Christ and Nothing
Vicq Ruiz asks a fascinating and hard question:
I would be most interested to have you expand upon (or point me to an expansion upon, by you or by another) one paragraph in your essay which appears to be no more than an assertion…..
The only real alternative of the apparent many options is either Christianity or something leading to Christ, or else is a heresy or perversion whose only good was borrowed from the Church, so that any partial good found in these pagan, Jewish, or heretic thought is perfected in Christianity.
I have always responded to Pascal’s wager and to like arguments with the “many alternatives to Christian belief and to atheism” rejoinder.
My paragraph is unsupported as quoted, but it is quoted from a context discussing a particular question, namely, what makes the atheist model of the universe inferior to the theist, and to the Christian.
Yes, obviously there are many alternatives to Christianity. That is not in dispute. You may find yourself preferring one over the other for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is loyalty to whatever upbringing you happened to have been brought up in. That is also not in dispute.
What is in dispute is my rather bold statement; I say that there is something in theism which anyone fleeing atheism seeks, and that Christianity has more of this something, a better and cleaner and clearer version, than the alternatives.
Hence, there is no argument that other alternatives exist, and no argument that other alternatives may be more appealing on other grounds unrelated to this something than Christianity. The only argument is whether this something is something anyone fleeing atheism seeks, and whether Christianity has more of it.
So what is the something?
The one thing that motivates an ex-atheist to flee atheism is a hunger for the divine. The only reason for disembarking from a universe where there is no god is to find one where there is.
That leads us to the next question. What is there about the divine that makes men crave it?
I submit to your candid judgment that even those who think the hunger for the divine is a delusion all agree on the elements which make the divine appealing to those for whom it has an appeal:
First is truth.
There are countless mysteries and unanswered questions in this universe, and science only attempts to answer the trivial mysteries of physics. The central enigma of the universe is Man. We are the one thing we care most about and know least about. We do not know why we are here or where we are going or why. We do not know right from wrong. We do not know why we suffer, or why we do bad things when we so desperately want to do good things. We don’t even know why we do good things when we are ready to do bad things. If there is no God, we have no method better than the labyrinthine confusion of philosophy to lead us to these ultimate answers. Physics only tells us how things work. It cannot explain why we are strangers and exiles in the cosmos. Those who hunger for God hunger for truth.
As I said, even those who scoff at Man’s search for truth as chasing a mirage will not dispute that the hunger exists, and will not dispute that, except for children, smug teenagers, and those sad souls who have successfully been retarded to lifelong smugteenagerhood in their psychology, all men seek to slake this hunger.
Second, there is beauty.
For an atheist, there is manmade beauty, and there are things in nature men find beautiful, but arbitrarily , or due to psychological or evolutionary programming over which they have no control.
An atheist seeing something beautiful in nature is not seeing something he rightly should be grateful to see, for, even if he feels the sentiment of gratitude, the sentiment is illogical, because there is no one to whom to be grateful. We humans have the same reaction to the sublime wonders of nature as we have to the sublime wonder of great art, but, for the atheist, there is no artist: The beauty is accidental, unintentional, and not the produce of an intelligence working for a deliberate purpose.
The atheist has no choice but to conclude that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and if men universally find one thing or another beautiful, this can only be because there is some material circumstance, a chemical feature of the brain or psychological condition enforced by evolution, which just so happens to afflict all men, and force them to the same aesthetic response.
A more philosophically inclined atheist might believe there is a Platonic form or aidos of beauty that exists in the mental realm of eternal abstractions: but this form arises not due to any intelligent purpose. It is a blank fact of existence, like saying water is wet or triangles have three sides, and hence anything beautiful in the universe of the Platonic atheist is not beautiful for any deliberate reason.
Unintended beauty is ultimately vain and meaningless. For art without an artist is not art at all, as a message without a messenger is not a message at all. It is merely something created by the beholder when he beholds: a subjective thing he invents, not an objective thing he perceives.
Third, there is justice.
We live in a world where Stalin died comfortably in bed, as did Mao, and where Jack the Ripper was never caught. If death is a dreamless oblivion, which, in an atheist universe it must be, then justice is limited to what mortal men can wreak upon each other, limited by their lack of knowledge and power to find the guilty and their inability to punish them as they deserve. Mao, even had been brought to justice, could not have been executed more times than Jack the Ripper, even though the murders Mao commanded (between 35 million and 70 million) are seven or eight orders of magnitude greater than Jack’s (between five and eighteen). The justice of mortal men is woefully inadequate at best.
Also, without God, there is no definition of justice, aside from what rather inadequate definitions we can deduce from our own sentiments or from nature. Again, an atheist Platonic philosopher might be able to deduce a form of justice existing the timeless mental realm of concepts, but, as with the question of art without an artist, such a form of justice would be a raw fact, a justice without a judge, a moral law without a legislator, moral imperatives with no deliberate intelligence behind them, and therefore lack moral force.
There may be a reason, if you are a crewman, to obey a captain who says a storm is coming and the crew must batten down the hatches, even if you don’t think it wise, because you trust the captain or respect or fear his authority lawfully placed over you; but there is no reason to “obey” signs in the clouds presaging a rainstorm if no human wisdom sees a need for battening down the hatches, because the unintelligent forces in the air gathering the storm are not a lawful authority placed over you. Ignore signs of a storm may be impractical or foolish, but it is not a moral error; it is not a violation of a law, not a violation of an ethical maxim. There is a pragmatic dimension to paying attention to cause and effect, and noting the clues or side effects of possible dangers which nature provides, but this is not the same as obeying a lawful order. A man “obeys” nature only when it is in his long-term best interest to do so.
Fourth, there is a craving for communion and companionship, of union with God. We want love.
Related to this is the desire, difficult to explain, to live at peace with the natural world, or return to Eden. A strange homesickness for paradise hangs across the religious thinking of all men of all cultures and ages, as if this world is a place of exile, as if there is a walled garden or lovely mountain or golden age drowned in the past where death and sickness never come, and wine bowls are never empty. A religion or world view which promises to satisfy all other cravings of man for the divine, but not this one, would be a very pessimistic one. Atheists seem not to suffer this hunger, or else they are science fiction fans who hope that a golden age will arise in the future, or they are socialists who think men can produce a golden age now merely by enacting a sufficiently murderous dictatorship to eat the rich and kill the Jews.
Fifth is a desire for the forgiveness of sins.
This is a craving difficult to explain to the modern mind, as every effort of art and propaganda and conditioning and every lie and more lies and yet more lies have been strained to the effort, largely successful, of a raising a generation utterly ignorant that moral law exist or that they have fallen short of it. The modern effort to expunge guilt concentrates exclusively on encouraging those behaviors, especially sexual perversion, which make a man guilty of breaking moral law, but to abolish or to bury his awareness of the guilt by telling him not to feel it.
In other words, the effort is not to be guiltless by heeding the conscience; the effort is not to feel guilty by benumbing the conscience.
The whole effort of political correctness, the cult of self-esteem, the paradoxes and foolishness of moral relativism, the degrading absurdities of the divorce culture and the sexual revolution, the continual thundering from our elite that we are never to judge right and wrong, never to have an opinion about good and bad, or, if we do, to keep it to ourselves, the equation of decency with oppression and indecency with freedom, all hinge on the central thought that the conscience is foolish and arbitrary if not positively evil, and must never be followed.
A person successfully indoctrinated in this mindset—the psychiatric name for it is sociopathy, or, to call it by its older and clearer name ‘moral insanity’—is unable to appreciate even the concept of sin and redemption, much less understand the normal human hunger for it.
Unfortunately for the sociopaths of a sociopathic age, nature is not so easily wished away. One of the unintended consequences of sociopathy as a way of life is the imposition of the strictest possible yet utterly capricious rules of political correctness. The accused has no defense against accusation, any more than a witch accused by a witchhunter, and the selfsame parrot speech which was perfectly orthodox yesterday (for example, defending the rights of women or homosexuals to avoid any accusation of sexism or homophobia) will be denounced as satanic heresy tomorrow (as Islamophobia). Soviet style public apologies and self criticism is called for, but there is no forgiveness in this system, and the sins are known to all parties involved not to be real sins, not to be serious, not to be substantial.
The final cause is love of life and fear of death. All men are mortal and no man wishes to be.
We live in a world where we hate and fear pain and death and we crave an eternity of unwearied joy, and this material world has nothing in it to satisfy that longing.
Now then, each of these things has a more and a less excellent form. To have partial knowledge of truth is better than utter ignorance, but to know and live the truth in its completeness is better. Again, to live in a universe where everything is a matter of mere opinion or is merely a lie told by the strong to deceive and oppress the weak would be hell; to know a truth, even if it were bitter, would be better; to know a truth and discover it to be far more beautiful, a triumph of boundless joy, would be best of all.
Now then, I am not making any argument at this point about the truth or falsehood of the claims made by any particular religion, philosophy or worldview! I am merely making a statement about the claims themselves. I say that the Christians make a more ambitious claim that any reasonable alternative. If the Christian worldview is true, the human desire for truth, beauty, justice, love, redemption and eternity is more fully satisfied than it would be if any alternate claim were proved true.
While there are myriads of opinions, theories, worldviews, philosophies, heresies and denominations, there are also certain broad categories into which, without any injustice, large groups of these worldviews fall.
We can list the possible relationships the natural world might have with the divine, because there is not an infinite number of possibilities. God is either immanent (within nature) or transcendent (outside nature) or both, or neither. God is either none or one or many. I believe that covers all the possibilities, or, at least, all the major ones.
If there are no gods, this is atheism. In this case, god is neither immanent nor transcendent, because he does not exist at all. There is no relationship between the natural world and the supernatural because the supernatural is nonexistent.
If there is no material world, this is Buddhism, or Gnosticism, or some other form of Immaterialism. In this case, God is both immanent and transcendent, because God is all that ultimately exists, everything else being an illusion or emanation of God. There is no relationship between the natural world and the supernatural because the natural is nonexistent, a mere delirium.
If the divine is one and the same as the natural world, this is pantheism. In such a case god is both one and many, a multiform unity that permeates all beings. The Stoics and Neoplatonists had conceptions along these lines, as do Taoists, Hindu and Theosophists.
If the divine set the world in motion at the moment of creation and otherwise neither touches nor interferes with His work, this is Deism. The god is transcendent but not immanent.
If there are many gods which arose from the natural operations of the world, and who are therefore contingent but not necessary beings, this is polytheism or paganism. Such gods are immanent but not transcendent. All of primitive animism, the pantheons of Africa and the Americas, the various folklores and myths of the classical and Norse fit into this definition, as does Shinto, and, I dare say, any religion which lacks a theology. Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism cannot be neatly fit into a polytheistic definition, because their theology is more subtle and civilized.
While there is nothing that makes it theoretically impossible to posit the existence of many transcendent gods, I confess I can bring to mind no real examples from history or anthropology.
Of those who believe God to be transcendent and immanent, that is, both above the world and working within it, all are either monotheists, as Jews, Christian, and Mohammedans; or else hold there are two equal and opposed gods of light and darkness, as the Zoroastrians or Manicheans.
In sum, either there is no god, or there are many gods, or two, or one. Either the god is outside nature, or is nature, or is inside nature, or is both outside nature and active within it.
So our choices are atheism, pantheism, deism, polytheism, Manichaeism and monotheism.
Let us look at each in turn, and see how well, were we living in a universe where their claims were true, each worldview satisfies man’s hunger for truth, justice, beauty, love and forgiveness and eternity.
The atheist world view has no possibility of sating a man’s craving for forgiveness or for eternity. If there is no god, there can be companionship with god, no relation at all. If the natural world is all there is, and the natural world is governed by the second law of thermodynamics, then even a medical breakthrough expanding man’s life to Methuselah’s span, or a method of preserving one’s brain information and personality and sense of self in some other vessel aside from frail human flesh, must of necessity fail in the end. Beauty and justice likewise are either manmade inventions or arbitrary human reactions to inanimate natural forces. Life is inescapably meaningless and vain in this world view. The best one can hope for is the distraction of hedonism, or the resignation of stoicism.
Pantheism abrogates the possibility of a personal relationship with God, because the world-godhead, being everything, is impersonal. There is no justice in such a universe, because all things, just and unjust alike, are equally divine and equally part of the world-godhead. There is no beauty because all things, fair and foul alike, are part of the world-godhead. In pantheism, thou are God, and anything is God. Truth and justice and beauty exist only insofar as nature provides them.
Panetheism is a related doctrine, which holds that there is God in all things, but also a Pleorma or Nirvana or other state outside the natural world where God extends, or has a stronghold, or from which He comes. The difficulty here is that such conceptions of God preclude the possibility of personal relationship not because God has not personality, but because you do. The best that can be hoped for is to achieve the enlightened disinterest of the Buddhist, or the extinction of illusion of self in the universal-soul of the Gnostics. The craving for justice is revealed to the enlightened eye as a deception of the archons, or as an attachment of the false self to illusory things.
Deism precludes the possibility of any personal relationship with God, or of having prayers answered, or of any aspect of the religious life aside from a convenient theory that the world was designed by an intelligent creator. The relationship with God is that of automaton to watchmaker.
Polytheism can satisfy many of the yearnings listed, but these gods, because they are natural beings, can suffer (as the Hindu gods do) or die (as the Norse gods do). Polytheistic gods are immanent but not transcendent. They can be closer to truth and justice and beauty than mortal men, but they are not the source of it. They are longer lived than men, but are not eternal: all the gods of myriad worlds die at the Kali Yuga when Brahma opens his eyes and restarts the Great Year. Odin dies in the jaws of Fenris. Zeus’ fate, foreseen by Prometheus, is that he shall be overthrown by his son as his father was overthrown by him, and his grandfather by his father.
As a matter of logic, there is only imperfect justice in a polytheistic world, as Aeneas found out, for having the love goddess favor you does not mean the queen of the gods will not despise you.
A polytheism either has to assume some power above the gods, call it fate or karma, acts automatically and unthinkingly to punish the wicked and reward the just, in which case the fates are merely like the laws of nature; or assume that there is no power, in which case justice will be rendered when the caprice of the gods so decrees, if at all.
No polytheistic god can be omnipotent, since other gods equal or surpass him in power, and, without omnipotence, truth and justice and beauty do not flow from the god.
Or, if one polytheistic god is omnipotent above the others, that this alleged polytheism is at heart a monotheism, and the so-called gods are His servants or emanations or creations, like angels.
Oriental religions do not fit easily or comfortably into our Western categories, but for the purposes of this question, a worldview like Taoism or Confucianism have the same advantages and disadvantages as Deism. They are practically agnostic religions, or theosophical or philosophical schools rather than what we would call a church. As in Deism, the divine is remote and mysterious, and the most one can hope to find is serenity and virtue which follows a submission to the discipline of rite or enlightenment inspired by the divine. In effect, these are not religions at all, but philosophies or metaphysical speculations surrounded by an accretion of folklore and public ritual: so they have the drawbacks of Deism and Polytheism at the same time.
Manichaeism suffers a simpler version of the same problem as Aeneas faced: if there is a bad god, Angramanyu, equal in dignity and power with the good god, Ahuramazda, then the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. The bad god is not a void nor an error nor a rebellious underling, but a positive power equal in majesty to the good god. On what ground does the eschatology rest? If fate has decreed the Wise Lord will prevail over the Wicked Spirit, then fate is superior. If this is the decree or promise of the Wise Lord, then the Wicked Spirit is not his equal in power, in which case the theology is a monotheism disguised as a Manichaeism. If the Wicked Spirit is equal, then he can challenge or overthrow the promises of the Wise Lord.
Monotheism promises or proffers all these things polytheism or Manichaeism promises, but in a more perfect form. An omnipotent creator-god who is both outside the world and acts within it has the power to create beauty and exact justice, either in this life or the next, and is the source of beauty as of life, the source of law and justice which men crave and for which they weep, and all the majesty and fairness of creation is His artwork, and gratitude for the beauty of the world has a proper resting place.
Buddhism is the sole non-Abrahamic religion which has many or most of the features of Monotheism promises in regard to truth, justice, beauty, love, and forgiveness. It is almost a monotheistic religion, as there is one supreme being, Brahma, from which all gods come and to which they all return.
But Buddhism is almost a negative reflection of Monotheism. The soul either is endlessly reincarnated, in which case justice is never final because suffering never ends, or the soul achieves nirvana, in which case the illusion of self is abolished, and there is no further need for justice nor communion with god, nor, indeed, for anything.It does not sate the spiritual longings of man as much as abolish them.
Buddhism in its strictest form is a type of spiritual Stoicism and Gnostic renunciation of all life and pleasure. Buddhism ultimately does not promise us paradise, but self-annihilation. Not that our desires for truth and justice and beauty will be satisfying to beyond overflowing, but instead that the desires are false, and the enlightened will be free of them.
Nonetheless, for this and other reasons, Buddhism is the only religion of dignity and universality equal with the faith of Abraham, capable of making a worldwide appeal, and addressing (even if it does not, in my judgment, sate) the basic human hungers for divine things.
Of non-Christian Monotheism, Judaism and Mohammedanism, merely looking at the nature of what they promise without regard to the truth or falsehood of the claim, it is evident to an outside observer than less is promised.
The God of the Jews is remote, and too perfect for men, too holy. The Allah of the Mohammedans is just as remote, but is moreover bloodthirsty and commands His votaries to jihad, warfare, bloodshed and the sword. The Christianity Trinity is a community of reckless love, and the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ promises kingship and apotheosis to His followers. The heresy of Mohammed is called “Islam” which means “Submission” and it is well named, because while the rules commanding charity and forbidding idolatry are as a noble and enlightened as similar Christian and Jewish rules, the relationship of God to Man is a master-slave relation.
It scandalizes the Mohammedan to contemplate that God became Man in order that Man should be the sons of God, and the various Christian doctrines of trinity and incarnation likewise offends the faithful and observant Jew.
There is no point in minimizing the outrageousness and scandal of the Christian claims, nor is this the proper place to defend them. We are only looking at the scope of the claim made, not whether the claim is true.
The Christian claim is scandalous precisely because we say God loved us so much that even the remoteness and holiness of God, perfect and pure far above the stench and moil of the material world was forsworn in order to rescue mankind. The Jewish claim is that certain elect prophets have the Spirit of God in them; the Christian claim is that this Spirit is poured out abundantly into the heart of any baptized man who asks for it. Jewish thought about the afterlife has the same vague quality as the thought of the Greek, a place of shadows. The Christian promises are explicit and clear. The Jews still await the first advent of their messiah; we await his second advent, and in the meanwhile rejoice to know He is in our midst whenever three of us are gathered together.
And so on. The Christian claims might be dismissed as being too extravagant, but to any objective observer, it is clear that the Christians claim Christ to be the fulfillment and expansion of the promises made by God to the Jews about their messiah.
It is equally clear that Islam is a dependent religion, a heresy, which took certain parts of the Catholic faith, such as the monotheism, and took certain of the tales and histories, as the story of the Garden of Eden and the Great Flood and the Virgin Birth, and left out the pith of the stories and left out the sacraments which are the core of Christian life.
I call it a dependent religion in that Islam is a religion which rests for its authority on stories in the Old Testament and the New, which its votaries are forbidden to read. If the Bible is false, Islam cannot be true, because Islam is a summary restatement of the Bible with some added political matter, dietary laws and such. The way to escape the paradox is to claim that the Bible was corrupted by the Jews and Christians, and that all the original prophets, including Jesus, preached Mohammedanism. In this claim, Mohammad is restoring and completing the prophecies of former prophets and teachers, and excising unauthorized accretions.
One of those accretions is the doctrine that God gave the Holy Land to the Jews. Another is the divinity of Christ. Mohammedanism is Christianity with the human parts left out. Its appeal, like Puritanism after it, is in its militant simplicity and legalism. The legalistic character of the faith makes them a nation of Pharisees.
The desire for truth, justice, beauty, mercy and eternity are desires that the faith of Mohammad addresses, but with a barbaric crudeness. Without Christ, there is no communion with God, and men cannot be the sons of God. Allah has no sons: He has servants. He has slaves. The way to find peace is submission.
Now, if upon consideration we candidly conclude that the Christian claim is false, then the next most desirable claim which will appeal to any man fleeing atheism would be those of Judaism or Islam, which are monotheistic but cannot promise community with God, or Buddhism, which promises self-annihilation and absorption into God, but not community with Him.
Next is Manichaeism or Polytheism, which can promise truth and beauty, but not justice and not community; less desirable is Pantheism, whose all-immanent god is so all pervasive s to be meaningless; and yet less desirable is Deism or Taoism, which make no promise aside from a certain philosophical resignation or serenity. These last two promise truth but not justice nor beauty.
And atheism, as far as the supernatural is concerned, promises nothing at all.
In terms of Pascal’s Wager, then, the options are not infinite, once the reason is convinced that the atheist account of the universe is woefully, even absurdly, in adequate to explain the central enigma of Man and Man’s role in the Cosmos. Atheism cannot explain the fact that man is an exile here in the cosmos and is lost in it, because to an Atheist this cosmos is and must be all that there is. There is no other place for Man to come from or go to.
Atheism sits cheek by jowl with nihilism. From the axiom that there is no God, an intelligent legislator behind the laws of nature nor the laws of morality, it is a simple and logical deduction to say that life is without innate meaning, and the morals are human inventions.
The Objectivist atheists, who do believe in absolute truth and absolute moral rules, are grossly outnumbered by the socialist and political correctness atheists, who believe in no one and nothing but the all-powerful, all-loving, all-wonderful State, and their own all-wonderful selves.
Obviously the Objectivists are nobler, closer to the truth than the socialist nihilists, but just as obviously they have a harder time logically defending a non-nihilistic atheist worldview—they have a harder time because these things do not naturally go together. An argument to show that selfishness is a virtue only with difficulty can also show why it is wrong not to be selfish and let the State steal money from more productive people and give it to you.
Buddhism, Taoism, Pantheism, Panetheism, Deism, and Theosophy, and all the philosophies and cults of the New Age movement, are also on the smooth slope to atheism and nihilism. They do not speak to fundamental human desires for the divine. They have a certain appeal due to their elegance, their elemental simplicity, but their fate is either to be wedded to a more satisfying polytheism, myth and folklore, as Buddhism is wed to Hinduism, or to exile themselves to being the doctrine of militant aristocrats or those copying that mind-set, as Zen Buddhism of the Bushido class is akin to the Stoicism of the Roman patricians.
Polytheism is always local, like the saint cults of the Catholics. But unlike the monotheism of the Catholics, there is nothing in the worship of Zeus to appeal to anyone from a city state whose founder was not a demigod son of Zeus.
Modern polytheists are theologically more similar to pantheists or theosophists. Polytheistic gods are more like superheroes or angels than like the omnipotent and omniscient creator and sustainer of all reality of Buddhist and Judeo-Christian thought. Any true pagan these days is really a pre-Christian. Once he understands that his myriad gods are merely created beings like himself, no more worthy of worship than kings, whatever the desires are which pulls him toward paganism will pull even more strongly to a larger and more coherent version of the same thing.
So, no, there is not an infinite variety of choices. Pascal’s wager is between the infinite and unwearying joys of heaven and the claustrophobic emptiness of the grave. The other choices are halfway stops on the spectrum leading from the nothingness of nihilism on the one side to the infinity of Christ on the other.
Pascal’s Wager presupposes that we do not have clear knowledge one way or the other on any of these deep questions. In other words, his wager takes into account that this is a matter of faith, faith in what is promised, not a matter of weighing evidence of matters open to inspection.
Putting the evidence to one side, then, the promises of Christ fulfill the promises made to the Jews and retain the sacraments, blessings, communion and promises ignored and redacted by Mohammad. Buddhism promises escape from pain through embracing nonbeing, whereas Christianity promises endless and abundant joy, a perfection of our natures, not an abolition. Polytheism cannot promise anything on an ultimate level, because it lacks an ultimate God. Deism and Pantheism and Taoism promise only serenity born of philosophical discipline. Therefore the same logic which makes Pascal Wager viable as an argument against atheism—that you lose nothing and stand to gain everything—applies with equal force to these Deistic and Philosophical version of God, gods that neither live nor make demands.
The only real choice is between Christ and Nothing.
The other alternatives exist, but, for the variety of reasons I give above, they satisfy the human longing for truth, beauty and justice, or the craving for communion, forgiveness and eternity insufficiently or imperfectly. They exist but are not satisfying.
Pascal’s Wager, properly understood, applies with equal force to the Polytheism of the Norse or Greek as to the atheism of the post modern: because, compared against the infinite joys the Christian promise, joy that never grow tiresome, the future of fighting alongside the Norse gods to die, or the future of mourning in the house of Hades alongside Achilles as a shade, is tantamount to the oblivion of the atheists. So, too, with the other possibilities.
The other alternatives exist, but the existence of the Christian alternative is a temptation and a scandal to them.
They exist, but the reasons which draw men to the other alternatives is usually something other than a love of God or a longing for things divine. The Jew does not believe the promises of messiah have been fulfilled. The Mohammedan believes only one prophet of God is trustworthy, and that all others Biblical books have been corrupted or redacted. The Theosophist and Deist and New Ager seek a simplistic god that satisfies a philosopher’s craving for mathematical elegance, or a sloth’s craving for a god who makes no demands. The pessimistic Pagan does not believe in the promises of joy beyond bounds, and in a God who, unlike his own filthy gods, is actually just and wise and kind and lovelier than sunlight.
I mean no insult to any of these other faiths or cults or heresies when I say that Paganism and Judaism are pre-Christian, containing currents that flow toward and point toward and prefigure Christ.
I submit that the core values and virtues which make Judaism and Paganism admirable are not trivia like dietary laws and a plethora of gods, but the Jewish optimism which declared the world good from creation, and the pagan spiritualism which regards created things as holy, and made goddesses of trees and rills and mountains.
Mohammedanism, Gnosticism, Deism, and Theosophy are post-Christian, containing references and relics and survivals of Christ, but lacking the core of he faith, Christ Himself. They are, to be technical, the spirit of Anti-Christ, since these breakaway cults and blurry daydreams keep much of Christianity, but seek always to reject the sacraments, and to reject Christ.
I submit that their main appeal for pre-Christian or post-Christian faiths is still those Christian elements in their worldview: beauty, truth, justice, but truth most of all.