Musical Religion

Monday, April 6, 2009

He walks out onto the stage amidst thundering applause. As he basks in the recognition, he raises his electric guitar; the applause grows intense in anticipation of what is to come. He readies his fingers against the strings, poised to strike the first note; the arena is suddenly silent. And then it comes: piercing, undulating, soothing, straining, the unmistakable signature of his art. The crowd goes wild.

The varied audience invariably rises to its feet and sings along to the pop concert. For a brief moment they are united, appreciating the masterpiece that is coming to life before them. Even the shyest among the crowd would clap along to the beat, joining the collective rhythm, sharing in the communal spirit.

Music is intangible and ethereal, but it has always had the concrete effect of unification. The patriotic sing together their national anthem; the religious sing together their hymns, and almost everyone enjoys popular music. Music as an art embodies the common ideals of the partakers, and music as a language binds together the will of the participants. Through their hymns, the religious share their worship and prayer. Through their anthem, countrymen share their nationalistic zeal. Through concerts, the populace shares its appreciation of the present.

Unification has another side, however: division is its twin. As unifying as music is, music is also powerfully divisive. As we listen to popular music, we develop preferences for particular performers and genres. As we sing our national anthem, we are setting ourselves apart from all the other people singing other national anthems. As we join our brethren in prayer and worship, we celebrate our own righteousness and pity the ignorant sin of our neighbors, friends, and acquaintances. For the moment, at least, the crowd is united in its willful segregation from the rest of the world.

The synthesis of unification and division is an effective means of control in politics and especially in religion. While imperial command can only travel so far in finite time, music is instantly memorable, invariably immortal. And through music, religion has conquered the world. The tenacity of religion is due in a significant way to the power of music: each religion is locked in deadly combat with the others, striving to maintain its own membership while preaching the wrongfulness of these others. What better means of control is there than the timeless hymns that have been sung since the very beginning?

As the concert nears its end, the audience savors the last notes, bonding more fiercely than ever, as if unwilling to give up the glorious moment of unity. As the performers leave the stage, the crowd sighs in content and vows to share with neighbors, friends, and acquaintances the transcendence of their experience.


  1. Primefalcon says:

    That sounds like bill and teds exellent adventure….

    Let’s just hope the real world doesn’t see the effects of ZZtops velcro fly as does the City of Lud.

    Let’s just hope the diversity doesn’t become religious wars of Country vs POP vs Metal vs Rap.

  2. Jiang Yio says:

    I haven’t watched it, but it sounds like such a trippy movie! (i.e., I might just go rent it or something)

    Well, we already have the formation of cliques and whatnot based on musical preferences. There’s no blood [yet], but it’s pretty religious :) So… I think there’s a healthy level of balance and control.

  3. Primefalcon says:

    Well the city of lud reference was to Stephen Kings dark tower series of books….

    But bill and Ted’s excellent adventure, an old cheap movie, but it is original style of movie with Keanu Reeves, basically it shows your talking about here, everyone unites behind music and see the end of war and such, because of the music. It’s lame in the extreme but if you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a watch.

  4. Jiang Yio says:

    Yeah, I have read the Dark Tower series; it’s pretty awesome. Bill and Ted sounds interesting (and yeah, lame, hehe); I’ll see if I could get my hands on it.

  5. antimatter15 says:

    Music also makes great mind-control.

  6. Jiang Yio says:

    Seeing that sound has a pretty direct pathway to the brain, why not?

  7. Primefalcon says:

    Why not, the brain is just a computer and as long as you know the langauges you can always reprogram computers

  8. Jiang Yio says:

    Hm… I wonder if the human brain is Turing computable ;p