On pages 34-35, Watts says, "All religious comments about life eventually become cliches. Religion is always falling apart and promoting lip service and imitation. The imitation of Christ, for instance, is a perfect example. It is a terrible idea because everyone who imitates Christ becomes a kind of fake Jesus."
First of all, Watts has a lot of absolutes in this paragraph: all, always, everone. He has no evidence to support such statements.
Second, religious comments about life do not necessarily become cliches. Anyone who has ever read the autobiographies of the saints can see this easily. Even if you limit your sources to Patristic (early Church Fathers) documents, which Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants agree on, you can see very profound statements about life, and not one cliche to be found anywhere.
Third, religion does not always fall apart. Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy have been around for a very long time and neither are in any danger of falling apart. Lip service does sometimes happen, but most often it is from ignorance or the common human situation, rather than anything deliberate, deceptive, or malevolent.
Fourth, there is nothing wrong with imitation, either within Christianity or within Watts' own Vedanta. It is said that we become what we meditate on and what is imitation but a kind of meditation-in-action? The "Imitation of Christ" is a magnificent spiritual guide which has been of use to Christians since the 1400's. Imitating Jesus produces a holy Christian, far from the "fake Jesus" of Watts' accusation. Was St. Francis of Assisi a fake? Mother Teresa? The millions who have been martyred because of their love for Jesus? When all is said and done, Christianity has little to do with dogma, and everything to do with loyalty to the Person of Jesus. Reflecting on Watts' hostility toward religion lowers my estimation of his insight.
This is definitely one of the best books on Buddhism I have read in a while. Many books seem to be written for the already-enlightened elite, and are thus perfectly useless to the rest of us who are just sloshing along in life. But Watts' knowledge and insight are evident from the first page to the last, and he manages to communicate without resorting to any kind of pseudo-mystical mumbo-jumbo at all.
There's a song I particularly like; its lyrics and melody often haunt me by day and wake me at night. Some of the words are "Feeling well protected in a cool dry place...limited perspective from a cool dry place." One of the best things abut this book, and most of Alan Watts' works, is that they will coax you out of your own "cool dry place" and invite you to take a look around, and try on some new ideas for size. Sometimes you find Truth lurking in the strangest places!
F.W. Faber used the interesting image of looking at things simultaneously through a microscope and telescope, and as I was reading Watts' discussion of "li" and "ji" and interdependence, I felt I was doing just that.
Watts' explanation of these, and other basic concepts, was just so clear, that they are actually comprehensible to one steeped in Western Christian thought as I am. Not that I agree with everything he said, especially his "double bind" analysis of free will, but I understand anyway why he has to say what he says. He's nothing if not consistent, although I'm no so sure he always considers all possibilities. But the point for the reader is that we also might not consider other possibilities if not for a book such as this. I am glad to have had the opportunity to read this book; it has given me much material for reflection.