Worldview Wednesday--The Rise of Modern Stoicism


I've been pouring over books on the history of western philosophy in preparation to begin my doctoral program.  If any of the Ancient Greek schools I would expect to make a modern resurgence it would be epicureanism.  After all, the heart of the teaching of this philosophy was the pursuit of pleasure albeit with caveats.  Yet, over the last twenty years, the Greek thinking that has risen from its grave has been stoicism. 

Stoicism evolved from the teaching of its found founder, Zeno (336-264 BC), who instructed his pupils that no one could escape his or her fate, one could only learn to accept it.  Later stoics, most notably emperor Marcus Aurelius whose work Meditations found its way back on to the New York Times' Best Seller List,  focused on simplicity, forgiveness, seeking the good of the state, rejecting evil actions unless accompanied by evil intent, all the while embracing determinism.  By the way, Marcus was not so forgiving in his own life as he persecuted Christians and executed dissenters but do as I say I guess!

Ancient stoicism was more complicated but that's the Cliff Note version for those who are unfamiliar with the pertinent writings. 

Modern stoicism has tweaked the philosophy a bit.  Ancient stoics believed in a god and taught to "live according to nature."  Today's adherents preach "live according to facts."  What facts, you ask? Good question.  From the dozens of books that have rolled off the printing press since then President Clinton was spotted reading Meditations, the "facts" seemed to be based in science.  Yet, anyone who knows anything about the philosophy of science knows that within any given secular discipline "facts" are provisional--they can change with a few published articles based on one study in one lab at one university somewhere.  For example, I grew up during the "low fat" craze.  Fat was the enemy.  Fat should be banned.  Fat was evil.  Now studies show fat can be good for you and slowly foods like "low fat yogurt" are being replaced with "whole milk Greek yogurt."  

What "facts" can a modern stoic consistently live by? Does a modern stoic have to subscribe to the New England Journal of Medicine and obsessively follow Neil DeGrasse Tyson on Twitter to know the "facts of the day?" What happens when they change, as they always do?

Time and space prevent me from delving any deeper into other problems with modern stoicism like are all actions done absent evil intent really good? How would you define it? Can you really ascertain your true intent for every action? How wide a cultural net are you going to cast to define "simplicity"?  I could go on.

Christians live with the certainty that while we are tainted by sin, we have a purely good God and His perfect, unchanging Scriptures to guide us.  We live with the promise from a God who does not lie or change His mind that He will return, cast evil away and remake the heavens and the earth.  I'll take that certainty over the ambiguities of what was a long forgotten Greek philosophy any day.