Thursday, December 20, 2012

Music. Therefore, God.

A different fine-tuned argument

The resident curmudgeon at the American Record Guide decided to share a few theological nuggets in his column in the November/December 2012 issue. Editor Donald Vroon has had personal experience of God through music, and shame on you if you don't acknowledge this as proof of the deity's existence:
I have often said that music is spiritual in its essence. It reaches us thru purely physical means (sounds) but it conveys so much more. (Actually, I believe that all spiritual values come to us thru physical things.) Music has always been viewed as divine, and the power of music makes it impossible to deny that there is a God. I think that is so obvious to the true music lover that we suspect that anyone who persists in denying God is fighting his own inner conviction that there must be. And he may have good reasons for that, but he may also be blinded by a false faith in reason and/or science that fails to see how limited their vision is. It may very well be that the largest, most important realities are beyond reason and science—both too simple and too complex for them.
As arguments go, it's not a particularly strong one. The foundation stones are shot through with the weakening striations of “I think that is so obvious” and “It may very well be.” Nor can I say that I am especially impressed by his wide-stance, have-it-both-ways declaration that some things are “both too simple and too complex” for comprehension by reason and science. Here, instead of tautology (“I believe because I believe”), he invokes internal contradiction. Sorry, Donald, but the Venn diagram blobs for “too complex” and “too simple” don't intersect.

Vroon cites Easter Vigil services as further evidence of his experience of the divine:
[T]he bishop stands up, spreads his arms, and shouts “The Lord is Risen”—and joy breaks forth: bells ring and peal, the organ comes to life and roars, the lights go up, and the candles are put out. And we sing! And every year at that moment I lose conscious control of myself and burst into tears. My surroundings vanish and I am on a higher plane—and I don't want to come down again.
Higher plane? Vroon is caught up in a well-choreographed theatrical event (with better staging than most religious spectacles of my experience) and equates that with ascending toward God. At least he's consistent. He continues:
That is exactly the same response I have to parts of Mahler—and Wagner, Strauss, and Bruckner.
Hey, me too! Vroon cites my favorite composers. But I don't confuse a deep emotional response to thrilling music with mystical communion with a godhead. In fact, I draw a conclusion opposite to that of the esteemed Mr. Vroon: If humans are capable of generating such profoundly stirring experiences, then where's the evidence (or the need) for positing divine intervention? While it's true that Mahler and Bruckner were imbued with religious feelings that they were trying to work out (while Wagner and Strauss mostly just worshipped themselves), Gustav and Anton place no obligation on me to give God credit for their compositional genius. I recognize it directly.
I have experienced enough with music to begin to rise to God.... I have tried to write about this a few times, and I am never satisfied that I have dealt with it adequately.
Indeed not. Perhaps because you want your ecstatic experience of music to entail more than emotional enjoyment and the physical impact of an endorphin rush. For me, the enjoyment is enough.


Fraser said...

Has Donald Vroon tried Ecstasy? Because "every year at that moment I lose conscious control of myself and burst into tears" sounds a bit like a few parties I've been to. God wasn't involved though (I think my dealer's name was Jim, actually).

MNb said...

I always listen to Tchaikovsky's Liturgy and Vespers on December 25th and 26th. Does that count?

Zeno said...

Fraser: Has Vroon tried Ecstasy? Not deliberately, I suspect.

MNb: If that doesn't count, then nothing does.

Fraser said...

Since we're tossing things off -- Siegfrieds Trauermarsch. Best music ever, or greatest music ever? The emotional journey ... I don't even know where to start.

Zeno said...

Siegfried's funeral music is very like a drug. Even the mid-fi version on a floppy vinyl demo disk was enough for me to subscribe forty years ago to the Time-Life repackaging of the London-Decca Solti "Ring" cycle. Still have the set of LPs, now supplemented by CD versions (plus a couple of other sets). Got it bad, man!

Kathie said...

I understand that some strict Muslim leaders have tried to ban music. Do you suppose it's because they think people find it pleasurable?

Ray said...

If humans are capable of generating such profoundly stirring experiences, then where's the evidence (or the need) for positing divine intervention?

But Zeno, you've completely missed the point: they couldn't possibly achieve such things of their own volition. Therefore god. See? It's simple.

Ray said...

Oh drat... I thought my comment was so clever, then I actually read the title of your post. How embarrassing.