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"A Unique Moment in History"

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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...

 

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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)

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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.

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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.

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     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

 

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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. 

 

 

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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?

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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. 

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