5 Reasons Why Stoicism Is Better Than Prayer And Wishful Thinking

There is some indication that at least a few of the ancient Stoics might’ve had polytheistic beliefs, invoked divination, and prayed to the gods.  Despite this, Stoicism as a philosophical system does not hold any beliefs in the power of prayer or wishful thinking.  Here are 5 reasons Stoicism is better than prayer and wishful thinking.

1. Stoicism uses reason to try to understand the world realistically and adapt to the world practically.  Prayer and wishful thinking don’t look at the world from an honest perspective.  Prayer and wishful thinking generally is in denial that fortune can just manifest positively or negatively at random times.  Prayer and wishful thinking fundamentally believe that things can be changed for the better when there’s really no actual evidence that this can be the case.  Stoicism is just more honest.

2. People waste a lot of time praying and thinking wishfully.  When instead they can use Stoicism, which helps them deal with hardship and loss.  Why waste so much time wanting things to be a certain way when you can just use Stoicism to adapt your mind to the way things are?

3. People trick themselves into believing in the power of prayer through confirmation bias.  They remember all the times when prayer seemed to work and forget all the times when it didn’t work.  Stoicism doesn’t rely on confirmation bias.  What you put into Stoicism, you get out.  So if you’re trying to be more virtuous and work at it, you’ll become more virtuous.  You just have to try.  In fact, people will begin to notice how you’ve changed and maybe want to emulate you.

4. Stoicism helps you use your reason and senses to help you anticipate future events.  For instance, if you get to know people realistically rather than what you wish they were, you can judge their characters easier if you’re close to them.  You can tell who might be trying to scam you or exploit you and you can easily adapt to that.  But if you’re using wishful thinking, you wish a person was a certain way, and so you don’t get to know them the way they really are.  So then those people just use you and abuse you.

5. Finally, Stoicism helps you learn from the past and prepare for the future by living in the present.  Wishful thinking and prayer just makes you live in the future or the past but never lets you learn from the present.  You’re always thinking of how you wish things used to be but you’re not learning how to make things great now for yourself.  Or you’re praying for a nice sports car but you’re not thinking about how nice your car is now.

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Is the God of Xenophanes the Stoic God?

Xenophanes of Colophon was an ancient Greek philosopher ( 570 – 480 BC) who is one of first recorded critics of anthropomorphic gods.

He says,

“Mortals deem that the gods are begotten as they are,
and have clothes like theirs, and voice and form” (Diels-Kranz (D-K), fragment 14)”

Xenophanes is drawing our attention to what has been an issue with religion for centuries. Individuals often imagine their own God to look like them, to speak like them, and even have a specific gender. Xenophanes says,

“But if cattle and horses and lions had hands
or could paint with their hands and create works such as men do,
horses like horses and cattle like cattle
also would depict the gods’ shapes and make their bodies
of such a sort as the form they themselves have” (Fragment 15 (D-K)).

While Xenophanes was critical of religion, he wasn’t an atheist. He believed that there was One God that wasn’t in form or shape of humans.  He believed the One God to encompass the whole universe in spherical form.  God exercised control over the whole universe but was disinterested in human affairs.  Xenophane’s God can best be described as monotheistic, pantheistic, or pandeistic.

The question, of course, is did his view of one divine being existing spherically throughout the cosmos influence the Stoic’s conception of the divine?