Gosh, "unlovable"? What does that mean? Well, it's just plain
unfair: "The modern caricature of the ancient Cynics is inaccurate
and the modern use of the word cynic to describe the ancient Cynics
is unfair." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q and
Christian Origins, p. 114). Move along, citizen, there's nothing to
be seen here:
"And the Socratic Antisthenes writes of the necessity of
not abandoning what is called adultery. And even his disciple Diogenes,
did not he freely associate with Lais, for the hire of carrying her on
his shoulders in public?" (Clementine Homilies, Homily 5, Chapter 18).
Burton Mack himself offers the example, "'When someone reproached
him for frequenting unclean places, Diogenes replied that the sun also
enters the privies without becoming defiled.' (DL 6:63)." (Burton L.
Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament, p. 55). Mack helpfully explains that
'unclean places' is "more than likely a euphemism for houses of
prostitution." (p. 56). This is indeed typical of the Cynics. They
were not into 'family values,' preferring other options for meeting
physical desires without getting involved in entanglements like love
and marriage. True romantics they were not: "And he [Antisthenes] says that 'Love is a vice of
nature, and the wretches who fall under its power call the disease a
deity.'" (quoted in Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book 2, Chapter
There is a certain synergy between Cynicism and Christianity: both
were counter-cultural, both scoffed at the conspicuous consumption that
was so striking a feature of the first century world. But Cynicism and Christianity diverge at a basic level: namely, what
is the point of doing these things? What are you trying to
accomplish? According to the apostate emperor Julian, the Cynic aims
at a life bleached of emotion: "Here then you have a theory on this
question, though perhaps it is too far-fetched: but here is another
more akin to Cynicism, only I must first describe more clearly the
end and aim of that philosophy. Freedom from emotion they regard as
the end and aim [Απαθειαν γαρ ποιουνται
το τελος]; and this is equivalent to becoming a god."
(Julian, The Orations of Julian, VI, To The Uneducated Cynics, p. 35).
But the faith that encourages love of neighbor is not trying to
elimination all emotion.
Compare the Cynics' 'scratch what itches' sexual morality with what Jesus
taught about adultery and divorce,
"Ye have heard that it was said by them of
old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That
whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery
with her already in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28).
The Jesus of the gospels is a teacher who rules against divorce for His people, whereas
the Cynics wanted it known that satisfying one's desires is as simple
as visiting a brothel; no need to enter into entangling social
alliances, despite every snare the 'Family Values' crowd sets to entangle
the feet of the enlightened one. The solons of the 'Jesus Seminar,' however, have
discovered seldom-seen 'puritanical' Cynics: "Some Cynics rejected all
moral conventions, while others were puritanical." (Robert M. Price,
The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p. 213). The 'puritanical' ones are
distinctly scarce. The reader cannot avoid noticing an element of misogyny
in the Cynic's dismissal of marriage: the 'complications' that
result from sexuality, such as children, are not eliminated by this
approach but simply fobbed off on the woman, who must bear the sole
expense of child-rearing.
In his praise of Diogenes the Cynic, Maximus of Tyre lists among
the freedoms of the Cynic lifestyle, ". . .neither oppressed by the
education of children, nor suffering restraint through wedlock. . ."
(Maximus of Tyre, The Dissertations, Volume I, Dissertation XX, p. 203). Jesus' teaching on
marriage is not opposed to this "restraint;" the disciples rather
feared He made marriage too binding. In any case the Cynics' lack of
restraint in satisfying their sexual urges finds no resonance in
Christian teaching. Did Jesus reject all moral conventions? No, but they wish He had. Their 'Jesus' is the
convention-rejecter, and thus He is a Cynic: "Cynics played a very
important social role as critics of conventional values and oppressive
forms of governance. . ." (Burton Mack, The Lost Gospel, The Book of Q
and Christian Origins, p. 114).
In the matter of bathroom etiquette, Christians do not follow
Diogenes' lead in meeting these urges wherever they happen to be,
without regard to modesty, such as in the middle of the
market-place: "On the other hand when Diogenes made unseemly noises
or obeyed the call of nature or did anything else of that sort in
the market-place, as they say he did, he did so because he was
trying to trample on the conceit of the men I have just mentioned.
. ." (The Emperor Julian, The Orations of Julian VI, To the
Uneducated Cynics, p. 61).
Jesus inculcated not only a most un-cynical sexual morality, but
also piety toward God: "Jesus answered him, 'The first
of all the commandments is: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the
LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength."'"
(Mark 12:29). Did the Cynics themselves obey the first commandment, much
less encourage others to do so? To the contrary, the Cynics distrusted and even mocked the gods, whom they
assumed to be plural:
"It was a proper answer, then, that Antisthenes used to give them when they
asked alms of him: 'I do not support the mother of the gods; that is the gods' business.'"
(Antisthenes, Frag. 70 Mullach, Frag. phil. Graec. ii., p. 169 Loeb Edition, Clement of Alexandria).
"Diogenes the Cynic used to say of Harpalus, one of the most
fortunate villains of his time, that the constant prosperity of such a man was a kind of witness
against the Gods." (Cicero, Of the Nature of the Gods, Book III, XXXIV).
“Diogenes, when asked what was taking place in heaven, answered
by saying, 'I have never been up there.'” (Tertullian, To the
Gentiles, Book 2, Chapter 2, p. 238 ECF).
When someone drew Diogenes the Cynic's attention to the votive offerings
at Samothrace, his reply called into question the religious enterprise itself:
"When some one expressed astonishment at the votive offerings in Samothrace, his comment
was, 'There would have been far more, if those who were not saved had set up offerings.'"
(Diogenes Laertius, Lives
of the Eminent Philosophers, Book VI, Chapter 2, 59)
The apostate emperor Julian complains about Oenomaus the Cynic,
who wants to make of cynicism an atheistic, even communistic,
platform: "If you had taken any trouble to study the subject, you
would have learned this from that Cynic's 'Direct Inspiration of
Oracles' and his work 'Against the Oracles,' in short from
everything that he wrote. This then is his aim, to do away with all
reverence for the gods, to bring dishonor on all human wisdom, to
trample on all law that can be identified with honor and justice,
and more than this, to trample on those laws which have been as it
were engraved on our souls by the gods, and have impelled us all to
believe without teaching that the divine exists, and to direct our
eyes to it and to yearn towards it: for our souls are disposed
towards it as eyes towards the light." (Julian, The Orations of
Julian, VII, To the Cynic Heracleios, p. 85). Julian prefers the
pious Cynics who are, as it happens, distinctly scarce.
What has any of this got to do with Jesus? Jesus is the Desire of
Nations; almost everyone is drawn to Him, but some people find they
must transform Him to relieve their discomfort at the things He
says, the alternative being to repent and follow. Thus His words must be pulled apart, laminated into layers,
for convenience in stripping and discarding the inconvenient
material which has been segregated into unwanted, purportedly
non-original 'layers.' A nip and a tuck here and
there, and the living Jesus becomes the 'party animal' whom the
aging hippies of the 'Jesus Seminar' can happily follow.
Although the Cynics were not much impressed with religion, the 'Jesus Seminar' is
greatly impressed with them:
- “Though it is not hard to produce numerous
examples of Jewish proverbial wisdom that counsel us to trust
in God like the rest of his creatures do, the gospel
admonitions to renounce family and property and livelihood are
paralleled only in Cynicism. They are so close as practically
to demand a genetic relationship.”
- (Robert M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking
Son of Man, p. 214).
Where is the parallel between giving things up for the sake
of the kingdom of God, and evading responsibility to secure one's own
good pleasure? Compare Jesus' instruction to the rich young ruler:
"Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."
(Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 18:22).
The Cynic surrenders his property, not to give to the poor, but
to relieve himself of an encumbrance. Crates did not give his estate to the
poor, he simply abandoned it:
"Crates the Theban, when he was not pressed for payment
and did not even owe anything, because he disliked the mere
administration of property, its cares and distractions, abandoned an
estate valued at eight talents and, donning cloak and wallet, took
refuge in philosophy and poverty." (Plutarch, Moralia, That We Ought
not to Borrow, Chapter 8, Complete Works of Plutarch, Kindle
There is no intention to serve the poor or benefit the poor; these are not Cynic values.
But they certainly are Christian values. According to common Christian
teaching, the Cynics miss the point:
"It ought also to be observed, that he does not only
enjoin him to sell, but likewise to give to the poor; for to part
with riches would not be in itself a virtue, but rather a vain
ambition. Profane historians applaud Crates, a Theban, because he
threw into the sea his money and all that he reckoned valuable; for
he did not think that he could save himself unless his wealth were
lost; as if it would not have been better to bestow on others what
he imagined to be more than he needed. Certainly, as charity is the
bond of perfection, (Colossians 3:14,) he who deprives others,
along with himself, of the use of money, deserves no praise; and
therefore Christ applauds not simply the selling but liberality
in assisting the poor." (John Calvin,
Commentary on the Harmony of the Gospels, Volume 2, p. 296).
Christians have never applaud the wasting of property for no purpose, only
just to show off:
"Democritus is praised because he abandoned his fields,
and suffered them to become public pastures. I should approve of it,
if he had given them. But nothing is done wisely which is useless
and evil if it is done by all. But this negligence is tolerable.
What shall I say of him who changed his possessions into money,
which he threw into the sea? I doubt whether he was in his senses,
or deranged. Away, he says, ye evil desires, into the deep I will
cast you away, lest I myself should be cast away by you. If you have
so great a contempt for money, employ it in acts of kindness and
humanity, bestow it upon the poor; this, which you are about to
throw away, may be a succor to many, so that they may not die
through famine, or thirst, or nakedness." (Lactantius, The Divine
Institutes, Book III, Chapter 23).
Sounds like an excellent idea; why did it never occur to Mack and
his Cynics? The Cynics had no conception of piling up treasure in heaven, because they
did not believe in heaven. So the end aimed at is
altogether different. Philo Judaeus contrasts the two approaches:
"The Greeks celebrate Anaxagoras and Democritus, because
they, being smitten with a desire for philosophy, allowed all their
estates to be devoured by cattle. I myself admire the men who thus
showed themselves superior to the attractions of money; but how much
better were those who have not permitted cattle to devour their
possessions, but have supplied the necessities of mankind, of their
own relations and friends, and have made them rich though they were
(Philo Judaeus of Alexandria. Delphi Complete Works
of Philo of Alexandria (Delphi Ancient Classics Book
77) (Kindle Locations 27367-27370). On the
Contemplative Life, Chapter II).
The author of the apocryphal work, The Acts of John,
was quick to perceive the difference:
"Now on the next (or another) day Craton, a philosopher, had
proclaimed in the market-place that he would give an example of
the contempt of riches: and the spectacle was after this manner.
He had persuaded two young men, the richest of the city, who
were brothers, to spend their whole inheritance and buy each of
them a jewel, and these they brake in pieces publicly in the
sight of the people. And while they were doing this, it happened
by chance that the apostle passed by. And calling Craton the
philosopher to him, he said: That is a foolish despising of the
world which is praised by the mouths of men, but long ago
condemned by the judgement of God. . .But indeed my
master taught a youth who desired to attain to eternal life, in
these words; saying that if he would be perfect, he should sell
all his goods and give to the poor, and so doing he would gain
treasure in heaven and find the life that has no ending."
(The Acts of John, Latin XIV).
While the Acts of John is not a respectable source of information
about the early church, you must admit the author has a point. These two things are not the same, because the goal aimed at by
the behavior is completely different. When we evaluate human behavior,
we can scarcely overlook the whole point of the matter, that is, the
end sought to be achieved by the behavior.