X Close

How to rewild Christianity Alan Watts thought church should be boozy and fun

Alan Watts promised liberation. Credit: Alan Watts Organisation.

Alan Watts promised liberation. Credit: Alan Watts Organisation.


November 3, 2023   5 mins

There is much talk these days of Christianity being doomed: of churches closing, values fading, and community feeling ebbing. But was there ever a time when Christian Britain was one big, cuddly Richard Curtis film?

The New Atheism of the 2000s and early 2010s had serious flaws. And yet Richard Dawkins was surely onto something when he sought to shake religious traditions by their metaphorical lapels and demand that they explain what exactly they are doing when they use religious language. Is it history, proto-science, poetry or something else entirely? For all that Christian commentators enjoyed depicting the likes of Dawkins as wading out into deep theological waters and promptly drowning, this basic question was manifestly a good one — one on which there has long been disagreement among Christians of varying stripes.

This is part of what intrigues me about Paul Kingsnorth’s and Martin Shaw’s conversions to Orthodox Christianity, in both cases via paths that ran through the natural world — Kingsnorth as an environmentalist and one-time Wicca priest, Shaw as a wilderness vigil guide. The two friends claim to be feeling their way towards what they call a “wild Christianity” — which could represent a new turn in our relationship with religion.

Advertisements

Somewhere near the heart of wild Christianity appears to be a powerful sense of numinous presence, within nature and within the Orthodox liturgy, which is at once compelling and strange. In an age of endless cultural recycling, the two men are calling for the cultivation of an attentive silence, in natural surrounds. We have all but lost this ability to listen, but we can re-learn with the help of others: the medieval saints of Ireland, where Kingsnorth now lives, alongside cultures around the world who understand the value of what Shaw calls “putting your great and ancient ear to the dark soil of circumstance and listening”.

The pair are not the first to make the case for a radical, untethered Christianity, free from the trials of institutional religion. In many respects, Kingsnorth reminds me of an English Benedictine monk by the name of Bede Griffiths (1906-1993). His attempt to revitalise Western Christianity, alongside that of the English philosopher and counter-culture guru Alan Watts, who died 50 years ago this month, turned on the question of how language and inner experience shape one another. I suspect that this may end up being true, too, for wild Christianity.

For Watts, as a child, life’s magic could be found in the beauty and fecundity of the family garden — tomatoes and raspberries hanging off vines like “glowing, luscious jewels” — and later in East Asian landscape painting, Zen Buddhism, and yoga. Griffiths, too, was drawn in by nature — in his case, a spiritual awakening one evening on the school playing fields, set off by the sound of birdsong: “Everything… grew still as the sunset faded and the veil of dusk began to cover the earth… I felt inclined to kneel on the ground, as though I had been standing in the presence of an angel.”

Watts and Griffiths regarded the general drabness of mid-20th century Britain as evidence of a fundamental disconnect from life at this deep level: the funereal black suit that Watts’s father wore for work; the “boxy, red-brick quiet-desperation homes” to which Watts saw such men returning home at night.

Unsure what to do about all this, Griffiths and some university friends experimented with living a simple life in a Cotswold cottage: no running water; no technology or literature produced after the 17th century; and candlelit debates about whether, if the village blacksmith could somehow craft an X-ray machine, it would be acceptable to use it.

But Griffiths soon realised that his venture failed to get to the real problem, which was the placing of human beings — and, in particular, a discriminating human intellect — at the heart of reality. Having quit the Cotswolds, he spent a traumatic night of prayer in Bethnal Green, where he found his still-tentative personal philosophy — Christianity with a dash of Eastern wisdom — completely destroyed, as an “abyss” of darkness and unreason overtook him. Out on the street the next morning, London’s buses appeared to “have lost their solidity and [to] be glowing with light”. God, he concluded, had “brought me to my knees, and made me acknowledge my own nothingness… out of that knowledge I had been reborn”.

Watts came to a similar conclusion one evening in his boarding school dormitory, where frustration at his failed practice of yoga and zazen boiled over and he decided to drop both — at which point, quite unexpectedly, “Alan Watts” got dropped instead. Anxious little Alan was, he realised, no more than a case of mistaken identity. The real Alan Watts was part of an immeasurably greater and inextinguishable whole. The release was profound, and its memory never left him.

Watts went on to make a name for himself on America’s West Coast in the Fifties and Sixties, as a gifted communicator of Eastern wisdom — to young Americans especially, often on college campuses — and a progressive thinker on everything from psychotherapy to sex and LSD. For a few years before that, however, he served as an Episcopal priest in America’s Midwest. There, he observed that, unlike in India where Shiva dances and Krishna plays the flute, Midwestern church-goers sit amid heavy courthouse furniture — pews and pulpits — apologising to God, “asking him not to spank” them, praising him in formulae, and engaging in enforced folksiness and “fake joy”. An institutionalised pride is at work here, Watts declared. Everyone talks about grace, but most people want to work for their own salvation — and to see it denied to people who don’t put in the hard yards.

This, he thought, gives rise to a narrow notion of “meaning”: an endlessly deferred happiness. The idea that play might be a more accurate analogy than work for the divine life and our participation in it would, Watts felt sure, strike most congregants as blasphemous. And yet, this was what one of his later LSD trips revealed to him: reality as a giant game of hide-and-seek, with the universe playing at being lots of different things and people. It is not dissimilar to the Taoist philosophy of “flow”, in which reality is akin to breath or water.

Some of Watts’s ecclesiastical colleagues suspected him of being little more than a pantheist with a gift for semantics. And therein lay the challenge. No doubt Watts’s pioneering church services were lots of fun to attend: conversation and jokes, Gregorian chant and piano improvisations, smoking and drinking, sermons capped at 15 minutes. But where was Jesus Christ in all of this? Watts suggested that God is “personal” in the sense of being “immeasurably alive”. Yet wasn’t his image of God just a little too convenient: personal enough to be lively, interesting, and joyous, but not so personal as to make demands of him or censure his behaviour — his “boozing and wenching”, as Watts put it?

Griffiths eventually faced similar questions. Having become a Catholic and a Benedictine in the Thirties, he moved to south India in the mid-Fifties and began to pioneer new forms of monasticism and inter-religious dialogue. He ended up developing a deep fondness and respect for Hinduism, and in particular the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Advaita Vedanta philosophy. His ecumenical work was widely praised and seemed well-suited to the post-colonial era. And yet, asked his critics, was this still Christianity?

Still, Watts’s fanbase seems to renew itself in every generation. Where once they thumbed through his paperbacks on the hippie trail, now they have podcasts and YouTube videos of his talks. Read the comments underneath those videos, and liberation remains the key to his appeal decade after decade.

There is much here that might contribute to a “wild Christianity”: Watts’s warnings about safe, nostalgic religion as a kind of collective clinging; his intuition of a God who is “immeasurably alive”; his self-confessed “rascality”. I’m not sure, however, that liberation by itself is enough. Don’t we soon find ourselves back where we were, and in need of liberation once again? Griffiths, who defined faith as “utter receptivity to the divine”, thought that real liberation was a matter of attentive, committed listening, moving step by step according to what you hear as you go. A Christianity built on that, and capable of generating community from it, is a wild idea indeed.


Christopher Harding is a cultural historian of India and Japan, based at the University of Edinburgh. His latest book, The Light of Asia (Allen Lane) will be published in January 2024. He also has a Substack: IlluminAsia.
drchrisharding

Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

69 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
5 months ago

And yet Richard Dawkins was surely onto something when he sought to shake religious traditions by their metaphorical lapels and demand that they explain what exactly they are doing when they use religious language. Is it history, proto-science, poetry or something else entirely?
What a silly question. It’s religion. That’s like asking if art is science or history. Things don’t have to be other things; they can be their own things, you know. This absolutist tendency towards reductionism is probably going to be the death of us, since it strips all the nuance out of life.

Martin Dunford
Martin Dunford
5 months ago

In the words of GK Chesterton “Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all”. Of course it is. Dawkins just can’t seem to grasp that. At all. So he denounces and dismisses and embarrasses himself. Although he seems to have mellowed a little with age and dropped the peevish nastiness of old.

Poet Tissot
PT
Poet Tissot
5 months ago
Reply to  Martin Dunford

Dawkin’s world is so very very narrow. Can you put it on toast? Then it doesn’t exist.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
5 months ago
Reply to  Poet Tissot

Man, think of all the things which you can’t put on toast: axle grease, tyrannosaurs, molten sulfur, Marmite…

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
5 months ago
Reply to  Martin Dunford

“It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.” That’s certainly true of political thought.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
5 months ago
Reply to  Martin Dunford

It’s not sufficient for our thoughts to bear a relation to reality that they be logical, but it is necessary.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
5 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Logic and rationalism are left-brain snares for the smug. So is scientism.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
5 months ago

For liberals, classical and woke alike, the sacral simply does not compute.

William Amos
William Amos
5 months ago

“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”
The everything became a something, became a living man, and dwelt among us conversing, eating, breathing, talking and healing.
That is it. That is Christianity. To fall short of that is Arianism, to exceed it is Gnosticism.
The confusion or elision of God with his Creation is a very old and very persistent heresy. But anyone who opens their Bible on regular basis will be well armed to recognise it when they see it.

Iveta Kovacova
Iveta Kovacova
5 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

These were exactly my thoughts. Anyone, who feels like they need to add anything to Jesus is clearly not saved. Many are called, but few are chosen.

Last edited 5 months ago by Iveta Kovacova
Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Iveta Kovacova

Saved from what?

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

What purpose is served by arguing with someone’s faith?

Jerry Carroll
JC
Jerry Carroll
5 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

Satisfying pride and vanity.

N Satori
N Satori
5 months ago

Perhaps the most telling thing about Alan Watts (something his fans choose not to discuss) is his dependence on alcohol in his later years. Had his pursuit of enlightenment been a success I doubt if he would have needed to seek euphoria from booze.
As for the nature mysticism of Kingsnorth and Shaw – is religion now to be curated as a form of refined taste to be savoured by a discerning cultural elite?

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
5 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Indeed. I have a friend – now in his eighties – who actually knew Watts in his West Coast days. One of a breed now almost entirely gone. He used to attend talks that Watts gave from his houseboat home. He said that Watts was hopelessly addicted to alcohol, though a spellbinding talker. So what good does rarified insight do you, if you feel so uncomfortable in yourself that you can’t get through the day sober?

N Satori
N Satori
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

It does bring to mind the notorious Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (aka Osho) who in his later years needed regular doses of nitrous oxide to maintain the feeling of enlightenment. His spellbound followers (I knew a few) were convinced he was a channel for god-like spiritual powers.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
5 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Here is a man who was so spiritual he owned 93 Rolls Royces.

Poet Tissot
Poet Tissot
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Haha

N Satori
N Satori
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

and his followers convinced themselves he was doing that to mock American acquisitiveness (“He was, like, trashing the whole materialist capitalist system”).

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
5 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Osho: the original New Age hipster. “I’m only defrauding my devoted followers ironically.”

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
5 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

I don’t know why I bothered to even read the article.

Poet Tissot
PT
Poet Tissot
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

Quite simply – he was onto the wrong track.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

I get this, but it assumes that faith and spiritually enlightened pursuits are somehow supposed to provide a total escape from all of life’s problems and uncertainties, which isn’t the case.
Watts was an entertaining talker with lots to offer and practises like meditation and communal faith can have real practical benefits, but there is no final answer to life’s ups and downs, or a person’s individual limits.
Plus alcoholism can be very insidious in the way it takes over.

Ann Dayton
Ann Dayton
5 months ago

Absolutely, there is no final answer to life’s ups and downs, though many seekers after ‘Enlightenment’ seem to believe that. once attained, it is a permanent condition. Alas it is but a glimpse, which may have a lasting effect, but like everything else in one’s experience, does not endure.

N Satori
N Satori
5 months ago
Reply to  Ann Dayton

Problems begin when pursuit of the spiritual becomes mingled with psychotherapy. Consider C G Jung’s Analytical Psychology. With its focus on ‘self-actualisation’ it is more a quasi-spiritual cult than a method of healing psychological trauma.

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
5 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

Self actualisation was Maslow. Does it fit with Jung?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Ann Dayton

“does not it endure?” It may not endure, but it may.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
5 months ago

I would hope that there is a total escape from all suffering. And that not having to be a piss-head to live an ordinary life was a pretty early and elementary step towards that.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

Why would you hope that? Seems glib.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago

Alcoholism is inherited. It’s possible for someone to have something of value to say and be personally flawed.

Last edited 5 months ago by Clare Knight
Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
5 months ago
Reply to  N Satori

I don’t know about Shaw, but that is far from Kingsnorth’s purpose.

dasnandakishor.108
dasnandakishor.108
5 months ago

It’s no surprise that precisely Watts and Kingsnorth speak of rewilding Christianity yet have both, at the same time, embraced Orthodoxy. This makes their approach more grounded on tradition, unlike previous experiments which might have had their time and place but, as the author points out, turned out to be unsustainable in the long run.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
5 months ago

How can one rewild Christianity?. What a presumption. True faith is in accordance with the bible and not subject to man’s ideas. If Christians become weird they have not fully understood the bible.

Last edited 5 months ago by Tony Conrad
UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Conrad

Don’t forget Holy Tradition. Holy Tradition is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church. The first Christians did not have a New Testament and had to rely on what the Apostles and the Seventy taught. Heretics have created all sorts of bogus stuff using the Bible. We have to have instruction to interpret it correctly.

David Jennings
David Jennings
5 months ago

I think you mean SHAW and Kingsnorth. But your point is well made.

AC Harper
AC Harper
5 months ago

There are certainly quite a few people who experience “a powerful sense of numinous presence, within nature… “. That is a fact.
What you attribute that sense to is something else entirely and may, or may not, exist. People do tend to feel strongly about the explanations for their experiences though.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
5 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Yes, indeed. I also feel a powerful sense of gastrointestinal discomfort after I eat onions and peppers, but I don’t wax poetic about it.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
5 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I feel a powerful sense of creation that makes me thank God for it even to the point of writing prose about it, but I worship the creator and not His creation.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
5 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Which side of the fence would you climb down from if required?

Adam M
Adam M
5 months ago

This is nice little article. I like many others, became fascinated by thinkers like Watts and McKenna in my late teens / early 20’s but as I grew older started to see the limitations of their philosophies. I think Watts was incredibly gifted but became too attached to the pervasive new age ideas of his time. I found listening to and reading Watts profound in the short term but unable to help me in longer term endeavors.
I think the instincts of modern religious thinkers like Peterson, Sheldrake and Kingsnorth are better, in trying to nudge people back to a less institutional and formal version of Christianity. But without loosing its conservatism and preventing too much ingress of circular eastern religious thought.
Peterson and Sheldrake have helped to decouple science from the latent scientism, that has led many astray philosophically/theologically. Laying the ground to reintroduce them to Abrahamic theology. Sheldrake being in some sense a disciple of Griffiths.
While Kingsnorth, in impressively plain speaking but sophisticated terms. Has plotted a course for liberals to channel their environmentalist yearnings back into a more spiritual and less radical practice.

Johan Grönwall
Johan Grönwall
5 months ago

Reason Christianity is dwindling is that the age of scripture and religious gurus has ended. Humans are no longer in need of guidings coming from the outside but can instead find meaning by connecting directly with the source. Just light a candle and invite Light. Trust that you are an equal and have the same right to peace as any angel does. Help will come.

N Forster
N Forster
5 months ago

Watts was a drunkard, a womaniser, a chancer and a sophist. And he appeals to such people.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
5 months ago
Reply to  N Forster

It is rather amazing what some people will do to get laid.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
5 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Yeah, I mean, seriously: sophistry? What was the guy thinking?

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
5 months ago

I like you. You don’t need the damned LSD.

Tony Conrad
Tony Conrad
5 months ago
Reply to  N Forster

Like the blind following the blind?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  N Forster

How do you know who he appeals to?

James Anthony Seyforth
JS
James Anthony Seyforth
5 months ago

We have to accept that Watts and his like are very unique, just like the Daoist sages, we find they are beyond anything we can really comprehend as a single human being, or they are simply not your average human being. Much like Chuang Tzu is beyond belief but is exhilarating an stilling, Watts is a kind of watery wild mess, quite literally with his alcoholism and his deep dissatisfaction with commitments, but his never ending ability to inspire and play that hide and seek himself is wonderous.

Ultimately these unique people were here to remind of us of the magic of the cosmos, of life and of silence… but what we ought to be attending to ourselves, using their unique fuel and imagination, is community, seeing and hearing the arts, learning and creating in science and philosophy, and finding peace in a disgruntled, bent up world; these things still kind of existed in droves,whilst Watts spoke of his wild things, now we have an ever widening gulf of culture which he could only imagine was coming.

So, can Christianity or any Western institution still do that to our psyche, where is the evidence in countries such as England or UK in general, where is the uniting power to create community and creation? I don’t see it.

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
5 months ago

Daughter of atheists, “saved” when young, later New Age and now kind of Buddhist, I greatly enjoyed this chronicling of spiritual seeking and explication of what a “wild” Christianity (not simply self-indulgence) might mean. Good questions, left open-ended, which I take as a sign of wisdom. Thank you.

Last edited 5 months ago by Colorado UnHerd
Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
5 months ago

Entertaining piece. I think I’m right in saying every human civilisation that ever existed has followed some form of deity. I suspect that belief in a god and an afterlife is an evolved trait in humans because it would have conferred resilience in times of hardship. In itself it’s probably harmless, but of course – humans being humans – it was utilised by the clever seeking to exploit the easily led. Which brings us to where we are today. I’ve said it before, but we’d have been better off sticking to venerating Mother Nature and marking the movements of the moon and stars.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
5 months ago

Communist ones do not. And they now have 70+ years of continued existence if you look at China. A hundred or more if you include ones which are no longer Communist.

That excludes those who say Communist leaders and heroes are worshipped in a ‘godlike’ way, which even if true,doesn’t quite get there as a form of equivalence to a religion.

Nature worship wouldn’t have given us the Protestant Work Ethic. It’s fine to look back, but also to note that nature worship has subsisted on a large scale, virtually nowhere, for a reason.

Wicca, which tried to ‘revive’ it in England – off the back of unanswered questions about whether there was anything to revive anyway ?- doesn’t look like it’s going to make it.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago

Exactly.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
5 months ago

I find it quite sad to read about people continually hopping from one flawed paradigm to another, as this article illustrates. Woefully misrepresenting Dawkins doesn’t help either, as if through a lens made deliberately opaque by their own failures.

There’s really no need. I’ll yield to no-one in terms of the absolute sense of the spiritual beauty of being alive. There are hints that some of those the author refers to may have felt it too, but then they ruin it (and themselves) by trying to conceptualise it before suffering paradigm failure. Again, really no need.

That latter point is the source of a great deal of human misery. When will we learn to stop beating ourselves up with it all?

William Amos
William Amos
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

“I’ll yield to no-one in terms of the absolute sense of the spiritual beauty of being alive. There are hints that some of those the author refers to may have felt it too, but then they ruin it (and themselves) by trying to conceptualise it before suffering paradigm failure. Again, really no need”
This is beautifully put and, putting all labels aside for the moment, is also the argument of the Christian classic The Cloud of Unknowing and the starting point of all Christian Mysticism.
As the nameless Midland monk and master of prayer put it : “He can certainly be loved, but not thought. He can be taken and held by love but not by thought.”
What if our fallen intellect, however, finds it too hard to sustain that level of (dis)engagement and so the immaterial sent us a material figure for our eyes to rest upon.
In any event, the final frontier, it strikes me is not ‘out there’ but ‘in here’. Where the immaterial meets the material.

Last edited 5 months ago by William Amos
George Scipio
George Scipio
5 months ago

Humans evolved to live in bands which through language shared beliefs about phenomena they did not comprehend, such as stars, thunder, sudden death, etc. The bands were hierarchical by age and experience — older people had more authority. Often a single person became revered. People dreamed about people who had died — where were they? In an “afterlife”? People sometimes had overwhelming experiences in nature, to which they ascribed huge significance or “meaning”. They taught what they believed to their children, usually within a framework of cause and effect. Something must be “causing” the lightning, etc. Some people were better at stories that explained mysteries. Slowly, all over the world, belief systems crystallised into what some people call religions. All societies have or have had one. Religions cannot be tested — just take it leave it, no matter how nonsensical the assertions. No religion can possibly be true.
Watts and other 20th century Western mystics like Douglas Harding were quite well known in the mid century. Their quests for meaning make good stories, like old stories of the saints. But they were all driven by despair at the obvious collapse of Christianity into being just another belief system. Watts died addicted.
So everyone is asking the wrong question. The real question is not whether any religion is true. The question is why do we have religions. It’s remarkably easy to answer. Now we know that meaning, phenomena, “spirituality” (a kind of feeling), etc., are all essentially empty, “just there!” as Bertrand Russell is supposed to have said, we can relax and enjoy the bizarre, horrific and enchanting dance called “life”. To do so, it’s advisable to find codes of ethics and practices that help reduce suffering and stick to them. Or — life’s a beach and then we die.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  George Scipio

Exactly.

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
5 months ago
Reply to  George Scipio

Well articulated. “True” seems to me not a useful measure in ultimate matters, though, associated beliefs being unfalsifiable, whether religious or secular (ethics). In practice, “useful” or “helpful” — to self and others — seems a better measure, and might or might not have a religious aspect.

Last edited 5 months ago by Colorado UnHerd
Richard Ross
Richard Ross
5 months ago
Reply to  George Scipio

Whenever I hear anyone use terms like “it’s advisable to” I am always put in mind of C.S. Lewis’s quote, “You can shuffle “I want” and “I am forced” and “I shall be well advised” and “I dare not” as long as you please without getting out of them the slightest hint of “ought” and “ought not.”
There’s no morality without reference to a Creator, and no meaning without pursuit of Him. At least Watts was pursuing, or was at some point in his life, before being derailed by Appetite.

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
5 months ago

Whatever experience lies beyond doors of perception, I certainly like the idea of a Protestant church service with less of whatever pervades it now, and more something else. Maybe include anecdotes from the service in Huxley’s Crome Yellow, or other works beyond the Bible. Like many, I much prefer a good Catholic service, even the formal service seems more natural and real, and that simple gesture at the end, of turning to embrace your fellows on either side does more to make me appreciate religion than just about anything else. Simple.

Sandy Cotton
Sandy Cotton
5 months ago

The notion of wild Christianity is appealing to me but the idea that a turn to Orthodoxy is the way to go is muddleheaded if not moronic at best given on one hand the actual politics of Orthodoxy in the real world today and the over imaginative and implausible fabrication of its pristine past in so called Celtic Christianity.

Keith Merrick
Keith Merrick
5 months ago

“putting your great and ancient ear to the dark soil of circumstance and listening”.
I would love to find some deeper way of living, probably what some people call ‘spirituality’, and I’m sure I can’t be the only person who finds the modern world a bit rubbish. However, I can’t honestly claim to understand what the above sentence means. It’s certainly poetic but I’d gladly sacrifice the poetry for some plain prose if it would aid understanding.
The fact that such spiritual ideas, like religious texts, are only ever written in a fancy prose style makes me suspect that there is perhaps nothing to them, something that would become evident if you said it in so many words. Perhaps we all have to get used to the idea that life really is this ‘thin’ and tinny.

Last edited 5 months ago by Keith Merrick
Milton Gibbon
MG
Milton Gibbon
5 months ago
Reply to  Keith Merrick

“Obedience of a Christian Man” by Tyndale is as plain as it comes – especially in criticism. I have heard that Luther’s writing wades into the realm of the obscene in its earthiness though i haven’t read anything by him.

Alix Daniel
AD
Alix Daniel
5 months ago

Interesting article, thank you Christopher. I have one question though. Did Richard Dawkins ever admit a world with no god would be immoral?

AC Harper
AC Harper
5 months ago
Reply to  Alix Daniel

This Dawkins quote might give you an idea:

Absolute morality…the absolute morality that a religious person might profess would include, what, stoning people for adultery? Death for apostasy?

William Amos
William Amos
5 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Which is why many people suggest he has not understood meaning of the scriptures he criticises.

Poet Tissot
PT
Poet Tissot
5 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Total misunderstanding – Dawkin’s superficiality was not recognised by large numbers of particularly young people – and he lead them astray.

Rae Ade
RA
Rae Ade
5 months ago

Any chance that Right Wing Hippie can do a weekend essay on what they thought of the preceding week’s articles?

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
3 months ago

If the world, however complex, is purely material, and however chaotic it appears, is rational, then ‘utter receptivity to the divine’ is listening to one’s own perceptions. Thus ‘the divine’ is necessarily circular, for where else will one find perceptions of anything? “The opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty” says Anne Lamont, but that is a bit of a play on words, and I don’t think it goes far enough. To define ‘receptivity to the divine’ as ‘faith’ is for me a sticking point, because faith by definition squeezes out perceptions, leaving no content whatsoever. The opposite of faith is reality.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 months ago

As the old gospel song goes, “Gimme that old time religion, it’s good enough for me.”