August 27, 2019

Episode 1 is here!

My podcast, like my blog, features the big questions; served with swagger. Science, philosophy, psychology, religion, well-being – the big questions and how these all intersect – the aim of my writing is ultimately the aim of my podcast. The genesis of this podcast ultimately originated from my interest in these areas and some very cool live conversations I’ve been part of with other writers, philosophers, and theologians (and a/theologians).

The first episode of the Soapbox Redemption podcast features my friend and coauthor Adam Lee. Adam is a software engineer, author, and activist living in New York City. He is the author of Daylight Atheism (and Meta co-authored by yours truly) as well as a fictional series, and blogs at Daylight Atheism at Patheos.

Adam and I initiated a blog exchange on Patheos where we are neighbors (myself on Progressive ChristianAdam on Nonreligious) which culminated into our book (Meta: On God, the Big Questions, and the Just City) and live events where we celebrate our exchange and shared cause of ending human trafficking. In this podcast, we discuss our project, some big questions, and our debate turned friendship (turned mission), along with idea of celebrating the big questions with epistemological humility.

 

October 24, 2018

The Meta tour continues! Adam and I are back it with another double header in my hometown.

We’re up first at Butler University on Thursday at 7pm. Our discussion, “A Christian Humanist, a Secular Humanist, and a Theologian: On God, the Big Questions, and Ending Human Trafficking”, will be moderated by Dr. Charles Allen, theologian, Episcopal priest, and chaplain of Grace Unlimited, the Episcopal/Lutheran Campus Ministry at Butler.

On Friday, we’re at Crosspoint Church in Fishers at 7pm. Our discussion, “Faith vs. Doubt”, will be moderated by pastor Curt Walters. As always, both events will celebrate an evening of truth-seeking among friends while raising money to support the fight on human trafficking, a shared cause for Adam and I with this project.  

Your attendance and donations are always appreciated! 

March 31, 2020

Episode 5 is here!

This episode features a conversation with Massimo Pigliucci and may very well be my favorite podcast to date. Besides Massimo being a prominent philosopher and writer on many of the big questions, his writing and speaking on Stoicism has had a profound influence on me personally. With that, he was also gracious enough to moderate a discussion between myself and my co-author Adam Lee. Outside all his accomplishments as a scientist, philosopher, author, educator, and communicator, he’s incredibly down to earth.

Massimo holds a PhD in Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut and a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Tennessee. He currently is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. His research interests include the philosophy of science, the relationship between science and philosophy, the nature of pseudoscience, and the practical philosophy of Stoicism. He has published in national and international outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal, among others. He is a Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and a Contributing Editor to Skeptical Inquirer. He blogs on practical philosophy at Patreon and Medium. Massimo has published over 165 technical papers in science and philosophy and is author or editor of 13 books including the best selling How to Be A Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

In this podcast, Massimo and I discuss his background and academic interests, and spent most of our time discussing Stoicism, but we definitely wandered into some of my favorite big questions, and how Stoicism may offer a fresh vantage point.

So please, enjoy the conversation between yours truly and Massimo Pigliucci…

March 22, 2020

For those interested in an overview of the history and practice of Stoicism, author Massimo Pigliucci soars as a tour guide par excellence, as does his unique background as a scientist, philosopher, practicing Stoic, author, and communicator.

Focus on what you can control; anything else is a harmful double edge sword, it wastes time and energy on what you cannot influence and it distracts from what you can. Stated more eloquently by the author (bold my emphasis):

“Stoicism is not about suppressing or hiding emotion – rather it is about acknowledging our emotions, reflecting on what causes them, and redirecting them for our own good. It is also about keeping in mind what is and what is not under our control, focusing our efforts on the former and not wasting time on the latter. It is about practicing virtue and excellence and navigating the world to the best of our abilities, while being mindful of the moral dimension of our actions.” (page 2)

It sounds easy, but try it for 24 hours, or even one hour – and specifically during a dark and challenging hour/day/month/year. At the time of this review, we are in the midst of the unprecedented Coronavirus outbreak. I can say this with certainty: my now Stoic practicing mindset is reacting much differently than I would have preciously. If Victor Frankl (and many others) can survive the Holocaust by focusing on what they can control, I can stay calm and focus on what I can control during this pandemic (or a worse outbreak, war, or even in small day to day challenges in dealing with friends, families, coworkers, etc.).

For my readers, you know I’ve been tremendously inspired by the idea of Aristotelian ethics and virtue theory. Add Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning and logotherapy (which was inspired by Stoic principles as Massimo points out), and my discovery and practice of meditation, I was already a Stoic – I just didn’t know it yet.

To be clear, the author points out that “Stoicism is a philosophy, not a type of therapy” (page 9). The practice of the philosophy can be therapeutic, but Stoicism is itself is not a therapy (like logotherapy); rather the underlying Stoic philosophical principles are part of the foundation (of logotherapy, for example). The beauty of the philosophy is how simple, yet demanding it is. It ultimately amounts to moral character being “the only truly worthy thing to cultivate” and “your ability to live a moral life and thus achieve what Stoics call ataraxia, or tranquility of mind” (page 10). It is adopting this life philosophy, and focusing on what you can control, that dramatically changes one’s outlook and behavior.

Stoicism is also not a theology. The author (an atheist) points out that Stoics “believed that the universe is structured according to what they called the Logos, which can be interpreted as either God or simply what is sometimes termed ‘Einstein’s god’: the simple, indubitable fact that Nature is understandable by reason” (page 6), which appeals to him as a nonreligious person – it serves as an “ecumenical philosophy, one that can share goals and at least some general attitudes with other major ethical traditions across the world” (page 10). This is incredibly appealing to me (progressive Christian, to say the least) for the same reasons. As I penned in my book Meta (co-authored by Adam Lee), “we can stand together as friends and change the world—uniting to fight against injustices like poverty and human trafficking. We’ll debate on the metaphysics on the car ride over”. Stoic principles allow this common ground of practical ethics, moral character, and striving to reach one’s potential by living in accordance to the Logos, however one defines it; for the early Stoics God was “a material God immanent in the cosmos” (page 22).

The author does a very nice job laying out Stoicism’s basic principles, then moving into the history of Stoicism from early Stoa and founder Zeno, to late Stoa and emperor Marcus Aurelius – and how many philosophers and theologians like Augustine, Aquinas, Bacon, and Descartes were deeply influenced by Stoicism – as were relatively recent psychologists in Viktor Frankl (and his logotherapy) and Albert Ellis (and his rational emotive behavior therapy).

It was truly surprising to me to learn both the influence of Stoicism and the power of Stoic principles in doing what virtue requires and focusing on what you can control. Another key example pointed out by the author is the Serenity Prayer which has inspired countless people, and of course serves as a bedrock of 12 step programs (bold emphasis mine):

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference

It’s easy to see the Stoic influence when you look at Epictetus’ (a prominent Stoic figure) early rendition of similar sentiments:

“Make the best use of what is in your power, and take the rest as it happens. Some things are up to us and some things are not up to us. Our opinions are up to us, and our our impulses, desires, aversions-in short, whatever is our own doing. Our bodies are not up to us, nor are our possessions, our reputations, or our public offices, or, that its, whatever is not our own doing.”

The author nails a key point that some key tenants of Stoicism are shared in other prevalent philosophical and theological traditions (including Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism), “some of these parallels are the result of direct or indirect reciprocal influence, and others represent the independent convergence of wise minds reflecting on the human condition” (page 31). In short, for most of us, these key principles shouldn’t be shocking (as these tenants are common to many virtue ideologies, and with that, if we think about when we’ve practiced these tenants, we’re typically our best selves), hence my previous feeling that I was always a Stoic, I just didn’t know it.

Think about it. When you’re worrying about what you cannot control, what is your typical mental state? What behavior typically follows? At the other end, when you focus on what you can control and do what virtue demands, what is your typical mental state and behavior? This is the essence of the “dichotomy of control”.

The fourth chapter on “Living According to Nature” nicely illustrates the difference between Stoicism and other prominent ethical systems. The attraction is that it extends far beyond the classical ideas of “good” in deontological and consequentialist forms of ethics. To be clear, it doesn’t deny moral truths in these ethical systems, it’s just that a virtue-based ethic like Stoicism requires more than just these ethical systems alone. The Stoic ethic, aims for eudaimonia, the ethically good life where one’s actions require what virtue demands as a social and rational animal living in communion with humankind (along with all living creatures and our planet, for that matter).

So let’s say you’re ready to jump in with both feet. What about that small (or large) circle of people that are impossible to be around, treat us terribly, or are just sometimes very difficult? What a perfect challenge to do what virtue demands and focus on what we can control and positively influence. Besides, it’s only due to their lack of wisdom, so losing your patience is not only exacerbating the situation, it’s falling short of your own potential and your commitment to yourself and others. If you raised children, you will definitely know what I am getting at (both in success and failure).

Along these lines, anger is a big one for the Stoics; and unsurprisingly – it is one of the easiest distractions to focusing on what you can control and doing what virtue demands. Contra the common misunderstanding that “being Stoic” means being emotionless, Stoics fully expect anger to present (and other emotions like anxiety, worry, etc) its ugly head. To Epictetus’ sentiments above, it’s how we handle that anger (and anxiety, worry, etc.) that matters. To the example above, in raising a child, we can only do so much to control his/her behavior; when they genuinely surprise us with their lack of virtue, how do we respond with the anger that presents?

The twelfth chapter on “How to Deal with Anger, Anxiety, and Loneliness” is an outstanding application to the ideas presented prior throughout the text. We will most certainly have certain situations and/or raw emotions present themselves in life, but there is always a good, better, and best (or bad, real bad, and worst) way to respond. Take, for example, a season of solitude:

“We may have little or no control over the external circumstances that force us into being alone at some time in our lives. But (save for pathological conditions, for which one needs to seek medical help), it is our choice, our own attitude, that turns solitude, into loneliness. We may be alone, but we do not consequently need to feel helpless” (page 185)

In the final chapter, the author lays out twelve main “spiritual exercises” that he drew from Epictetus’ Enchiridion; daily exercises that reinforce Stoicism as a life philosophy. Things like “examine your impressions”, “pause and take a deep breath”, and “how can I use virtue here and now?”, combined with the Stoic requirement of “reflect on your day” – a life philosophy now takes on specific daily practices that reinforce it.

How to be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life is an outstanding and accessible must-read for anyone with an interest in philosophy, ethics, and psychology (whether or not you are a Stoic). Whether or not you are converted, you’ll be inspired. And if you are inspired, perhaps, like me, you’re already converted, you just didn’t know it yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 19, 2019

Episode 3 is here!

This episode features a conversation with William Jaworski.

Dr. William Jaworski is an author, consultant, and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Fordham University in New York. His research focuses mainly on consciousness and its relation to the brain, as well as artificial intelligence and its implications for human well-being. He’s authored a number of books on philosophy of mind from the vantage point of Aristotelian metaphysics which made up the bulk of our discussion.

Bill and I got acquainted through my book Meta which I co-wrote with Adam Lee. Bill was nice enough to write the foreword and tee up my and Adam’s dialogue on the big questions.

In this podcast, Bill and I discuss his background and academic interests and some of the big questions like God’s existence, morality, consciousness, free-will, and the nature of abstract objects. Bill nicely laid out the hylomorphic worldview in contrast to materialism and dualism – and how each of these metaphysical worldviews tackles the big questions. I really appreciated his perspectives, specifically with consciousness, which is his major area of research, but also on Aristotelian metaphysics in general and how that worldview tackles the big questions.

So please, enjoy the conversation between yours truly and William Jaworski.

August 16, 2019

After having some very cool conversations with other authors, philosophers, and theologians, I’ve decided to timestamp these conversations and launch the Soapbox Redemption podcast. The vibe of the podcast will follow that of my blog; the big questions, served with swagger. Topics will include philosophy, religion, science, well-being, and culture.

I’ve already snagged some very cool guests in my friend and coauthor Adam Lee (from the Patheos Nonreligious channel), James McGrath (another Patheos Progressive Christian) Massimo Pigliucci (philosopher and author), and Randal Rauser (theologian and author). Stay tuned as Episode 1 will be launching soon!




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