With all the heavy-handed rhetoric that floods our airwaves, I’d like to point you toward one of the most intelligent, respectful arguments I’ve ever come across – an argument with far deeper roots than any political affiliation.
Is Belief in God Good, Bad or Irrelevant collects a series of e-mails between Preston Jones, a professor at a small Christian college, and Greg Graffin, lead singer of the notoriously atheistic punk band, Bad Religion (and Ph.D. of Biology from Cornell University).
When I first stumbled upon this book, I regarded its very existence as a minor miracle. You see, Bad Religion has been my favorite band since age 16.
Just as grunge was dying out and everyone was forced to turn either to jam bands or classic rock, I was privileged to hear BR blaring over the stereo of the old Ford Fairmont my best friend and I used to navigate our New Jersey suburbs. The first lyrics I heard: “Do what you want. Do all you can. Break all the fucking rules and go to hell with superman and die like a champion, yeah, hey!” Now that was punk rock. And I was hooked.
Strangely though, the music of these angry atheists did not send me spiraling toward the pits of hell. Instead it made me think, it made me question and ultimately, it solidified my faith and my resolve to live life differently.
Despite not believing in God, BR has a strict sense of morality. Their songs are fraught with righteous indignation (possibly my favorite emotion), calling out the hypocrisy and abuse of corporations, government and the church. Jesus did quite a bit of this himself, if you recall, and he was most critical of the church because it was doing a poor job representing God. At this stage of my life it was much easier for me to identify with lyrics illuminating superficiality and selfishness than lyrics about how awesome Jesus was (sorry, Newsboys).
Also, as angry and negative as Bad Religion gets, their albums are peppered with hopeful songs like Slumber or Sorrow, the latter of which limply professes to be sarcastic, but the melody and lyrics remain infused with a spiritual tone as Graffin repeats the gospel-like refrain, “There will be sorrow no more.”
I’ve often wished I could take Greg Graffin to task on these observations; ask him how he could embrace such a strict morality and sing so hopefully without any faith in an afterlife or higher power. Thankfully, Jones does it for me in this book, and better than I ever could.
I don’t think I’d be giving anything away by telling you that Graffin does not get ‘saved’ in the end. But I do think his assumptions about Christianity and Christians are challenged by the thoughtfulness, respect and care that Jones puts into his correspondence. It’s worth a read, if only to demonstrate how to convey beliefs intelligently and sincerely, while cultivating a genuine relationship with someone who thinks differently. When all too often we send the hard oak trees of belief crashing down on peoples’ heads, Jones reminds us how to plant a seed.
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