An, as yet, only imagined Epicurean Gathering to meditate, to philosophise, and to eat together
UPDATE 1 May 2014. The liturgy mentioned below has now been revised a couple of times. For the latest news please click on this link.
In the United Kingdom there is an excellent radio programme called "In our Time" in which Melvyn Bragg gathers together three experts to talk about an historical, philosophical or theological subject or person. It is public service broadcasting at its best. This week the programme was on Epicurus who, as readers of this blog will know, is a particular influence on my own thinking. (Readers outside the UK may not, alas, be able to hear this programme). The guests were: Angie Hobbs (Professor of the Public Understanding of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield); David Sedley (Laurence Professor of Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge); James Warren (Reader in Ancient Philosophy at the University of Cambridge)
Being a minister of religion one of my constant concerns is liturgy (literally the "work of the people"). In the liberal Christian setting I mostly work in it is important to have liturgies that, even as they give a real sense of stability to the community (they help reveal what the community basically is and does) they also allow for the breaking in of new knowledge and insights. In my last address of 2012, "A lesson for liberal religion from the world of sport – a meditation for the year to come" I posted the various liturgies we currently use in Cambridge, England at the Memorial (Unitarian) Church (you'll find the links to them towards the end of the address).
Well, the "In our Time" programme reminded me that back in 2011 I put together a liturgy for a regular gathering of those wanting to explore Epicurus' philosophy in a way that took people from their books and heads and into their bodies within an actual gathering of like-minded people.
Although Epicurean thinking has not always sat easily with orthodox forms of Christianity it makes a great deal of sense in the Unitarian and Free Christian setting I minister. Indeed Thomas Jefferson, a notable Unitarian if ever there was one, said in a letter to William Short in 1819: "I am an Epicurean. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greek and Roman leave to us." In the same letter he wrote: "Epictetus and Epicurus give laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement of the duties and charities we owe to others."
Anyway, the usual pressures of church work meant I never got round to trying it out. But it strikes me as, perhaps, the right time to put it out there and to see what happens. Epicurus' ideas have long seemed to me to be very relevant to our own age and concerns but for them to get some real purchase in our culture it they have to be given an actual, public form. I don't pretend what I post below is anything more than a first try but, as they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a singe step . . .
[Note 20th February 2020—the original link to the liturgy below is dead but here is a link to the version I and two other members of the congregation put together in 2016]
Update June 2013: A revised version of the following order can be found at this link. This was made after actually doing the thing!
It consists of a basic "order":
"It is necessary [says Epicurus] to pay constant attention to one's pain and pleasure process as it works in the present moment."
A very good and helpful online source of all things Epicurean can be found here: