I am currently reading Greg Epstein’s book “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.” In this he gives a brief description of humanist ideas going back thousands of years.
It’s amazing how non-believers have always been slandered when it comes to ethics and morals. Often critics think that “not worshiping God means little more than worshiping one’s own stomach. The ideas of Epicurus (341 BCE 270 BCE) are often presented that way and this is far from the truth. Epstein quotes the following from Epicurus “Letter to Menoeceus“:
“When we say, then, that pleasure is the end and the aim, we do not mean the pleasures of the prodigal or the pleasures of sensuality, as we are understood to do by some through ignorance, prejudice, or willful misrepresentation. By pleasure we mean the absence of pain in the body and of trouble in the soul. It is not an unbroken succession of drinking bouts and of revelry, not sexual lust, not the enjoyment of the fish and other delicacies of a luxurious table, which produce a pleasant life; it is sober reasoning, searching out the grounds of every choice and avoidance, and banishing those beliefs through which the greatest tumults take possession of the soul. Of all this the beginning and the greatest good is wisdom. Therefore wisdom is a more precious thing even than philosophy; from it spring all the other virtues, for it teaches that we cannot live pleasantly without living wisely, honorably, and justly; nor live wisely, honorably, and justly without living pleasantly.”
Humanists and other non-believers actually have a long tradition of ethical and moral thinking. As Epstein points out “we are the children, the descendants, of a great but misunderstood wisdom whith its roots in the ancient East and West – deep in the soil of the human spirit.”