back to back to my musical roots

No that’s not a stutter, it’s a reprise of a post from October last year.

You may recall (or you may not) that at that time I went to see a performance by Franciscus Henri, who had formed most of my childhood musical influence. This particular performance wasn’t specifically children’s music, although I wouldn’t have minded if it was. I posted after it about my thoughts on musical influence, and some of the ideas presented by the person he was doing a tribute show to, Sydney Carter, and you can find that post here.

Anyway, today he (somehow) found that post and made the following comment (hope he doesn’t mind me reprising it in a post):

I have in the last days been directed to your blog and thank you for your comments on both my music in the past as well as my recent prformance. The gap between my children’s music and that of Carter is narrower than might be imagined. the word “celebration” comes to mind.
I want to respond to some of the thoughts you have expressed in response to Carters work.
You write “It is perhaps the easiest thing in the world to claim there is no answer”
I think you are doing Carter and perhaps yourself a great disservice
To ” to ask that question ” and to be full of “curiosity” is hardly approching laziness.
In another poem Carter speaks of doubt “which flowered like faith turned inside out..dancing and lyrical” (My dancing doubt)
It is perhaps easier to hold onto what he calls “Holy hearsay” (most find it in a book)without questioning, or to believe what some claim comes from the heart or spirit or divine inspiration.
This kind of certainty is comfortable, it is also the fount of most of the sordid behaviour that comes from relgious conviction.
To “walk on the water” and “doubt”
is hard work.

You have transcribed the poem in full.
In the song “Every star shall sing a carol” Carter puts forward the notion that Christ having personified God as man, this personification have have taken on other life forms throughout the vast universe.
As for on earth?
“By Christ or any other name the shape of truth could be the same” (The Holy Box)

“Travel on, travel on…..”

Boy the internet can come back to bite you, can’t it? I mean, you put it out there in cyberspace and think that no-one you know will ever read it, let alone those you don’t, and then whammo! (yes, that’s the technical term), the person you’re talking about turns up on your blog. That’s a warning for all you people bagging Britney or Paris: you never know when they’ll turn up.

But I’m genuinely glad to be challenged on this (and anything, frankly), because it’s a point that is worth pondering. Interestingly, anyone who knows me would be amused to find that someone had taken me as any kind of supporter of fundamentalism; and if anyone I know is a doubter and a questioner, it’s me. So it’s strange to end up on this end of an argument, but there it is.

As Franciscus rightly pointed out, Carter is not advocating a wishy-washy, extreme postmodernist view, let alone the “comfortable-with-uncertainty” view that I attributed to him. The lines “I ask that question” and “I am full of curiosity” should have tipped me off to that much (or at the very least, my reading of it should have been more generous). Having said that, there is no shortage of that view in society; I have personally seen it in places as varied as Christian churches, the New Age movement, and university philosophy classrooms (though perhaps they’re not as varied as I first thought). And it is a dangerous version of the apathy that pervades society; as dangerous, in my view, as holding those opinions too strongly (cf. fundamentalism).

Besides, I don’t think it’s holding to truth that dangerous, it’s the truth you hold to that is key. If that truth is that we ought to love all things, for example, there can be no danger in holding to it absolutely or even rigidly. Therefore the “fount of most of the sordid behaviour that comes from religious conviction” (as Franciscus put it) isn’t certainty itself, but rather the content of that certainty (eg. that if you don’t believe the truth as I perceive it, I’ll punch you). In the same way as I didn’t intend to imply that doubt is to be equated with laziness (though they sometimes accompany each other), neither do I believe that doubt and certainty our only two options in terms of belief.

I guess what I’m advocating is some kind of balance between the two. Doubtainty, perhaps? As Yann Martel says in Life of Pi, “It is not atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, so must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

I’m not sure it’s that dire, but the point is a good one. Doubt is useful to break down our misconceptions, and realign them more to reality (in its myriad forms) but we can only go forward with some (at least tentative) understanding of the world. Not that that understanding must necessarily be foisted upon others, nor should it be held so tightly that it is not open to review; but to be so skeptical as to doubt everything is to be paralyzed, and that’s not helpful either.

Incidentally it might be worth noting that the point in my original post about knowing more what Carter doubted than what he stood for is largely a reflection (or a projection?) of the Baptist tradition I’ve inherited. It is exactly that tendency that characterises Baptist history: we know much more clearly what we stand against than what we stand for. It actually takes courage to nail your colours to the mast; not because you’re certain, indeed much more courage is required where there isn’t certainty involved, just a conviction or a tentative idea. But it does mean that you risk being wrong; whereas the constant state of doubt or ‘suspension of judgement as my philosophy background puts it, means you risk nothing. And in this case, I think the adage ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained’ is an apt one.

So I think there’s something to be said for not doubting. Again, don’t misunderstand me as arguing for certainty, still less being intolerant certainty, but belief or faith require some kind of commitment to an idea.

If I get time, I might think/write about that last idea too, that of something of the truth that we know in Christ can or has been seen/made known in other forms. In the meantime: thanks for your words Franciscus, and if you feel I misrepresented Carter, I apologise.

1 thought on “back to back to my musical roots

  1. colours to the mast…
    some kind of commitment…

    mountains move
    crops fail
    people die

    The Pope asked “Why was God Silent”

    I have no doubt.
    God does not exist
    The search for him is extremely important.
    The Devil doesn’t exist
    You can see him/her every day.

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