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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