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To An Unknown God

One of my favorite passages in the book of Acts is in chapter 17 when Paul visits Rome and preaches in the Areopagus to the intellectual elites of the city, telling how he saw an altar “To An Unknown God,” and how he was there to reveal that God—Jesus. Recently I came across this blogpost suggesting that America as a whole is now in a similar position. We have forgotten who the God is referred to in our pledge, our currency, and in our patriotic songs. Thus, in reaching out to our fellow Americans, we can adopt Paul’s Athens methodology.

I think it is a provocative idea and is a quick read with some great history about how that altar came to exist in the first place. What strikes me is that Paul was preaching to the intellectual elites of that culture, which when translated forward 2000 years corresponds to university faculty.

Here’s where the challenge begins. Paul acknowledges the deep spirituality of the Athenians as a precursor to his message, commenting on the vast numbers of gods in their pantheon. As I look over the current university pantheon, I see precious few deities, and either a severe animosity towards the Christian God (or anything that hints at Him) or an even more profound, even herculean effort to ignore Him. The basic academic pantheon consists of about three deities with different areas of campus honoring them in different proportions, based on area of study.

We have Knowledge, sometimes called Science, whose gender identity is generally ambiguous.
This deity is worshipped for the pure pleasure of its existence and exploration. The beauty of its order and the titillating hints at what remains to be revealed drives its followers to extraordinary acts of devotion, often sacrificing family and other pursuits for the pure love of growing in this faith. Christians have a lot to learn from them in terms of raw devotion and worship.

The intimate partner of Knowledge is Nature, who is generally viewed as a goddess. Science serves as her consort, messenger and prophet, and they are generally worshipped together. Nature is often viewed as the Creator-Mother in the academic pantheon, with many followers convinced that humanity has ticked her off through false worship, and, if Mama ain’t happy, then no one is happy. Both Nature and Knowledge are worshipped across campus but the rituals vary significantly from tribe to tribe.

Together, through the ecstasy of worship, these two deities in partnership with their worshippers, produced the child-god Humanism, sometimes called Atheism, who also has other similar aliases. Humanism has an uneasy relationship with his parents. Sometimes he adores them, yet even when working in tandem with them in divine rites, he will often trumpet his self-sufficiency, all the while giving proper lip service to Mother Nature. But there is a sense that at times, he’d rather put her in a museum for preservation and to get her out of the way for his ascendency. The exact aspect of his behaviour that dominates again varies by tribal legend. It should be noted that extreme sects spell the name Humynism and demand that she/he/it is also gender uncertain, but highly unlikely a ‘he’.

Prestige and Materialism serve as demigods, but do not hold the predominance of the holy family—cousins serving as courtiers. A host of lesser characters abound, however there is evidence from careful study that many of them are really the main characters in disguise.

This pantheon has but one main enemy, and they will fight to exclude this adversary from any potential toehold they discover, whether by outright opposition and eviction of his worshippers found in any of the approved tribes or by ignoring him and them in an attempt to isolate and quarantine them from further infection of the chosen people (faculty) and their descendants (students). This all hateful enemy is the Christian God. Other ‘traditional’ gods are usually tolerated and even viewed with curiosity, as distant cousins or at least non-interfering living relics that fall under Humanism’s protective servant, Cultural Diversity.

The problem with the Christian God, in their opinion, is that He doesn’t play fair. He insists on being the only game in town. Part of their resentment also stems from the fact that they don’t like to remember that they actually owe their existence to Him, and have been trying to supplant Him ever since. While one or two of the other traditional gods see themselves with the same exclusivity as the Christian God, they did not have the same hand in bringing the current pantheon forth and are so minor in the academic cosmos they can be kept as pets.

The interesting thing is that while the Christian God is now largely Unknown due to decades of success in marginalizing Him among their own worshippers, they still have enough understanding to properly fear the impact He could have in destroying their power should He gain a real beachhead. Thus, the elite of our day have been somewhat better inoculated against the Areopagic approach than the Athenians.

Thus, another approach is usually needed. It seems that the primary approach remaining is the most severe—showing the emptiness of the promises of these gods to provide true satisfaction. However, the challenge here is that given their origins from Christian scholarship in a culture still steeped in Christian thought, they do contain a fair amount of intrinsic promise. This promise was meant to direct would be followers to the Source of promise, but the pantheon drew worshippers’ attention to themselves, and many became enthralled.

Thus begins the slow task of slowly, carefully, subtly drawing attention back to the promises themselves and laying the trail aright to its true Source. This is rarely done en masse or in one go. But it is a worthy challenge not for the faint in heart or patience.

Thus ends this reading of An Introduction to Academic Faith and Bestiary.


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