Does Ecclesiastes Teach Epicureanism?

This article originally appeared at SI July 7, ‘06.

Does Ecclesiastes teach Epicureanism? In a word, no. Despite certain passages in Ecclesiastes that “sound” Epicurean, if we take the message of Solomon as a whole and the message of Epicurus as a whole, we discover that the two views of life under the sun are quite at odds with one another. The philosopher known for “vanity of vanities,” in the final analysis, is life-affirming, and the philosopher known for “eat, drink, and be merry” actually sucks the joy out of life.

I would like first to correct what is probably a popular misconception of Epicureanism. Then I would like to lay out four contrasting points between the two views: their views of God (or the gods), of death, of humanity and human desire, and of the summum bonum–that is, the greatest good.

First, a word of clarification. Epicureanism has somehow earned a false reputation for reckless and dissipated hedonism. Actually, it is ascetic hedonism. The original Epicurus pursued maximum pleasure and minimum pain, but his strategy was anything but the “party till you drop” lifestyle that the word Epicurean brings to mind nowadays. Some parties bring pain, Epicurus observed. His strategy was actually one of detaching oneself from the cares and concerns of this world, to keep one’s mind free from turmoil (a state he called, in Greek, ataraxia). Instead of trying to fulfill all one’s fantastic desires, one should instead concentrate on keeping one’s desires simple, thus achieving a higher satisfaction rate. Why desire much and fail, since this is a lot of work and discomfort only to be disappointed?

What kind of worldview supported such a policy? This leads to the points of contrast.

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The Importance of Imagination, Part 8


Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, and Part 7.

Secondary Imagination

The primary imagination enables us to look beyond the object of perception and to see other layers of significance in it. What each of us perceives in the object is personal and, therefore, different from the perceptions of everyone else. Sometimes our perceptions are sufficiently profound and out of the ordinary to convince us that we have gained some insight into the nature of the thing that we are observing and, consequently, into the nature of the world itself.

Once we have gained an insight, i.e., a significantly different way of seeing the world, we often experience the impulse to share it. Here we find ourselves confronted with a challenge because an imaginative insight cannot (properly speaking) be communicated. In this respect it is akin to an emotional state. When we experience joy, sorrow, or anger, we can communicate to other people that we are happy or sad or mad—but we cannot communicate the emotion itself. Since emotions cannot be communicated, they must be evoked. Something other than our statement of emotion is necessary if we wish other people actually to enter into the emotion and experience it for themselves.

So it is with the insights of the imagination. When we desire to share an insight, our goal is not simply to announce to the world that we have experienced a moment of truth. Our goal is to reproduce in others the same insight that we ourselves have experienced.

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The Importance of Imagination, Part 3


Read Part 1, Part 2.

What I shall here call “modernity” antedates the Enlightenment. It represents a trajectory that was launched by the full development and acceptance of Nominalism during the late medieval period. Much of Western civilization followed this trajectory through the mid-to-late Twentieth Century, when it finally became untenable.

Where premoderns began with primacy of faith, moderns began with the primacy of doubt. Nothing was to be affirmed that could not be established upon clear and objective foundations. The nature of the foundation differed among different schools of moderns, but the yearning for an abstract, neutral, detached starting point is the most distinguishing feature of modernity.

Therefore, moderns had to begin with what was given, and for them that always meant the particulars of immanent reality. Moderns believed that the best way of understanding the world was to look at the world itself. They attempted to observe the world and to amass observations about it. Their core assumption was that, if they could collect enough facts and look at them long enough, then the truth was sure to emerge.

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Philosophers and Children

My doctoral studies during the past several years have been quite a challenge, since I have been forced to study (with good comprehension) many ideas and disciplines that were somewhat new to me. The thinking and writing of lots of theologians and philosophers is anything but simple. Take, for example, this explanation of man’s existence by Paul Tillich:

Man experiences himself as having a world to which he belongs. The basic ontological structure is derived from an analysis of this complex dialectical relationship. Self-relatedness is implied in every experience. There is something that ‘has’ and something that is ‘had,’ and the two are one. (Systematic Theology, I, 168)

Students of theology and philosophy often forget that the terminology they deal with is just as complex as the integrals and algorithms of higher math. Philosophical and theological thinking itself is often highly nuanced. Thoughts are long and complicated. If you try to begin reading the work ten pages in, you will often be completely lost.

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Book Review - The Kingdom Triangle

Image of Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit's Power

Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power

J. P. Moreland

ISBN: 031027432X

In Kingdom Triangle, J. P. Moreland shows that, instead of retreating from the dual onslaught of naturalism and postmodernism, Christianity offers the only solid basis for a life with richness and meaning. Many “evangelicals” advocate blending Christianity with one of these impoverished worldviews as the only way for the Church to survive. Moreland’s critique of these views is extremely well done.

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