The Good Christian

Jesus Wanted PosterI don’t hate Christians. I have little tolerance for stupid Christians. In fact, my spiritual beliefs[1] fit in rather well with New Testament dogma. Unfortunately, David Byrne[2] was far more profound than almost any Christian I’ve met when he wrote, “Heaven is a place where nothing happens.” One Christian I like is Bruce Cockburn, who you may remember from his hit in the late 1970s, Wondering Where the Lions Are. That’s a take on the Roman’s feeding the Christians to the lions. Every time I’ve seen him do the song (well over a dozen times live), he shows such joy in doing it. I think the idea is about sacrificing. I don’t know if he really believes he is going to heaven, that place that doesn’t actually exist, or if he is of the Terry Eagleton school of Christianity, which has everything to do with politics and almost nothing to do with God. I tend to think the latter, because Cockburn is a smart guy. Certainly it is the case that he has spent his whole life working to make the world more just, forgiving, and above all, humane.

Here is Pacing the Cage, which he told me, “It’s about feeling trapped.” As I often say, artists should never explain their work because they usually don’t get it. Sure, it is about being trapped. But it’s about a lot more than that. I could go on about learned helplessness and things like that, but it’s better to listen to a master:

[1] As Denys Turner speaks about beautifully, there is only one question: why existence? It is a profound question and one that gives me great pleasure because I like mystery. It is a thrill and a gift to be alive and to wonder about the universe and eternity. But it is hubris to think that you matter in a cosmological sense. We do not exist, then we exist, and then we do not exist. That’s it. I’m with Carl Jung when asked, “Do you believe in God?” He responded, “I don’t need to believe; I know.” But “God” is a very bad word for what I know, because of the way almost all religious people define the term, which is utterly at odds with my own.

[2] When I was young, I loved Talking Heads. Their first album was good and the next three were great. And then there was Speaking in Tongues which was okay, the way a sunny day is on the edge of a hurricane. Bad things were coming. Stop Making Sense was a live album — not bad, but it’s hard for me to be objective since I saw them on that tour twice. Then the ax fell: Little Creatures was released and I knew (to quote Beckett) beyond all doubt that David Byrne was a sham. The great music of Talking Heads was due a lot to Byrne, of course; but it was also due to Tina Weymouth, Chris Frantz, Jerry Harrison (pity the man who had to put up with the delightful but crazy Jojo), and especially Brian Eno. And given that all indications are that Byrne was and most likely still is a complete jerk, I can’t listen to any of those three great albums without some sadness. Here’s Heaven from Stop Making Sense:

Notice a little trick here. Only two people on stage. Weymouth doesn’t have a mic. Who is singing backup on the chorus? It sounds like Byrne (I don’t think they had the autotune software for doing background singing live back then), but it could be someone off stage. Regardless, it strikes me as a little disingenuous. If you’re going to slowly build up your band, then really do it. Otherwise, you’re nothing more than The The or Howard Jones.

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