on Charles Clendenen
Charles is a member from the USA who combines Stoicism and Deism, and tells us about this other cousin school of thought. This Spotlight also inaugurates questions asked to the members about reflections on the community itself.
Hi Charles. How about presenting yourself to the community?
I am Charles Clendenen, known to family and friends as Chuck. I was born in 1950 in Greene County, IL. I currently reside in Cedar Park, TX, just northwest of Austin. I am the oldest of 7, and surviving members of the family are mostly back in Illinois. I spent 24 years in the Army, and I never really considered moving back to rural Illinois. I am a graduate of Regents College (now Excelsior College) in New York. As a philosopher, I am mostly self-taught.
I have been married for 35 years to a wonderful woman from Iowa. We have 3 children ranging in age from 29-33, and we have 4 grandchildren, aged 2-6. We have a 3-legged cat named Scooter, who will be our last pet.
What is your current occupation?
I currently work in security, mostly dealing with personnel and facility security clearances, a natural follow-on to a career in Army Military Intelligence where I served as a Russian linguist.
Quite impressive... How did you come to know Stoicism?
I first discovered Stoicism around 6-7 years ago. I consider myself a Stoic who is far from being a sage. I am a Deist, so Stoicism balances well and rounds out a religious philosophy based on reason without dogma. I am the editor, publisher, and contributing author to the book, Deist: So That's What I Am! published in 2010. Another book is in the works, and I am a co-founder of the Center for Reasoned Spirituality.
I read the first chapter of your book Deist, and it's quite interesting. Would you care explaining how you came to write it?
I believe all Freethinkers have something to offer one another as long as their brains don't get shriveled by fundamentalism. Perhaps that is part of the reason I became interested in Stoicism. I have always been fascinated by mythology: Greek, Roman, and Norse. Allegory is an excellent way to convey lessons about morality and justice. Myths and fables, including religious ones, teach us lessons about complex issues that are difficult teach in any other way. I was doing research on a book idea probably in 2006 that had both political and religious backstories. I made up some religion I think I called Revelationism. While researching I ran across Deism and realized that my devout agnosticism had a name, and I had a direction. But I also came to realize that Deism does not have an underlying moral or ethical philosophy. For that, I turned to the Greek philosophers, and reason-based Stoicism appealed to me immediately. Like Deism, Stoicism places the ultimate responsibility on the individual. In Deism you don't look to some intervening God for blame or credit. Whatever messages God might have for us are found in the creation. Deists look to nature for our answers, and so it is with Stoicism. Stoics are lovers of wisdom and students of human nature. Deism doesn't have anything to tell us about virtue. Stoicism does. And so the two are complimentary.
Deism tells us to observe nature and gather information, to draw upon our own experience and to benefit from the experience of others if there is solid evidence that their experiences are true, and to use reason to reach logical conclusions. When I look at the fine-tuned nature of the universe, I see design. The universe appears to be an intentional creation. The physical laws appear to be immutable, even if we are still struggling to figure them out. There are just too many things that had to be just right for the universe to turn out as it did and for life to have appeared here. Do I know the nature of the creator? Do I know the creator's intent? Do I even know that the creation is intentional? I know none of these things, but if there is intent, then life has a purpose. Life is not hopeless, and that inclines me towards a positive attitude. Having a positive attitude and a hunger for wisdom contributes to my well-being, both as a Deist and a Stoic. If life is pointless, why bother taking charge of your own life? I am an observer of nature, especially human nature, and when I seek to emulate the lives of those who are wisest and most worthy of respect, I reach the conclusion that I must be the captain of my fate, the captain of my soul.
And here is where I do not accept one aspect of Stoicism. Fate holds much less control over us than the ancient Stoics assumed. We already defy death, disease, and disfigurement in ways that the Stoics could never have imagined. Will death ultimately conquer us all? Certainly! But the best humans will either become immortal or will die trying. I solidly believe that we should not waste our energies on things beyond our control. But I also believe that if we put our minds to it, there are many, many things that are within our control. This is all part of the process of becoming mature and acquiring some measure of wisdom. As I understand eudaimonia, true happiness is the result of a life of virtue, a life well-lived. The two philosophies, Deism and Stoicism, along with an extra healthy dose of reason, and spiced with inspiration and imagination, allow me to discover for myself what it is to lead a life of virtue, to life with purpose, and to enjoy some measure of happiness for having lived life well.
I think there will be a place for Stoicism in the world for as long as reason prevails, which will, hopefully, be a long, long time. For me, the most valuable lesson in Stoicism is the notion that we should not waste energy on things we cannot change. I have a very positive attitude, so I try to put as few things as possible in the "not possible" box, but if I am in a hospital waiting room with others awaiting the results of a loved-one's surgery, I am the one who is least upset and worried. It is not that I don't care, but worry will not improve the outcome. I spend my time talking with and calming the folks who cannot set worry aside. If you add this to my Deist side, you get a Stoic who does not expect God to intervene, because I see no evidence that God does. Still, I find great pleasure and excitement in pursuing spiritual activities from Stoic meditation and reflection to more Eastern practices. I guess the one area where my philosophy diverges from Stoicism is on the question of fate. I believe in free will. I plan to continue exploring Stoicism and reason-based spirituality for some time to come.
What made you join the New Stoa?
Why did I join? Good question. Erik wrote me about some matters and asked why I never joined. I could not think of a single reason why not. It had never seemed very necessary to announce to the world that I am a Stoic. But then again, I was not averse to doing so. Joining seemed like the reasonable thing to do. Now, I am glad that I did. Joining caused me to go back and reflect on my Stoicism, and that can never be a bad thing.
I'd like you to give your impressions on our community. What expectations did you have when you joined it?
I expected to find resources, and I found them. So in that sense, the Stoic Registry, now New Stoa, met my expectations. It would be nice for New Stoa to add a discussion board or even transition to a social media site. But these are dreams for the future, not expectations.
Any remarks or suggestions to make it better?
More appealing? Interaction. The site is dynamic, but it is not interactive. I think we would benefit greatly from direct dialog. There should be discussions among the Stoa. New Stoa points at discussion, but New Stoa does not effect discussion. Only one of three Facebook groups is viable. I would cut links to the FB groups that are obsolete.
Thanks a lot for all these thoughts and comments, Charles!