Love and Reason as Our Guides?

The religious fellowship of which I am a member recently went through a process of defining its mission. The very first words of the mission statement we produced were "With Love and Reason as guides . . . "

Subsequently it occurred to me that we had hit upon something very profound and very Stoic. Perhaps the key to this is the realization that these two are not two at all but one.

The ancient Stoics actually held a version of this. They claimed, for instance, that they were following Nature or the Cosmos, one name of which was Logos, or the Divine Reason, but another name for this divinity was Pronoia, which translates into Latin as Providentia and into English as Providence. But a providential deity is one that in some sense or other looks benevolently upon nature (of course for the ancient Stoics that would be a kind of cosmic self-concern) and therefore upon us and wishes us well. Therefore, for the majority within the ancient Stoa, love in the sense of cosmic benevolence is equivalent to divine reason. And if we follow reason at the deepest level, we are following divine reason, otherwise known as Zeus. One could easily add the corollary that to follow divine reason is also, in a less obvious sense, to follow Love.

[The Christian tradition has a version of this logic. The more gnostic tendencies in Hellenistic Judaism and early Christianity speak of Sophia as coeternal with God and then in the Gospel of John we also get the equation of the Logos with the Christ, who is then incarnated as Jesus. On the other hand, probably the historical Jesus taught that God is cosmic generosity. The God's Love for humanity theme in Christianity gains a good deal of its power from the association Christians made between God and Love. Of course, this is subverted by the obvious manifestations of hate and fear involved in the anti-Semitism of the passion narratives in the (late first century) gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.]

The Christian message put in the form of "God is Love" has often seemed to me sentimental mush, involving personification and reification of a human emotion. If God is identified with All, either directly in the pantheist and Stoic sense, or as its Creator in the traditional sense, then there is of course the obvious paradox of a Universe (or a Creator) that can at times, and for many people much of the time, be a real trial and (at least metaphorically) a punishment. The song lines "Love makes the world go round" and "What the World needs now is love sweet love" are mutually contradictory lines that usually convey empty-headed sentiment. In the first case, it is almost always associated with romantic love, which is frequently a snare and a delusion, thanks to the commercial interests of the pop song, romance novel, and movie makers. In the second case, it is never explained that if "love sweet love" is not applied with intelligence, it is virtually wasted.

Yet the line "Love makes the world go round," properly interpreted, is strictly true for Christians if God is (identical to) Love and for the classical Stoics if Zeus, or Providence, is essentially (cosmic) Love.

However, I am not primarily concerned today with the traditional Stoic or Christian views on this topic. I mainly want to know what sense we can make of the idea that Love and Reason are our guides, and are one. (Later perhaps I will ask whether it makes sense to call them/it God.)

The modern Stoic (and I identify myself as such) holds that one should integrate his or her rational agency, and that true well-being corresponds to success at this self-integration.

The process of moral development, which in Stoicism involves oikeiosis (attachment or assimilation), leads, as the person matures ethically, to his or her taking a broader and more inclusive perspective. The broader and more inclusive his or her perspective, the more rational he or she becomes. In this sense, rational beings do not start out with fully developed reason; reason is not a tool lying ready made on the shelf that you can just pick up and use; every person in his or her own life must develop his or her own reason, by exercizing it at first fitfully and inadequately, but with greater skill and subtlty as he or she goes on. Stoics will combat this notion that reason is something readymade, a mere set of procedures.

This goes along with Stoic ontology or theory of being. We do not believe in the *existence* of anything other than particular things, although it is true to say in some (less robust sense) that properties of things and relationships between things also "are"; less robust because such being is parasitic upon the existence of particular things. Therefore, if there is no permanent cosmic reason--an issue we may come back to later--then the only way in which reason can exist is in particular beings.

I was saying that Stoics recognize that the process of moral development involves an increase in the powers of rational agency and the simultaneous adoption of a broader and more inclusive perspective. We come to see, in other words, that and how our interests as individuals are intertwined with the interests of others, not merely with members of our own families, but members of our communities, professions, voluntary associations, countries and indeed the whole world. We can no longer exclude animal and plant life which are properly understood as parts of ecological systems that often include us.

The point is that the rational maturation of the individual is also the growth in the scope of concern felt by the individual. The two are essentially inseparable, part of the same developmental process. They are not really detachable; to detach reason from inclusive concern is really to distort it, to truncate it, to present a false picture of reason.

The classical Stoics said that the sage, the individual whose life embodies the perfection of the Stoic ideal, is divine. By that they meant that there is a sense in which the sage, for a brief span at least, experiences the beatitude that the gods experience. Classical Stoic physics complements this when it states that the fiery element in the cosmos is most prevalent in the rational soul, and more prevalent in the rational soul, the wiser the individual is; and at the same time identified Cosmic Reason with the fiery element that pervades and controls the cosmos.

The problem for us today is that this physics is no longer entirely credible in terms of natural science. The fact that matter is interconvertible with energy and that recent physics is inclined to speak more of force fields than solid corpuscles means of course that ancient Epicurean physics would fare even worse, but that is small consolation for us.

If we no longer find it persuasive that the cosmos is pervaded by a cosmic designer, then we have no solid ground for saying that God as creator is providence or love. Now the Roman Stoic Lucius Annaeus Seneca (perhaps following earlier Stoics) found what he thought was an option of arguing that insofar as we have rational capacity we have all that we really need, and should not complain of nature that it has been ungenerous in its gifts. Perhaps the fallacy in this is that if we are not sages yet, we do not really have all that we need for well-being. For nature does not give us rationality fully developed, and perhaps few of us ever do develop it fully, though we can appreciate the fact that we often have the opportunity to work on developing it. But if we do not regard Nature as a Person, the temptation to complain that she has been stingy in what she has given us need not even arise.

Leaving aside the option of a cosmic person, there is still a way in which we can say, if we like, that Love and Reason is one in God; and that of course is to work from Paul Tillich's view that God is the name for whatever is a matter of ultimate concern. Now for the modern Stoic the ultimate concern is perfection of rational moral agency, which is to say the maximum development of reason and inclusive concern aka Love.

There will be people who will accept the conclusion that Love and Reason is one in God, but insist, on the contrary, that this God is not in us, except accidentally and partially; rather He exists somehow behind or beyond or above or, for the immanentists like Spirit Pantheists, deeply within the Cosmos. They will say that to place God essentially within us humans is a kind of idolatry, and besides rather hard to justify given the rampant imperfections of human beings.

So there seems to be a puzzle here: either God is (somehow deeply) in the Cosmos and outside us or above the Cosmos, the evidence for which is slim, or God is in us, for which the evidence is also slim and contradictory.

What I think this points to is a failure to understand Paul Tillich's notion of ultimate concern. (Or if not that, a need to reinterpret it.) We can have as ultimate concern the perfection of rational moral agency without making that perfection a particular being that we have to locate somewhere. It is surely a potentiality that lies within the natural world, for it is natural beings that approximate to various degrees this perfection of rational moral agency. Of course, many natural beings including many examples of so-called homo sapiens fall far short of this perfection. There is a need to keep the goal distinct in our minds from where we are, so long as it is obvious to us that we have some distance to travel before we have reached it. Tillich's notion that God is not *a* Being indicates the need to stress this gap. [If I am misremembering and assimilating Tillich too much to Heidegger, I hope someone will correct me on this. With thanks in advance.]

From the point of view of Stoic ontology, then, this Tillichian God does not *exist* (since He is not a particular); though as a goal and a potentiality for being in rational beings God *is*).

There is no obfuscation at all in this so far as I can see.