Below is a passage from Diskin Clay’s introduction to The Meditations.
I find this passage very informative. I truly admire the consensus among the Stoics in a divine Providence. Not just that, but the idea that our world exists as a unified Whole and not just a collection of disconnected parts. I think it’s only when we give ourselves up that we get everything back — this is necessary in order to see the world as a Whole and not just our individual Self. This “giving up of the Self” is almost a cliché idea but that doesn’t make it any less true. Does 2+2 = 4? Yes. Is that a cliché? No. That’s because it is knowledge, and not opinion. Facts never become cliché.
How can we put this idea in a way that does not feel cliché? We must phrase it so that the idea itself is a fact and not an opinion. It’s true that we must give up ourselves in order to see the world as a whole. But how do we do this? You see, that’s what makes the idea so unbelievable and trite. How do you give up yourself? The Stoics seem to think that you can achieve this through reason. It is rational to see humanity as one unified whole, irrational to think of yourself as the most important creature in all of creation. But our basest instincts and feelings and even our desires go against this. They all tell us, “You’re what counts!” And honestly, I don’t think every one of us has enough Reason to disagree.
I disagree with the Stoics on one point. I don’t think Reason is the solution. I think Love is the solution. I think that Love is the only way to truly get over yourself. I imagine that mothers and fathers think this way all the time. Not every mother and father, but the best ones out there aren’t thinking of themselves but of their children. The best rulers don’t think of themselves but of their subjects. While it’s hard to put ourselves in the shoes of a Roman emperor, any one of us can imagine what it’s like to be a parent. What instinct or emotion would inspire you to put your children before yourself? I highly doubt it’s reason. I think the real impetus is love.
And this where Christianity, in my mind, improves on Stoicism. Yes, the world is a unified whole. But we do not truly learn this fact through the faculty of reason. We learn it through one faculty alone, the most enduring faculty we have, that capacity and bold power that can withstand all sorts of illness, and adversity, and deformity, and oppression — slavery, even — and that is love. The best way we can benefit our neighbor is not through justice, truth, or beauty — the classical ideals — but through love. That is why Christianity dissents with Plato, when it formulates the foremost attribute of God. Plato talks about the “idea of the good”, but he talks mostly in relation to beauty, truth, and justice. Christianity improves on that. Christianity declares that God is love.
It is hard sometimes to find outlets for love. If one is not married, or if one has lost a spouse, or if one has lost their parents, or if one lacks family, then there might seem at first glance to be few opportunities. But this is actually not true. As a Christian, I know that any good church provides ample opportunities. If it did not do so, then it would not be doing its job. There are secular opportunities, too. When God says love your neighbor, you may literally love your roommates, or your colleagues, or your boss, or your friends. You may start with the person sitting across from you (“neighbor”) and work your way outwards toward the people who are less accessible, but need it more.
And what benefit is this to you, you might ask? Well, when you start caring about your neighbor, I like to think that God starts caring about you.