In some extreme cases, there's always the risk of ridicule whenever one confesses beliefs or personal opinions to the general public, and this might be why I hesitate writing the following.
The probability that we might agree on everything is almost zero; regardless, it is always exciting to learn new points of view, even when those might seem repulsive or contrary to yours. "Keep the good; discard the bad," counsels the old saw.
But before I begin, I want to mention a couple of things.
First: One can expect that the first impulse of any rational person will be that "reflex reaction" about doubting the sincerity of any type of deist, mystic or moral statements. In this particular case, I ask that this does not become the focus while reading this essay. To this end, I accept without debate the accusation that any belief in the numinous goes beyond rationalism. I also declare that I believe in the existence of an Omni-everything Entity, beyond any understanding. The main difference between the classical Stoicism and the new New Stoicism (the term is derived from novi stoici, which was blamed on Justus Lipsius by Jean Calvin) is this substitution of the preeminence given to a vague belief, what the ancients knew as "natural law" (and, which today we call "science") for that unfathomable belief in a Power beyond any limit (which some of us recognize as God).
Second: It has been rumored that the Jesuits' invention to deal with the appearance of renegades, especially to confront them in speech, was the argumentum ad hominem, in any of its three varieties. If possible, I would ask to avoid this type of arguments here. Even so, I welcome every point of view of whoever wishes to comment on this essay, however they wish to do it.
It's worthwhile to mention that efforts, whether by professionals or amateurs, to reconcile the stoic ideals with Christianism are almost as old as Christianism itself. Now, the difficulty in adopting a philosophical attitude stems from the fact that very few people are willing to accept that their peculiarities in daily life can be considered their "philosophy," and they confuse the term with some sort of esoteric and mysterious practice that requires special equipment and many hours of spare time. But, in reality, the analysis of whatever is good and useful, and also what is not, in the personal life of each individual is in fact a philosophical exercise in itself. In this manner, the ideas of all those old stoics can be pondered during most regular hours of the day without any additional effort. The true difficulty in using these stoic ideas nowdays rests in the fact that, originally, these ideas were adapted to more Pantheistic, Materialistic and Deterministic lifestyles. It would seem that, in the ethical aspect of it, a Christian could benefit from stoic ideas. But, when it comes to the physical plane, Stoicism should be repudiated. As a matter of fact, a "Stoic Christianism" is a contradiction in terms. However, it's still possible to make it work by keeping at it, like St. Augustine, who seemed the only Father of the Church to be simultaneously in favor and against stoic concepts. Ideas like the "apatheia," for instance.
Next, I will try to explain what this New Stoicism concept means to me, and how I apply it to my daily life.
Two Initial Statements
There are two phrases that help describe what a Stoic lifestyle should be, but are difficult to accept at first instance:
“Live congruently with nature,” in which nature is defined as the expression of God's will upon the material world.
Only by putting aside passion, unjust thoughts, and self-indulgence, and by performing his duty with the correct disposition can the individual find true freedom.
The Four Virtues
Assuming that a person accepts the previous two statements, the manner in which he will proceed in every situation, every day, requires a sustained and earnest effort in perceiving any and all events through four basic approaches, and channeling his response through them. These are:
- Wisdom— It addresses itself mainly at the accumulation of knowledge for oneself, and the ability to discern or value what is true, correct, or durable.
- Prudence (or Temperance)— It means to demonstrate foresight, precaution and discretion in the actions taken; it means to abstain from acting carelessly or recklessly. It is closely related to the concept of Temperance (moderation) and gives rise to virtuous attitudes of abstinence, chastity and modesty.
- Courage (or Fortitude)— It is the mental strength that allows a person to endure pain or adversity resolutely.
- Justice— It is the defense of any one thing that agrees with what is morally correct, especially unbiased interactions and fair recompense according to honor, to discretion, or to the law.
The Four Passions
These virtues, which are mainly the expression of will over instinct, stand in counterpoint to the four passions:
- Affliction— It is the apprehension of an irrational idea that something bad is present, for which one believes it is proper to feel depressed.
- Fear— It is an aversion or irrational avoidance of an anticipated danger.
- Greed— It is the irrational wanting or yearning of an anticipated good.
- Vanity— It is the irrational boastfulness that something good is present, for which one believes it is right to assume vainglory.
In modern times, the term "stoic" is ill-defined as an adjective for someone who is unruffled by tragedy. But the term actually refers to a person who maintains this calm attitude through the passions of daily life, which are not entirely unavoidable, but could be directed to beneficial, or even moral, attitudes by the use of reason. It is a matter of identifying one's own feelings and redirect them in the best possible manner, recognizing that even so one might fail.
Another useful term for those who wish to practice this New Stoicism is "apathy." This is not the modern definition of it, which is a synonym for slovenliness, or abandoning care for oneself and one's property out of sloth. Instead, "apathy" is the indifference to what is external and out of reach. The only things for which anyone can be held accountable are his representations and criteria. Therefore, anything that is out of reach of one's own reason or personal abilities should be indifferent to him.
Also, the actual usage of the term "happiness" is inappropriate to describe the kind of happiness that comes from the four virtues. It is not a gladness of orgasmic paroxysm proportions, but instead it is a sensation of being contented with what actually "is," instead of stressing for "what could be." It means to be satisfied; it is to reconcile what one truly needs with what one actually has; it means to be "content."
- One ought to live in sync with Nature, since it is only an expression of God's will.
- Everyone should be united: No schism.
- The external world is maintained through the natural interchange of opposing forces (poioun (active), yin / paskhon (pasive), yang).
- Each person can have a personal connection with Everything.
- Each soul has the free will for independent acts, and the soul's acts are the opinions.
- One ought to live simply, by means of moderation and frugality.
- Spiritual growth stems from the active search of good.
- Virtue is the only good, Vice is the only evil; everything else is indifferent.
- The Cardinal Virtues are Prudence (or Temperance), Justice, Fortitude (or Courage), and Wisdom.
- The path to personal happiness and interior peace is through the extintion of any desire to have or affect things beyond one's control, and through living in the present for the present, without hope or fear of the future, beyond the power of any opinion.
- God is better worshiped in the altar of the heart, by the desire to know him and obey him.
- Materialism and Determinism should be considered with skepticism.
It might seem anachronistic or even antiquated to try living in this modern Twenty First Century following precepts that were a fad three hundred years before Christ, and which somehow or other have trickled down in different guises to the present. My perspective on these concepts feels more appropriate when compared to the resurgence they had in the movement known as the New Stoicism, which happened during the Renaissance, because I doubt very much that there could be another person who professes the same things. (I ought to mention that none of the people that have been designated as part of such discipline considered themselves followers of anything in particular. They did not even have a name for the ideas they professed. It was only an historical designation given to them.) Perhaps there are some whose have ideas similar to mine, I just don't know.
Maybe all these postmodernist ideas are more influenced by the humanism we inherited from the Renaissance than by the classics. But, for a reason that I cannot explain, they echo in me strongly.
I hope that my lack of empathy (which I mention every chance I have, but that has never been formally diagnosed) is not what pushes me to adopt this ideology and repudiate others more redolent of mysticism. However, I cannot think of a more effective way to cope with a world such as ours, full of uncertainty and flooded with trivia. This is how I live my life, and this is how I have taught my children to face any situation. I have nothing left but to pray to God that I am not completely wrong. "Do your duty first," I always insist. However, I could err.
"If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly, without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you were bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, but satisfied to live now according to nature, speaking heroic truth in every word which you utter, you will live happy. And there is no man able to prevent this." —Marcus Aurelius