“Heaven And Hell Are Not What Jesus Preached,” Religion Scholar, Bart Ehrman, said during an interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air about the end of March of 2020. Bart Ehrman talked about how the ideas of eternal rewards and punishments are not found in the Old Testament or in the teachings of Jesus. He was discussing his new book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife when at about 36 minutes in he mentioned the End Times. Ehrman said that so many people were talking about how we we all living though the End Times now (i.e., the time of Coronavirus). However, Ehrman points out people have always thought the hard times they were enduring were the End Times. In reality, it was usually due to man’s stupidity.
This is not exactly what Ehrman said. He phrased it much more elegantly than I have paraphrased it, but what he said reminded me of two recent encounters with this idea of man’s stupidity. The first time occurred 2 days before Christmas when my beloved dog died suddenly and unexpectedly in my arms. She had been bleeding internally, but I had missed all the signs. As I stood over her dead body, stroking her soft chocolate hair, I said over and over, “We were so stupid, so stupid, so stupid…”, meaning myself for I knew I had missed all the signs that might have saved her life.
I encountered it again in February, as the gravity of the Coronavirus was sinking in around the world. At this time, terrible reports were coming out of Italy, which had quickly become the epicenter of the novel Coronavirus that was making its way around the world. I was listening to an interview on the BBC with an Italian Emergency Room doctor who said, “Man was stupid in dealing with this disease. We let whole families come in with their loved one who got infected themselves and then spread it far and wide.”
Again, this is not an exact quote, but what the doctor was expressing echoed my own sentiments about my stupidity in the death of my beloved dog. And now Bart Ehrman was expressing this idea with Terry Gross. I haven’t learned much in life, but I have learned to pay attention when things happen in threes.
In the Wake of Death, I Found Comfort in Alan Watts
In the wake of my dog’s death, I had found comfort listening to Alan Watts who often danced around the idea of man’s stupidity in his lectures. In this particular string of 3s, I remembered a particularly memorable tangent he had taken in one lecture. Watts was famous for veering off on tangents in his lectures, but he always linked them back to his main points. Before veering off on this tangent, Watts had discussed the limits of man’s thinking.
Watts artfully drew his audience’s attention to the thing behind the eyes looking out onto the world–asking his audience: “What is the thing that lies behind the eyes?”
Then, Watts answered his own question by saying: “It is the thing we cannot think or perceive or name. It is the nothingness from which all form has risen.”
Watts and His Riddles
Watts’ lectures were full of riddles he attempted to explain through stories, thus the reason for his tangents. In this lecture, Watts veers into this tangential story in this way:
“…the farthest we can go in thinking about nothing [is a question…to try and get to the root of the matter]. Let me put this in another way. The world is formed, [and] now you cannot look for the origin of form in form because what you would get then would be maybe a universe where you couldn’t make out any form at all. [This is] because of us [because of our thinking] so much of it would be like writing a letter on top of a newspaper, and then putting a picture over that, and then doing something else until there wasn’t a single square millimeter of paper left of blank paper! Nobody could read anything. One can read, one can see form, one can see the world because [there is] emptiness: Emptiness [is] the mother of form.”
Watts goes on to talk about how people are really just rascals at their core, playing games and tricking each other. He told the audience he was doing that to them Now. He had hoaxed them all into coming to hear him that night. It was a trap, but he was going to make it an entertaining trap, so they wouldn’t feel so badly about it. He continues talking about how all of life is participating in this game: “The water is going around all day going tttt tttt. The fish and ducks are doing the same going dddd dddd.” Then he gets to the outrage people natural feel upon hearing this, “Well, what do mean we are all just fiddling around…and this is only a game?!”
This is where he gets to his really interesting tangent for he has anticipated the audience’s question: “What do mean life is a game?” And, he answers it for them: “Well, what did you want? Didn’t you want a game? Did you want it to be serious in the end?”
The Van Eyck Tangent
Watts continues saying:
“What I mean think about the question. What kind of a thing would you like God to be what would you like to do for eternity? Really, here is young Van Eyck who paints the eschatological picture of the Last Judgement. What a strange man he must have been where we have heaven above and hell below…and in heaven, here’s God the Father Godthe Son God the Holy Ghost all there together and Virgin Mary and the apostles and they’re all sitting in committee, and they have an aisle you know just like in church. And there they are facing each other. and they’re all sitting there very solidly. I don’t know what it’s about…but below [them] right at the end of the aisle you [can] see where all these apostles are sitting is [the archangel Michael.]”
“Isn’t Michael a rather gorgeous figure in beautiful armor with wings and underneath him is a bat winged skull and beneath those bat wings are all [mannar of] horror let loose. Michael is about to squash that skull. See [there] with his sword. But below whoow! There are nude bodies some of them pretty comely. They’re all squirming in there, and they’re being eaten by worms, and they are eating the worms, and there’s a kind of a mush. It’s like the sort of situation you find when you turn up a big rock and there’s all that going on underneath.”
“Now, there’s no question whatever the van Eyck the painter had more fun painting that part of the picture [than the top part!] So [it was] the same way with [many of the great painters of those times] they painted every kind of weird surrealistic deviltry going on and they really loved it but they couldn’t admit it…”
Watts goes on, of course, but that’s another story. To me, the crux of what Watts was conveying in this lecture was our inherent ability as human beings to be stupid simply because we are not paying attention to all of who we are as living beings. When something bad happens, we may not consciously think of feel that we have chosen this thing or that thing to happen in our lives, but if one settles… to really sinks down into the fullness of who one really is… there is something else entirely going on within us. All that stuff going underneath that rock we just have not gotten around to turning up inside our psyche.
Links Related to this Story
For the FreshAir interview, go to link below:
For the Alan Watts lecture, go to:
I first scribbled this post in a Facebook group where not very many members found it particularly interesting. However, a couple members commented, and one member in particular commented and extended some of Watts thinking, which I will share a little bit below, referring this member as GG and to myself as Bébé.
GG: “If I remember rightly, Alan Watts made the point about what you would do for an eternity, connecting it to the idea that the universe is “playing hide and seek with its self”.
I have contemplated a lot on infinity and eternity during the last few years, since this seems to be the basic deal, that whatever it is we are a part of it could never have begun but must have been going on forever. Since there is movement inwards and outwards ( this seems somehow even like the basic architecture of timespace: a movement inwards and a movement outwards which at every point is always meeting, and thus giving rise to complex and strange kinds of forms ) this also points towards a truly infinite world also in extension, as well as in depth. All our experience also points towards this: we never see an end to life, everywhere there is movement and transformation and events happening, we see neither the smallest nor largest units, there always seems to be more. Physics becomes increasingly exotic, as does mathematics, as does psychology, the more we learn. And so on and so forth, this pattern can be seen everywhere, and it all points towards this infinite eternal multidimensional manifold where for some reason there is even mind and consciousness and experience.
This being the ground of my being, I have wondered, if I could have my greatest wish fulfilled, what would it be?
And the best I have come up with so far, is I would really enjoy to be able to shape shift between all possible and imaginable lifeforms, in such an infinitely large as well as deep space, forever. To live forever, and also live as all possible lifeforms, and thus see and know and experience reality from all possible angles.
The suggestion from Watts that the universe is playing hide and seek with itself might be that this is actually what is happening, and this is the reason why beings are born without strong memories of where they come from, go through an enormous drama of birth and living and death, experience an inner yearning and nostalgia for something timeless and unchanging, until eventually again becoming united with the ultimate source.
The Multiuniverse is among the cosmologically popular explanations for what was before the big bang, this also assumed to be infinite and eternal, along with this exists other models of something more sequential, but even here the main theme is that it never begun and never can end and always have been and will be ongoing.
With this in mind: Is the Multiverse yet another name for God?
It seems clear that both God and the Multiverse share the basic characteristics: forever having existed, full of life in all directions, endless potentiality for new form to arise within it, processes of evolution and learning, and of course intelligent conscious life with self-awareness on a variety of scales and levels. If we assume there are even more intelligent lifeforms than ourselves somewhere in this infinity, or simply assume that evolution of intelligence is a possibility, then this already implies that this possibility has been fulfilled forever ago.
Therefore, both God and Multiverse is a myth of something that contains SUPERINTELLIGENCE and contains as much of it as anyone could like, it having always been a part of the package: the highest possible intelligence forever ago realized and an inherent part of our existence.
Watts indicates that such a superintelligence may be quite playful, feeling in its roots completely secure in its never ending foundations, there might be good reasons to play some games in the meanwhile for nothing other than the pure fun of it, even play some extreme drama, and even pretending to not remember ones origin, searching to come back to it, and since knowing that we have all the time in the world to find the thread back, eventually succeeding. Once again.
That would explain a lot!” 🙂
Bébé : “You are absolutely right! That is exactly what Watts says–the universe is playing a game of hide and seek.
It is a mind warping idea, especially for us living in Western Civilization that does a pretty good job crushing most minds to accept the collective norms of this civilization. Jürgen Hornschuh writes about this a lot, but I believe he is taking a break from this platform as he lives in India and this country is in a massive shut down now.
Where you ask yourself… I have wondered, if I could have my greatest wish fulfilled, what would it be?
How you answer is exactly what Watts says… you would be you doing you right Here & Now. I will attach a song that incorporates this in their music.
Then, you ask: With this in mind: is the Multiverse yet another name for God?
I think you may be right! Have you heard Watts’ lectures about this idea of a super intelligent universe? I can try to find it for you. I was listening to it just before we went into shut down here in VA, so now for whatever reason, I am just not listening to Watts… just trying to feel into what I have heard over the last 2 months of listening. In several of his lectures, he talks about the Earth peopling just like an apple tree apples… and this would not occur in a stupid universe as we have been taught to believe that the universe is a mindless machine… he says that is as crazy an idea of a man with a white beard sitting up on high ruling over heavens and earth… Watts did piss off a lot of people with his ideas… he was a myth burster… but really he was teaching people to release their minds for the boxes of thought we have trapped ourselves inside.
Thank you so much for responding!” ❤️
GG: “We are something the universe is doing” is another idea which when hearing it sounds perfectly reasonable, yet involves such a change from the habitual point of view, a change towards feeling more as a part of the great whole. For me this feeling of being part of the great whole brings a lot of peace, while also makes it all seem so much richer and more interesting. We who live today sure have an enormous gift in the sense of how we can listen to the voice of some of these great masters all the way to our living rooms. Just listening to wise people like Alan Watts, contemplating it and using it as a mirror to reflect back on ones own life, this is a kind of food for the soul.” 🙂
Bébé : “I have been reflecting on your previous comment of if we are eternal energies that your wish might be to be and experience as many forms of being as possible, and I think that would be my wish too. Even the scary ones… I supposed… though that seems insane really! This short song, which is not the lecture that I still need to find, hints at this.
And, yes, Watts goes back to this idea again and again about we are what the universe is doing. It is a beautiful idea. I think I am incubating it right now for the new material I am adding to my story… this the universe is doing man, just as man is doing the universe at the point of Here & Now… I find this so deeply comforting some how.”
GG: “Some of this may move into the realms of speculation but it has been on my mind a lot for several years.
Lets say we accept that the universe is ultimately eternal and life has existed forever. That something like big bang would be yet another moment of change, yet part of something larger pre-existing it, also part of something larger pre-existing it…forever. So some kind of action, movement, transformation happening forever.
Lets also say we believe there is such a thing as evolution. That under some circumstances, life progresses in stages and ascends levels, which means a process of increasing awareness, intelligence, ability, understanding. Learning. We can all relate to this during our own life, some things do evolve, learning and maturation does happen.
Lets also assume there are higher levels of intelligence, awareness, consciousness than humans have known so far. Much points towards this. It seems very unlikely that we are at the top of the evolutionary ladder. More likely that there are enormously much higher levels.
All this seems to me as highly probably true. That the universe could begin out of nothing, for no reason at all, seems like the most impossible of all possible impossibilities! That evolution happens is supported by all our experience. That there are higher undiscovered levels seems overwhelmingly likely.
If this is true, must it then not by necessity be true that Superintelligent life which has evolved to the highest possible levels, has also existed forever? And evolved and developed forever? And created new versions of itself forever?
Then the universe as a whole would indeed be superintelligent. And these higher levels, and dare I say these far more advanced Beings, might be an inherent part of timespace itself. So that all the talk about spirits and angels and gods and entities, are all true, only that the whole truth is exponentially wilder still?
This would explain a lot. I can not see any weaknesses in this reasoning. If we do live within eternal action, there is consciousness, there is evolution, then the highest possible results of this evolution must be expected to always have been a part of this action, at every place where life and consciousness and evolution is taking place.
All this points towards humans having enormously great possibilities if we can somehow get in contact with these higher powers and get help from them.”
Bébé : “I think everything you say is most definitely, highly likely… I agree with all you have said… we each can help evolve and reach higher levels of consciousness by developing ourself. Alan Watts found Buddhism and Hinduism to provide the most helpful daily practices and narratives to possibly do this. But, Watts would always say that it is an individual journey and everything he said should be taken as a story and a form of entertainment. He always nudged his audiences to do their own thinking and make their own conclusions, which is what you do so well Glenn!