ThereAndBackAgain

"A Unique Moment in History"

Recommended Posts

Since my deconversion, I've taken a growing interest in the philosophy of Stoicism. It provides a framework - a compass - for living that can be especially useful for those of us who have left religion behind. I get daily e-mails from DailyStoic.com and I wanted to share today's message here because it specifically addresses how Stoicism provides an alternative to theism...

 

content_Screen_Shot_2016-12-12_at_11.26.52_AM.png

The observation from Flaubert about a little discussed pivot point of Western Civilization.

“Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone.”

What he is referring to is the period between the fall of the gods and the rise of God. Flaubert isn’t strictly correct, as Christianity was a rising, powerful sect well before Marcus Aurelius (Seneca’s brother Gallio is in the Bible), and indeed one of the most shameful parts of Marcus’s regime is his persecution of Christians, but Flaubert’s point is generally an interesting one. Because there was this period between polytheism and Christianity as we know it, and that period included some of the most glorious days of the Roman Empire.

So what did these people do instead of worshipping God? Well, many of them practiced philosophy. The Cynics, the Stoics, the Epicureans. This was their heyday. In fact, we can see Stoicism as a kind of civic religion, a guide for behavior and a framework for living. It was a time when man was alone in the universe and forced to come up with, on his own, an answer to that timeless question: What is the meaning of life and how should I live it?

Why we turned away from the Stoic answer cannot be said (though it is clear that the Christians cribbed from and incorporated many philosophical insights into their teachings), but an amateur historian can’t help but look back and ask how things might have been different, for better or for worse.

(Discuss)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites


PLEASE EXCUSE THE ANNOYING COMMERCIAL BREAKS IN THE CONVERSATION:

As with everything these days, the cost of keeping the Ex-C forum up and running has been rising. Inflation? In part, but the primary reason is this: As participation in the forums grows, costs increase. The Ex-C forums will remain free of charge to everyone, but if you believe this little corner of the Internet provides value to you or others, and you feel inclined to help keep us online, please consider making a one-time donation or becoming a regular contributor. Contribution options appear under the "Upgrade" link above, and can be accessed by clicking here.

Oh, and as an incentive (no, you won't be given any bogus promises of eternal bliss), if you do become a regular contributor by signing up for any monthly or yearly patron package, this annoying ADVO will disappear.

And now, back to the regularly scheduled conversation...



56 minutes ago, ThereAndBackAgain said:

Since my deconversion, I've taken a growing interest in the philosophy of Stoicism. It provides a framework - a compass - for living that can be especially useful for those of us who have left religion behind. I get daily e-mails from DailyStoic.com and I wanted to share today's message here because it specifically addresses how Stoicism provides an alternative to theism...

 

content_Screen_Shot_2016-12-12_at_11.26.52_AM.png

The observation from Flaubert about a little discussed pivot point of Western Civilization.

“Just when the gods had ceased to be, and the Christ had not yet come, there was a unique moment in history, between Cicero and Marcus Aurelius, when man stood alone.”

What he is referring to is the period between the fall of the gods and the rise of God. Flaubert isn’t strictly correct, as Christianity was a rising, powerful sect well before Marcus Aurelius (Seneca’s brother Gallio is in the Bible), and indeed one of the most shameful parts of Marcus’s regime is his persecution of Christians, but Flaubert’s point is generally an interesting one. Because there was this period between polytheism and Christianity as we know it, and that period included some of the most glorious days of the Roman Empire.

So what did these people do instead of worshipping God? Well, many of them practiced philosophy. The Cynics, the Stoics, the Epicureans. This was their heyday. In fact, we can see Stoicism as a kind of civic religion, a guide for behavior and a framework for living. It was a time when man was alone in the universe and forced to come up with, on his own, an answer to that timeless question: What is the meaning of life and how should I live it?

Why we turned away from the Stoic answer cannot be said (though it is clear that the Christians cribbed from and incorporated many philosophical insights into their teachings), but an amateur historian can’t help but look back and ask how things might have been different, for better or for worse.

(Discuss)

Stoicism was largely only popular with high class Romans, Marcus Aurelius was of course Emperor and Cicero was a Consul and Senator.  And the Pax Romana was more due to the fact that the Romans had defeated every other major threat to their power besides encroaching tribal entities on their frontiers.  To credit Stoicism with the height of Roman civilization is I think false, just like Edward Gibbon's theorizing that Christian superstition is what ultimately undermined it.  The Christian Eastern Roman empire would last until 1453, so I think that is a failed theory with much better explanations available for the fall of the West.  

 

Stoicism has some useful insights, but I think it is an insufficient philosophy.  Suppression of anger long term is not good for you, anger needs to be expressed in a healthy way and not rejected as an irrational emotion.  Also, human nature is more pliable then the Stoics understood, understanding the nature of the world and the nature of man within it is an ever evolving and complex question which is near impossible to build a philosophy on without simplifying the world.  

 

I think it is particularly useful for those in the military or those who have suffered a lot, but I recommend learning from it and not treating it as a whole worldview which should be adopted. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I’m not sure that the piece was asserting that Stoicism was solely responsible for Rome’s success or that Christianity was to blame for its demise.  I think the point was that a successful framework or philosophy does not require any gods. 

 

I think Stoicism does not call for suppressing anger but rather for not letting it arise.  The Stoics did accept that feigned anger might be useful on occasion.  But most enduring philosophies tend to see actual anger as nothing but destructive.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, ThereAndBackAgain said:

I’m not sure that the piece was asserting that Stoicism was solely responsible for Rome’s success or that Christianity was to blame for its demise.  I think the point was that a successful framework or philosophy does not require any gods. 

 

I think Stoicism does not call for suppressing anger but rather for not letting it arise.  The Stoics did accept that feigned anger might be useful on occasion.  But most enduring philosophies tend to see actual anger as nothing but destructive.

Marcus Aurelius and many other Stoics asserted the existence of God, but I agree it is not mandatory for the philosophy.  And I dont see how anger can be avoided without repression or suppression, anger is a totally normal human emotion which is totally appropriate in some contexts.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's interesting. I never really thought about that particular uniqueness of that specific period of history. It's interesting, to me, to consider how the lack or a disinterest in theistic narratives can sometimes help people approach a sense of personal will and responsibility, which I believe is emphasized in Stoicism.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

     When did the Romans stop worshiping gods?  I don't know of any point in their history when that happened.  Sure there were ebbs and tides just like any other society but they never really stopped.  There's plenty of evidence that they always believed in their gods before xianty and long after xianty.

 

     As for Stoicism there are some (I'm too lazy to look) that claim that early xians simply ripped it off.  I remember reading this some years ago and they made a fairly compelling case (especially in the 200's and/or 300's...again, it has been quite awhile).

 

     Now, if you want to be a modern Stoic, and maybe evangelize a bit for it, you'll probably want to demonstrate how it has a long history and how it is superior to other systems that have been, and are, out there.  So, with that in mind, the Romans quit all that other shit and in its absence turned to Stoicism.  Just like in the xians mind we take OT history in such a way that there's a little gap, that really isn't there, so that xianity can come along and fill it.

 

          mwc

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think the Romans and Greeks had a more sensible approach to gods than the civilizations that followed:  they generally didn’t regard gods as both all-loving and all-powerful, maybe seeing the obvious problems in that area.  They didn’t see gods as dictators of morality and givers of law the way today’s theists do.  You picked a god that you liked, paid your respects to it, and that was it.  You didn’t have much in the way of a ‘relationship’ with a deity.  There’s no doubt Christianity, when allied to government power, was more ‘successful’ than the old-time religions, but it was a step backward for humanity, IMHO. 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 3/13/2018 at 11:39 PM, TrueScotsman said:

 

Marcus Aurelius and many other Stoics asserted the existence of God, but I agree it is not mandatory for the philosophy. 

 

 

And remember that the Stoics’ concept of God was rather different from that of most theists in later eras.  It was more like the ‘Providence’ that many Enlightenment-era figures (including some of America’s founding fathers) invoked.  Maybe Marcus Aurelius was more Deist than anything else.  And knowing as little as they knew about the universe, what else could one be?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, ThereAndBackAgain said:

 

And remember that the Stoics’ concept of God was rather different from that of most theists in later eras.  It was more like the ‘Providence’ that many Enlightenment-era figures (including some of America’s founding fathers) invoked.  Maybe Marcus Aurelius was more Deist than anything else.  And knowing as little as they knew about the universe, what else could one be?

That's true, Marcus Aurelius at least explored the possibility that the gods might not exist in his Meditations.  Of course he quickly says, that of course the gods do exist but that's certainly progress for that time.  

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Marcus Aurelius believed in the Daimon, the idea we each have a personal god, but his was not like Socrates as much as it was "Reason"

 

I love the stoics. I wish I had been bred on that instead of poison. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now