Stoicism is More Helpful/Practical than Christianity
Yesterday I spend the whole day alone with my wife celebrating our 14th wedding anniversary. We had brunch at a restaurant right next to the beach, Hermosa Beach to be more precise, and enjoyed great food, coffee, and conversation.
One of the things I shared with my wife is the fact that for a while now my daily Stoic practice has been a lot more helpful to me than my Christian faith and practice.
Don’t get me wrong. I am and love being a Christian. I go to church regularly, try to put my Christianity to work in every area of my life (social media included), and basically do all the things I’m supposed to do as a Christian.
I am fully aware that there is a whole lot more to faith and practice in Christianity than 90% of people think. I went to Seminary, even though I didn't finish. I was personally mentored by an Episcopal priest years ago. I am not speaking from ignorance. I know both the strengths and weaknesses that every branch of Christianity enjoys and suffers from.
Not too long I noticed that in the last few weeks I’ve been somewhat dejected and defeated by the challenges that I have to deal with in my personal life. A lot of this has to do with being overwhelmed with professional demands from work, the work and attention needed in marriage and parenting, long neglected house projects, feeling like I don’t have enough money to do some things I really want to do, and so forth. Nothing is majorly wrong. It’s just a collection of small challenges here and there that together overwhelm me and make me feel that some things are just never going to get done or fixed, which leaves me in a state of disillusionment and despair. Emotions tend to present problems as much bigger than they really are. And looking at things from a different angle, I have so much to be grateful and thankful for; it makes no sense (however much I’d like to have my feelings validated) for me to be and feel so defeated by problems that are in fact very solvable (even if not on my timetable).
This is where Stoicism comes in for me. I recently read Breakfast with Seneca, and it immediately gave me perspective, challenged me and equipped me to begin to tackle the challenges that were overwhelming me. As is well-known, one of the central claims of Stoicism is that your life is only going to be as good as your mindset is. This cannot be denied.
The main reason Stoicism is more helpful to me than Christianity is because it provides me with practices and tools that ground me, calm me, and strengthen my mental resolve/focus. It’s become a cliche to be sure, but ongoing mindfulness really is the key to progress in living a spiritual and philosophical life.
Yes, I know that there are practices and forms of prayer in Christianity that can help me in much the same way. I just find that the tools Stoicism gives me work more consistently for me.
I do believe Christianity is more advanced than Stoicism in some areas, especially in the relation between human and divine agency. There is no supernaturalism in Stoicism. This troubles many Christians, but not me. I think that Christianity places too much emphasis on asking God to intervene and do things for us. I’m not saying God doesn’t intervene. Nor am I denying miracles, etc. What I am saying is that for millions of Christian a set of practices grounded on asking God to intervene and helps just won’t do. Many of us have never and will probably never experience a miracle. What we need and want is a form of spirituality that tells what we can do to make things better now. This is what Stoicism does for me.
When I put Stoicism to work, I always do so as a Christian. I am fully aware that I cannot do the things Stoicism asks me to do without divine help! So I ask for it, and then move on to pursuing eudaoimonia. The Church Fathers “plundered the Egyptians.” I’m just plundering the Stoics!