Listening to Alan Watts is like listening to the universe spill out its deepest truths. I listen to his lectures over and over again. I’ve heard them all dozens of times. They never get old.
This ceramic model of the universe originated in cultures where the form of government was monarchical. And where therefore, the maker of the universe was conceived also at the same time in the image of the king of the universe. ‘King of kings, Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth.’ – I’m quoting the book of common prayer.
And so, all those people who are oriented to the universe in that way, feel related to basic reality as a subject to a king. And so they are on very very humble terms in relation to whatever it is that works all these things. I find it odd in the United States that people who are citizens of a republic have a monarchical theory of the universe. Because we are carrying over from the very ancient near eastern cultures the notion that the lord of the universe must be respected in a certain way. People kneel, people bow, people prostrate themselves, because you know what the reason for all that is, because nobody is more frightened of everybody else than a tyrant.
He sits with his back to the wall, and there’s guards on either side of him. And he has you face downwards on the ground because you can’t use weapons that way. When you come into his presence, you don’t stand up and face him, because you might attack. And he has reason to fear that you might attack because he’s ruling you all. And the man who rules you all is the biggest crook in the bunch. Because he’s the one who has succeeded in crime. The other people were pushed aside because they, the criminals we lock up in jail, are simply the people who didn’t make it.
So naturally the real boss sits with his back to the wall and his henchmen on either side of him. And so, when you design a church, what does it look like? A Catholic church, with its altar as it used to be, its changing now because the Catholic religion is changing, but the Catholic church has its altar with its back to the wall.
And the altar is the throne, and the priest is the chief vizier of the court and he is making abasements to the throne, but there is the throne of god, the altar. And all the people are facing it, and kneeling down. And a great Catholic cathedral is called a basilica from the Greek basilius, which means king. So a basilica means the house of a king.
He goes on to describe the protestant church as being created in the image of a court room, with the priest as the judge. The entire lecture is just a fantastic display of stunning philosophy.