Athens. Greece. Philosophy. Socrates. The Areopagus.

Do any of these words illicit interest? For me, ever since I was a small boy, these words have held interest with me. It began when my mom read me bed time stories from a book of Greek myth. The stories of Zeus and the Olympians, Heracles and the acts he had to perform to become a god. Minotaurs and Centaurs, Icarus, his wax wings and his genius father the inventor.

I was reading a little bit of the book of Acts in the bible this morning and came across a fascinating little section of the book narrating the time that Paul was in Athens, atop Mars Hill. The Hill renowned in Greece for it’s religious profundity. Atop this hill was another place called the Areopagus. This was my kind of place. This was a place where people would come together to do nothing other than to tell or hear some novel, new thing. According to verse 21 those that went there were accustomed to hearing new things and speaking of new ideas. They also served coffee and had a wide array of books on philosophy, theology, apologetics, science fiction and fantasy.

They didn’t have the coffee or books in reality, but if this place was around today it certainly would. The Diogenes club from the Sherlock Holmes books. The Exclusive books and attached coffee shop. A place for intellectuals to meet where ideas were held in higher regard than almost anything. A place where intellectual soliloquies were the currency and wealth was in the mind/imagination.

These were the people that hung around in the Areopagus. People well versed in the ideas of the time and the philosophies of the day. Two of the philosophies represented here when Paul arrived were the Stoics and the Epicureanists.

Stoicism: In this philosophy the perfectly reasonable intellectual person will never suffer emotional hurt because all emotional hurt is due to not thinking correctly about something, making unreasonable rationalisations. The perfect Stoic would use his intellect to avoid all emotional pain.

Epicureanism: In this philosophy, ultimate meaning and purpose is similar to hedonism but with the additional desire of reaching an existence of physical painlessness.

I think that we find a lot of Stoicism in our world still today, especially among Thinkers: Scholars, academics, intellectuals. I have realised that I was a Stoic long before I knew there was a system of thought called Stoicism. This system of thought holds that if someone where to attain perfect intellectual judgement when considering all things in the act of introspection, this someone would never be subject to emotional hurt and pain.

What do you think of this?

Here are my thoughts:
1) I believe it to an extent, however, I am a cynic in that I do not think anyone can actually achieve this state of perfect intellectual judgement.
2) I actually believe that experiencing hurtful and painful emotions is part of the human experience. I read a lot of Isaac Asimov and the one aspect that often highlights the difference between human and robot is our subjectivity to emotional influence. He who feels no pain is simply not human.
3) I believe that sometimes the correct thing to do is to feel emotional pain. I believe that it may be unpleasant but truth is avoided when emotional pain is avoided. Sometimes the truth is painful and one has not fully grasped it if one has not felt the pain of it. Poverty or violence to a loved one: if there is no emotionally painful response to this – something is wrong. In fact one might realise that this person has not truly experienced the truth of real love.

Historically the Stoics and the Epicureanists were strongly opposed to each other. In the story in Acts, the Epicureanists and the Stoics both oppose Paul and seek to hear his arguments for his belief system. Many years later most of the followers of Stoic thought and Epicurean thought would be persecuted and destroyed through the unholy work of the ‘Christian’ ruler Justinias I. In the story, Paul did not try to destroy or persecute them, he simply raised his objections with their thoughts and proclaimed his own thoughts. Many, the bible says, were convinced and converted to Christians that day, and the others, Paul left in peace for God to deal with in grace, hope and love.

These were my thoughts this morning.

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