Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
- Isaiah 64:1-4
“Two main schools of philosophical thought emerged after Aristotle’s death. These were the hedonistic, godless ethic of Epicurus, which had limited appeal, and the more popular and longer-lasting Stoicism of Zeno of Citium.
“Zeno studied with a disciple of Diogenes of Sinope, the Cynic, and shared his no-nonsense approach to life. He had little patience with metaphysical speculation and came to believe that the cosmos was governed by a supreme lawgiver. Man, he declares, is completely powerless to change this reality, and in addition to enjoying its many benefits, man also has to accept its cruelty and injustice.
“However, Zeno also declares that man has been given a rational soul with which to exercise free will. No one is forced to pursue a ‘good’ life. It is up to the individual to choose whether to put aside the things over which he has little or no control, and be indifferent to pain and pleasure, poverty and riches. But if a person does so, Zeno is convinced that he will achieve a life that is in harmony with nature in all its aspects, good or bad, and live in accordance with the rulings of the supreme lawgiver.
“Stoicism was to find favor across much of Hellenistic Greece. But it drew in even more followers in the expanding Roman empire, where it flourished as a basis of ethics – both personal and political – until it was supplanted by Christianity in the 6th century.”
- Sam Atkinson (senior editor), The Philosophy Book, Big Ideas Simply Explained
Zeno of Citium (332-265BC) tried to live a life in agreement with nature and he believed in a supreme being who was a great lawgiver. And while some of the previous philosophers felt that knowledge and learning brought happiness, Zeno felt that happiness was a good flow of life itself.
But before we start anointing Zeno as a Saint, he did not know of the one true God. The modern secular world suggests that their philosophy of inclusion is a good life leading to happiness. The modern secular view eliminates God and attempts some semblance of ‘freedom’ and happiness. In fact, the secular world portrays God as not loving and Christians as being judgmental, mean, and downright ‘bad.’ Yet, on the surface, you might think that a philosophy that promotes freedom and happiness would align itself with Christianity. But the modern secularists have declared that Christianity has been tried and failed.
The ‘failure’ of Christianity stems mostly from two streams. One is that the true Christian sticks to Biblical teaching and the concept of sin (which the secularists reject since “truth” is relative to each person). Having a set moral code introduces the concept of being judgmental, comparing actions, thoughts, etc. with the moral code. The other issue is that many people who profess Christianity are not true Christians and even true Christians can get off track once in a while. For this reason, a philosophy based on the fact that God is Love and we should love one another, even our enemies, can be seen to be flawed due to the flawed people that profess the faith. I know some non-believers that might watch my wife and I for weeks and never find a fault, but then condemn all Christianity for one slip of the tongue that we might make. Yes, logically fallacious, but truth, logic, and free thought seem to not be in vogue.
Yet, differing from modern secularism, Zeno believed in a supreme being and believed that the supreme being was ultimately in control, having a full set of rules to live by. He even postulated that humans had free will that operated within the supreme being’s will and control. In fact, although Zeno had no opportunity to connect his philosophy with Christianity, Flemish humanist Justus Lipsius combined Stoicism with Christianity in 1584 to start a new school of philosophy, Neo-Stoicism. Yet, even in this attempt to reconcile the two, John Calvin condemned the “new stoics” for their concept of the “tranquility of mind.”
Any true Christian may study various philosophies but adopting them must not be in violation of the Scriptures, and the foundation must be placed upon Christ alone, not Christ plus something else (a certain brand of philosophy as an example). In that regard, the early leaders in the reformation may not recognize most of the modern denominations that they helped found due to misinterpretations as the languages evolve and the church makes the mistake of aligning with the current worldview.
But looking at the Scripture from Isaiah, God will make Himself known. Even God’s enemies will quake before Him. And no god has ever been seen other than the true God. And God acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. Although we might not notice God’s presence, He is there, and God is in control.
Did Zeno get it right? Not completely, but there are the building blocks from many of these ancient philosophers to get much of the concepts that would become Christianity. The key is that these philosophers promoted thought. They each left the next generation hungry and when Christianity burst on the scene, the Christian church grew, although they were persecuted. The quote from the book says that Christianity did not become the prevailing philosophy until the 6th century. Constantine the Great established Christianity as the empire’s religion in the 4th century, and St. Augustine of Hippo became the next notable philosopher in the late 4th and early 5th centuries. The author may be referring to the full transfer to a Christian viewpoint within philosophy, but at this point the dark ages loom. While most identify the Dark Ages as starting with the fall of the Roman empire, leading to stagnation demographically, culturally, and economically, it could be a result of stagnation philosophically. Humanity had simply failed to think. We must value education, but only education that allows free thought and not a limited viewpoint. While we may not get everything right, freedom of thought, and encouragement to think will lead many to Christ.
Since I drew some parallels between this philosophy and modern secularism, what I see as the big difference with the early Stoics and the modern secular worldview is that in ancient Greece, thinking was revered, while in this modern age, thinking is limit to a small finite concept. Thinking beyond what the mob rule dictates is frowned upon. Most people are satisfied with that loss of thought as long as someone else does the thinking and they are being taken care of. In a documentary, No Safe Spaces, the documentary, mostly following Dennis Prather and Adam Carrola, stated that the modern younger generations are willing give away all freedoms as long as they are taken care of. That seemingly includes thinking freely.
With social media “likes” becoming more important than truth, people can easily become manipulated and brainwashed. Yet, at some point, their newfound philosophy will be exposed as hollow, empty, and a sham. Christianity must rise, showing love to their fellowman, to recapture those who God has chosen.
But how does the title tie in? Zeno was very close to a Christian philosophy, just without Christ, but missing, even by a little, is the problem many people face in this life. There was a television comedy series featured a bumbling spy, Get Smart. Maxwell Smart was always saving the day, in spite of his bumbling, barely missing disaster. And as usual, whoever the enemy of the episode might be, they “missed by THAT much,” with Max holding his thumb and index finger apart by about an inch.
If you like these Tuesday morning essays about philosophy and other “heavy topics,” but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Tuesday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.