Wednesday, April 12, 2006
I've read other Watts (The Book and The Wisdom of Insecurity) and have found him rigorously challenging and powerfully rewarding each time. This might be the best I've read so far, and is perhaps the most difficult.
Basically Watts wants Western religion--in particular Catholicism, which he calls "the only likely vehicle of a unifying principle that remains in the Western world"*--to drop its 'religious' pretenses and more openly embrace the 'metaphysic.' Western faith has lost its connection to the Infinite, and to the potential divinity within Man, and Watts thinks this is to the detriment of half the world population.
The argument is not an easy one, as Catholicism has elaborate and rigid ideas, mostly Thomist, about God and duality and the nature of evil and man's relation to divinity and the Trinity and the only true path to salvation, etc. But Watts was a master academician, a philosopher of note, and a specialist in world theologies. His argument must first define the infinite, and move from there to demonstrate how the Eastern view of the infinite is not irreconcilable with Church doctrine. This takes a lot of dense discussion of monism, dualism, sin, evil, the Trinity, divinity, hinduism, buddhism, genesis, the Western confusion of Spirit and Soul, etc, etc. If this ain't your bag, head for the hills. Some of these paragraphs took a second reading (or a third) to gel. But Watts gives bang for the buck. I think if William Blake had written scholarly treatises instead of mad illuminated poems, that his books would have been much like The Supreme Identity. Watts teases out of Church liturgical texts and Scripture just enough ignored material to bolster his case that too much rationalism ruins God's intended message, and points out that the Catholic concern with historicism and factuality of Scripture is poisonous and beside the point of Christianity. Old friends appear along the way, like Carl Jung, St. Teresa, and Master Eickhart. Definitely worth the time, but be prepared to work. Think of it as "Alan Watts read Summa Theologica so I don't have to."
*an opinion perhaps dropped by the time he wrote the other books?