You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.    ~ Alan Watts

The World's Most Dangerous Book by Alan Watts (1915-1973)

Until the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, the Scriptures were not understood exclusively in a narrow literal sense. From Clement of Alexandria (Second Century) to Saint Thomas Aquinas (13th Century), the great theologians, or Fathers of the Church, recognized four ways of interpreting the Scriptures: the literal or historical, the moral, the allegorical and the spiritual and they were overwhelmingly interested in the last three. Origen (Second Century) regarded much of the Old Testament as puerile (childishly silly and trivial) if taken literally, and Jewish theologians were likewise preoccupied with finding hidden meanings in the Scriptures, for the concern of all these theologians was to interpret the Biblical texts in such a way as to make the Bible intellectually respectable and philosophically interesting. Concern over the historical truth of the Bible is relatively modern, whether in the form of fundamentalism or of scientific research.

When the Bible was translated and widely distributed as a result of the invention of printing, it fell into the hands of people who, like the Jesus freaks of today, were simply uneducated and who, as the depressed classes of Europe, eventually swarmed over to America. This is, naturally, a heroic generalization. There were, and are, fundamentalists learned in languages and sciences (although the standard translation of the Bible into Chinese is said to be in fearful taste), just as there are professors of physics and anthropology who somehow manage to be pious Mormons. Some people have the peculiar ability to divide their minds into watertight compartments, being critical and rational in matters of science but credulous as children when it comes to religion.

Such superstition would have been relatively harmless if the religion had been something tolerant and pacific, such as Taoism or Buddhism. But the religion of the literally understood Bible is chauvinistic and militant. It is on the march to conquer the world and to establish itself as the one and only true belief. Among its most popular hymns are such battle songs as "Mine eyes have seen the glory" and Onward, Christian Soldiers. The God of the Hebrews, the Arabs and the Christians is a mental idol fashioned in the image of the great monarchs of Egypt, Chaldea and Persia. It was possibly Ikhnaton (Amenhotep IV, 14th Century B.C.), Pharaoh of Egypt, who gave Moses the idea of monotheism (as suggested in Freudís Moses and Monotheism). Certainly the veneration of God as "King of kings and Lord of lords" borrows the official title of the Persian emperors. Thus, the political pattern of tyranny, beneficent or otherwise, of rule by violence, whether physical or moral, stands firmly behind the Biblical idea of Jehovah.

When one considers the architecture and ritual of churches, whether Catholic or Protestant, it is obvious until most recent times that they are based on royal or judicial courts. A monarch who rules by force sits in the central court of his donjon with his back to the wall, flanked by guards, and those who come to petition him for justice or to offer tribute must kneel or prostrate themselves simply because these are difficult positions from which to start a fight. Such monarchs are, of course, frightened of their subjects and constantly on the anxious alert for rebellion. Is this an appropriate image for the inconceivable energy that underlies the universe? True, the altar-throne in Catholic churches is occupied by the image of God in the form of one crucified as a common thief, but he hangs there as our leader in subjection to the Almighty Father, King of the universe, propitiating Him for those who have broken His not always reasonable laws. And what of the curious resemblances between Protestant churches and courts of law? The minister and the judge wear the same black robe and "throw the book" at those assembled in pews and various kinds of boxes, and both ministers and judges have chairs of estate that are still, in effect, thrones.

Fundamentalists veer to the extreme right wing in politics, being of the personality type that demands strong external and paternalistic authority. Their "rugged individualism" and their racism are founded on the conviction that they are the elect of God the Father, and their forebears took possession of America as the armies of Joshua took possession of Canaan, treating the Indians as Joshua and Gideon treated the Bedouin of Palestine. In the same spirit the Protestant British, Dutch and Germans took possession of Africa, India and Indonesia, and the rigid Catholics of Spain and Portugal colonized Latin America. Such territorial expansion may or may not be practical politics, but to do it in the name of Jesus of Nazareth is an outrage.

The Bible is a dangerous book, though by no means an evil one. It depends, largely, on how you read it, with what prejudices, and with what intellectual background. Regarded as sacred and authoritative, such a complex collection of histories, legends, allegories and images becomes a monstrous Rorschach blot in which you can picture almost anything you want to discover just as one can see cities and mountains in the clouds or faces in the fire. Fundamentalists "prove" the truth of the Bible by trying to show how the words of the prophets have foretold events that have come to pass in relatively recent times. But any statistician knows that you can find correlations, if you want to, between almost any two sets of patterns or rhythms between the occurrence of sunspots and fluctuations of the stock market, between the lines and bumps on your hand and the course of your life or between the architecture of the Great Pyramid and the history of Europe. This is because of eidetic vision, or the brainís ability to project visions and forms of its own into any material whatsoever. But scholars of ancient history find the remarks of the prophets entirely relevant to events of their own time, in the ancient Near East. The Biblical prophets were not so much predictors as social commentators.



Alan Watts Quotes:

  • Belief in the divine authority of the Bible rest on nothing more than personal opinion, to which, of course, we are entitled.
  • Why does one come to the opinion that the Bible, literally understood, is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Usually because oneís elders, or an impressively large group of ones peers, have this opinion. But this is to go along with the Bandar-log, or monkey tribe, in Rudyard Kiplingís Jungle Books, who periodically get together and shout, "We all say so, so it must be true!"
  • Most people never grow up. They live their entire lives with a passionate need for eternal authority and guidance, pretending not to trust their own judgment. Nevertheless, it is their own judgment, willy-nilly, that there exists some authority greater than their own. The fervent fundamentalist whether Protestant or Catholic, Jew or Moslem is closed to reason and even communication for fear of losing the security of childish dependence.
  • This attitude is not faith. It is pure idolatry. The more deceptive idols are not images of wood and stone but are constructed of words and ideas and mental images of God. Faith is an openness and trusting attitude to truth and reality, whatever it may turn out to be. This is a risky and adventurous state of mind. Belief, in the religious sense, is the opposite of faith because it is a fervent wishing or hope, a compulsive clinging to the idea that the universe is arranged and governed in such and such a way. Belief is holding to a rock; faith is learning how to swim and this whole universe swims in boundless space.
  • In much of the English-speaking world, the King James Bible is a rigid idol, all the more deceptive for being translated into the most melodious English and for being an anthology of ancient literature that contains sublime wisdom along with barbaric histories and the war songs of tribes on the rampage. All this is taken as the literal Word and counsel of God, as it is by fundamentalist Baptists, Jesus freaks, Jehovahís Witnesses and comparable sects, which by and large know nothing of the history of the Bible, of how it was edited and put together. So we have with us the social menace of a huge population of intellectually and morally irresponsible people. Take a ruler and measure the listings under "Churches" in the Yellow Pages of the phone directory. You will find that the fundamentalists have by far the most space. And under what pressure do most hotels and motels place Gideon Bibles by the bedside? Bibles with clearly fundamentalist introductory material, taking their name Gideon from one of the more ferocious military leaders of the ancient Israelites.
  • The King James Bible was first published in A.D. 1611. It was not delivered by an Angel from heaven. It was an elegant, but often inaccurate, translation of Hebrew and Greek documents composed between 900 B.C. and A.D. 120.
  • There is no manuscript of the Old Testament (the original Hebrew Scriptures) earlier than the Ninth Century B.C. These documents were first put together and recognized as the Holy Scriptures by a convention of rabbis held at Jamnia (Yavne) in Palestine shortly before A.D. 100.
  • Likewise, the composition of the Christian Bible, which documents to include, was decided by a council of the Catholic Church held in Carthage in the latter part of the Fourth Century. Several books formerly read in churches, such as the Shepherd of Hermas and the Gospel of Saint Thomas, were excluded.
  • The books translated in the King James Bible were declared canonical and divinely inspired by the authority of the Synod of Jamnia and the Catholic Church. The meeting in Carthage took place more than 300 years after the time of Jesus.
  • Ironically, fundamentalist Protestants get the authority of their Bible from Jews who had rejected Jesus, and from Catholics whom they abominate as the Scarlet Woman mentioned in the book of Revelations.
  • The Bible is an anthology of Hebrew and late Greek literature, edited and put forth by a council of Catholic bishops who believed that they were acting under the direction of the Holy Spirit.