Great article in August 8 2011 New Yorker by Stephen Greenblatt on “On the Nature of Things,” an epic poem by Roman poet/philosopher Titus Lucretius Carus (99BC – 55BC) with special relevance in this era of religious bigotry:
THE ANSWER MAN
An ancient poem was rediscovered—and the world swerved.
“…at its heart, ‘On the Nature of Things’ persuasively laid out what seemed to be a strikingly modern understanding of the world. Every page reflected a core scientific vision—a vision of atoms randomly moving in an infinite universe—imbued with a poet’s sense of wonder. Wonder did not depend on the dream of an afterlife; in Lucretius, it welled up out of a recognition that we are made of the same matter as the stars and the oceans and all things else. And this recognition was the basis for the way he thought we should live—not in fear of the gods but in pursuit of pleasure, in avoidance of pain.…”
“To people haunted by images of the bleeding Christ, gripped by a terror of Hell, and obsessed with escaping the purgatorial fires of the afterlife, Lucretius offered a vision of divine indifference. There was no afterlife, no system of rewards and punishments meted out from on high.…”
https://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/08/08/110808fa_fact_greenblatt Note: this is only an excerpt from the full article.
I just ordered the version of the poem translated by Martin Ferguson Smith, as recommended by Greenblatt (Hackett Classics Series). Lucretius nailed it over 2000 years ago.