Monday, December 03, 2007

Is Certain Music Sinful?

There is no such thing as music that is sinful. This is because things are not sinful in themselves. Rather, sin is a function of the human heart.

Nevertheless, some forms of music can be reflective of worldviews that seep into the culture and then influence composers without them even realising it. Thus, music written during the Western tonal age was reflective of Trinitarian Theism even without artists realising it, because the Biblical worldview permeated that entire culture. That is why such music can have an underlying ‘message’ even when it is instrumental. The ‘message’ that we find in Christian composers such as Bach, Mozart, Handel as well as pagan composers like Mozart and Beethoven is that there is unity and diversity, that time is linear, that history has a beginning and an end, that the universe is ordered, and so forth. Such music therefore gives glory to God even if the artists are not self-consciously doing it for those reasons.

Eastern forms of music are often based on the pentatonic scale in which there is no beginning and end and in which there is no need for resolution. This has a ‘message’ that time is cyclic – that history comes from nowhere and is going no where. Now this does NOT mean that all composers who wrote in the pentatonic scale held to a circular worldview, but it does mean that the general religious consensus of Asia is reflected by their musical forms.

Given the above principles, we should expect that as Western culture moves away from a Biblical worldview, our music will become progressively reflective of non-Biblical religious commitments. Examples would be music that is overtly aggressive, chaotic and dark as well as postmodern styles that glory in sentimentalism and triviality. In this way, many contemporary styles are increasingly reflecting a non-biblical worldview even if individual composers working in those styles may themselves be Christians. Now this does not mean that playing or listening to such music is a sin, but it does mean that music can give a message independent of the lyrics. As Christians seeking to be wise and discerning, we do not want to be naive to that message or to think that we can change that deeper message by simply tacking on Christian lyrics.



To join my mailing list, send a blank email to phillips7440 (at sign) roadrunner.com with “Blog Me” in the subject heading.

3 comments:

Patrick said...

All the music of the Antiochean eastern Orthodox churches is non-tonal and modal because tonality wasn't even invented until the middle ages.

JoshVV said...

I’ve never really understood the logic behind assigning morality to music. In my lifetime, I have done so much research on this subject in an attempt to understand the concept of the moral polarity of music that it's almost overwhelming because there are so many varying opinions on the subject.

So from my perspective, I would like to comment on something you said in your blog.

"The ‘message’ that we find in Christian composers such as Bach, Mozart, Handel as well as pagan composers like Mozart and Beethoven is that there is unity and diversity, that time is linear, that history has a beginning and an end, that the universe is ordered, and so forth. Such music therefore gives glory to God even if the artists are not self-consciously doing it for those reasons.

Eastern forms of music are often based on the pentatonic scale in which there is no beginning and end and in which there is no need for resolution. This has a ‘message’ that time is cyclic – that history comes from nowhere and is going no where."

My first comment is actually more of a question. How do we know that the composition of this music is a picture of an orderly or disorderly universe? Couldn't both forms of music just as easily be presented as being pictures of something else?

For example: A person could say that music with a clear beginning and end violates the true nature of reality. Especially when it comes to Christian music because the human soul is, as created by God and as God Himself, eternal. So to listen to music that speaks to the soul and in some cases speaks directly of eternity, God's salvation, and God's love toward us through lyric, but has a clearly defined conclusion, would be deceiving because it would undermine the truth that our souls, God's salvation, His love, and our time with Him are/will be eternal.

Furthermore a person could say that music which speaks of God’s sovereignty, yet contains diversity, would speak to the mind on some level and communicate that there is more than one God and that they are all diverse and different, yet exist in harmony.

And they could follow by saying that music which consists of a constant three note chord, plus an additonal note, that never changes and never ends is the only truly pure form of music because it would accurately represent the three in one that is the Trinity, and the one eternal part of man, which is his soul, that will all live in constant harmony for all eternity never changing - always the same - yesterday, today, and forever.

All this to say... No offence, but I'm not convinced. Like I said, I've heard so much logic and discussion about the morality of music that anything short of clear scripture used in the context of speaking about the morality of any form of music directly is unacceptable for me, and should be for anyone else as well.

Robin Phillips said...

Thanks joshvv. If assigning morality to music is problematic in principle, as you argue, then that applies equally to your counter-examples. Further, my argument is not that music is a sort of didactic picture of certain worldviews (and hence the description of my position as ‘assigning morality to music’ is misleading), but, rather, that certain sorts of music presuppose or reflect certain basic assumptions about how we view the world. Let me give a very basic example that I can defend quite easily and then we can move to debate some of my more iffy claims. Do you believe that orderly musical patterns which rely on mathematical coherence can be adequately accounted for in metaphysical systems that reduce the universe to a matter of blind chance? If the answer is yes, then I would want to debate that. If the answer is no, then a corollary is that the worldview of chance is incompatible, on least on some level, with the musicological features mentioned above. If you agree then you have accepted in principle that my basic contention is correct, and we can go on to discuss the details of your counter-examples one at a time.

Buy Essential Oils at Discounted Prices!