picture of library with statue of stoic philosophers

Stoic Philosophy

Lessons It Can Teach Christianity

So it should be no secret by now that I love philosophy. Recently I started reading about philosophy more and more. I also recently started using Apple News app. Found an interesting article on Stoic philosophy.

It all started when I realized that I wasted so much time on mindless social media and Netflix.

So I took drastic measures. I deleted Twitter, Netflix, Youtube and Youtube TV off my phone. Now I had a problem. What could I do when I needed to actually waste time? Enter Apple News.

Apple News allowed me to educate myself during those rare moments of downtime. And wouldn’t you know it, they have a philosophy category.

One day while skimming through the category, a headline caught my eye. It read Is ancient philosophy the future? Intrigued, I decided to read.

Is Ancient Philosophy The Future?

Donald Robertson wrote a fascinating article about the rise of ancient philosophy among young people. He seeks to address the question, Why the rise in Stoicism in modern society? He ties the answer to the core principles of Stoicism.

The Core principals of Stoic Philosophy

To be a stoic, you must believe the following:

First, must adopt a rational framework when confronting today’s problems.

Second, you must differentiate between what you can control and what you can’t.

Third, you must recognize that the judgments you make about certain situations change your emotional state. For example, the judgment you make about rain effects your attitude about a rainy day. The rain itself as nothing to do with your emotional state.

Fourth, you must recognize that you live for a higher purpose.

Master, all four and you are on your way to becoming a Stoic.

While Donald Robertson article did not convince me to be a stoic philosopher, it did tell me a thing or two about evangelizing young people. So many core principles of Stoicism can be found in Christianity. Donald Robertson even draws a comparison between Stoicism and St Francis Serenity Prayer. So why is Stoicism growing and Christianity shrinking?

Five Things Stoic philosophy emphasizes better than Christianity.

1. Rationality

Let’s face it Christianity has a bad representation as anti-science. Even if most of the blame goes on protestant evangelicals and creationist, The Catholic Church suffers from this stereotype as well. Just the other day someone asked me if I believe in dinosaurs. Yet as controversial as the Big Bang is, very few people know that a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaître discovered it. Faith is rational, let’s embrace that.

2. Stoics Teach How to Live a Good Life

Sometimes Christians can get so weighed down by what not to do that we forget why we’re doing it in the first place. Jesus came to give life and give it abundantly. Christians are called to have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, generosity, and self-control. Yet most of the time we walk around with a chip on our shoulder and a holier than thou attitude. Christianity is meant to give us a good life, not outwardly, but inwardly. We need to emphasize the goodness of Christianity more.

3. Stoics Have Deep and meaningful conversations

Don’t rock the boat. Sometimes we take Christian meekness to the extreme. We are afraid to be raw and vulnerable because we don’t want anyone to discover what a horrible sinner we are. Instead, we have surface level conversations. Likewise, we are so afraid of losing our faith that we don’t dare entertain opinions outside of our own. Yet deep conversations require a vulnerable confrontation with someone not like you.

4. Stoic Philosophy Offers Emotional Resilience

This is something Christianity should offer in abundance. Most of the modern churches fail to deliver. St Paul wrote,

for I have learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me. Philippians 4:11a-14

St Paul knows the secret to being content is having confidence that comes from trusting in Jesus. Yet we never hear about this inner freedom thatGod promises. You hear about the next life and the freedom that awaits us. You hear that God wants to bless you now. If you’re not blessed you lack faith. This is not the Christianity St Paul describes.

5. Stoic Philosophy Performs Action

Unlike Christianity, stoicism emphasizes being a good person. There is no gospel to be proclaimed or preached. Rather, a person exemplifies Stoicism by transforming their character. Christian have made a blind confession of faith the only requirement for membership. Yet the Christian gospel demands transformation. Too many Christians pay lip service to Christ without radically changing their heart. The moral is that if you’re going to preach the gospel, your behavior better conform.

Conclusion

The world is hungry for guidance in these chaotic times. They long to know answers to questions such as why are we here and what is our purpose. Young people value deep radical friends, who know how to have intellectual conversations. If Christianity is going to evangelize it needs to be rational. It needs to offer a community that is not superficial, but intellectually rich, where people practice what they preach. Until then philosophy will remain an appealing alternative.

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Black Mirror: Striking Vipers

Social Commentary About Porn and Love

Black Mirror spoilers below

Black Mirror is one of my favorite Netflix shows.

It combines all my favorite things: Philosophy, sci-fi, and technology.

Seasons 1-4 always made me think. In fact, while at Yale Institute for bio-ethics, a bunch of students got together and had an informal discussion on the ethical issues in the episode The Entire History of You.

Thus when I discovered season 5 was out, I knew I had to binge watch it.

Sadly season 5 of Black Mirror was disappointing.

In my opinion, the only thought-provoking episode was Striking Vipers.

As I watch Striking Vipers, I couldn’t help but wonder if Black Mirror producer, Charlie” Brooker, intended to say something profound about porn and love. Let me explain.

Synopsis of Black Mirror’s episode Striking Vipers.

There are three main characters. Danny and Karl are best friends from college. Danny has a girlfriend, Theo, who he eventually marries. Since starting a family with his wife, Theo, Danny has become estranged from Karl. On Danny’s birthday, Karl gives Danny a gift, Striking vipers, a game similar to Mortal Combat. This game is played in Virtual Reality. The game allows the players to take on different avatars. Karl takes on the female avatar Roxette and Danny takes on the persona of Lance.

That is when things start to get weird!

Danny and Karl enter into a sexual relationship in the virtual reality game. Lance (Danny) has sex with Roxette (Karl).

I am not sure what it means for each person’s sexuality. Are Danny and Karl homosexual? Is Karl living out transgender fantasies? Maybe, the Virtual reality game is no different than porn?

The show leaves these questions primarily open-ended. Yet it does suggest that both Karl and Danny are not homosexual.

What’s interesting to me is what the game does for Danny and Theo’s relationship. Danny becomes more addicted to having sex in virtual reality. He pulls away from his wife and family. She eventually finds out why.

Their solution is to have one night where they both get sexual gratification. Danny gets to play the game and Theo gets to go to the bar without her wedding ring.

Black mirror’s commentary

The premise of Black Mirror is to use technology as a commentary on societal issues.

I believe VR technology reflects the issue of porn in modern society. Porn gives us unrealistic expectations. Thus, the reality is no longer satisfactory.

While playing the game, Danny can no longer be satisfied by his wife. He gets his satisfaction from the unrealistic avatar in the game.

The show seems to say that playing the game is similar to the wife picking up a man. Both people are not faithful. When someone watches porn, they also are not faithful. They are using someone else for their own gratification.

Black mirror: Happy ending?

Some people cite the ending as happy. Both parties were able to compromise. Yet they ignore what Theo, Danny’s wife, said,

If I wanted to I could have anyone I wanted..but I’m loyal. I make sacrifices because it is a partnership. Does marriage get boring and dull, yes, even I find it boring. So tell me if I’m not wanted.

In modern society, we tend to equate love with the warm feelings we get or how attracted we are to a person. Karl embodies this philosophy in the show. He chases after Danny because it is the “best sex he has ever had” Karl tells Danny that he loves him. This makes Danny realize that they must face the reality of their feelings. Yet in reality, it isn’t love. We need to reclaim the ancient philosophical notion of love

Aristotle’s Notion of Love

Aristotle says that in order to love the other, we must love ourselves. If we truly love ourselves, we will not use anybody else for our own gratification. Rather love is doing for the other’s stake. In other words, if we love ourselves, we will want to pursue a virtuous life. As part of the virtuous life, we should extend unearned love to others. Likewise, one needs the community to be virtuous. This notion of love can also be seen in Catholic teachings.

Catholic Church on Love

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and indissolubility of the spouses’ community of persons, which embraces their entire life: “so they are no longer two, but one flesh.”153 They “are called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving.”154 This human communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ, given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the common faith and by the Eucharist received together. (CCC 1644)

For Catholics, Love is giving of oneself to another. This includes sacrifice. We are called to lay down our lives for our spouse. This is hard work. We don’t do it alone. We do it with the grace of Christ.

Black Mirror shows the consequences of our modern hedonistic lifestyle when given the right technology. Maybe we should reinterpret love as the act of self-giving.

Want more commentary on Love? Check out Matt Fradd’s interview with Christopher West