It is time to present two of my all-time favorites among humanistic thinkers of the past. Number one on my list is early Greek philosopher Epicurus. He did create a comprehensive and wholly rational recipe on how to attain a maximal state of peace of mind.
My second choice is the Roman emperor-philosopher Marcus Aurelius. He did teach how to use self-restraint for achieving tranquility of mind.
These two great men had much in common. Marcus Aurelius was well aware of the teachings of the much earlier Epicurus, even if he belonged to a competing school of philosophy. Marcus Aurelius was a Stoic and Stoicism did compete for followers with Epicureanism in the time of Marcus Aurelius.
Stoics did, in fact, at times pour scorn over Epicurus. However, the fact remains that their philosophy contains very many elements that were taken quite straight out of Epicureanism. Many ideas that were presented by Marcus Aurelius could have as well been uttered by Epicurus or his followers as well .
One could say that Epicurus concentrated in controlling and channeling ones desires as a way for reaching happiness. On the other hand Marcus Aurelius concentrated more on how to control oneself in the difficult web of social interactions that play so crucial part in human life.
Both did present extremely crucial and basic truths about the way how humans still act and think. However, I do not think that either did find a one-size fits all solution for a happy and fulfilling life.
There is so much diversity between humans that there simply does not exist a solution that could fulfill the needs of all, as Christianity or Islam so extremely boldly claim. By combining the best parts of Epicureanism and Stoicism one can get much nearer to a universal recipe for a happy and fulfilling life, than Christianity has ever achieved to present.
The big difference is that Epicurus and Marcus Aurelius argue on a rational basis on how a person should behave to achieve happiness and to be a good citizen in one's social setting. Christianity makes very similar claims based on very dubious divine authority alone.
Of course, there is a rational basis for some of the teachings of Christianity also. This rationality is, however, destroyed by other elements of this faith. These rational ideas are justified by revelation and their assumed 'divine' origin and not by their usefulness and utility-value.
So, even the rational parts of this faith will became objects of pure faith. They end up in the same position as the most irrational aspects of that faith.
There is very little in the basic teaching of Epicurus or Marcus Aurelius that could be shown to be completely false even in a modern society. They based their ideas wholly on rational observation of humans and workings of human societies and did not claim anything more.
One can naturally well argue that Epicurus and Marcus Aurelius are not wholly secular thinkers. Both did have some kind of concept of 'god'. This is true if this idea was mostly stocked away in shadier parts of their thinking. However, their god was not at all the personal, vengeful and angry god of Judaism, Christianity or Islam, but more or less just the nature in itself.
Their pantheistic god was in reality just a concept that was used to explain away things that did have an explanation at that time. It was, in fact, just a placeholder for question mark as I have argued before in this blog. Their 'god' did not tell people how to behave themselves and did not affect the real world in any way. This conceptual god did not affect their philosophy in any meaningful way.
Epicurus or Marcus Aurelius did not have any kind of divine revelations, but they were just very wise men who did put time and effort into thinking how a human being should behave to maximize his or her happiness.
Epicurus is in Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/epicureanphilosopher
Marcus Aurelius is in Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/aureliusphilosopher
(This piece was completely rewritten on 31th of July, 2012)