Thursday, 30 May 2013

An example of a silent apostasy : R.E.M.


I haven't seen the video to the song "Losing my religion" by R.E.M. until very recently. I knew the lyrics of this song, but I always thought that it was a song about a “presence” constantly accompanying the singer, although he doesn't define it clearly enough. At some point, I saw in this song an echo of the "silent apostasy" denounced by John-Paul II, but not necessarily a song where the singer was completely detached from this "transcendental presence", but instead, somebody who was trying to keep up with God.

video




Many have remarked the affirmative (not positive!) character of the music, accentuated by the mandolin riff, the melodic shape of the ostinato - re, mi, re, la, la - finishing on the tonic, or the fact that the song doesn't move further away from the A minor boundaries.

Something similar happens with the aesthetics of the video, directed by Tarsem Singh, staging a selection of Caravaggio paintings (Ecce homo, the Incredulity of St Thomas, the Entombment or the not so innocent choice of Saint Sebastian martyrdom) all that, mixed up with Soviet-Tarkovsky aesthetics and with pseudo Hindu deities. There is a very interesting study on this video an the paintings evoked at the Hebrew blog Songandart which explores the connections between plastic arts and music videos. Why did he chose Caravaggio? Maybe because of the catechistic character of his painting. What about the Soviet aesthetics? Perhaps they were thinking of religion being "the opium of people". Concerning the Hindu deities, I imagine they were trying to set up a connection between Hinduism and some kind New Age religion. 

Some time ago musicians from Major scaled had the idea of giving this song a more positive "glow" by digitally altering the original from A minor to A major. I wouldn't say R.E.M. song became "Recovering my religion" but maybe fighting against a hostile environment in order to keep it.

What I suggest is the equivalent of what Major scaled did to this song : to turn the music in a major key; to abandon a conception of religion as a system (whether rigid or not), to be opened to transcendence, to the "otherness", to a personal relationship with the One that has created us.

video

Life is bigger
It's bigger than you
And you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I've said too much
I set it up

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no I've said too much
I haven't said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I'm choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool

Oh no, I've said too much
I set it up

Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around

Now I've said too much

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

That's me in the corner
That's me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don't know if I can do it
Oh no I've said too much
I haven't said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream, try, cry, why, try
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream
Dream.



Tuesday, 28 May 2013

A “religiously tone deaf” society



There are people who describe themselves as “religiously tone deaf”. The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed – our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today’s world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us “tone deaf” towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly. In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear “tone deaf” and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself. […] The Lord himself is present in our midst. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well! 

Benedict XVI, Christmas Eve Homily, 2009.


A silent apostasy



At the root of this loss of hope is an attempt to promote a vision of man apart from God and apart from Christ. This sort of thinking has led to man being considered as “the absolute centre of reality, a view which makes him occupy – falsely – the place of God and which forgets that it is not man who creates God, but rather God who creates man. Forgetfulness of God led to the abandonment of man”. It is therefore “no wonder that in this context a vast field has opened for the unrestrained development of nihilism in philosophy, of relativism in values and morality, and of pragmatism – and even a cynical hedonism – in daily life”. European culture gives the impression of “silent apostasy” on the part of people who have all that they need and who live as if God does not exist. This is the context for those attempts, including the most recent ones, to present European culture with no reference to the contribution of the Christian religion which marked its historical development and its universal diffusion. We are witnessing the emergence of a new culture, largely influenced by the mass media, whose content and character are often in conflict with the Gospel and the dignity of the human person. 

This culture is also marked by a widespread and growing religious agnosticism, connected to a more profound moral and legal relativism rooted in confusion regarding the truth about man as the basis of the inalienable rights of all human beings. At times the signs of a weakening of hope are evident in disturbing forms of what might be called a “culture of death”.  

John-Paul II, Apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in Europa, n. 9 (2003).

Seeds of the Word, seeds of truth



Is there any connection between God and contemporary man? Does man need God in his life? Does our society live as if God didn't exist? I do not pretend to answer myself to this questions but instead, to point at some material (contemporary pop songs, cinema, poetry, literature) that are in consonance with the writings of Popes, saints or Magisterium. Not because these authors believe. No, their works are in consonance with their inner quests, these authors don't elude the big questions they feel deep in their hearts. Because religious sense is inherent to man. That's what this blog is all about. Are you ready for the challenge?


Taking up the Council’s teaching from the first Encyclical Letter of my Pontificate, I have wished to recall the ancient doctrine formulated by the Fathers of the Church, which says that we must recognize “the seeds of the Word” present and active in the various religions (Ad gentes, n. 11; Lumen gentium, n. 17). This doctrine leads us to affirm that, though the routes taken may be different, “there is but a single goal to which is directed the deepest aspiration of the human spirit as expressed in its quest for God and also in its quest, through its tending towards God, for the full dimension of its humanity, or in other words, for the full meaning of human life” (Redemptor hominis, n. 11).
The “seeds of truth” present and active in the various religious traditions are a reflection of the unique Word of God, who “enlightens every man coming into world” (cf. Jn 1:9) and who became flesh in Christ Jesus (cf. Jn 1:14). They are together an “effect of the Spirit of truth operating outside the visible confines of the Mystical Body” and which “blows where it wills” (Jn 3:8; cf. Redemptor hominis, nn. 6, 12). 


John-Paul II, General Audience, 9 September 1998, nº 1.