Thursday, December 28, 2006

THE TRUE MEANING OF EVERYTHING! - well some things - uh maybe, maybe not

I love most christmas music, except perhaps what one hears repeated ad nauseam at shopping malls from about the middle of October on.

I have a CD, The Glorious Sound of Christmas. It features Eugene Ormandy leading the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Temple University Concert Choir (Robert Page, Director.) Actually, I originally purchased this recording back in the mid-1960s as an LP record through the old Columbia Record Club. If you like christmas music performed with choirs in orchestral settings, you might well like this one. It is still being sold. I saw it at Borders a couple of weeks ago. I purchased my CD from Amazon.

So what?, you might say. Indeed!

The first four cuts are standards - "Hark, The Herald Angels Sing," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," "Joy to the World," and "O Holy Night." All are excellent renditions. Cut number five begins a run of consecutive pieces which are, in my opinion three of the greatest christmas carol recordings I've ever heard. The first is also the best and by far the most moving. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is performed with all strings. No brass, no reeds, no percussion, no voices. It reaches into the depths of one's heart. I have listened to it, I can't guess how many times. I sometimes pull it out in May or July and play it. It still moves me to tears. It begins quietly with a meandering cello (or perhaps viola) line which then gives over to violins introducing the simple verse. Each successive verse builds in complexity gradually adding instruments in a steady crescendo to greater emotional heights culminating in a finale' which absolutely shakes the room.

At such moments I understand why people come to believe in a god. I understand why people feel the need for a higher power. At the end, we are alone. We may have family and friends. We may have access to spiritual and/or professional help if depressed or fearful. We can take pills to assuage depression and fear. But, as we move through life, friends come and go. Family members pass. Ministers, psychologists and phychiatrists can only listen, and give counsel. The effectiveness of pills wanes. Despite the love, caring and the best efforts of others, we can still feel utterly alone, suffering pain and loss, facing our own mortality. These times can be devastating.

We often then, seek solace from a god, which we come to believe has the power to direct our lives, which gives us comfort in affording us assurance that we are loved, and ultimately provides us with the hope of an eternal life in paradise. We long for perfect peace and perfect beauty. It's grand and heady stuff.

The "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" on the Glorious Sound album evokes, for me at least, that pain and yearning, but also the incredible beauty of life. As one who does not believe in any god, I am not immune to the base fears which are the stuff of living and dying. The astonishing depth and resonance of this recording bring all of those emotions to the surface. I believe that it is good for us to experience them.

The other pieces I alluded to are wonderful as well in different ways. Another instrumental, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is as rousing as "O Come" is profoundly emotional. The last of the three is a gently evocative "Ave Maria" (Schubert). It combines orchestra and wordless chorus, and leaves one with a sense of calm. More carols follow on the album, but these three are, for me, the best.

The inspiration for all of this music was, of course god, and more specifically, the birth of jesus. My wife is dubious about any notion that such music could have been written without godly inspiration. Obviously, I don't agree. Music, and pretty much all artistic achievements of man would likely be just as great, and just as inspirational without a godly muse. Granted, it all might be very different. We probably would not have spent as much time looking heavenward. But we humans are an ingenious and resourceful lot. Inspiration has and continues to come to us from sources other than god, through which we create great things. Great architecture. Great sculpture. Great painting. Great music. Great dance. Great drama. Great literature. All of it.


Consider science. If you genuinely delve into biology and evolution, study chemistry or discover the wonders of physics, you will find that there is unfathomable beauty to be found there. One does not need to look outside of nature, to the meta-physical or spiritual for inspiration. It is all around us, all the time. It is nature. It is us.



jazzycat said...

Your last couple of sentences struck me as I remembered the following verses from Romans 1:19-20 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Terry S said...

But is what we perceive god, or the conscious creation of god? God as a living, conscious entity who is overseeing every minute detail throughout the universe? At once he is directing events in the Middle East, paralyzing Denver with 2 feet of snow, and manipulating the everpresent little clot of phlegm in my throat which bugs the crap out of me?

To accept the reality of god requires not just humility, but humiliation. We can imagine a far better and more just world than a supposed god has created.

How you can possibly believe that the horrors that millions of people face on a daily basis are somehow part of "god's plan" befuddles me. There is absolutely nothing "loving" about such a god.

If all the people who suffer hunger, depravation, degradation, torture and murder are consigned this lot in life because they have not accepted christ, then god is nothing more than an uncaring, egotistical bully.

As to my "solution" to the problems of inequity in our capitalistic system: I understand what I suggested is at best pie in the sky. But are we to pat ourselves on the back, wink and grin at the excesses of the very rich and ignore those who have nothing?

I don't know if it's still in production, but for several years a program aired here on Sunday called something like "Beautiful Homes and Great Estates." The palatial homes of the rich and/or famous were toured so that all of the have nots could drool over their monstrous homes built on a mountain side having cavernous bathrooms with waterfalls. It was (or perhaps still is) a celebration of excess and waste.

I look at homes everyday. I've seen it all - at least pretty much the full range of homes big and small in the Indianapolis market. There is little here that would rival the gargantuan dwellings shown on the "Beautiful Homes..." show, but nevertheless, there is excess. Conspicuous consumption is the catch phrase. As glorious as some of these homes may be, there is attached to them an element of obscenity.

I have also seen hundreds of houses over the years that are barely recognizable as such. Houses that are ramshackle, barely standing. Houses that are dangerous and/or filthy which nevertheless often are home to large families including numbers of young children. Such people are our society's forgotten. They are the people who, in effect, get swept under the carpet as an embarrassment.

The right wing, dyed in the wool capitalist says to them - tough shit. I win. You lose. I've got mine. Go away. Out of my sight, out of my mind.

How long before those folk decide to "storm the Bastielle, and why shouldn't they?"


jazzycat said...

It is popular in today's culture even among Christians to focus on the love of God and ignore his other attributes such as justice and wrath.

The fact is we live in a fallen world that is cursed by God. This is part of Scripture as well as his other attributes. There is a promise of justice, wrath, and punishment for human sin. There is the declaration that in this world there will be trouble and strife for humans as they live their brief earthly life.

There is also an offer of spiritual salvation as a free gift. The God of the Bible does not promise a life of health and wealth in this world. Is it true as I believe or untrue as you believe? If it is true, the fact that you don't approve or do not like what God has done and will do does not carry any weight.

Point to consider. The Apostle Paul claimed to have had an encounter with the risen Christ. He suffered and was persecuted and ultimately executed for his work for Christ. Since he certainly did not gain material wealth from his work that leaves two possibilities.

(1) It is all true
(2) He was crazy and delusional.

Since all of the other Apostles also suffered and were persecuted and killed, this means if their cause and message was false, then they were all likewise crazy and delusional. They certainly would not have suffered for what they knew was a lie. Therefore, many eyewitnesses of Jesus had to be completely mad to do what they did if the message was a lie. Is that believable?

Why is there something instead of nothing?

Terry S said...


I hope you've had an enjoyable holiday season. We've enjoyed unseasonably warm weather - maybe something about a warmer globe or something like that.

Now, down to business.

Taking your last comment first regarding something/nothing:

We have tossed this one back and forth a number of times, generally to no avail. You tend to pull it out as your trump card.

Essentially, what you are asking is what is the origin of space and time? And the fact is no one knows.
It seems, in your mind that a failure to come up with an answer leaves god as the only possibility. I simply don't accept that as inevitable or even likely.

Maybe there has always been
"something." Even prior to the "big bang" there was the stuff that went BOOM. Is it any more fantastic to believe that "something" has always existed than believing that an ever-existing god created the "something?"

How is this world "fallen?" Are we talking Adam & Eve and original sin?

Am I to assume then that you are a biblical literalist? You believe that the christian bible is the inerrant word of god? That it reports historical fact in every book, chapter and verse?

From what I have found, none of the books of the new testament were written contemporary with the reported life of jesus. The earliest book - Matthew? is reported to have been written around 45AD. The last around 95AD to 100AD.

There are no original texts in existence as far as we know. The texts of biblical material that exist today are translations. Most are translations of translations.

These texts have been poured over by who knows how many eyes, and probably misinterpreted, mis-translated or even purposely altered in an expediency of comformity.

While I assume you believe the integrity of the text is divinely maintained, to my mind the authenticity and accuracy of the texts are at best questionable.

However, even if the details regarding the apostles and their unfortunate ends are historically accurate, I would say that, yes, perhaps any or all of them were in some sense delusional. They did not believe their faith was in a false god. They were, one would presume, true believers. But is the text true? Is it historical fact? How can you or anyone know?

How many folks over the course of human history have endured persecution and death in defence of their faith in some god? Gods other than yours. Were they all crazy and delusional? Were all Greeks and Romans crazy and delusional in their belief in their multiple gods? How about the Egyptians?

You say "There is a promise of justice, wrath, and punishment for human sin."

Our sense of justice, it seems to me is superior to that of god. What you are saying, then is that literally billions of people - all who are not born again protestant christians are necessarily consigned to eternal hell unless they embrace jesus - that being the only means to being offered the "free gift" of spiritual salvation? Is that fair to say?

No, I do not find that to be any kind of justice. It is odious.

IF it is true is the ultimate question. I say no. It is not.