Saturday, June 28, 2008

To an unknown god

THIS is an interesting tale for these confusing times.

Standing northwest of the Acropolis in Greece is a stone hill where believers and unbelievers, if we heed the stories, meet and sometimes end up not parting ways.

The ancient Romans named this hill the “Areopagus” because this was the “pagos,” or hill, where Areios was tried and then acquitted by the gods for murdering Poseidon’s son.

Areios came from Ares, where so many murderers hid to escape retribution, a temple was erected to appease the Erinyes, also known as the Furies.

With heads seething with serpents and eyes, dripping blood, the Furies embodied the vengeance of the dead. The terrible trio—Alecto (“unceasing”), Megaera ("grudging") and Tisiphone ("avenging murder")—sprang from the blood dripping from Ouranos, castrated by his son, the Titan Cronos. Some Romans even believed the Furies came from a darker source, Nyx (“Night”), and were not limited to three but were beyond reckoning.

For bringing murderers and other lawbreakers to justice, the Areopagus became a city-state known for investigating the corrupt. When Paul and the apostles entered it in 63 A.D., they found Stoics, Epicureans and other philosophers who lived for nothing but to listen to and discuss the latest ideas.

Unlike other places where the apostles were nearly stoned for worshipping their God, the Areopagus accommodated all ideas, all creeds.

“As I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship,” Paul wrote in Acts 17:23, recounting his speech to learned Athenians gathered in the Areopagus to hear the apostles expound on this latest of ideas, “I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.”

What was unknown to the ancient Athenians has become a familiar figure to anyone following the aftermath of the sinking of the mv Princess of the Stars.

Though unnamed, this seems to be the same god invoked by Coast Guard officials and Sulpicio Lines executives and owners to explain why the ship was allowed to leave Manila, only to capsize when it ran into the full force of typhoon Frank, leaving most of its nearly 800 passengers and crew dead, unrecovered or missing.

The cited reason: miscommunication about the government policy barring sea travel during a storm.

This same, unknown god hovers over the frequent appeals of the ship owners for understanding, patience and order from several parties. First, from frantic families and friends made to wait or scramble on their own for information about their loved ones days after the sinking.

Reason: information must be verified before the ship executives or owners can act, an irony lost on a company that seems to have neither an organized system nor a sense of moral culpability even after causing four other major sea tragedies within a 21-year practice, including the sinking of the mv Doña Paz, considered the “world’s worst peacetime shipping tragedy,” with its 4,341 dead.

This same god, Reason, forces local governments to split their limited resources to help traumatized ship survivors and searching families, along with other typhoon victims. To prevent health risks, the government has to bury bodies in temporary graves and suspend the recovery operations after the mv Princess of the Stars was found to carry a toxic cargo.

Reason: no information has been volunteered by Sulpicio executives or owners if it will pick up the tab of local governments in “cleaning up” after the sea tragedy or if there are other cargoes endangering the search and retrieval team, nearby coastal communities, or the marine ecosystem.

In the presence of this god—pat and empty Reason—one is tempted to imitate the pagans and summon the Furies to teach every Sulpicio executive or heir a lesson in karma.

Or one can listen to Paul.

Addressing the Areopagus, historic center of reason and human justice, the apostle said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious… Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth… He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.

“He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31) 0917-3226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s June 29, 2008 issue

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