Sunday, January 8, 2017

Take 6's "Spread Love" to my #AtheistEar

If you aren't a vocal musician from the 1990s, you may not remember the unexpected popularity of a cappella groups from that time. After Bobby McFerrin's hit with Don't Worry Be Happy, and the success of Spike Lee's Do It Acapella documentary, we seemed to have an explosion of vocal groups take to the airwaves with varying degrees of success.

My personal favorites were a six-part group called Take 6, who took home Grammy awards for their 1988 self-titled debut album. Here's my favorite track from that record:

(Lyrics are here.)

Take 6 were very definitely a gospel sextet. The opening track of their first album, a song called Gold Mine, is every inch a love song sung to God; they include traditional spirituals If We Ever, and Mary (as in "O, Mary don't you weep"), and Get Away, Jordan; they also turned in gorgeous arrangements of contemplative hymns such as A Quiet Place and He Never Sleeps. (which, honestly, deserves a minor cover by Disturbed so you can feel as creeped out by the lyrics as I do! But I digress...) They even do a sassy take on the story of David and Goliath.

But Spread Love is the only song on the album that doesn't quite cross the line into being a "religious" song. It goes right up to that line, but then it does something that I, as a humanist, really appreciate. See if you spot it:

Seems like everything we hear is just a tale
But I've got something that will never, ever fail
(It's called love)

Spread love, instead of spreading lies
Spread love, the truth needs no disguise
I've often said love could open any door
Oh, but I wish we had much more
More love is what we need

Christian theology is, at its core, supposed to be about love. A recurring theme in song and sermon is to equate God and love. It's such a deeply ingrained notion that when I was 17 and listening to this album, it never occurred to me that this song wasn't overtly omitting any mention of God or Jesus. But look again - where the "something" that will never, ever fail is implied to be Jesus, just because of the context of who the group is and their expected audience, the words only talk about love!

Adult Atheist me, looking back across not-quite-thirty years, can really appreciate a song like this that I can sing without internally editing in a footnote*. To me, as a humanist, these lyrics are exactly right: lies are hateful, and we are all better off with the truth. If you love the truth, you'd better be spreading love.

You don't have to be into the spiritual or supernatural to buy into the idea that boasting, gossiping, and wallowing in trash culture is a harmful waste of time. You don't have to be religious to value honesty and desire the real answers to our toughest questions. In fact, most of the atheist thinkers I follow - people like Libby Anne and Dan Fincke among others  - found that abandoning their childhood faith in the supernatural did not mean abandoning morals altogether.

Of course, I see plenty of people spreading the lie that because people like me don't believe there is some mystical, supernatural force about, we are without morals. Or worse, that we are moral relativists (talk about the Pope calling the kettle black). But the truth is that there is a lot of moral common ground between the core teachings of many faiths and the personal morals of non-believers.

So, I'll ask you to do me a favor - and don't spread that lie.

Not that you won't find just as many frustrating examples of non-believers behaving badly as I find of Christians (and Muslims, and Jews, and any number of other types of religious followers), but the point is to address the specific behavior, and not waste time reinforcing the stereotypes of the tribe.

And that's hard for me, too.

* Like, "Okay, the words say 'Yay, God' here, so I feel like an idiot because I don't think there is any such being...but whatever, I'm alone in the car with the windows rolled up."

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