This is a transcript of Alan Watts’ lecture about Jesus Christ & Christianity. All the credit for this transcript goes to Scott Lahteine for writing it up in 2012. Click here to visit his blog.
I have put together a video syncing in together this transcript along with Watt’s audio lecture, which you can find here. (please pardon any editing errors in the video)
Some years ago I had just given a talk on television in Canada when one of the announcers came up to me and said “You know, if one can believe that this universe is in charge of an intelligent and beneficent God, don’t you think he would naturally have provided us with an infallible guide to behavior and to the truth about the universe?” And of course I knew he meant the Bible. I said “No, I think nothing of the kind. Because I think a loving God would not do something to His children that would rot their brains.”
Because if we had an infallible guide we would never think for ourselves, and therefore our minds would become atrophied. It is as if my grandfather left me a million dollars: I’m glad he didn’t.” And we have therefore to begin any discussion of the meaning of the life and teaching of Jesus with a look at this thorny question of “authority.” And especially the authority of Holy Scripture. Because in this country in particular [the USA] there are an enormous number of people who seem to believe that the Bible descended from Heaven with an angel in the year sixteen-hundred and eleven, which was when the so-called King James – or more correctly Authorized – version of the Bible was translated into English.
I had a crazy uncle who believed that every word of the Bible was literally true including the marginal notes. And so whatever date it said in the marginal notes, that the world was created in 4004, B.C., and he believed it as the Word of God. Until one day he was reading – I think – a passage in the book of Proverbs and found a naughty word in the Bible. And from that time on he was through with it. You know, how Protestant can you get?
Now, the question of “authority” needs to be understood, because I am not going to claim any authority in what I say to you, except the authority – such as it is – of history. And that’s a pretty uncertain authority. But from my point of view the four Gospels are I think to be regarded on the whole as historical documents. I’ll even grant the miracles. Because, speaking as one heavily influenced by Buddhism, we’re not very impressed with miracles! The traditions of Asia – Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and so forth – are full of miraculous stories. And we take them in our stride. We don’t think that they’re any sign of anything in particular except psychic power. And we in the West have by scientific technology accomplished things of a very startling nature. We could blow up the whole planet, and Tibetan magicians have never promised to do anything like that.
And I’m really a little scared of the growing interest in psychic power because that’s what I call “psycho-technics.” And we’ve made such a mess of things with ordinary technics that Heaven only knows what we might do if we got hold of psycho-technics and started raising people from the dead, and prolonging life insufferably, and doing everything we wished.
The whole answer to the story of miracles is simply imagine that you’re God and that you can have anything you want. Well you’d have it for quite a long time. And then after awhile you’d say “This is getting pretty dull because I know in advance everything that’s going to happen.” And so you would wish for a surprise. And you would find yourself this evening in this church as a Human being.
So, I mean, that is the miracle thing. I think miracles are probably possible. That doesn’t bother me. And as a matter of fact when you read the writings of the early fathers of the church – the great theologians like Saint Clement, Gregory of Nissa, Saint John of Damascus, even Thomas Aquinas – they’re not interested in the historicity of the Bible. They take that sort of for granted but forget it. They’re interested in its deeper meaning. And therefore they always interpret all the tales like Jonah and the whale. They don’t bother even to doubt whether Jonah was or wasn’t swallowed by a whale or other big fish. But they see in the story of Jonah and the whale as a prefiguration of the resurrection of Christ. And even when it comes to the Resurrection of Christ they’re not worrying about the chemistry or the physics of a risen body. What they’re interested in is that the idea of the resurrection of the body has something to say about the meaning of the physical body in the eyes of God. That the physical body – in other words – is not something worthless and unspiritual, but something which is an object of the Divine Love.
And so therefore I’m not going to be concerned with whether or not miraculous events happened. It seems to me entirely beside the point. So I regard the Four Gospels as on the whole as good a historical document as anything else we have from that period, including the Gospel of Saint John. And that’s important. It used to be fashionable to regard the Gospel of Saint John as late. In other words, at the turn of the century the higher critics of The New Testament assigned the Gospel of Saint John to about 125 A.D.. And the reason was just simple. Those higher critics at that time just assumed that the simple teachings of Jesus could not possibly have included any such complicated mystical theology. And therefore they said, “Well, it must be later.”
Now, as a matter of fact, in the text of the Gospel of Saint John the local color, his knowledge of the topography of Jerusalem, and his knowledge of the Jewish calendar is more accurate than that of the other three writers, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And it seems to me perfectly simple to assume that John recorded the inner teaching which He gave to His disciples and that Matthew, Mark, and Luke record the more exoteric teaching which He gave to people-at-large.
Now, what about them, the authority of these scriptures? We could take this problem in two steps. A lot of people don’t know how we got the Bible at all. We Westerners got the Bible thanks to the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church and members of the church wrote the books of the New Testament. And they took over the books of the Old Testament which even by the time of Christ had not been finally decided upon by the Jews. The Jews did not close the canon of the Old Testament until the year 100 A.D. – or thereabouts – at the Synod of Jamnia. And then they finally decided which were the canonical books of the Hebrew Scriptures and embodied them in the Masoretic Text, the earliest copy of which dates from the tenth century – early in the tenth century A.D.. The books to be included in the New Testament were not finally decided upon until the year three hundred and eighty-two – A.D. again – at the Synod of Rome under Pope Damasus. So it was the church – the Catholic Church – that promulgated the Bible and said “we are giving you these scriptures on our authority and the authority of the informal tradition that has existed among us from the beginning, inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
So you receive historically the Bible on the church’s say-so. And the Catholic Church insists, therefore, that the church collectively, speaking under the presumed guidance of the Holy Spirit, has the authority to interpret the Bible. And you can take that or leave it. Because obviously the authority of the Bible is not first of all based on the Bible itself. I can write a bible and state within that book that it is indeed the Word of God which I have received. And you’re at liberty to believe me or not. Hindus believe that the Vedas are divinely revealed and inspired with just as much fervor as any Christian or any Jew. Muslims believe that the Koran is divinely inspired. And some Buddhists believe that their Sutras are of divine – or rather Buddhic – origin. The Japanese believe that the ancient texts of Shinto are likewise of divine origin. And who is to be judge?
If we are going to argue about this – as to which version of the Truth is the correct one – we will always end up in an argument in which the judge and the advocate are the same person. And you wouldn’t want that if you were brought into a court of law, would you? Because if I say that, “Well, thinking it all over I find that Jesus Christ is the greatest being who ever came onto this Earth,” by what standards do I judge? Why obviously, I judge by the sort of moral standards that have been given to me as somebody brought up in a Christian culture. There is nobody impartial who can decide between all the religions because more or less everybody has been in one way or another influenced by one of them.
So if the church says the Bible is true it finally comes down to you. Are you going to believe the church or aren’t you? If nobody believes the church it will be perfectly plain, won’t it, that the church has no authority. Because the people is always the source of authority. That’s why de Tocqueville said that the people gets what government it deserves. And so you may say “Well, God Himself is the authority!” Well, how are we to show that? That’s your opinion. Well you say “Well, you wait and see. The Day of Judgment is coming, and then you’ll find out who is the authority!” Yes, but at the moment there is no evidence for the Day of Judgment, and it remains until there is evidence simply your opinion that the Day of Judgment is coming. And there is nothing else to go on except the opinion of other people who hold the same view and whose opinions you bought.
So really, I won’t deny anybody’s right to hold these opinions. You may indeed believe that the Bible is literally true and that it was actually dictated by God to Moses and the Prophets and the Apostles. That may be your opinion and you are at liberty to hold it. I don’t agree with you.
I do believe, on the other hand, that there is a sense in which the Bible is divinely inspired. But I mean by “inspiration” something utterly different from dictation, receiving a dictated message from an omniscient authority. I think inspiration comes very seldom in words. In fact almost all the words written down by automatic writing from psychic input that I’ve ever read strike me as a bit thin. When a psychic tries to write of deep mysteries instead of telling you what your sickness is or who your grandmother was, he begins to get superficial. And psychically communicated philosophy is never as interesting as philosophy carefully thought out.
But divine inspiration isn’t that kind of communication. Divine inspiration is, for example, to feel – for reasons that you can’t really understand – that you love people. Divine inspiration is a wisdom which it’s very difficult to put into words. Like mystical experience. That’s divine inspiration. And a person who writes out of that experience could be said to be divinely inspired. Or it might come through dreams. Through archetypal messages from the collective unconscious, through which the Holy Spirit could be said to work. But since inspiration always comes through a Human vehicle it is liable to be distorted by that vehicle. In other words, I’m talking to you through a sound system. And it’s the only one now available. Now if there’s something wrong with this sound system whatever truths I might utter to you will be distorted. My voice will be distorted. And you might mistake the meaning of what I said.
Now so therefore everybody who receives divine inspiration – and I’m using that in a very loose way – you could mean anything you like by “divine” – that’s your option – but anybody who receives it will express it within the limits of what language he knows. And by language here I don’t only mean English, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, or Sanskrit. I mean language in the sense of what sort of terms are available to you; what kind of religion were you brought up with.
Now you see, if you were brought up in the Bible Belt – you came out of Arkansas somewhere – and that’s all the religion you knew, and you had a mystical experience of the type where you suddenly discover that you are one with God, then you’re liable to get up and say “I’m Jesus Christ!” And lots of people do. Well the culture that we live in just can’t allow that. There is only one Jesus Christ. And so if you don’t look like you’re Jesus Christ coming back again – because it said in the scriptures that when He comes back there’ll be no doubt about it: He’ll appear in the Heavens with legions of angels, and you’re not doing that; you’re just old Joe Dokes we knew years ago. Well now you say you’re Jesus Christ. Well, he says that when Jesus Christ said he was God nobody believed him and you don’t believe again. You know you can’t answer that argument. (laughter)
But you see, he says it that way because he is trying to express what happened to him in terms of the religious language which is circumscribed by the Holy Bible. He’s never read the Upanishads. He’s never read the Diamond Sutra. He’s never read The Tibetan Book of the Dead or the I-Ching or the Lao-Tsu, and therefore there is no other way in which he can say this.
But if he had read the Upanishads he would have had no difficulty, and nor would the culture – the society in which he was talking – have any difficulty. Because it says in the Upanishads we are all incarnations of God. Only they don’t mean by the word “God” – in fact they don’t use that word; they use “Brahman” – they don’t mean the same thing that a Hebrew meant by “God.” Because the Brahman is not personal. Brahman is – we would say – supra-personal. Not impersonal, because that is a negation. But I would say supra-personal.
Brahman is not he or she, has no sex. Brahman is not the creator of the world – as something underneath and subject to Brahman – but the actor of the world, the player of all the parts, so that everyone is a mask (which is the meaning of the word “person”) in which the Brahman plays a role. And like an absorbed actor the divine spirit gets so absorbed in playing the role as to become it, and to be bewitched. And this is all part of the game, hereto believing that I am that role. When you were babies you knew who you were. Psychoanalysts refer to that as the oceanic feeling. They don’t really like it, but they admit that it exists. Where the baby cannot distinguish between the world and the way it acts upon the world. It’s all one process. Which is of course the way things are.
But we learn very quickly because we are taught very quickly what is you and what is not-you, what is voluntary, what is involuntary, because you can be punished for the voluntary but not for the involuntary. And so we unlearn what we knew in the beginning. And in the course of life if we are fortunate we discover again what we really are, that each one of us is what would be called in Arabic or Hebrew “a son of God.” And the word “son of” means “of the nature of” as when you call someone a “son of a bitch,” or in Arabic you say “Ibn-kalb” which means “son of a dog,” “Ibn al-Himar”: “son of a donkey.” So, “a son of Belial” means “an evil person.” “Son of God” means “a divine person,” a Human being who has realized union with God.
Now my assumption – and my opinion – is that Jesus of Nazareth was a Human being like Buddha, like Sri Rama Krishna, like Ramana Maharshi, etc., who early in life had a colossal experience of what we call “cosmic consciousness.” Now you don’t have to be any particular kind of religion to get this experience. It can hit anyone anytime, like falling in love. There are obviously a number of you in this building who’ve had it in greater or lesser degree. But it’s found all over the world. And when it hits you, you know it. Sometimes it comes after long practice of meditations and spiritual discipline. Sometimes it comes for no reason that anybody can determine. We say it’s the “Grace of God,” that there comes this overwhelming conviction that you have mistaken your identity, that what you thought, what I thought was just old Alan Watts – who I know very well is just a big act and a show – but what I thought was, you know, “me!” – was only completely superficial, that I am an expression of an eternal something-or-other: “X,” a name that can’t be named, as the name of God was taboo among the Hebrews; “I am.”; and that I suddenly understand why – exactly why – everything is the way it is. It’s perfectly clear.
Furthermore I no longer feel any boundary between what I do and what happens to me. I feel that everything that’s going on is my doing, just as my breathing is. Is your breathing voluntary or involuntary? Do you do it or does it happen to you? So you can feel it both ways. But you feel everything like breathing. And it isn’t as if you had become a puppet. There is no longer any separate “you.” There is just this great Happening going on. And if you have The Name in your background you will say “This happening is God,” or “the Will of God,” or “the Doing of God.” Or if you don’t have that word in your background you will say with the Chinese “it is the flowing of the Tao.” Or if you’re a Hindu you will say “it is the Maya of Brahman.” “The Maya” means “the magical power,” “the creative illusion,” “the play.”
So you can very well understand how people to whom this happens feel genuinely inspired. Because very often there goes along with it an extremely warm feeling. Because you see the Divine in everybody else’s eyes. When Kabir, a great Hindu Muslim mystic, was a very old man he used to look around at people and say “To whom shall I preach?” Because he saw the Beloved in all eyes, and could see – sometimes I look into people’s eyes, and I can look right down, and I can see that Beloved in the depths of those pools, and yet the expression on the face is saying “What, me?!” Ha ha ha ha, it’s the funniest thing! But there is everybody, in his own peculiar way, playing out an essential part in this colossal cosmic drama. And it’s so strange, but one can even feel it in people you thoroughly dislike.
So, let’s suppose then that Jesus had such an experience. But you see, Jesus has a limitation that he doesn’t know of any religion other than those of the immediate Near-East. He might know something about Egyptian religion, a little bit maybe about Greek religion, but mostly about Hebrew. There is no evidence whatsoever that he knew anything about India or China. And we – people who think that, you know, Jesus was God assume that he must have known because he would have been omniscient. No! Saint Paul makes it perfectly clear in the Epistle to the Phillipians that Jesus renounced his divine powers so as to be Man. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God thought not equality with God a thing to be hung onto, but humbled himself and made himself of no reputation and was found in fashion as a man and became obedient to death.” Theologians call that “kenosis,” which means “self-emptying.”
So obviously an omnipotent and omniscient man would not really be a man. So even if you take the very orthodox Catholic doctrine of the nature of Christ, that he was both true God and true Man, you must say that for true God to be united with true Man, true God has to make a voluntary renunciation – for the time-being – of omniscience and omnipotence… and omnipresence for that matter. Now therefore if Jesus were to come right out and say “I am the son of God” that’s like saying “I’m the boss’s son,” or “I AM the boss,” and everybody immediately says that is blasphemy. That is subversion. That is trying to introduce Democracy into the Kingdom of Heaven. That is –– you are a usurper of the throne. No man has seen God.
Now, Jesus in his exoteric teaching – as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels – was pretty cagey about this. He didn’t come right out there and say “I and the Father are one.” Instead he identified himself with the Messiah described in the second part of the prophet Isaiah, “the suffering servant who was despised and rejected by men.” And this man is the non-political Messiah, in other words. It was convenient to make that identification even though it would get him into trouble.
But to his elect disciples as recorded in Saint John, he came right out “Before Abraham was, I am.” “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “I am the living bread that comes down from Heaven.” “I and the Father are one, and he who has seen me has seen the Father.” And there can be no mistaking that language.
So the Jews found out and they put him to death – or had him put to death – for blasphemy. This is no cause for any special antagonism toward the Jews. We would do exactly the same thing. It’s always done. It happened to one of the great Sufi mystics in Persia who had the same experience. Now, what happened? The Apostles didn’t quite get the point. They were awed by the miracles of Jesus. They worshipped him as people do worship gurus, and as you know to what lengths that can go if you’ve been around guru-land. And so the Christians said “Okay, okay: Jesus of Nazareth was the son of God but let it stop right there! Nobody else.” So what happened was that Jesus was pedestalized. He was put in a position that was safely upstairs so that his troublesome experience of cosmic consciousness would not come and cause other people to be a nuisance. And those who have had this experience and expressed it during those times when the church had political power were almost invariably persecuted. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake. John Scotus Eriugena was excommunicated. Meister Eckhardt’s theses were condemned. And so on, and so on. A few mystics got away with it because they used cautious language.
But you see what happens. If you pedestalize Jesus you strangle the Gospel at birth. And it has been the tradition in both the Catholic Church and in Protestantism to pass off what I will call an emasculated Gospel. Gospel means “good news,” and I cannot for the life of me think what is the good news about the Gospel as ordinarily handed down. Because, look here – here is the revelation of God in Christ, in Jesus, and we are supposed to follow his life and example without having the unique advantage of being the boss’s son. Now, the tradition – both Catholic and Protestant Fundamentalist – represents Jesus to us as a freak! Born of a virgin, knowing he is the son of God, having the power of miracles, knowing that basically it’s impossible to kill him, that he’s going to rise again in the end. And we are asked to take up our cross and follow him when we don’t know that about ourselves at all! So what happens is this: we are delivered, therefore, a Gospel which is in fact an impossible religion. It’s impossible to follow the Way of Christ. Alright. Many a Christian has admitted it. “I am a miserable sinner. I fall far short of the example of Christ.” But do you realize the more you say that the better you are? Because what happened was that Christianity institutionalized guilt as a virtue. (enthusiastic applause) You see, you can never come up to it. Never. And therefore you will always be aware of your shortcomings, and so the more shortcomings you feel the more – in other words – you are aware of the vast abyss between Christ and yourself.
[Audience member] “You are just setting up straw men and knocking them down!”
You will have your opportunity to speak during the question period, madam. So, you go to confession…. (laughter and applause) … and if you’ve got a nice dear understanding confessor he won’t get angry with-at you. He’ll say, “My child, you know you’ve sinned very grievously but you must realize that the love of God and of Our Lord is infinite and that naturally you are forgiven. As a token of thanks-giving say three ‘Hail Mary’s.” And you know, you’ve committed a murder and robbed a bank and fornicated around and so on, but the priest is perfectly patient and quiet. Well you feel awful! “I have done that to the love of God? I have wounded Jesus, grieved the Holy Spirit,” and so on. But you know in the back of your mind that you’re going to do it all over again. You won’t be able to help yourself. You’ll try. But there’s always a greater and greater sense of guilt.
Now, the lady objected that I was putting up a straw man and knocking it down. This is the Christianity of most people. Now there is a much more subtle Christianity of the theologians, the mystics, and the philosophers. But it’s not what gets preached from the pulpit, grant you. But the message of Billy Graham is approximately what I’ve given you, and of all – what I will call – fundamentalist forms of Catholicism and Protestantism.
What would the real Gospel be? The real Good News is not simply that Jesus of Nazareth was THE son of God, but that he was a powerful son of God who came to open everybody’s eyes to the fact that you are too. Now this is perfectly plain. If you will go to the tenth chapter of Saint John, verse 30, there is the passage where Jesus says “I and the Father are one.” And this is – there are some people who aren’t intimate disciples around, and they are horrified! And they immediately pick up stones to stone him. He says “Many good works I have shown you from the Father, and for which of these do you stone me?” And they said, “For a good work we stone you not, but for blasphemy, because you being a man make yourself God.” And he replied “Isn’t it written in your law ‘I have said you are gods’?” (He’s quoting the 82nd Psalm.) “Isn’t it written in your law ‘I have said you are gods’? If God called them those to whom he gave his word ‘gods’ – and you can’t deny the scriptures – how can you say I blaspheme because I said I am a son of God?” Well there’s the whole thing in a nutshell.
Of course if you read the King James Bible that descended with the angel you will see in italics in front of these words “son of God,” “THE son of God” – “…because I said I am THE son of God.” And most people think the italics are for emphasis. They’re not. The italics indicate words interpolated by the translators. You will not find that in the Greek. The Greek says “a son of God.” So it seems to me here perfectly plain that Jesus has got it in the back of his mind that this isn’t something peculiar to himself.
So when he says “I am the way. No man comes to the Father but by ME,” this “I am,” this “me” is the divine in us which in Hebrew would be called the “Ruach Adonai.” This – a great deal is made of this by the esoteric Jews, Kabbalists and the Hasidim. The Ruach is the breath that God breathed into the nostrils of Adam. It is differing from the soul. The individual soul in Hebrew is called “Nephesh.” And so we translate the “Ruach” into the Greek “pneuma” into “psyche” [see´kay] or “psyche” [sy´kee]. The spirit – and you ask the theologian what’s the difference between the soul and the spirit and he won’t be able to tell you – but it’s very clear in Saint Paul’s writings.
So the point is that the Ruach is the divine in the creature by virtue of which we are sons of, or of the nature of God: manifestations of the divine. This discovery is the Gospel. That is, the Good News. But this has been perpetually repressed throughout the history of Western religion because all Western religions have taken the form of celestial monarchies, and therefore have discouraged Democracy in the Kingdom of Heaven. Until, as a consequence of the teachings of the German and Flemish mystics in the Fifteenth Century there began to be such movements as the Anabaptists, the Brothers of the Free Spirit, and the Levelers, and the Quakers. A spiritual movement which came to this country and founded a republic and not a monarchy.
And how could you say that a republic is the best form of government if you think that the Universe is a monarchy? Obviously, if God is top on a monarchy, monarchy is the best form of government. But you see, ever so many citizens of this republic think they ought to believe that the Universe is a monarchy, and therefore they are always at odds with the republic.
It is from, principally, white racist Christians that we have the threat of Fascism in this country. Because you see, they have a religion which is militant, which is not the religion of Jesus – which was the realization of divine son-ship – but the religion ABOUT Jesus which pedestalizes him and which says “Only this man – of all the sons of woman – is divine, and you had better recognize it.” And so it speaks of itself as The Church Militant, the onward Christian soldiers marching as to war. Utterly exclusive. Convinced, in advance of examining the doctrines of any other religion that it is the top religion. And so it becomes a freak religion, just as it has made a freak of Jesus, an unnatural man. It claims uniqueness, not realizing that what it does teach would be far more credible if it were truly “Catholic” – that is to say: restated again, the truths which have been known from time immemorial, which have appeared in all the great cultures of the world.
But even very liberal Protestants still want to say, somehow – so as, I suppose to keep the mission effort going or to pay off the mortgage – “Yes, these other religions are very good. God has no doubt revealed himself through Buddha and Lao-Tsu. But…!”
Now, obviously, it is a matter of temperament. You could be loyal to Jesus just as you’re loyal to your own country, but you are not serving your country if you think that it’s necessarily the best of all possible countries. That is doing a disservice to your country. It is refusing to be critical where criticism is proper. So of religion. Every religion should be self-critical. Otherwise it soon degenerates into a self-righteous hypocrisy. If then we can see this, that Jesus speaks not from the situation of a historical deus-ex-machina – a kind of a weird, extraordinary event – but he is a voice which joins with other voices that have said in every place and time “Wake up, Man. Wake up and realize who you are.”
Now I don’t think, you see, until churches get with that that they’re going to have very much relevance. You see, popular Protestantism and popular Catholicism will tell you nothing about mystical religion. The message of the preacher, fifty-two Sundays a year, is “Dear people, be good.” We’ve heard it ad-nauseam! Or: “Believe in this.” He may occasionally give us a sermon on what happens after death or the nature of God, but basically the sermon is “Be good.” But how? As Saint Paul said, “To will is present with me, but how to do that which is good I find not; for the good that I would I do not, and the evil that I would not, that I do.” How are we going to be changed? Obviously, there cannot be a vitality of religion without vital religious experience. And that’s something much more than emoting over singing “Onward Christian Soldiers.”
But you see what happens in our ecclesiastical goings-on is that we run a talking shop. We pray. We tell God what to do, or give advice as if He didn’t know. We read the scriptures, and remember: talking of the Bible Jesus said “You search the scriptures daily, for in them you think you have life.” Saint Paul made some rather funny references about the spirit which giveth life and the letter which kills. I think the Bible should be ceremoniously and reverently burned every Easter. We need it no more because the Spirit is with us. It’s a dangerous book. And to worship it is of course a far more dangerous idolatry than bowing down to images of wood and stone. Because you can –– nobody’s senses can confuse a wooden image with God, but you can very easily confuse a set of ideas with God, because concepts are more rarified and abstract.
So with this endless talking in church we can preach, but by-and-large preaching does nothing but excite a sense of anxiety and guilt. And you can’t love out of that. No scolding, no rational demonstration of the right way to behave is going to inspire people with love. Something else must happen. But we will say “What are you going to do about it?” Do about it? You have no faith? Be quiet. Even Quakers aren’t quiet. They sit in meeting and think. At least some of them do. But supposing we get really quiet; we don’t think; be absolutely silent through-and-through? We say “Well, you’ll just fall into a blank.” Oh? Ever tried?
I feel then, you see, that it’s enormously important that churches stop being talking shops, they become centers of contemplation. What is contemplation? Con-templum: It’s what you do in the temple. You don’t come to the temple to chatter, but to be still and know that “I am God.” And this is why, if the Christian religion – if the Gospel of Christ – is to mean anything at all instead of just being one of the forgotten religions along with Osiris and Mithra we must see Christ as the Great Mystic. In the proper sense of the word “mystic,” not someone who has all sorts of magical powers and understands spirits and so on. A mystic – strictly speaking – is one who realizes union with God, by whatever name. This seems to me the crux and message of the Gospel, summed up in the prayer of Jesus which Saint John records as he speaks over his disciples praying that “they may be one even as you, Father, and I are one.” That they may be all one. All realize this divine son-ship, all oneness, basic identity with the eternal energy of the universe and the love that moves the Sun and other stars.