A Theology of Music

Why do I believe in God? Let me sing it to you...

I’m a pastor, but some of my best friends are atheists.

Seriously, that’s not a punch line.

Jonathan is one of my favorite people (and since he’s a real friend, I’m not using his real name). We’ve worked together in the past and had a lot of laughs. He’s a very kind person and a faithful, caring friend. And now that I’ve moved to a new town, I really miss the guy.

We stay in touch on Facebook, and every now and then he’ll respond to one of my posts with a  statement that kind of says, “Isn’t it funny I’m the only atheist in this convo right now?”

Jonathan’s never combative with me, and I’m not with him. We respect each other’s view on the world, and trust that the other one is being honest about that belief. And I’ll enjoy a conversation with anyone these days who’s honest about the narrative they’re supporting.

By the way, if your friends are made up of only people who agree with you, how narrow are you anyway?

One of my favorite atheists is comedian/playwright Steve Martin. He’s undeniably smart and of course sharply funny. He doesn’t seem to use his belief system (or lack thereof) to belittle those who do believe. Instead, he wrote a self-deprecating song about atheism’s rather blatant lack of poetry and meaning.

It’s one of the most humorous songs I’ve heard since the days of Tom Lehrer. You can find it on one of Steve’s bluegrass album “Rare Bird Alert” with the Steep Canyon Rangers, which is quite excellent (I encourage you to purchase it here). And as with most good comedy, there’s a bit of truth hidden in the midst of it…

ATHEISTS DON’T HAVE NO SONGS

Christians have their hymns and pages.

Hava Nagila’s for the Jews.

Baptists have the rock of ages.

Atheists just sing the blues.

Romantics play Claire de Lune.

Born agains sing he is risen.

But no one ever wrote a tune.

For godless existentialism.

For Atheists, there’s no good news.

They’ll never sing a song of faith.

In their songs, they have a rule:

The “he” is always lowercase…

(Music & lyrics by Steve Martin)

As I said, I like honesty, so let me spill the beans here…

I am biased about religion.

Just like everyone else.

Everyone has inclinations toward certain opinions, for one reason or the other. Maybe their upbringing, their experience, some trauma, you name it. I am no exception.

That’s why I immediately distrust anyone who tells me they arrived at what they believe by totally unbiased research. This is where I have trouble with some atheists, who are occasionally so passionately against something they claim to be dispassionate about.

That’s why I get along well with Jack. He admits he just wasn’t brought up believing, just as I admit I was brought up in church. Our childhoods obviously affected how we perceive God and the importance of faith. They had to.

For me to say background didn’t affect my belief in God would immediately disqualify me from having an intelligent conversation on the subject.

But to be completely honest, I’ve got a dog in this fight (as we say down south) that’s much bigger than just how I was raised. It’s something in my very heart and soul that would keep me from losing faith in God even if His existence were somehow completely disproven by some apocalyptic consortium of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Nye the Science Guy, beyond any shadow of a doubt.

What is it? Well, it’s actually several things…

It’s music.

I mean, it’s that feeling you get when you hear music, just instrumental music with no connotation or connection that would trigger anything intellectual in your brain. And yet, I sit there…at first moved, then emotional, then blubbering like a child who just got spanked on the playground.

Seriously, how? How does a sound, with no data whatsoever, communicate emotion? Why does a switch to a minor key make things sound more serious, perhaps even tragic? And then, how can a high string line suddenly turn things around from tragedy to now a sudden melancholy bittersweetness that gives the tragedy nobility and divnity?

And babies.

Scientists seriously try to tell us our love for them is all hormones and genetic evolution. They try to explain that their helplessness triggers some survival instinct in us to further our species.

They think that’s why their smiles delight us? Oh, come on, please! That’s why when my 2 year old takes off her clothes and runs out of our front door, the neighbors think it’s adorable?

But if I do the same thing, suddenly you call the police? Oops, I digress…

In fact, it’s so very, many things. Not just music, but art and laughter and joy and wonder and whimsy. Things like how allegory, metaphor, simile and symbolism point to simple daily occurrences having deeper meaning and significance.

For me, I’ve found immeasurable meaning in these things that can’t be explained by “the facts”. For me, those things point blatantly to God, because they are transcendent. And without God, nothing, absolutely nothing is transcendent. Everything is ultimately just matter, electrical charges, cause and effect, cut and dried…

And where’s the fun in any of that? In fact, that’s why “atheists don’t have no songs”. Good songs are ultimately the cry of the soul for something more, something transcendent, whether it’s love or God or whatever.

Atheism says, “There is nothing more. Stick a fork in us, we’re done.” God says, “There is nothing but more and more than you can ever imagine. And it’s all filled with immeasurable meaning and joy!”

Without God, every selfless sacrifice of someone dying to save others was ultimately pointless, because those he saves will soon die as well. If we’re being honest, all his sacrifice did was extend the chance of their suffering more in this life, as they undoubtably will.

He only forestalled the inevitable: death.

In fact, without God, human life only has worth and value as long as the majority of other people say it does. There’s no higher ethic than the majority. So God help us (pun intended) if the majority loses their minds. Or more likely, if my life is not personally beneficial to the majority.

It not, who’s to say it’s wrong to do away with me when I start to get too much in the way.

You see, God is the thing that injects life and humanity with viral meaning, bubbling over into every crevice of existence. It makes even my worst of days worth living. And it makes even the humblest or simplest-minded of people someone made in the image of God Himself.

Like CS Lewis said, “You have never met a mere mortal”.

Because of Him, my daily life is brimming with meaning and purpose. Kindness and goodness are valuable to me, not because of a reward in heaven later, but because they reflect what is ultimately right and good universally. Kindness and goodness matter even if others say they don’t, because God says they do! He endows and imbues all things with His own cosmic purpose and meaning…

In Him, we live and move and have our being – Acts 17:28

Honestly, God is always where my heart will always go, regardless of the latest data. So don’t bother sending me that article. Sure, I’ll read it, but it won’t make a bit of difference.

I’ll continue to respect my friend Jonathan on his journey. But I’ll never stop hoping and praying he meets my Dad.

And with absolutely no condescension in my heart, I’ll also pray for Steve. I’ll pray that maybe he’ll find a new song, too. Maybe one he’ll want to sing for eternity.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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