The ancient pagans believed their gods were real, because they took so long to make them up that they forgot having done it. Although today’s neo-pagans, who make up their gods all at once, don’t have that excuse, they only half-know that they are doing it. Sometimes, as in the feminist goddess cults, the devotees seem to be practicing a weird make-believe. Sometimes, as in Satanism, it is hard to tell what they think they are doing, for in theory they are worshipping evil, but in practice they are worshipping pleasure. Sometimes, as in what might be called Saganism, they are trying to invest things that are very, very big, like the material cosmos, with the awe that should be given to their Creator.
With some exceptions, at this point in history most neo-pagans don’t know that they have gods. When they say they don’t believe in God, they mean they don’t believe in that god. In fact each gives everything for some dream of vastness, wealth, excitement, sex, control, irresponsible gratification of the will, or some other vain thing, all without knowing that this is worship. How long the delusion of having no gods can persist, I don’t know.
It is strange that neo-pagans think that the God of whom Jews and Christians speak is just another lie of the poets, as Jove was. I call it strange because the first canon of the rational mind is that there are reasons for things. Moreover there has to be a First Reason, because an infinite regress of reasons for things is no reason at all. Ultimately, then, whatever does not have to be must depend on something that does. This First Reason, the God of Jews and Christians, is the One who does have to be, the necessary reality on whom all other reality depends.
To reject this God, then, is to say that there don’t have to be reasons for things, that in the end, nothing has to make sense. And let us be very clear: No one who believes that things don’t have to make sense has any business saying that anything at all is true or false. For how would he know?
To come back to Jove: Pagan religion didn’t believe in a First Reason. Though Edith Hamilton writes that “the terrifying irrational has no place in classical mythology,” this is itself a myth. Classical mythology was more or less explicit about nothing making sense. It didn’t picture the First Reason creating all things from nothing and then calling all things back to Himself. Rather it pictured the gods themselves coming from the void. Since everything was held up by chaos, ultimately nothing was held up at all. All light was drawn back to that unreason like dark homing pigeons. Let us give the Greeks and Romans this: They tried not to speak more of their dirty secret than they had to. Though the Norsemen, their minds filled with Ragnarök, could hardly speak of anything else, let us give them some credit too: They were brave about it.
If nothing has to make sense, then reason is no more than a special case of unreason. We ought to recognize this state of affairs, because our own materialists are in the same pickle. Matter doesn’t have to be, so if you are a materialist, believing in nothing but matter, you must believe that things that don’t have to be just are – that no explanation is needed. Question: “Why is there something and not rather nothing?” Answer: “Hey, whatever.” And so causes, effects, and explanations creep from the womb of darkness. Sanity perches on a twig at the edge of a chasm.
Though the pagan philosophers came from the same pagan culture, the greatest of them – Plato, Aristotle, some of the Stoics – did not view reason as just a special case of unreason. In this, their radicalism has been underrated. They grasped that reason rules. Some of them even fought through to the realization that if this so, then yes, there must be a First Reason. Though merely as a convenience, sometimes they borrowed pre-existing names like “Jove” for the First Reason, they were well aware that if God was this, then He was far from the Jove of the poets.
It never occurred to them that one could know the First Reason face to face, any more than the characters in a story could know the author.
But what if He made Himself known?
In the city of the philosophers, St. Paul said to some of these men, I see that you acknowledge the Unknown God. Let me tell you Who He is.