Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Marcus Aurelius

In a comment, Diana left a very thought provoking quotation by Marcus Aurelius that has had me thinking a lot.

"Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones."

I discovered Marcus Aurelius when I was at university, either through a Chaucer class or a class on Roman history, not sure which. (Chaucer led me to Boethius, which may have led me to Aurelius). Not that it matters how I found him.

My husband is really struggling with his fears that the church is true and therefore he is condemned, and keeps telling me that I should go back to "the gospel."  I of course refuse to do so.  And when he was agonizing the other day, I shared that quotation with him. He says Marcus Aurelius is one of his heroes, and he asked me to email the quotation to him, which I of course did.

This particular quotation really moved me, because it expresses--far more eloquently than I can--my feelings about God.  Right now I don't know whether there is a God, but I have felt that if there is, s/he is far more interested in what kind of a person I am than in whether I affiliate with any particular religion. And if the mormon god is the one true god, then I don't want anything to do with him.

Watching my husband struggle over and over and over and over shows me how the mormon church rules by fear and oppression. Most of the active members might disagree with me, which is their prerogative, but I stand firm. I know that much of my time in TSCC had me feeling like I would never measure up, would never be good enough, no matter how hard I tried. I was afraid of dying, because I knew that God would just look at me sadly, shake his head, and send me far away from him. Since leaving the church, I won't say that I'm looking forward to dying, but it doesn't hold the same fear for me that it used to.

So thank you, Diana, and thank you, Marcus Aurelius.

And just to give some more food for thought, here are some more of his observances:

"A man should be upright, not be kept upright."

"Dig within. Within is the wellspring of God; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig."

"He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe."

"I have often wondered how it is that every man loves himself more than all the rest of men, but yet sets less value on his own opinions of himself than on the opinions of others."

"If it is not right do not do it; if it is not true do not say it."

"It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live."

"Life is neither good nor evil, but only a place for good and evil."

"The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury."

"The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts; therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature."

"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane."

"Your life is what your thoughts make it."


  1. "Since leaving the church, I won't say that I'm looking forward to dying, but it doesn't hold the same fear for me that it used to."

    I think this is really notable. Something that I have noticed about my mother is that she really, truly fears the grave; or rather she WOULD fear if she wasn't so sure of what lies beyond. She can't understand why I am not afraid. She thinks that atheism or spiritualities which do not offer comforting platitudes about heaven are about the most frightening things in existence. She thinks that I should be afraid since I don't believe anything beyond that when you're dead, you're dead.

    As they say, anxiety is the dizziness of freedom!

  2. "It is not death that a man should fear, but he should fear never beginning to live."

    So true. If there's anything in life worth worrying about, it's wasting our lives.