Monday, January 9, 2012

Virtuous Pagans

Warning: opinion piece. (I got tired of studying the immune system, realized I hadn't spouted loads of opinions in a long time, and began to type.)

Beneath the tempest of open hedonism, there is a current of stoicism in our culture. For instance, the tiny house movement (of which I am a fan) is often motivated by a desire to better enjoy life. A beautiful example of a tiny house and a typical example of this motive is found in Diana Lorence's Innermost House. Is this a good sign for our culture? Is this a trend among secular people against the insanity of materialism and atheism?

I'm not sure.

Stoicism and hedonism are at root identical: both exalt the pleasures of this world to man's highest end. Granted: stoics often choose nobler earthly pleasures such as peace, self-sufficiency, self control, stewardship, and conversation. But to seek anything for earthly delight is to be a slave to an appetite. True monasticism and poverty seeks God to replace the surrendered goods of earth.

On the other hand, this new stoicism reminds me of the late pagans (the Pre-Socratics, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle). They wanted to choose the highest goods, not the ones they liked. Aristotle and Plato write that we are eternal beings and that we have something divine in us, so they look to peace, higher virtue, friendship, and contemplation of truth as man's highest end (interesting how close this is to Christianity, no?). This is a swing in the right direction, a huge improvement from the Herodian glory of some of Plutarch's boars, or the decadence that made Rome infamous.

But still, where does the life of a virtuous pagan culminate? Aristotle is left empty-handed and confused at the end of his works. Look at the world from his perspective (nature alone, no grace): men are not eternal, peace is fleeting, virtue is impossible to perfectly obtain, friends die, study is difficult and contemplation constantly interrupted by our body's demands and fatigues....

Now that our culture is leaving the heritage of Christianity behind, it returns to pagan days. Some become Caesars; others become Aristotles; none are satisfied.


  1. You should post about the tiny house movement!

  2. You quit studying the immune system?? Quick, what is the function of IL-1?? ;)

  3. I should post about the tiny house movement. I didn't mean to vilify it or anything--it's a wonderful terrific idea to live in a tiny house.

    @Katie, my brain is exploding with cytokines and receptors and gene rearrangement. If there's one more specialization I think I will burst. I didn't even know there were different kinds of CD4+ T cells!! It's wonderful and very overwhelming!

  4. Ahh...the love/hate relationship with the immune system. The alphabet soup of it is very overwhelming but after the module was over it ended up being one of my favorites. The human body is fantastically complex. Hope you enjoy it!