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.
Islamic teachings on whether women have to cover their faces date back to the seventh century. The niqab is not specifically mentioned in the Koran. There are, however, verses that refer to a woman’s obligation to cover herself with the khimar, a type of headscarf, and the jilbab, an outer garment, when in the presence of men who are not relatives. The majority view is that it is acceptable to display faces and hands. The number of women in Britain who wear the niqab, has rocketed over the past 20 years and is now “in the tens of thousands”. It is younger women, many of them British-Muslim converts, who are driving the trend.
The revival is partly linked to the rise in Wahhabism, the branch of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia, and other traditionally conservative branches of Islam, but is mainly down to Muslim communities clinging to a vibrant faith as Britain becomes increasingly irreligious. “There has been a resurgence in Muslim identity and many of the religious authorities in Britain are advocating covering one’s face. The idea is that the more covered you are, the holier you are.” Hasan believes few women in Britain are coerced into wearing the niqab. In fact, he says, many of the younger generation are the first in their families to do so: “Rather than understanding the faith in a more nuanced way, as often their parents did, for whom faith is about the quality of your character, your heart and your outlook on life, they seize on literal interpretations. If you lack that depth of understanding of Islam it’s easy to hold on to outward symbols – for men, it’s growing a beard and for young women it’s covering up.”
Some moderate Muslims feel more strongly about it. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown argued in The Independent recently that fully veiled women “hinder progressive Islam”. She wrote: “We Muslims are already unfairly thought of as the enemy within. Niqabs make us appear more alien, more dangerous and suspicious. If it is a provocation for the Ku Klux Klan to cover up so they can’t be recognised, it is for Muslims too.” (Adapted from an article by Usama Hasan of the anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation).
Epicurus believed in living while you are alive. He advocated pleasure, on the basis that this is the only life you have, and why be miserable? He didn’t advocate excess, but the enjoyment of friends, of nature, of wine (in moderation), and good food( also in moderation). None of this chimes with ascetic Islamism where you can’t even see through your niqab properly, or see obstructions on the sidewalk. If you want to return to the Middle Ages, do so in the Empty Quarter, complete with camel.
Pope Francis has reached out to atheists and agnostics, reassuring them that the Christian God will “forgive” them as long as they behave morally and follow their consciences. He did so as part of his recent interview with La Repubblica, commented upon previously on this blog.
If one has doubts about the existence of a god who apparently has time to concern himself with the morals, petty doings and beliefs of us mortals, insignificant specks in space and time, why should one be bothered one way or another with the Pope’s views? We should, like all educated and civilised people, listen to the Pope with respect, but I don’t think Epicureans should pause a moment to ponder his “forgiveness”, or that of the god he claims to speak for. I guess atheists and agnostics follow their consciences and share about the same level of morality as any average Christian. So, in a presentation that is otherwise encouraging, this is patronizing.
Epicurus bowed to the gods of Ancient Rome. He thought that they might well exist up there on Mount Olympus, but if they did they spent their time eating, drinking and quarreling (and seducing one another), and did not involve themselves in the lives of mortals, let alone dispense “forgiveness”.
But, patronizing or no, it is reassuring to have the Pope thinking positively about us, instead of anethematising us. Keep talking, your holiness.
The interview recently given by the Pope is most interesting. Here is the first Jesuit Pope for centuries, a subtle and clever man, who has kept his real feelings hidden well enough to be elected. The Jesuits were known as a the “storm troopers of the Counter-Reformation”, and here they are again, trying to combat justified disillusionment and steer the church in a more modern and inclusive direction.
But with gentle hints. He makes a big thing of taking time making decisions. He stresses the need to consult. He notes the Church has been wrong before. He says he is, first and foremost, a sinner himself. He talks about discernment (by which I assume he means judgement) and the context of time and place. This latter phrase is important. He may realise that persecuting homosexuals and opposing their marriage is ridiculous when it is now scientifically clear that homosexuals are such by the accident of birth, not choice. He may understand that the biblical exhortation to “go forth and multiply” was fine in the Iron Age but is inappropriate with a global population over 7 billion (in other words, let’s drop the campaign against contraception?). He also knows that most people hate the idea of abortion and only go through the ordeal with very good reason. To condemn women and force them to have unwanted children is cruel.
Epicurus would approve of this measured approach, but in reality the Pope is firing a shot over the bows of the old reactionaries. If so, it may prove a wild ride. Good luck!
The greatest threat to the future of the human race is the number of humans. And yet this subject is rarely raised. Businesses want a growing population to swell the growth of demand, and thus profits. But a growing population requires an expanding social and physical infrastructure, such as roads, schools and hospitals. It is also a fact that a growing population puts an unbearable pressure on water resources, forests, arable land, and the things that nature provides and sustains us, and exacerbates the problem of global warming caused by human activity.
I have just returned from Istanbul, a wonderful city, but one where the teeming mass of locals seems to be 30 or under, and where older people are noticeable by their relative absence. This phenomenon apparently applies all over the Middle East in particular, fueling the current political unrest. How do you offer livelihoods to such huge numbers?
Even in London you are struck by the baby boom and the number of push chairs on the streets. Common sense tells us there has to be a limit.
Commentators tell us not to worry – the rate of world population increase is declining. What they don’t tell us is that it still continues to grow and that it grows from a hugely inflated base. Their handling of statistics isn’t exactly dishonest, just misleading.
The short-sighted silence about this subject is exacerbated by the world religions, notably the Catholics and Moslems, who believe that life is sacred but are silent about its quality. God will not actually provide, my friends! You are living in dreamland. Epicureans should expose the dangers facing the little children (not to mention the less little) in the world today and not be afraid to talk about this worrisome subject. What will become of this and future generations? How you reverse the trend when the media themselves refuse to draw attention to it is a problem. We must do what we can.
Rationalist campaigner Narendra Dabholkar, was assassinated recently for exposing the fraudulent practices of “miracle workers” in the state of Maharashtra. He had collected evidence showing how thousands of women are victims of “vicious” magic rituals, often at the behest of male relatives; in remote areas they’re even burnt as sacrifices. And he had shown that far from doing anything to stop such abuses, state ministers, keen to secure the votes of Hindu traditionalists, actively patronise the “saints” and magic men, sometimes resorting to black magic themselves to try to destroy rivals. Every case of exploitation that Dabholkar exposed turned out to involve some guru sponsored by a politician. The traditionalists felt threatened by the success of his campaign and the situation became critical when he seemed on the verge of gaining enough votes in the state parliament to ban such practices. Doubtless that’s why he was killed. (Kumar Ketkar, Tehelka, New Delhi)
Epicureanism stands for the rejection of superstition, miracles, and con-men.
“When Al Jazeera, the Qatari-owned broadcaster, bought Al Gore’s cable channel for $500m to gain a toe-hold in the US market, executives knew they wouldn’t “get the red-carpet treatment”. But the station’s experience in Britain – where initial scepticism gave way to critical acclaim – might have persuaded them that a similar feat could be pulled off in the US. No one foresaw “the level of hostility” they would actually meet. The channel launched last month with half the expected advertising after evangelical groups called on followers to boycott any product featured on “Terror Television” (or “Al Jihad”). Now a Republican lawmaker, Kieran Michael Lalor, has written to the bosses of the US’s biggest cable operators demanding they drop Al Jazeera from their basic packages, “or face commercial sanctions””. (Katherine Rushton, The Daily Telegraph).
The ignorance of these people is astounding! If they bothered to watch Al Jazeera and find out something about it, other than the fact that it is owned by Qatar, they would discover a TV channel that not only reports world news, but analyses it from every angle, They would learn that the staffing is safely Western and the coverage thoughtful. It is giving the BBC a run for its money in the UK, and subscribers actually learn something about the background to the news. In contrast, American news services rely on news agencies for their material, have few correspondents on the ground, and, (pace Fox News) the coverage is biased and full of personal views, irrelevant debate and comments from people with no international knowledge or perspective.
Al Jazeera is the best news channel to watch for those with open minds, that is, Epicureans.
The British National Health Service, spends vast sums fire-proofing itself against claims. Every patient seems out to sue someone, either for causing their misfortune or treating it wrongly. American defensive medicine has arrived in Britain. NHS trusts let personal injury lawyers advertise their services in hospitals and even set up offices inside them. Ambulance-chasing lawyers say “no win, no fee” ads help the vulnerable. “This is utterly immoral and predatory, the ruin of all of us. (Melanie Reid, The Times).
This is a relatively new phenomenon in Britain and a direct import from the United States. Republicans point to the activities of lawyers adding to the already huge cost of healthcare in the US, and they have a point. There are too many unfair attacks on doctors, most of whom do a good job. It is over the top (and thus un-Epicurean). Too many lawyers enter the profession, that is part of the problem, and they have to follow ambulances to make a living. We, the taxpayers, pay the price. Ridiculous!
Atheists are smarter than those who believe in God. At any rate, a couple of surveys suggest they tend to have higher IQs. But when it comes to who lives a healthier and more fulfilled life the advantages are all on the side of religious folk. in 2006, researchers at the University of Texas found that the more often people went to church, the longer they tended to live; a Duke University study found churchgoers tend to have lower blood pressure and stronger immune systems. Other recent studies show that believers recover faster from surgery than their heathen peers, and have better outcomes from breast cancer and coronary disease, even after adjusting for the fact that they tend to smoke and drink less, and take fewer drugs. They enjoy better mental health, too, as a UCLA study of college students has found. To top it all, believers are nicer: they give more to charity than atheists, “who, according to the very latest survey, are the meanest of all”. Atheists smarter? I don’t think so. (Sean Thomas on Telegraph.co.uk.24aug)
Note that the studies are all American,and that in America atheists come close to Al Queda terrorists in the public esteem. In the US charity giving statistics are skewed by including church expenses as charitable giving. A recent study shows that church goers give money for the church buildings and for the upkeep of the pastor, but fall well behind atheists in giving to charity. And how do you arrive at a professional finding that one group is “nicer” than another?
As for the assertion of the writer about health this is counter-intuitive. Everyone knows that African Americans are very religious, and yet the statistics show that their longevity is less than whites, and their health is generally worse. Disentangling the effect of church seems somewhat tricky.
Are these studies quoted based on hear-say? Which churchgoer is to admit churchgoing doesn’t make you feel better and get you over breast cancer and coronary disease? And what constitutes churchgoing – once a year, once. a month, every week or every day? Don’ feel you have to believe all this!
On the return flight from his trip to Brazil last month Pope Francis astonished reporters by holding an 80-minute press conference, in the course of which he remarked: “If a person is gay and seeks God, and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” What a change after weary years of moralising on sexual ethics. After the eight-year “twilight” pontificate of Benedict XVI, so mired in scandals, this is the facelift the Church needs. (adapted from reports in Le Monde and Der Standard, Vienna)
But there is no change to doctrine: he may want the Church to treat gays with respect, but he said nothing against its continuing “zero tolerance” for homosexual acts. He also reiterated that the door is closed to women seeking ordination. But atleast he has a genuine concern for the poor and has little patience with Vatican corruption. Epicureans should raise one out of three cheers.
“…. the primary epiphenomena of any religion’s foundation are the production and flourishment of hypocrisy, megelomania and psychopathy, and the first casualties of the religion’s establishment are the intentions of its founder.” (page 157, “Birds without Wings”, by Louis de Bernieres)
Epicurus, from his perch in the afterlife would no doubt say, “plus ca change”. Louis de Betnieres is here commenting on Turkish Islam, the Greek Orthodox church and various variants of the two.
But his quotation holds for most religions.
Will terrorists kill innocent civilians in the years to come? Of course…. But there is no way to completely eliminate terrorism.
How we will live with that threat? We have created …. a national psychology of fear that Al Qaeda could never have achieved on its own. More Americans will die in car crashes, of gunshot wounds inflicted by family members and by falling off ladders than from any attack by al Qaeda.
There is always the nightmare of terrorists acquiring and using a weapon of mass destruction. But nothing would give our terrorist enemies greater satisfaction than that we focus obsessively on that remote possibility, and restrict our lives and liberties accordingly.
(An abbreviated version of an article by Ted Koppel in the Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2013 “America’s Chronic Overreaction to Terrorism”)..
The problem is that Republicans can’t wait for a terrorist attack with which to flay Obama, and Obama knows it. So every future President will have to maintain the preposterous “national security” apparatus or face accusations of incompetence and un-americanism.
Epicurus, were he alive today, would call for moderation. But how would he, given the viscious politics, deal with this problem? Probably by throwing his hands up and returning to his Garden.
“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
Einstein wondered at the intricate rationality of the universe. It persuaded him that “something” must have laid down the basic structure, physics and chemistry that is the basis of the billions of galaxies and stars (and maybe the multiple universes). Whether you call this force a prime mover or designer, “it” has avoided the detailed outcome, allowing evolution to make a host of mistakes and reach many dead ends, before life as we know it on our little planet reached its present, still unsatisfactory, state. Thus, I personally would not like to bet against a prime mover, but agree with both Einstein and Epicurus than such a force takes not the slightest interest in the inconsequential lives of human beings.
It is a fact that Epicurus did not question the existence of the gods. He just denied that they involved themselves in individual lives. Great minds think alike.
On May 23rd Pope Francis reached out to atheists with a sentence that concluded, “Just do good, and we’ll find a meeting point.”
Atheists, he said, should be seen as good people if they do good, and he urged people of all religions — or no religion — to work together. He told the story of a Catholic who asked a priest if even atheists had been redeemed by Jesus. “Even them, everyone,” the pope answered, according to Vatican Radio. “We all have the duty to do good”.
In reaching out to atheists and non-believers Francis appears to be be very different from the former pope. This is a healthy sign, especially now that he is tackling the multiple sets of corrupt Vatican practices that Benedict chose to ignore.
But the leopard still has most of the old spots and has a long way to go (women’s rights and unmarried priests being but two examples). Epicureans can confidently ignore the whole ramshackle business for agood many years to come. Concentrate on rationality, friendship, love and consideration for others, do good and try to abolish fear. You will then be happier than most devotees of the pope.
Religion lays claim to a monopoly of morals, decency, and humane behavior. This claim is based upon dogmatic literature said to be the word of god or a creator, and must therefore be believed and obeyed, or else. Millions have died as a result of taking all this far too seriously. “I am right, get used to it” is the attitude of a religious extremist.
Epicureans, however, believe that most human beings are born inherently decent and moral and biologically pre-disposed toward compassion. Another way of putting it is that intelligent human beings quickly spot the point that treating others as you would like to be treated is simply common sense. Not committing murder or messing with your neighbour’s donkey likewise. There is nothing religious about the Ten Commandments – they are just social good sense.
Epicureans don’t need priests and bishops. In fact, they don’t want anyone telling them what to believe.
God promised the Israelites “this land, from the river of Egypt unto the Euphrates”. This today would include bits of Turkey, Syria and Iraq. So why are the Zionists so quiet about this? Surely, if God made this generous promise, then the ultra-nationalists should be proclaiming their rights to this huge geographical area, and should long ago have relegated Iraqis, Syrians and some Turks to refugee camps. Either God is half-hearted about the promise, or not powerful enough to fulfill it. He has had several thousand years, after all.
These nationalist mythologies are so futile. How much more serious and grown up it is to pursue peace of mind, friendship, and consideration for others and forget lusting after other people’s land and property.
The Most Rev. Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, who sits on the parliamentary Banking Standards Commission in Parliament, has criticised “the culture of entitlement” among London bankers, calling for them to pass professional exams, and advocating the break-up of at least one state-backed institution into smaller regional banks.
Naturally, the not disinterested financial commentariat in the Sunday Telegraph and the London Times, has lost no time in making fun of the Archbishop, a former treasurer in the oil industry, and no fool in the economics arena. But they would, wouldn’t they? Journals owned by Murdoch have no credibility (I refer to The Times. Why is it still being published? And why is Murdoch not in jail?)
It makes a nice change for the Epicurean blog to praise the Church of England, which may be losing adherents, but is certainly on the side of the public.
Epicureanism stands against crony capitalism, management greed and incompetence, and the snooty disregard of wealthy bankers for their fellow citizens.
Wickedness, allied to the “truth” of religious belief, can lead men to heinous acts. For it is this sense of having access to the truth that makes religion the dangerous phenomenon that it so often is. Most of the terrible things human beings do to each other originate in a sense of moral conviction. . (Giles Fraser, The Guardian, June 1st, 2013)
Fraser goes on to say that, while we think the murder in Woolwich is wicked, the perpetrator feels it is right. And feeling right is one of he most powerful alibis for wickedness.
The Christians had their century of horrendous religious civil wars in the I7th Century, both sides basking in the feeling of being “right” (my ancestors were French Huguenots, victims of disgusting violence in the name of Jesus. But, being “right” themselves probably gave as good as they got).
Now it is the turn of the Moslems to have their century (?) of religious violence.
Just stop it. Read about Epicurus, and stop it!
In 1924 Kemal Ataturkand 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. Everywhere in Islam the movement is backwards. The Turkish parliament has just passed a law against alcohol (Ataturk was a huge drinker and died of cirrhosis of the liver). It is no better in the US, where there is a growing disdain for science, and where huge numbers of people 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 or fanaticism.
In 1480 a Turkish force invaded Otranto in Italy, killing 802 people. Catholics claim that they were killed for refusing to convert to Islam. Pope Clement XIV beatified the group in 1771, and now Pope Francis is declaring all 802 saints. He will thus become the Pope with largest number of saints created, overnight.
The Turks, however, furiously deny the story of a religious massacre. They say that the people killed were soldiers, or at least armed men. Italian researchers conclude that some acts of terror were committed by the Turkish invaders to create panic among the Italians around Otranto. But evidence that the 802 were killed for their Christian faith is apparently hard to come by.
I am deeply sorry about deaths in Otranto, as I am deeply sorry about the deaths of Muslims killed by drones today. But 802 saints?
Dear Mr. Pope, read Epicurus! Moderation, please.
The New York Times reports today that crowds, led by Orthodox priests, violently attacked a gay rights demonstration in Tbilisi, Georgia yesterday. The leader of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, compared homosexuals to drug addicts, and called the gay demonstration “a violation of the rights of the majority” of Georgians. One supporter of the Patriarch said she had come to the counter demonstration “to cure their illness”. Priests (who are above the law in Georgia) led the charge that broke through the police protective barrier. They will not be charged with an offense.
One doesn’t need to be a sceptic about reactionary religions to be shocked to read about this event. Epicurus, not an active supporter of the deities, would be appalled. He stood for respect, tolerance and equality for all human beings, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or the color of your eyes. Think how revolutionary that was 2,300 years ago! And some are still treating homosexuality as a disease or a lifestyle choice. Astonishing.
Alain de Botton is a Swiss philosopher living in England. in his new book, Religion for Atheists, he suggests that those who don’t believe in the teachings of the established religions should appropriate some of their ideas. They are good ideas, he says. They include how to:
- build a sense of community
- make our relationships last
- overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy
- escape the twenty-four hour media
- go travelling
- get more out of art, architecture and music
- and create new businesses designed to address our emotional needs.
I respectfully suggest that the major religions long ago appropriated the good ideas of oriental beliefs, plus hunks of Greek philosophy and offered a fine hotch-potch of ideas gleaned from a host of sources, as if they were in supermarkets. By all means be open-minded and take what you can from Christianity and Islam. In doing so also look carefully at the rational ideas of Epicurus, which are based on moderation, friendship, the search for peace of mind, the avoidance of ambition and power, of politics and disagreeable people. You can live your life calmly and ethically without being told what to do by anyone else.
To The Spectator
It is possible that I have been counting myself an atheist for longer than Richard Dawkins – if only because I am almost a decade older than he is. It is only fairly recently, though, that I began subscribing to the Humanist Association, of which Professor Dawkins has long been vice-president. I confess that I joined largely in the hope that membership might one day reduce the likelihood of some well-intentioned priest spouting mumbo-jumbo over my coffin.
Having signed up, I was faintly shocked by the ferocity of the humanist movement. I recognise, for example, that faith schools are intrinsically unfair, but I would be disinclined to deny parents their choice. The children will in any case make up their own minds later. (The world seems to be full of lapsed Catholics.) I cannot even get wound up by the prospect of a handful of bishops occupying seats in the House of Lords. Almost everywhere one looks in the West, religion is losing ground and seems set to go on doing so. With most things going their way, it is unnecessary for humanists to behave like a frustrated minority.
Geoffrey Foster, Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire
Yes, we also believe that time is on our side. But Epicureans are nothing if they are not courteous, considerate of the feelings of others, and, yes, moderate. If you have read the writings of Professor Dawkins and have heard him talk the I think you will agree that people will be lured into the Epicurean fold more with honey than with bile. I’m glad to put Mr. Foster’s letter on this blog.