you life after death. But most people seem to have either thought there was no life after death, or there was life after death only for a small elite. "Every man getting to heaven" seems like an odd concept for an ancient pagan to express.

                      There was also almost no emphasis on belief or particular doctrines. The important thing, and it was very important, was that you sacrificed to the gods: you and your city might well be punished with famine or disease or earthquake or disaster if you failed to do that. But the gods didn't care that much about what you believed and what was in your heart, as long as the sacrifices came through on schedule.

                      So in general, there was an assumption of tolerance of pagans for other pagans. Epictetus probably didn't express any particular ideas about religious tolerance because he didn't need to. It was a general assumption of his society.

                      Where social tolerance ended was if someone refused to take part in communal or civic sacrifices to the gods. That put the whole community at risk of divine punishment. If someone, for some peculiar reason, didn't want to do that, ordinary pagans would think of it the way we might think of someone storing barrels of nitroglycerine in his garage: someone who's recklessly endangering the entire community. Even if nothing bad has happened up to now, it's still a risk, and you'd want that guy either to start acting responsibly or to get out of town.

                      That's was the big deal that caused problems for the Christians, a little after Epictetus' time, definitely in Marcus Aurelius' time. But in Epictetus lifetime, there were relatively few Christians and he probably wasn't even aware of their existence.

                      Marcus Aurelius definitely did not show tolerance for the Christians, he actively persecuted them. However, we don't know why. It might be that he believed in the reality of the pagan gods, and that the Christians therefore risked harming the Empire by not worshipping them. Or he might have felt the Christians were a political threat to the integrity of the empire by not partaking in civic religion.
                    • Scott Rhodes
                      If when reading the surviving manuscripts of a bygone era we only occasion a mention of clouds in the sky it might be logical to think there were only rarely
                      Message 10 of 16 , Feb 8, 2013
                        If when reading the surviving manuscripts of a bygone era we only occasion a mention of clouds in the sky it might be logical to think there were only rarely clouds in the sky, in fact it might be logical to think there were only clouds on the days that the given writer was writing. 

                        But today we know that clouds predominate by nature and we know that it is our tendency to not comment on them in the same respect that we do not comment on many other commonplace things, like masturbating or trimming toenails. It is safe to assume such things were common in all times.

                        It gets more complicated with religion. Whether or not religion can be considered a natural phenomenon, we do know that it has all but been ubiquitous. So much so we can and, reasonably, ought to, take it for granted in all times.

                        Most of the references to religion in antique and late sources talk about the religious forms that were public and functioned politically. These are not too different from what we in the US know today, although national or state religions are not stipulated in our great American project we nevertheless can easily see how strongly Christianity defines how we think of our cultural Identity, other religions notwithstanding. 

                        If this religious effect on our values happens by default in our times it was deliberately implemented and seriously regulated by our dear Greeks. Lest we forget, It was one of the issues the state used to convict Socrates, he was introducing strange "gods" to the youth.

                        But the Olympians turn out to be the tip of a religious iceberg. Far more common and far more personal was something like the noses on everyone's face that would not need to be pointed to, in fact it would be rather rude to point to one, and these things being so commonplace, its rather pointless to point to them all. Okay I'll stop failing to be clever, my point is Household Religion was everywhere. There is just enough evidence to tell us that the silence on the issue does not correspond to its absence, but is in this case due to the nature did the subject.

                        Seems it was rather rude to speak of one's household religion in public in this ancient milieu, perhaps only a rube would do so (one who of course couldn't write). These household religions could yet be a problem you see, personal religious identity can conflict with the collective formations of a nation. There was no television, movie and music complex to insure that everyone thought the same, spoke and liked the same. Even as political insinuation of uniformity by wars and enemies was powerful, it was controversial as it is now and frankly a bit crass and insufficient compared to the day to day pulse of religious sentiments in the special identity of a household religion. 

                        To employ the oldest trick in the book, you treat likes with likes. So the stories passed around and promoted in the name of peace and unity was the Olympic pantheon. So pride of blood and pride of place is not resisted, it is recouped, employed and augmented. I'm not saying this was decided by a secret council of social engineers, its a matter of whatever works is what doesn't fail to obtain. 

                        Parenthetically, on the subject of immortality, it was not so competitive as we think of it now. Christianity is responsible for making it into the sport we know it today. An immortality of the soul was the default understanding B.C. Transmigration of souls was the noses on the faces that the Christians lopped off. Werner Jaeger argues in his Paidiea that it was the purpose of Greek education to advance the progress of each soul by beginning their education sooner in life. Furthermore for immortality, in household religion, the persistence of the ancestor after bodily death was assumed. Immortality was indeed common, but of course the articulation of "going to heaven" is obviously an import. In fact given the context as I've described above such an idea would be politically subversive.

                        In fact, it was. Perhaps now we might understand why Aurelius tolerated icons and effigies of his own likeness in family larariums, essentially practicing his deification in Emperor Worship, yet would find the Christian demonization of such things as treasonous, punishable by death. The continuum of Household religion is where Christianity's "atheism" was most critically offensive, not Zeus et al.


                        On Feb 8, 2013, at 4:03 AM, "TheophileEscargot" <snailman100@...> wrote:

                         



                        I think it's important to remember that the ancient Greco-Roman Pagan ideas about religion were very different to later monotheistic ideas, or we can end up with a lot of confusion.

                        The Greco-Roman religions were polytheistic. They believed in a lot of different gods. They also believed that the same gods were worshipped by different names in different societies. If you meet a new society, and they have a thunder god or a grain goddess who seems a lot like yours, they might well be the same god under different names. ("Hey, your thunder god is burly, bearded and has a bad temper too, must be the same guy!"). Prayer and curse inscriptions often go to a lot of trouble to mention many different potential names for the same god, to maximize the chance that the message got through.

                        So, the result was that they tended to believe other people's gods were as real as your own gods. It was a good idea to treat them with respect if possible: firstly because they might be real and might punish you, secondly because they might turn out to be one of your own gods under a different name.

                        The Greco-Roman religions also had very little emphasis on the idea of immortality. Some thought that a few chosen heroes might be selected by the gods for some kind of immortality in Elysium. Some of the "mystery" cults taught secret knowledge and rituals that might give you life after death. But most people seem to have either thought there was no life after death, or there was life after death only for a small elite. "Every man getting to heaven" seems like an odd concept for an ancient pagan to express.

                        There was also almost no emphasis on belief or particular doctrines. The important thing, and it was very important, was that you sacrificed to the gods: you and your city might well be punished with famine or disease or earthquake or disaster if you failed to do that. But the gods didn't care that much about what you believed and what was in your heart, as long as the sacrifices came through on schedule.

                        So in general, there was an assumption of tolerance of pagans for other pagans. Epictetus probably didn't express any particular ideas about religious tolerance because he didn't need to. It was a general assumption of his society.

                        Where social tolerance ended was if someone refused to take part in communal or civic sacrifices to the gods. That put the whole community at risk of divine punishment. If someone, for some peculiar reason, didn't want to do that, ordinary pagans would think of it the way we might think of someone storing barrels of nitroglycerine in his garage: someone who's recklessly endangering the entire community. Even if nothing bad has happened up to now, it's still a risk, and you'd want that guy either to start acting responsibly or to get out of town.

                        That's was the big deal that caused problems for the Christians, a little after Epictetus' time, definitely in Marcus Aurelius' time. But in Epictetus lifetime, there were relatively few Christians and he probably wasn't even aware of their existence.

                        Marcus Aurelius definitely did not show tolerance for the Christians, he actively persecuted them. However, we don't know why. It might be that he believed in the reality of the pagan gods, and that the Christians therefore risked harming the Empire by not worshipping them. Or he might have felt the Christians were a political threat to the integrity of the empire by not partaking in civic religion.

                      • Richard
                        The last few posts were amazing. One of my history professors [I was a history major] once said that pagans in the ancient world were quite tolerant of other
                        Message 11 of 16 , Feb 8, 2013
                          The last few posts were amazing.


                          One of my history professors [I was a history major] once said that pagans in the ancient world were quite tolerant of other religions. It was monotheism that introduced intolerance. Something to ponder.


                          "All Paths to Wisdom Matter",
                          Regards, Richard
                        • Scott Rhodes
                          ... Kinda ... But monotheism had been around, maybe even always. But I think two important factors should be specified. First, without the developing
                          Message 12 of 16 , Feb 8, 2013
                            On Feb 8, 2013, at 8:35 AM, "Richard" <pmsrxw@...> wrote:

                             

                             It was monotheism that introduced intolerance. 


                            Kinda ... But monotheism had been around, maybe even always. But I think two important factors should be specified. First, without the developing technologies such as for roads, weapons and scriptoriums (even koine itself) to spread and enforce empires, whatever sense of urgency in a given religion would simply remain a local obstreperousness.

                            But what about that urgency? Yea, that's the other factor. What seems to be the fuel of religious intolerance was, as I understand, a theological variation now called soterology. It's a doctrinal emphasis on the idea that not only is every soul in infinite peril but that preservation was only possible by help from the outside. Political murder is for our good, religious murder is for your good.

                            Soterology is connected to another recent thread, the ancient theme of the personal guardian or daimon. The daimon like the Latin genuis was something given to each person at birth, hence it was biologically grounded in ones family story. As ideas of personal individuality developed in ancient epistemology the controversy developed that the daimon was also more personal, that is to say, ones teacher, guide and savior was really only an interior phenomenon, certainly not an exterior separate being. This is generally the Stoic view.

                            Still, the persistence of the exteriority myth was understandable. Life is often mysteriously serendipitous and exactly how we as individuals internalize the world as information, or put more simply, how we learn, is still tantalizing. Even in the Stoic articulation, reason as daimon is sourced of Zeus.

                            Anyhow, the exterior savior combined with the thematization of family sealed everyone's fate. Metaphors of adoption and rebirth have persisted to this day in Christianity. In Islam, the family metaphor is mitigated but the savior myth is still operative. It's easy to overlook because it's abstracted from Christianity, the savior is not daimonic as a person but daimonic as a message. Reason, as the Mu'tazali would say. Still it's out-sourced.

                            Lastly it's clear that Judaism is monotheistic but religiously tolerant and I would say its specifically because of their doctrinal reticence about the fate of the soul as well as the fact that the role of the personal guardian remained limited to this life and one's personal birth daimon is not shared even between brothers (as Jacob wrestled with Esau's malik ) much less is one exportable to the goy. It's simply the tradition.
                          • Richard
                            «Lastly it s clear that Judaism is monotheistic but religiously tolerant » Not in Canaan in the era of Joshua. Judaism was somewhat tolerant of external
                            Message 13 of 16 , Feb 8, 2013
                              «Lastly it's clear that Judaism is monotheistic but religiously tolerant »

                              Not in Canaan in the era of Joshua.

                              Judaism was somewhat tolerant of external societies but not so much internally, though syncretistic Jews were very Tolerant. But the Prophets blasted them.

                              Later on Judaism evolved more tolerant doctrines, sometime during the Second Commonwealth
                              "All Paths to Wisdom Matter",
                              Regards, Richard
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