24 February 2011

God is like music

Since my nine-month depression last year, I've been struggling with belief. I've pretty much always been a theist - even when I was a Buddhist; it just seemed natural to me. But since last year, I've been wavering between atheism, agnosticism, and a rather vague theism. This has been a bit distressing, given that the Church is so central to my life.

For the last few weeks, since they've resumed publication, I've been listening to the podcasts of the 2009 Emergent Village Theological Conversation with the great J├╝rgen Moltmann, while running on the indoor track at the Y. (Go away, winter. You bother me. I want to run outside instead.)

I've been ruminating about something Moltmann said in the bit I listened to the other evening. He was asked to comment on the New Atheists, and he said something about how, sure, people can live without God. People can live without music, too....

So on the drive in this morning, suddenly I really wanted to hear the song "Popular", sing by the great (in a different way then Moltmann) Kristen Chenoweth in the Broadway musical Wicked. (Yes, as a matter of fact I do believe that my sexual identity is more secure than my theological identity at the moment...but why do you ask?)

And while listening to Chenoweth's soaring vocals and thinking about Moltmann's well-grounded theology, I had one of those moments of (what felt like) clarity that immediately had me sobbing and almost needing to to pull over: God is like music.

Think about it.

The atheists are right. We can be said to have invented God...just as we can be said to have invented music. (It wouldn't exist on earth if we hadn't invented it...shut up, whales; you're not important right now.)

The agnostics are right...even though they don't really claim anything. (They're always right.)

Any given believer is not wrong, just as any given composer is not "wrong". But music is not arbitrary, and is not simply a matter of taste. Though we may be said to have invented it, at the same time it seems, in some sense, to be built into the fabric of the universe. There's a difference between music and noise. We don't know everything about that difference, and opinions will differ about what's good vs. bad music, and people are always inventing (or discovering?) surprising and unprecedented facets of music...but in a very real sense, music exists. "Music" is real; "musical" and "unmusical" are real; and all of this is not entirely up to us.

Maybe it's just me, but suddenly this seems like a profound metaphor for understanding God, who (I'm given to understand) is Love.

The major difference, it seems to me, is in consequences. Ideas about God (good and bad), it seems, are much more likely to cause people to love or hurt other people, and to change their lives for the better or for the worse, than are ideas about music. (Though of course music is hardly without power in these regards.) I'm not going to quibble about whether consequences are eternal or temporal - our lives go on for as long as they do, and we either turn them toward love, forgiveness, and grace, or we don't. All of our choices affect us for the rest of our lives, or until we choose differently...whichever comes first.

But anyway, thanks are in order to the professor and the prima donna, for giving me something to chew on.

image by Michael Yarish, AP/Fox


Jonathan Brink said...


This announces tomorrow but I want to invite you to consider participating.


It sounds like you have something to contribute and a story to tell.

Much love

Craig Frogale said...

Sweet, so hurry up with the banjo practice. We need you for 9:30 club.

Mike Croghan said...

@Jonathan: Hoom. I'm not sure I have any stories that cry out for telling, but certainly stuff happened to/in me during each of the "stages" they're using as categories. I'll continue to chew on it. Thanks, brother!

@Craig: Yeah, yeah, banjo. I write code and sing karaoke. Isn't that enough talent for one man? ;-)

Dylan Morrison Author said...

Hi Mike

I've been in your shoes! Depression and a love for Yeshua but not the religion that's hijacked His Name.

You might want to have a wee look at my blog and my book 'The Prodigal Prophet' that tells of my whacky journey through Northern Irish religion.



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