Mike Kueber's Blog

August 20, 2014

Sunday Book Review #144 – The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan W. Watts

Filed under: Book reviews,Philosophy,Religion — Mike Kueber @ 4:12 am

A few weeks ago, a Facebook friend (Paul Stahl) posted something wise from a guy named Alan W. Watts. Unfortunately, I don’t recall what Watts said in the posting, but his quote prompted me to check out Watts’s classic 1951 book, The Wisdom of Insecurity, which dovetailed nicely with a similar book that I reviewed a few weeks ago, Benefit of Doubt by Gregory Boyd.  Both books examine how man deals with the modern predominance of science at the expense of religion. Boyd’s examination is from the perspective of a serious Christian, while Watts seems to be an agnostic despite his background in Christianity and Zen Buddhism.

The first chapter in The Wisdom of Insecurity contained several passages that reflect Watts’s impressive ability to articulate issues so that you don’t need a doctorate in theology to understand:

  • There is, then, the feeling that we live in a time of unusual insecurity. In the past hundred years so many long-established traditions have broken down – traditions of family and social life, of government, of the economic order, and of religious belief…. To some this is a welcome release from the restraints of moral, social, and spiritual dogma. To others it is a dangerous and terrifying breach with reason and sanity, tending to plunge human life into hopeless chaos.
  • As a matter of fact, our age is no more insecure than any other. Poverty, disease, war, change, and death are nothing new. In the best of times, “security” has never been more than temporary and apparent. But it has been possible to make the insecurity of human life supportable by belief in an unchanging things beyond the reach of calamity – in God, in man’s immortal soul, and in the government of the universe by eternal laws of right.
  • Today such convictions are rare, even in religious circles. There is no level of society, there must be even few individuals, touched by modern education where there is not some trace of the leaven of doubt. It is simply self-evident that during the past century the authority of science has taken the place of the authority of religion in the popular imagination, and that skepticism, at least in spiritual things, has become more general than belief.
  • The decay of belief has come about through the honest doubt, the careful and fearless thinking of highly intelligent men of science and philosophy. Moved by a zeal and reverence for facts, they have tried to see, understand, and face life as it is without wishful thinking. Yet for all that they have done to improve the conditions of life, their picture of the universe seems to leave the individual without ultimate hope.
  • What science has said, in sum, is this: We do not, and in all probability cannot, know whether God exists. Nothing that we do know suggests that he does, and all the arguments which claim to prove his existence are found to be without logical meaning. There is nothing, indeed, to prove that there is no God, but the burden of proof rests with those who propose the idea. If, the scientists would say, you believe in God, you must do so purely on emotional grounds, without any basis in logic or fact. Practically speaking, this may amount to atheism. Theoretically, it is simple agnosticism. For it is the essence of scientific honesty that you do not pretend to know what you do not know, and of the essence of scientific method that you do not employ hypotheses which cannot be tested.
  • [My favorite] – Consequently our age is one of frustration, anxiety, agitation, and addiction to “dope.” Somehow we must grab what we can while we can, and drown out the realization that the whole thing is futile and meaningless. This “dope” we call our high standard of living, a violent and complex stimulation of the senses, which makes them progressively less sensitive and thus in need of yet more violent stimulation. We crave distraction – a panorama of sights, sounds, thrills, and titillations into which as much as possible must be crowded in the shortest possible time. To keep up this “standard” most of us are willing to put up with lives that consist of largely doing jobs that are a bore, earning the means to seek relief from the tedium by intervals of hectic and expensive pleasure.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the book was not as understandable, so I will have to revisit it after I get my theology doctorate.




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