Stoic Practice vs. Christianity

“No person is free who is not a master of himself.”

This quote is usually attributed to Epictetus, but found in works attributed to Pythagoras, and stated as: “None can be free who is a slave to, and ruled by, his passions.”

—As quoted in Florilegium, XVIII, 23, as translated in Dictionary of Quotations (1906) by Thomas Benfield Harbottle, p.368

“The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing, because an artful life requires being prepared to meet and withstand sudden and unexpected attacks.”

—MARCUS AURELIUS, MEDITATIONS, 7.61

I often see Christians projecting their beliefs on Stoicism, let us compare them and be clear how these world views differ and overlap. I practice Stoicism and like to associate with others doing so, ancient and modern. There seems to be a tendency toward atheism these days among Stoics. Ancient Stoicism had the concept of Logos which represented a God figure, Zeus, but this concept was not defined by a personal relationship, as it is in Christianity. Zeus represented nature. I am not debating those differences between Stoics in this little essay. Disclaimer, I have no interest in Jesus or Christianity, beyond studying their historical impacts. I grew up as an evangelical Christian. I find the Stoic spiritual practices of ethics and virtue to live the best life, far superior to belief and faith in things unseen. Stoics help themselves using their reason and will.

Stoicism and Christianity are both concerned with how best to live, but Christians feel this life is a shadow of a life to come. The Stoics didn’t talk much about an afterlife and were agnostic about what, if anything lies beyond death. For the Stoics, what matters isn’t so much what may or may not happen after death, but how we make best use of the time we have now. This is one of the main reasons I practice Stoicism and not a religion idolizing people or worshipping a god beyond nature or the life we know now.

I do not agree with the Christian world view on original sin and death, which is why I practice Stoicism and not the Christian or any other religion. Stoics are focused on the life we have, not one to come. The Stoics viewed death as natural, a return to Nature. The Stoics believed that life should be lead through actions rather than words. I concur. What we do matters to us. The Stoics provide practices to help you control your reactions to thinking and difficult physical circumstances now, which is the only thing in your control.

Discourses Book 1.1 “About things that are within our power and those that are not.”

Epictetus speaks for Zeus/Nature, from Discourses,

“…I’ve given you a certain portion of myself, this faculty of motivation to act and not to act…the power to make proper use of impressions.”

—Epictetus Discourses, Fragments, Handbook, translated by Robin Hard, Book 1.1.12

Stoicism is an Ancient Greek philosophy formed in Athens while the Greek world was in chaos after the death of Alexander the Great. Zeno of Citium founded the Stoic school of philosophy, which he taught in Athens from about 300 BC. Stoicism is based on the moral ideas of the Cynics. Stoicism laid great emphasis on goodness and peace of mind gained from living a life of virtue in accordance with nature.

“Now, If virtue promises to enable us to achieve happiness, freedom from passion, and serenity, then progress towards virtue is surely also progress towards each of the states.”

—Epictetus Discourses, Fragments, Handbook, translated by Robin Hard, Book 1.4.3

(Epictetus does seem to often have a personal view of the divine as related by Arrian in Discourses.)

The Greek term for word is Logos. Five hundred years before Jesus was born, Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, used Logos (the word) to explain what he saw as the universal force of reason that governed everything. He said all things happen according to the Logos. This belief became the foundation of Stoicism. Greek speaking Jews came to view the Logos as a force sent by God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is referred to as the Word, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; he is the driving force sent by God.

Modern day Christianity has a splintered past and is practiced differently between the Protestants and Catholic Church. Eastern Christianity is often thought closer to the original church that formed after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. I would argue that the Pauline Gospel is the foundation for the modern Western church more than other competing strains of early Christianity. This form of Christianity developed from the beliefs and doctrines espoused by the Hellenistic-Jewish Apostle Paul through his writings in the New Testament. These are muddy waters.

According to Christianity, it is only through Jesus of Nazareth that people can achieve eternal salvation. Humans save themselves through grace instead works, while the forgiveness of sins comes by faith alone.

I do not concur due to my experience. I take no one’s word as final on life and death. I am living this life now. Christian belief to me is a tyranny and not well reasoned or aligned with natural life and death. There are no similar concepts in Stoicism, where what you do is its own reward or punishment now, in the moment. We practice to be ready to act with reason and not be overwhelmed by emotions or fear.

Stoicism and Christianity are both monotheistic. Stoicism follows Heraclitus and believes in one Logos; Christianity follows Jesus, and requires followers to believe in the one true God and have no other gods before him [her]. Additionally, both Stoicism and Christianity serve the will of the Logos/God. They teach we can liberate ourselves from fear and anxiety by submitting to the will of the Divine.

In Christianity, the Word (Logos) was made flesh and dwelt among us. In Christianity, a relationship with the Logos is much more personal.

“The Stoics also referred to the seminal logos (“logos spermatikos”), or the law of generation in the Universe, which was the principle of the active reason working in inanimate matter. Humans, too, each possess a portion of the divine logos. The Stoics took all activity to imply a logos or spiritual principle.” — https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Logos#Stoics

“The Stoics often identified the universe and God with Zeus, as the ruler and upholder, and at the same time the law, of the universe. The Stoic God is not a transcendent omniscient being standing outside nature, but rather it is immanent—the divine element is immersed in nature itself.”

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoic_physics#God

“The Stoics [defined] free will as a voluntary accommodation to what is in any case inevitable. According to this theory, man is like a dog tied to a moving wagon. If the dog refuses to run along with the wagon he will be dragged by it, yet the choice remains his: to run or be dragged. In the same way, humans are responsible for their choices and actions, even though these have been anticipated by the logos and form part of its plan.”

—(xix-xx) Gregory Hays

Another big difference between the two worldviews is Christians ask God for help, while the Stoics seek help from within. Through prayer, Christians ask to be released from suffering, healed when sick, and comforted in sorrow. By contrast, Stoicism tells us that if we want any good, we need to get it from ourselves. No spirit will relieve us from our pains.

Stoicism and Christianity have competing views about human nature as well. For the Stoics, nature has instilled people with the capacity to reason, which we can exercise to live out virtuous, dutiful lives. Christians, on the other hand, believe people are born with original sin, which has corrupted our internal moral compass. While it is possible to better ourselves by using reason, it is only by the grace of God that people are improved and saved.

This was just a high level survey of some of the differences between Stoicism and Christianity. I have nothing against Christians or anyone practicing Stoicism. The historical Jesus was not a Stoic as far as we know. We practice Stoicism here to live the best we can in a chaotic world beyond our control, bounded by birth and death. I’d argue Stoicism is about being the best Human Being we can be here now. We should not hold dogmatically to the ancient Stoics or cultural beliefs in my personal view. Epictetus said roughly the same. I think discussing these and other worldviews is beneficial if you can keep an open mind. But the words are just pointers to how to choose the best action any given moment.

“Such is the law that God has laid down, saying, ‘If you want anything good, you must get it from yourself.’”

—Epictetus Discourses, Fragments, Handbook, translated by Robin Hard, Book 1.29.4

Embrace the Mystery

I am no theist or deist.

I embrace all religions, as Walt Whitman did.

Today if one rises and says 2 + 2 = 5 and repeats it enough, others will believe them and you have a new religion.

In a cosmos of mystery, anyone offering assurance, is raised up as a false god.

No other or thing can be your god.

This is what trump did.

I can offer you no assurance of anything.

I can’t even tell you what death is.

So how can I tell you what birth is?

We only have impressions.

If you can let your dogmas and beliefs go, you can read any book, sit in any church and appreciate the emotional expressions.

Epictetus said: “What is good enough for the universe, is good enough for me!”

I concur.

My church is all of this.

We do not have reasons or logic to explain things, we only have impressions, visions.

To have a clear mind is a great benefit in this wayward lost world humanity has created.

To be free of theories and suspicions and conspiracies allows one to live the best life they can.

To make calls to a savior or god or priest or portal or princess or president is dishonest and dastardly and stupid and wrong.

One should ignore fools spitting this or that truism or morality or theory or belief or god.

We all just have sense impressions.

Yours are no more or less valid than mine.

Your conclusions are, for I have none.

To claim some absolute truth is nonsense.

I only report my impressions of life.

That is all anyone can do.

There is no system, there simply is what is.

What we see is superior to what we reason about.

What establishes itself in the age and in the heart is the only real logic and the only real verification anyone has.

Do you accept the universe and all that is in it?

This is the most important question I feel.

We take it all in.

Some can see farther and deeper than others.

Listen maybe to these more than the logicians and reasoners.

They do not know.

They live apart from this.

But I am of this and I know myself and thus know this.

No one can claim or explain absolute beginnings or endings.

These are children and fools doing so.

They should know better than to draw such conclusions.

I do not disdain life, I love this and am optimistic about this, based on my experience of life.

Realizing only my mind made this world and life and death a hell was freedom.

Evolution no more clears up our beginnings and endings than any philosophy or religion does.

There is no demiurge or apocalypse in my mind.

There are no angels or demons tearing me apart.

Far from it.

These are the rantings of those lost in imagination.

There are no serpents or lizards or conspiracies against you.

Those are concepts that create a hell and tyranny in our minds.

Do not resist these concepts, simply let them pass through you.

People hurting others know no better.

They only hurt themselves.

And their punishment is felt in themselves, you know this from experience, just as kindness and virtue and character are their own reward.

You will not be rewarded in the sky by a god.

Or punished in a hell later for what you do now.

You punish or reward yourself through your actions.

Let all of this pass through you and notice what is happening.

It is foolish to deny the substance and feeling of life.

That is the ground of our being.

We have imagined so much that we have lost our way.

Come back

Come back

Come back

Mystery is not the denial of reason, but its honest confirmation.

Reason leads to mystery.

If you have not this sense of things, you are lost in your mind.

Come back

Come back

Come back

Mystery is not superstition.

Mystery and reality are two halves of the same sphere.

If you have lost the mystery of life, I am sorry for you.

You nor anyone alive knows Jesus or any from the past.

We are here now.

I can’t tell you who they were.

We only have manipulated stories.

Let fixed positions and stories and myths and facts pass through you.

Let prophecies pass through you.

Let dogmatism pass through you.

Let the lies pass through you.

Grab nothing.

Those who hate others, hate themselves most.

Let easy answers and conditioning pass through you.

Mystery is on the other side of this.

Wondrous mystery.

There you will find your joy.

There you will find your greatness and beauty.

Your fate is yours, as your will is yours.

I claim all as my religion, nothing need be excluded.

The universe is more than enough for me.

I need nothing more.

To shun others, is to shun yourself.

To silence others, is to silence yourself.

I am not irreligious or an infidel.

I am deeply connected to my being, or I couldn’t write like this.

It is all meaningful and all beautiful.

Hell exists in the imagined distance one maintains from this.

Most live in their own imagined hell.

You will never talk anyone out of their own hell.

You can only find your own way out of it.

I am not traditionally religious, no.

My religion is being a human being in the cosmos, a mystery.

I need add nothing nor take away anything from this.

There is no conflict here.

We end, where we began.

So enjoy the ride.

I have nothing to argue with anyone.

Their view is their own.

It is easy to beat a believer and prophet with the mystery of the present.

It is easy to beat a materialist and eschatologist.

I can beat them with a look.

I bend into shapes they could not imagine.

Let artificial positions and conclusions pass through you.

Nothing imagined can beat what is.

To know thyself is to know the mystery.

It is a koan, we can’t penetrate the mystery, but only acknowledge it exists.

The best words and actions cancel themselves out and simply leave what is right before you.

The best words show you, your identity is make believe.

There is no mine or yours.

There are no borders to defend.

I have no one name, all names are mine.

The cosmos = zero.

Sometimes you’re up, sometimes down.

But it all ends in zero.

Energy can’t be destroyed or created.

So what happens when you die?

Here is what I think, speaking for myself, which is no self really.

The self is the imagined problem.

That’s the whole problem with all of this, right there.

That word, self.

That is not a word, that is not right, that isn’t.

How did we forget this?

The body stops a cell at a time.

But the brain keeps firing those neurons.

We don’t really feel any of this.

We are too busy in the moment to remember.

Every atom in my body was forged in a star.

This matter and body is mostly just empty space.

This energy that appears as me is just energy vibrating very slowly.

There never was a me.

Electrons in my body mingle and dance with those in the ground and in the air around me.

We are no longer breathing when we die.

Then we remember there is no point where any of that ends and I begin.

This is dying before dying.

This is the only way to remember.

I remember I am energy, not memory or self.

Everything I feel I am, came after me.

I was before them and will be after.

Everything else are pictures that rose up in imaginary time.

We are knots of space-time.

We have a sword, a sharp one that one can cut through the knot when you are ready.

I am the lightening that ties all the pictures together.

I am returning home.

A drop falling back into the ocean.

All of this is one.

The cosmos and its infinite dreams.

We are the cosmos dreaming of itself, thinking we are selves.

Thinking and dreaming, the same.

We forget our dreams so easily.

But when I remember, there is no time or death, life is a wish made again and again.

I am that I am.

Good luck with your stories, and myths and conspiracies.

None of that will remain.

You and all of this is but a dream, here and gone.

Take solace in this.

Relax into this.

Then you will know real peace.

How Best to Live Your Dreams

With all your being!

Life may be but a dream. Dream or not, we appear here as dreamers of dreams, so how best shall we live? The stoics still have some of the best practical advice in my opinion.

The below is from a stoic discussion board. I did not write this, but thought it damn good.

Stoicism 101: The Stoic Love for Mankind

The Stoics believed that we are essentially social creatures, with a ‘natural affection’ and ‘affinity’ for all people. This forms the basis of Stoic ‘philanthropy’, the rational love of our brothers and fellow citizens in the universe. A good person

“displays love for all his fellow human beings, as well as goodness, justice, kindness and concern for his neighbour’, and for the welfare of his home city (Musonius, Lectures, 14).” – Donald Robertson

Humans are rational and social beings.

Although we learned that friendship and other people are ultimately indifferent, they are very much preferred. The Stoics prefer to live with a friend, a neighbor, and a housemate, but they do not depend on them for the Good Life.

Basically, Stoics are able to live the eudaimonic life without a friend but they prefer not to go without one. Why? Because of their natural affection for mankind and because they can practice the virtues much better when around others (think about justice and courage).

“We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has born.”
– Marcus Aurelius

It’s our human nature to do good to others and we should not care whether they care or not. Marcus goes so far as to say that all our actions should be good ‘for the common welfare.’ This is our nature, it’s our job.

And he could practice this very well since he was the Roman emperor… Wouldn’t we like that the people in power only had the common good in mind rather than their own?

There’s a caveat to this: The main reason to act for the common welfare is the underlying virtue of justice. We live in accord with virtue and therefore benefit ourselves when we act for the common welfare. Also, the better a person has developed himself, the better he can serve mankind. As Rudolf Steiner said, “If the rose adorns itself, it adorns the garden.”

“Man is born for deeds of kindness; and when he has done a kindly action, or otherwise served the common welfare, he has done what he was made for, and has received his quittance.”
– Marcus Aurelius

Do good for the sake of doing good. Expect nothing in return, remember, virtue is its own reward.

And what if others do wrong?

The Stoics believed that nobody errs on purpose. People act the way they think is best for them. They don’t know any better.

Massimo Pigliucci said it well:

“The wrongdoer does not understand that he is doing harm to himself first and foremost, because he suffers from amathia, lack of knowledge of what is truly good for himself. And what is good for him is the same thing that is good for all human beings, according to the Stoics: applying reason to improve social living.”

The wrongdoer does wrong to himself. We should not blame them but rather pity them. As Epictetus said,

“As we pity the blind and the lame, so should we pity those who are blinded and lamed in their most sovereign faculties. The man who remembers this, I say, will be angry with no one, indignant with no one, revile none, blame none, hate none, offend none.”

Don’t hate the wrongdoer, he does not know any better. It’s your job, because you see, to act as an example and do the right thing for its own sake. Do it for yourself (at the same time it will benefit everybody else).

It’s what you do that matters. It’s what you do that makes your character.

The Greeks had a word for this, Agape.

65

Yesterday I saw the trees by the river’s edge,
Wrecked and broken beyond belief,
Only two or three trunks left standing,
Scarred by blades of a thousand axes.
Frost strips the yellowing leaves,
River waves pluck at withered roots.
This is the way the living must fare.
Why curse at Heaven and Earth?

—Hanshan – Cold Mountain

Reading From Carl Jung’s Red Book

A reading I did awhile ago.

Did I make this?

Interesting.

Let There Be Light!

A new video from my Philosophy as a Way of Life series.

Kinetoscope

I like to flow and grapple

And turn things inside out

The great secret can finally be told

Only the bold will know

There isn’t any truth one can hold

It’s best to just keep things above board

Life and death require no explanation

Only our participation

They often cause airy consternation

No need to see behind the curtain

Knowing the way doesn’t

Ensure one will win their game

Not one serious moment

So we play the game

No longer seeking higher ground

Here is just fine

Twiddling my thumbs

Projecting space and time

Turning on a dime

I am not alone

When you finally awake

You don’t remember a damn thing

Until the next time you play

The game between all games

RAIN OF PAIN

WHEN IT BEGINS TO RAIN

LET GO YOUR PAIN

LET LOVE IN

FEEL THE RAIN

…JUST A SETUP FOR LOVE

The Aleph

I have been Homer

And like Ulysses

Soon I shall be Nobody

I shall be all men

I shall be dead

Amor Fati

— inspired by Borges’ The Aleph

the star falls

A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that that patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.

— Jorge Luis Borges

once upon a time there was an old star who had thought it had seen everything…

one day it spied with its timeless eye a small blue gem…

what is this new thing covered in blue water…

suddenly, without warning, the star began to fall…

faster and faster…smaller and smaller…until he could fit on the head of pin…

blackness…and then there was light…a bright wet light…

no memory of who he used to be and was still yet up there in the sky…

one day a bird was heard singing by the Hu-Man boy…

but that is another poem for another time…

many adventures await the Hu-Man…

fly you fools