Peace and Safety For Your Twentieth of July: “[T]he ideas of the Deity in the minds of vulgar worshipers in general are, and ever will be, false, erroneous, and idolatrous….”

ExtractedEpicurusPeace and Safety to the Epicureans of today, no matter where you might be!

Here are three parallel observations on the nature of religion:

First believe that God is a living being immortal and blessed, according to the notion of a god indicated by the common sense of mankind; and so believing, you shall not affirm of him anything that is foreign to his immortality or that is repugnant to his blessedness. Believe about him whatever may uphold both his blessedness and his immortality. For there are gods, and the knowledge of them is manifest; but they are not such as the multitude believe, seeing that men do not steadfastly maintain the notions they form respecting them. Not the man who denies the gods worshiped by the multitude, but he who affirms of the gods what the multitude believes about them is truly impious. For the utterances of the multitude about the gods are not true preconceptions but false assumptions; hence it is that the greatest evils happen to the wicked and the greatest blessings happen to the good from the hand of the gods, seeing that they are always favorable to their own good qualities and take pleasure in men like themselves, but reject as alien whatever is not of their kind.  Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus

I conclude, answered he, that be the modes of  worship what they may, the ideas of the Deity, in the minds of vulgar worshipers in general, are, and ever will be, false, erroneous, and idolatrous; and that the case can never be otherwise as long as men form their ideas of the attributes and perfections of the Deity from unjust and ill-founded fears, and senseless hopes, and from all the variable and fluctuating passions and affections with which they feel themselves agitated.    — Jackson Barwis, 1776 (from “Three Dialogues Concerning Liberty“)

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time….   Thomas Jefferson, 1777 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom


As Seneca recorded: Sic fac omnia tamquam spectet Epicurus! So do all things as though watching were Epicurus!

And as Philodemus wrote: “I will be faithful to Epicurus, according to whom it has been my choice to live.

Previous Article
Next Article