"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sing me a song Mr. Atheist

Just a quick little thought here... What do you atheists sing about? Does it make you feel kind of silly? Just curious.

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Blogger Matt M said...


What do you mean?

11:13 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Do you ever sing songs? If so about what?

1:21 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

If I'm in the shower I'll occasionally sing (quietly) to myself - normally a few lines of whatever happens to be in my head at the time.

Being tone deaf and unable to carry a single note means I don't sing in public - except when very drunk and when the music is too loud for anyone to really hear. Normally I restrain myself to just playing air guitar.

When I was studying History at A-Level, however, I had one teacher who put changed the lyrics to various songs to reflect whatever subject we were studying at the time and made us sing them in class. Sadly, I've managed to loose all of the sheets we had, and the only lines I can remember are a couple about Alexander II of Russia:

"Alexander, liberator. Tried reform for a while
But he found a little later, that it didn't suite his style"

There was one set to the tune of 'Great Balls of Fire', but I can't remember which historical period it was about.

1:45 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

"Suite" should be "suit" - I think?

1:47 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Man, I'm glad I didn't have that prof's class!

Personally singing scares the living daylights out of me. Though I did sing in my band on two occasions. Looking back it would have best been left to someone else.

Let me rephrase the question slightly. Are there any songs that 'move' you? If so which ones.

1:50 PM

Blogger Matt M said...


A slight weakness for cheap power ballads aside, I'm not sure.

2:05 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Fair enough. I guess I'm just wierd like that. We'll just move this along then.

2:09 PM

Anonymous moe said...

and you did a fine job. I watched you sing. it was sweet. I like your geeetar too.

2:10 PM

Blogger Crushed by Ingsoc said...

I recommend 'The Libertine', if you haven't already seen it.
Personally, I think there a few real Atheists.
Agnostics who dislike organised religion yes.
People who hold the definite non-existence of a deity- a possession with as little empirical support as its opposite- surely a tiny handful?
Even in secular Britain.
Just my thoughts on talking to people.

2:15 PM

Blogger Matt M said...

Ooooh, wait - the version of 'Wild Horses' by The Sundays really got to me for a while, and I still feel a slight twinge when I hear it now. They used it in an episode of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' just before I went off to university.

2:34 PM

Blogger Alex said...

Dang. That's a good one. Just looked it up on Youtube. Very well done.

So what does it do to you when you listen to it. How does it make you feel?

3:00 PM

Blogger Alex said...

BTW, This song has been doing it to me as of late.

Bet you can't guess who it's by...

7:25 AM

Blogger Tom Freeman said...

If my singing were to become public, I think even you would doubt the existence of a loving God! (Job wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes listening to me.)

But when I'm alone in a soundproofed room, I now and again sing along to the stereo. I'm quite a Beatles fan.

7:58 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Sounds like you are about like me!

Does Eleanor Rigby do anything to you?

8:07 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

So what does it do to you when you listen to it. How does it make you feel?

It puts me back in my room, surrounded by packed bags, watching the late night repeat of that Buffy episode the night before heading off to university - with the same feeling of sadness about leaving friends and family behind and anxiety about what university would be like.

8:57 AM

Blogger Alex said...

It's amazing how music has the power to bring us back to a place in our past that even the most intense concentration cannot match. On a related note I've had experiences with certain smells that hit me in a way that rivals even musics power.

To take this one step further, have you ever experienced a song that moved you right from the start? One that you had not had time to develop a story around? I guess for me the Sundays rendition of Wild Horses moved me to a degree though I had never had any prior experience with that song. How bout you?

9:14 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

The emotion in the voice of the singer can have that effect - though arguably we'd need similar experiences to really empathise with it.

9:24 AM

Blogger Alex said...

I'd agree with that. And if there is no voice?

9:28 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

I'm a bit partial to some of Beethoven's works, so yeah...

9:32 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Just an FYI I'm not going anywhere in particular with this. It may seem like I'm going to try and spring something on you, but I don't really have anything in mind. Twas just a random thought I had and thought I'd toss it out there.

It started when I was listening to that one song I posted earlier. There was this sense of joy and transcendence I had when I was taking it in. It felt as if an echo of something that cannot be grasped yet is still longed for, but then I spun my head back into the naturalist explanation and imagined if that were the only truth. Then I felt like a real moron. Hence my posting.

9:34 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

Heh. I'm only sounding reticent because I've never thought through my reaction to music too much.

Even on a purely aesthetic level there's nothing wrong with reacting emotionally to a song - in fact that's their whole point really. If the lyrics chime with some of your beliefs about the world, that's even better.

9:39 AM

Blogger Alex said...

Perhaps there is nothing "wrong" with reacting emotionally to a song, but if NT is true an emotional reaction to a song reaches a level of absurdity that really makes me uncomfortable.

I want my life to ring true with reality, but if NT then "transencance" is false. The longing for something more is false. Love is the product of irrational biochemistry and selfish genes.

If NT is true I am acting like a total idiot getting "lost" in a song. I was just curious how atheists processed this.

10:07 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

If NT is true I am acting like a total idiot getting "lost" in a song.


If NT is true then then all you can really say is that the song doesn't offer you a glimpse of a transcendent reality - if you find it emotionally involving, and get "lost" in it, what's the problem with that?

10:12 AM

Blogger Alex said...

If NT is true then then all you can really say is that the song doesn't offer you a glimpse of a transcendent reality

True. But then what does it have to offer me at all? A soothing vibration in my ears? An aesthetic tickle? Is the experience no different from a good back rub or a warm soak in the tub? What should I think of an experience that is but a prompting of my psyche to dredge up an emotional response? It would seem this chain of events could be used just as one uses drugs. The experience is pleasing so why not seek it out? Why do you suppose we are often drawn to melancholy songs? Songs that elicit a sorrowful response. Seems rather odd that we'd want spend our time with that type of experience. But we do. There's a depth of feeling that we long for.

Is it simply because it feels nice? Perhaps.

However, I cannot help but feel that there must be something more to it. I approach emotive music from a much different angle than I do a soak in the tub. There's a reverence there that is quite different from other more flippant pleasures. If I were the last man on earth and about to die myself I would still feel pleased if the music played on and saddened if it were silenced. I would not feel as such towards warm baths, back rubs or drugs.

Just thinking out loud.

11:36 AM

Blogger Matt M said...

But then what does it have to offer me at all?

Exactly what it offered you before - your experience doesn't change, only your conception of it.

12:12 PM

Blogger Tom Freeman said...

Eleanor Rigby's astonishingly good. Not so great for a singalong, maybe.

(I'm glancing at that latest thread from a nervous distance. I might need to take a few deep breaths before looking in.)

10:55 AM

Blogger Alex said...

No need to be nervous. There's several points in my main posting that don't add up. Matt and I have finally come to an agreement on the existence of meaning and purpose if there is no God. I have some more thoughts in the works at the moment. (as usual.)

11:09 AM

Blogger Alex said...

I do not argue that the sensual experience would change. It is just that – as will all things we have discussed – the atheist can only take things so far before the bottom drops out and he is left holding nothing. The theist on the other hand will agree with the atheist all the way up till the point where the atheist says 'just', 'merely', or 'simply'. I agree that the music I hear is at it's most fundamental state the vibration of molecules set in motion in a cause/effect type scenario, but at the same time I acknowledge the 'meaning' behind the music relates to a foundational reality that is beyond the reach of our scientific process, yet is still apprehended by the most simple amongst us. A well crafted emotive song has the ability to take the listener to a place they otherwise would not visit; it has the ability to stir a longing or desire in us that is beyond description. The theist can acknowledge this and revel in the transcendent feeling it gives. We can use the experience to try an catch a glimpse of a world that is most often beyond our grasp.

The naturalist decline to board that train and dismiss those who do as self-deluded. You may enjoy the song as a sensation, but any stirring of the transcendence within you must be snuffed out and dismissed as foolishness.

12:39 PM

Blogger Matt M said...


The theist on the other hand will agree with the atheist all the way up till the point where the atheist says 'just', 'merely', or 'simply'.

Being able to go one step further isn't the be all and end all though - all it would take is for someone to posit a higher level of reality, one step beyond that which you claim is foundational, and you'd be in the same boat.

a foundational reality that is beyond the reach of our scientific process, yet is still apprehended by the most simple amongst us.

What evidence do you have for this, though? If it were "apprehended by the most simple amongst us" then there'd be no need to argue for it's existence - if you have to justify a self-evident truth, then it ain't self-evident.

Emotions aren't rational - therefore their ability to be described in rational, scientific terms is limited. But this doesn't make them mystical - and attributing personal experiences to supernatural forces has a long history: shaman's used to believe drugs gave them access to higher realms. Do you agree with that? Do you think LSD brings you closer to God? If not, what's the difference between people who argue that licking poisonous toads leads to spiritual experiences and people who argue that our response to music is indicative of a higher plain of existence?

7:55 AM


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