Why I Don’t Sing

 This follows up on the previous post (Why we sing), so it might be best to read that first.

 

It is one of the unfortunate truths of life that everything in the light casts a shadow, especially where people are involved.

Humanity seems to have an inerrant knack for twisting what is good into something destructive. If it weren’t for people, Communism would have worked. Hell, if it weren’t for people, it would never have been necessary. We are selfish creatures, too busy chasing our own gain to realise that we aren’t actually gaining at all. We lie to ourselves to cover the hairline cracks in our egos. Humans are artists of self-destruction.

When we sing, we remember. We rediscover old feelings. We connect in fresh ways with stale subject matter. The artistic impulse is one of clarification and re-evaluation, which is good. But the sirens stand on the rocks and their song is a call to the depths. 

We also sing to awaken feeling that have never before rippled down our spines. We sing because it is hypnotic. We sing because everyone else is doing it and we are, after all, herd animals.

Those are not always bad things. Bonding is an active process facilitated by shared experiences. The ability of music to put you in another’s shoes is laudable, isn’t it?

Church music has been getting more and more hip since the 40’s, if you believe the right people. There is even something like Christian black metal these days, which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one. Which is why they call it white metal. So they’re at least exempt from Satanism. 

While music in the worship service itself has stayed closer to Christianity’s associated norms, it hasn’t been left behind in its mass youth appeal. Large bands play catchy songs to crowds of thousands, while the lights and smoke machines ensure that church is an epileptic-free zone. Which wouldn’t be so bad if the songs weren’t so damn stupid.

I love hymns. Always have. Having grown up with them, I find in their metric perfection a kind of stability I don’t feel in more modern church songs. They are dense, with meaning flowering out from them every time you return. I could picture some theologian working for weeks on a turn of phrase, puzzling over the significance of what is being said, and I could respect that.

Those songs were statements about God and man and the universe. In our postmodern condition, even the hymns have turned inward. These days, worship music is focused around the repetitive enunciation of some existential propaganda. People are encouraged to sing things that, if they took the time to make their endorphin-soaked brains pay attention, should give them pause, if nothing else.

Do you really love Jesus more than life? Can we as middle class privileged kids even say something like that? You’re the only one that I can live for. I will never let You go. These phrases start sounding more like desperate wishful thinking the more I think about them.  Do we sing them because they’re true? Do we sing them because they feel true while the music’s got us by the reptile brain? Do we need them to be true?

I can’t answer these questions for you.

As well as turning to statements of impossible zeal, modern worship music seems to become all about me. Don’t get me wrong- I love that. I’m just as self-obsessed as the next guy. But when the songs I sing while supposedly worshiping the almighty Creator sound like ads for self-help books, I feel like something’s awry.

What happened to the songs that affirm that I may sometimes doubt? Where did the realism go? Why can’t songwriters think through the theological implications of their lyrics? We’re dished up songs that sound nice, that sound like they should be right, but we don’t really look at them. It feels so nice to sing these things even when they don’t gel with the basic tenets of my faith.

So I am left standing quietly in the pews, frustrated and confused for refusing to sing that which I can’t back up or believe. Songs indoctrinate so subversively. Songs whip whole congregations into suggestible frenzies exactly like primitive rituals have done for millennia. Songs trigger artificial feelings of unity. Songs are dangerous things.

 

And that is why I don’t sing.

I stay quiet, and in the silence I have sometimes found God.

 

Selah.