One of the undeniable realities of the history of religion is persecution. The Christians have been persecuted. So have the Jews, the Muslims, the Hindus, the Mormons, even the Buddhists and Confucians. In some cases, these religions persecuted each other. In other cases, it was tyrannical governments that tried to stamp out all faiths with equal zeal.
Although less common, philosophy and philosophers have been persecuted too (and persecuted others, as Marcus and other emperors did with early Christians). Epictetus, for instance, was banned from Rome as part of a blanket ban on philosophers by Emperor Domitian in 93 AD. Later, as the Christians took over Rome, philosophers were subjected to persecution and sometimes mob justice.
The point is: Although it is less common today, ‘believing’ in something can cost you everything. We are not—and have not been—as tolerant as we like to think we have been and having faith in something in this world can be a revolutionary act. Which calls to mind an interesting question posed by a Christian theologian. He asked, as a kind of test to people who liked to call themselves Christians but ignore the actual tenets of the religion: If you were arrested and tried for being a Christian, would you be convicted? Or do your actions speak louder than any profession of belief?
That’s a question for all of us today, whatever we believe, and most of all for this philosophy we are studying. Could you actually be convicted of being a Stoic? Does your behavior match what you claim to be? It was obvious that Epictetus was a philosopher, even if he’d denied it. Same with Marcus, same with Seneca. But you? Are you guilty of truly practicing philosophy? Or just the minor crime of association?