The Stoic God

Source: John Sellars, Stoicism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006) 91-104.

Ordinarily, I give specific quotes when I write these kinds of posts, but there is so much good stuff in my reading today that I can’t do that. So I’ll touch on some points that leaped out to me.

The Stoics believed that God permeated the universe, which means they were pantheists. Did they believe that this God was conscious? The answer appears to be “yes.” As Sellars states in summarizing their position, “an unconscious cosmos cannot give rise to conscious beings, so if there are any conscious beings in the cosmos then consciousness must also be an attribute of the cosmos itself” (94).

This reminds me of an experience I had at Harvard. A friend and I were both writing papers on Paul Tillich, and I had problems with Tillich’s notion that God is “being” or the “ground of being,” rather than a being. My friend responded that Tillich may very well believe that God has consciousness and a personality, since his God encompasses and surpasses all sorts of binaries. Why wouldn’t that include consciousness? My friend pointed out some passage in Tillich’s Systematic Theology to support his point, but I don’t remember what it was. So Sellars‘ Stoicism quote took me back in time to that discussion over a nice dinner.

So what is the God of Stoicism doing? He’s ordering the world and events in it according to his wisdom. For Stoics, this world has the best possible arrangement, since it accords with God’s will. And, if one wants to point to the existence of evil, Stoics will basically say what a lot of Christians like to parrot: we don’t see the big picture. For Stoics, in terms of individual details, evil and hurt exist. But the big picture is actually quite beautiful and orderly.

Stoics were fatalists because they believed that things happened like they were supposed to, but they didn’t think that fate absolved people of individual responsibility. For example, they said that everyone is fated to die, but we can exercise some control over when our time of death will be. That’s why we shouldn’t be reckless! So maybe Stoicism was not completely fatalistic.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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