Category Archives: General Posts

The Secular Society of Friends

So we were having a planning meeting over food at Lauren’s house, and we got to talking about our name. Neither “Barnsley Atheist Church” nor “Epicurean (Humanist) Church” seems to have grabbed people’s imagination.

Anyway, Lauren has now set up a new Facebook group for the planning work, and it’s called “The Secular Society of Friends” – as a comparison with the Quakers, whose official name is “The Religious Society of Friends”. If you can’t view that page (it’s private for the moment – security set to ‘bashful’), get in touch and we can add you to the list.

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Barnsley Atheist Church – June Gathering

Once again, the time is coming for our monthly Gathering. This will be on Tuesday 10th June at the Honeywell Community Centre, from 7:30 pm to 8:30pm.

We’ll be investigating meditation again, and discussing Tom Shakespeare’s Radio 4 talk (see the Religious – But Not Spiritual?  post).

Everyone’s welcome. Email us at barnsleyatheistchurch@gmail.com if you want to check us out first.

 

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Religious – But Not Spiritual?

As I was having breakfast this morning and listening to Radio 4, I heard an edition of the regular “A Point Of View” slot. It’s always a favourite of mine, with its being intelligent, well-delivered and – most important of all – short. So pin your ears back and listen to Tom Shakespeare on being Religious But Not Spiritual (there’s a page here with a written version of the talk)

I think I mainly agree with him – the Christian pilgrimage I go on each year is still a powerful experience for me, even though I no longer believe the ontology that underlies it. But I don’t think I could have continued with it without the others knowing I no longer believed; and I would love to see a version of  pilgrimage that was explicitly godless. What religion offers – he’s right about this – is a disciplined and communal experience, and for me pilgrimage is the archetype. But to go along to synagogue or church under false pretences would be wrong. If you want what church has to offer, but don’t want to sign up to the supernatural beliefs, then be honest enough to say so.
So I’m not quite sure what he’s about, whether he wants atheists to pretend to be believers (which would clearly be bad), or to go along explicitly as atheists, whether they were welcome or not (bad in a different way), or to just keep quiet about their lack of faith (still bad, but perhaps less so), or to be upfront about their atheism and only attend if the believers are OK with it (better). You know my position – best of all is to take responsibility for creating the thing you want for yourself, rather than getting a free ride with something that the faithful take utterly seriously.
Of course, what you can’t create is a centuries-old tradition, worn smooth and usable by time and adversity. But you can grow novel practices that do pretty well.

 

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Gathering – March 2014

And so, as Lent begins, it’s time to start looking to your spiritual well-being! This coming Tuesday (11th March) we’ll be looking at Mindfulness Meditation – what it is, how it relates to the rest of Epicurean Humanism, and how you can use it to grow, both spiritually and mentally.

Mindfulness originates in Buddhism (possibly the oldest godless religion), and it has found modern support from Cognitive Therapy and a number of Randomised Control Trials.

Get along to Honeywell on Tuesday (11th March) and learn what our good friend Epicurus called “the Art of Happiness”.

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The Art of Happiness

The brief course “The Art of Happiness” is an attempt to distill into six weeks the essence of Epicurean Humanism; an intensely practical and well-tested method.

We’ll start with a general overview of the method, looking at its history and at the recent scientific evidence. The emergence of Mindfulness into mainstream psychological practice is only one part of it; Ellis’s Rational-Emotive Therapy, Rehm’s Self-Management and Kanfer’s Self-Control Training are all elements in the Epicurean toolkit.

Weeks two to five will focus on these techniques, with practical exercises, and then in week six we’ll tie it all up and decide where we’re going next? Are you in?

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‘Tis the Season!

Apparently, the seasonal Google Doodle has sparked off the “age-old” (really?) debate about whether we should wish each other “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”.

One side in the debate say that it’s about being respectful to others’ beliefs or unbeliefs: the other side says that it’s ridiculous not to recognise the Christian origin of the festival.

Indeed, one comment begins “It is about time we stop the happy holidays and remember that Christmas has been the American way from the beginning of our nation.” I was quite amused at that idea – given that celebration of Christmas was illegal in many parts of New England until 1681, and eighteenth century New Englanders viewed Christmas as the representation of royal officialdom, external interference in local affairs, dissolute behavior, and an impediment to their holy mission.

So, what should the view of Epicurean Humanists be to this season? I’m hesitant to prescribe any particular attitude, but Epicurus is reported to have said that the philosopher “will take more delight than other people in public festivals”.

We come from a variety of religious backgrounds – Anglican, Christadelphian, Catholic and Atheist, to name just the ones that come to mind – so there’s unlikely to be any unanimity on the basis of past practice.

The purpose of EH is to pursue what makes for well-being, so our decisions about this issue should be made on that basis. My own attitude is that, if I were to refuse the celebration, I would be guilty of posturing. A festival of magnanimity is entirely fitting for those of us dedicated to a philosophy of friendship and of the enjoyment of what this world has to offer.

We would be wise, though, to avoid the festival of guilt-tripping, consumerism and hollow merriment. These pictures from the BBC just make my heart sink: these crowds are victims of the retail companies, which make them dance to the tune “Jingle Tills”. They could be relaxing at home in a warm fug of happy contentment. Instead they are getting up long before dawn and queuing in the depths of winter to crowd into shops and buy trash.

Enjoying what the world has to offer shouldn’t mean dissipation and luxury – it should be about taking delight in what we have. As the Bible says: “better a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred withal”. Replace “stalled ox” with “roast turkey” and you have, I suggest, a perfectly Epicurean sentiment.

So. Have yourselves a merry little Christmas, full of companionship and games, pleasure and rest. If you have scruples about using religious terms then, by all means, allow me to wish you Happy Holidays and a fruitful new year.

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Friday Evening Text for Reflection:

At every hour devote yourself in a resolute spirit, as befits a Roman and a man, to fulfilling the task in hand with a scrupulous and unaffected dignity, and with love for others, and independence, and justice; and grant yourself a respite from all other preoccupations. And this you will achieve if you perform every action as though it were your last, freed from all lack of purpose and wilful deviation from the rule of reason, and free from duplicity, self-love, and dissatisfaction with what is allotted to you. You see how few are the things that a person needs to master if he is to live a tranquil and divine life; for the gods themselves will demand nothing more from one who observes these principles.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 2.5

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Friday: Emotions & Preparation for Adversity

Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm, and round it the seething waters are laid to rest.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.49

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Thursday Evening Text for Reflection:

There is one type of person who, whenever he has done a good deed to another, expects and calculates to have the favour repaid.

There is a second type of person who does not calculate in such a way but who, nevertheless, deep within himself regards the other person as someone who owes him something and he remembers that he has done the other a good deed.

But there is a third type of person who, in some sense, does not even remember the good deed he has done but who, instead, is like a vine producing its grape, seeking nothing more than having brought forth its own fruit, just like a horse when it has run, a dog when it has followed its scent and a bee when it has made honey. This man, having done one good deed well, does not shout it about but simply turns his attention to the next good deed, just like the vine turns once again to produce its grape in the right season.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.6

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Thursday: Stoic Mindfulness

Train yourself to think only those thoughts such that in answer to the sudden question ‘What is in your mind now?’ you could say with immediate frankness whatever it is, this or that: and so your answer can give direct evidence that all your thoughts are straightforward and kindly, the thoughts of a social being who has no regard for the fancies of pleasure or indulgence, for rivalry, malice, suspicion, or anything else that one would blush to admit was in one’s mind.

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.4

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