I Will Write My Words Upon the Door

It’s an interesting feeling to wholly embrace the artistic oeuvre of someone whose artistic message you’re completely dismissive of. I’ve been listening to the albums of progressive rock musician Neal Morse nonstop for the past few weeks, in the usual manner of suddenly discovering that the musical stylings of one particular person or band are suddenly the perfect fit for my creative sensibilities at a particular point in time. Morse is an extraordinarily talented triple threat on guitar, keyboards, and vocals, and was the creative cornerstone of prog-rock outfit Spock’s Beard (finalist: world’s coolest band name) for ten years. His music is stunning in its visceral dynamism, its overwhelming emotional energy, and its subtle complexity (as a contrast to the works of a lot of progressive bands, whose Promethean-chord 4+2+5+3/8 compound-meter solos can seem just a little affected sometimes).

Only one small issue. Morse is a seriously outspoken born-again Christian who, since leaving Spock’s Beard, has focused on creating songs whose singular ambition is to celebrate his faith through personal anecdote and autobiography, overt witnessing, and rendering the medieval theological and philosophical struggles of Martin Luther in epic slabs of song. (That’s right. There’s a progressive rock album — Sola Scriptura  — based on the life of Martin Luther. Your Christmas list just got started early.)

So only one small problem — i’m completely dispassionately radicaly-atheistically opposed to the ultimate point and purpose of Morse’s lyrical message. Yet i love his music to such a degree that i find myself willing to embrace bits and pieces of that message, even as i treat the rest as someone else’s well-entitled fiction.

My thoughts on faith can be summed up most effectively by a quote from atheist commentator Stephen Roberts:

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

All in all, even in my dismissiveness, i don’t begrudge anybody else the right to believe whatever they want to believe, as long as they can make a personal case as to why they believe, and as long as that belief doesn’t harm anybody other than themselves. But in the spectrum of my cloying acceptance, i’ve always been acutely aware of the difference between philosophy (which is always okay in my books) and dogma (which isn’t). Christian philosophy is a thing i have no problem with. I believe that Christ probably existed, that many of the statements and beliefs we attribute to him are probably accurately sourced, and that many of those beliefs are worth embracing. It’s just the whole divine thing where my suspension of disbelief gets lost.

Christian philosophy is Neal Morse or anybody else saying “This is how i live my life.” Christian dogma is Neal Morse or anyone else saying “This is how you have to live your life [vague threats of hellfire optional]”. I like the fact that all the countless people on the globe can come up with different answers to the same questions. I don’t personally agree with Neal Morse’s answers, but i love how he phrases the discussion.