Sunday, February 04, 2007

Resignation Letter, P. 2

Here is Part 2 of the passages I'm posting from the letter Alan Watts wrote in August of 1950 to formally announce his resignation from the Episcopal ministry and Church:

Insofar as the Church is committed to a desire for and a clinging to authority, permanence, spiritual safety, and absolute guides of conduct, it is clinging to its own death. By such means, belief in God, the hope for immortality, and the quest for salvation, become only escapes from the inner emptiness and insecurity which most of us feel in the depths of our being when confronted with the loneliness, the transiency, and the uncertainty of human life. But that inner emptiness is not a void to be filled with comforts; it is a window to be looked through. It is not an evil that life--our own life--flows, changes, and passes away. It is a revelation to prevent us from clinging to ourselves, for whoever lets go of himself finds God. The state of eternal life and oneness with God comes to pass--like a miracle--only when we release our grasp on every form of spiritual security. To cling to security is only to cling to oneself, and perish of strangulation.

It would be a silly kind of pride to pretend that we can surrender this passion for safety just by trying. It is not effort that breaks the vicious cycle of self-strangulation; it is an awareness and understanding of its complete futility. To be aware of this futility is to look through the emptiness within--that window into heaven which affords us the vision of God.

Much of this has a familiar ring to the Christian. "Whosoever would save his soul shall lose it." But I have found that you cannot make this point clear within the Church as it exists without running into contradictions at every step. The liturgy is cluttered beyond hope with sentiments, prayers, and hymns conceived in the state of anxious grasping to forms. And that is by no means all.

During the past years, I have continued my studies of the spiritual teachings of the Orient, alongside with Catholic theology, and, though I have sometimes doubted it, I am now fully persuaded that the Church's claim to be the best of all ways to God is not only a mistake, but also a symptom of anxiety. Obviously, one who has found a great truth is eager to share it with others. But to insist--often in ignorance of other revelations--that one's own is supreme argues a certain inferiority complex characteristic of all imperialisms. "Methinks thou dost protest too much." This claim to supremacy is, for me, the chiefest sign of how deeply the Church is committed to this self-strangulation, this anxiety for certainty, and I cannot support the proselytism in which it issues...

6 comments:

cousin dupree said...

Er, this letter is a bit self-serving, is it not, since Watts was about to be ex-communicated for leaving his wife for one of his graduate students who babysat for Mr. and Mrs. Watts?

And more generally, didn't Watts just want to be free to drink vodka, take drugs, attract women with his silver-tongued faux spiritual authority, and get spanked by his female students?

Oh well, nothing like choosing a "spiritual path" compatible with your unregenerate ego. That's what the new age is all about, isn't it?

Nagarjuna said...

CD, Watts explained in another part of his letter that another reason why he was resigning was because he couldn't (or wouldn't) act as the moral exemplar that a man in his position was expected to. Maybe this was, as you cynically suggest, the REAL reason for his resignation with the part I quoted serving only as a tidy rationalization. But rationalizations can speak vital truths even when they're rationalizations, and I think the passage I quoted spoke important truths, whether they were mere rationalizations or they expressed genuine reasons for his resignation.

copithorne said...

I think Watt's quote is lovely and provocative.

But from where I sit it seems like Christian claims to exclusivity are incidental ornamentation and not a load bearing pillar of faith.

I only call to mind the quote from the Gospel of John, "I am the way the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me." In my recollection I don't think there is much in the synoptic gospels or in Paul that asserts exclusivity of Christianity.

It can all be resolved by the formulation I described earlier as being suggested to me by a Benedictine Abbot: the Bible is written by people of faith for people of faith about faith. It can't be understood outside that context and it accordingly cannot be interpreted to say anything about people without Christian faith.

Dupree, are you a member of a church?

cousin dupree said...

Yes, of course.

Nagarjuna said...

"Yes, of course," WHAT, Cousin? :-)

cousin dupree said...

An ancient and unbroken oral tradition of Christian hermeticism.