I went to my Son’s church today to hear him sing in the choir. They were really quite good. The music was a mix of gospel and soul with some latin rhythms thrown in. Of course, the lyrics were all “praise the Lord”, and “Jesus” repeated ad nauseum.
I could see that people were moved by the music; many singing and swaying to the beat. It was inspiring. Not inspiring in a spiritual way, but in a “isn’t this great that we can all enjoy this together” kind of way. I can understand why people would be moved to feel as if some kind of spirt was among them.
I felt that too, but it wasn’t a spirit of gods or angels or anything like that. It was a spirit of belonging and sharing. I’ve also felt the exact same feeling at rock and pop concerts. When I saw Elton John, the crowd sang and swayed to the soulful lyrics of “Rocket Man” or “Candle in the Wind”. When I saw Simon and Garfunkel, it was “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “59th Street Bridge Song (Feeling Groovey)”. When I saw Paul Simon solo, it was “You Can Call Me Al”; Barry Manilow, “I Write the Songs”; Chicago, “Saturday in the Park”.
These musical experiences were all moving and inspiring because it allowed us, as an audience, as humans, to share common emotions of love, joy, tenderness, and excitement. It is the spirit of togetherness and sharing of emotions that is at play here, not the spirit of the lord or any other supernatural entity. Music unites us and allows us to share our humanness.
The pastor (this was a Protestant service, in contrast to my last church experience) gave a sermon titles “The Dangerous People”. According to him, the people who are truly dangerous, “to themselves and others”, are those who “think they know, but don’t know” (his exact words, not mine). He said that we need to be willing to accept council and instruction from others. He couched this in knowledge of the Bible, using Apollos and Paul from the New Testament as examples.
He said that Apollos was a great preacher and very knowledgeble in the scriptures, but that he only knew of John the Baptist, and since he didn’t know of Jesus, he was somehow dangerous to himself and to others. How Apollos was dangerous he didn’t say. What he did say was that once he was told of the true way of Jesus, he learned from that and started preaching the gospel of Jesus. That, somehow, was supposed to show us how we must listen to wise council and not assume that we know everything.
He never said how we can differentiate good council from bad, truth from falsehood, only that we must be willing to admit that we don’t know everything and to listen to those who know more. He also didn’t tell us who “those” are. I found the message pretty muddled. I suppose that you could take from this that we must be humble and open to new ideas, but I didn’t get the feeling that this was what he really meant. To me, he seemed to emphasize the idea of “dangerous people”, but without ever letting us know how to tell “truth” from falsehood.
One other thing that he said really struck me, because it was so self-contradicting. He said that we have the liberty of praising and doing the will of God. How can you do the will of an all powerful god and still have liberty? This is subjugation disguised as liberty. It is the same as saying that Americans value liberty, but then say that we are not real Americans if we don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, completely missing the fact that by pledging allegiance to anything, be it God or country, we are trading our liberty for servitude to some higher master.
I’ve been learning quite a bit from my forays to church. I’ve learned that there are some wonderful ideas out there about how we can be better people, but they always get watered down by the trappings of religion. Instead of using the example of how we should be humble and admit that we don’t have all the answers in order to think for ourselves so that we can learn and grow, it comes down to just having faith. Well, you can’t have faith and truly think for yourself, because to really think for yourself means to question everything, which faith can not allow.
I find it almost sad to see such potential for real understanding of the human condition and the world we live in lost in a morass of faith, platitudes, and servitude to a “higher power”. This makes us compliant and docile, just like the sheep that the shepherd figure of Jesus requires us to be.