G. Reale, A History of Ancient Philosophy: The Schools of the Imperial Age, trans. John R. Catan (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990) 84-87.
Today, I read about the Stoicism of Epictetus, the slave philosopher who lived in approximately 55-135 C.E. What stood out to me was Epictetus’ teaching on the brotherhood of man. From what I understand of Epictetus, all human beings are the offspring of God, or Zeus, and that should make us happy. Since Zeus is the father of all men, Epictetus argues, a tyrant should not assume that he’s superior to a lowly slave.
A mainline Protestant concept that many conservative Christian fundamentalists love to attack is “the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.” They seem to oppose it on two grounds. First, it sounds a little too “new world orderish” for their taste–the idea that the people of the world should come together as brothers and sisters to live as one. In their reading of Revelation 13, the human figure who will establish a one world government will be the Antichrist, and he’s not one of the good guys!
Second, fundamentalists point out that, according to Scripture, non-Christians are not the true children of God. In John 8:44, Jesus calls the Jewish leaders children of the devil, whereas John 1:12 states that Jesus gave to those who received him (Jesus) the power to become children of God. I John 3:10 also distinguishes between children of God and children of the devil, and I John seems to presume that the children of God are those who believe in Jesus and practice righteousness. Likewise, Paul affirms in Romans 8 that those who are led by the Spirit of God (Christians) are God’s children.
The idea that “all are God’s children” is pretty ubiquitous in America’s religious culture, such that even some fundamentalists appear to assume it. A fundamentalist once chastised me for “not loving God’s children,” even though the person he thought I wasn’t loving was not a Christian in his estimation.
I think that the fundamentalist case from Scripture deserves serious consideration, but I also notice another voice: Paul quotes the Stoic “fatherhood of God, brotherhood of man” doctrine in Acts 17:28-29: “For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals” (NRSV). Paul appears to agree here with the Stoic notion that human beings are God’s offspring.
I like the Stoic doctrine for a variety of reasons: (1.) it holds that God can interact with Christians and non-Christians, which makes God appear inclusive and loving, (2.) I’m not always sure where I stand with Christ, so I’d like to think that I’m God’s kid however good or bad I may be, and (3.) I want to see everyone as a child of God, not only those in a Christian clique.
Is there a way to believe that all humans are God’s offspring, while taking seriously the Scriptural statements the Christians specifically are the children of God?