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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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