A Universal Faith

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As I study history and philosophy, I notice that a lot of things I already believe in and practice are found throughout the world, scattered through various times and places.

The 13th Article of Faith reads: “If there is anything … of good report … we seek after these things.” The point being, we don’t claim to have a monopoly on knowledge or morality or religion. Yes, we have some very specific things, things which we received under strict oath to share it with the world, but we were never given everything.

One of those philosophies is stoicism. Before I go to far, let me be clear: Certain aspects of stoicism I find to be repugnant. Particularly, it has no hope built in to it. Granted, it builds a very good world view, things that I have already embraced in my life, but there are parts that I can’t adopt as I don’t see them as good.

But to continue, what I find awesome in stoicism is the idea that you can’t control the world. At best, you can learn to control yourself and your reaction to the world, but you can’t control other people and the elements and so you’d best get used to it.

Another aspect is the practice of morning reflection. In order to maintain control of your mind, you have to sharpen it each day, by pondering on the most important things in life. Don’t skip a day. Keep a journal. You’ll find your mind will sharpen, your senses will heighten, and you’ll find hidden powers unlocked.

Something that most Christians should embrace is the stoick’s attitude towards death and disaster. No matter what is going on, things can get violently worse. Live each moment as if it is your last, because eventually, that will be true. As the Christians would say, “Repent, for the end is nigh.” Nigh indeed, particularly as death is always a breath away.

Anyway, this is just what I’ve found to like in stoicism.

As I’ve read Nietzsche, I’ve found a lot I can liken to my own life. Granted, Nietzsche had a lot of harsh things to say about Christianity, but I find his criticisms of my faith hollow and shallow, since I simply do not identify with much of what Christians claim to believe.

Regardless, the key point is this: There is, I believe, a One True Philosophy that unites all philosophies, or at least, the truth of each philosophy that has truth, into one united whole.

And I believe we should all be looking for that. Part of it is found in religion, my religion, the mormon religion, or Christianity as a whole. Part is found in life. Part is found in stoicism, or Nietzsche, or a thousand other sages and philosophers from all times and places.

Seek it out, find it, treasure it.

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3 Responses to “A Universal Faith”

  1. Jason Gardner Says:

    Spot on. I have the same idea. The more I read, the more certain re-occurring themes come up. Which makes total sense. If a truth is universal it should be (spoiler alert!) universal.

    Sometimes you can’t notice them in your preferred context until you see them in other contexts.

    I would argue that there is hope in the very fabric of stoicism. If I focus on what I can control, and flat accept that which I can not, then I can change myself for the better. In other words, no matter what my circumstances are, I can identify an ideal and make positive steps towards that idea.

    This is also a summary of one of the messages of the New Testament. No matter what your circumstances, you can acknowledge your errors, change your ways and move towards a better you.

    Human happiness is contingent on three conditions:

    1) A proper ideal.
    2) Moving towards that ideal.
    3) Acknowledgement finite time.

    What that means is that to be truly happy you need a goal. Preferably an unattainable one. (Living like Christ is a good example. No one has ever lived like Christ but Christ. However, we can strive to be more like him every day.)

    If you watch Netflix shows like “Chef’s Table” or “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” you’ll see what I mean. Each successful and happy chef has an ideal of what a perfect dish is and spends their working life trying to attain that goal. This invariably gives them happiness.

    Now, attaining that goal or ideal does not give one happiness. Often successful people are miserable because numbers one and two have been removed from their lives. The joy is in the struggle. (In military terms they say “embrace the suck” or embrace the struggle.)

    This also applies to trust fund babies and lottery winners. Almost as a rule a degenerate lot as they do not have two of the three requirements.

    TL:DR Joy is found in striving for an ideal, not reaching the ideal.

    Now making someone miserable is easy. One easy way is to remove their ideal. Some people can come up with worthwhile ideals but most people need society to help them along. Since WW2, when we defeated our ideals, this has been a problem. We no longer idealize the beautiful, the strong, the noble and the good. Therefore, we numb or brains with drugs, video games, anime, or whatever other trivial thing to distract us from our misery. Not good.

    What is a noble and beautiful family? Nobody knows! (Or, alternately, people know but they don’t vocalize it.) This is the key way that society makes their citizens miserable. Takes away their ideals, their culture and their gods.

    Alternatively, I can make myself miserable by having ideals/standards/goals and not pursuing. This is the weak man of Mr. Nietzsche’s writings.

    The time aspect is a strange one but common sense when investigated. What makes an item economically valuable is scarcity. What makes your life valuable is scarcity. If you lived forever you could always get around to it later. Because you have a randomly finite amount of time each moment is precious. In other words, death gives life meaning.

    This is why Stoicism and Christianity can lead to happiness. By embracing the struggle we can find happiness.

    • Jonathan Gardner Says:

      We were talking about some of these concepts with the kids recently. Sacrifice means, literally, to make something sacred. Things don’t have meaning unless you have given something up for it, or someone you care about has, and it’s up to us to keep those things we made sacred, sacred. It’s an eternal concept that what we strive for has meaning — regardless of whether we obtain it now or later or even never. The end is made meaningful by the journey, and so it is the journey, ultimately, that has meaning, not the destination.

  2. Jason Gardner Says:

    I think of sacrifice as more of a bargain with the future. I imagine that humans noticed a long time ago that we can do things today that will alter the future versions of ourselves. Those things that positively affect our future selves or future people, village or clan often require an unpleasant today.

    As an example, I’ll get up early and go for a run on the condition that I will be more healthy in the future. So I’m willing to give away something I like to get something in the future that I will like more. In sacrificing present day Jason’s sleeping in hour I make that bargain that I will have better health.

    So I’m offering my sweat and morning as a sacrifice to future health.

    Obviously, this has parallels with farming and animal husbandry. Where the crop is uncertain and harvest is months away.

    So it’s not hard to see (and very, very true) that future benefits require, in many, cases present day unpleasantness. Further, the more you are willing to sacrifice today, the more likely the future will be rewarding.

    So early people started to sacrifice valuable items (a goat or whatnot) to signify their willingness to delay gratification. That was changed to a metaphorical sacrifice late in the Bible.

    Jesus, metaphorically the ultimate man, in dying made the ultimate sacrifice. He willing offered his life (pretty much all one can give) so that the future of humanity would have a better tomorrow. That’s why we like him.

    However, the story of Cain and Abel shows that all sacrifices are not equal. You actually have to sacrifice something valuable to get the future reward. If you cheat on your sacrifice (giving up the trivial) and expect a big reward then you are contrary to the divine order.

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