I have become fascinated by a YouTube channel run by a user called Skallagrim. (His name is drawn from the father of the eponymous hero of Egil’s Saga, which fans of fantasy novels would surely enjoy reading.) In addition to the cool weapons and topics he presents, his honesty and cheerful personality make his videos enjoyable to watch. Recently, I stumbled across this video on how monotheism appears to non-believers. Christians do well to watch it because it very accurately describes the worldview of agnostics—or agnostic pagans as Skallagrim has described himself, though perhaps only semi-seriously.
After watching that, I found that I disagreed with so many things that I did not know where to start. My original thought was to write about why his impression of God is distorted from the way He really is. But then, the obvious question he might ask is why my view is any better than a Lutheran’s, Calvinist’s, Muslim’s, Jew’s, etc. In meditating before the tabernacle (and no, I did not go to the tabernacle in order to ask God how I should write this article, but the article kept surfacing in my mind), the understanding came to me that the essence of agnosticism, which inflicts the entire modern world, is the belief that one cannot know objective metaphysical truth. I italicize those words because agnostics obviously can believe in objective reality–and Skallagrim certainly does. However, trying to discern an objective order to the universe beyond what science can tell one is deemed a fool’s errand.
The pagans of ancient Mediterranean world believed the same thing. Relativism was as rampant in the ancient world as it is today. Disparate peoples compared their pagan religions to one another and found commonalities. They tolerated other pagan religions. The idea of fighting about religion was absurd to them. But, the progress of time caused pagans to be less religious, starting with the upper, educated classes. This culminated in religion being outward show for the majority by the first century before Christ.
What destroyed the credence pagan had in their religion? Obviously, it was not Christianity, which had not yet appeared. The cause lies in the advent of philosophy, particularly the Socratic philosophers. Socrates changed the world by seeking definitions of things in order to find out universal truths. No longer would mere dogma be satisfactory! Statements cannot be accepted on mere authority! Plato banned poets from his ideal city-state because he thought they perpetuated the lies found in mythology. Though Plato believed in a plurality of gods, he believed that the divine must be good and harmonious, not evil and discordant as we often see the Greek gods and goddesses act. Emphasizing this unity, Plato often refers only to one god. Aristotle further investigates the ideas found in Plato and posited a single “unmoved mover,” who must be God.
Basically, good philosophy–exemplified by Plato and Aristotle rather than the confusing mess offered by modern philosophies–renders the idea of a plurality of gods as untenable. Platonism and Aristotelianism point to a harmonious metaphysical realm which includes an unmoved mover who set everything else in motion and uncaused cause from whom all other causes derive. Isn’t it amazing that philosophy contains the similar truths found in the Catholic faith? So much so that Christianity has been called “Platonism for the masses”? St. Augustine describes a Platonic philosopher named Victorinus who believed in Christianity upon reading the Scriptures because of the way they connected with his philosophy. Yet, he hesitated to be baptized. When he told the Bishop Simplicianus of Milan that he was a Christian, Simplicianus said that he would not believe him until he had entered Church and received the sacraments. Victorinus’ succinct comeback “do walls make Christians?” is still remembered today. However, he did decide to get baptized and become a full member of the Catholic Church.
Why is this melding of philosophy and Christianity possible? It is well known that St. Augustine uses Platonism well to make sense of Christian doctrine, while St. Thomas does the same in his Summa Theologica with Aristotle. The fact of the matter is that Truth is one and objective. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle–no doubt with God’s Will–discovered parts of the truth and created systems which facilitated the understanding of Christians. They also share one commonality with early Christians: their fellow citizens persecuted them. Socrates was executed, Plato was charged in the same way as his master but fined instead, and Aristotle needed to flee Athens lest, as he put it, Athens commit a second crime against philosophy.
So, I would wish modern pagans and agnostics to give objective metaphysical truth a chance–to thoroughly test the metaphysical skepticism preached by analytical philosophy and Logical Posivitism by starting at the beginning of that non-authoritarian school known as philosophy. Read Plato and Aristotle. If Aristotle is too dry, read his most eloquent disciple, Cicero. See whether you’re convinced of their faith in objective metaphysical truth. (I might also add that one should read St. Thomas Aquinas, as he is more Aristotelian than Aristotle and the Churchmen of his time accused him of relying too much on philosophy.) See how modern philosophers challenge the Socratic Schools. Read modern defenders of older philosophical traditions like Peter Kreeft, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Mortimer Jerome Adler.
The reason I recommend philosophy so much is because it arms one with the tools to discern good theology from bad. It is difficult to determine which religious truths don’t hold water, but having the tool of philosophy makes it much easier. So, do not seek religion for religion’s sake, but examine religions for the sake of the Truth. As I believe Jesus Christ is the Truth itself, seeing you seek Him will only draw Him faster to you: for all our striving, we do not find the Truth, but the Truth finds us–if only we care.