On Epicurean Chaplaincy

  • I just received my five-year "congratulations" email from Universal Life Church, which gives ordinations to just about everybody online.


    It occurred to me that this is one way in which Epicurean Philosophy could assert itself in the mainstream and become part of everyday discussions. It's generally seen as a stamp of societal legitimacy when a movement provides chaplains and celebrants for rites of passage like baby namings, funerals, and weddings--as we've seen with Humanist celebrants. Plus,

    • it has become clear recently that some Epicureans feel very strongly that we really are a thing different and distinct from generic humanism, and that a humanist celebrant may or may not speak to the Epicurean soul, and
    • Epicurean tradition has VERY specific and particular things to say about life events, particularly memorializing friends and death. We also had our own distinct funeral traditions in Roman antiquity (non fui, fui, non sum, non curo). This means that a unique liturgy evolved in antiquity for the needs of Epicureans. I think this liturgy would speak to many in our world today, particularly atheists.
    • Although there are Unitarian ministers (like the Cambridge chaplain, author of the 'Caute' blog) who affirm an Epicurean identity, we have otherwise had almost zero influence on Unitarian chaplains' intellectual formation; and although the Humanist Jews also affirm an Apikorsim identity and have incorporated EP into the formation of their rabbis, we have had no initiative to cooperate in the creation of education material or influence their Epicurean teaching in favor of a more orthodox approach to EP.
    • As a result of this, there are really no options for someone who may want to have a ceremony that fits his or her values as an Epicurean as of today.

    I personally think that the easiest way to prepare future Epicurean chaplains would be by partnering up with the Ethical Union or a Humanist Group, or even the Unitarian Church, etc. At least initially. If we are distinct and not at all ecumenical, then the idea of an Epicurean chaplaincy program (rather than a collaboration with kindred organizations) might be a way to promote EP as a separate, distinct tradition.

    Just a few thoughts. Chaplaincy is much simpler than conventional ordination as rabbi, priest or minister, although it requires a strong background in ethics and the ability to facilitate events.

    (P.S. My neighbor Fran, who is a school librarian and started calling himself an Epicurean after reading my book, ministered a gay wedding last year, for which he prepared a short speech, so I already feel like we have an Epicurean chaplain in Chicago. He's got a "high school teacher" "Mr. Rogers" type of personality.)

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • I personally have a strongly negative reaction to the "Universal Life Church," but I have looked over the page at the monastery . org and I am very impressed at their organization. I agree that setting up some kind of structure ought to be in our plans, and there is a lot of food for thought on that website.

    I find their statement of principles (below) to be laughably worthless ("do only that which is right") but I agree that there is a lot to learn from observing how they have put together their organization.


    The Universal Life Church was founded on the basic belief that we are all children of the same universe and, derived from that basic belief, has established two core tenets by which it expects its ministers to conduct themselves:

    1. Do only that which is right.
    2. Every individual is free to practice their religion in the manner of their choosing, as mandated by the First Amendment, so long as that expression does not impinge upon the rights or freedoms of others and is in accordance with the government’s laws.

    We have made it our mission to actualize these tenets in the world by empowering millions of ministers, whether they come to us from a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Shinto, Agnostic, Atheist, Pagan, Wiccan, or Druid tradition, to speak their own truth to power.

    I think Elayne in particular also will have some comments about this, and I think this is a good thread to revisit the issue of organization so I will encourage people to talk about that here.

  • Fortunately, zero partnering with other organizations is necessary, because there is no training of ordained ministers required by these online groups. They do include example scripts for weddings, but no one needs training to perform a wedding. If a person is shy about public speaking, that can be overcome through other channels. All one really needs to know is what their state law requires for a marriage. Couples can write their own vows.

    I'm ordained through ULC, as well as through the First Church of Atheism and the Church of the Latter Day Dude. ULC was created solely to provide a route for celebrants for couples who otherwise had no options, and they had to meet the definition of a church, to meet state law requirements. Cassius, that is the reason the wording is vague-- it was the mínimum needed to withstand court challenge (which ULC successfully did).

    Many states had put a stranglehold on access to marriage. If you couldn't find a minister or a judge to do your ceremony, you were SOL. This was especially true for same sex couples. That was the reason I registered online-- our probate judges refused to perform same sex weddings, and when they were ordered to, they quit doing ANY weddings at all. So atheist couples or "nones" couldn't get married either. I have performed several same sex and atheist weddings. It's super easy and fun!

    I agree that it is something to consider. If I ever marry again, it would be to an Epicurean, and how cool would it be to have a database of folks who would perform ceremonies for their fellow Epicureans? I get emails from desperate atheist couples who don't even have an atheist friend or family member to help them. Last fall, I did an entirely secular wedding for a couple in Cullman and their family didn't even realize we had left out god! ?

  • There are MANY aspects of this example to consider. I am not really thinking in terms of compliance with legal requirements for marriage, though that is certainly one angle. Like Hiram suggested, there would also be funerals and other social events that having someone to officiate would be great.

    The real issue to me is coming to terms with (1) scope and goal of such an organization, and (2) how widely or narrowly to define a statement of principles. This actually might be one area in which the Epicurean theory of gods has great practical significance - Epicureans have argued for 2000 years that they are not atheists, so in a very real sense there is more real "religion" aspect to it than some of these purely secular organizations have.

  • This reminds me of the use of the word kath-hegemones by ancient Epicureans, which DeWitt translates as leaders or guides. I like the term guide rather than any of the terms used today (priest, minister, rabbi, even chaplain); its more personal and friendly, less bureaucratic.

    And “familiar guide” is the term also used by Wright in A Few Days in Athens in her “pedantry of Aristotle” paragraph.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words

  • Hiram that reminds me of the concept of "life coaches" which is also borderline questionable but also might be a part of what needs to be talked about. Not sure if that is still a "thing" or no longer trendy.

  • If we wish to assert legitimacy and stick to tradition, we should use kath-hegemones and use leaders, guides, which seems to be the best translation. However, in marketing or promoting the role, it can be explained as "an Epicurean life coach", "Epicurean mentor", or we may appeal to other trendy terms while sticking to the traditional role that existed in EP.

    The founders of EP were adamant that people stick to the original, intended, unmediated meaning of words, and they would not have chosen terms arbitrarily. They would have chosen their terms purposefully and self-consciously.

    As re: kath-hegemone, Hegemony is clear enough in English, it means leadership. The head of the School was known as the Hegemon (=the Scholarch, the "Epicurean Pope" so to speak).



    leadership or predominant influence exercised by one nation over others, as in a confederation.

    leadership; predominance.

    According to Dictionary.com, when you look the prefix "cath" (https://www.dictionary.com/browse/cath-) it redirects you to "cata" and says that it's cath when the next word is a vowel.



    a prefix meaning “down,” “against,” “back,” occurring originally in loanwords from Greek (cataclysm; catalog; catalepsy); on this model, used in the formation of other compound words (catagenesis; cataphyll).

    Also, when we lookup words that use this prefix, we find catalog (which is a "backup reckoning or register" or "backup-knowledge" cata-logos), and interestingly the word catagenesis is offered as an example of "cata" which translates as the "retrogressive evolution of a species" (rather than progressive, which is anagenesis).

    Cataphyl (another example of the suffix cited) means "a simplified leaf form".

    So kath-hegemone is a backup-leader, and seems to imply a leader who connects people to the past and/or to the basics, to the archetypal models and origins.

    "Please always remember my doctrines!" - Epicurus' last words