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Not Traditional, Original

Epicurus

Epicureanism is named after its founder, Epicurus. Epicureanism is one of the philosophies that appeared in Greek culture after the demise of Aristotle. Stoicism was another philosophy that appeared about the same time (we will discuss Stoicism in a future article, but it is important note that Stoicism and Epicureanism competed in the “cultural marketplace” of the time.) Along with Stoicism, it represented the shift in philosophy from the pure Hellenistic roots of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and displayed oriental influence, especially related to resignation and apathy. It was a philosophy built upon the pursuit of peace in unsettling times.

Epicurus (342 – 270 BC) was born in Samos, seven years before the death of Plato. He went to Athens at age 18 to join a Platonic school but could only stay a year because Antipater banished some 12,000 of the poorer citizens from Athens. He was especially stimulated by some of the writings of Democritus and formulated his own philosophy, gradually gathering some disciples. In 307 he was able to return to Athens and he lived there the rest of his life.

Epicurus started a community of men and women following his philosophy. Actually, he built a garden and sought to achieve contentment using his philosophy living in that beautiful place. The co-ed living prompted charges of licentiousness by Stoic opponents. The Stoics even produced forged letters to substantiate their charges, however the many followers of Epicurus, including some authorities, testified to Epicurus’s character.

A common misconception is that the quote “Let us eat drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die” is attributed to the epicureans, but that quote is most closely seen in the Old Testament:

and behold, joy and gladness, slaying oxen and killing sheep, eating flesh and drinking wine: let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we shall die.(Isaiah 22:13)

Contrary to feasting on food and wine, Epicurean community life was plain. Participants generally drank water and ate barley bread with a small portion of wine, and perhaps cheese.  There was no community property, instead there was emphases on friendship and freedom from anxiety.

Epicureans sought to live exempt from anger and partiality, with a disregard for death, and taking no pleasure in evil.[i] They sought to free themselves from the myths that the gods were mysteriously working for and against them in life.

“That which is sublimely happy and immortal experiences no trouble itself nor does it inflict trouble on anything else, so that it is not affected by passion or partiality. Such things are found only in what is weak”[ii]

This Epicurean quote emphasizes the Epicurean discomfort over the idea of gods controlling the affairs of men. That is not to say that Epicurus was atheistic, as he did believe in gods. He simply did not believe that men were affected by any kind of divine intervention.[ii] Epicurus’ challenge to the movement of gods in the cosmos was probably in contrast to the cosmology of Plato and Aristotle who talked of celestial movements as evidence of the gods moving things. Epicureans viewed such attitudes as superstitious and a cause of human anxiety.

If the gods are constantly at work doing things in the cosmos and the world, then men are powerless to achieve happiness on their own. However, if the gods are indifferent to us, and men are capable of steering their own way, then men can achieve happiness by their own choices.  This logic is at the basis of the Epicurean argument

The Epicurean idea of pleasure was freedom from pain, from anxiety, not the hedonistic pursuit of gluttony and lasciviousness, although there is no evidence they practiced abstinence either.

Furthermore, to Epicureans there is no consciousness in death. There is no afterlife. Therefore the sum and total of man’s existence are the days between birth and death, and there is no concern for anything beyond the days of this life. Knowing this removes anxiety, according to Epicurean doctrine.

Religions which preach an afterlife create anxiety in several ways, according to Epicureanism. Religions hoodwink people into thinking they will be benefited both now and in the afterlife by observing certain rituals. Otherwise, if they ignore the rituals they will face a terrible catastrophe. Epicureanism seeks to remove the anxiety over these proposals by saying that the religions are false; the gods are not interested in our rituals, there is neither benefit nor catastrophe by following or disregarding religious rituals. Removing these complications enables us to pursue peace much more simply.

Some sayings of Epicureans show that their emphasis is on seeking peace in simple things like enjoying nature, maintaining a simple life, limiting possessions, emphasizing personal character, seeking the pleasure of the mind over sensual pleasure, being flexible, and valuing friendship:

Nature’s wealth at once has its bounds and is easy to procure; but the wealth of vain fancies recedes to an infinite distance.

The just man enjoys the greatest piece of mind, while the unjust is full of the utmost disquietude.

Pleasures themselves and their consequences – cause the mind the greatest alarms.

He who understands the limits of life knows how easy it is to procure enough to remove the pain of want and make the whole life complete and perfect. Hence he has no longer any need of things which are not to be won save by labor and conflict.

Of all the means which are procured by wisdom to ensure happiness throughout the whole of life, by far the most important is the acquisition of friends.

Nothing we have to fear is eternal or even of long duration… Nothing enhances our security so much as friendship.

There never was an absolute justice, but only an agreement made in reciprocal intercourse in whatever localities now and again from time to time, providing against the infliction or suffering of harm.[iii]

Epicureanism became another one of the Greek philosophies that replaced religion in ancient Greek culture, and impacted cultures throughout the centuries. It was prominent in the culture around the time of Christ, and had an effect on what people believed and practiced. But it was not as powerful an influence as Stoicism, which we will look at next.


[i] EPICUREANS AND STOICS, edited by the Axios Institute, Axios Press, Mt. Jackson Virginia, 2008, p. 3f

[ii] HELLENISTIC PHILOSOPHY, A A Long, Scribners, Great Britain, 1974, p. 41

[iii] EPICUREANS AND STOICS, p. 17

© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

November 24th, 2010 Posted by | Philosophy | no comments

Pythagorus, a Pre-Socratic Religious Philosopher, and Also, Mathematician

Pythagorus (Samos, 582 – 500 BC), is famous for his Pythagorean theorem, but in reality he was a pre-Socratic philosopher who emphasized the metaphysical more than mathematics.

In fact, while the first time I heard about Pythagoras was in a math class because of the famous Pythagorean theorem, I spent much more time talking about him in the metaphysics portion of a physics class in high school. It was there in a Catholic high school that I was taught that Pythagoras was the leader of a cult and that  Pythagoras’s emphasis was on understanding the universe and the supernatural, and that his development of mathematics was probably a byproduct of his cultic beliefs.

Pythagoras is a pre-Socratic philosopher, both because he lived before Socrates and his emphasis was for the most part on the physis, the nature of the external, the laws and make up of a material and measurable world. Especially in his use of mathematics, you can see that he is endeavoring to measure the metaphysical.

Despite his fame very little of absolute certainty is known about him.  Pythagoras lived before Heraclitus and Parmenides. Some say he was a shaman who claimed supernatural wisdom. There are legends that he performed miracles. He believed, most probably, in metempsychosis, the migration of the soul from one body to another, and reincarnation.  Some say that because of this, the view that the soul is immortal is traced back to him. Plato refers to some Pythagorean traditions, especially in his Phaedo.[i]

Pythagoreans sought the supernatural in numbers and harmony. In their study of music they discovered that musical intervals could be represented as numerical ratios.  The concepts of fourths, fifths, octaves, as any musician knows, are extremely mathematical.  The general belief is, then, that the Pythagoreans pursued both music and mathematics as a means of understanding the universe and even the supernatural.[ii]

Pythagorus was quoted by Plato:

“‘Friends should have all things in common’, as Pythagorus used to say”[iii]

Pythagorean tradition is mentioned by or associated with the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Francis Bacon, and Hegel.  Plato, himself, lived for a time with the Pythagorean community in Italy, “vegetarian and communist, which had for generations controlled the Greek colony in which it lived.”[iv]

The Pythagorean religion continued for some time. Of the religion itself we know it was:

“a society of disciples which has been very influential for some time. Men and women in the society were treated equally -an unusual thing at the time- and all property was held in common. Members of the society practised the master’s teachings, a religion the tenets of which included the transmigration of souls and the sinfulness of eating beans. Pythagoras’ followers had to obey strict religious orders where it was forbidden to eat beans, to touch white cocks, or to look into a mirror beside a light. Pythagoras founded a society of disciples which has been very influential for some time. Men and women in the society were treated equally -an unusual thing at the time- and all property was held in common. Members of the society practised the master’s teachings, a religion the tenets of which included the transmigration of souls and the sinfulness of eating beans. Pythagoras’ followers had to obey strict religious orders where it was forbidden to eat beans, to touch white cocks, or to look into a mirror beside a light.”[v]

Pythagoreanism is an important example of the integration of philosophy and religion.  The fact that it dates 600 years before Christ and that its ideas were part of the philosophical development people as influential as Plato and Bacon shows how prevalent the concept of the integration of philosophy and religion was and continues to be in the culture.


[i] Philosophy 1, A. C. Grayling, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998, P. 356

[ii] ibid. p. 357

[iii] Laws, 807, referenced in The story of philosophy, Will Durant, Touchstone, Simon & Schuster New York, 1961. p.43

[iv] ibid. P. 51

[v] The BigView.com, this page at http://www.thebigview.com/greeks/pythagoras.html

© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, all rights reserved.

November 24th, 2010 Posted by | Philosophy | no comments

Jesus Taught Men To Pray

We find in the gospels numerous places where Jesus instructed on prayer.  Jesus taught us both how to pray, and how not to pray. And some of the his instruction on prayer appears contrary to human nature.  For example, in these next verses we see Jesus telling us to pray for our enemies, and those that use us:

but I say unto you, love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you;(Matthew 5:44)

bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.(Luke 6:28)

Jesus spent as much time talking about how not to pray as he did telling people how to pray.  For example, he says that we are not make a big deal in front of people with our prayer.  He further says that those that pray in front of men because they want to be praised for their great prayer have received their reward.

And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward.[Matt 6:5]

So, instead of making a big deal of our prayer, Jesus tells us to go by ourselves, and pray somewhere where it’s just between you and the father.

But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee. [Matt 6:6]

Here is some food for thought: Jesus never once led the group in prayer.  Every time it talks about Jesus praying he is doing it alone.

Another warning that Jesus gave about prayer is that we are not to pray the same prayer over and over again.  Rote repetition of prayers is fruitless.

And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Be not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. [Mat 6:7-8]

How does this fit with the Catholic practice of saying Rosaries or praying repetitious prayers for “penance”?  For example, I remember confessing sins to a priest one time and being told to say five Our Fathers , five Hail Marys, and an Act of Contrition.  Did I have to say those prayers repeatedly so God would eventually hear?  Is it penance to pray to God?  It doesn’t make sense.

Here is another account where Jesus tells a parable that compares a hypocritical prayer to a righteous one.  The Pharisee is proud, and thinks that he is praying justly but he is bragging.  He brags that he is not a sinner, and that he fasts and faithfully tithes.   On the other hand the humble publican beat his breast and asked for mercy.  Jesus praised the publican’s prayer.   He ends the parable with the proverb that if you exalt yourself before God you will be humbled, but if you humble yourself before God you will be exalted:

Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as the rest of men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote his breast, saying, God, be thou merciful to me a sinner. I say unto you, This man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be humbled; but he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18:10-14)

How to Pray

Jesus said:

After this manner therefore pray ye. [Mat 6:9 ]

“After this manner therefore pray ye” does not mean to say these exact words, but to use the example as a guide for what is a righteous prayer.  Here is the “Lord’s Prayer”:

Matthew Luke
Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so on earth. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And bring us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

(Matthew 6:9-13)

Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation.

(Luke 11:2-4)

I have included the versions of the Lord’s prayer from both the gospel of Matthew and the one in Luke. There is no doubt that while they are very similar, they are not the same, especially that Matthew has phrases that Luke does not. This is not cause for alarm as it is more than reasonable that Jesus would teach the same teaching more than once.  But if we are to speak exactly the same words each time, wouldn’t the above prayers be identical.  Yes, they would.  So the “Our Father” is a model upon which to base our prayers, not the one prayer that we are to memorize and say repeatedly.

And then there is the added wrinkle of the doxology of adding “for thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen”.  That isn’t in the records of the Lord’s prayer in the Bible.  I’ve been to services where part of the instruction to say the Lord’s prayer included that we would say the words the Lord told us to say, and then the words to say would be those of Matthew with the doxology, “for thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen”.  There is no record that Jesus ever said those words.  There is something like them in the Didachei, an early Christian text, that Roman Catholics and some others promote as authentic while it has been challenged as a Roman Catholic forgery to promote Roman Catholicism by still others.

Some of the elements in the Lord’s prayer include praising God for the great things he has done for us, asking for our needs to be met, asking for forgiveness, guidance, and deliverance.

Pray from the heart. Speak to God, telling him the great things that he has done for you and everyone. Confess your sins to him, and ask for forgiveness. Ask the Lord to guide you and provide for you. Recognize his greatness, and talk to him. That is how you pray

The Power of Prayer

The Gospels give us clear accounts of what is possible when we pray:

And Peter calling to remembrance saith unto him, Rabbi, behold, the fig tree which thou cursedst is withered away. And Jesus answering saith unto them, Have faith in God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall say unto this mountain, Be thou taken up and cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that what he saith cometh to pass; he shall have it. Therefore I say unto you, All things whatsoever ye pray and ask for, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one; that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.(Mark 11:21-25)

Here we have clear guidance from the Lord on the tremendous availability of power when we pray. There’s more on this in a previous post.

More Encouragement on Prayer

While we are told not to use vain repetitions as in one of the verses above, the next verses tell us that there is power in presenting our case to the Father more than once.

And he spake a parable unto them to the end that they ought always to pray, and not to faint; saying, There was in a city a judge, who feared not God, and regarded not man: and there was a widow in that city; and she came oft unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest she wear me out by her continual coming. And the Lord said, Hear what the unrighteous judge saith. And shall not God avenge his elect, that cry to him day and night, and yet he is longsuffering over them? I say unto you, that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:1-8)

Some of the things that we are guided to pray for include praying for workers to evangelize and disciple new believers, and to help us avoid temptation:

And he said unto them, The harvest indeed is plenteous, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest. (Luke 10:2)

Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)

Lastly, if we take to heart that Jesus taught us to pray from our hearts to the father, then this is something that we can do whenever and wherever. Certainly we can take a few minutes to pray when we get up, before we nod off to sleep, and before we receive a meal. But if prayer is just talking to God, then this is something that we can do all day long.

i. thedidache.com

© copyright 2010-20 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

November 24th, 2010 Posted by | Jesus' Teaching and Miracles | no comments