Men in the West are leaving the pews in record numbers. On Sunday morning, observe that the majority of the congregation is female. Attend daily Mass and the ratio is more like 9:1 female to male.
Compare this to mosque attendance in Islam, where the majority of attendees are male.
The problem is that Christianity is presented in our day (with the exception of Eastern Orthodoxy) as increasingly feminine. This shift to the feminine is observed in the hymns, the decor, the liturgy, the sermons, and the leadership.
The truly serious Christian men that I encounter are either deep into Eastern Christian asceticism and/or are students of Stoicism – a philosophical approach formulated in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early 3rd century before Christ. As will become apparent, the Eastern Christian practice of dispassion is intimately linked to the pre-Christian Stoic ideals.
What is Stoicism?
Stoicism is the ascetic practice of keeping a firm grip around the reins of your emotions and thoughts. The Stoics called this ἀπάθεια or apatheia from which we get the English word “apathy,” but the concept does not mean being “apathetic.” Rather, it refers to dispassion. The Eastern Christian tradition speaks of the ideal of apatheia as dispassion.
As Saint Thomas Aquinas noted, the Stoics were incorrect in identifying our human passions as evil per se. For the Christians, the passions/emotions are generally inclined to sin because of original sin. So our passions are disordered and this disordered state the Roman tradition calls concupiscence.
In the early Church, this Stoic concern with ordering our passions was taken up by the Desert Fathers but also by intellectuals such as Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, Saint Anthony of Egypt, and especially Saint Ambrose of Milan. Saint Ambrose’s book De officiis ministrorum (On the duties of ministers) is an ethical treatise modeled on Stoic virtues.
For the Christian, the world is a storm. By the virtue of Christ, we can become solid rocks or oaks, so that as the winds howl, the virtuous man stands firm.
Apatheia in the Modern Christian Life:
Every day there are inputs that cause your passions to flare up in a negative way. These come from your work, your commute, your finances, your wife, your children, your grandchildren, you friends, your neighbors, and even the weather.
You should build an inner castle within your heart. Nobody but God can penetrate this castle. Not even your wife or children. You retire to this inner tabernacle alone with the Holy Trinity. This is the place of your peace.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
Practical Advice for Christian Men:
- Pray and meditate Daily. Spiritual health.
- Read great books or listen to great books in your car. Intellectual health.
- Lift weights and change your physiology. Physical health.
- Practice confidence and a amused mastery over life. Emotional health.
- Imagine the worst and discover your options. Stoics practiced this occasionally (as a spiritual test). “What would happen if…” And then explain and show yourself that you would not wither or give up. You would come out the other side as a victor. (Do not “imagine the worst” until you’ve built a solid frame already of confidence, physical fitness, intellectual fitness, etc.). Becoming a worry wart is not the goal here. Stoics don’t worry. They take action.
- Make a silent/solitary retreat for a day, weekend, or week. Become comfortable guiding and restraining the voices and doubts and thoughts in your head.
- Speak 50-75% less if you can get away with it. Shut the hell up. Your tongue is a source of hell-fire for yourself and for others:
“The tongue is a fire, the world of the unrighteousness, so the tongue is set in our members, which is spotting our whole body, and is setting on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by the Gehenna.” (James 3:6)
- Acta non verba. Make you life one of actions and not words. Do 100% more and speak 50% less. You’ll be more successful and people will admire you more.
Become different. Shore up your insecurities. Get stronger physically and spiritually (ASICS). And you have an infinite advantage over the ancient Stoics: you have Christ.