Monday, November 3, 2014

Timothy & Countering The Culture (part 20)

According to stoicism, one’s life was to be spent gaining mastery over one’s passions and responses, cultivating the attitude of indifference, and aligning oneself with the cosmic force that was ultimately determinative of the events of one’s life, which could be observed in the harmonious operations of nature.  In conflict with the Hebrew position that humans were created in the image of the Creator God, and a celebration of the God-like attributions of humanity, stoicism sought to suppress human emotions.  This would lead to the attainment of virtue, which was observed as a detachment from all worldly concerns.  At death then, in accordance with the negative view of the physical world and its concerns, it was believed that the body would separate from the soul, existing momentarily in independence before being absorbed into the universal divine force that was known as “logos.” 

Accordingly, the supreme god was not personal in any sense at all, and was to be identified in the orderliness of creation, much like a painter is identified by his paintings.  Stoic belief, though based upon the presupposition that the natural world is inferior, can be identified as a monotheistic pantheism, which looks at everything within the natural order as being part of the one god.  Though this deification of nature appears to contradict the idea that the physical world is inferior, once one understands that the natural world is overlaid with the spiritual, therefore superseding the natural/physical component, it serves to demonstrate the consistency of the belief structure.  This, of course, stands in opposition to the Hebrew and subsequently Jesus-as-Messiah-based Hebrew (Christian) view of the Creator God and the world.          

On the other end of the philosophical spectrum against which Hebraic thought competed and which also was a dominant force in the world into which Christianity and its Hebrew-rooted, Resurrection-of-Christ-based claims concerning the Creator God’s rule and renewal of His once-good creation was introduced, stood the school of Epicureanism.  As part of its ethos of de-confirming the world and the value of the created order in favor of the spiritual, it ironically suggested an attachment to the world in which one found oneself, making the most of what was ultimately an existence of futility.

The essence of its teaching called for a devotion to the pursuit of personal happiness which led to the avoidance of pain.  This was not a call to a complete hedonism, as an absolute hedonism could eventually lead to suffering, which was obviously to be avoided.  Rather, life was to be spent pursuing pleasure primarily through food, drink, and sexual union (let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die), with peace of mind being achieved through this particular model that was labeled as virtuous. 

Clearly, this philosophy rejects the idea that there is a grand narrative into which humans have been inserted and in which they play a part, which is a component of the disavowal of the inherent goodness of the created order.  The created order is only good insofar as it is a means to experience pleasure during this exceedingly short sojourn of physical existence.  Upon death, the person, both body and soul, would dissolve and existence would cease.  Again, clearly, this leaves no room for resurrection.  The dissolution of the person, in body and in soul, continues to lend itself to the idea that there is no ultimate value to the physical.  Consequent to this outlook on life and death, a famous epicurean statement is “Death is nothing to us.”

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