This is the website of the Barnsley Atheist Church (Epicurean Humanist). The aim of the church is to promote the benefits of certain (rather old) philosophies such as Stoicism and Epicureanism, alongside some newer philosophies such as cognitive psychotherapy and humanism.

Have a wander round, read the various pages: you can find them via the menu at the top – “About”, “Events” and “A Gentle Introduction” – as well as looking at some YouTube videos we’ve gathered for your pleasure and edification.

The rest of this page contains posts (newest at the top), on various aspects of the church and of the Epicurean Humanist philosophy.

Feel free to make comments and ask questions.

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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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On Involvement

So far the church has consisted of a couple of meetings, with one sermon and a lot of conversation. Nice enough, but nothing special.

If we want this to take off, if we want it to really fly, we have to look at how to give the Gatherings a bit more zing. Now, I don’t want to be the only one doing this, because (a) I don’t think I’m great at it and (b) the whole point of the church is to be a community. Ways of doing things need to emerge organically.

So I want you to be thinking about what kind of celebrations we should be having. Readings? If so, what sort? Sermons, perhaps, and music. I’m a big fan of liturgy and ritual, but I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I think we can get a lot of psychological leverage from litanies and responses (“May the Lord light up your hearts!” “And up yours!”. That kind of thing). I’d be opposed to dance and theatre, I think, but some sort of regular components would be nice. Have a look, too, at the post on Sacraments.

At some (I hope not too distant) time, I’d like to imagine that we could offer weddings and funerals. But we have to walk before we can dance.

Right. Over to you. There’s a reply form below. Use it. Come up with suggestions, objections, reservations, questions, vigorous denunciations and rebuttals. share this page with friends that you think might be interested, and ask them to throw themselves into the fray.

Let’s get this discussion going.

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On Desire

I find myself reading William B Irvine’s On Desire: Why We Want What We Want; and I have to say it’s quite disturbing. (I’ve added it to the Reading List, if you’re intrigued).

His thesis is that we mostly don’t choose what to desire. Rather, we find desires popping into our heads, and then we just follow them. Why do we do that? Well, because they’re desires, and that’s what desires are for – to prompt us to pursue things. But, even when those things are stupid, wicked or dangerous, we seem to have almost no defence against the desire. Do I find myself wanting a new car, a better marriage, the admiration of people I care nothing for? Then that will be what governs my behaviour.  And I will then find myself coming up with seemingly plausible  justifications.

Well, OK, plausible to me. Not to the people looking on in open-mouthed bafflement.

No, I’m not going to give away any spoilers – mainly because so far I’m only an eighth of the way through it. Still, I think that I can predict this: if the butler did it, it was because he failed to examine his desires as a good Stoic ought to.

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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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