Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Stoic Path: Religion and Magic

In Stoic terms the rise of religious fundamentalism in both the US and Canadian elections represents a colossal failure in critical thinking and a serious danger to the planet. We are witnessing a rise in leaders who increasingly depend upon magic, and an ill-educated electorate in both countries who are increasingly prepared to believe that these leaders are somehow in tune with the occult forces they believe will guide them.

This business is of course irrational, and for the Stoic it is absolutely contrary to nature because for the Stoic nature is rational.

We Stoics may feel that we are crying in the wilderness. And to some degree we may well be - at least for the time being. But it is well to remember that the currents of our time - this time - might well represent the last great gasp of irrationality on this planet. We know that magic will not deliver us from evil - and these leaders will discover this soon enough. Jesus Christ will not return. Prayer will not solve global warming.

But this is not a time for despair or for fear. The election of irrational religious regimes in Canada and the United States (should it occur) ought to be seen by the Stoic as our historic opportunity to lead the world out of the darkness that might soon descend on the world after these victories. Remember that for the Stoic all misfortune presents us with an opportunity, and a duty, to exercise our critical faculties. It will not be enough to ridicule religious fundamentalism. Toleration is absolutely necessary. These people (Sarah Palin and Steven Harper in particular) actually believe in the imaginary voices that guide their actions - just as medieval leaders believed in the horoscopes that guided their misguided zealotry.

We need to know that the only path to happiness is the practice of intelligence and that reason will prevail. We need only stay the course, illuminate the darkness, understand what reason teaches us (this is called wisdom), and continue to guide those nearest to us away from ignorance.

Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing.


Anonymous said...

Russ I am not an right-wing evangelist but an Anglican (ok, some people think that is not an organized religion) but I do hold a religious faith. I suppose that is a precondition which allows me to suffer your humanist slings and arrows of being ill-educated (perhaps you thought that kinder than witless). I don't see any irrational religious regime in Canada, otherwise we would have pro-life, capital punishment, and parish tribunals rather than abortion-on-demand, rampant crime and multi-HRC's. Furthermore Global Warming is more a figment of Physics Professors fertile artsy imagination than reality - same as Mathus, Club of Rome and countless other intellectual doomsayers. Why, Nanoose Bay is closer to Nuclear Annihilation than Global Warming fraud.
Regards, crj

Russell McNeil said...

Okay - we'll let the Anglicans off the hook. FYI I am an educated Catholic and studied theology (a highly rational discipline) at St. Francis Xavier. My comments are directed toward fundamental religions in all forms (highly irrational by definition). Nor do I disparage Faith. If there is a God above nature and Stoicism is mute on this - that God might indeed convey knowledge of her existence to human beings. Unfortunately this form of transcendent "communication" is beyond reason and therefore beond the scope of us mere Stoics.