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date: 18 August 2019

Abstract and Keywords

While Sceptics canvassed arguments against the existence of any gods, and Cynics were abrasive in their strictures on conventional religion, late antiquity offers no indubitable evidence of naked disbelief in the divine. Christians were called atheists because they abstained from popular and mandatory acts of worship, Epicureans because they denied the providential ordering of the world. In Christian literature the term is applied both to pagans, on account of their failure to recognise the true God, and to heretics who denied God any part in the creation or governance of the material realm. The ‘fool’ of Psalm 53.1 was characterized by some commentators as an absolute atheist by others only as a practical atheist. Christians of the early middle ages often accepted that the pagan gods had existed, either as demons or (according to the theory of Euhemerus) as humans who had merited special notoriety.

Keywords: Christianity, scepticism, Cynicism, Euhemerism, Psalm 53, superstition, providence, mythography

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