The Garden of Epicurus
by Roland Fakler
1. Self definition. How do you call your world view?
I am a freethinker, a humanist and Faklerianer. That is: I am not a follower, but I belief in myself, in my humanistic values and in my common sense. A divine power or a hereafter I cannot identify.
I define myself positively by what I am, not by what I am not. The term “atheist” arouses the suspicion as if he is lacking of something. What is an atheist? He is somebody, who is without the one, whom nobody can know anyway. Actually I am an A-Koboldo too, as I do not believe in Kobolds either. “Agnostic” I find much better. Many things we cannot know.
2. Decisive Decisions. When or how did you come to your world view? What circumstances or events were crucial?
Starting with the ninth year of my life I had questioned the Roman Catholic religion, with which I had been brought up. Thinking had been essential for me since my early childhood days. However, my educators in a boarding school could not give me satisfying answers. I started real experiments to find out whether God is there or not. He was said to be omnipresent, but I saw him nowhere. He was said to be omnipotent and would help, if one prays, but I prayed and he did not help me. Finally I came to the conclusion: If there is really a wise and omnipotent God, he would find ways and means to make himself recognizable to all human beings in a clearly and convincing manner.
We were not allowed to express such thoughts and were not allowed to read certain books. So, I soon stopped asking questions but kept silent and fetched my information from “forbidden books”. Above all ancient philosophers such as Epicurus, Seneca, Celsus, Plutarch or Cicero appeared to me much more reasonable, wise and convincing than the saints of the church, who had been presented to us as role models. The ‚truths of faith‘ propagated by the church crumbled in my brain to purely human constructions which satisfied the wishes of the masses and the power claims of the church, but were far from any reality. Reality is what still exists, even if one does not believe in it. Possibly from my sixteenth year on I confirmed my humanistic world view by reading enlightened authors of all times: by Schiller, Kant, Goethe, Feuerbach, Heckel, Hume, Russel, Darwin, Gibbon, Paine, Meslier, Holbach, Voltaire, Rousseau, Freud, Fromm, Deschner, Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, Ingersoll, Schmidt-Salomon …An outstanding role played Friedrich Nietzsche. He was my great idol. However today I must say, that the idol of my youth, my most important teacher, has also written quite dangerous nonsense. For example, ‚The weak and the handicapped shall perish…‘. This contradicts my humanistic feeling and responsibility.
3. Elitist. Do you think that freedom of belief and reasonable ethics is elitist or can it catch up with large groups of the population too?
Unfortunately it must be stated that the multitude of the people is deeply irrational. I am always stunned about what unreasonable things intelligent people can believe. Probably for many people the real world is simply too banal, too hard or too hopeless. It is also a difficult job to overcome the beliefs that had been inoculated upon one’s brain for years, especially if they are still present among friends, relatives and neighbours. What you have imbibed with mother’s milk, is in your flesh and blood. Many people have a need for leadership, guidance, worship and orientation in a world that is not the thing one would have wished for.
They want to be part of a community in which they feel at home. They are looking for a higher meaning in their lives and are also willing to serve and to sacrifice. This is exploited by shrewd profiteers. Nothing sells better than fantastic, possibly even incomprehensible stories, confused promises, wonderful healing methods, after all wonders and the wonderful at all …That’s what religions are built upon too. This had been going on so for ages, however, it must not remain so. Irrational „thinking“ or better said „believing“ is promoted by the education with Bible and Koran. There are dead persons who rise from the death, there are fish, bread, wine, that is increased arbitrarily, there are angels who transmit messages from heaven, virgins who give birth to children, people who walk over the water … why should one not believe in flying elephants too, which we do not see only because they can make themselves invisible or why not believe in UFOs, that will fetch us for the eternal life. There are no limits for our fantasy.
Which cooperative structures would help to reach more people with the humanistic body of thought?
The education must change: from religious indoctrination to humanistic education. Freedom of thought is only possible if church and state are separated. Better than religious lessons would be ethical lessons or lessons about religions, in any case, lessons which support common sense, not lessons which kill it of.
Epicurs garden is already a very good idea to connect like-minded people. Unfortunately, we do not all live in a village; from this certainly pleasant, stimulating collective experiences would arise.
4. Religious compulsions: Have you ever been subjected to religious compulsions? How do you deal with it?
In my parental home, in southern Germany, I had been brought up as a Catholic and I experienced a strict Catholic education in a boarding school later. We had to pray much, at least three times a day, and we had to believe what the Church taught. Wrong, that is non-Catholic, thinking was criticized by our educators and punished by God at the latest after death with hell and purgatory …at least they wanted to make us believe so. Promotion prospects in heaven and on earth were definitely much better if you did not ask questions. Believing without thinking was the ideal of our education. This went against my urge to ‚think freely‘. At the age of sixteen I left the boarding school as a convinced heretic and devoted myself from now on to the search of the “true truth” that we had not been allowed to find there.
5. Concrete own experiences with religion: Do you have concrete own experiences with religiosity, the wish to belief and/or esotericism? Do you live alternatives free of belief to religious rituals? If so, which?
Until the tenth year of my life I had been religious unavoidably through education. On the one hand religion offered comfort; on the other hand problems were not really solved, because one developed a complete false understanding of the world. One believed that one could solve every problem by praying, however, one felt only self-righteous and delusively confident. One believed to belong to the right believers and to the “chosen people”, whereas it had simply been a coincidence by birth that I had been catholic and not Hindu. Finally outside of my community there had been many believers of a different kind, who, as I had to realize soon, insisted to have the right believe as certain as I did. For us this had been second class people. At least one felt a certain distance to them. The confessional education had achieved to see in other people not human beings but wrong-believers.
On the one hand it gives you support belonging to a community and celebrating the same feasts, on the other hand every dissenter, and you will become one, if you start thinking, is threatened with exclusion from the community, by hell, by purgatory and by eternal damnation through god. Critical thoughts were sin. This belief stopped thinking, produced illusory hopes and with its threats caused a lot of fear. Today I feel much easier and better…without heaven, hell and devil, who surprisingly never encountered me since I do not believe in him anymore. Sometimes a prayer still helps me: “Oh Lord, why did you have a blackout, just when you created me?”
6. Nonreligious Alternatives
The best I can do for my personal development and therefore for me and for the benevolence of my fellow human beings is: lying on my backside with plugged ears, thinking, dreaming, musing, considering my behaviour, bringing my life into order.
Watching and painting sunsets and natural wonders is religion too.
7. The freedom of living own wishes and thoughts.
It is a great pleasure to live in such a free country like Germany. To achieve this many brave people have given their lives and their freedom. For me, this is a vocation to work on the goal that one day all people of the world can enjoy this freedom. In addition, we must be vigilant, because freedom is always threatened by left-and right-wing radicals, by religious nuts of any sort, by intelligence agencies, major banks and by all who want to rule, control and spy.
8. Relationship between Humanism and Enlightenment: Which relationship do you see between humanism and enlightenment? Which relationship do you see between humanism and personal responsibility?
During the 15th century people in the humanistic period began to rediscover antiquity, this world and the human being, after a thousand years of darkness, during which this world was despised, for the glory of God, for the good of the Church and the disenfranchisement of the people. At the latest since the 9th century nobody in Germany had the freedom anymore to be anything else than Catholic. All heretics had been persecuted and exterminated, their writings were destroyed, their sanctities demolished. With a being that is not recognizable for anybody, power, privileges, persecution and war had been justified. Opinions fetched from the clouds had been justified with seemingly divine authority…a god did not speak out against it.
Today the enlightened human being, who cares for his education and his perfection, and this world should be in the focus of human thinking and striving. Man has to take his fate into his own hands. If he does not create a just world, there will be none. However, it should be clear, that humans are beings with many deficiencies, with great dangers inherent. Above all his arrogance, his megalomania, his need for recognition, his desire for power and his greed must be recognized as dangers and banished.
Humanism had been an important step towards enlightenment. We have no better tools for exploring this world than our reason and our senses. ‚Holy Scriptures‘ still solidify prejudice and Bronze Age thinking with corresponding consequences. They led to superstitions of various kinds: to exorcisms, belief in miracles, veneration of relics, masses for the dead, belief in hell, purgatory, original guilt and original sin. They led to the persecution of Jews, pagans, heretics, witches, to the Old Testament sexual morality, stoning of adulterers, penis mutilation, discrimination against women, homosexuals and illegitimate children, to justification of absolute power, to the death penalty, slavery, cruelty against animals and environmental destruction, the beating pedagogy, wars of conquest and war crimes, prohibiting of cremation, the contempt of science and reason. The Bible teaches the morals and the knowledge from the time 2000 years ago. Thinking and research help us to overcome these prejudices to recognize the world adequately and apply this knowledge in order to improve the human condition. However, we should be guided by humanistic ideas, because knowledge can always be used for the benefit and for the damage of humans.
It is the aim of my life to develop my personality, to acquire skills and knowledge and to use them as meaningful as possible. I stand in the tradition of the European Enlightenment and confess to a humanistic way of life concentrated on this world. Under humanism I understand everything what the Latin word ‚humanitas‘ means, namely education, humanity, kindness, courtesy, humanity.
9. Practical humanism: Do you think it is meaningful and possible to convince other people of your world view? If so: How?
Every reasonable person should definitely say what he thinks. Unfortunately too few people do this, being afraid of disadvantages or being afraid of the religious majority. I am tolerant, as long as religion causes no evil and does not hinder the progress of thinking. The masses simply have a strong need for religion. If faith would have caused only good, I would not criticize much. However, who has studied history knows that religions, after all the intolerant Abrahamic religions have caused much mischief and still do, purely by their intolerance. The churches had always been much concerned about power, goods and privileges – until today. Because a man (Jesus) has claimed to be the Son of God or the last prophet (Muhammad), quarrel and persecution were triggered, which millions of people, who could not believe that, fell victim to. This must be mentioned when counting the fruits of these religions.
As a summary of my findings, I have written a book with the title “About persecutors and persecuted people” – Subtitle: “Lessons learnt from history”.
In discussions and letters to newspapers, I always hint to this eternal problem too.
10. Independent living and self-determined dying: Tell us something about it.
I expect that after my death I’ll feel just as I did before my birth – namely not at all. That seems to me to be a pleasant state, which I must not be afraid of. I would like to have the freedom finishing my life, if I think it is the right thing to do so. However I have no inclination for dramatic solutions. A pill would be the best…it is unfortunately not simply available until now…that’s good so too. One has to discuss this openly and find solutions.
Euthanasia should not become a business!
11. What damages society most at the present?
The unlimited avarice and greed of the rich and powerful had always been the greatest problem of mankind and it is still so today. More and more wealth is cumulated in the hands of fewer and fewer people. There are also too many people who’s demands go constantly higher. The world cannot bear more people. Living modest, eco-friendly and in harmony with nature, should be the ideal.
12. Silent or unknown humanists: Are there humanists who still are misunderstood or unknown in your opinion? If so: Who?
Who does not come out, cannot be detected. This is probably true for a lot of people, especially for people who need votes. One of the most compelling humanists, who had to hide his lifetime behind false names, is Paul Heinrich d’Holbach. One has to wonder how few people know him. There are so many who are known hopefully, for example, Franz Buckle – ‚For they know not what they believe‘.
13. Humanism and spirituality: Do you think that humanistic life needs places of spirituality, of memory or meditation? If so, how could these places look like?
If it is necessary, I don’t know, but I would find it excellent, if there would be such places. If I enter churches, and sometimes I do this in fact, I ask myself the question: How would I outfit this room to feel comfortable with my worldview. It would have to be a bright, comfortable room, flooded with light, not a moldy crypt which smells of blood and corpses, without martyr pictures, without torture instruments and torture knee benches, without excessive splendor, with pictures that glorify nature, with pictures that give courage and strength to live one’s life, or which show the fighters for the benefit of mankind, the heroes that fought for enlightenment and freedom. In the center should be a globe and at the ceiling the stars should twinkle.
14. Future and wishes: How do you see the future of humanism and what do you wish about it.
In the end common sense can’t be depressed. That is: Humanism will prevail among educated people. To what extent humanism can achieve big masses too, depends on whether humanism can get into the schools and into education, whether it can satisfy the religious needs of the masses by places of meditation, music, rituals, emotions; whether it can give comfort and hope to the poor, the sick and the underprivileged people. Hereby much freedom and creativity should be admitted.
I think that there should be such a thing like a „church“ which brings about community, which gives orientation, which gives consolation, which prepares the framework for festivities … created by humans, for the benefit of humans, not oriented towards the other world, but towards this world, with open democratic structures, with transparent finances which create confidence.
Answers given by© Roland Fakler 2014
“Epikurs garden” – “Who-is-hu” – Gesichter gegenwärtiger Humanisten © Evelin Frerk
Reproduction and copying is not allowed. Even extracts need the written imprimatur.
Questions developed and asked by Evelin Frerk und Laura Kase.
With thanks to the philosophers Dr. Fiona Lorenz und Dr. Ursula Menzer.
Berlin, Hamburg, Trier 2014
The Garden of Epicurus http://www.who-is-hu.de/
Knowledgable: Roland Fakler lives in 72119 Ammerbuch / Tübingen / Germany
Author and Painter
His Homepage: www.rolandfakler.de
His most important work: About Persecutors and persecuted people – Lessons learnt from History.