The Friday Morning Listen: Joy Kills Sorrow – Darkness Sure Becomes This City (2010)

Though I have occasionally written about politics (and in that case, it was about the stupidity and lack of logic as opposed to particular ideas), I’ve for the most part avoided writing about religion. Can (or should) an atheist write about religion? Plenty of people do it. There are a lot of folks out there who spending a lot of time dumping on religion from an atheist’s perspective. The problem there is that they can become so strident that they end up looking as silly as the believers they’re trying to skewer.

So you can also provide an “out” by stating that music and religion don’t have a lot to do with each other. Maybe generally that’s true, though so much music has been made with a supreme being in mind that that seems like a weak escape. Besides, there’s a lot of “faith-based” (Oh, I how I detest that description) music that I really like: Mahalia Jackson, Blind Boys of Alabama, and on and on.

But I’ve heard too many stories over the course of these decades that have involved unpleasant collisions of art and faith that I’m often left wondering just why those themes are repeated: that music must be for god (Yes, I am using a small “g” here. Deal with it.) alone or worse, that all music must be rejected;

I heard a story on the radio about an Egyptian man, a musician, whose life took a bad turn, the result of which was that he fully embraced a sect of Islam. He was required to leave music in his past. Through some bizarre circumstances, he ended up leaving that situation behind, returning to the music scene to become a rapper. He didn’t completely jettison his faith, but realized that music should not remain out side of it.

This kind of thing is in no way unique to the Muslim world. Christianity has had a long history of pitting itself against popular culture, with music more often than not taking center stage in the debate. Most theistic religions seem to fall prey to this line of thought at one time or another. It’s a sad thing. Through ignorance and fear, entire swaths of culture and creative activity are thrown away in service of suppose “higher” aims. I have known people who’ve gone through such transformations. They cast “worldly” interests aside…and the people who are not going with them are cast aside as well.

I’m not here to be making any generalized anti-religious statements, but I will say this: if a god created you and the world around you, with all of the stunning beauty held within, why would you think that the creative impulse that this creator gave you should be used for different purposes than that of the natural world? If a person has the talent for singing a line that’s just as inspiring as that incredible sunrise over the ocean, why should that talent be compressed down to a single use? Does sharing the joy that art creates not, by default, reflect positively on its origins?

I have no answers here. It just makes me sad when I see people complaining about how the world has become such a terrible place…while their actions do nothing to reverse that trend.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
  • Raymond Lange

    No music or no one should be rejected!

  • Mark Saleski

    well unfortunately ray, not everyone feels that way. there are a lot of closed minds out there.

    • Raymond Lange

      Irregardless (http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-9796217-1.html) ! God doesnt have to work hard He knew people would do that ignorantly Irregarding the Truth that when someone wakes up from a sleep they are in this world and they try to sing their own notes (that have nothing to do with His Truth)and often get nowhere but tired because of their worldy faith based reality whereas they are obviously separating themselves from what they supposedly believe in!!Making a joyfull noise not only kills sorrowful feelings It also kills what ails you.Faith has nothing to do with music yet in the same difference it has everything to do with it.There are no exact answers! Let the music play!

  • H. M. Thompson

    Atheists bad mouth Christianity because so many Christians bad mouth atheists. Yeh, some atheists end up looking silly, as do many Christians.
    Yet, I have to hear prayers at many meetings of government agencies. I know many atheists who have lost of not gotten jobs because of Christian employers. I have to watch governemnt pander to religion, even supposedly socialistic Obama, and spend my tax money supporting religion-based activities.
    Kinda makes me want to attack Christianity as a foolish, harmful fantasy, if you get my drift.

  • Mark Saleski

    yeah, i’m similarly annoyed by those things. but i don’t think that going all in on the anti-christianity does any good. that of course, doesn’t mean i’ll back down when i hear things like how the country is going to hell because we can’t pray in school, etc.