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Why the Surge in Stoicism?

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Stoicism isn’t new, although many speakers, books, and blogs will tout it as the next trendy social fad. Stoicism appeals to macho-ism, and as we lose more and more of the male macho stereotype, Stoicism has arrived to give men their confidence back in a politically correct way. Stoicism never went away. It was prevalent before Christianity. It was born in 300 BC as a Hellenistic philosophy, founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium It was influenced by Socrates, which makes it cooler in philosophical standards. It lends itself to early Christianity and shares a common focal point at its core. Logos. The Word. Where it breaks away from Christianity is in the pathway to it’s objective. Stoicism says that one must adhere to virtue to reach eudaemonia or as it can be translated to “human flourishing” through happiness.

The desire to know our purpose or why we exists lives deep inside of everyone. Christianity and Stoicism separate when it comes to the means. Stoics did not anticipate the word becoming flesh or incarnate. In Christianity, to achieve fulfillment or to flourish in happiness, requires submission to the logos, whereas Stoicism would maintain that you must control your actions rooted in wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. All other outside factors to these pillars cannot be controlled.

Our society today thrives on controlling your own happiness. That’s why we see so many speakers, writers, and influencers repackaging and selling Stoicism. “Woke” Christianity works for monotheists, but loses it’s luster when we ultimately have to give up control of our fulfillment by submitting to a creator so that we can truly know and serve our purpose. Stoicism is philosophy, while Christianity is theology. A Stoic philosophy works well for someone that is Agnostic. A person that is no longer actively searching search for truth in creation through a creator is Agnostic. Their truth is that our existence cannot be explained, and that it falls into the Stoic category of an outside factor that cannot be controlled. A Stoic would strive to be virtuous regardless of the truth, because stoicism is their truth.

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The purpose of Stoicism is to develop the mind to such an extent that the practitioner would reach a state of eudaemonia. The purpose of Christianity will vary depending on who you ask or what you read. The Christian that is not ready for solid food and is only drinking milk, as the Apostle Paul explains in the Epistles, would say that the end goal of Christianity is heaven. A baby Christian can be someone that doesn’t know the truth because they aren’t looking for it. It can also be someone that hasn’t questioned truth but has accepted a form of it. This sometimes happens because of familial or cultural obligations. It can also be someone that has some of the truth but they don’t know what they have or why they have it. This scenario would cause me re-evaluate the end goal. A theist or Christian in this state may say that all good people living virtuously (or stoically) will go to heaven.

What if that isn’t the truth?

The Search for Truth

What if the end goal of Christianity is as it is stated in Chapter one of the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church? Chapter 1 — First paragraph reads:

“The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God (purpose); and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for:
The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator.

This passage is stating that love is the only true virtue. Our purpose is in our own existence, and we will never be fulfilled until we know and are in communion with our creator. This can also be taken to mean that Stoicism will never provide true eudaemonia. Virtue is a byproduct of communion with God through His grace and love. The missing component is Jesus.

We just want to be safe

I believe the many forms of Protestantism thrive on security. When someone is able to feed on solid food. They no longer need milk to survive. Christianity has additional requirements to achieve eudaemonia. What if all tenants of the truth were required to achieve the goal of Christianity? All of Christianity relies on faith in Jesus Christ. This how it separates itself from philosophy. Even a theist is closer to a stoic than a true Christian. The Protestant tenants of fulfillment rely on faith in the Word (Logos) or Christ alone. The common thread in stoicism, theism, and some protestant Christianity is that all good virtues lead to a good outcome.

What if that isn’t the full truth?

The rise in Stoicism and many evangelical protestant movements in the modern 20th century and within western culture can be found rooted in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Maslow’s Heirarchy

Many of us never get beyond the second rung at the bottom of the pyramid. We are able to meet our physiological needs. These needs are breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, etc. When it comes to our belief system and what comes after this physical life, what we believe about our mortality will determine where we move next. What happens when we die? If we can’t answer this question, we are stuck in the safety rung of the pyramid. This is security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health, property. Everyone desires to seek purpose and intimacy which is beyond this level of needs. The only way to truly experience love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, is to feel secure in your mortality. We need to know the outcome or the ending to our story.

For some, atheism is the answer to move beyond this need. Death is the end. There is comfort for some in acceptance. Stoicism makes sense for an atheist. If we can live virtuously, we and those around us can survive longer. This gives more time to experience eudaemonia by meeting all other needs through adherence to virtue.

The agnostic will find meaning in this virtuous morality. Something may or may not happen after death, certainty comes from not knowing because we can’t know (not in our control). When this provides security, one can move on to self-actualization. A protestant theology that believes that faith alone in Christ will result in a virtuous lifestyle as a byproduct will have accomplished security. The point of contention I have with this theology is for those that believe that once they have salvation (security), they will always have it. You cannot give up your salvation. The goal of many Protestants is to alleviate suffering in this life by following Jesus. When you walk closely with Jesus, you will experience less suffering. If you focus on your worldly priorities first and don’t depend on God, you will suffer more but you won’t lose your salvation. This is the safety card. This is the checked box of our security need. This is why Purgatory is rejected by Protestants. They don’t see the need for purification or a need for anything other than heaven after death as long as they are a believer in Christ.

In Stoicism, you can move up and down Maslow’s pyramid. There is nothing that locks you into place. A stoic would continue to live virtuously regardless of the factors they cannot control because true happiness lies in maintaining virtue and not the result of that virtue. The atheist might have a similar philosophy to this but more emphasis might be given to the end goal of longevity in life. This gives reason for adherence to virtue. For a Stoic atheist, living a happy life is the end. The stoic virtues themselves may vary from one atheist to the next. The Stoic agnostic that lives a good life will go to heaven if there is one, and if there isn’t, they will have lived a good life.

The Catholic Christian would see communion with God the creator as the ultimate goal which can only be achieved through the grace provided by Jesus Christ. This grace can be rejected by the believer even after initial acceptance. Communion with Christ requires an intentional and active relationship. Living a virtuous life is a byproduct of following Jesus. Suffering will still exist and, in fact, should be expected. The Catholic Christian must check the box each day, not for salvation, but for relationship with Jesus. Did I carry my own cross today? This is effort to completely surrender everything to God, the Father.

We see truth in all of the philosophies and theologies listed above. Is one more true than the others? As a Christian, we believe the Jesus is the truth, but which path to follow Him is also true?

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The Rise of Stoicism

There are 450–500 million positive atheists and agnostics in the world today according to a recent Pew research poll. There has been a rapid rise of atheism in the last ten years in the United States. A total of 7% of Americans identify with Atheism or Agnostic beliefs. I believe Stoicism is rising with these numbers because it’s trendy to use philosophy to back up your belief system. Stoicism is the path of least resistance to checking that box of security. This is why we see a more common blend of Stoicism into Christianity. Many people use this to describe their virtuous lifestyle without the red tape of Christianity. This is also where the new “woke” Christian movements come from. Many Gnostics and Stoics call conservative Christianity an antiquated interpretation of “old religion” that doesn’t meet the intellectual needs of modern society. If it makes someone feel bad, it also must be bad. Stoicism ultimately opposes submission to God for all of our needs which is why it’s back by popular demand in 20th century America. The land of opportunity. The land where dreams come true.

Pride has always preceded the fall. When we attend to our own needs first, we cannot be true followers of Christ.


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