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The Unknown God (was: Conciliatory moves...)

From:John Cowan <jcowan@...>
Date:Monday, May 1, 2000, 18:31
Raymond Brown wrote:

> I've found it's good advice until one gets the feel of the company one's > in. On this list we've managed, on the whole, not to exclude religion; > Dirk has told us he is a Mormon on several occasions, [snipped]
Well, I suppose I will add myself to the list. I am an agnostic, as I have said before. I adopt Larry Niven's definition: "One who does not know whether or not there is a God, and does not believe you do either." (It is the second clause that divides the agnostic proper from the mere skeptic.) I have held this position for as long as I can remember. I did once, however, have a still, small Experience. I was thinking about the word "agnostic". Thomas Henry Huxley (aka "Darwin's bulldog") apparently coined the term, as if from "a-" (Greek negation prefix) and "gnostic" (one who knows). But there is every reason to think that he also had in mind Acts 17:16-23: 017:016 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. 017:017 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. 017:018 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. 017:019 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is? 017:020 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean. 017:021 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.) (Comment: Throughout the Mediterranean world, as Paul and the other earliest Christians preached the Gospel, it was nothing but beatings and imprisonments here, imprisonments and beatings there. Except in Athens, where it was *explanations* that were wanted! The inquiring spirit of Greek antiquity was not yet dead.) 017:022 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are [very religious]. (Comment: The KJV says "too superstitious", but this is clearly in error, and I have substituted the NIV reading here.) 017:023 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Or in Greek, AGNOSTOU THEOU. So Huxley's coinage "agnostic" reflects this semantic as well: not merely unknowing, but unknown. And as I was thinking of these things, and looking out the window, I heard a voice in my head say "No one at all knows anything about Me": the voice of the Unknown God. This was not a conversion-experience, but a confirmation-experience, and I have remained an agnostic ever since. -- Schlingt dreifach einen Kreis um dies! || John Cowan <jcowan@...> Schliesst euer Aug vor heiliger Schau, || Denn er genoss vom Honig-Tau, || Und trank die Milch vom Paradies. -- Coleridge (tr. Politzer)