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The Stoic God – Episode 3


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It would be impossible to give a full account of the philosophy of the Stoics without, at the same time, treating of their theology; for no early system is so closely connected with religion as that of the Stoics. Founded, as the whole view of the world is, upon the theory of one Divine Being…There is hardly a single prominent feature in the Stoic system whichis not, more or less, connected with theology.[1] The Stoic God is an all-pervasive, immanent, active force in the cosmos, and is equivalent to and often called “Nature.” Zeus, pneuma, universal Reason, and logos are also used to refer to this active force. The Stoics used many names to refer to the divine principle in the cosmos. In fact, Cleanthes, the second head of the ancient Stoa addressed the Stoic God as follows in his Hymn to Zeus: Most glorious of the immortals, invoked by many names When describing the Stoic conception of God, it is actually easier to begin by listing the characteristic commonly attributed to deities that do not apply to the Stoic God. The Stoic God is NOT: Transcendent Supernatural Anthropomorphic Aristotle’s prime mover A metaphor An interventionist The Stoic God IS: Immanent Universal Reason Logos Providence Creative fire Active principle The generative principle (σπερματικός λογός) World-soul Breath (πνευμα) World mind Pantheism The Stoics are most frequently considered pantheists; however, deist, theist, and panentheistic qualities are found in the surviving writings. It is important to keep in mind that all of these labels are modern creations; therefore, none applies perfectly. The God of Stoicism does not fit neatly into any modern theological box.[2] More importantly, people use these terms with slightly different meanings, so we must be careful and accurate when we anachronistically refer to the Stoics using a modern term like pantheism. As an example, I have encountered several pantheists online who claim to be atheists. Simply put, at best this is an abuse of language. Our English word pantheism is derived from a combination of the Greek word pan, which means “all”; and theos, which means “god.” Therefore, pantheism means all is God. To declare oneself a pantheist and an atheist simultaneously may be a great conversation starter; however, if pressed, the individual making such a claim will necessarily have to redefine atheism to make that assertion sensible. Where does this come from? One contributor to this abuse of the word pantheism is Richard Dawkins, the fundamentalist advocate of New Atheism. He famously declared that pantheism is nothing more than “sexed-up atheism” in his book the God Delusion.[3] Interestingly, it appears the World Pantheist Movement agrees with Dawkins’ assessment: Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, has described Pantheism as “sexed-up atheism.” That may seem flippant, but it is accurate. Of all religious or spiritual traditions, Pantheism – the approach of Einstein, Hawking and many other scientists – is the only one that passes the muster of the world’s most militant atheist.[4] Unfortunately, this appeal to the authority of Einstein is undercut by the fact that he vehemently denied being an atheist and was extremely critical of atheism on several occasions.[5] Abusing the definition of pantheism to include atheism adds confusion to discussions about an already difficult topic. I will leave this topic with a clear statement: If your definition of pantheism is open to atheism, then it does not apply to the ancient Stoics. There is no credible evidence the ancient Stoics entertained atheism. In fact, the overwhelming body of evidence points in the opposite direction; the ancient Stoics were deeply spiritual. Cleanthes, the second head of the Stoa, wrote the religious Hymn to Zeus; Posidonius, accused the Epicureans of atheism; a charge Philodemus, an Epicurean, felt compelled to deny in his work On Piety. Moreover,

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