15 comments on “A Few Deeper Thoughts: Religion in Music, My (Lack of?) Jewishness, Affinity for Muslim Music, an Ancient Conflict, La Kahena…

  1. Rob,

    Many thanks, and “fawn” all you want. I really do appreciate it when I get such positive comments from the three to five readers of this blog. :)

  2. Richard,
    I don’t know if it crossed your mind, but I don’t believe any very high work of art has come out of atheism per se: of course a number of masterpeices have atheists as their authors, but I think it’s just normal that faith should strive at the celebration of beauty and rhythm. Don’t take this as a criticism of your atheism, but rather as a disinterested comment by a fellow lover of the arts!

  3. Yves, thank you for going back to this post way back in this blog’s history, from before it was even a filmi/Bolly blog, way back to its infancy two and a quarter years ago! I’ve thought of deleting this stage of the blog (and have actually taken out a few posts from this period) because it is so incongruous with much of what I’ve been doing here during the past two years. Nonetheless, a discussion of my affinities for South Asian culture, much Muslim culture, and Sufi music isn’t all that far from some things I’ve been talking about here lately. :)

    I wish I had more time for this discussion, but at present, I can only relate a few things about your comment that occurred to me:

    First of all, I don’t think any high work of art has come out of religion per se, but particular religions. To draw a parallel, one would have to think about whether there are particular philosophies based on opposition to religion or thoughts alternative to it which might have inspired high forms of art (or art in general). I think that would include most strains of Marxism, existentialism, surrealism, dadaism, and possibly most of the rationalism that characterized the enlightenment. :) If you include everything inspired by these ideas, that’s an astronomical body of work! And I think it’s more than just a matter of people creating things who happen to be atheists, because so much artistic work has been inspired specifically by either a direct opposition to religion or a celebration of reason outside of religion. This applies to writing, music, fine art, probably dance as well. And then there’s a lot of good stuff in the arts (whether high or “populatr”) which is directly inspired by the denial or opposition to religion.

    I don’t want to get into listing all the examples, but you certainly should be able to find a lot of stuff if you live in France. :) (I am something of a Sartre fan, you know – though I don’t go nuts about existentialism in general.)

    Regarding my own philosophy, I’ve drifted in the past couple of years away from calling myself an atheist, because I think most people who define themselves as atheists claim absolute knowledge that there is nothing beyond the physical, scientific world that they know about. I have come to believe, increasingly, that human perceptions are just very limited, no matter how advanced our science, and there is therefore a a whole lot of stuff outside of what we are able to perceive or can ever perceive. I’ve seen some of this strain of thinking in expressions of Buddhism or Hinduism (especially in criticism of arrogance – and I like critcism of arrogance!), but I think by definition, this approach alone would have to be called agnostic. I also find the philosophical orientation of many spiritual thinkers to be very appealing compared to the vulgar materialism so common in our world. I discuss this somewhat toward the end of my current “About page” (and I did at one point think about this old post while I was writing it :) .

  4. Richard,

    I found the response to Yves’ (whose writing I enjoy very much) gave me a lot of food for thought and crystalised some of my own, more vaguer thoughts when such things come up.
    I think most genuinely moderate people in the end tend to drift away from absolutes about anything, but then, you need a lot of strong feeling about something to create something exceptional in the first place. And I agree that a lot of these in history have come out of strong opposition to ideas current at the time.

    I am not particularly religious (or rather only very minutely) but have a fondness of some aspects of the philosophy of the religion I happened to be born into (sikhism) in its original conception. One of them is that the entire holy book of the Sikhs is written set to Indian Raags, so that you can sing any part of it; so maybe that is the bit that got me bitten with the music bug…

  5. Bawa, so you are, indeed, a sikh. That’s interesting. Whatever the contents of the holy book, I can’t imagine objecting entirely if it’s set to Indian ragas! :)

    I’m not sure what a “genuine moderate” would be, exactly. It seems the definition would vary, depending on who’s providing it. In international relations, when two groups are killing people, one defines the other as the fanatics while they themselves are the moderates. ;)

    Religion is one matter, but it’s especialy hard for me not to express my skepticism when the idea of the “moderate” is applied to politics.

    I would think that ideally, tolerance, compassion, and humanity would be considered traits of the moderate while those who support a policy that tolerates or increases the death and suffering of many people would be the extremists. But in my own country, it seems the latter are often called the moderates while the former are the radical left wingers. But I guess I’m going a bit off on a tangent here. :)

  6. Thats unfortunately is so true. I think people who I know as being moderate are the ones who end up not always being on the same side; because they tend to consider each issue on its own merits, and also to put themselves in the other’s place.
    This latter quality is seriously lacking in all people with extreme views, whether religious or political.

    The Sikh holy book is poetry written by the different gurus, although amount varies plus a lo of other holy people, mostly from the mystic and sufi movements. Some of the poems are lovely indeed, it is a pity that we don’t truly follow their philosophy…but that is another story.

    Ones I particularly like, despite my unreligiousness, are
    Mittar Pyare Noon (I want to tell my woes to my beloved friend) sung by Rafi

    And Koi Bole Ram ram

    And this one, in very classical mode, my mum’s favourite

  7. Thanks, Bawa. I’ll have to get back to these, give them some time later. By the way, I have no idea why the last one has come out as a clip and the others are just links. Let me know if you have any preference re. which way these should appear.

  8. Hello Richard,

    Thanks for the detailed answer you took time to write about this question of creation. Of course, you’re quite right: artistic creation is done by people who feel this urge to express themselves artistically, and who happen to be atheists or religious. And it’s true too that reaction to mainstream religions has prompted artistic creations; no one could deny that.
    I suppose what I wanted to say is that there is a hand in hand cooperation between believing and creating: and in this respect, atheistic arstists “believe” just as much, I’d say. They believe in the meaning which their works of art express beyond their immediate materiality; they believe in the need for absoluteness that exists in man (here I include what Bawa has written in her responses) and that prompts creators to reach for beauty and meaning.
    You’ve understood that I’m a believer myself; I’m a Christian catholic by faith. I merely say this because you were straightforward enough to mention your own position.
    In fact I’m not far from thinking that “religion” is something almost natural in man, it’s a yearning for the absolute that we more or less all feel, faithful or atheists. It’s a need for justice, for truth, for hope, for comfort even, which life on Earth doesn’t always guarantee. Faith is the real contrary to atheism, not religion. Faith is the decision of the mind to adhere to one body of revealed knowledge about the supernatural, and it often needs a rational backing up to transform it from religiousness into a adult faith. In a way, a given faith is a philosophy which admits there’s someone (or something) beyond man to explain the mysteries of our condition.

  9. Yves, I don’t think I expressed myself well there. I firmly believe that what we have in hand is what is, and have no reason to think anymore exists (other than my own ego). To make the most of what is here and now, and do the best I can, and really I do not know or particularly care after that.

    In that way I also agree with Guru Nanak’s philosophy of working hard and doing your best while living your ordinary life, and not opting out (hermits, or nuns, etc.) which he himself tried and decided was “copping out”.

    Richard, I don’t know why it does that either: I puzzled over it and then gave up! The second one perhaps is best for you, as it has a translation supplied, but as you appreciate Rafi as well, the first one is a superlative rendering by him. I will try to find a translation of it so that you can appreciate the lyrics.

  10. I wrote a comment earlier today somewhat similar to what Bawa is saying, but the gods must have gotten angry, because it simply disappeared! :)

    Anyway, Yves, a couple of thoughts in response to what you said:

    First of all, I don’t think the quest for meaning “beyond materiality” can always be defined as religion; that’s more or less a definition for philosophy. Personally, I do feel the need for a sort of philosophy in life, as well as a need to constantly improve upon it. But there are a lot of people who don’t feel such a need at all.

    The search for justice and truth isn’t religion either; that’s basic human ethics. I believe that religion is a form or structure that was given to such a search and such values in general, often hand-in-hand with an attempt to enforce them on [a] society. (Religion has also been used to enforce ideas or attitudes that I would not personally consider so beneficial, but that’s another matter.) And, of course, there will usually be differences of opinion as to whether a given structure or form was artificially created by human beings or whether it is based on something real beyond the lives that we see in front of us.

    My third point is most similar to Bawa’s: Regarding your last line, “In a way, a given faith is a philosophy which admits there’s someone (or something) beyond man to explain the mysteries of our condition”… It could be that there is someone or something but he, she, or it has neither the will nor ability to explain to us. :) Personally, I have moved to the belief that there are mysteries which we will never be able to solve or explain, so, while it is nice sometimes to ponder them, it might also be a good idea to spend some time addressing the physical and social realities around us and try to improve the world as we know it – even going so far as trying to create what we would call a better world.

    Unfortunately, it seems to me that there is not much will among many in the society around me these days to work for a better world. We’ve got a severe work ethic here in the U.S. (at least in our public discourse), but it’s all about working for individualistic self improvement or, at best, working for our immediate families, and not working collectively to change the whole society. Personally, I admit I don’t always have the same work ethic as many other people have when it comes to individual advancement (not at least according to prevalent social standards), and I don’t have children or a spouse who need supporting (in fact, I don’t have children or a spouse at all – and in my present condition, I think that is probably a good thing). But when I become involved in a movement that attempts to improve the social conditions of the world around us, I can end up working very hard.

    At the same time, for completely nonreligious and not-so-admirable reasons, I understand completely the desire to be a hermit. :) When the social reality around us often seems so dreadful and when improvement seems like such an unlikely goal, it’s perfectly understandable to want to withdraw from the world. And I understand perfectly the enjoyment one can get from getting lost in inner thoughts and solitude.

    I don’t ascribe a higher moral value to the hermit or recluse, but neither would I wholly discourage or look down upon such a person. Sure, we should all contribute to our society in some way, but how much of the work that people do in pursuit of the Almighty Dollar (or another currency) has real social value anyway? And the recluse/hermit could be cultivating thoughts in a way that will result in some interesting creative work sometime in the future. :)

  11. Agree with everything you say, as you express it much better than I can.

    I too can see the benefits of solitude many many many times…and in many ways I am. I mentioned that point in sikhism because it was something radically different to what the indian philosophy had been saying up to then; renouncing the world was the Most Admirable thing, and then this person came along and said, hmm, you know what, this is not necessarily what we should be aiming for in this world, and there might be other, equally good ways of serving God, which he believed in, and God= Truth. (Sikh greeting= Truth will be Victorious). It is a pity that it often seems to be the opposite in the real world.

    I remember my dad discussing religions when I was a teenager. He had just finished reading the Koran (!) and he saw a fundamental difference between the 3 main western religions, which he called “the desert religions”, born in harsh climate where rigorous rules and norms helped humans to survive in their everyday lives, and the religions seemed to come out with this action X= result Y. Indian/eastern religions, born in lands that were prosperous and were easy living at the time, where the religions seemed to have very few hard and fast rules and where you had to make up your own mind about everything. Rules in sikhism for instance, came a lot later, and you really have to make up your own mind on whether your actions are good or bad.

  12. I remember, a while back, reading an amusing essay by Gore Vidal in which he referred to those “desert religions” as the “sky god” religions, and I think he said some similar things.

    Of course, though. people certainly have acted harshly and committed atrocities in the name of eastern religions too…

    And by the way, by strange coincidence, I have been busy tonight doing something of a writeup on the movie Nastik(!), which I had already set aside to watch and probably write about before this new discussion at this old post happened. I think I’m going to have to put the Nastik post aside for the moment, but you can probably count on seeing it sometime later today (Tuesday)…

  13. Look forward to the post!
    Will have to look up Gore Vidal, maybe my father picked it up from him, as it was one of the authors on his bookshelves, now that I think about it.

    I didn’t mean that they committed harsher atrocities- we have a long and bloody history re-that- it is that they have very clear rules on everything -this is sin, this is not, this will get you plus points, for this you get ounished unless you get cleared by a priest, etc. I think the rules are much like life in a harsher climate, where there is less leeway in your daily life too (for instance, cultivating crops).

    There are a lot less actual rules in eastern religions, but people have of course gone and developed a whole load of them because I think many people do not cope too well with having to make their own minds up about what to do, and generally humanity seems to love rituals. In a hindu or a tao household, each family seem to practice religion in their own way, and may have very different standards as to whether one action is right or wrong from a religious point of view, lets say abortion, for the sake of argument.

  14. Oh, well, I never did get that post on Nastik up this week… Got kind of stuck toward the latter part (of the post, that is!), and other things came along. I don’t feel too bad about it because I’ve been doing these blog posts more frequently than most people, but I should know better by now NOT to promise an as-yet-unfinished post for the next day!

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