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The essence of Christianity
Most people miss the fundamental point of Christianity
I’ve been thinking a lot about a specific quote from the book Behold The Spirit by Alan Watts. It’s one of my favorite quotations, but it’s a bit long and I don’t think people read it when I refer to it. So, in this post, I’m going to break it down and try to explain why I think it’s so spot-on.
The topic is how Christian symbolism is Christianity, and how many people miss out on the value of the message because of their lack of understanding of this fundamental notion. I usually try to be more subtle in these posts, but for now I am going to be blunt: Most people — even those who profess to be committed Christians — are missing the fundamental point of Christianity.
I’m sorry if this takes you aback, but I’ve come to understand that subtlety is concealing my message instead of making it more palatable, which is my first and most natural inclination. By way of explanation, then, let’s go sentence by sentence through this quotation from Alan Watts and see what it’s about…
…the (symbolism) is like a nut – a shell containing hidden fruit, a hard, concrete symbol embracing a spiritual truth.
All truly meaningful prose speaks to the soul and not just to the brain. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, language is fundamentally limited to common words for common experiences — anything outside of common experience can only be conveyed metaphorically or symbolically. Christianity contains a “hidden fruit" that must be got at to obtain full understanding. To get at it, you have to work your way through the hard outer layer.
To extract the truth the nut must be broken – with reverence and respect, because without the shell’s protection the fruit would never have grown.
The shell is what protects the fruit (the deeper meaning), and one needs to give the shell proper respect when peeling it away to find the fruit.
The task of Protestantism was to break the shell, though because the Protestants did not fully realize this and did not know about the fruit inside, the job has been inexpertly and irreverently done.
If you look at the works of Calvin and his intellectual descendants, you can see that he totally missed the fundamental point behind the prior 1500 years of tradition and symbolism that was Christianity from the start.
They have hammered away with gusto; they have cracked the entire surface; they have taken whole chunks of the shell right off, and, having thrown some of them away, have taken the rest into a corner and there tried to piece them together in a different form.
This image from Watts is why I always go back to this quotation. Watts was a master communicator and it is worth taking just a moment to visualize this scene of a pack of early protestants joyously hammering away at the symbolism of Christianity, then trying to put the pieces back into a coherent form after they’ve lost much of the essence.
But the fruit has not interested them. Protestantism has simply broken up the system of symbolism, reduced it and re-formed it, and, in these later times, has practically discarded the whole thing.
“Solo Scriptura” (scripture only) is the fundamental mistake of the Reformation — it assumes that a text (biblical or not) has exactly one correct meaning, which is as simplistic as it is plainly wrong. Not only that, it neglects the important historical fact that the scriptures were changed throughout centuries of hand-copying and translation from one language to another.
“Divinely inspired” doesn’t mean “literally carved on stone tablets by God” — the Bible is a human artifact which points toward the divine revelation of God but is not a literal menu for salvation.
The time has come for us to attend to the long-neglected fruit.
Watts was right, and this is the purpose of my writings here.
In conclusion, let me say that I apologize to you if this offends your long-held beliefs, but I urge you to consider this fundamental point. There is 2000 years of knowledge from saints and mystics behind what I’m saying; I’m not claiming any new revelation here, I’m just trying to get The Word out (pun intended).