'Without the Divine, there is no Stoicism': A Polemic by Nigel Glassborow

Nigel Glassborow

Can Stoicism really be called Stoicism, without divinity? My aim in this piece is to show why you can’t take the divine out of Stoicism. This is quite a challenge seeing as how the whole of the teachings are based on an understanding of the Divine Fire, or more correctly ‘Phusis’ – that is Nature seen as ‘intelligent’ and ‘purposeful’.  My apologies if I fall short of the task.

It cannot be enough to talk of virtue, striving for excellence and ethical theory. We need to see why we ought to choose the ‘life of good’ as is recommended by Stoicism together with all that implies.  And the start of understanding not only why we should live the ‘good life’ but also the nature of the ‘good life’ is first of all an understanding as to how the Divine Fire manifests the whole Cosmos as the Oneness that it is.

Stoicism uses many words to describe and explain the many aspects of the living conscious Cosmos – however there is no separation between the Divine Fire, Phusis etcetera.  The differing words are just human attempts to construct a framework of understanding – so if I shift between terminologies please follow Seneca’s advice and see past the words in order to see the whole picture.  Stoic teachings are not to be understood by examining the individual words or ideas in isolation.

While Stoicism encourages the individual to think for themselves, key to being a Stoic is acceptance of the guidance to ‘Live in accord with Phusis’.  The principle of the nature of the Divine Fire gives understanding as to Phusis being the intelligent and purposeful Whole of which we are a part – hence the idea that each individual is a ‘spark of the Divine Fire’.

Any attempt at a ‘therapeutic form’ of Stoicism will fall short of the mark if it ignores Stoicism proper and only looks to limiting itself to the range of Stoic practices that are meant to be used  as a means to train oneself to be able to ‘habitualise’ the Stoic life.  The practices were never meant to be used as a standalone ‘treatment’, and there certainly is no such thing as Stoic Mindfulness, this being an adoption from Buddhism and other life philosophy systems. (Although maybe I am being a little pedantic about the use of the word ‘mindfulness’.  So as to avoid the connotations of Buddhist meditation and other such ideas that come with the modern use of the word, it is more accurate to talk of Stoic Attentiveness.  Mindfulness has acquired connotations of looking into oneself, whereas, to my mind, attentiveness is more to do with looking outwards and seeing the bigger picture.)  The thing is that the Stoic ‘practices/exercises’, without the rest of the teachings, are just CBT under a different title with all the limitations of CBT.  It is known that CBT needs constant top-up sessions as its effects wane over time.  (A search of the web will bring up many learned papers and articles to this effect.)  This is because there is no ‘teaching’ as to one’s place within the Whole behind the practices being taught.

Many attempts to ‘restate’ Stoicism end up watering it down, especially where teachings that are contrary to atheistic ideas are ‘re-interpreted’ or omitted (presumably ‘in the interest of inclusivity’). It has been said to me that ‘people are free to incorporate theism into Stoicism if they wish to’.  The Stoic pantheism that is the understanding of the Divine Fire is a teaching to be seen through all of the Stoas, so it is already incorporated into Stoicism.  The Stoic theism where the Stoics of old recognised a ‘god’ is to be seen throughout the Classical writings – in fact part of what the Stoics of old were trying to do was to arrive at an understanding of man’s relationship to the ‘gods’.   So it is not the case that ‘people are free to incorporate theism’ but rather that they are free to delude themselves by omitting it, which raises the question as to if they can then still call what they then follow Stoicism or call themselves Stoic if they reject the Divine Fire.

Stoicism is a life philosophy that combines knowledge and faith in order that we have a better understanding as to how to make the most of the life we have been given.  It is ‘the philosophy of the sphere’.  The Stoics of old recognised the sphere as the shape achieved when all the inward and outward forces were in balance – and they state that the Stoic philosophy is just such a balance.  All the key teachings of Stoicism are needed if it is to continue to be ‘one of the loftiest and most sublime philosophies in the record of Western civilisation’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica).  And that includes the ideas about the ‘Divine Fire’.

So down to business.  Stoic ‘science’ is still valid in all of its key areas.  Such was based on the ‘common perceptions’ of the day, logic and an element of faith.  Compare this to today’s quantum science which is based on ‘imaginative’ mathematical equations, instruction to rewrite the rules of logic and an element of faith.

Modern science is looking to try to understand the construction and evolution of the Cosmos.  Stoicism looks to trying to understand how the Cosmos is manifested here and now.  In years gone by the Stoics saw the Cosmos as being manifested out of an ‘element’ they called the Divine Fire.  Bear in mind that what they called an ‘element’ we would today more likely call a ‘property’, ‘quality’ or ‘state’.

To explain how the Cosmos is manifested it is seen that the Divine Fire had two indivisible aspects.  There is the ‘passive principle’ that is matter without purpose – today this would more accurately be described as a sea of sub-atomic particles popping in and out of existence that are  bashing around and not forming any of the elements or forces that are necessary for all that exists today to actually exist.  In fact scientists are claiming that just such a state existed soon after the supposed ‘Big Bang’.

In order to explain how anything is manifested out of this sea of chaos, the Stoics talk of the ‘active principle’ – this is what causes the ‘passive principle’ to organise and manifest itself as all the individualisations within the Cosmos.  Scientists have glimpsed some of the workings of the ‘active principle’ and they call them the ‘laws of nature’ and ‘the laws of science’.  The scientists recognise the need for order, and in their descriptions of the quantum universe they are hard pushed to explain it without reference to what some of them call ‘the consciousness’.  The Stoics describe this ‘consciousness’ as the active principle – that is, ‘the universal governor and organiser of all things’.

I would emphasise that the consciousness that permeates the whole of existence is not consciousness as we know it.  It is used by Stoics and scientists to describe something akin to human consciousness, but beyond full explanation.  It describes an essential aspect needed to explain how the Cosmos is manifested.

As we are part of this manifestation, as individualisations within the sea of subatomic particles, so we are part of the Whole.  As the Stoics of old describe it, we are each a ‘spark of the Divine Fire’, or as scientists poetically describe it, we ‘are made out of stardust’.

It is not a case of ‘why you can’t take the divinity out of Stoicism’; it is more a case of Stoicism being to some degree irrelevant, for we are ‘sparks’ of the living Cosmos whether we like it or not.  It is just that the Stoics had recognised the fact two millennia before it began to dawn on the scientists that there has to be an immanent ‘consciousness’ that permeates the whole of existence in order to explain how everything fits together.

When the scientists eventually overcome their problems of marrying ‘matter’ and ‘forces’ with ‘the consciousness’ there might be less antagonism towards the teachings of Stoicism in this area.   Some are ahead of the game.  Sir James Jeans [11 September 1877 – 16 September 1946, an English physicist and astronomer] on talking about Quantum Theory stated ‘The universe begins to look more like a great thought than a great machine.’

So we come to that little word that causes so much controversy – God.  No, it is not a swear word as many seem to treat it.  It is all a matter of definition, usage and baggage

As a result of the study of Quantum Theory, Martin Rees [Astronomer Royal] said:  ‘The universe could only come into existence if someone observed it.

No longer is it a case that ‘believers’ are allowed to have ‘the God of the gaps in the knowledge of science’ with the idea that even these gaps would be closed in time so eliminating God.  It is now becoming apparent in scientific circles that God, the consciousness, is a prerequisite for a full understanding of all that is around us and for it to be made manifest.  God does not just fit in the ‘gaps’.  God/Phusis/the Divine Fire/the consciousness permeates the whole of existence.

We Stoics, as the Stoics of old did, look to the ‘common perceptions’ and to personal experience.  Throughout the ages there have been many differing attempts to describe ‘the consciousness’ that is involved in the manifestation of the Cosmos.  Stoics look to this and see a common theme running through all such attempts.

In the Judaic/ Christian/Islamic traditions and many others there is talk of the One God.  Other traditions talk of many gods and others talk of some form of ‘state of being’.

We Stoics recognise that the Cosmos is a living conscious singular state.  For want of a better word the English word ‘God’ is as good a word as any other to describe and recognise that Phusis, that is Nature as a living conscious purposeful entity, operates on a rather larger scale than we do.  It also recognises that we ought to show it some respect.  All of this is why we are advised to live in accord with Nature (Phusis, God, the Logos or whatever you want to call it).

By Stoic teachings, ‘God’ is immanent for the Divine Fire manifests us through the quantum world moment by moment and so permeates our very being.  And knowing this, that we are ‘sparks of the Divine Fire’, gives us cause to study and take on board the Stoic teachings in order that we may better harmonise with the Whole.

However coming back to the issue of ‘common perceptions’, it is recognised that the Wisdom of the Ages (to be found as a common theme throughout most faiths) encourages us to live a life of good rather than a life of selfish self-interest.  We are expected to even rise above the drive of ‘the selfish gene’ and to see the imperatives of the ‘God’, the Whole, as our imperatives – we are asked to live in accord with Nature ‘so doing none of those things which the common law of mankind is in the habit of forbidding’ while striving to fulfil our rolls in life to the best of our abilities.

Why?  Because we are one with the Whole, so what harm we do to the whole we do to ourselves and what harm we do to ourselves we do to the whole.  We may view in isolation what we see as our interests, but to do so is to bring about disharmony.  We Stoics are taught that our interests have to harmonise with the interests of the Whole.  Not just that of our family, our tribe, our society etcetera, but that of the whole Cosmos at all of its levels.  Stoics are taught to be selfish through selflessness.  If it is in the interests of the Whole then it is in our interest. Even to the point that we must be prepared to sacrifice ourselves if necessary.

From the understanding of the Divine Fire comes the rest of the teachings to help the Stoic through the good times and the tough times.  Stoicism will offer little help if it is treated as a coat that one can put on and take off as needed.  Unlike CBT which aims to make a person ‘feel better’ about themselves at a particular time and place, Stoicism helps the Stoic all of the time to be as contented as possible with whatever is thrown at them for they will be looking to the bigger picture.

Stoicism is a philosophy for life (and death).   It teaches an understanding of our place within the Whole.  It teaches about human nature and ethics.  It teaches us about our relationship to the One God, the manifestor and sustainer of existence.  It then offers some practices/exercises so as to enable the habitualisation of the thought processes needed to enable the living of a contented life while also living an honourable life in harmony with the Whole.

So it is that the Divine Fire is the starting point for understanding all of the teachings.  Until one understands the very foundation of the Stoic framework one cannot start to understand one’s place in life. And it is through understanding one’s place in life that a life of contentment (eudaimonia) can be achieved.

About the author: At 68 years old I have been a Stoic philosopher for the last 25 years, having discovered that I had been a Stoic long before I ever read about Stoicism.  Instead of trying to ‘modernise’ and dumb down the Stoic teachings I have tried to look to the original intent of the teachings and to compare this with what present day science is leading us towards and have found no real conflict.  I follow Seneca’s advice not to get hung up on the individual words but to look to the teachings as a whole and as such hold to the fact that Stoicism is theistic in nature and would be incomplete if it is stripped down to satisfy the atheistic fad of the modern age. 

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47 thoughts on “'Without the Divine, there is no Stoicism': A Polemic by Nigel Glassborow”

  1. I think the so-called ‘divine’ ought never to have been introduced into stoicism in the first place. But then the stoics were very much creatures of their world, a world full of archaic traditions, primitive superstitions, myths, oracular utterances, and so on. I suppose they felt some sort of ‘need’ to prove themselves amongst their peers and to follow the line laid down by their ‘orthodox’ philosophical predecessors in ancient Greece. But the Epicureans didn’t, nor did the Democriteans, and neither did the Cynics. Where the last-named are concerned we have the examples of men who pooh-poohed the idea of divinity, and rightly so. Men like Diogenes, Bion, Theodorus – even Socrates laughed at the idea of gods and divinity. Stoicism works perfectly well nay better without all the god-clutter which is frankly superfluous junk. The truth is Zeus means nothing more than daylight. Primitive men lived in fear of the night and were thankful when the daylight arrived. This is the basis upon which their notions of divinity were founded. And yet even today men continue to worship the sun and fire. Yes, that’s the human race for you, philosophers too, sun and fire worshippers. Sad.

  2. You’re welcome NIgel. You’re doing okay. But the odds _are_ stacked against you. You’re alone and you’re up against “the usual suspects” a clique of jealous (in the sense of _possessive_) and ultra conservative “stoic” (I use the term advisedly) group members who believe that they alone know what’s what when it comes to the ancient Stoics. It’s the same old story with them. Anybody comes along and attempts to inject some life into the proceedings and they close ranks and talk of orthodoxy and the suchlike when they really don’t have the slightest idea. Best wishes, Archie.

  3. Nigel,

    Your friend Archie is here to help you out. From Galen, (Marcus Aurelius’s physician):

    “I said that error arises from a false opinion, but passion from an irrational power within us which refuses to obey reason; commonly both are called errors in a more generic sense. therefore we say that the licentious man, and the man who acts in anger, and the man who believes slander are all in error.”

    “Whenever a man becomes violently angry over little things and bites and kicks his servants, you are sure that this man is in a state of passion. The same is true in the case of those who spend their time in drinking to excess, with prostitutes, and in carousing. But when the soul is moderately upset over a great financial loss or a disgrace, it is no longer equally obvious whether this condition belongs to the genus of passions, just as it is not quite certain that the man who eats cakes greedily is acting from passion.”


  4. Having recently read “Plato’s Podcasts” by Mark Vernon I marvelled over these Stoic lines from a poem by Marcus Manilius:-

    “Man know thy powers, and not observe thy size,
    The noble power in piercing reason lies,
    And reason conquers all, and rules the skies….

    Who can wonder that the world is known
    So well by man, since himself is one?
    The same composure in his form is showed,
    And man’s the little image of the God.”

  5. Hi Rick,

    I thank you for your considered and carefully worded input to the responses to the debate regards my post which I had meant to be simply a plea not to water down Stoicism into nothing more than CBT plus or the like.

    In my original piece I made no mention of the word ‘spirituality’ – I was simply commenting on what seems to be attempts to write the Divine Fire out of any restatement of Stoicism and so leave it ‘broken backed’ (A A Long’s words) and without an understanding the Divine Fire’s place in the scheme of Stoic thought.

    Unfortunately there are those who saw it as an attack on atheism and hint at an element of intolerance on my part. In actual fact I encourage people to have a faith – any faith – and the faith of Atheism is as good a faith as any and if because they have thought through matters atheists find an element of spirituality in their lives that is great.

    What I do object to is when atheists start trying to rewrite history and try to attack or pervert any teachings that are contrary to their own.

    Stoicism is a pantheist belief system. The New Stoa states in answer to the question “Do Stoics believe in God?” –

    “Yes, we do, but we do not all believe in God in the same way. All Stoics are pantheists, because Nature is our god, literally, but you can be an atheist or a deist or an agnostic and still be a Stoic in good standing.”

    Note the wording, ‘All Stoics are Pantheists… literally’.

    As to the logic of the rest of the statement regards atheists, I find this a tad illogical.

    Pantheists by definition believe that God exists everywhere and in everything.

    Atheists by definition believe that God does not exist anywhere or in anything.

    To my simple mind I do not see how a person can be a pantheist and an atheist at the same time. To me, for an atheist to claim to be a pantheist requires a great deal of illogicality and irrationality.

    With modern science looking to understand the nature of the ‘universal governor and manager of all things’ (their attempt to discover a Theory of Everything) I do not believe this is the time to start to covertly write the Divine Fire out of the Stoic teachings.

    As the Stoic of old suggested, one needs the whole sphere of Stoic teachings in order to really understand, benefit from and live Stoicism.


  6. Dear Friends,

    I read this thread with interest and a little sadness.

    Every human being, in my experience, has a unique conception of “spirituality” which is often impossible to express in superficial linguistic terms and difficult to discuss in a forum such as this as the conversation is often mired in misunderstanding and descends into exchanges which seem unbefitting to a fraternity of professing Stoics.

    May I refer you all to the “known by many names” of the Hymn to Zeus and also point out that spirituality is often clearly manifest in professing atheists but arises from different premises to theism?

    May I also suggest that, having read material by several of the individuals mentioned above it seems clear that none overtly deny a spiritual element to original Stoic practice, the emphasis is however, often on other aspects of the teaching which interests them. Certainly none has spoken with a voice contrary to our ideals.

    I would also point out that Stoicism is an evolving, living philosophy with all the connotations this entails. I hope to the benefit of us all…….

    With warmest regards to you all,
    Ricky Jones

  7. Here we have David Rudge calling me Dr. Glassborow. Elsewhere, someone commenting on this same post, called me Professor Glassborow. I am curious as to if accusing a person of being an academic or similar is a new form of insult. 🙂

    Seriously though, he also asks if I disapprove of William B Irvine’s writings.

    The answer is no – because I have not read what Irvine has written or in what context he downplays Stoicism as a religion. I have no basis on which to ‘disapprove’.

    My ‘approval’ or otherwise would depend on which definition of ‘religion’ that Irvine is using, after all ‘religion’ can also mean the same as the terms ‘faith’ or ‘belief’. Nothing more and nothing less. It would also depend on whether or not Irvine was presenting his writings as being based on part of the teachings of Stoicism or if he claimed his writings represented the whole of the teachings of Stoicism.

    As to the statement, ‘Stoicism represents a philosophy of life, Christianity, in contrast, is a philosophy of the afterlife’ I am not sure if this is a statement by Irvine or David. However, whoever said it, this statement is a statement of belief rather than one of fact. It does not stand up to rational scrutiny either regards Stoicism or Christianity.

    Stoicism does not ‘represent’ a philosophy of life – it *is* a philosophy of life and according to Stoicism any philosophy of life needs to acknowledge the Consciousness that manifests and permeates the whole Cosmos. That, for those who have not read the Stoic texts, is what we Stoics call the ‘the universal governor and organiser of all things’, the ‘Divine Fire’ or even God.

    Diogenes Laertius says of the Stoic science:

    “‘There are two general principles in the universe, the active and the passive. That the passive is matter, an existence without any distinctive quality. That the active is the reason which exists in the passive, that is to say God. For that he being eternal, and existing throughout all matter, makes everything.’” [‘Lives of Eminent Philosophers’ Volume II LXVIII – Translated by R D Hicks]

    1. Dear Nigel,

      Thanks for your reply. I am myself an academic, and as such, am always careful to refer to people who appear to have academic affiliations by Dr., Prof. etc. for fear they will take lack of such address as an insult! This being said, I hasten to add I am not a scholar of ancient greek texts, although I am a historian and philosopher of biology by training. You should make a point of reading William Irvine’s book. It is an explicit attempt to interpret Stoic writings as a philosophy of life (hence the title) for modern audiences, and Irvine describes himself, particularly later in the book as a modern day Stoic. I found it to be quite thought provoking and I suspect you will as well.

      1. Hi David,

        So I had better not be rude about academics either, albeit that I do find them irrational when they ‘interpret Stoic writings as a philosophy of life for modern audiences’. This is terminology I have often seen where people are in fact really saying that they are trying to make Stoicism into a best seller by omitting all ideas about the nature of the living conscious Cosmos. Their interest is in selling books or so called therapies at the expense of the reality of the situation – profit before truth!

        While I am in no way an academic myself, I have read enough to know that Stoicism does not need to be ‘interpreted’ as a philosophy of life for it already is a philosophy for life in its original form. It is also clear that Stoicism can only be understood properly if it is seen as a whole.

        One would not offer a person a chocolate covered biscuit and then give them a plain biscuit. So why offer the modern audience a great life and spiritual philosophy with its roots in ancient Greece and then leave out all understanding of its spiritual basis.

        I have read many books from the 19th and 20th centuries by very able academics, the majority of whom would agree with A A Long, (‘Stoic Studies’ Cambridge University Press 1996 states on page 201) : “The main argument of this chapter is that Stoic eudaimonism makes good sense if and only if one adopts a Stoic view of the way things are. If, as I have claimed, determinism and divine providence are crucial features of that view, any attempt to elucidate Stoic ethics which ignores these features will be broken backed”

        The ‘modern audiences’ needs the full picture in order to really benefit from Stoicism. Not some watered down and edited version.

        I would hope that Irvine’s book does not come into this category. However, I am not sufficiently ‘provoked’ to spend time on finding out. I am content with the teachings as they are.

  8. I recently read William B. Irvine’s “A Guide to the Good LIfe”? In it he advocates a modern day philosophy of life inspired by Stoic writings. He downplays the role of religion: Stoicism represents a philosophy of life, Christianity, in contrast, is a philosophy of the afterlife. After reading the polemic I found myself wondering whether Irvine is the author whose views Dr. Glassborrow disaproves.

  9. May I ask Nigel if he personally thinks of God in Christian terms or in terms of the Gods that the early Stoics would have reverenced? How does one in modern times recapture a faith that is long dead in order to be “true” to a philosophy that was built on beliefs that were destroyed or co-opted by both Christianity and by the ravages of Time?

    1. Michael, your first question is not really a question for you give me only two alternatives and it would take a good 5000 plus words to do any response justice. Your second question is a statement of your beliefs. If you are truly interested in getting a comprehensive answer regards mine and the Stoic concept of God I would be happy to go into greater detail. I am sure that Patrick Usher would pass on any contact details if you want to continue. If on the other hand you believe what you say, I must ask why on earth are you wasting your time on ‘a long dead’ philosophy.
      In your statement of faith, if Stoicism is long dead, why are so many people still turning to it, including atheists? Where is your evidence that the Stoic beliefs have been destroyed? Are you saying that Stoic ethics is being ignored by people such as the Stoicism Today team? Are you saying that Stoic Logic is not being studied in universities? Are you saying that Stoic science is not being rediscovered by modern science? Are you saying that Stoicism has been ignored by the world for the last two thousand years?

  10. Oh well written and argued Nigel – your blog is like a breath of fresh air. Being a practicing Christian I was heavily involved in my Lent preparations at the time your Blog was published and have only started catching up on the Stoicism Today blogs since Easter. I only read your Blog this weekend so hence my late response. I started following the Stoicism Today course back in November 2013 and have found that it has enhanced and enriched my spiritual development but it has been obvious from the start that the Team were determined to keep God out of it when to me God was such an integral part of Stoic Philosophy!

  11. Note: This is a different Mark (I commented back on the 17th).

    I happen to share a conception of the divine that’s close to what you’re defending here, Nigel. But I’m not ready to sign on for this campaign. Yes, beliefs are important, but I will always be less impressed by someone’s faith claims than by how he lives his life. I care a lot less about my fellow man’s conception of the divine (a notoriously ineffable subject, even among co-religionists) than whether he is making progress in virtue.

    As I said in an earlier comment, I believe that those who pursue Stoic virtue and wisdom and an ethical life ARE doing divinely ordered work, whether or not they see it that way. And if they want to call themselves Stoics because they draw their inspiration and ethical framework from Stoicism but cannot yet (or perhaps will never) discern the divine impulse driving them, that’s OK with me.

    Also, I suspect that over Stoicism’s long history, from Zeno and Chrysippus through Epictetus, Marcus and beyond–and with most of the historical record missing–there may be more variation in Stoic conceptions of the divine than one “orthodox” formulation would admit.

    1. Believe it or not Mark, to a great degree I accept most of what you say. However there are three points I would make.

      I am in fact putting forward my ideas in order to try to stop Stoicism Today from presenting their ‘orthodox’ Stoicism as atheistic to which the individual can add theism if they wish – which is opposite to the reality of the situation. Their methodology is questionable if what they are really trying to do is to see how Stoicism can benefit the individual.

      I am also concerned that the ‘orthodox’ Stoicism they are trying to develop is going to be ‘fixed’ and not open for the individual Stoic to tailor to their own needs because, as in the report for Stoic Week, they appear to see an aim as presenting it for use by the NHS and that means it will have to be ‘standardised’.

      I am in fact trying to keep open the conceptions of the Divine as I appreciate that each Stoic will have their own take based on their understanding of the writings of old, and their understanding of the progress of knowledge today. Stoicism Today is shutting down views of the Divine by their approach of omitting the Divine – that is an ‘orthodox’ formulation that says that there is no need for a deity/the Divine Fire in the teachings of Stoicism – their line appears to be that the Divine has no place in the study and practice of Stoicism other than as a whimsical add-on.

      That is as nonsensical as suggesting that God and Jesus have no relevance in the study and practice of Christianity.

      1. Thanks for the further thoughts, Nigel.

        I see your point, but I guess I’m not feeling quite the same level of bias you’re noting here. Or maybe I’m just making a mental allowance for it. Yes, the Stoicism Today team generally set theological questions to one side, but that’s more or less expected in the academic milieu. Plus, they’re focused on measuring therapeutic outcomes, and bringing theology into that equation would complicate the data no end. On the other hand, Patrick kindly re-published my God-tinged piece on “Humility and Gratitude” at the ST blog.

        The team are clearly split on it themselves (Jules Evans, for one, writes engagingly on spiritual experience and transcendence). It’s clear they’ve made the choice not to dwell on the “divine” portion of the program here. I do think that’s OK. It’s their site and their program, and they’ve shaped it to their research-oriented ends. They’re doing useful work, but I don’t think they’re trying to set themselves up as the arbiters of all things Stoicism (the blog title notwithstanding). And I believe that even without giving explicit attention to the God question, the goal of helping people pursue virtue and wisdom (and emotional health) from within a Stoic ethical framework is a worthy one.

        All that said, I am probably as interested in the spiritual/theological element of Stoicism as you are. I pursue that interest in the primary sources and among a range of thinkers and writers. It’s an inescapable and, to me, compelling aspect of the philosophy.

        1. Yet again we appear to be in agreement – on most things. 🙂

          As far as I know, not one of the Stoicism Today Team claim to be a Stoic. I believe one did once consider himself a Stoic but has since moved over into Christianity.

          I accept that Stoicism Today is an attempt to carry out an academic study, but as I have pointed out in a reply on the post ‘Report on Exeter University “Stoic week” 2014 by Tim LeBon’, their methodology is influenced by the biases of some of the team’s members, their preconceived aims, and the limitations they have put on their study.

          And while they may be shining a light on Stoicism, they are not doing Stoicism any favours by trying to sidestep the spiritual element. They could at least ensure that they present Stoicism first and foremost as the spiritual and practical life philosophy that it is, rather than as CBT Plus.

          Stoicism is not a therapy. In fact if it were to be used as a therapy without imparting knowledge of all of its teachings it could be dangerous – especially regards its views on death.

          Stoicism ‘works’ because of its completeness, not because of its parts.

  12. My apologies but I am going to be quite blunt, not in order to answer Mark’s criticism, but to try to address the issue of Stoics being theists that seems to be a problem for some on this site.

    Patrick Usher, prior to publication amongst other issues that he suggested I respond to, said: “people are free to incorporate theism into Stoicism if they wish to”

    In order to have it published I amended my article and included the response: “So it is not the case that ‘people are free to incorporate theism’ but rather that they are free to delude themselves by omitting it, which raises the question as to if they can then still call what they then follow Stoicism or call themselves Stoic if they reject the Divine Fire.”

    From Donald Robertson we then had, as part of his response: “It seems to me that what the Stoics actually believed (and what they wrote) was that one could accept their core doctrines, about the nature of the Good, without sharing their original theological doctrines.”

    This is a statement that is exactly the ‘delusion’ I was referring to. The reading of the texts and being blind to what is written there. Maybe I did not express myself well enough – if so I apologise.

    But let’s look at Donald’s view point and Mark’s comment “it seems to me that nobody has the right to define who is or isn’t a stoic.”

    The nature of the Divine Fire is a core doctrine of Stoicism and the Stoic view of the Good is based on understanding the ‘active principle’ of the Divine Fire as being what makes the Cosmos ‘conscious and providential’.

    As I have said, like the Stoics of old, I have no objection to people borrowing Stoic ideas and ignoring the theology, but I will repeat, they delude themselves if they think that what they have ‘taken’ is ‘Stoicism’.

    To repeat a quote I included in a previous response, A A Long in the Stoic Studies (Cambridge University Press 1996) states on page 201 : “The main argument of this chapter is that Stoic eudaimonism makes good sense if and only if one adopts a Stoic view of the way things are. If, as I have claimed, determinism and divine providence are crucial features of that view, any attempt to elucidate Stoic ethics which ignores these features will be broken backed”

    And that is an impartial view.

    I do not judge who may be a Stoic and who may not. I simply feel that it is strange that there is a need to defend the sphere of teachings that is Stoicism on sites that purport to be promoting Stoicism. Any person who has an understanding of the teachings and accepts them as a guide for their way of life including the core pantheist and theistic teachings is in my mind a Stoic.

    Would anyone claim to be a Christian and then promptly deny its theistic nature? Would anyone claim to be a follower of Islam and then promptly deny its theistic nature? Neither would be the spiritual philosophies they are if one refused to acknowledge God or Allah. What would you think of web sites that called themselves ‘Christianity Today’ or ‘Islam Today’ and yet denied the need for a deity in order to call their ‘version’ Christianity or Islam? (With apologies to any site with such names that promote theism.)

    And finally as ‘expert witnesses’ may I offer the following quotes:

    Seneca On the Happy Life iii. “Meanwhile, I follow the guidance of Nature – a doctrine upon which all Stoics are agreed. Not to stray from Nature and to mould ourselves according to her law and pattern – this is true wisdom.”

    Seneca XLI. On the God Within Us “We do not need to uplift our hands towards heaven… as if in this way our prayers were more likely to be heard. God is near you, he is with you, he is within you… The holy spirit indwells within us. One who marks our good deeds and our bad deeds, and is our guardian. Indeed, no man can be good without the help of God. … He it is that gives noble and upright counsel.”

    Epictetus IV.VII. “For I regard God’s will as better than my will. I shall attach myself to Him as a servant and follower, my choice is one with His, my desire one with His, in a word my will is one with His will.”

    Marcus Aurelius II.4. “Yet now, if never before shouldest thou realise of what universe thou art a part, and as an emanation from what Controller of that Universe thou dost subsist.”

    Marcus Aurelius IV.40. “Cease not to think of the Universe as one living Being, possessed of… a single Soul; and how all things trace back to a single sentience; and how it does all things by a single impulse.”

    Marcus Aurelius VI.36. “All things come from the one source, from that ruling Reason of the Universe, either under a primary impulse from it or by way of consequences.”

    Marcus Aurelius VII.9. “All things are mutually intertwined, and the tie is sacred, and scarcely anything is alien the one to the other. For all things have been ranged side by side, and together help to order one ordered Universe. For there is both one Universe, made up of all things, and one God immanent in all things,… and one Law, one Reason common to all intelligent creatures, and one Truth.”

    Do these in any way suggest that the Divine Fire or God is optional regards understanding Stoicism and being a Stoic? Do these in any way suggest that Stoicism can be seen as anything but a pantheistic/theistic philosophy?

    It is for each person to be honest with themselves, and to then decide as to if they feel they can call themselves Stoic in full knowledge of the Stoic teachings as a whole.

      1. I fail to see the difficulty in grasping what Nigel is saying. If I understand him correctly, he is saying that Stoicism is the whole and anything other than that is not the whole and thus not Stoicism. If I may give a layman’s example that may correlate to what he is saying. A few states in the U.S have recently legalized Marijuana, first for medical use and now in two states Washington and Colorado Marijuana can be purchased for retail. However, before the legalization many pharmaceutical companies sold a synthetic drug that was made from the cannabis plant. They extracted what they felt was the active ingredient for a particular ailment and mass produced it and sold it to many for a safer alternative to pharmaceuticals. This extraction was not Marijuana it was an extracted substance from Marijuana and therefore could be sold at a time when Marijuana was illegal. Now, any self respecting Marijuana connoisseur, herbalist or botanist would never call what was being sold Marijuana, nor could the companies advertise their products as Marijuana. This product was part of the whole but was not the whole. Likewise, if I understand Nigel correctly, he is saying, and I agree, if one extracts the active ingredient away from the whole then they cannot call, with good faith, that the whole. When one takes the divine out of Stoicism it is like taking THC a major active ingredient out of Marijuana (canibis).and still calling it Marijuana (canibis). It can no longer be called Marijuana(canibis). However it could be called a Marijuana substitute or Marijuana-like. Likewise, when we take the Divine out of Stoicism it is no longer the whole and therefore can not be called the whole, it is definitely Stoic-like or as I like to say Stoic-lite, because it 8 a part of the whole but not the whole.


  13. Nigel, thank you for the thought – provoking article.

    I’m a relative newcomer to stoicism I must admit to placing a great deal of emphasis on the ‘spiritual’ aspect of the teachings. I feel that stoicism would feel somewhat hollow without it, and it seems a waste that some might discount it from the outset because it’s no longer fashionable to have faith. Neither do I appreciate having science used as a weapon to bludgeon people of faith. I’m a physicist, and good science depends on always maintaining an open mind.

    That said, it seems to me that nobody has the right to define who is or isn’t a stoic. There is no formal doctrine or initiation ceremony that one must follow to engage with stoicism. All I can say is that belittling others (either by dismissing their beliefs as ‘paranormal’ or subtly suggesting that people are deceiving themselves if they choose not to engage with the spiritual element) isn’t a particularly stoic approach to engaging with the community.

    Healthy debate is crucial for both philosophy and science but, in the end, it for each of us to find our own truth and nobody has the right to dismiss its validity.

  14. This is an important piece of writing. For me the Stoic idea of the logos, nature, and the divine fire was difficult to grasp, but now it isn’t. Aside from Irvine’s book this is the most valuable work of modern Stoicism that I have read. I’ll be spending some time with this.

    Thank you very much for publishing it.

  15. I think Stoicism can be useful purely on the basis of its ethics and its formidable psychological insights; and even for those who will brook no serious consideration of “the divine,” a life based around Stoic ethical principles is absolutely preferable to an unprincipled, undisciplined life. But for me (and many others, no doubt), a Stoicism carefully stripped of any hints of transcendence or divine participation is necessarily a less complete, less satisfying philosophy (and, as you point out, Nigel, a less historically exact one).

    But I also believe it won’t pay to be dogmatic about the theology. For one thing, as you know, the sources are incomplete–we don’t really have the whole story; for another, this is a philosophy that posits reason as the supreme human trait, so we need to welcome reasoned discourse on the subject (from both sides) and be wary of clinging unreasonably to any too-specific conceptions of the divine. If, in the interest of lexical exactitude, we have to call that approach something other than pure “Stoicism,” that’s OK with me.

    I happen to think that those who are drawn to the Stoic ethical worldview–whether professed theist, agnostic, or atheist–are, in fact, responding to the divine “call,” for lack of a better word. I also happen to think it’s the same source of attraction that has lain behind every religious impulse man has ever known; i.e., it’s my belief that all religions (and “spiritual” philosophies, for that matter) are culturally conditioned responses to the pull of logos/dharma/tao/rta/natural law tugging at the human heart. “Truth is one,” says the Rig-Veda, “men call it by different names.” The universality of this drive has been well summarized by John Cottingham, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, University of Reading:

    “As we struggle through life, we seem compelled to acknowledge, sooner or later, that human good, our flourishing and fulfillment, depends on orienting ourselves towards values that we did not create. Love, compassion, mercy, truth, justice, courage, endurance, fidelity–all belong to the core of key virtues that all the world’s great religions (and the secular cultures that have emerged from them) recognize, and which command our allegiance whether we like it or not. We may try to go against them, to live our lives without reference to them, but such attempts are always, in the end, self-defeating and productive of misery and frustration rather than human flourishing.” (John Cottingham, WHY BELIEVE?, 2009, Continuum)

    Another way to say it: I think Stoic principles “work,” even without the God lingo, because those principles, in fact, describe things (the path to human flourishing, for instance) as things really are (as nature, logos, providence, God created them). But, of course, it works with the God lingo, too (as all the major religions, when pursued with virtue and wisdom in mind, demonstrate).

    Sorry, this is already overlong, but I wanted to shove in one more quote I like and which may be helpful. This is from Professor Luke Timothy Johnson’s lecture set on Greco-Roman moralists (published by the Teaching Company). He says:

    “In some of our figures, especially Dio Chrysostom, Musonius Rufus, Marcus Aurelius, and Epictetus, philosophy itself is a way of being religious. It is a kind of muscular religiosity in which the point about the divine spirit is not that it’s out there in the world but rather that it is imminent within me as a possibility of moral change, so that if I live according to reason, in fact I am participating in God’s work in the world.”

  16. Nigel, I agree that a concept of a providencial logos is essential to stoic ancient philosophy. But at the same time if someone proposes something called “modern” stoicism it seems fair to me. Instead what seems misleading is to talk about being a stoic with capital letters nowadays. Because,as Pierre Hadot always remembered, I think that stoicism as every ancient philosophy was something to be learned and incoporated from a philosophical life inside a philosophical scholl, inside a community of people engaged in stoicism, with someone for you to learn from. From this perspective, it is impossible to be a stoic nowadays. How do you see this question?

    1. Did Zeno have a community of fellow Stoics? Only after he had become the first Stoic. A community is not necessary.

      From my studies I had invented a whole philosophical framework for myself, only to discover that the Stoics had got there 2300 years earlier and that they had done it rather better.

      I discovered I was a Stoic and still am a Stoic so it must be possible to be a Stoic, even in these times 🙂

  17. A very interesting piece , thank you.

    However, I have to disagree on several counts. I do not think that we have enough ancient sources of stoicism to make strong statements like the ones in your article. The greek stoicism had three main branches, all intertwined: Physics, Logic and Ethics. We know far more about the ethics and not much about the previous ones. However, there are some references in other authors to assume the basic tenets of their physics. I do not think that they are more valid today than, for example Aristoteles. That does not invalidate their insights into Ethics. So I do not think that rejecting this big branch of Stoic doctrine (physics) means that we all have to reject all the other aspects of the school.
    So I respect your argument, admitting that Seneca and Epictetus make many references to God as essential to their world view. However, I do not think that this means that others can have a completely valid idea of Stoicism rejecting the Divine. In the same way that I do not believe in the pneuma as the main principle of biology, I do not accept the concept of a personal God but can extract many useful teachings from The Stoics. I do not think that this makes you more of a Stoic than me. This is not a religion, these are not sacred texts or the word of god. So you can consider yourself pure, I prefer to learn as much as I can from the ancient sages but always having in mind that they were very limited in their scope , at least from the science point of view.
    In any case it is always stimulating to be challenged in my views.

    1. I have difficulty with one of your points. There is no suggestion that rejecting the ‘physics’ means rejecting the rest. I am saying that for anything to lay claim to being Stoicism it needs to include the ‘physics’. If someone wants to talk only of Stoic ethics then that is fine, but don’t inadvertently suggest that such is the whole of Stoicism by calling it Stoicism – simply acknowledge that one is extracting what is a small part of the whole framework that is the Stoic school of philosophy.

      My piece was simply to show that Stoic physics is not contrary to modern science. In some cases it pre-empted science, in others it offers a different approach to that of science. It is a matter of getting into the way the Greeks saw the world in their days. For instance the ‘four elements’ are just another way of talking of what we would today call the qualities of solid, fluid, gaseous and energy. However the Greeks, together with other ancient schools were less interested in the history and evolution of the Cosmos and more interested in how the Cosmos is manifested here and now – what academic philosophy calls metaphysics.

      In no way does my piece invalidate the Stoic ethics – if anything it validates them.

      A A Long in the Stoic Studies (Cambridge University Press 1996) states on page 201 :-
      “The main argument of this chapter is that Stoic eudaimonism makes good sense if and only if one adopts a Stoic view of the way things are. If, as I have claimed, determinism and divine providence are crucial features of that view, any attempt to elucidate Stoic ethics which ignores these features will be broken backed”
      He ends the chapter with the words “you need to be a Stoic to find their specification of happiness compelling”.

      Stoicism is not a religion in the sense of having a dogma, but it is a faith based on Stoic science, and just as Stoic Logic is being re-discovered, so also modern science is beginning to re-discover Stoic Science albeit that they are not yet aware of the fact.

  18. I think there are two ways to ground Stoic ethics: In a theological framework of One Nature or in a the Categorical Imperative as Kant does. (Kant is a key figure for this since he also went from a theological grounding of first principles to and epistemeological one.

  19. It seems to me that there are quite a lot of things wrong with this article. The two most fundamental, though, are methodological:

    1. It’s a “polemic” that fails to specify whom it’s actually criticizing or to quote what they said. That’s not acceptable in academic writing for the simple reason that you can pretty much guarantee that what follows from the author is going to be a “Straw Man” fallacy. I think that’s demonstrably what’s happening in this article.

    2. There’s not a single piece of textual evidence from the Stoics (or any other ancient source) in this article, as far as I can see. In fact, I can’t actually see any sort of evidence or argumentation whatsoever being forwarded to justify the interpretation being made of Stoic philosophy. It’s just a long series of assertions being made by the author. Personally, I think it’s a misinterpretation, and I know many other modern readers would also disagree with the claims made here. It seems to me that what the Stoics actually believed (and what they wrote) was that one could accept their core doctrines, about the nature of the Good, without sharing their original theological doctrines. In my own writings about this, I made an effort to review the evidence from the ancient literature that supports this view and contradicts the position adopted by the author of the article above. (As this is a comment rather than an article, for the sake of brevity, I’d just refer to my blog – link below.) So it would be good if the author provided some sort of evidence (or at least a logical argument!) to support his claims.

    My view is that among modern readers there are many who believe in God, and perhaps even some who share ancient Stoic theological beliefs, and there are many (probably far more) who are atheists or agnostics, or believe in some other god. I don’t think Zeno would care very much as long as they aspire to follow the core Stoic teachings, which are generally taken to be their ethical doctrines, specifically their definition of the goal of life and the nature of the good (as virtue or arete). I think belief in Zeus, and the associated Stoic theological doctrines, was obviously very important indeed to most (if perhaps not all) ancient Stoics. However, there’s a big difference between “really, really, really, important” and “absolutely essential” – and that’s where I think the main problem with this article’s hard-line concerning belief in Stoic theology lies.

    It also concerns me that the agenda of this piece seems to be to try to discourage many modern readers from studying or engaging with Stoic Ethics, if they don’t happen to share the theological stance being vigorously promoted by the author. I think the ancient Stoics would obviously encourage modern students of Stoicism to focus on virtuous living, whatever god they happen to believe in: whether they’re Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, or whatever. Stoicism is fundamentally an ethical philosophy, in other words, and not some sort of highly-exclusive religious cult.

    1. Thank you Donald for your remarks as a rational animal. For me the attraction of Stoicism is the minimising of the supernatural and the encouragement to use our humanity as best we can for the good of all.

    2. Hi Donald,
      I first of all apologise for the use of the word ‘Polemic’ – this was not my choice of wording! As to your talking of ‘Straw Men’, this is a simple debating ploy used to try to make me look bad and you to look good – the only problem is that it is a bit too obvious.

      Another example of a classical debating ploy to try to put a person down – “In my own writings about this, I made an effort to review the evidence from the ancient literature that supports this view and contradicts the position adopted by the author of the article above.” This is to suggest that I have not made such an effort – wrong. Do we have to get down to a ‘You show me your library and I will show you mine’ argument? Or is this yet another plug for your writings.

      Am I giving as good as I get? 

      Getting into exchanges of ‘textural quotes’ would have been a bit pointless as you would have simply dug up quotes to support your argument – with so much written, especially by detractors of the day, there will be inconsistencies in the ancient writings. There will even have been those professing to be Stoics who will have missed the whole point. As it is the article is written by a Stoic and my opinion is as valid as any other Stoic’s. You want textural quotes, try Seneca – On the Happy Life iii. ‘Do you listen to ours. But when I say “ours”, I do not bind myself to some particular one of the Stoic masters; I, too, have a right to form an opinion.’

      As it is, I was not trying to put forward the whole Stoic doctrine – the allocated word count would not permit it. There is no way I could make a definitive well supported argument for what I was saying in a format such as this. I will simply satisfy myself with the knowledge that if someone were to look at the Stoic teachings in the round and read the writings, unless they have preconceived atheist intentions, they will see that the key Stoic figures, from whom we have any original writings from, were all ‘believers’.

      I would agree that ‘among modern readers’ there are many who are atheists – but they are just ‘readers’. They are not Stoics.

      Your concern regards discouraging ‘modern readers from studying or engaging in Stoic Ethics’ is misplaced. I have often encouraged people to look to such – but I would repeat what I have said many times before. Borrow from Stoicism, but please do not call what you then produce ‘Stoicism’ or ‘Modern Stoicism’ or any other Stoicism. If CBT practitioners learn how to tweak CBT to produce a better ‘therapy’ let them call it ‘CBT Plus’ or something similar, while possibly crediting Stoicism for any improvements they may make. But please do not call it Stoicism.

      Your final unfounded assertion that “Stoicism is fundamentally an ethical philosophy, in other words, and not some sort of highly-exclusive religious cult” is yet another debating ploy used by people who know they are on rocky ground. Stoicism is a life philosophy that includes an understanding of our place within the living Cosmos. While you avoid all mention of it, Stoicism includes an understanding of the ‘Divine Fire’ – this is something you cannot logically or truthfully deny.

      Academic philosophy has lost all understanding of a philosopher being the ‘lover of wisdom’. The last philosophy professor I had dealings with admitted that he had no idea as to what ‘wisdom’ was. All he was interested in was being analytical and logical – he stated that philosophy was about asking questions and not necessarily about getting answers, something I have seen elsewhere in academia.

      As a Stoic, like the Stoics of old, I have looked for answers and I have found them in Stoicism. Unlike a ‘reader’ or an ‘academic’, I see its completeness – and that completeness is far greater than being ‘just’ an ethical philosophy. As the Encyclopaedia Britannica states, Stoicism is ‘one of the loftiest and most sublime philosophies in the record of Western civilisation’ – and you want to call it a ‘highly exclusive religious cult’ and then reduce it to nothing more than a view of ethics!

      As to your “whatever god they happen to believe in: whether they’re Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, or whatever” – I was not aware that atheists believed in a god 

      If you are not careful, one day someone looking back at your writings will claim that some atheists believe in God. And that will produce irrational arguments similar to the one’s you have put forward in your response to my article.


      PS. I was expecting you to respond as you did 🙂

  20. There is no one God. It was made up by the Judaic Tradition and the source of basically all wars and problems in this world since and now. In the name of god…..etc . Keep it out of Stoicism please. There is Nature only. The only thing that comes close to Stoicism is Bhuddhism except for any mention of unnatural beings. This may be hard for people to hear. We need to have Universal Laws, not laws that relate to a chosen people. There are NO specific chosen people. We are all one.

    1. Hi StoicSage,
      I would question your title – you are not showing the qualities of a sage!

      Your approach is not rational. You are clearly rejecting faith without having studied it in an unbiased way.

      What you appear to be rejecting is the atheistic false definition of ‘god’ – not the ‘god of all faiths’ – and please remember that people such as the Buddha and Confucius acknowledged the ‘gods’. Their aim, as in Stoicism, was to learn how to live life while, as Confucius said, not worrying about ‘how many gods there are in heaven, but rather looking to the guidance that come from heaven’.

      For instance, in Islam the true follower of the faith will listen to the guidance to approach others with the word ‘Peace’ and to say ‘Your god and our god are one’. The Quran even tells the faithful to leave the ‘unbelievers’ to Allah ‘for only Allah knows what is in their hearts’. Those who kill ‘unbelievers’ have not ‘surrendered to Allah’ and have instead succumbed to the ‘unbeliever’ within themselves – they have turned away from Islam.

      As an aside, it is a shame that the Media insist on calling some of the terrorists ‘Islamists’ and talking of Jihad and the like – those that lead the terrorists in the Middle East are simply seeking power and have no interest in the real teachings of Islam. What they are promoting is not Jihad. The same goes for many of the preachers of hate to be found in the so called ‘Bible Belt’ in the USA – they may claim to be Christians, but they are not.

      Beware of false messengers who suggest that we kill in the name of faith!

      Also, beware of false messengers that deny that we exist within a living conscious Cosmos.

      Islam is about surrendering to God. Christianity has the phrase, ‘Not my will but Thine’. Every faith has a similar aim.

      And in Stoicism we are told to harmonise with a living conscious Phusis – yes we have a freewill, but we are advised to try to ensure that whatever we do it in done in full recognition that we ‘are sparks of the Divine Fire’ – which is summed up by your last four words.
      ‘We are all one’.


  21. Nigel,

    Although I do tend to agree with you when you writes that there is no Stoicism without the Divine, I think that we are to be very careful in doing so.

    The “divine” has to be handled very carefully: “faith” (If we have to call it that way and I am not sure I like it) is before all comprehension and respect. If comprehension lacks, we may be at risks of being no better than ordinary believers from any other religion that are able to kill those who disagree with them.

    Also the notion of “purposeful” (stoic rejected the aristotelian “final” cause). How do we understand it ?

    As for your rejection of the word “mindfulness” (which is indeed borrowed from occidentalised dharma), stoics maybe rather employ the term “listening to the logos”. However words are only dressing up for a very similar experience. And there is no comprenhension of the outward and bigger picture without “listening” of our inner world.

    I hope to write something about it soon

    1. Hi Elen,
      This is what I like about Stoicism – faith is not blind. We are encouraged to examine the reasonableness of our faith and our actions. The wisdom of the ages is that one does not kill in order to promote one’s faith. In fact Gandhi summed it up when he stated that he did not want everyone to become Hindus, but rather that the Hindu should be a good Hindu, the Christian the good Christian and the Muslim should be a good Muslim. By extension this applies to all faiths, including us Stoics.
      Good Stoics will not kill to promote our faith.
      Regards ‘purposefulness’, this is an element of the Stoic faith based on an understanding of the ‘common perceptions’. Science tells us that all would be chaos if it was not for ‘the consciousness’ – why the living conscious Cosmos is as it is will forever by an unanswerable question but the fact that it is conscious would suggest that all the change and evolution that happens has purpose. How would a blood cell within our own body view us? It fulfils its purpose of delivering oxygen around our body and this keeps us alive. Would it not be reasonable for it to assume that ‘the whole’, of which it is only vaguely aware, also has purpose albeit that it can have no real understanding of the nature of our purposeful lives?
      It is not for us to question the purpose of the purposeful Cosmos, but rather for us to fulfil our roles in life to the best of our ability in the hope that what we do is not detrimental to the Whole.
      I like your term ‘listening to the logos’. However I would still suggest that Stoic Attentiveness is what most are trying to describe as ‘Stoic Mindfulness’. The listening to the Logos, I would suggest, is the individual’s personal relationship to that part of the Consciousness that is the Cosmos that has shown an interest in humanity over the millennia.
      The Stoics of old accepted this notion of a ‘god’ based on the common ideas throughout the various religions and as reported by individuals. They accepted such an idea even after stripping away all that was obviously myth. What they were left with convinced them that one could commune with the Logos. Socrates’ daemon was often held up as an example.
      This is why Stoicism is a theist faith – the idea of many gods did not stand up to the inquiring mind, but the idea of ‘god’ did. However, like all the other faiths, including the Judaic/Christian/Islamic faiths, it is recognised that the ‘god of all faiths’ is beyond description.
      ‘The Toa that can be names is not the Tao’.
      Science, reason and individuals’ experience over many years (the statistical approach) says there is a ‘Something’ that we should listen to.

  22. After adopting Epictetus as my philosophical guide and Ellis as my clinical guide, I started to write a book on stoic philosophy underpinning REBT. For the next 35 years I periodically restarted the project, but always got stuck on the idea of providence. That issue is still not resolved for me, but thank you for pointing out to all of us, that stoic philosophy is not equivalent to atheistic psychotherapy.

  23. Nigel, well spoken! My eyes were opened when I read the Golden Sayings (Aphorisms) of Epictetus. He talks about God in terms of a personal, loving relationship. God is ‘Father’, ‘Giver’, ‘friend’, ‘a comrade that stands beside thee in the fight’. He is ‘Author’ of our lives, whose ‘real nature’ is “Intelligence, Knowledge, Right Reason” (Aphorism 59). This is not an impersonal force, but an active, conscious being. That is why I believe that the God of Stoicism is not dead, but alive. I realize that the God of Epictetus is not simply the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but I find in the words of Epictetus Truth, and this is both living and eternal. So what are we to do? According to Epictetus, we are to ‘seek’, ‘follow’, ‘praise’ and ‘pray to’ God. We all will approach and understand the Divine differently, but I agree that it cannot be ignored if we are to flourish as Stoics.

  24. Thank you Nigel. I am tremendously grateful for your wisdom on this matter and the perfect sense it all makes. I shall enjoy studying this piece and I hope I can aspire to the sentiments expressed in your closing sentence. The line stating “Stoics are taught to be selfish through selflessness” rings very truly within me, but I shall in future try to pay heed to Seneca’s advice.
    Best wishes