Saint Augustine wrote. “Abstinence from all sexual union is better even than marital intercourse performed for the sake of procreating.” In other words, if you cannot control yourself then get married, but please don’t enjoy it.
If you want to see how Augustine’s inhumane ideas played out in real, modern life please do get to see the movie “Philomena” . It won all sorts of awards and is poignant and funny. Judy Dench is terrific in the part of the woman whose son was taken away from her by Irish nuns – but I will say no more. It is a must-see!
The huge problem of militant Islam Is not confined to Iraq and Syria.
In 1924 Kemal Ataturk and the Grand National Assembly abolished the Caliphate, and along with it, the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Pious Foundations were wound up, religious schools transferred to the secular arm, and the Sheriat Courts were closed. Instead, a Civil Code, based on the Swiss code, was introduced.
Ataturk believed that Islam was “natural” religion, based on reason, science, knowledge and logic, and that Friday sermons in mosques should be in harmony with them. Preachers should follow closely the political and social conditions of the civilised world and deliver their sermons in Turkish, not in a dead language.
Nearly a hundred years later old-fashioned Islamism is back, imperiling Turkish law and democracy, not to mention the position of women in society. In Islam the movement is backwards. The successes of the so-called Caliphate are going to encourage further extremism, and push modern Islam to adopt ever more extreme answers to the problem of how to adapt to the modern world.
The Islamic countries are not alone. In the United States, there is a growing disdain for science. Huge numbers believe in the literal words of the bible, deny global warming and think the Earth was created six thousand years ago.
If you are looking for a “natural” belief, based on reason, science, knowledge and logic, espouse Epicureanism; don’t go backwards into ignorance.
Eleven self-styled “sharia police” vigilantes who patrolled the streets of a town in western Germany and attempted to dissuade people from drinking alcohol were recently arrested on charges of unlawful assembly and misuse of uniforms. The young men, who were led by a German convert to Islam, wore fluorescent orange jackets with the words “Shariah Police” on the back, and told drinkers they had declared the area around Wuppertal railway station to be a “sharia-controlled zone” (“These few teen yobs do not speak in our name,” said Aiman Mazyek, of Germany’s Central Council of Muslims).
Separately, four Islamists went on trial accused of planning to bomb the railway station in Bonn in December 2012. And in an unconnected incident, three suspected members of al-Shabaab, the Somali militant group, were arrested at Frankfurt airport.
Epicureanism is a “live-and-let live” philosophy that stands for moderation, empathy for the poor, friendship, and working together towards a pleasant life, free of poverty and fear. On all countsradical islamism is intolerable. You can choose to believe in supernaturalism if you wish, and that is fine, just as long as you don’t try to convert me or my fellow Epicureans. But when vigilantes appear or heads are cut off …….well, words fail me.
I believe in Spinoza’s god, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, not in a god who concerns himself in the fate and doings of mankind. (Albert Einstein
In other words, God is Nature. Not far from the ideas of Epicurus.
Some American churches tell their congregations that if they believe (and give) they will not only go to heaven, but they will be rich here on earth. These are the so-called “success prophets”, preying on the poor.
I suppose one could argue that the “pastors” involved are at least trying to offer some hope, but in the process they are enriching themselves and knowingly telling a lie. As Epicurus said, “To fear God in expectation of material returns is to act upon groundless expectations and false opinions”.
False philosophies are as bad as false religions. Stoicism, for instance, affirms divine providence and asserts that the social class you find yourself in is ordained by a higher power. Hinduism supports the Indian caste system. (Tending the Epicurean Garden, Hiram Crespo).
Most philosophies, like religions, become successful by bolstering the power of the ruler or ruling class. Stoicism is a good case in point. Whereas its Roman competitor, Epicureanism, eschewed politics, Stoicism appealed to the politicians around the Emperor because it affirmed their ability, power and position, and the natural order of things, which we know is no natural order but mostly luck and being at the right place at the right time, while enjoying the benefits of having the right parents.
Dr. Daisy Grewal of the Stanford School of Medicine published, in Scientific American, the results of a study on anti-atheism. “Reminding people about God, “she concluded, “has the same effect as telling people they are being watched by others. It increases their feeling of self-consciousness and leads them to behave in more socially acceptable ways”. She found that people trusted atheists more when they were reminded of authority figures, like judges and police chiefs. In other words, any divine or secular authority figure will do, and it is the authority vacuum that feels uncomfortable for many people.
Ancient Epicureans voluntarily accepted the authority of a senior member of the community in order to learn how to live a pleasant, Epicurean life. Indeed, if you believe the history, the gurus could be polite but direct and painfully truthful about the shortcomings of their pupils. So Epicureans had authority figures as much as anyone else. My own education made me highly skeptical about them. One should be able to think laterally and out of the box, able to spot both flaws in the arguments of authority figures and their frequent less-than-straightforward motives and objectives.
This is why, despite the hostility of Epicurus himself to politics and politicians, I wander into politics in order to criticize it. So I don’t recognize what Dr. Grewal has to say, and think it’s so much nonsense. Of course, everyone is different, not excluding Epicureans, and one has to accept that some people do crave a masterful person in their lives.
St Augustine, according to Alain de Boton, modern philosopher:
It was St. Augustine who came up with the idea of ‘Original Sin’. He proposed that all humans were crooked, because all of us are unwitting heirs to the sins of Adam. Our sinful nature gives rise to what Augustine called a ‘libido dominandi’, a desire to dominate, which is evident in the brutal, blinkered, merciless way we treat others and the world around us. We cannot properly love, for we are constantly undermined by our egoism and our pride. Our powers of reasoning and understanding are fragile in the extreme. Lust – a particular concern of Augustine’s, who had spent much of his youth fantasising about women in church – haunts our days and nights. We fail to understand ourselves, we chase phantoms, we are beset by anxieties… Augustine concluded his assault by chiding all those philosophers who ‘have wished, with amazing folly, to be happy here on earth and to achieve bliss by their own efforts.’
It can be a relief to be told that our lives are awry because nothing human can ever be made entirely straight and that the odds have been stacked against us from the start. Relax! Our sins are simply part of the human condition. (adapted from Alain de Boton’s article on his website).
Augustine was attacking the Epicureans. His point of view is broad-brush twaddle, and a license for those who do mischief to continue doing mischief. “I can’t help hitting old ladies over the head and stealing their belongings, Yer Honor. I suffer from Original Sin”. De Boton, the reason for whose prominence is a mystery, is also suggesting a free pass to baddies (maybe this is why he is prominent!) .
Epicureanism represents everything that is opposite to Augustine and De Boton. It is positive, encouraging and focuses on a pleasant life of calm, serenity and friendship. It also implicitly assumes that, while there are violent and selfish creeps in this world, most of us a capable of good thoughts and good works.
I look forward to comments from my Catholic readers!
“Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse,” says Richard Dawkins. Seeming to have anticipated, although not understood, the feminist reaction this kind of sentiment generally evokes, he finishes the tweet: “If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think.”
Thus Richard Dawkins, once known as a respected evolutionary biologist and author, who demolished the arguments of the creationists, now regarded as a bad tempered crackpot. His message seems to be: “Why won’t we all just learn how to think, damn it! Then we could all live together in a peaceful society where …….women shut up about sexual harassment”.
It is a great shame. This is a man who has huge knowledge and who has a gift for popularizing science. Instead of continuing to educate an ignorant public on what he knows best, he pontificates on every matter under the sun – and makes an ass of himself with bigoted remarks. He understands the scientific method, a process intended to mitigate the interference of human subjectivity in data collection, as a universally applicable way of understanding the physical world. Unfortunately, he thinks it can be applied to everything else, and those who disagree with him are “feeble-minded obscurantists who cling to emotion, tradition or the supernatural to shield themselves from the power of his truth bombs…..To him, the humanities are expendable window-dressing, and the consciousness and emotions of his fellow human beings are byproducts of natural selection that frequently hobble his pursuit and dissemination of cold, hard facts”. (based on an article by Eleanor Robertson, theguardian.com, 30 July 2014)
From an Epicurean point of view Professor Dawkins is bad news. Epicurus was not an outright atheist – he simply believed that the gods refused to get involved in the minor and boring problems of the human race. Were he alive today it is possible that he might concede that there could well be a prime mover who authored the Big Bang, because, simply, know one knows (yet). Epicurus was a rationalist, an atomist and a supporter of the simple science of the day. He would regard Dawkins as now being as dangerous to rational thought and the idea of ridding the world of supernaturalism, bible literalism and blowhard religionists. Moderation is all.
In Sudan a pregnant doctor has been sentenced to hang for apostasy for marrying a Christian man. Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, 27, was raised a Christian by her mother; however, her father was a Muslim. The Court in Khartoum also sentenced her to 100 lashes for having illicit sexual relations, her 2011 marriage having been deemed invalid. The sentence has been deferred until after the baby’s birth, and she can also appeal.
Notice that the man has not been sentenced for seducing a Moslem woman. The Epicurean Court of Justice has just sentenced the members of the Court to twenty years, without sexual relations of any kind whatsoever, for misogyny, sexism, crude violence and misinterpretation of the Koran.
It seems the most extraordinary disconnect: we can discover planets in the solar system that have water on them; we can cure previously incurable diseases – and yet we cannot seem to work out a way of treating women as equals to men in some parts of the world, or allow people to live their private lives without some control freak bullying them and even killing them because of some antiquated religious belief!
This blog spends a certain amount of time knocking organised religion and the control freaks who have inhabited priestly vestments over the centuries. Let us separate the sometimes well-meaning, sometimes ignorant, blather from what we know and what, maybe, we will never know.
We know that the universe is 13 billion years old. We know it is expanding and might well contract sometime. We know the universe is flat, we know a little bit about dark matter, and we have a sneaking suspicion that our universe may be just one of many, and that we on Earth could be one huge accident, a one in a billion offchance. In other words we are alone, an exception in a dark, cold space. Every year we know more, but what we may never know is what preceded the big bang and why, out of what did we come and into what are we expanding. The idea of space without end or purpose is hard to fathom.
So when a religious person “quotes’ God saying, “I said I made the universe, but I never said how I did it, or why”, then we have to concede that, since we know so little, it is arrogant to say that there can be no Prime Mover. What the odds are against is the personal god of the Christian church who hears and answers prayers about petty matters. Prayers may be psychologically efficacious, but the chances of anyone out there answering and doing anything about them are all down to coincidence and chance. What we can agree on is that the universe is mind-blowingly wonderful. But, as matters stand, we simply don’t know what preceded the big bang. Mind you, given the speed of scientific progress even this might be solved in due course. Who could have foreseen, in 1900, the state of knowledge in 2014?
Meanwhile, Epicureans can say “I don’t know” or even espouse the idea of the prime mover, and no one should mock them. To say “I don’t know” is o.k. Meanwhile, the whole subject is amazing and exciting.
Morals are simply the accumulated common sense of scores of generations of people gathered together in settlements, villages and towns. How, they asked themselves, can we live together? The rules they made up as a result are now called ethics and morals, including common sense ideas like not lusting after your neighbour’s wife, nor his ass.
Where organised religion has been useful is in codifying these rules of conduct, not making them up. Many people are alive to the sudden opportunity or the next temptation, but at least the muftis, rabbis, mullahs and priests remind them of the rules. Otherwise some might slip into careless ways, shall we say. The Ten Commandments comprise a typical, handy list.
The other thing organised religion is good for is to frighten, or, more kindly, discipline the populace. This it does by threatening fire and brimstone and telling the guys to obey the ruler and pay their taxes, or they will end up in hell. If you are a king this is rather a useful prop to your regime.
But to go further and claim. as some do (e.g Mr. Theo Hobson) that without religion there is no morality is, in my opinion, bunkum. Epicurus believed that law and morality change according to the needs of any particular society and epoch. This couldn’t be the case if they are determined by an eternal god.
In Senegal the test of success is still to have a big family. In the Washington Post of March 16, 2014 Allyn Gaestal interviewed a 76 year old farmer called Hadji Fally Diallo, who has taken the writings of the prophet literally and has three wives and 30, yes 30, children. “With 30 children some can go into the fields, some can deal with the cattle, some can go abroad. It’s a lot of money you can have with this size family, so that is a lot of power”.
If you hadn’t read it in the Washington Post you would never have believed it (and maybe we shouldn’t, it is so irresponsible). Here we are with a world population of 7 billion, stressed for water, facing global warming and high food prices, and this man is oblivious to it. Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the imams, who will have nothing to do with contraception, better family health or the economic benefits brought with smaller families. The prophet tells them: “You are my people. Multiply”, and “It is the duty of god to take care of the family”. Duty?
The hadji should get on his bike or bullock and find work for himself, not expect his wives and children to do it all for him. This is the Epicurean way – fairness and the equal division of labour and effort.
Even with 70,000 animals on board, Noah’s Ark could have floated, say researchers at the University of Leicester. If the Ark was 300 cubits long, 50 cubits wide and 30 cubits high it could have accommodated samples of all the planet’s animal species (estimated to have been numbered around 35,000). The team, at the University of Leicester, worked out that the Ark was around 472ft long (roughly half the length of the Titanic). They then estimated the weight of the animals that would have needed to get on board, the density of the water, and its buoyancy force.
Fellas, it’s just a story. It might possibly have a tenuous, historical basis, but mainly it’s a tale to illustrate a religious point about god’s wrath etc, a story to frighten the believers (frightening is big in the bible). Epicurus would have been all in favour of the description of the flood, as presented in the wonderful English of the King James bible. But he would have treated it as literature, not fact. Don’t take it so seriously. And go and do something scientifically useful for the rest of us!
Two previous Popes, John XXIII and John Paul II, have been canonized. You are supposed to be canonized after extensive scrutiny and two examples of miracles (successful intercession with God) are established. If you are immediately and permanently cured overnight from a terminal illness after praying to a saint, then that is a miracle.
Epicurus would probably say that if praying to a saint cures you, then why not do it. Science and medical documentation do not come into it. You are alive and happy, and you believe what you believe. Others of us would prefer to be treated by medical experts, based on scientifically established principles and a stellar track record. Two cures, immediate and permanent, are not enough for me, speaking personally.
It is believed that the end of the ice age saw massive flooding as the ice receded, so the legend of Noah may have had some basis in historical fact, even though it is presented in the bible as a survival parable and folk tale. There are so many practical, er, difficulties with the story, if taken literally, that sensible people regard it as more a piece of poetry than an historical account.
But out come the nutters, protesting as usual, as if they had any better idea of what actually happened than you or I. These Old Testament tales are simply tribal, half- remembered histories, recounted and altered – generation by generation – down the centuries and put on papyrus by some smart scribe with no evidence before him, except for what his Dad and Grandad told him. You shouldn’t take them too literally.
However, Noah is important to Epicureans in one respect: Noah is represented as respecting and loving the beasts of the field and the fowl of the air, which is more than a lot of self-professed religious people do nowadays, causing deep stress among their fellow creatures and driving them to extinction. We should honour Noah for his sensitivity and care for the environment.
I find it morally repugnant to bring into this world children who are unwanted and unloved.
If the principal objectives of Epicureanism are happiness and contentment, then it follows that children should be conceived, born and reared in warmth, love and friendship. Force majeure employed by those claiming to know the mind of God seek to force women to forego family planning and bear children, often conceived in violence or indifference. This is the cause of lifelong misery and unhappiness for many millions and untold social problems, mostly among the poor and socially deprived.
One of the biggest problems facing the world is over-population. The reluctance to address it arises from several factors, but one of the most disturbing is the belief of most religions that life should be preserved at any cost (literally). This attitude is primeval. It goes back to the days when the population was small, the planet large and empty, and lives short. Families relied on the annual birth of a child for labour in the fields and support in old age.
Now we have 7 billion people, insufficient water, land and jobs. Climate change is reducing food production, and growth has stalled. Still the ideologues insist that crippled and autistic babies be brought into the world and that women who raped should bear the resulting children. No matter that they are unloved. This attitude is at best unrealistic. I would maintain it is cruel as well as being stupid.
Please would a religious person who supports the “life at any price” doctrine explain why they think they are right? I genuinely want to know.
There is an emerging trend in British universities towards gender apartheid. This has no foundation in Islam. Indeed, the Koran explicitly sanctions the concept of legitimate social intermingling in Chapter 24:61. The distorted dogma of sexual segregation is an archaic pre-Islamic patriarchal throwback that is now in vogue in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. This non-Koranic custom is currently gaining traction in the UK because of uncontested Wahhabi-Salafi propaganda. Religious zealots are imposing their contagious sexist doctrines, financed by Saudi petrodollars, to recreate a mythical seventh century Utopia. But this anachronistic male chauvinism is not what pristine Islam teaches. Indeed, Koranic Islam actively champions an erudite, enlightened and egalitarian way of life that embraces dignity, justice and parity for everyone. This is a primitive blight. Right-thinking Muslims must not allow a foreign-inspired ideology and local fundamentalists to poison the content and character of British Islam. (Adapted from a letter to the Independent from Dr T Hargey, Director and Imam, Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford).
How refreshing to see an imam standing up for common sense and opposing the medieval views of desert camel drovers! Epicureans might not share Dr. Hargey’s devotion to Islam, but certainly applaud these reasonable and decent views. Britain has welcomed immigrants from all over the world in huge numbers. There has to be a limit to how a small number of them are allowed to bully and cajole their fellow citizens into practices antithetical to the prevailing culture of freedom and equality (which begs a question, but it approximates the truth!).
Scientology is hard to take seriously. Its founder, L. Ron Hubbard, claimed that 75 million years ago a galactic dictator called Xenu brought billions of people, known as Thetans, to Earth (then known as Teegeeack) and blew them up with hydrogen bombs. Today, their frozen souls “loiter and make us crabby unless we know how to deal with them – which is, obviously, by joining Tom Cruise and John Travolta in becoming a Scientologist. Yet, silly though this sounds, is it really any less plausible than, say, the burning bush that spoke to Moses? People call Scientology a cult, because it is accused of separating believers from their families, fleecing them, and bullying those who leave. Yet there are few religions that have not faced such accusations.
If the consequences of religious toleration ever seem silly to you, said Boyd Tonkin in The Independent, then you only need consider the alternative “in 17th century England, maybe, or in the Central African Republic today”. Religious liberty is of course “essential to a free society”, said The Times, “but that doesn’t mean that Scientology should be given, for instance, the same tax advantages as more respectable religions. We must be tolerant, but we needn’t be respectful to a crank organisation espousing absurd doctrines concocted by a pathological fantasist, plagiarist, bigamist and charlatan”. (Tanya Gold in The Sunday Times).
Epicureans have no need of these ludicrous beliefs. The pursuit of happiness (Jefferson was a follower of Epicurus), of friendship, of love, of wonder at the world and universe, and of the acquisition of knowledge are more than sufficient.
Religion has been pushed back by science to the extent that an all-seeing God, in the image of Man, overseeing every minute of his life, seems unlikely. And if science has proved that the whole universe can emerge from nothing, then the final and only justification for organised religion has to be the inculcation of morality: the last bastion.
Where did morality come from?
One of the earliest pieces of written morality are the Ten Commandments (like a lot of the Old Testament, adopted from previous or parallel cultures. But it was written down, which showed progress). But I call the Ten Commandments the “Ten Reminders”, because they are so obvious to any intelligent person interested in self-preservation and simply getting through life without constant battles with the neighbors.
The idea that murder, theft, coveting you neighbor’s wife or his ass is some sort of revolutionary and blinding revelation is too silly for words. By the time of Abraham humans had settled, and were farming, a lot of Egypt and the Fertile Crescent. They were few in number, but they were gathered into villages for defense and mutual support. You can be sure that basic morality and the idea of law, or rules of conduct, were already established. Why? Because it was the obvious thing to do in order to survive. It went along with the whole idea of tribes and villages and being gregarious.
Epicurus would probably tell us that tnis is all very reasonable, but it doesn’t preclude parents giving their children moral instruction and moral example, discipline and self- discipline. Regrettably, with the decline of community and the rise of hyper-capitalism (otherwise known as selfishness and greed), it is ever more important to drill into children the Ten Reminders. And, while they are about it, they could add a few other good principles about getting on with other people. Epicureans may not want to go to lots of meetings , but they value a community.
Until recently, tough restrictions forced Spanish women to go abroad for abortions – in such numbers that regular charter flights to London were set up. In 2010 the Socialist government introduced a new law permitting early-term abortion, bringing Spain into line with the rest of Europe. But now conservative justice minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón wants to turn back the clock, allowing abortion only in cases of rape and severe ill health – to the delight of Spain’s Catholic Church. Voters overwhelmingly oppose the change, but he’s standing firm, arguing it will help protect a woman’s “right to maternity”. He even claims an increase in birth rates is just what Spain needs to get the economy moving.
The new law does not allow for abortion where the baby is likely to be born with disabilities. It does require two doctors to agree that giving birth will cause the patient harm, while under the old law only one was needed. Poor women are expected resort to illegal backstreet clinics, while the better-off will have to go abroad, as they always did before, entrenching class divisions. (Edited from an article in The Week).
Epicurus, the first known philosopher to welcome women as equals into his garden groups, would strongly support allowing women to make their own choices, and would have opposed this persistent intrusion into the bedroom that is a hallmark of reactionaries, nearly all men (!), mark you. And, by the way, making abortion difficult does nothing statistically to increase the population. Another myth. How long do we have to be patient and polite with these people with antediluvian attitudes?
The US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that same-sex married couples in the US are to be granted the same rights under federal law as heterosexual couples – even in states where gay marriage is not permitted or recognised. In a move hailed as a legal landmark by rights campaigners, Holder said all justice department employees – “in every courthouse, in every proceeding” – would be required to give same-sex marriages full and equal recognition under the law. Those rights include the right to refuse to testify against a spouse; the right to visit a spouse in prison; the right to file jointly for bankruptcy; and the right to federal benefits for the surviving spouses of police officers.
Epicureans welcome this belated granting of a basic human right. In their preoccupation with increasing population (and their own adherents) the world religions anethematized homosexuals, who are born thus, not made. Can I say that again? Born, not made! The discrimination against non-heterosexuals, still nastily current in countries like Uganda and Nigeria, is unjust. The Catholics in particular should be ashamed of their outdated and (yet again) un-scientific proscription of homosexuality.
I know someone who thinks that we need many more homosexuals, not less, because of the over-population of the world. Over-population actually presents the greatest threat – barely debated – to continued occupation of the planet by humans. We are wrecking it, and what organised religion should be doing is promoting family planning, not banning it, welcoming same-sex marriage not anathematizing it. As for Uganda and Nigeria – words fail me.
In an article in New American in December 2003, Steve Bonta described Epicureanism thus:
Epicureans believe in an impersonal, indifferent Supreme Being, a universe devoid of spirituality, the absence of an afterlife, and belief that happiness is attained by the pursuit of pleasure. These beliefs cannot be reconciled with that piety and self- restraint so necessary to self-government. (my italics)
In other words we have to be pious (why?), and only religion gives us self-restraint (why?). He thinks we are incapable of working out a moral code without the benefit of priestly input or dire threats of everlasting punishment in the hereafter (why?). This underestimates the ability of human beings to think for themselves. I would remind Mr. Bonta that Catholicism at one point ended up seeming to advocate being miserable (no sex, please) and obeying the powers that be in return for hope of a life in the next world, replete with choirs and harps! In short, his words imply the idea that only threats can make us responsible citizens and decent, caring neighbors. I have to admit that people have to be educated and encouraged to think for themselves – for some it doesn’t come naturally. But why let the priest think for you?
Steve Bonta comes from a long line of people who:
(a) Mischievously misrepresent Epicurean teachings about pleasure (nothing to do with gorging yourself and drinking yourself under the table).
(b) Ignore the things done in the name of religion for thousands of years. Organized religion is increasingly associated with tribalism and human division. Pope Francis is a good man, but even he has a huge job when you consider that 30% of so-called “millenials” in the US are unaffiliated with any religion whatsoever, a growing proportion, and only 36% describe themselves as religious. There is a reason for that.
(c) Fail to recognise the role of religions as essential props of regimes throughout history. (“Sorry you and your kids are starving, but think of your reward in Heaven. Now pay your taxes, or else!”, intones the clergyman from the pulpit. “Obey the law and cause no problems”). One can do better than that!
Penguin Books have been forced to withdraw all copies of a book called “The Hindus: an Alternative History” by an American academic, Wendy Doniger. Doniger talked about the importance of women, sexuality and the very poor of India who exist at the bottom of the caste system of India. This inflamed the good ‘ole boys of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, an extreme conservative Hindu group that polices everything said about Hindus, regularly forcing educational authorities to remove “objectionable” passages from school textbooks and excluding certain books from university libraries. The nearest analogy seems to be the Catholic Inquisition and the merry book-burning that went along with enforcing the faith.
Unfortunately, religious extremism is in this case muddled up with politics, because the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, might well form the next government of India, and although they officially disagree with censorship, the fact is that a religion-based political organisation is vying for power and could use it to terrorize non-Hindus.
So much harm is still being done in the name of religion. Epicurus believed that the Greek gods quarreled and made love on top of mount Olympus and took no interest in human lives. This charming picture was a not-so-subtle way of saying there were no gods to bother with. India could do with an Epicurus, it seems.
Belgium has become the first country in the world to remove all age restrictions on euthanasia, meaning that terminally ill children under the age of 18 will now be able to request a lethal injection from doctors to end their lives. The extension of the country’s 2002 law on euthanasia, approved by parliament last week following a highly charged and emotional debate, means that Belgium will have even more radical laws on mercy killings than the Netherlands, where children aged 12 and above can request to die. The measure had faced strong opposition from an alliance of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders. Belgium will only permit euthanasia where a child is terminally ill and close to death, is suffering beyond medical help, and is able to request and fully understand euthanasia. The request must have been assessed and approved by doctors and psychologists, and must have the support of the patient’s parents. (The Week)
Euthanasia is an Epicurean thing. If you believe in pleasure and happiness, then what could be worse than having a deadly disease or being 24/7 on a ventilator for months or years. Epicurus would no doubt have supported all the necessary assessments and the approval of doctors, but would have said that when life no longer can offer pleasure and fulfillment you should be able to end it, if that were your personal, considered decision. It is your life, no one elses, and no priest should have a say in the matter. The worship of “life” as an end in itself is ridiculous. I personally want to leave this world when I think I can offer no further value or love to my wife, my family and my friends. I don’t want strangers with their own agendas making decisions that do not take into account my wishes.
In a Washington Post article on February 8th, Herb Silverman says, “Many people create a deity who elects to spend eternity only with those who believe in his existence. I would rather create a deity who …..would base her decision on behavior instead of beliefs, who would want a relationship with honest, rational people who look for evidence before taking a position…….My kind of Supreme Being would rather we worship no gods than false gods. He or she would be more loving than the God proclaimed by conservative Christians – one who tortures people forever for not believing that Jesus is Lord”.
As Mr. Silverman says, over the tens of thousands of years of human existence Man has believed in a plethora of gods and goddesses, some personal, some who intervene in human affairs, some who sit and mind their own business on top of a mountain, some who reward or punish individuals in the afterlife, some who care about behavior, some who care about beliefs. There is even an American God who promises to make you rich – provided you make an immediate down-payment. Mmmmh!
Were we in business school we would be told that the market for gods has undergone massive consolidation. The old gods are living in retirement homes, and ancient beliefs, no doubt fiercely held at the time, are no more. Remaining religions are unable to agree on a definition of god, are historically intolerant of others, and are individually convinced they are “right”. Meanwhile, suffering abounds, regardless of belief or non-belief and help from heaven has not so far been forthcoming. It would transform our lives if it did, of course.
Makes you want to be a rational, happy Epicurean, doesn’t it, taking pleasure in life and not worrying about what happens in the afterlife?
(Herb Silverman is founder and president emeritus of the Secular Coalition of America. www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/ )
A new book by Bart Ehrman, “Forgery and Counter-forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics” demonstrates that many of the Epistles were forgeries, designed to reinforce a particular point of view in the new religion that had broken away from Judaism and which was anxious to build up credibility and a (fictitious past). Some of the writing was part of a fierce debate as to whether Jesus was or was not going to return very soon. So far he has not deigned to do so.
Meanwhile Candida Moss, in “The Myth of Persecution” takes an axe to early Christian martyrology, suggesting that it was made up in the fourth and fifth centuries, creating an attitude of inevitable conflict with non-Christians, and justifying the persecution of dissidents and members of other faiths.
The steady drip of expert research is demolishing part of the edifice of belief that has justified church intolerance through the centuries. Epicureanism, on the other hand, has no deus ex machina “certainties” and is a rational variant of humanism, without priests and control-freak leaders, that suits those who think for themselves. Counter-tribal, I call it, a creed for those who tend toward introversion and scepticism about the supernatural. Neither Christianity nor Epicureanism is either right or wrong; it’s about what suits you personally. But you need to know the provinance of the beliefs you are believing in!
“Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you laughing now, for soon you will mourn” (Luke 6:24-25)
“The first shall be last and the last shall be first” (Mathew 19:30)
“How hard it will be for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom of God”. (Mark 10:23)
“Blessed are you who are poor, for the Kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry for you shall be fed. Blessed are you who mourn for you shall be comforted” (Luke 6:24-25).
Just in case you don’t know, all the above are quotes from Jesus of Nazareth.
Wasn’t there also something about rich men and the eye of a needle?
Unknown (apparently) to themselves the christian right in America are supporting a fire-brand revolutionary, a sort of early nationalist, a “neo-communist” (shudder!), who was intent on throwing the Romans out, along with their fellow travelers. He championed the poor, not the rich, and would have deplored the existence of the black underclass, not starved them of education, opportunity and even the vote. Which is why these Americans are not christians, but worshippers of …..what? Money?
Epicureans have nothing against Jesus of Nazareth; it is the hypocrites they find tiresome.
Some while ago the New York Times carried an article by Bob Goldman that proposed Life Panels for the very elderly. These would be groups of friends and professional people with the legal authority to ensure that a person near death actually gets what they have asked for in a nursing home or hospital.
End of life medical costs are huge in comparison to the more modest cost of treating younger people, often running at $100,000 a year or more for the elderly sick. Even a Living Will will not protect you in hospital, because the judgment of the doctors override it when it comes to the mental capacity of the patient. Part of the reason for the reluctance of doctors to pull the plug is the fear of subsequent legal action. This fear is overcome because a Life Panel would take full responsibility and would be be protected from prosecution, deciding on the use of intravenous morphine or a fentanyl patch according to the request of the sick person, thus allowing him or her a timely and respectful death.
We are all living longer, and must face the consequences of this fact. Right-wingers and Roman Catholics, who take the view that all life is sacred, regardless of age and circumstance, might reflect on the huge cost of end-of-life procedures to Medicare, the National Health Service and other national health organisations and the reduction in tax that would result in the adoption of Life Panels.
Epicurus believed that life should be a pleasure, not a torment to aged sufferer and to family. He would approve of Life Panels.
Happy Christmas to our numerous readers. Here is something to humbly ponder upon over the holiday:
A new book by Michael Ryan, “Decoding Al Qaida’s Strategy: the Deep Battle against America”, among other things, discusses what it is that Al Qaida and its loose affiliates (and by extension much of the Islamic world) so heartily detests about the West:
– the creation and subsequent abandonment of the mujaheddin fighters against the USSR
– the abandonment of habeas corpus implicit in extraordinary rendition
– detention without trial in Guantanimo
– the humiliation and torture of prisoners in Iraq
– the crude use of drones in Pakistan,Somalia and Yemen
– the NSA’s disregard for personal privacy
– the sense of humiliation meted out by colonial European powers, and the thirst on behalf of so many Moslems for dignity and respect
– the bullying of Moslem countries (Iran is an example) for commercial objectives over many years, and support for reactionary regimes (e.g Saudi, Egypt under Mubarak)
– the feeling that the United Nations, the multi-nationals, internet providers, global news media and even the aid agencies use puppet regimes in the Middle East to continue the colonial project by other means (at least, this is how they seem to see it).
And this does not even address the activities of Israel, which continues its self-defeating policies and land theft, protected by the US. Nor does it cover the distaste of many Moslems for the coarse Western culture that promotes violence, pornography and tasteless vulgarity around the world.
Epicurus would have no time for caliphates, cutting off people’s hands or murdering people in the name of religion. But he might see the point that we seem unable to understand the other side’s point of view or to see the motes in our own eyes. You have to be obtuse not to see that, collectively, we need a wake-up call. In 2014 I hope we can drop the arrogance.
The sultan of Brunei has announced that he is imposing a strict new criminal code based on sharia law. There is already a sharia Islamic court in Brunei, but it mainly handles family matters. Next year, the 280,000 Muslims in the country will be subject to a tough new penal code that is expected to include amputation for theft, and death by stoning for adultery. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, 67, who is one of the world’s wealthiest men, called the code “a part of the great history of our nation”.
Many years ago I visited Brunei and unexpectedly met the sultan in his old palace. It would have been most enjoyable, except for the fact that I had two small, boiling hot, very over-tired children with me. Ignoring parents and good manners, they racketed around the audience room, out if control and sorely embarrassing their parents.
Well, Epicurus would have said that you must put it aside, learn from these life experiences and try to do better. Nonetheless, I read the above news item and got to worry as to whether the behaviour of the children could have been the initial seeds of a new Islamist revolution in Westernized Brunei, as in, “if this is how Western kids behave, I guess I need to introduce the chopping off of hands, stoning and capital punishment” (confession: I could have instantaneously introduced sharia law for the kids myself at the time). It is sometimes the simplest things, never planned or intended, that change the course of events. If this is an example, I humbly apologise to the citizens of Brunei, and hope I am being over-sensitive.
The Pope has just criticized so-called “trickle-down” economics as having no basis either in theory or in practice. “A crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power”. Wonderful!
Trickle-down economics was always an excuse for supporting the rich against the less rich. If it worked at all it would be working now. You have a record gap between rich and poor and a tiny minority earning millions a year. There is absolutely no evidence of “trickle-down”, and no evidence that the Bush tax cuts did anything for the nation or for the economy either, except to encourage some billionaires to say “thank you” to one political party.
Epicureanism stands for moderation and equal opportunities for all citizens. Epicurus would have been appalled that specious theories that are contrary to experience and common sense are peddled to justify divisive policies. But he wouldn’t be surprised!
Thank you, your Holiness!
“Ut sit magna, tamen certe lenta ira deorum est”. (Juvenal, Satirae, XIII, 100). The wrath of the gods may be great, but it is certainly slow.
Epicurus gave a nod to the gods on Mt. Olympus. He believed that they might well exist, but that they were too busy politicking among themselves, drinking too much and seducing the lady gods to have time for humans, and they certainly did not involve themselves in the boring and tawdry minutiae of life here below. Thus, says Epicurus, there are no personal gods that will do anything for you, and it is therefore folly to fear them (Epicurus put all this more poetically; this is the gist of what he had to say).
No country likes to look poverty full in the face, but in America there is a special reluctance to do do. Since the Puritans, Americans have associated wealth with blessing and poverty with curse. According to capitalist ideology, poverty is less a social problem than a series of individual failures. A prosperous middle class showed, until recently, that hard work paid off.
But since 2008 the American middle class has lost its footing. Unaccountability, powerlessness, and the loss of control over one’s own destiny are sapping the morale of people still in work, not to mention those out of it. Those who work for government are “devastated by the capital’s stasis, conformity and corruption”.
The frightening thing is that the postwar consensus, in which business, labor and government worked together to guarantee a growing economy, full employment and political stability has been “unwound”. The social compact is now like “Paradise Lost”. The old institutions don’t work, and the void is now filled by “the default force in American life – organised money”. It’s all about “greed and civic irresponsibility”. (Adapted from a review of “The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America,” by George Packer (Faber) in the August edition of “Prospect” magazine).
Those who espouse Epicureanism have to face the fact the they are in a tiny minority – in fact all those with any common sense are as well. As we edge back into poverty of pocket and spirit, back into the conservative nirvana of sub-feudal deference and household servants, let us enjoy friendship, good conversation, laughter and wine, (if climate change lets us), in beautiful gardens. Clearly, religion has failed the majority of us, as has political leadership and institutions. God has proved over the years that he cannot help us, but we can help ourselves.
Pacific Academy in British Colombia, describes itself as “unabashedly Christian to the core” and gives enrolment priority to students whose families regularly attend a Pentecostal church or have experienced glossolalia, also known as speaking in tongues.
Parents who want to enrol their children at Pacific Academy must sign a family statement agreeing with Scripture teachings that marriage is between a man and a woman, (same sex couples are excluded from applying), and a faith statement that “invites God’s Holy Spirit to be active in the daily life of the school.” There is no expectation that students will speak in tongues, headmaster Paul Horban said, but they should be aware before enrolling that the school accepts glossolalia as a gift from the Holy Spirit.
What is expected from all students, however, is service, and that’s emphasized with a biblical phrase inscribed on a wall at the school’s main entrance: “Whoever would be greatest must be least — and the servant of all.”
The non-profit society that operates the school — the Pacific Pentecostal Education and Communication Society — received $5.8 million in government funding last year, which is 50 per cent of the operating grant provided to public schools. (The Week, May 23, 2013)
What this information does not include is any clue about how science, for instance, is taught, if it is taught at all. Are the students taught creationism? Is evolution taught, and if so, how? What do kids learn about global warming, other religions, history, the age of the planet etc? Is the taxpayer contributing to the production of human beings who are ignorant and unsuited to normal employment?
Epicurus would probably have said that the study of religion (all religion) is a valid part of the curriculum, but the indoctrination of kids in one specific religion is against the spirit of modern education. All too many people have at best a fuzzy idea of the meaning of the word “education”. The idea of thinking critically is not associated with religious schooling.