Relax and enjoy 5

On the reasonable assumption that most of our readers are atheists and at least some of them are old, we quote part of an article by Joseph Epstein, great story writer and essayist.

He hands on, in his own words, the drift of a philosopher’s advice on how to face the last of life:

In the last stage of life, even with the cheeriest outlook, it isn’t easy to keep thoughts of death at bay. Consider, though, the advice of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.), who lent his name to the school of Epicureanism but who was, in my reading of him, the world’s first shrink. Epicureanism is generally understood to be about indulging fleshly pleasures, especially those of food and drink, but it is, I think, more correctly understood as the search for serenity.

Epicurus, who met with friends (disciples, really) in his garden in Athens, devised a program to rid the world of anxiety. His method, like most methods of personal reform, had set steps, in this case four such steps. Here they are:

Step One: Do not believe in God, or in the gods. They most likely do not exist, and even if they did, it is preposterous to believe that they could possibly care, that they are watching over you and keeping a strict accounting of your behavior.

Step Two: Don’t worry about death. Death, be assured, is oblivion, a condition not different from your life before you were born: an utter blank. Forget about heaven, forget about hell; neither exists — after death there is only the Big O (oblivion) and the Big N (nullity), nothing, nada, zilch. Get your mind off it.

Step Three: Forget, as best you are able, about pain. Pain is either brief, and will therefore soon enough diminish and be gone; or, if it doesn’t disappear, if it lingers and intensifies, death cannot be far away, and so your worries are over here, too, for death, as we know, also presents no problem, being nothing more than eternal dark, dreamless sleep.

Step Four: Do not waste your time attempting to acquire exactious luxuries, whose pleasures are sure to be incommensurate with the effort required to gain them. From this it follows that ambition generally — for things, money, fame, power — should also be foresworn. The effort required to obtain them is too great; the game isn’t worth the candle.

To summarize, then: forget about God, death, pain and acquisition, and your worries are over. There you have it, Epicurus’ Four-Step Program to eliminate anxiety and attain serenity. I’ve not kitchen-tested it myself, but my guess is that, if one could bring it off, this program really would work.

Posted under Atheism, Commentary, Philosophy by Jillian Becker on Friday, April 16, 2010

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This post has 5 comments.

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  • bornagainpagan

    'Old'?… I prefer seasoned, atheist(check), serene(ohhhhmmmm) and focused on sapidity (yummm). Epicurus dishes out good advice.

  • Bill

    Since we tend to be capitalistic atheists, I'm surprised there is no squawk about step 4.

    I'm not materialistic only because I like to travel light and enjoy high income. I saved a lot of money along the way to prepare for potential unemployment. But I am certainly a capitalist! I have acquaintances who are over 50 like myself who keep trying to say that I'm in the old camp. But I'm in better health and am told I look as though I'm in my late 30s. I would like to stick around a long time and be like Jack LaLanne!

    • NoCountryForYoungMen

      By materialistic I mean spending too much time getting things that don't really hold a lot of value – but are usually just extras or status symbols. Like spending your net income for the year on a new boat that you might only use once or twice a year – when it would make more sense just to rent on occasion or work one less day a week. Wasting time on 'Make Work' and the pay by the hour system – not by results also create distortions in the economy.

      • Bill

        Oh I agree, and know what you mean. I think we'd be surprised at how many people do foolish spending like on a second home where they spend only one month out of the year in it and leave it vacant the rest of the time. Or on that boat, in the example you brought up. I have my own indulgences but can still keep it cheap. I'm going to be in the market for a luxury car in a couple years, but I'm going to find one I really like. It's either going to be a certified used one or I will lease one. That's my indulgence. I deserve to treat myself after being great with my personal finances for so many years! I'm thinking of a German car.

  • NoCountryForYoungMen

    I can't help but wonder what the world would be like with the survival of the greek philosophical schools through till present day. What would an society with an epicurean belief system look like? How would such a civilization develop compared to it's neighbours? Maybe why such realistic philosophies never became popular is because people prefer hope and 'fantastic' fantasy over serenity… also atheist philosophies don't have the same authoritarian structure that makes people work themselves to death for the profit of the elite. People not wasting their time seeking material wealth – because their is no afterlife… no hell if you're bad or heaven if you are good… No reason to live in cities apart from nature. The philosophy contains no people organizing structure – so maybe that is why the truth is so damaging to traditional civilization (serve the elite) – and why in England at least, Atheist or Deist ideas were fine as long as you kept quiet and did what you were expected to do. The idea was called dangerous – that the traditional hierarchy was not the natural order but the effect of a big lie. Atheism especially before the industrial revolution was inherently anarchistic by itself.