Friday, 22 February 2013

After Reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations

Fragment of a bronze head of Marcus Aurelius,
2nd century CE
I recently read Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations – a book I had long been curious about. The Meditations are essentially the spiritual diary of a Roman emperor and that in itself is interesting, better still, every now and again he writes with great wisdom, though reading the Meditations from cover to cover is not always very engaging. However, despite my respect for the Meditations, I will admit that the view expressed therein that the world is somehow fundamentally ordered and that the universe is ruled by some kind of divine and ultimately benevolent plan (see, eg, Books 8.5, and12.5) strikes me as deeply flawed. Try telling all the children who are periodically raped by their fathers in their own bedrooms that the universe is ruled by principals of justice and benevolent order. And how easy to live “according to nature” – this is another recurrent theme throughout the Meditations – when your nature is to be the emperor of Rome! When it comes to the power of (a pantheist or ultimate) God, as identified with the Stoic concept of the benevolent and ordered universe, I share the following concerns as expressed by Cicero:
“Either God wishes to remove evils and cannot, or he can do so and is unwilling, or he has neither the will nor the power, or he has both the will and the power. If he has the will but not the power he is a weakling, and this is not characteristic of God. If he has the power but not the will, he is grudging, and this is a trait equally foreign to God. If he has neither the will nor the power, he is both grudging and weak, and is therefore not divine. If he has both the will and the power (and this is the sole circumstance appropriate to God), what is the source of evils, or why does God not dispel them [Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, 3.65]?”

Friday, 8 February 2013

3D Paganism – Philosophy Matters

"The Temptation of Saint Anthony" by van Craesbeeck (1650)
It all started when I had an argument with my partner. Something about it (perhaps being accused of living in an escapist's dream-world) dragged me into an intensely vicious depression. Like the Romans who overturned their altars and attacked the Lares when their beloved Germanicus died, I turned my back on the household Gods, who I felt had failed to protect me and my familia, despite years of almost daily offerings at my household shrine. I did not resort to violence, but I let my shrine fall into dusty disuse.