DISCLAIMER: This is not meant to be an academic exercise on what Christianity and Stoicism agree or disagree on. If you’re interested in that, you can look here or here for starters. This is about my love for both, how one lead me to the other and how I am now, starting to look at them from the perspective of defining my value system. I will probably upset other Christians and other Stoics. While I am okay with discussing the finer points of each, at the end of the day I am only concerned with my own soul and virtue. I have to answer only to myself every morning in the mirror and my God.
If you’re a regular reader, you know I usually open with some situation from the news or some other outside source that really sparked an idea in my head that I apply to faith, the outdoors, or both. In this case, my friend Chas, who you’ve heard mentioned before, sent me an email with a link to a podcast called Stoicism on Fire. In listening to the first three episodes, I started realizing that I treat my Christian life and my stoic life as mutually exclusive. If my faith is guiding my actions, I am not thinking about Stoicism, though nothing I am doing is antithetical to Stoicism. Or if the Stoics are guiding my actions, I’m not thinking about my faith, though nothing I am doing is against God. Though I have read many Stoic texts, I have never studied Stoicism as a philosophy and have never thought about the possible compromises I make to both in implementing my value system. And what exactly is my value system?
Right now, I am in the process of studying both and how they fit together in my life. Both have had an incalculable impact on my life and have made me a better man. So, for the sake of this post, I am going to give you some background and then state my plans for going forward.
1. Stoicism helped lead me back to Christianity.
This one is hard to explain, but I don’t believe there’s any way I end up back at church and practicing my faith with the zeal that I do now had I not read Meditations two years ago. I had spent most of my life trying to do the right thing, wanting to be a good man, but not having a plan to go about it. Marcus Aurelius gave me virtue as something to aspire to and something to work towards. Reconnecting with Jesus was just the next logical step for me after eighteen months of living and breathing Stoicism.
2. Jesus is who I depend on to heal my heart, but Stoicism gives me rules to live by.
One area of disconnect between Stoicism and Christianity is in how you find peace. The Stoics teach that you can create that for yourself through your actions. Christianity teaches that peace is found through Jesus. In a way, they’re both right. When I follow Stoic principles and I act with virtue, there is a peace that comes with knowing I did the right thing. When I am wronged and I make the conscious decision not to be injured by the actions of the other person, there is a peace in letting go of that hurt. It’s not quite forgiveness, but it allows me to let go of it and move on with my life. In Jesus, I learn to forgive and I have a peace that is the undercurrent to my day-to-day life. It makes choosing not to be injured by the person who wronged me that much easier because I have the love of Christ in my heart.
3. For me, Stoicism helps me behave properly on a day to day basis, even when I’m struggling with a larger spiritual issue. It leads me to a more peaceful place where I can deal with the root cause because I’m not creating further damage in the meantime.
I always say there is nothing that you need to learn about life that can’t be found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). However, as I’ve realized over the past few months as our pastors have started unpacking this at church, scripture takes some time to decipher for me. In order for me to understand what Jesus was saying, I have to think of historical context, I have to consider who Jesus was and is, I have to think about what he said just before and what he said just after in order to define just exactly what he was getting at. I love spending time thinking about this and praying about this, but sometimes, I just need to make a decision. Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Epictetus and others wrote in a way, that although it was also 2,000 years ago, is very easily applicable to everyday life. It often deals with exactly what I’m going through and I can take that and easily apply it to solve a problem. Once these things are accomplished, I can let go of my anger or frustration and clear my mind so that when I delve into scripture, I can give it the attention it deserves rather than having my mind wander onto whatever is bothering me at the moment.
For me, Stoicism and Christianity work in harmony. I’m still learning exactly how they work in harmony and I’m sure I’ll be faced with some forks in the road going forward, but one supports and emboldens the other. I don’t know who I’d be without Marcus Aurelius and Jesus in much the same way that I don’t know who I’d be without my parents. I will write in more detail about this topic as I move forward and find little tidbits to explore.