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“The Skeptics Sing” is an occasional feature here at The Persistence of Song.  Posts in this category will highlight music with an explicitly unbelieving worldview.  Analyzing these songs will prove helpful in understanding unbelief.  The first installment of the series focused on a track from a new Wilco album.  Read a general description of the series, as well as the first installment, here.

This edition of “The Skeptics Sing” features one of my favorite albums of the year by one of my favorite new artists of the year.  The Head and the Heart is a Seattle-based folk-pop group.  The band has garnered some attention on public radio stations, with both “Down in the Valley” and “Lost in Mind” receiving significant radio play.

The songs from the band’s self-titled debut album are not hostilely inimical to the Christian faith.  Rather, the motif of unbelief on The Head and the Heart correlates maturation with the loss of faith.  Three tracks in particular demonstrate this theme.

“Cats And Dogs” and “Couer D’alene” are a sort of musical portmanteau.  The former is brief and segues carefully into the longer “Couer D’alene.”  Here’s a good quality live version.

“Ghosts” is the third track on the album.  It’s as catchy as the albums first two tracks, though with a bit of a sinister minor key.  Here’s a live version from the same studio session as the last clip.

The growing-up themes are readily apparent in these three songs.

–        “My roots are grown, but I don’t know where they are.”

–        “Oh the songs people will sing for home / And for the ones that have been gone for too long”

–        “People say, ‘I knew you when you were six years old.’ / But I’ve changed.”

Sprinkled in these songs are two interesting remarks about faith.  In “Couer D’alene,” the speaker asks, “What will become of these gestures we’ve made?  I’ve given up my Bible; you moved out of state.”  And in “Ghosts,” we hear, “When Mary moved all of her *stuff* to Chicago, her mother made sure that she left with her Bible, but you won’t find her face on Sundays.”

In these lyrics, we hear accounts of growing out of the faith.  People grow up and grow apart from what they once confessed to believe.  A commonly referenced scenario is that of the church-going teenager, who in his college days forsakes the faith. 

Several reasons are commonly enlisted to explain this departure.  The apostates were unprepared for the philosophical and other intellectual challenges common at secular universities.  The legitimization of other worldviews causes them to question the legitimacy of their own.  The charm of debauchery leads some to disassociate themselves from the gospel.

These attempted explanations, though well-meaning, present only proximate causes of apostasy.  In reality, the true cause of young adult un-conversion is the lack of genuine conversion in the first place.  The antagonistic naturalistic professor (or party scene, or popular pluralism) gives deceived unbelievers the opportunity to realize their unbelief.       

This distinction has the appearance of triviality, but it is crucial in how we counsel the outed unbeliever.  If our recourse is to arguments for God’s existence or behavior modification, then we only deal with proximate causes and only treat symptoms. 

We need to exercise some narrative-control.  Perhaps, instead of treating them like they are growing out of or apart from the faith, we should question whether they have even been born for a second time (John 3:3).

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When I started The Persistence of Song late last year, I used a musical metaphor to describe the purpose of the blog:  “For every melody we encounter, worldview is singing alto.”  The idea of this metaphor is that worldview—our basic assumptions and beliefs about reality—is a subtle subtext of the music we consume. 

Of course, in some forms of music, worldview is much more prominent.  We expect, for example, that contemporary Christian musicians would seek to promote their worldview through their music.  An interesting trend in 2011 is that a number of musicians who deny Christianity (or at least certain caricatures of Christianity) are promoting an unbelieving worldview in their music. 

“The Skeptics Sing” is a new, occasional feature here at The Persistence of Song.  Posts in this category will highlight music with an explicitly unbelieving worldview.  Analyzing these songs will prove helpful in understanding unbelief.  The first example is from the rock band Wilco, and it’s recently released album.   

Wilco, “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)”

On September 27, Wilco released The Whole Love, the band’s ninth album.  It’s lovely listening, with a sonic range of addictive pop hooks (e.g., “Dawned on Me”) and serene tunes (e.g., “Rising Red Lung”).  “One Sunday Morning (Song For Jane Smiley’s Boyfriend)” might well be the best track on the album.  The mere facts of the song—its twelve-minute duration, repetitive structure, and minimalistic melody—make it a surprising choice as the album’s best track.  Yet, “One Sunday Morning” is masterfully executed:  the restraint in Jeff Tweedy’s voice is perfectly matched by the instrumental dynamics.

The song frankly admits a rejection of biblical Christian belief:  “I said it’s your God I don’t believe in / No, your Bible can’t be true.”  But this admission is complexly admixed with a father-son conflict:  “My father said what I had become / No one should be.”  At the father’s death, the son feels “relief” because now the father “knows he was wrong.”  One of the things on which the father erred, according to the speaker, is his view of death:  “I am cold for my father / Frozen underground / Jesus I wouldn’t bother / He belongs to me now.” 

“One Sunday Morning” reflects the reasons many embrace unbelief.  Specifically, the issue of authority dogs many unbelievers.  The speaker sarcastically remarks, “Bless my mind.  I miss / Being told how to live.”  As fallen humans, we have a rebellious proclivity.  We reject authority, whether it is the God of the universe or the head of our household. 

But we should be careful how we describe modern feeling toward authority.  Avoid the temptation to hastily generalize.  Modern unbelievers do not reject God because they have a broad dislike for authority.  Rather, unbelievers’ distaste for authority stems ultimately from their rejection of God.  What we often fail to realize is that the rejection of the lesser authority is symptomatic of our rejection of the greater authority. 

In Romans 1, the apostle Paul describes human fallen-ness.  Though God is evident to us in creation, we reject the knowledge of him and refuse to thank and worship him.  God has judged this rejection by giving us over to our evil—and less satisfying!—desires.  Paul proceeds to catalogue these desires and their sinful instantiations, and he includes in this list “disobedient to parents” (Rom 1:30).

Prima facie, “One Sunday Morning” focuses on a father-son conflict, but Wilco—perhaps, writing better than it knew—exposes the true conflict.  Our rejection of God has radically mis-ordered our concept of the world, generally, and authority, specifically.       

This mis-ordered concept breeds mis-ordered desires.  We boast, with Wilco, in what we “learned without warning.”  Yet, in the gospel, we are beckoned to submit to the authority of all ages, and in our Christian growth and progress, we are constantly reminded, “What do you have that you did not receive?  If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor 4:7)

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