It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and honorably and justly, and it is impossible to live wisely and honorably and justly without living pleasantly. Whenever any one of these is lacking, when, for instance, the man is not able to live wisely, though he lives honorably and justly, it is impossible for him to live a pleasant life."
- Epicurus (the 5th Epicurean Principal Doctrine)
Religions were created to fill an existing vacuum in the minds of the people. All principal world religions were created at a time when humans did know next to nothing about their environment, world or the universe. In the then prevailing state of total ignorance things could still be explained away in an extremely coarse way. Often it was done by simply making up stories that sounded plausible in some way. Unfortunately, these stories simply do not hold up to closer examination anymore.
The need for such simplistic explanations has simply vanished with the rise of the science. We do now have quite satisfactory explanations for the structure and workings of the whole universe. We do not need those old stories which nomads told to each other on the evenings to pass the time away anymore.
During the past couple hundreds of years, the Christian European state churches have been wise enough to bow away always when new information has been discovered. However, at first also the western churches did all of their power in a try to stop the tidal rise of science and the rise of real, accurate information with it.
Eventually, western churches had to give away under pressure when findings of the science changed the societies around them irreparably. Churches lifted their arms in despair and surrendered quietly at the onslaught of victorious science. Also, the European Lutheran churches were transformed enormously in the process. They are not real users of secular power anymore. They have been changed into quite toothless caretakers of rituals and soothers of minds.
The seekers of real scientific information do not need to fear for their life or liberty in the nations where this tamed version of Christianity holds sway, when their predecessors feared for their lives just a few hundred years ago. Religion has no real role anymore in the Western Europe in explaining the workings of the universe anymore. People who try to do so will be treated as maniacs in most parts of Western Europe. Science has simply replaced religion in this respect.
Unfortunately, situation is not as rosy in other parts of the world, especially in the United States and the Islamic world. The fundamentalist movements in the USA and Islamic world are desperately trying to hold back the scientific explanations of the world. They cling to explanations of the universe that are quite universally found to be simply outdated and utterly false.
Of course, there still remains the hard part or the role of religions as a source of moral guidance. This task is not as easy to dismiss, as is their role as sources of information. However, a sad fact is that we have largely forsaken other sources of moral guidance, especially philosophy. For example, Epicurean and Stoic moral philosophies are clearly superior to the Christian ones in their clarity and exactness. They do cover the whole scale of human existence in a way that is quite unknown in Christianity.
Epicureanism and Stoicism were the last and most developed schools of philosophy to emerge before the rise of Christianity. This is important as after the rise of Christianity it took over thousand years before people in the Western Europe could shake off the corruptive influence of supernatural explanations.
Sadly, Epicureanism and Stoicism and other moral competing philosophies are quite undeservedly forgotten now. Even majority of people now honestly think that religions can be the only sources of moral guidance. People may even think that these philosophies are just not current enough because they are so old. They do not necessarily notice that the core teachings of Christianity are over 2000 years old.
However, the basic human nature has not changed much during this time. In fact, the Greek and Roman societies where Epicureanism and Stoicism did flourish were much more like our own than the backward Palestine where Christianity was created.
Natural justice is a pledge of reciprocal benefit, to prevent one man from harming or being harmed by another."
- Epicurus (the 31th Epicurean Principal Doctrine)
(This piece was refurbished on 20th of April, 2013)