Agnostic: A-gnosis

The word agnostic is formed by combining the prefix “a-” with “gnosis.” The original form comes from Greek, and that helps us understand the term. In Greek the prefix “a-” means without (we still use that today: an amoral person is someone with out morals, he is neither moral nor immoral) and “gnosis” means knowledge (we refer to the ancient “Gnosticism,” which was a false system of beliefs which held that knowledge was the key to greater spirituality—the more knowledge you had, the closer you were to God).

Therefore, an agnostic is an a-gnostic—a person without knowledge.

Now, all of this gets interesting when we follow the development of language in the first millennium after Christ. Greek eventually took a backseat to Latin. And in Latin we see the same basic construct that we see with the Greek “a-gnostic,” only in Latin the prefix is “i-” and the root word is “gnoro” (our word “ignore” comes from this Latin construction). You can see the similarities: In Greek we have “a-” with “gnosis” and in Latin we have “i-” with “gnoro.”

Put all that together, and what do you have? An agnostic is an ignoramus. While the Greek makes the agnostic sound respectable, the Latin cuts to the chase, removes the fluff, and speaks clearly.

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