Love Your Neighbor and Marus Aurelius

In the passage below, the word “as” can mean ‘as though’ or ‘while.’ This is so in the Hebrew and Greek Old Testament:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:17-18)

Most interpreters take the word ‘as’ to mean ‘as though.’ So ‘love your neighbor as though he were yourself.’ But it might be a useful thought experiment to think of it this way, ‘love [seek the well-being of] your neighbor as you love [seek the well-being] of yourself.’ I’m not saying that’s what the passage means. I’m just saying that it’s suggestive. Below is a paragraph from Marcus Aurelius about doing good by others in such a way that it benefits more than just them:

This will be clearer to you if you remind yourself: I am a single limb (melos) of a larger body— a rational one. Or you could say “a part” (meros)— only a letter’s difference. But then you’re not really embracing other people. Helping them isn’t yet its own reward. You’re still seeing it only as The Right Thing To Do. You don’t yet realize who you’re really helping. 

Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library) (Kindle Locations 1657-1661). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

And so such a thought experiment might go: as I do what is best for myself, how might I do it in such a fashion that it is a blessing to others? Or, to put it the other way, how might I do what it best for others in a way that is good for myself and my family as well?

Marcus Aurelius on Perception and Reality

“The world is nothing but change. Our life is only perception. (bk IV ch 3)”

A great deal of our life is based on fiction which we mistake for reality.

We worry about this disaster in the future or we bother over this memory of the past.

The fact is that our memory of the event is transfigured by its repeatedly being brought before our minds with all of the negative feelings we associate with it.

And when it comes to the future, we imagine the worst, often with no evidence and then base our feelings in the present on this poorly authored sob story which has yet to occur.

Elsewhere, Aurelius says this “Today I escaped from anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions— not outside.(bk IX ch 13)”

But I think that if we, assuming we’ve discerned what is actually likely to happen or not, change our perception of things to something more in line with our desires and the good(s) we wish to possess, we’ll be less likely to be frozen by anxiety. Here’s what else he says on the matter:

Operatics, combat and confusion. Sloth and servility. Every day they blot out those sacred principles of yours— which you daydream thoughtlessly about, or just let slide. Your actions and perceptions need to aim:
(1)at accomplishing practical ends
(2)at the exercise of thought
(3)at maintaining a confidence founded on understanding.

(bk X ch 9)

In other words, if you don’t intentionally craft the way you perceive reality (insofar as we’re talking about perceptions and interpretations) then we’re merely at the mercy of our reflexive perception of things. But Marcus recommends a way forard. Bend your perceptions toward the maintainence of virtue, the accomplishment of good, and the practice of thought.

References

Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library) (Kindle Locations 1142-1143). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Marcus Aurelius, Dallas Willard, and New Testament Salvation

Text
Aurelius Salvation[1]

Translation
Salvation, which is a life,[2] is to examine each thing entirely [with the following questions]:

  1. What it is in itself?
  2. What is it made of?
  3. What is its purpose?

[It is also] from the whole soul to do righteousness and to speak truth. What more is there except to enjoy life by joining one good thing to another so as not to leave even short intervals between? (Meditations XII, 29, my translation)

Thoughts
One of the most striking claims in the writings of Dallas Willard is that Christian salvation is a life that is entered into by faith. It is not merely a gift to be passively received but rather a sort of life one begins (eternal life) upon becoming a disciple of Jesus.

In terms of the overall theological meaning of salvation in Christian thought, this made perfect sense to me. But I’d never really considered that it could be the case in terms of the usage of σωτηρια in the New Testament era. But right here in the meditations, Marcus Aurelius (who is certainly not thinking of a future salvation or an intervention from a deity) speaks of salvation as a kind of life.

Btw, while the life Aurelius describes is not the Christian life, nothing in it is contrary to what Christ enjoins us to do and everything in it is Biblical. So even if you don’t read Dallas Willard, I hope you learned something from the meditations.

References

[1] Marcus Aurelius and Charles Reginald Haines, The communings with himself of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, emperor of Rome: together with his speeches and sayings (London; New York: W. Heinemann ; G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1916), 338

[2] I take the genitive to be an appositive or an epexegetical here.

What They Think

One of my favorite books is the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. A few days ago I was reading book twelve and was reminded of this:

I am often amazed at how each loves himself more than others, but cares more for the opinions of others than of himself. If a God should appear to a man, or a wise teacher and charge him to cease to think or imagine anything which which he would not make known as soon as he thought it, he would not last one day [without breaking the command]. This is because we have more respect for the thoughts of others about us than for our own thoughts of ourselves. Book XII Chapter IV (This is my rough translation)*

Aurelius Meditations 12 4

Marcus Aurelius, Charles Reginald Haines, and Charles Reginald Haines, Marcus Aurelius, 1916, 324

Is it true? Do we care so much more for what others think about us than what we think?

I once told a group of students before an SAT to get some water, splash their faces, do some pushups or jumping jacks, or whatever it took to wake up before we started the test process. I said that wasting money taking this thing while drowsy was a bad idea. I then said, “Never be afraid to do what makes you look weird to be the best.” Several years later a student contacted me because that line changed how she approached excellence.

I’m all for the idea that peer-pressure can actually be a good thing. But too often we imagine that somebody might think something bad about us. That they might be offended by us. That they might think we’re silly. Most people forget almost every thought they have throughout the day. And most people are terrible at reading others. These thoughts that people may have are just fiction, wraiths, figments in the ether. They’ll be covered by the sands of time or they will never exist at all. Yet, many are ruled by their fear of the thoughts of others. The fear of man, as it’s been said, is a snare.

* Here is a more professional translation: 

4. It never ceases to amaze me: we all love ourselves more than other people, but care more about their opinion than our own. If a god appeared to us— or a wise human being, even— and prohibited us from concealing our thoughts or imagining anything without immediately shouting it out, we wouldn’t make it through a single day. That’s how much we value other people’s opinions— instead of our own.

Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations: A New Translation (Modern Library) (Kindle Locations 2489-2492). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.