Monday, July 2, 2007

Devil Music

When I was in high school, back in the 80's, I was shown a book that detailed how all of the popular bands of the time were in allegiance with the devil. The argument was certainly not new, and certainly some bands cultivated this kind of image - Motley Crue and Kiss to name a couple - though for these bands, that is exactly what it was about: image. Their lyrics were more about partying and getting women than anything else. Of course, the author of the book proved himself ridiculous when he started mentioning bands like Journey. I have no comment to add - that's the punchline.

A few years later, I received the blessing of hearing Bill Hicks for the first time. His version of 'devil music' was music that had no soul, that obeyed only corporate standards, that included the likes of George Michael, Madonna, Billy Ray Cyrus, and Debbie Gibson. The devil's music, in the words of Bill Hicks, was 'lowering the standards for the perfect and holy children of God' - that was us, the listeners. Bill was looking out for our ears and our souls.

These two factors have led me to my own definition of devil's music. So here I will compile a list of types of devil music, which could potentially slow, stop, or even reverse our spiritual evolution. Also, it's annoying enough to drive rational people to want to commit heinous acts of evil - isn't that the devil's purpose, after all? To corrupt the heart, mind, and soul of people?

Here's the list of the top five offenders:
1) Christian pop
I am not talking here of gospel or bluegrass, which can be very soulful and uplifting. I am talking about the crap that tries to pass off as pop music, filled with cliches instead of uplifting ideas and substituting melodramatic whining for any kind of soulful feeling. It's packaged, cheesy, corporate crap, plain and simple. One may ask why, even if this is all true, it ranks at the top of the list. Well, according to some religious perspectives, the devil operates by insidious instead of overt means, tempting people into sin by making them think that they are actually doing God's work. Under the guise of spreading holy praise, Christian pop is actually numbing your soul. The Ten Commandments have something to say about idolatry; what is more deceitfully and suductively idolatrous than a Christian pop star?

2) Country pop
Again, I need to qualify this. I am referring here to the corporate products coming out of the Nashville music factory. Classic country - Hank, Patsy, Willie, Waylon, Merle, Johnny - can be edgy, insightful, moving, and can convey a real flavor of a region or view of life. Local country - artists like Robert Earl Keen from Texas - carry on the tradition of classic country without selling out. I am talking about the pre-packaged drivel that crawls out of Nashville recording studios to smear banality all over the airwaves. Country pop is so far out of touch with its roots that it seems like all the songs try to establish some sort of dirt road cred by throwing out any rural image they can think of instead of actually singing about something. The religious undertones contribute to its insidious intent (see #1 above). Looking at Toby Keith should convince anyone with a soul that this music is evil.

3) Regular pop
Most of the music considered to be pop (or by some delisional commentators, rock) that makes the Top 40 is crap - corporate, packaged crap (see description above). This music is lower on the list because it does not resort to the deceptive ploy of mentioning religious cliches to justify itself. It just sucks without any remorse whatsoever. Let's look at the bastardized sub-genres: Hip-Pop, Pretty Punk, Boy Bands, Pseudo-Soulsters and Folksy Flunkies. It's hard to believe that the perpetrators of this foul sin against music can walk on a stage without some degree of shame. How do they knowingly commit such atrocities? Do they truly have no conscience? Are they truly evil? They must be.

4) Muzak
Try to think of one situation when you were sitting in a waiting room waiting for something good to happen to you....That's what I thought. Muzak is the soundtrack of anxiousness and fear. Like the other genres here, it is deceptive. It is supposed to be soothing (because you are most likely waiting for something uncomfortable or even dreadful), but what is more annoying than hearing your favorite songs butchered. It simply compounds your anguish. Not to mention the aesthetic blasphemies for which this type of music is responsible.

5) Music about the devil
Um, duh....can't get more obvious than that.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Polar Bears

It has always been the 'conventional wisdom' of naturalists and conservationists that we not interfere with animal habitats. But as human pollution grows, all but eliminating some habitats, perhaps that is an outdated notion. Human interference is destroying these habitats, so humans should interfere to help these animals. In the case of the polar bears, they are unable to hunt because of the reduced ice caused by global warming, which has of course been greatly increased because of human pollutants. So it would seem that there should be no scientific objection to feeding these animals in the wild. One might argue that it would adversely affect their ability to hunt, but they are not able to hunt now anyway because of the diminishing ice. They simply can't get to food. So if they are provided with food, it might deaden their instincts, but the habitat in which those instincts work is disappearing. These animals need help, and such efforts are only correcting the problem that we are causing and simply saving their lives.

I recently saw an article that proposed that we let the polar bears die out, as though they were being naturally selected for extinction. Having their habitat destroyed by exhaust from vehicles is hardly natural selection. This person was arguing from the point of view of someone who sees environmental and conservationist efforts as an inconvenience, as something that might impede economic growth. Maybe we should take away his car and computer, and when he begins to starve, we'll call that natural selection.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Jesus T-Shirts

I was in the gym the other day and I say a guy walk in with a 'got Jesus?' t-shirt on. It really surprises me that these shirts do not offend people. I am not talking about being offensive because Jesus is mentioned on the shirt. Actually, if more people, including many who claim to be Christians, really following Jesus's teachings, the world would be a much better place. No, actually, those shirts, and bumper stickers, and bracelets, bother me, and should bother other people, because they cheapen the whole idea of Jesus.
How often have you ever seen a t-shirt that asks 'got Islam?' or a bumper sticker that proclaims 'Buddha Rocks!'

The issue is not whether a person expresses their religious beliefs - in this country that is a privilege that every individual should freely enjoy. The issue is making something that should be sacred into a silly, commercial slogan. Let's get one thing straight - the sacred is not supposed to be trendy, catchy, and fun. It is beautiful, rewarding, and difficult. One would hope that people would place more value on their spiritual views than they would on a football team or a rock band. And that is what these shirts do, basically equate the sacred figure of Jesus with other, shall we say, less than sacred organizations. Don't get me wrong - I like football and rock bands. But I also think that Jesus and what he tried to teach us might be a bit more important.

Actually, maybe that's the problem. Maybe we hold football and rock bands and the rest of it too sacred. It is discouraging to think that people need to be 'caught' by a Jesus slogan just like they need to be induced to buy a drink that provides their day's worth of calcium. If you believe, then really believe. If you need a catchy slogan, you don't really believe. And you are making a mockery of not only Jesus, but anything truly sacred. Besides, it's a stupid slogan whether it's for Jesus or for milk...

Libby Case

Something about the Libby case really bothers me. The man was tried essentially for hampering the investigation into who leaked Ms. Wilson's name to the press.

So I have questions. If a member of the CIA, an organization working for the interests of the United States government, is placed in jeopardy by another American, shouldn't those involved by tried for treason? That leak not only jeopardized the safety of a person working for and representing the United States, but also, by putting that person in jeopardy, potentially compromised the U.S. government itself. This leak was a betrayal of the United States. As far as I understand it, that is treason. Why aren't those on Capitol Hill concerned about the implications of this leak? Why aren't there more efforts being made to discover the identities of all those involved, and to try them for treason? And I think anyone with half a brain knows that there are others involved. Why aren't the American people not upset by this, whether they profess themselves Democrat, Republican, conservative, or liberal, or whatever else?

And now, Libby & Co. want to appeal this decision. There has even been talk of getting Bush to pardon Libby. To pardon anyone involved in this leak would be a terrible insult to those who believe in the principles of this country. It would basically be saying that one could betray their country out of spite for another government offical, and basically get away with it. We have heard all the talk about patriotism and love of freedom coming from the mouths of members of this administration. And yet these very people would compromise those ideals out of personal interest.

But again, the most disturbing part is, the American people raise no protest against this betrayal and hypocrisy.

Hermann, MO

My first post was a bit serious. My main point was that I will try to explore a variety of topics, many of them 'serious.' But what is life if we don't enjoy the simple things, like a great afternoon with my wonderful wife, seeing the beautiful Missouri countryside and indulging in some great food and wine.

We went to Hermann, MO, a very picturesque little town with some historical buildings and several wineries in the vicinity. The drive down was quite enjoyable; both my wife and I really love the green: trees, fields, hills, valleys - all soothingly green. Our first stop, at my wife's suggestion, was at Stone Hill Winery. The food was very good. We had a German sampler with schnitzel, sauerbaten, and knackwurst (I hope I spelled those correctly). The sauerbaten had a unique flavor and was good. The knackwurst was by no means bad, but not exceptional. The schnitzel - simply superb. I highly recommend it. I also had a glass of their Norton wine. Very strong, but a crisp finish, and tasty.

Maybe the best thing about Stone Hill is the view of the town and the hills around it. Definitely worth the drive.

We also went by Hermannhof Winery, in downtown Hermann. The wines were pretty good there, the Chambourcin being my favorite. Our last stop was the Oakglenn Winery. Their wines had some interesting flavors, and they also had a very good Norton. The view there, however, outdid the Stone Hill. Oakglenn has a nice porch where we sat and looked out over the hills and the Missouri River. Hard to top that. They also have a stage and and offer beer and food. We did not have time to stay for the band, but hopefully we will get to go back soon.

The best part of the day was just experiencing all these things with my wife. Days like this are what I cherish most in this life. What a day.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Introduction to the Garden

I have never used a blog before, so I am a little uncertain about how to begin. The blog title comes from a story by Jorge Luis Borges of the same title. In the story the narrator explains how all possibilities exist for any moment in time. The Garden is a representation of this perpetual state of potential realities.

I suppose in a way that is how I see the world, as a garden of possibilities. My screen name, sidhart24, is derived from Siddhartha, and it is an allusion to Hermann Hesse's novel of the same name. Perhaps the greatest possibility for any person, at least according to any spiritual perspective, is to attain enlightenment, in whatever form one feels that it takes. It could be the state of Nirvana, ascension to Heaven, becoming one with the cosmos, becoming one with God - the individual must discover what form spiritual enlightenment will take and how he or she will reach this goal. Hesse shows how Siddhartha must ultimately forge and follow his own path to enlightenment. This individual must be open to possibilities, for until we have left this life, we cannot conceive what form enlightenment will take. This is where faith comes in.

It seems that the common idea of faith is thoughtless devotion to one unchanging idea. If one looks at what faith must do, and that is to support the seeker as he or she struggles to attain a state that cannot be conceived, one realizes that faith cannot possibly be static. The individuals must constantly question, confront, and challenge the ideas they are introduced to, in order to see if these ideas help them to gain some understanding of enlightenment and of their own spiritual condition. It seems to me that all religions warn against taking the superficial things in our lives to be the real things of value for the spirit. Well, how can one evaluate what is superficial and what is real without questioning? And how can people say they have faith if they cannot subject their ideas and perspectives to scrutiny? I say that those who cannot question
have no faith. They have no faith because they are afraid to scrutinize their ideas and perspectives, afraid that these ideas will not stand up to scrutiny. They have retreated behind a set of superficial parameters and will find nothing more.

When one uses the word 'questioning,' quite often people take this as implying doubt or displeasure, that by questioning something, those people are just some malcontents looking to undermine others' beliefs because the malcontents are not secure in their own. And this can be the case. The questioning I am talking about is questioning how valid an idea or proposition is in terms of spiritual development, and then deciding how it fits in with one's own perspective and development. If the idea seems useful or valid, it can be assimilated, or parts of it can. If one disagrees, dismissal is only the first step. It is important to understand why one disagrees so that one can reaffirm and even continue to adjust one's own belief. Spirituality is a process of questioning, and one must have faith, not in the ideas themselves or in doctrines, but that one can find his or her way. As one of my heroes, Bill Hicks, would say, we must always remember to "squeegee our third eye."

And that is what this blog will be for: to question. I will question political ideas, religious assumptions, books, movies, pop culture, you name it. Again, by questioning I do not mean simply challenging them to tear them down. I mean exploring their possibilities, brushing away the superficial dust and seeing if there is some value there after all.

I have just realized how serious this all sounds. But never fear, no spiritual exploration would work without some humor. I'll do my best to include some as I go. Some discussiong will just be about what is cool, fun, interesting, or, on the other hand, hopelessly lame. It doesn't all have to be about spiritual growth (although perhaps in some ways it all ties together). But who says you can't have a good time along the way?