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At this prophetic lecture Alan Watts points out how and why the West has stopped truly believing in God. How can people who choose to live in a republic, believe in a universe governed as a monarchy?
Watts proposes an alternative solution; a secularization of religion, getting rid of God -respectfully- as proposed by some theologians and philosophers throughout history.
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now as you know this is the great discussion going on in what we call today the new theology the revolution within standard brand Christianity because you see for years and years the clergy the Ministry of the various churches such as Episcopalian Methodist Baptist congregational Unitarian even in some cases disciples of Christ and Lutheran's they are theological seminaries have been discussing religion in terms awfully different than we will normally hear from the pulpit and every graduate of an intelligent theological school has a sense of intense frustration as he has to get out to work in a community or parish church because he does not believe what he is supposed to preach and this has in a way been true for a long long time clergy except in the Roman Catholic Church where the situation is somewhat different are very heavily controlled by the laity because he who pays the piper calls the tune and therefore they are in a state of constant frustration because those who contribute most heavily and therefore are most interested in the church tend to be conservative minded people and they want that old-time religion although as a matter of fact what they call the old-time religion is really quite modern but still that's what they want and there are people who as I would say would tend to be conservative in their whole attitude to life because you see people of a more liberal disposition couldn't care less about going to church in the British Army they have a thing called church parade and there's a famous story about a drill sergeant who got all the troops up for church trade on a Sunday morning and used to call out Catholics to the right Protestants to the left that's the religions in that middle and to the degree you see that intelligent people in our culture have any religion at all it tends to be a fancy religion something in the new kinds of things that maybe unity Christian Science theosophy Buddhism they downto or some kind of special Protestant offshoot such as the Fellowship Church in San Francisco or the Community Church in New York and things of that kind very liberal very left-wing theologically so the the new theology comes at this time to a very large extent because a the clergy are fed up the Christianity has its back to the wall and the Pope knows this better than anybody and so hand in hand with this EQ minica movement there goes along a reconsideration of what on earth it's all about is there a god is there God and a lot of people are boldly saying that is to be abandoned as an English priest father mask Oh put it it is the basic assumption of the secularist movement in Christian theology that life is a journey between the maternity ward and the crematorium and that is what there is absurd and that that only it is the life that the Christian religion has to do with and to encounter and therefore more than ever being a Christian if it is an abandonment of God or the idea that the universe is supernaturally controlled the Christian religious and fastens itself therefore with peculiar and increased further to the figure of Jesus of Nazareth as one wit put it there is no God and Jesus Christ is His only Son because you see what otherwise makes you a Christian is something strange about Christianity in that it shares with Islam and Judaism what we might call theological imperialism Christians I have even the most liberal strife fervently believes that their religion is the best religion and they will state it by saying either Jesus Christ is the only Son of God that's an Orthodox way it is a matter of fact it isn't really an orthodox way of saying it that's the way Orthodox people do say it or they will say Jesus is the greatest man that ever lived the point is that you make a commitment to the following of Jesus as an historical personage and for some reason or other people who commit themselves to this exclusive kind of following of Jesus become exceedingly obstreperous because they will either damned other religions outright or farmers insidiously stanlon with faint praise old buddha taught some very good things you know and we all are indebted to his great moral principles but and then comes this pitch you see for the Soul following of Jesus as the Lord and Master head and shoulders above all well the trouble with that has always being that when you get into a theological argument with a person who is a Christian you get into a situation where the advocate and the judge are the same person that is to say Jesus is judge the best man in the world by the standards of Christianity because those are the standards with which this kind of person judges and therefore deeper and and you'll find the people who lead to these judgments usually don't know very much about any other kind of religion the courses on comparative religion in theological schools are shockingly superficial and grossly inaccurate and so this is coming to the front now you see in order to be the blue to belong to the church really is to be saved and to be saved is to belong to the Innis in-group you have to have an in-group to see if you want to know who you are you have to belong to something say if you want to distinguish yourself because you know who you are because of the people who aren't like you there you get a contrast now this is this is the basic arrangement for a church so you see if you want to be in some kind of an in-group you must put everybody else beyond the pale so thomas aquinas gave the show away actually because he said that the Blessed in heaven will often walk to the battlements and look down and delight in the Justice of God being properly carried out in hell so but you may not believe in hell you may be very liberal and after all it's not nice or sophisticated nowadays to believe in everlasting damnation but we have new words for it such as failing to be a real person sinking below the human level or big entering into final and every media bull psychosis all these are new words either for damnation or heresy and so you join and you know you're saved only if somebody else isn't if somebody else is down very difficult to believe or even to imagine a state of affairs where everyone and everything is saved you have to be a mystic even to think about that because it requires having a state of consciousness which transcends our positions and you can't do that along the line of ordinary logic you have to have a new kind of logic which takes over at a certain point and this logic I'm using at the moment by pointing out that Damned people and saved people need each other they are in a symbiotic relationship with each other they go together in the same way as the back in the front of something because if something has a front it has to have a back table and so the very fact that fronts and backs go together indicates that there is a unity between these two opposed sides so also there is a unity between the Damned and the saved and it's only as you begin to realize that you need the damaged people in order to be saved and that the Damned people need to save people in order to be damned that you start laughing about it and that laughter is very subversive and it's you know how it is you are not supposed to laugh in church and not in courts of law either they're places where laughter makes people nervous because it's supposed to be a sign of disrespect now it may not be so at all Dante said that the song of the angels in paradise sounded like the laughter of the universe but in church especially any rather more serious kinds of church laughing is very bad form why because if you look at the design of a Catholic Church you will notice that it is based upon the design of the courtroom of a king and if you look at a Protestant Church you will see the – this is the base from the design of a law court indeed the Protestant minister wears exactly the same robes as an American judge and all those pews and box like stalls are the same way you will find in the old-fashioned court whether the witness-box dirty box and all that kind of thing but you see the original idea of the Christian Church these ancient Roman churches are called a basilica that means the courtroom of a king the throne room the altar is the throne of God now in a courtroom the king is very nervous because anybody who takes it upon himself to govern other people and rule them and better watch out and therefore he always has his back to the wall and he is flanked by attending guards and high ministers of state and just so that nobody will get up and make trouble he has an either on their knees or flat on their faces when they come into his presence and of course no one must laugh with laughing him mr. big and so this was the pattern this was the model upon which the judeo-christian idea of God was based it is a political model and the title of God is taken from the Supreme emperors of Russia the Diane Kahn the King of Kings the Lord of lords and so in the English church at morning prayer the clergyman gets up and says Almighty and everlasting God the only ruler of Prince's King of Kings Lord of lords who dust from thy throne behold all dwellers upon earth most graciously they to behold our gracious sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth and all the royal family perhaps the picture and the metaphor you may not believe literally that God sits on a throne or even has a body to put on one or that he wears a crown or that he has a beard but the image Cullens your feeling about the character of God and imagery is much more powerful than intellectual concepts you may know it says in the treble that God is the spirit without body parts or passions omnipresent to all places eternal to all time and therefore one thinks as Haeckel does of the gaseous vertebrate or else of an enormous Lea diffused sea of luminous jell-o filling all time and space everybody uses images but behind those images are the old images that influenced us in childhood and if you still attend a church and you use that imagery you still think emotionally you feel towards God as one would if you took it literally so this political model of God has dominated the West and the world is related to God as subjects to a king or as artifacts to a maker we have of course a ceramic model of the universe because it said in the book of Genesis that God made Adam out of the dust of the ground in other words he made a clay figurine and then Bruhl blew the breath of life into the nostrils of the figurines of it came to life now the Hindus don't have that model of the universe to cope with because they don't look at the universe as God's creation in the sense of being an artifact they look at it as God's drama because they see the world as active not created God is that which is pretending to be all this and everybody is really God is a mask of God who is playing that he's you but he's doing it so well that he's taken himself in because he's the audience as well as the actor it's a really successful play because the good actor although you know a play is a just a play the good actor is going to try and make you think it isn't he wants to get you trying he wants to get you sitting on the edge of your seat in anticipation and God as the best actor has convinced himself completely that the act is real the Chinese again have a different model their model of the universe is an organic one it is a great organism it is alive it grows it is an intelligent order so those are the three great models of the world when the West stopped believing seriously in God a long time ago they however retained the idea of the world as an artifact and so we graduated from the ceramic model of the universe to the solid automatic model which is actual common sense for most people living today I return to the point then that the clergy and the church people don't really believe in God in the old-fashioned sense of the word God at all if they did believe the Christian religion in some of its Orthodox forms seriously they would be screaming in the streets and even the most far-out lunatic fringe Jehovah's Witnesses are even more or less polite when they come and call at your house because if they really believed that you were going to hell they would make more fuss about you than if you had the bubonic plague but nobody really takes it that seriously any longer that means they don't believe in it they know they ought to believe in it in fact many sermons are exhortation to have more faith which means that we all recognize that we don't really believe in this and we often we feel very guilty about it we don't have the moral strength to believe in this but it isn't only a matter of moral stain it's a matter of being asked to believe what most people feel is nonsense that the world is run on the lines of a state how for example can you be a citizen of the United States having taken an oath that a Republican form of government is the best form of government and believe that the universe of the monarchy so what has happened is intelligent people have always realized that this political model are for the cosmos won't do now actually no serious theologian ever did believe with God was at the old gentleman with whiskers on a golden throne never what the Bishop of Woolwich says in his book honest to god you know that there isn't some sort of a Sun one out there he is very naive in a way because he could have taken huge quotations as of some Thomas Aquinas out of the great Fathers of the Church from Oregon from Clement of Alexandria from sand Gregory nas a ANZUS from st. John of Damascus from San basil the great from st. Augustine st. Ambrose from Bernard of Clairvaux and Albert the Great he could have quoted all those perfectly Orthodox very correct theologians and shown that they never believed in a god like that with whiskers and he could have come forward and said you see this is a perfectly Orthodox book and I'm not a revolutionary I'm just going back to the real old-time religion he didn't do that you know why he told me he never read those writers in theological school he was entirely confined to bid cool stutters I never got as far as that Missy so ah but it's just the same with ever so many people one of the reasons why so many people turn to an oriental religion was that the level the intellectual level at which oriental religions were first presented in the West was so much higher than the intellectual level at which Christianity was presented at the lows of church if you lived in India or Salaam of course there would be the local Buddhist monastery and it would be just as junky as the stuff was the local church they don't tell people all about the great void and how to practice meditation with Lucy that's the specialist for minority all they care about is gaining merit mostly by making contributions to the clergy or better circumstances in your next life or getting out of evil karma that's the real thing the popular food isn't about but you see the trouble in the West is that everybody's getting educated there's a terrific literacy and therefore the public has to be treated as if it were intelligent you can't say the public be damned anymore there's too many intelligent people now [Applause] let's look at the lineup what sort of a situation is this really for my part I would say the God that is dead is this political model God however conceived the divine paternalistic Authority who rules the universe and to whom you as an eco are related as a subject to a king by analogy see now that one just isn't holding up but what's the alternative especially think about what could be an alternative for Western people with a Christian background what other kind of God could we have well one of possibility is none and this is what people like Altizer are discussing he's on the far left of this Musial adji understand men like James Pike is on the right of the new theology he very definitely believes in God he's a theist but he doesn't believe in anything with whiskers on it nor does he really believe in the political model are we going to settle them for the fact that the universe is just what it appears to be or are we going to have a very refined conception of God which would be called it instead of he that makes a lot of difference very powerful what pronoun you use or even he/she at the Christian Scientist talk about the father mother what a complicated people feel as a little bit weird maybe it is rather simple but then when you say it does it mean that God is something like electricity which doesn't seem to have any independent intelligence of its own you can use it intelligently there's just energy there's something goes zoom see is that God is God it like that or what well it's a funny thing but it's very difficult to be a complete atheist to real atheist like in the house of parliament in England when in 1928 the Church of England wanted the new prayer book a revised prayer book because the church and the state are inseparable in England the houses of parliament had to vote on whether this prayer book might be used and somebody got up and said this is perfectly ridiculous an assemblage which contains a number of atheists voting on the inner politics of the Church of England and another member got a key so no I don't think that any ages here not really we all believe in some sort of or something somewhere now you see in the theological world it just doesn't do to believe in some sort of a something's on that because one thing that theologians detest is bacon now you should listen to them even no God at all because that's clear and precise no beating around the bush oh man you know it's just fuzzy thinking to have the great universal mind that can undifferentiated aesthetic continuum that's all some sort of a something somewhere woolly thinking even know God or a God with a definite character and a clear model will and precise standards who would not be pushed around the biblical God are we what do you do do you put your mind into two watertight compartments one of which you're a breast of science in the modern world and all that kind of thing in the other compartment but they have nothing to do with that there's a completely cut off thing called religion where you believe in absolutely ludicrous propositions a lot of people do that but a lot of people want a religion which is difficult to believe in because that's a kind of a test of like the story about Abraham being told the sacrifices some Isaac he was about to do it because you wouldn't do what you're told just to say how people like the security of a definite religion I mean you've got to believe in and this is the truth I was once having an argument with a Jehovah's Witness and he said don't you think that if there were really a loving God who was concerned about the human race that he would provide us with an infallible textbook that would tell us how to live I said he would do nothing of the kind it would completely destroy the human mind you know you'd never have to think that was the case so while there is that here is then this possibility is it to be no God is life just this trip from the maternity ward to the crematorium and that the issue of religion is to improve that trip that is to say through social concern through getting rid of poverty and war and exploitation and disease is that the whole business of religion or is there something else those who take this view which we will call the secularists position in reality are of course strongly influenced by contemporary philosophy especially in that form which is called scientific empiricism or logical positivism which maintains that the idea of God is not a fallacy but is a meaningless idea that in other words the proposition that there exists God and that God is the origin and creator and governor of everything that is happening they maintain that those sentences are utterly divided meaning as much so as if I were to say everything is up because they will say no logical proposition can be made about all processes whatsoever because all propositions are labels on boxes and you can't have the box containing all boxes because this box would have no outside and therefore it wouldn't be a box so all propositions all words must refer to classes of some kind and you can't have the class of all classes and also they would say the notion that there is a God is meaningless because it doesn't help you to make any prediction or they would can ask it in this way what evidence supposing somebody could bring it forward would completely satisfy you as disproving the existence of God and no believer in God can think of any evidence that would conclusively prove that there wasn't a god just like psychoanalysts are completely incapable of thinking of any evidence which would disprove the existence of the Oedipus complex so they on logical grounds take this position and so since many theologians are in fact influenced by modern philosophy take these arguments seriously they would like to move secularized the whole conception of religion or to put it in Bonhoeffer's words have Christianity without religion well now when you might say there is nothing to life except the trip between the maternity ward and crematorium that's what works I've heard something like that before when asked what is the Buddha a Chinese master replied it will be a game this morning another Buddhist master on his deathbed wrote the poem from the bathtub to the bathtub I have uttered stuff and nonsense the bathtub in which the baby is washed at birth and the bathtub in which the corpse is washed before burial all the time between you said I was going yackety-yak now what about those columns do they mean what they say well not quite there's something different here because they are based on a life devoted to the discipline of a very particular kind of meditation culminating in a completely shattering experience which is very difficult to talk about but generally speaking it is the encounter with eternity with the eternal not necessarily in the sense of that which goes on them on on through time but the eternal is the timeless that which transcends time is beyond measurement in terms of hours and days and when a person who is in that state of consciousness or have been through it looks at the ordinary everyday world it's true he sees the ordinary everyday world as we see it but with a very very extraordinary difference and if we would have to put that difference into some sort of Western Christian influence language he would perhaps say don't you realize that sitting around here in this room with our ordinary everyday faces and clothes and personalities we are sitting smack in the middle of the beatific vision and that this sitting here in this room is infinity and eternity precisely it is it and this is for the artistic vision this is God and it feels that way to really done for something like it but in this kind of religion they still have temples they had Buddha's and they chant sutras and offer incense and ring Gong know our country but they're always saying that the highest religion we get really to get there you have to kill the Buddha thosee a clergyman got up one day in pulpit and said every time you say Jesus Christ you have to wash your mouth out or if you meet God the Father kill him if you meet God the Son killing can meet God the Holy Spirit killing you meet the Pope killin if you meet st. Augustine killing if you meet your father and mother kill them kill them all right away all right what I've been saying is simply translating into Christian terms a Buddhists teacher are talking about the Year 800 lady mhm what he said only he put footage names in where I put the Christian London but I don't think this is what has happened in the movement of the new theology I think that what's happening there is that they are just getting rid of God this is not this other thing I'm talking about which could be called the religion of no religion you see if you you couldn't take this right into Christianity because yeah if the extent that every Christian is a Jew you see we use the Jewish Scriptures of the Old Testament so every Christian is a Jew you are supposed to believe in the 10th among Jews were monsters thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image of anything that is in the heavens above or the earth beneath or the waters that are under the earth thou shalt not bow to them nor worship and that is what this interesting I've been talking about is it is a destruction of idols because the most dangerous graven images are not those which are made of wood and stone there are those which are made of ideas and it is well known to the great mystical tradition of the world all over the world that the sort of supreme vision can only come when you have got rid of every idea of God whatsoever it would be like as I've often used this image cleaning a window on which somebody has painted blue sky well to see the sky you've got to scrape off the paint well you say my goodness you shouldn't take that nice blue painting up it's very good it was done by a great artist see how pretty the clouds are you mustn't do that because we won't have a net blue sky anymore see so in that spirit the great mystics have always ceased to cling to God that is because the only God you can cling to is the idea of God in order to discover God you have entirely to stop clinging you see why does one cling to God for safety of course you want to say something you want to save yourself I don't care what you mean by saved whether it just means feel happy or feel that life is meaningful or you know there's somebody up there who cares so one claims and if you don't cling to God you cling to something else the state money sex yourself power these are all false gods but there has to come a state when clinging stops and only then does the state of faith begin people who believe in God don't have any faith as they want something to hold on to so real faith is when you do not hold on to anything anymore in the Christian tradition this is called the Cloud of Unknowing there is a book at that written by a 14th century British monk anonymous and he got it from dionysius the areopagite who assumed the name of some false Athenian convert he was a Syrian monk living in the 6th century those meister eckhart said thomas aquinas john SCOTUS origina and many other great medieval theologians studied Dionysius the Areopagite he wrote a book called the theologian Mystica in which he explains that in order to come to full union with God you must give up every conception of God whatsoever and he enumerates don't think that God is oneness or three limbs or unity or spirit or any kind of anything that the human mind can conceive he is beyond all that in what is called this is called apophatic theology this is a Greek term contrasted with katha Phatak when you speak at ascetically you say what God is like so this man Dionysus wrote two books one was called the divine names and that was cat affects the ology the other was called the mystical theology which is a perfect cat ascetic what God is like according to analogy he is like a father we do not say God is a cosmic male pattern but God is in some respects like a father like spirit like we sing our days like man it sir it's like it's raining you know there's a certain relativity to that statement so this is the the catafalque language the apple fatik says what God is not and all those theologians in the following of Dionysus said the highest way of talking about God is in negative terms just as to use Dionysus his own image when a sculpture makes sculptor makes the figure he does it entirely by removing stone taking something away so in the same way when Thomas Aquinas said because God by his infinity exceeds every idea to which the human mind can reach the best way to speak of him is by remotion that is to say by removing from our view of God every inadequate concept this is what the Hindus call neti neti saying of the brahmana of the supreme reality it is not this it is not this but this intellectual operation of destroying concepts must go hand in hand is a shall we call it psychological operation which is ceasing to cling to any image whatsoever or simply ceasing to claim now why well because there's no need to there's no need to clean because when you were born you were kicked off a precipice and it was a big explosion a lot of other things are falling down with you including some pretty large lumps of rock one was called the earth and it won't help you to cling to the rocks when you're falling off the precipice they give you an illusion of safety about everything is falling it's falling apart that's what the ancients said when all is transient cantare all flows in the words of Heraclitus and you can't cling to anything it's like grabbing at smoke with a non-existent hand that's about all the clinging will ever achieve all it does it make people anxious so when you come to the realization you cannot cling to anything that there is nothing to cling to their transpires and inner change of consciousness which we can call either faith or letting go and then suddenly the thing hits you in sanskrit they put it this way taught by matthew means literally that our Tao or as we would say you're it and if you are God then you can't have an idea of God any more than you can chew your own teeth you don't need one the son doesn't need to shine on itself knives don't need to cut themselves your eyes don't need to look at themselves what color is your head – your eyes doesn't black is it can't see anything not attract the way it feels inside your head is what you call what it looks like outside all these things you see outside are states of the nervous system in the brain that's how it feels that eye looks inside the head and you said well I thought that was what was outside true in same way when the Zen master suddenly discovered that carrying the pail with water in it was a miracle he discovered that you realized there isn't anything except God and boy you don't if you really know that – see you don't need to have a religion but you can have one look at it's a free world I mean if you want to plan express this in some way and we're all all religion it's pure gravy after that see any outward manifestation of religion you know it's like a man with lots of money making some more only it's quite unnecessary but so in according to the very best theologian it was never necessary for God to create the world didn't add anything to him he didn't have to do it he was under no compulsion so he did it out of what Dionysus theory of a guy called epoch Leary's or we were just anglicize it hyper clearings super fullness in other words for kicks I mean you know we don't we don't like to using that language but it's completely contemporary and which is exactly right that's what the Bible says nobody puts it in a more sedate way it says His Majesty did it for his pleasure well that's the way you talk about somebody was the king the screegit talker said you know we are not amused and it says in the book of the Proverbs that where the divine wisdom speaks and speaks you see as an attribute of God standing aside from God sort of primitive polytheism and wisdom says that in the beginning of the world her delight was to play before the divine presence and especially to play with the sons of men the word in Hebrew is play but in the King James translation it is rejoice because that is the most the date world in play you may rejoice in church but not play you may not have fun in church but you may rejoice see the difference so then the the the point of the matter is then there was no reason to make the world and it was done from for making celestial whoopee that's why the angels are laughing they just splitting their sides only when you hear it in church everybody's forgotten what Alleluia means it's Louis don't you see Alleluia hallelujah it's like um you know it's just verbal and it's like birdsong third song isn't about anything it's just set for kicks why do you sing why do you like dancing what's music for that's what this hallelujah this so when nothing is being trampled when one gets to that point everything blows up is what's meant by Satori and then sudden awakening and you suddenly see good heavens what was I making all that fuss about because here we are so what we've been looking for over time it's right here and that's it that's the thing and you realize that he could have you any you basically through and through are all this only you got into a kind of a funny illusion I think then we get into that illusion within rather a complicated way to our upbringing these children because of the many little children know from the beginning by the phonograph only they haven't got words to put it in see that's the whole problem of child psychology well child psychologist is ideally looking for is an articulate baby it can explain what it's like to be a baby never get better by the time you keep by teaching the child to speak you for you you mess it up you give it this language and you can't think big thoughts like that with this funny limited language especially with the words they start children outward and then finally when they've got the first thing completely hypnotized they tell it the most preposterous things they tell it that it must be free they say to you you child are an independent agent and you're responsible see now therefore we command you to love us and you in other words we require that you do something which will please us only if you do it voluntarily there is it you want the people have mixed up so but I'm afraid you see that the new theology isn't onto this the new theology really is serious about there not being any God and that the universe is therefore a rather pitiful predicament in which we caught have some compensations that what all this is a continuation of the 19th century philosophy the fully automatic model which is that this is an essentially stupid universe it's an it's a mekin it is a gyration of blind energy in which human intelligence and values happens to be a fluke and a rather uncomfortable one because Nature doesn't give a damn about us and so we have to fight it and now all that is pure mythology is grossly unscientific evening and but most people believe it it's common sense for today but what an opportunity so there is in the new theology and in this whole ferment going on to get them to see this other point of view and realize that when you get rid of God you are all you are doing is you're destroying an idol and all idols must be destroyed respectfully not like those wretched Puritans who went around destroying all the saints figures in the stained brow from the medieval churches that was disrespectful iconoclasm respectful iconoclasm would be for example every Easter Sunday the Bible should be ceremoniously burned because if Jesus is truly risen from the dead you don't need the Bible anymore he's around available learning the books to burn it up ceremoniously with great respect because suddenly God doesn't take himself seriously if he did