Sunday, March 05, 2006

Music without God

True atheism requires great courage. Facing a random and purposeless universe, embracing despair -- these are terrifying experiences ill-advised for the faint of heart. An even more daunting proposition is to live accordingly. This is where most atheists fail -- they borrow existential capital from the Christian universe and live as if their lives had meaning and intrinsic value.

I don't know for certain that John Cage (1912-1992) was an atheist, but he composed like one. Prior to the 20th century, most composers believed that the universe was inherently ordered and meaningful, and their music reflected this. Cage believed that the universe was random and meaningless, and sought to portray this truth in his work. (For a sample of Cage's Sonata II, click here. For Winter Music (1957), click here.) As Jackson Pollock did in his art, Cage employed chance to "create" his music. If everything we know in the world is ultimately the product of chance, then music composed in this way is more real or true than the artificial constructions of Bach or Mozart.

Inevitably, Cage's philosophy was merely a whim of convenience which he applied only in his art. An avid mycologist (mushroom collector), he admitted that he could not employ his methodology of randomness to his hobby. He commented, "I became aware that if I approached mushrooms in the spirit of my chance operations, I would die shortly." Siphoning off meaning and purpose from a theistic worldview, Cage lived as if there were such a thing as order when it suited him. I applaud him, however, for the integration of his music with his cosmic nihilism.

1 Comments:

Blogger wiploc said...

True atheism requires great courage.

You have no reason to say this.




Facing a random and purposeless universe,


Christians are the ones who think natural laws are violable. Therefore Christians picture the world as more random, not less, than atheists do.

As for purpose, our purposes are as good as yours. I've often heard the Christian claim that they have a leg up on us purpose-wise, but they never support that claim with a purpose better than atheists have.




embracing despair --


What despair? There's no despair to embrace.

If we thought there was a powerful invisible eccentric casting people into the eternal torment of Hellfire, now that would be grounds for despair.

We atheists live in what Christians call "a state of grace." Christians believe that if they can get the angry invisible god to forgive them, so that he's no longer angry at them, that they are then in a state of grace. That's the state that atheists live in: there is no god, therefore he isn't angry at us!

Which world sounds better:

1. Even though god may not be angry at you, he is still casting other people into Hellfire.

2. God isn't angry at anybody, and doesn't cast anybody into Hellfire.

If atheists are right, we live in the better and happier world than if Christians are right.




these are terrifying experiences ill-advised for the faint of heart.

You can't support this claim. You don't have a case.




An even more daunting proposition is to live accordingly. This is where most atheists fail -- they borrow existential capital from the Christian universe and live as if their lives had meaning and intrinsic value.

I'd love to see someone try to support this.

Chris, is it okay if I quote your post over at Internet Infidels? I'm thinking it will spark a lively discussion. We have a number of Christians there who are likely to try to support your claims.

crc

1:13 PM  

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