I first heard about Alan Watts from Van Morrison’s song ‘Alan Watts blues.’ Great chorus. I didn’t know anything else, he just seemed like some cult figure admired by artsy types, but I had no opinion of him. Eventually, I got to listen to an audiobook of his, where he was explaining all about life like he knew what he was talking about. Towards the end of my listen, I did a little googling about his life, and found out he died a miserable alcoholic. That to me demonstrated how little a person’s words could reflect their internal life. He sure didn’t live out his sagacity. And sure enough, in the audiobook I heard of his, he spoke of alcoholics who kept going back to alcohol even when they didn’t like the taste of it. I thought he spoke out of a surmounting of the human condition, but he was just describing his brokenness as it was.
He looks cool at least
With his bad-guy British accent and white streak of hair, he had charisma. People ate his stuff up, in particular those who thought they knew what traditional Christianity was all about and who found it detestable. You know the type. You may be such a type. I sure was. “What hypocrisy of those priests.” “Jesus didn’t mean that literally.” “His followers got Christ’s message all wrong.” “Don’t be a sheep, think for yourself.” “Society has evolved since then.” And the list of ‘edgy’ clichés goes on.
I guess I could be a little more charitable. Watts meant well. He appreciated truth-seeking, and thought he was providing truth to a truth-starved audience. Watts has been dead for nearly 50 years now, and there’s no use tarnishing his person further. But it’s left to us to do better, starting by not falling for his impressive-sounding but unsubstantial crap.
On this pebble
I am here critiquing some main points in this video ‘Jesus, his religion’ where Watts claims to tell the audience who Jesus really was.
Watts maintained that the Bible couldn’t be what Christians said it was, namely, infallible, because his God would have wanted people to think for themselves. Implying that being assured of the truth of something makes for unthinking acceptance. Making up your mind about something, discovering your truth, is what’s liberating. If you’re not inclined to do so, then you can’t rise above what a powerful elite tells you to think, say, and do.
(For the sake of simplicity we’re leaving out the fact that the Bible does involve proper, even scholarly interpretation and reasoning)
Watts didn’t outright express a disdain for wide-eyed, trusting children, the poorly educated, and the mentally challenged, but that’s what his attitude, of valuing smarts over faith, points to. Enlightenment was only available to those who saw truth as clever and evasive mystery. To claim truth as true was to be slave to one viewpoint.
Why would he take the Gospel as undiluted truth? How much more reasonable, it seemed to him, to doubt that the Holy Spirit, God Himself, could transmit truth to evangelists dozens of years after Christ’s death. Or rather, he never took such an idea seriously. It reeks too much of a Creator’s personal plans for each one of us.
Being the brilliant sage he was, Watts boasted of how Eastern thought put little stock in miracles. Similar to what I heard from Osho back when I read that stuff. To be sure, the Church doesn’t treat miracles as evidence, but rather as signs that God does reveal Himself to us personally. Faith remains the basis of faith.
But actually, in spite of Watts’ lip service about miracles being possible, his spirituality was so scientized that any miraculous phenomena was to be explained away by scientific principles merely undiscovered in our time. Hence his claimed indifference. If he took such claims at face value, then he would admit to not believing in miracles.
Into the mystery
Watts’ denial of reality and embracing of Eastern unrealities (that is, doctrines that don’t have the fullness of truth in the person Jesus) led him to think that he had seen through the mirage of Christianity, with its sin and salvation and Heaven.
It really does boil down to faith. Is Jesus Who He says He is, and capable of spreading His truth in as seemingly trivial a way as a book? Or do you have to be special, charismatic, eloquent, etc. as Watts was, to know God?
‘How to be Catholic during your rebellious years,’ my story of conversion from the faithlessness of Eastern and Western philosophies, is on Amazon.