Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Distant Gods - Lucretius

I thought that the most interesting part of Book Two of 'The Nature of All Things' was the argument Lucretius put forth that there is no reason to suspect that divine beings would really care about mankind.

A tale, however beautifully wrought,
That's wide of reason by a long remove:
For all the gods must of themselves enjoy
Immortal aeons and supreme repose,
Withdrawn from our affairs, detached, afar:
Immune from peril and immune from pain,
Themselves abounding in riches of their own,
Needing not us, they are not touched by wrath
They are not taken by service or by gift.
We're on our own, he says.  And if we're not, we may as well act like we are.  For why would god-like beings care about the petty problems of mere mortals?
There is a singular problem with discussing divine objects: we really don't have proof of the things that we do or do not believe.  Lucretius is saying that there is no reason to believe in gods ('wide of reason by a long remove').  But, he says, even if they are up there, we have no reason to think that such lofty beings would really care about us the way they do in stories.  He can't prove this of course, but there is logic in his arguement.  And every counter argument is also conjecture without proof.
Apparently there was some belief in the early period of the Catholic church that this Epicurean rejection of the divine was only an argument against the Greek (and Roman) gods.  Jesus explicity shows that he cares about the weakest of humans.  I suspect that Lucretius would cast a skeptical eye the Gospel as well.

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