12/18/2019

How to Think about God: A Pagan “Mere Christianity”

"Pepperdine University’s Philip Freeman, the Fletcher Jones Chair and Professor of Humanities, has expertly edited Princeton’s most recent volume in the series, How to Think about God: An Ancient Guide for Believers and Non-Believers. It just hit the shelves this fall, and it’s a delight. The text combines two of Cicero’s famous pieces on metaphysics, “On the Nature of the Gods” and “The Dream of Scipio.” The book reads like a pagan version of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity.

“On the Nature of the Gods” follows the Stoic teachings of the divine, noting that the Stoics hold four things to be true: that they exist; that they have a distinct nature; that they have a distinct sense of governance; and, finally, that they care about the lives of human beings—individually and as a whole. Admittedly, the Stoic evidence for God and the gods is more interesting than convincing. Such proofs come, according to the Stoics, from contemplation of the vastness and beauty of the universe, the continued belief in the gods (unlike other superstitions, which have fallen out of favor over the centuries), the revelations of the gods themselves in human history, the overheard voices of fauns, and the true predictions of the future. With such proofs, the Stoic argues, one must be either a fool or impious not to believe. “Perhaps someone might say that not all predictions turn out to be true,” Cicero’s speaker admitted, “But we wouldn’t say that because not all sick people get better there is no art of medicine.”"