Thursday, March 10, 2011

Coming up: Secularism

Don't worry. I have plenty to go around.

Here's the Link

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

Wow. This is an amazing article, one that I've been waiting for for a *long* time. I honestly don't know how evangelicalism has done as well as it has, dominating politics, culture, etc. I wasn't long on my mission before I realized that evangelicalism was (in addition to being morbidly anti-mormon) to religion what professional wrestling is to sports. But the movement has taken such a profoundly dark turn since then. It really does seem at times to be the Church of the Devil (or the "Great and Abominable") described in the Book of Mormon. At various times we thought it was the catholic church, or soviet communism. These definitely had their moments. But the dominant force for evil right now in America has to be some weird combination of anti-sermon-on-the-mount evangelicalism and populist Nietzschism as embodied by the Grover Norquists/Newt Gingriches and their ilk. Inasmuch as peace is possible, it is being held back by these greedy rascals.

I happen to love Jesus. I can't get enough of Him. Of course I believe He is the Savior and that his atonement makes immortality and eternal life possible. I believe that through some miracle, meditation on his person brings joy and light, even though I have no recollection of meeting or seeing Him. But I also believe just as much in his challenging and transcendent teachings in the sermon on the mount. I am in no way better than anyone I know at living them. But I steadfastly believe that there is some efficacy in acknowledging how much I fall short and accepting the challenge of these teachings even if it takes an eternity to measure up to them. I don't quite understand what one gets out of twisting these pure teachings to justify one's hypocrisy. Why not just acknowledge that we have a ways to go?

Let's look at the basis of evangelicalism as it was explained to me by countless adherents on my mission:
People were created by God.
People are bad.
We need to be saved by "accepting" Jesus into our heart. By doing so, we get several things:
a. we become "Christians" (Mormons don't understand why they say we aren't Christians. The problem is, Mormons don't understand that evangelicals have a very specific definition as to what it means to be a Christian. It has nothing to do with adherence to an ethical formula or a belief in the divinity of the individual, Jesus).
b. we are forgiven of our sins (past, present and future)
c. we are guaranteed a place in heaven
d. we are not responsible for either our good works or our sins. Our good works are simply God working within us. Our sins are simply the leftover effects of our sinful nature and are already forgiven anyway. The worst thing we can do is to think that we can "work our way to heaven", i.e. that our good works have anything to do with our eternal reward. This is presumptive and arrogant. This is described by evangelicals as the main problem with Mormons. (I do think this is somewhat problematic to a lesser degree with my people).

This is an important ingredient to the understanding of why evangelicals hate Christianity (the ethical system Jesus taught).

On my mission evangelicals mocked our testimonies of the Book of Mormon. In mormonism, we derive our religious commitment from a transcendent experience, a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and the miraculous manner in which it was brought forth. Millions of people will attest to this witness and will make great sacrifices based on it. Once you experience direct communication from the Holy Ghost, you realize that nothing else, including the 5 senses, can be as certain. The pioneers staked everything on it. When they left Missouri and Illinois, it was with the knowledge that at any time they could renounce their witness and they would be left alone. I was told by evangelicals that my spiritual witness was some kind of brainwashing, or some other such nonsense. It really put them in a difficult position vis-a-vis their own shaky faith grounds. I would then ask two questions, which would driven them berserk:
1. How do you know the Bible is true?
2. Why did God create us?
The second question is really problematic if you believe that we are naturally bad and can only have any value if we go through an empty ritual of assent to a completely weird and abstract concept. What kind of God would play such a cruel joke on his creations? Is He so desperate for praise that he made a bunch of beings who can't achieve anything on their own, and that the only thing they can do worth doing is "getting saved"? This God sounds a lot more like the Satan of my theology, the one that wants nothing more than naked and empty obeisance and hates nothing more than freedom and agency. And regarding question 1, if you don't believe in spiritual witnesses, then what hope do you have that the Bible isn't an empty collection of stories and traditions?

I'm sorry to be so hard on this religion. I have met some wonderful, and, yes, very Christian evangelicals, who serve others, who are kind, and who really do embody Jesus' teachings. But the movement has had such a baleful effect on our society as a whole since 1980 that I feel it needs to be called out. Part of me thinks that, in some diabolical irony, evangelicalism will bring out the very tribulation that it purports to be preparing for.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Corrosive composition careerism

The following is from a very interesting email discussion with LDS composers about funding, grants, etc. of new music:

I have to admit, this has been one of my least favorite subjects of late. I think our art form has become infected with a depressing careerism which has crowded out the things that got us into this in the first place, which I guess would be the love of sounds. Clearly the support for the arts, and all other superstructure, has been on the wane in this country steadily since 1980 and this trend shows no sign of changing. Clearly there has been a steady philistinization of our culture. There are fewer resources to go around so it is natural that the competition gets stiffer.
Moreover, the music "industry" has been in a freefall for a few years now.

Attali suggests that the economy of music-making is a harbinger of economic trends in the culture at large. Does that mean that our society is in for complete economic collapse in the future?

Well, maybe music should be modeling something better, more sustainable.

I lived in Seattle in the '90s during which time I had a chamber opera company that did some unusual and really interesting events. They were all completely funded by ticket prices except the last one. There were three composers, a writer and some singers that came together simply to create some musical works and present them to audiences. We discovered that it was quite easy to rent a small theater and to make a simple arrangement for percentage of ticket sales for each participant in the productions. We were all invested in the success of each other. We always managed, even with all the expenses, to pay everybody involved, albeit modestly.
For the last show I was involved in, we applied for and received a grant from King County, but that piece was the most difficult to produce and the most problematic (maybe partially as a result). I think it was quite good, but the funding had many strings attached and added a kind of weight to the whole thing. The previous shows were much more fun.

I went to a conference of university music professors recently where a well-known composer gave the keynote address. The gist of it was that, it doesn't matter how good your music is if you don't know how to "get it out there", or "sell it", and that this is what we should be conveying to our students. It was kind of a depressing talk. I thought, why not talk about music, or sound, or harmony, or timbre. That's what I'm interested in. If I have to spend more time thinking/talking/teaching about self-promotion than this transcendent art form, then I want out, and I don't want to recommend the activity to my students. It all has to start with the work. What I would like to call sharing of this work can only occur when there is something of value to share.

Excessive self-promotion and grantwriting can be harmful to the imagination and spirit in my experience because you are forced to focus so much on yourself. Plus you end up trying to second-guess other people, and thus begin to self-censor your work. I guess this is where I think collectives that are run by composers (like Salty Cricket, and, I think, Seattle Experimental Opera) are quite good. You minimize the red-tape and help/support/nurture other artists. It's so much better than competing, trying to beat other artists in zero-sum-gain situations. If you create a performance situation using the same level of creativity that you bring to your composing and promote fellow artists' work in the process, then you get away from the kind of self-centered thing that I think is so corrosive.

I'm not against grants or applying for them, but I think we need to get our values straight and put music-making first. If fighting tooth and nail for a few dollars and trying to beat out the other guy crowds out the time, energy, attention and joy of imagining, making and sharing sounds (not to mention family, religion and other pursuits), then maybe we need to find other ways of making music.

Choose or find some sounds to make
Find/choose a time and place to share these sounds
Find people to make and hear these sounds

Do this a lot. After doing your best, working hard and listening to inspiration, don't worry too much about:
1. If people like it
2. If you'll become rich and famous
3. If it will lead to more "opportunities"
4. If it's any good
These are all by-products of inspired, diligent and joyous work. The rewards should be in the work itself, not so much in the byproducts, because they are unpredictable.