Sunday, August 17, 2008
The Stoic Path: God is Dead
God is dead. The idea that our lives are regulated by a judging deity or deities has gotten us into one hell of a mess and it is time to ditch these antiquated mythologies before the human experiment ditches itself. Our planet is hurdling into an abyss of our own making. The gods are not coming to the rescue. Jesus will not return. Athena will not give us one more chance.
It's taken me a lifetime to realize this. Early indoctrination is very hard to undo. I abandoned the practice of Catholicism thirty-five years ago, but staunchly defended my birth church throughout all of these years. My schooling was thorough. I learned to accept that Catholicism was much more than a regimental belief system. What I embraced most about this Faith was the doctrine of conscience - that every human being was obliged to follow the dictates of his or her conscience, above all else. This is the "notwithstanding" clause of Christianity. Your church might point you in one direction, but if you have rationally concluded that this direction is wrong, then you are required to follow your understanding. This is what I am doing here.
I am abandoning Christianity because I have concluded that the truth lies elsewhere. I am saying this even though I have developed an enormous reverence for the idea of Christ. Of all of the books I have read in my life none puzzled me more than the Gospel of Matthew. This strange charismatic man has had an unusual hold on me, and he always will.
Christ is the Logos made flesh.
Logos is a Greek concept. It was developed not by a theologian but by the physics of the ancient world. The word describes the active principle of nature. It is the idea than animates nature, and infuses itself throughout all of nature. But unlike the idea of Logos appropriated in the early centuries of the Christian church, the Logos of the ancient world was "in" nature not "outside" of nature. This distinction is absolutely essential.
You do not need to study philosophy to appreciate this idea. But the distinction between the two ideas of Logos will make a world of difference in your appreciation of human nature. The Logos of Christianity (the Christ) is something we must seek; something we must find; and, something we can lose. We are "born again" in Christian theology when the Logos (the Christ) becomes part of who we are. In Stoic philosophy, which was developed prior to Christianity, the Logos is something we all possess because it is what defines us as human. In a very real sense the Stoics see each of us as a Christ. Each of us has the potential to behave - like the Christ of Matthew - in strange and seemingly superhuman ways.
We can choose to ignore the Logos within us and we can serve the demands of the body by seeking pleasure or power, and avoiding pain. We can serve only ourselves and ignore the rest of humanity. This is our free choice. But it is a choice that never resolves; it never provides us with the serenity we seek and deserve. This peace is available to each and every one of us if we retire into ourselves and observe - for many of us for the first time in our lives - what it is that truly gives us life.
Russell McNeil, PhD, is the author of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: Selections Annotated and Explained by Skylight Paths Publishing.