Monday, March 7, 2011

Music Theory

I think that in many ways, religion worships mystery. When I look at the history of religion, one of its main purposes seems to be to explain the unexplainable. Where did we come from? Well, Father Time slept with Mother Earth. Or Kukulkán and Tepeu made humans from maize. Or Yahweh made everything in six days. Where do we go when we die? Well, we go to the house of Hades. Or we spend eternity in some sort of paradise. Or... nothing happens. We're just dead. 

So, when I say religion worships mystery, I mean that it derives its raison d'être from humans' inability to explain the world. In ancient mythopoeic religion, humans explained natural phenomena by anthropomorphizing them. Everything had a persona behind it. There were river gods, rain gods, mountain gods, fertility goddesses, plant gods-- everything had a god behind it. These gods served to explain the natural world, which otherwise seemed completely nonsensical. 

In time, however, humans developed better ways of explaining things. For the Greeks, this was philosophia-- the love of wisdom. During the European Renaissance, "natural philosophy" was the study of the natural world. And this natural philosophy became what we now call science. I don't think I have to reiterate the story of how Christianity fought against science, how people like Galileo were persecuted for being so brazen as to undercut the church's monopoly on "truth." There's a reason that religion was so threatened by rational inquiry. If there were other ways of finding out knowledge, then religion was entirely unnecessary. 

Religion stifles knowledge and inquiry. It worships the gaps in our knowledge by filling them with gods. It tries to get us to be satisfied with answers that aren't answers, to persuade us that we don't need to know, don't need to ask why and how and when, tries to convince us that the ultimate virtue is ignorance. But they don't call it ignorance. They call it faith

And religion has been very successful in pulling this off. It has succeeded in convincing people that without ignorance, life is meaningless. Without faith, without mystery, without God, what meaning is there to existence? Without the promise of eternal reward and the threat of eternal damnation, why should one treat one's fellow human beings well? This is the great lie of religion. Ignorance and mystery add nothing to life except fear and misery. 

I'm a musician. For a time, I thought that studying music theory would remove the sublimity of music. Oh, how mistaken I was! I'll admit, my knowledge of music theory is limited, but what I do know has not diminished my admiration for music one bit. On the contrary, my understanding of scales and intervals and overtones has enhanced my love of music. 

Human beings love the experience called wonder. But there are two kinds of wonder. One comes from ignorance, and the other from understanding. Having experienced both, I can say that the wonder of understanding is much deeper, much more beautiful, and infinitely preferable to the wonder of ignorance. God is not necessary to explain the universe. We don't need religion to be good. These artificial, two-dimensional explanations only cheapen our experience of the beautiful universe that we are a part of. 


  1. May I submit that, when you get the man-controlled religion part of of the way, a faith or world-view does not necessitate this attitude? I'm not trying to change your mind, but I would say that someone with faith can still look at reality, wonder at the science and at what it is and how it works, without compromising their faith. Perhaps, to someone who isn't brainwashed by a money-grubbing religion that tells you not to question, faith and science are just two sides of the same coin.

  2. Thanks, Lee. I agree with you on that-- it's possible for many people to reconcile science and faith, if by "faith" one means spirituality and a belief in a higher power. There are a few religious ideologies that I think are compatible with this without too much alteration-- Buddhism is one. But in terms of organized religion, I see it as something that started out as a way to explain things and ended up needing to cling to ignorance in order to preserve itself.

    With Christianity, a lot depends on your approach, I think-- specifically, your approach to the Bible. If you take it literally, you have to believe that God created the world ex nihilo in six days, that there was a world-wide flood and that the Noah's Ark story is true, that language diversity originated at the Tower of Babel, and lots of other things that just aren't warranted. I'm not able to accept that, since it doesn't seem much different to me than any other Bronze Age mythology. On the other hand, if one doesn't take the Bible literally, I just don't see a whole lot of use for it. The moral lessons it gives leave something to be desired, unless you pick and choose what you like. And if you do that, you've already got some external criteria for your choosing, so why even bother sifting through an old book when you've got your own sense of ethics?

    All that said, though, I do respect your point of view on this. My main beef is with aggressive, exclusivist organized religion, because I consider crimes against free thought to be among the most reprehensible. If any religion doesn't impede free inquiry and dogmatically insist that there's no room to grow in knowledge, then I haven't got much of a problem with it, even if I don't necessarily subscribe to the theology.

    Thanks for commenting! :)