If We Call Ourselves Christians, Why Do We Sometimes Act Like Epicureans?

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Don’t think I’m smart because I can use the name Epicurean in the title of a post.

I promise you that I don’t know much about them.

Still, I know enough to know that most people today think the core belief of the Epicureans was to “eat, drink, and be merry”. I also know that most scholars think this doesn’t appropriately encapsulate their beliefs.

Who are the Epicureans?

The famous (or infamous) principal point of Epicurus’s ethics, namely the thesis, was that the highest goal must always be the endeavor to achieve pleasure.

Hans-Josef Klauck in The Religious Context of Early Christianity (bolding mine)

The Epicureans were people who sought to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. They recognized that excess in certain apparently pleasurable activities (like drinking) actually did not bring pleasure so they avoided it. This is why the maxim to ‘eat, drink, and be merry’ is misleading.

They pursued or avoided things in relationship to its potential for pleasure.

There has been a trend in American culture that seems to reflect an Epicurean mindset. We are encouraged to do whatever makes us happy. In fact, part of what it means to be American is to have the right to pursue happiness.

And, on the one hand, that makes sense. God made us to enjoy certain activities. God is pleased when we enjoy his creation. God created us to laugh, love, and live life to the fullest.

On the other hand, are there not people in the Bible who were called to do something they did not enjoy? Jonah. Paul. Jesus. They were asked to give up things. They were called to suffer, to sacrifice, to lose.

As Christians, we ought to believe that there is more to life than seeking personal pleasure. Yet, many of us are developing the mindset that suggests we are the epicenter of everything. It’s a mindset that adopts an Epicurean principle over and above a Christian one.

Last year, I read A Voice in the Wind which is part of The Mark of the Lion Series.

At the start of the book, a man named Decimus is trying to convince his son, Marcus, to pursue a career in politics. But the son is so consumed with earning money and doing only what he finds pleasurable. Decimus thinks to himself:

What had happened to decency? What had happened to purity and faithfulness? Life was more than pleasure. It was duty and honor. It was building a family. It was caring for others who hadn’t the means to care for themselves.

After his frustrating conversation with his son, he reports his conversation to his wife, Phoebe.

“His life is becoming so aimless,” Phoebe said.

“Not aimless, my love. Self-centered. Indulgent.” Decimus rose, drawing his wife up with him. “He’s like so many of his young aristocratic friends. He considers life a great hunt, every experience prey to be devoured. There is little thought these days of what is good for Rome.”

As I read this, something began to sound eerily familiar. See, hear, and experience similar echoes in our own culture. We think life is about capturing things that please us. Life is about experiencing novelty. About passion. About pursuing our dreams.

But as Christians, I find a different call on our lives.

To find the passion of God. To be a vessel to do His good work. To experience the joy in pleasing our Father.

The Epicurean Vs. Christian Test

What do you do when you earn money?

Do you decide how to spend it like the Epicureans did? Do you spend your paycheck every month on your own personal year-long Christmas list where every indulgence is satisfied?

Do you use your paycheck to bless others? Do you give? Do you ask God, through prayer, how to appropriately spend your earnings? Are you sacrificially honoring God with your income?

My first reaction is to affirm our cultural assumption. That I’ve worked hard for this money. I’ve earned this money, and so I deserve to control it. But, then I find a more firm foundation that reminds me I’ve done nothing that God has not allowed me to do. I do not control this money. I’ve been put into a management position by my God.

God, teach us what you want done with your money and your resources. May it be done here are earth just as it is in heaven.

This article is an edited version of a similar article originally published at Christianpf.


    • says

      Want to point me to some resource to help me double check this? The history books I have seem to indicate that I’ve accurately portrayed the Epicureans.

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