So far, on the subject of religion I pretended to be objective. But when it comes to religions, we all have our experiences, and my favorite religion is Stoicism.
How ridiculous and how strange to be surprised at anything which happens in life
We admire the Japanese, how they are just coping stoically with multiple disasters. Chinese stoicism also fascinates us. Nonetheless we have our own deep stoic roots in the western world.
Stoicism: Being at peace with yourself, like in Japan
Stoicism was established 300 BC in Greece by Zeno, under the strong influence of Cynicism from Greece as well as Buddhism and Jainism from India. The parallels to Taoism from China are striking, but unknowingly so.
Stoicism was a reaction to the Skeptics and Epicurus with his restrained hedonism. Later in Rome, Stoicism was a widespread religion, before Christianity prevailed.
A man’s as miserable as he thinks he is.
Stoicism in 3 Sentences
Don’t waste thoughts on things, you can’t change..
There is nothing to win or lose beyond your own virtue.
(not Power, Reputation, Possession, Family, Health, Knowledge, not even Death)
All men are world citizens at eye level, who interact on cordial terms.
As beautiful as Stoicism sounds in theory, the ideal of the Stoic sage is unattainable. Some gentlemen however, went surprisingly far down the road to this ideal:
Epictetus (50-130 AD)
The Roman slave had a cruel master. One day he tortured Epictetus by beating his leg with a hammer. Epictetus said “You’ll break my leg”. As the leg then broke, he observed “See, I told you it would break”.
Epictetus was later released and founded a philosophical school. He didn’t need a door lock throughout his whole life, because he renounced any ownership. And throughout his whole life, he had a lame leg…
Stilpo (360-280 BC)
The teacher of the religion’s founder Zeno lived in Megara in Greece. Back then Greece was conquered and subjected by the Macedonian tyrant Demetrius. The Macedonians sacked Stilpos property, ravaged his daughters and killed his wife.
Emerging from this devastation Stilpo was alone and yet happy. He explained, that he had lost nothing. “I carry all my values with me” he said to the astonished Demetrius.
Seneca (4 BC - 65 AD)
The Roman statesman was emperor Nero’s tutor. He couldn’t overcome Nero’s selfish temperament and lost his influence on the increasingly tyrannical emperor. That’s when he pulled back from public life.
Years later he was accused of involvement in a conspiracy against Nero, likely without reason. Hence Nero sent Seneca the order to suicide. Without hesitation, Seneca cut his wrists and died.
Stoicism: solid as a rock
I love every aspect about the Stoa, but I have one major criticism: Stoics believe in a strict causal determinism. Free will is therefore impossible. In my humble opinion this leads to fatalism and rejection of responsibility.
The Stoics themselves quarelled the most with the contradiction between determinism and free will. Thank Planck, today we can resolve this contradiction with the help of quantum physics. If Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius lived today, they would surely welcome the idea, that instead of physical determinism, there are only probabilities of position and momentum.
Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be.
As an introduction to Stoicism, I recommend the video lecture of Prof. Sugrue about the last great stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius; then the most powerful man in the world.
Emperor Marcus Aurelius had absolute power over life and death of any person. Instead of becoming absolutely corrupted, he went the way of a stoic sage. He became the “Philosopher on the throne” dreamed of by Plato.
If I had to decide between all religions, I wouldn’t hesitate to confess to Stoicism. But no one forbids me to be fond of several religions.
Now I started with my favorite religion and fucked up the suspense curve. But don’t worry, there are several fascinating religions left.
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[...] Zen ist nichts für mich. Zen ist irrational. Ich versuche dagegen so gut es geht mein rationales Denken zu verbessern. (a la Spock) Wir Rationalisten sind der Meinung gar nicht genug nachdenken zu können. “Schalte deinen Verstand aus” ist eine Beleidigung für jeden Rationalisten. Beleidigt zu sein, ist natürlich irrational, also versuchen wir es zu vermeiden. Hat dieser Hund Buddha Natur? Warum schreibe ich dann über Zen? Um mich lustig zu machen? Ganz im Gegenteil, Zen zieht mich magisch an. Das liegt unter Anderem an den Parallelen zum Stoizismus: [...]
ich lese gerade das Buch “Stoic Serenity” von Keith Seddon. Schade, dass nur wenige Menschen den Stoizismus kennen. Ich denke, dass diese Philosophie sehr vielen Menschen helfen könnte, denn eigentlich ist sie leicht zu verstehen und absolut einleuchtend. Finde ich jedenfalls. :)
Ein paar moderne Stoizisten gibt es ja doch. Zum Beispiel bei Newstoa