Send a Tweet
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 10 Share on Twitter Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
OpEdNews Op Eds   

Recovering a Lost Treasure

By       (Page 1 of 2 pages) (View How Many People Read This)   No comments
Author 514931
Message James A. Haught
Become a Fan
  (2 fans)

This piece was reprinted by OpEdNews with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Ancient Greece, birthplace of Western civilization, was contradictory. It produced the first known thinkers who tried to understand the world through logic and observation, instead of through supernatural explanations. Yet Greeks also sacrificed thousands of animals to imaginary gods on Mount Olympus, and gave gold to mystical "oracles" who babbled in trances. Greeks even fought the "Sacred Wars" over treasure stolen from the Oracle at Delphi.

Surrounded by so much religion, one of the foremost logical thinkers was Epicurus (341-270 BCE), who taught that there's no actual evidence for gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles, prophecies and the like - so people simply should lead rewarding lives here and now. He also speculated that all matter consists of invisible atoms swerving endlessly, and that creatures change through evolution. His scientific hunches later proved amazingly valid.

Epicurus was first to articulate the philosophical quandary called "the problem of evil". If God is all-loving and all-powerful, he wrote, why does he allow horrible suffering and cruelty in the world? Either God cannot prevent the agony, or he callously doesn't want to, Epicurus reasoned. There's no other possible conclusion. In all the centuries since, clergymen have been unable to refute this clear logic.

Epicurus called religion "irrational fancies" and "credulous belief in the reality of phantoms". Instead of wasting time on such nonsense, he said, people should seek the best possible lives while they have ability to do so.

A couple of centuries later, Roman thinker Titus Lucretius Carus (99-55 BCE) wrote a long tribute to Epicurus titled De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things). His classic Latin poem was filled with sneers at supernaturalism.

"Fear was the first thing on Earth to make gods," it says.

"The universe has not been made through divine power, seeing how great are the faults that mar it.

"How many evils has religion caused," Lucretius wrote, commenting on King Agamemnon's sacrifice of his daughter to induce the gods to favor his attack on Troy.

"Not they who reject the gods are profane, but those who accept them," he said.

"There is no murky pit of hell awaiting anyone.... When the body has perished, there is an end also of the spirit diffused through it."

The great Lucretius poem was cited by various other ancient writers, but all copies of it later became lost. Then, nearly 15 centuries afterward, a scholarly papal clerk, Poggio Bracciolini, visited a German monastery in 1417 and found a long-forgotten copy covered by dust on a remote shelf. Elated, he began distributing handwritten copies to European intellectuals, who discussed the Lucretius work in learned forums. It spurred a breakthrough for scientific thinking.

Distinguished Harvard University professor Stephen Greenblatt contends in a significant book -- The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, W.W. Norton & Co. -- that rediscovery of the lost Lucretius poem helped trigger the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment, and the six-century upsurge of science and democracy that catapulted the West into today's advanced civilization.

His book won a 2012 Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award. It created a buzz in intellectual circles. A New York Times review said:

"On the Nature of Things was filled with, to Christian eyes, scandalous ideas. It argues eloquently, Mr. Greenblatt writes, that 'there is no master plan, no divine architect, no intelligent design.' Religious fear, Lucretius thought, long before there was a Christopher Hitchens, warps human life."

Next Page  1  |  2

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).

 

Well Said 1   Supported 1   Valuable 1  
Rate It | View Ratings

James A. Haught Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

James A. Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia's largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.  Mr. Haught has won two dozen national news writing awards. He has written 12 books and hundreds of magazine essays and blog posts. Around 450 of his essays are online. He is a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a weekly blogger at Daylight Atheism, (more...)
 

Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines
Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

STAY IN THE KNOW
If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEdNews Newsletter
Name
Email
   (Opens new browser window)
 

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Megachurch Mess

Feeding 7.7 Billion

Religion-Tinged Politics

deadly labor struggles

The Dreams that Stuff is Made Of

Coal Mine Wars

To View Comments or Join the Conversation: