Can a Christian be a Stoic?

e53ff948decc2cb4451a46861687d346Just like we agnostic and atheist Stoics have to struggle to reconcile our beliefs with the Stoic tradition we have claimed for our own (see “Zeus for Atheists“), Christians who become interested in Stoic literature also have to navigate the question of how their tradition and doctrines mesh with philosophy.

Both questions are deeply interesting to me, in no small part because I have a Christian family and I’m in an interfaith marriage (aside: shoutout to Dale McGowans’ excellent book, In Faith and in Doubt!)—and so I regularly engage with Christianity, Humanism, and Stoicism, sometimes all at the same time!

In fact, the title of this blog—Euthyphroria—is a subtle shoutout to exactly the question of how humanistic and religious morality do or don’t mesh together (a question that Socrates discusses in Plato’s Euthyphro).

The question of Christian-Stoic compatibility comes up frequently in social media.  The topic has been treated a number of times in Stoicism Today, and several relevant full-length books have been published in the last few years—but perhaps a brief explanation would be more helpful to you than a long scholarly treatise!

Continue reading “Can a Christian be a Stoic?”

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Stoicism and the A-Word: Alarm Bells

Not atheism this time.  A bigger and more practical way that people differ in their interpretation of ethical practice is this: is your way of life an ascetic practice?

Depending on who you ask, Stoicism is either the most chill and normal thing in the world, or it’s an austere moral discipline worthy of St. Ignatius himself.   Stoicism Today has published a round of debate on the issue, there are unconfirmed rumors that the word “monastery” originated in late Roman Stoic practices, Anna of A Stoic Remedy points out that Musonius Rufus has been called the world’s first ascetic theorist, and the ongoing arguments we contemporaries have about what the label “Stoic” really means for practice often implicitly require interlocutors to stake out a position for themselves somewhere on a continuum between “ascetic” and “enlightened hedonist” (though the latter is usually just a polite way of accusing someone of Epicureanism—the horror!).

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot lately, because—unlike many of the theoretical issues that every tradition is constantly tempted to debate—the idea of “ascetic” or “not” has big implications for how I actually put Stoic teachings into practice in my life.

I will explore Stoic asceticism in three parts over the next week or so:

  1. Alarm Bells
  2. The Moderate Stoic
  3. The Stoic Ascetic

For this first post, I just want to focus on the reasons we have for being worried about the damage that asceticism (and Stoic teachings that look like asceticism) can do if used improperly!  I believe laying out these concerns ahead of time gives us important context for the conversation ahead.

 

The Alarm Bells

If you’re like me, the word “ascetic” immediately triggers an array of instinctive defenses.

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Continue reading “Stoicism and the A-Word: Alarm Bells”