"God" (excerpt) The Essence of Alan Watts by c

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Modern Protestant theologians, and even some Catholics, have been talking recently about the death of God and about the possibility of a religionless religion, a religion which does not involve belief in God. What would become of the Gospel of Jesus Christ if it were shown that Jesus' own belief in God was unnecessary and invalid? What would remain of his teachings? Of his ideas about caring for other human beings, about social responsibility and so on. I think that would be a pretty wishy-washy kind of religion. If you're going to say that this life is fundamentally nothing but a pilgrimage from the maternity ward to the crematorium and that's it, baby, you've had it, I think that indicates a singular lack of imagination. I would like to look at the death-of-God theology in an entirely different way. What is dead is not God but an idea of God, a particular conception of God that has died in the sense of becoming implausible. And I find this a very good thing.

The Greek word in the New Testament for a sin is antinomic or anomia and that means to miss the point or, as in archery, to miss the mark. And therefore, from the Mosaic Ten Commandments comes the idea that it is a sin, a missing of the point, to substitute an idol for God.

Then, the statue of God I described is an idol. But even those Mexican-Indians, don't seriously confuse that particular image with God. The danger of it is they may think of God in the form of man. But the images that have been made of God out of wood and stone and in painting have never really been taken seriously as actually what God is like. Nobody has confused the actual image of Buddha for the statues commonly seen in the East. Buddha is never identified with a god because Buddha is a human being, and these images are never seriously confused with what they represent any more than a Catholic confuses a crucifix with Jesus Christ.

The images of God that are tangible are not really very dangerous. The dangerous images of God are those that we make, not out of wood and stone, but out of ideas and concepts. Sir Thomas Aquinas, for example, defined God as a necessary being. He who is necessarily. That is a philosophical concept; but that concept is an idol because it confuses God with an idea. Because an idea is abstract it seems much more spiritual than an image made of wood or stone. That's precisely where it becomes deceptive.

Many people think that the Bible is the authentic word of God and they worship the Bible, making it into an idol.
They disregard the ironical remark of Jesus to his contemporary Jews, "You search the scriptures daily, for in them you think you have life." And as St. Paul said later, "The letter kills, but the spirit gives life." So whatever you put as an image or an idea in the place of God necessarily falsifies God.

A lot of people say, "I don't think I could face life unless I could believe in a just and loving god." It strikes me that that kind of belief in God is actually expressing a lack of faith. The word belief in Anglo-Saxon comes from the Anglo-Saxon root lief which means to wish. So belief really means a strong wish. When you say the creed, "I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things seen and unseen," you are really saying: "/ fervently wish that there exists God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, etc." Because, if you really have faith you don't need belief, because faith is an entirely different attitude from belief.


Faith is a state of openness or trust. To have faith is like when you trust yourself to the water. You don't grab hold of the water when you swim, if you go stiff and tight in the water you sink. You have to relax. Thusly, the attitude of faith is the very opposite of clinging, of holding on. In other words, a person who is a fanatic in religion, one who simply has to believe in certain propositions about the nature of God and of the universe is a person who has no faith at all- he’s holding on tight.

Although Martin Luther made such a thing about faith, he wrote a hymn —in German, Ein fest Burg ist unser Gott,
"A Mighty Fortress is our God." That's not a hymn of faith!
A person of faith doesn't need a fortress; he's not on the defensive.

In the same way, many churches are designed like the royal courts of kings. In the church design called the basilica,,
which means the court of a basileus or king, the bishop sits at the back in his throne and all his attendant clergy stand around him like his guards in a court. Why is this? A king stands with his back to the wall because he rules by force.

And when his subjects and his courtiers approach him they prostrate themselves, they kneel down. Why? Because that's a difficult position from which to start a fight. Are we projecting the image of a frightened king as being the godhead?

The usual Protestant church, on the other hand, looks like a courthouse. The minister wears a black gown as is worn by a judge, and there are pews and pulpits and all the familiar wooden boxes of court furniture. And the minister, like the judge, throws the book at you! He preaches the law laid down in that other idol of God, the Bible. But does God need all that? Is God somebody who takes this aggressive attitude either of the king in court where all the subjects must prostrate, or of the judge who bangs the gavel and interprets the law? This is ridiculous! And a God so conceived is an idol and manifests the absence of faith of all those who worship him because they demonstrate no attitude of trust. They cling to these rules, to these conceptions, and have no fundamental adaptability to life.

You might say that a good scientist has more faith than a religious person, because a good scientist says, "My mind is open to the truth, whatever the truth may turn out to be. I have no preconceptions, but I do have some hypotheses in my mind as to what the truth might be, and I'm going to test them." And the test is to open all the senses to reality and find out what that reality is. But then again, the scientist runs into a problem because he knows that whatever comes to him as reality depends on the structure of his instruments and his senses, and ultimately the structure of his brain. So he has to have faith in his own brain, faith in himself, faith that his physical organism including his mind is indeed reliable and will determine reality, truth—what is.

You have to believe your reason, your logic, your intelligence. You have to have faith in them even though you can't ultimately check on yourself to make certain you're operating properly. It's not like your mind is a radio and can be fixed by screwing in a new connection here and there— you always have to trust.

Therefore, one could say that the highest image of God is the unseen behind the eyes—the blank space, the unknown, the intangible and the invisible. That is God! We have no image of that. We do not know what that is, but we have to trust it. There's no alternative. You can't help trusting it. You've got to.

That trust in a God whom one cannot conceive in any way is a far higher form of faith than fervent clinging to a God of whom you have a definite conception. That conception can easily be wrong and, even if it's right, clinging to it would be the wrong attitude, because when you love someone very much you shouldn't cling to them.

In a New Testament story Mary Magdalene, who loved Jesus very much, is said to have seen him after his resurrection, and she immediately ran to cling to him. And he said, "Do not touch me,'' but the Greek word hatir means to cling to. Don't cling to me! Don't cling to anything of the spirit. Don't cling to the water, because the more you grab it the faster it will slip through your fingers. Don't cling to your breath, you'll get purple in the face and suffocate. You have to let your breath out. That's the act of faith, to breathe out, and it will come back. The Buddhist word nirvana actually means to breathe out; letting go is the fundamental attitude of faith.

It isn't as if Christians haven't been aware of this. One of the most fundamental sourcebooks of Christian spirituality,
Theologia Mystica, was written in the sixth century by an Assyrian monk, Dionysius Exiguus. It is a very strange document, because it explains that the highest knowledge of God is through what he calls in Greek agnostos, which means unknowing. One knows God most profoundly, the most truly, in not knowing God.

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