Tags

, , , , , ,

The Serenity Prayer that is used by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a variation of a prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, a prominent theologian of the early 20th century. There are many variations of this prayer but the one used by AA reads:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

The modern variations all have a strong theistic leaning, and in the Wikipedia article the inclination is to imply that this prayer is a new idea. And yet, when we read the article thoroughly we discover a reference to the Classic Roman Stoic Epictetus. In the opening paragraph of Epictetus’ Enchiridion we read, “Some things are within our power to influence, such as our thoughts, opinions, emotions, physical actions and creation of personal habits. Some things are outside of our power to control, such as the past, remote  things, our body up to this moment, our legal rights such as ownership of property, our reputation and holding public office. Those things are not of our personal control, and our relationship with them must be distant. The things within our power are naturally free for our personal use, and they can not be restrained by others.” This is where he is introducing the stoic way of life. We read in the second paragraph, “I choose to follow the wise ones who themselves are on Nature’s proper paths, and choose to control only that which is within my ability, and be content with the rest.” The rest of Epictetus’ book is about how to achieve the goals of tranquility with one’s own self and contentment with the rest of the world.

In the early 20th century most educated clergy studied Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and as Epictetus was one of the most prominent Roman authors, one must assume that Niebuhr read Epictetus’ book, and created the prayer from his teachings. The Stoics were not atheists, but they considered the Roman gods to be unconcerned with human problems, quite similar to our anthropomorphized modern Mother Nature. She has tremendous influence on human affairs, but treats humans randomly but with an impersonal consistency. Mother Nature’s laws, such as the Law of Gravity, are given to all equally, and must be obeyed by all equally.

The AA Serenity Prayer is reasonable and rational except for the introduction of the indefinable term God. Asking an undefinable entity to help one with concrete human problems introduces a huge gap in reason and responsibility.

Advertisements