This piece is dedicated to both Matthew Julius and the preferring to remain anonymous online @CluesDeAzul. Both of you have challenged me to think about how and why I generally use Christian or theistic language, which is something worth thinking about.
It has taken me a lot of wrestling the past couple of months. I was originally going to start a series about the link between Ultimate Concern and Stoicism. I was going to admit to the entire readership of Theology Corner that I am not a Christian, and I was going to say why.
Why I am not a Christian is not as important as to what I have learned and gained through Stoicism. I do not want to sound as if I am against Christianity, and for those of you who know me or are at least more familiar with my thought, know that I am far from against it. So instead I would like to show you some things from my personal practice.
In the weeks and months to follow, I will be showing all of you my applied faith. My way of walking and working through my Ultimate Concern. I also hope that this blog will help alleviate any misconceptions or prejudices that you might hold when it comes to what you think of when you think about the words “Stoic” or “Stoicism”.
I am sure that we will have our differences when it comes to some things, and I welcome the discussion and criticism, both from the other bloggers and pod casters of the Theology Corner family, as well as the other people who read my blog. Please feel free to challenge me or ask questions in the comment section. Or if a fellow writer or pod caster would like to talk about some of the material in the coming weeks and months, I am happy to have both formal replies between blogs, as well as interview conversations on your particular pod cast.
To begin, I would like to state that when I use the word “philosophy” when it comes to Stoicism, is not just a certain way of thinking, but an entire way of life. It could rightly be seen as “religious” if you consider the fact that my life is based around Stoic understanding and practices. How I think about things through my day, how I interact with others, how I decide if something is right or wrong etc.
Another thing to understand is the “Always progressing never perfect” attitude that a practicing Stoic adheres to. Stoics do not often refer to themselves as Stoics. Instead we refer to ourselves as a Prokopton (One who is making progress). We aim to do this through “Prosochē (προσοχή) [pro-soh-KHAY]” or the attitude of being present. Paying attention to how we think about impressions, our desires, and our present actions.
“When you relax your attention for a short while, don’t imagine that you’ll be able to recover it whenever you please, but bear this in mind, that because of the error that you’ve committed today, your affairs will necessarily proceed far worse in every respect. For to begin with, and most seriously of all, a habit of inattention will grow up in you, and then a habit of deferring any effort to pay attention. So you should be aware that you’ll be constantly putting off to an even later time a happy and appropriate way of life, a life that is in accord with nature and will remain so. Now, if it brings any advantage to put things off, it will bring even greater advantage to give them up entirely; but if it brings no advantage, why don’t you maintain your attention consistently?”
4.12.1-3 (To be read: fourth discourse, section twelve, lines one through three)
Epictetus. Discourses, Fragments, Handbook (Oxford World's Classics) (p. 273). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.
This is not an easy practice, and may seem too demanding for some. However the strict practice of this helps us to ensure that we are always progressing instead of staying stagnant. It demands rigorous honesty with ourselves, and part of the daily routine for many of us is to look back on the situations we found ourselves in through the day, and think about how we acted and if we could have acted better, or more virtuously in a given situation.
In Stoicism, we have an ideal being that is known as “The Sage”. The Sage is the ideal of a perfectly virtuous being in all situations and all circumstances. One without vice, never a slave to the passions, never giving ascent to the first impression. The Sage is an ideal, the Prokopton is the real. No one thinks that it is possible to live perfectly virtuously at all times.
“What, is it possible thenceforth to be entirely free from fault? No, that is beyond us; but this at least is possible: to strive without cease to avoid committing any fault. For we must be contented if, by never relaxing our attention, we manage to escape a small number of faults.” 4.12.19
In Christianity it is commonly held that it is impossible to be as Christ is, and it is no different when it comes to Stoicism and the idea of The Sage. Just as you might still progress to be more like Christ, I also want to progress towards what it is to be a Sage.
These are just some ideas about what it takes to be a practitioner or student of Stoicism but if anything is to be taken away from Stoicism, an applied to a myriad of worldviews it is the Dichotomy of Control. For a preview of my next piece I will again quote Epictetus,
“Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” -1.1 of The Handbook.
While the next piece is dedicated to The Dichotomy of Control, I will also be delving into all sorts of Stoic ideas, and I welcome all of your questions as I continue to learn,grow, and progress.
Peace be with your spirit.