Sunday, August 14, 2016

New Feature: How Songs Strike My #AtheistEar

This poor, neglected blog has been very quiet for too long. Lately, I've only been moved to post here when something was bothering me, or when I needed to advertise something (like my book!), but I know you all deserve better than that. I keep trying to think of things I can do here that I want to do, so it doesn't become a chore, but also think of something that hasn't been done to death.

Then I heard this song by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers today:

...and that inspired me. (Lyrics are here, if you'd like to see them.)

I found it interesting for two reasons:
Hi, Flea!

First, I am an atheist, and I know that the premise of the song is not true. It's as not true as other common beliefs about atheists - that we're always angry, that we're nihilists, that we have no sense of wonder or appreciation for the world around us.

Second, a brilliant satirist like Steve Martin knows all of these things, too, and it's not too hard to dig into the lyrics and prove that.

Listening to (and laughing at) this song made me think of all of the other songs that have meant something to me over the years. There are "songs of faith" that either sound better to me now that I'm older, or that sound empty and awful now that I'm not a believer; there are "the blues" and "rock and roll" songs that console or inspire me; and there are songs that make me angry or trouble me.

Intellectual property rights aside, nobody owns these songs. The songs that get name-checked by the Steep Canyon Rangers don't only belong to one group. The way this song almost assigns the songs to different sects is funny to me, not just because of the casual way it caricatures each sect, but also because my Southern Baptist church sang so many of them when I was a kid. We loved Rock of Ages (not the Def Leppard one) and He Is Risen, and several of the other songs listed off as belonging to Pentecostals or Lutherans.

The thing that allowed us as Southern Baptists to appreciate songs that came out of rival Christian sects is called a Hermeneutic - "the theory and methodology of interpretation, especially the interpretation of biblical texts, wisdom literature, and philosophical texts." In other words, it doesn't just matter what the people who wrote the words thought they were saying; you have the ability to think and apply what you know to the words and decide how to appreciate them.

So what I'd like to start doing is share songs with you that highlight my own hermeneutic. If you've read my blog or my book, or follow me on Twitter, you probably have an inkling of how I look at the world. Because I say that I'm an atheist, you probably have some idea that you know how I view things - maybe you even equate atheism with "godless existentialism" as Steve Martin does in his song.

But if you follow along, listen to the words through my ears, and (this is important) ask me some questions, maybe you'll find out what I really think.

And maybe that will help you understand yourself a little better, too.

(Special thanks to Fred Clark, aka The Slacktivist, for everything he writes, but particularly for teaching me the word hermeneutic.)

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