Now, About Those Differences, Part Seven

NickOfTimeRead Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.

Second Premise Arguments

Making generalizations about either fundamentalists or other evangelicals is a bit presumptuous. Both groups are quite diverse, and exceptions can be found to most generalizations. Non-fundamentalistic evangelicalism covers an especially broad array of influences and movements.

The diversity of each group has rarely been realized by the other, however, and so each group does tend to posit generalizations about the other. One of those generalizations has to do with the matter of worldliness and legalism. Fundamentalists tend to think of other evangelicals as worldly. Those evangelicals tend to think of fundamentalists as legalistic.

We are not yet to the point of weighing the merits of these perceptions. For the moment, what we are trying to do is to understand what each group means when it speaks about the other. What do fundamentalists see that leads them to think evangelicals are worldly? What do evangelicals see that leads them to perceive fundamentalists as legalistic?

Articulating these perceptions more fully will be useful in two ways. First, it will furnish us with criteria for assessing the merits of the judgments that evangelicals and fundamentalists make about each other. Second, it will provide us with a device for distinguishing some evangelicals from other evangelicals as well as some fundamentalists from other fundamentalists.

In a previous discussion, I have suggested that the mutual recriminations of fundamentalists and evangelicals center upon two areas: standards of conduct and methods of ministry. I have further suggested that controversy over standards of conduct centers upon two kinds of issues: revivalistic taboos and second-premise arguments.

By second-premise arguments, I mean those attempts to apply Scripture that rely not only upon a premise supplied by a specific biblical passage or principle but also upon a premise supplied from outside of Scripture. The outside (second) premise may come from any of a variety of sources: intuition, experience, observation, deduction, tradition, or even authority. The second premise provides the warrant for applying the biblical statement or principle to a particular situation.

Here is an example of a second-premise argument.

  • Biblical principle: Christians should not engage in enslaving behavior (1 Cor. 6:12).
  • Outside premise: The recreational use of heroin is enslaving behavior.
  • Conclusion: Christians should not engage in the recreational use of heroin.

What I am trying to do here is to articulate an argument that I think will be acceptable to the majority of both parties. Perhaps there are better ways of making the argument, but very few evangelicals or fundamentalists are actively advocating the recreational use of heroin as a matter of Christian liberty. Most would actually deploy several related arguments to support their stance against the recreational use of heroin: it is addictive, it is physically destructive, it damages the testimony, it is illegal, etc. My point is not to evaluate these arguments. My point is simply that they are all second-premise arguments. They all rely upon some information or perspective that comes from outside of Scripture.

Without second-premise arguments, we would not be able to apply Scripture at all. Because our names do not occur in the text, the applicability of virtually every biblical promise, command, prohibition, and principle depends upon some version of the second-premise argument. This is true even in the matter of salvation. Here is an example.

  • Biblical principle: God commands all humans everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
  • Outside premise: I am a human.
  • Conclusion: God commands me to repent.

This argument is so natural for us that we do not even realize that we are making it. Unless we did, however, we could not apply the text to our own situation. The strength of the argument depends upon the certainty of the assertion that we are humans. Since our confidence in this assertion is unshakable, we regard the application of the text as certain.

We regularly employ second-premise arguments in our moral reasoning. For example, consider a woman who is thinking about feeding her husband a large quantity of arsenic. For moral guidance we point her to Exodus 20:13, “Thou shalt not kill.” How do we respond if she asks, “What Scripture tells me that feeding arsenic to my husband will kill him?” We would reply that we do not need such a Scripture. We have other ways of knowing the consequences of ingesting arsenic, and it is precisely those ways that allow us to apply the biblical commandment to her situation.

Both evangelicals and fundamentalists rely upon second-premise arguments in all sorts of ways. When it comes to moral applications, however, I think it is fair to say that the more explicitly an argument relies upon the second premise, the more evangelicals tend to become suspicious of it, while fundamentalists tend to remain unbothered. In other words, many fundamentalists are willing to apply some second-premise arguments that many evangelicals find specious.

What are some examples of second premises over which evangelicals and fundamentalists might differ? Here is a very partial sampling.

  • Music is sensual (or rebellious).
  • Bikinis are immodest.
  • Theater is spiritually subversive.
  • Piercings and tattoos are worldly.

These premises pertain to the kind of issues over which fundamentalists and other evangelicals typically differ (though younger fundamentalists are inclined to take the evangelical side). What these premises have in common is that they rely upon an element of judgment. In the case of music, how does one judge whether a particular composition expresses rebellion or sensuality? For that matter, when is it wrong to expose one’s self to expressions of rebellion or sensuality? In the case of bikinis, how much exposure constitutes immodesty? Might this vary depending upon one’s culture? In the case of theater, how and why is it judged to be spiritually subversive? As for piercings and tattoos, are they always and necessarily worldly? If so, what makes them worldly? If not, how can we tell the worldly ones from the non-worldly ones?

Precisely because they do not come from Scripture, second premises are always subject to evaluation. To question a second premise is not to question biblical authority. Second premises can and should be examined.

Fundamentalists have sometimes failed to subject their second premises to careful examination. This failure has resulted in silly and sometimes scandalous applications of Scripture. This is the mechanism that some fundamentalists have used to prohibit slacks for women, ban interracial dating, and insist upon the mandatory use of a particular version of the Bible. One fundamentalist leader spent years denouncing the “demon of the AWANA circle.” No wonder some are skeptical of their judgments.

On the other hand, evangelicals have sometimes refused to accept any second-premise argument that relies upon a judgment. Evaluations of matters like dress or the arts are thought to be too subjective to be useful. In these areas, second-premise arguments are dismissed out of hand.

Neither extreme is really useful, and neither extreme gets one to the correct application of biblical precepts and principles. Of course, neither fundamentalists nor other evangelicals necessarily go to the extreme. Nevertheless, in general they do seem to follow these tendencies. Fundamentalists more readily accept second-premise arguments when the second premise relies upon an element of judgment, while evangelicals more quickly reject those arguments.

The True Christmas
Henry Vaughan (1621-1695)

SO, stick up ivy and the bays,
And then restore the heathen ways.
Green will remind you of the spring,
Though this great day denies the thing ;
And mortifies the earth, and all
But your wild revels, and loose hall.
Could you wear flow’rs, and roses strow
Blushing upon your breasts’ warm snow,
That very dress your lightness will
Rebuke, and wither at the ill.
The brightness of this day we owe
Not unto music, masque, nor show,
Nor gallant furniture, nor plate,
But to the manger’s mean estate.
His life while here, as well as birth,
Was but a check to pomp and mirth ;
And all man’s greatness you may see
Condemned by His humility.

Then leave your open house and noise,
To welcome Him with holy joys,
And the poor shepherds’ watchfulness,
Whom light and hymns from Heav’n did bless.
What you abound with, cast abroad
To those that want, and ease your load.
Who empties thus, will bring more in ;
But riot is both loss and sin.
Dress finely what comes not in sight,
And then you keep your Christmas right.


This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Quote:
Are you comfortable with this? Music (leaving aside lyrics) is amoral, but it has a cultural context that possesses a moral message and content within that particular culture. In other words, I deny that Rock is inherently rebellious or sinful, but I affirm that the message sent by it in the cultural context of the 50's and beyond was association with an immoral and rebellious sub-culture. As time passes, that association fades. Thus what was inappropriate for worship at that time eventually becomes possibly appropriate (decisions as to when may vary from church to church depending on a variety of factors).

I can almost agree with this, myself. Just a couple of tweaks. Since music is always in a cultural context, there is no point in saying it is (sans words) amoral. What you're saying is that it has morality that changes based on its meaning in a cultural setting.
I would agree with that, but I believe it also derives morality from many other factors such as the intentions/attitudes of the performer/listener, the effect on listeners/performers, etc. But these factors don't necessarily correlate to style much. Nevertheless they are reasons why it's impossible for music to be created, performed or listened to in an amoral way.

My other tweak would be to italicize and double underline "possibly" in "becomes possibly appropriate." There's lots of music I think is not sinful at all as a matter of morality, but which will never be suitable for worship because it's whimsical, structured in a way that can't support a text, etc. So "morality in general" and "morality for worship" are not precisely the same thing.

Don Johnson's picture

Well, we may have to part company on this point. We'll see.

Would you say that it is possible for literature to be immoral? How about painting? Sculpture?

Why is it, of all the arts, music is the only one that is amoral?

But that debate can embroil us in a long argument. My two questions above should explain my position sufficiently.

I said earlier that a difference here would bring about divisions. I think that it is possible that one could hold a view that music is amoral yet still use music that would fall into a range that I would consider basically moral. If that were the case no division would likely arise at that point in time. But someone who holds that music is amoral will likely end up making musical choices (or allowances) that would put them in a category I wouldn't want our people to emulate, so a division would occur. Not necessarily an anathema, but at least a division.

PS, in response to Aaron, I wouldn't say that the morality or acceptability of music is exclusively driven by culture. I agree that we are always in a cultural context, hence connotation can make music morally unacceptable. But I would hold that an unacceptable denotation is also possible (and quite prevalent).

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I have heard that argument, Don... that all the arts are amoral.
But again, many erase the amorality when they start qualifying it. What some mean is that the substance called paint adhering to a surface we call canvas is amoral. Probably so, like a chord is amoral. But these things never exist independently of a human being arranging the paint on the surface with some kind of intention or arranging the chord in a musical composition... again with purpose. (OK it is possible for pain to get on canvas as a result of an explosion in a paint factory... presto, amoral paintings!)

So "amorality" that is confined to physical/auditory objects isolated from their makers or any other interaction is not amorality at all in any meaningful sense. There's no point in bothering w/the category. If one allows that intention, effect, connotation, denotation, etc. all contribute to moral significance, there is no point in asserting isolated amorality at all. Since the conditions required for the amorality never exist, the proposed amorality cannot be used in support of any argument that a particular style of music doesn't matter or that all styles don't matter, etc. That's already been ruled out if one allows that music (sans words) has meaning, motive and impact whenever human beings produce it or take it in.

Mike Durning's picture

Well, I'll try to comment once more and then shut up, lest this thread morph into yet another music thread. [Why does it seem that all threads, left untended, morph into music threads? It's kind of weird. ]

Aaron, I accept your qualifications of my statement, and agree largely with your further comments afterward.

Don Johnson wrote:
Well, we may have to part company on this point. We'll see.
Would you say that it is possible for literature to be immoral? How about painting? Sculpture?
Why is it, of all the arts, music is the only one that is amoral?

Don, I don't believe the things themselves, either in genre or style, possess any moral qualities. I believe this is also true of painting or sculpture.
What some do with music would be the same as if they said, about painting, "Impressionism is of the Devil". [Which might then lead to "Since they allowed Impressionism in the school art rooms, teen pregnancy has gone up." ]
However, the communicated content of a painting (or a song, lyrically) can be immoral. Or the philosophy behind a genre can be godless. But that's not the same thing at all.

Aaron hints at an important point too.
Moral qualities are not possessed by objects, whether concrete (like a painting) or abstract. The ink on "Playboy" is not manufactured in hell (though it may as well have been). But materially, it is not different than the ink in "Scientific American". What is communicated, however, can and does possess moral tone.

I do feel that what happens with regard to rock music in, for instance, a Frank Garlock seminar*, would be like lifting up Pornographic magazines as an example, and thus preaching against all magazines.
Frankly (pun intended), I don't even think Frank Garlock* believes his own message. If so, he wouldn't play samples in his seminars. Just as I don't kill people during my sermon to demonstrate that murder is wrong.

*disclaimer: I know nothing about Frank Garlock seminars since I last heard one in the late '70's.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

There has to be meaning that is *understood* by the listener, viewer or reader of art for there to be any moral component present. To use Aaron's example of an explosion in an art factory, there is much abstract art that doesn't look too different from his description. If the viewer doesn't understand what is being depicted, it can't possibly have any moral meaning to him. The morality comes from the heart of man -- how the art is understood and processed by a human gives rise to whatever moral component is there. I don't believe the "object" can possess it at all. The same would be true with literature. I have to understand what is there for it to have any moral effect on me. Even if the literature is in English, if the author is using figures I don't understand or have no familiarity with to portray something immoral, I could read it without any adverse moral effect. We've all heard examples about the bunny symbol that can indicate something immoral to those who know what it means, and has no meaning to those who don't.

Music is much more abstract than either painting (excepting completely abstract art) or literature. Take pretty much any piece (music only) and have two people with different life experiences listen to it, and they often come away with completely different reactions. Just the difference I see when my wife and I listen to Bach (I love his music, she hates pretty much all of it) indicate to me that the meaning is in how it is perceived and understood, not the music itself. When I listen to it and get an "emotional high," but at the same time my wife is getting on edge, and irritable from the same music, any so-called inherent value is lost in the perception.

I agree with Aaron that music doesn't exist in a complete vacuum. There is the act of creation, the act of performance, and the act of listening, all done by humans who attempt to infuse what they are doing with meaning, and that meaning can certainly have a moral component. But that's exactly why I don't believe that music is *inherently* moral in nature. Even Aaron stating that chord is amoral is simply an assertion. Why is a chord not moral, but a musical phrase is? How is that measured objectively? Theoretically, if music actually has inherent moral meaning, we should be able to calculate that, and feed sheet music into a computer which can analyze all the notes, chords, phrases, harmonies, etc., and spit out the exact moral value of the music. The fact we can't do that indicates to me that any moral effect of music takes place in our hearts (which we already know are immoral by nature), not in the music itself.

This is why I not only don't believe in the "inherent morality" of music, I think it's actually useless for any true evaluation, and further, I don't believe that anyone evaluating music is actually evaluating the inherent morality. They are evaluating how it makes them feel, whether or not such feelings are appropriate for what the music would be used for, and they are also evaluating the association of the music, how it used for various things, or to attempt to cause certain emotions (even though that's very inexact), etc. The difference is that I accept that that's how music is evaluated, while many still resort to the assertion that "Music is MORAL -- it HAS to be!" thought, and then still evaluate on other grounds anyway.

Even though my standards for example, on what would be used in church, are probably very similar to Don's (in fact, from what I read, they would be pretty close to Scott Aniol's), my way of getting there is different, and more like Mike Durning's.

Edit: Mike, I see we posted similar thoughts at about the same time. It took a while to compose my message, so I didn't see yours until afterward.

Dave Barnhart

Dan Miller's picture

Interesting series.

1. In Part 6 looks at "standards" of conduct.
I think that "standards" was a good choice of words. A "standard" is different from a "conviction" in that a standard refers to a community determined and demanded behavior pattern.

There is a desperate need to allow for convictions without all convictions being made into standards. This is Fundamentalism's major practical flaw. If a behavior is believed to be taboo, it is made a "standard" (by the church or the pastor, if Patton is in charge). If it does not reach that level, it tends to be not viewed as even eligible for "conviction."

2. In Part 7, the important second premise is discussed.
Giving this as an example of a second premise is legitimate:

Article wrote:
Biblical principle: God commands all humans everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).
Outside premise: I am a human.
Conclusion: God commands me to repent.
But it seems to present something other than the paper is about. The types of syllogisms we should expect to find disagreement over are nothing as tautological as this. It seems like for some speakers the message might be, "Yes, we need data found outside Scripture. But it's all cut and dried. Listen to me for a while and I'll prove all my standards. You know you're human, right? It's like more of that type of thing."

I think that there are at least two areas in which we should consider second premises:
1. Some things exhibit a forbidden quality per se. Bauder's example, "Bikinis are immodest," probably fits in this category.
2. Others exhibit the forbidden quality only by means of a sign. If prostitutes always wore a red sweater, then red sweaters might legitimately become a provocative sign, and thus a second premise could legitimately be that "Red sweaters are provocative and sexually suggestive."

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Dan Miller wrote:

2. Others exhibit the forbidden quality only by means of a sign. If prostitutes always wore a red sweater, then red sweaters might legitimately become a provocative sign, and thus a second premise could legitimately be that "Red sweaters are provocative and sexually suggestive."

Something similar actually happened in our area last year. There was an article in the paper about how prostitutes downtown, in an effort to avoid police, started using modest "girl next door" looks, but with specific combinations of colors, accessories, etc., that those who were "in the know" would be able to look for. The article didn't detail the looks, probably because they would just be switched out if they did, so it would not have been that easy to create a hard and fast second premise. But you would generally expect that any Christian girls that did know "the look" would want to avoid it for obvious reasons, even if was otherwise modest and attractive.

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

Let me try again, stating my questions a different way. The argument that paint, ink, chords, and other raw materials of artistic expression are amoral is just sophistry. These things by themselves aren't art. If they are, I have a lot of art sitting unused in paint cans in my storage shelves.

The point under debate is the artistic expression itself. To express something, it has to mean something, no?

So let me ask this, do you believe there is such a thing as 'dirty' painting? Or 'dirty' books? Or 'dirty' sculpture?

But then, you are asserting, there is no such thing as 'dirty' music in and of itself?

BTW, I will concede that music is much more abstract than other forms of art and meaning is much more difficult to discern in some cases.

~~~~

I think Dan's two points are correct, and speak to denotation and connotation. Some things are wrong because of what they denote (inherent meaning). Other things are wrong because of what they connote (cultural context).

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Becky Petersen's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
I have heard that argument, Don... that all the arts are amoral.
But again, many erase the amorality when they start qualifying it. What some mean is that the substance called paint adhering to a surface we call canvas is amoral. Probably so, like a chord is amoral. But these things never exist independently of a human being arranging the paint on the surface with some kind of intention or arranging the chord in a musical composition... again with purpose. (OK it is possible for pain to get on canvas as a result of an explosion in a paint factory... presto, amoral paintings!)

Probably the closest thing to amoral paintings are the ones that elephants at the Wichita Zoo do.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don Johnson wrote:

The point under debate is the artistic expression itself. To express something, it has to mean something, no?

Agreed, though the attempt is not always successful. I'm a big listener of classical music. If I hear after a piece that was played that a piece was intended, for example, to express something and I didn't get that at all, then it didn't really matter at the moment I heard it what the artist's intention was, does it? If I would later find out that he intended to express something immoral, I would then make that *association* in the future, and it would then be difficult for me to listen with a clear conscience. The same would apply to abstract art or non-literal writing.

As an example, if music is so inherently meaningful, why is it not immediately a form of "cognitive dissonance" when Disney animators take a piece like "The Pines of Rome," and use it for "Flying Whales?"

Quote:
So let me ask this, do you believe there is such a thing as 'dirty' painting? Or 'dirty' books? Or 'dirty' sculpture?

No, I don't. You may think that sounds crazy, but let's say I had a book passed down to me I had never had a chance to read, so I didn't know it expressed something immoral. Before I read it, did it "dirty" my shelf or my home any more than any other book I have? What if I did read it, but didn't understand any euphemisms the author was using to refer to something immoral? The dirty part would only come when my heart interacts with what is there, and it would be the imaginations of my heart that would make it so. The Lord said clearly it's what comes *out* of the man that defiles him. The same would be true of a painting in a package I had never opened. The painting itself is not dirty. Let me ask this -- would Adam or Eve before the fall have sinned by viewing an immoral statue placed in the Garden by Satan, assuming God had told them nothing of it? I can't say with authority, but I would argue that no, they would not have -- Satan attacked them using the one thing God had forbidden to them. That statue would not have been dirty to them. It's simply an object.

Obviously, because of what such objects or books would cause my heart to think, feel, etc., I would not keep such things around, but it's not because I believe the object itself is dirty -- it is our fallen nature that causes dirtiness, and the same reason that Adam and Eve had to cover themselves after the fall. There is nothing dirty about any part of the human anatomy. After all, God created it. But our fallen minds and hearts are certainly tempted if modesty is not exercised.

Quote:
But then, you are asserting, there is no such thing as 'dirty' music in and of itself?

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. If you want to say otherwise, show me how to evaluate its moral value using the inherent value of the music itself, not association, appropriateness, the lifestyle of the composer, etc. (all valid forms of evaluation, but not applicable to inherent value).

Let me ask you a question. When you evaluate music for your church, do you attempt to sit down with every piece and identify musical elements and say "OK, that chord pattern is immoral," or "that tune is evil?" If not, how do you do the evaluation? More importantly, can you do it (leaving words out of the picture) without listening to it? (Or, if you are very musically inclined, attempting to imagine how it sounds from the notes on the page)?

Quote:
BTW, I will concede that music is much more abstract than other forms of art and meaning is much more difficult to discern in some cases.

I would be ecstatic if you showed me how to identify this *inherent* meaning, rather than it's association, or what the author *intended* it to mean (which is not the same as saying the music actually inherently means that).

Quote:
I think Dan's two points are correct, and speak to denotation and connotation. Some things are wrong because of what they denote (inherent meaning). Other things are wrong because of what they connote (cultural context).

I don't disagree exactly, but I don't believe music (apart from words) has a denotative meaning, because although it's been asserted over and over by secular and Christian people alike, I don't believe it's been demonstrated. Further, I believe the Bible says exactly the opposite. It's our evil hearts that defile us, not what goes in. With cultural context, we're on the same page. The world's music is associated with the world, which is obviously attempting to express its opposition to God and his order. But I'll bet that was true 500 years ago too, and I've yet to have anyone show me any instrumental music from 500 years ago and claim that it's inherently immoral, let alone demonstrate why that is so.

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

dcbii wrote:
Don Johnson wrote:
So let me ask this, do you believe there is such a thing as 'dirty' painting? Or 'dirty' books? Or 'dirty' sculpture?

No, I don't. You may think that sounds crazy, but let's say I had a book passed down to me I had never had a chance to read, so I didn't know it expressed something immoral. Before I read it, did it "dirty" my shelf or my home any more than any other book I have? What if I did read it, but didn't understand any euphemisms the author was using to refer to something immoral? The dirty part would only come when my heart interacts with what is there, and it would be the imaginations of my heart that would make it so.

Your shelf or home are non-moral objects. They can't be 'dirtied'. You, on the other hand are a moral being and your conscience can be sullied or edified by its interaction with objects of art, as you note yourself. But it isn't merely the corruption of your own heart that makes the object dirty, the corruption of the artist's heart is involved as well.

dcbii wrote:
The Lord said clearly it's what comes *out* of the man that defiles him.

You are misusing this passage. The Lord was talking about food coming into a man not being able to defile a man. He wasn't evaluating our conscience being engaged with the moral expression of someone else, be it literature or music or what have you.

dcbii wrote:
Let me ask this -- would Adam or Eve before the fall have sinned by viewing an immoral statue placed in the Garden by Satan, assuming God had told them nothing of it? I can't say with authority, but I would argue that no, they would not have -- Satan attacked them using the one thing God had forbidden to them. That statue would not have been dirty to them. It's simply an object.

I would think this is totally irrelevant and doesn't prove anything.

dcbii wrote:
Don Johnson wrote:
But then, you are asserting, there is no such thing as 'dirty' music in and of itself?

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. If you want to say otherwise, show me how to evaluate its moral value using the inherent value of the music itself, not association, appropriateness, the lifestyle of the composer, etc. (all valid forms of evaluation, but not applicable to inherent value).

Let me ask you a question. When you evaluate music for your church, do you attempt to sit down with every piece and identify musical elements and say "OK, that chord pattern is immoral," or "that tune is evil?" If not, how do you do the evaluation? More importantly, can you do it (leaving words out of the picture) without listening to it? (Or, if you are very musically inclined, attempting to imagine how it sounds from the notes on the page)?

My answer here would not satisfy you! But it is mostly along the lines of "I know it when I see/hear it." Since you won't admit that a painting or book can be inherently dirty/evil, it is likely to be fruitless to ask, but at what point does such a work become 'dirty'? But not admitting it, you can't really answer the question. In fact, neither can I, with precision. Some literary works are entirely erotic, for example, but other works may allude to it in such a way that the reader knows what is going on but is spared the details. At what point does such literature become evil? Or perhaps not evil but too corrupt for Christian participation? Various Christians may answer the question various ways. But that doesn't mean there is no such thing as corrupt or dirty works of literature.

Well, I think that is enough for now. We'll get ourselves far afield if we continue this line of conversation.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Charlie's picture

Just for fun (because I can't imagine this thread is going anywhere useful), let's examine a syllogistic fallacy in this thread.

Propositions, slightly altered to be syllogistically valid;

1) A painting is a thing that may be immoral.
2) A painting is a work of art.
3) A song is a work of art.

No matter how you move these propositions around, you would never be able to deduce the conclusion, "A song is a thing that may be immoral." The conclusion may or may not be true, but you can never get there through the line of reasoning in Don's posts. It's the fallacy of the excluded middle. You would need a proposition to read thus: "All works of art are things that can be immoral," which, unfortunately, is what the argument is currently attempting to prove.

To use another example, this line of reasoning is equivalent to asserting that whales are land animals because 1) they are mammals and 2) 99%+ of mammals are land animals.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Don Johnson wrote:

But it isn't merely the corruption of your own heart that makes the object dirty, the corruption of the artist's heart is involved as well.

As I stated previously, I agree there is a moral *act* involved when art is created, performed, or heard/seen. I don't disagree with you here. I just disagree that the object itself is what is dirty. Corrupt communication can come from an artist, and if understood when seen/heard/read can interact with our evil hearts to cause corruption. Simply hearing it or seeing it is not enough, of course, otherwise the Lord Jesus would have been sullied by nearly everything he saw or heard around him.

Quote:
You are misusing this passage. The Lord was talking about food coming into a man not being able to defile a man. He wasn't evaluating our conscience being engaged with the moral expression of someone else, be it literature or music or what have you.

I agree that what was going in was food, but in the next few verses, he describes what defiles us, and it's all our thoughts and intents coming from within, not from without. Again, that makes complete sense to me, otherwise Jesus just being confronted with the evil of others could have been defiled. There was nothing in his heart that coming out, could have defiled him.

Quote:
My answer here would not satisfy you! But it is mostly along the lines of "I know it when I see/hear it."

Exactly. It has to interact with your heart/mind for you to make a determination. This is exactly why eating meat could be sin to some and not to others (and I'm not just talking about food -- I'm talking about conscience, as Paul did).

Quote:
Since you won't admit that a painting or book can be inherently dirty/evil, it is likely to be fruitless to ask, but at what point does such a work become 'dirty'?

I can't answer the question in the way you would like, but I don't believe the container becomes evil in itself. It simply an aid in transmitting an evil thought from the mind of its creator to the mind of the consumer. Like you, I certainly don't want to interact with certain art or literature, because I'm not interested in affecting my heart and conscience with evil thoughts and ideas from their creators that are being put forward. Hence, I wouldn't keep such things around. But when we destroy something like that, what we are really destroying is the idea, and the ability to get that to someone else -- the thing itself is just a medium.

Quote:
But that doesn't mean there is no such thing as corrupt or dirty works of literature.

We obviously would agree on what to do with such things, but I believe the source of the corruption (the author/creator) is what is evil, and not the object. In the case of music, unlike art or literature, I disagree that apart from knowing the intent of the composer (and sometimes not even then), that music can actually communicate propositional ideas to the hearer. What is communicated is impression at best (as with some art and literature), and completely colored and often overwhelmed or overshadowed by what the listener has previously experienced.

Calling a work or art or literature "dirty" is a convenient shorthand, and that's why we use the expression. That doesn't mean it's necessarily an accurate portrayal of reality.

Quote:
Well, I think that is enough for now. We'll get ourselves far afield if we continue this line of conversation.

True enough.

Dave Barnhart

Eric R.'s picture

At the risk of sounding like I agree with Don, Smile I'd like to interact with some of Dave's comments:

dcbii wrote:
There has to be meaning that is *understood* by the listener, viewer or reader of art for there to be any moral component present. …The same would be true with literature. I have to understand what is there for it to have any moral effect on me.

cbii wrote:
I disagree that apart from knowing the intent of the composer (and sometimes not even then), that music can actually communicate propositional ideas to the hearer.

You seem to be stating that only intellectual interactions have moral implication; In order for something to affect me morally, I have to process it with my mind and understand what’s happening to me. I disagree. Music, like other art forms, has the ability to influence and even (to a degree) control us. However, music, unlike literature, can do that apart from cognitive interaction. For an erotic novel to affect me, I have to process the alphabetic symbols visually, assign meaning to those symbols, and translate that into images or concepts. Not so with music. Music has the unique ability to affect your body and emotions without you even being consciously aware of it. Advertisers, film makers, store and restaurant owners, etc. all make regular use of this power. To couch the discussion of morality in purely cognitive terms seems to deny the effects of the fall on the whole person.

dcbii wrote:
Music is much more abstract than either painting (excepting completely abstract art) or literature.

True. But it’s not simply that music is “more abstract” than literature; It is a different medium altogether, engaging a different part of the person. Music, unlike literature, can be experienced and even enjoyed while almost entirely bypassing any cognitive interaction. That has important moral implications.

dcbii wrote:
Take pretty much any piece (music only) and have two people with different life experiences listen to it, and they often come away with completely different reactions.

Granted (except I don’t know that I would say “often”). But your illustration about you and your wife listening to Bach is about levels of enjoyment, which is not the same as moral effect. There is an aspect to music’s effect on people that is learned, or acquired, via culture, life experience, education, etc. But that doesn’t negate the contrary fact that very often people from different life experiences and cultures will have very similar reactions (emotional and physical) to the same music. There is an aspect to music’s effect on the human that is essentially universal, regardless of culture. That has significant moral implications.

dcbii wrote:
Why is a chord not moral, but a musical phrase is?

For the same reason that the alphabet isn’t moral but sentences can be. (Or if you prefer, sentences can have moral effects on the reader.) I don't know that I would say something as small as a musical phrase necessarily has moral implications, but certainly several phrases strung together, in a particular style, can.

dcbii wrote:
How is that measured objectively? Theoretically, if music actually has inherent moral meaning, we should be able to calculate that, and feed sheet music into a computer which can analyze all the notes, chords, phrases, harmonies, etc., and spit out the exact moral value of the music. The fact we can't do that indicates to me that any moral effect of music takes place in our hearts (which we already know are immoral by nature), not in the music itself.

So, you're saying that nothing has inherent moral meaning if it can't be mathematically quantified by machine?! If all you’re arguing is something like “Playboy isn’t immoral. The person looking at it is.” Okay, fine. Inanimate objects are technically incapable of possessing morality. But when we speak of the” immorality” of pornography the obvious understanding is that someone is making it and someone else is looking at it. The same is true of music. Technically speaking, music is just sound waves, so obviously we’re talking about the process of human beings experiencing and interacting with it. When most people talk about the ‘morality of music’ I understand them to be speaking of it’s moral effect on people. We could ask: “If a rock song plays in the woods and no one hears it, is it immoral?” But that would obviously be a big waste of time. I’m not quite seeing the point or purpose of your particular philosophical argument. In my experience, those who say that “music is amoral” are arguing that music, apart from text and apart from associations, has no ability to affect the listener morally. That is untrue.

Getting back to the original post (what was it again?), denying the moral implications of music as sound is what leads to philosophies like http://www.worshipmatters.com/wp-content/uploads/Does-God-Even-Like-Our-... ]this :

Bob Kauflin wrote:
Did you ever wonder — What kind of music does GOD like? He commands us to make music, so he must take pleasure in it. Does he like modern worship better than hymns? Rock better than country? Folk better than jazz? What if God’s favorite music is opera? The kind of music God likes isn’t determined by a style, genre, beat, or generation.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'd love to see Kevin weigh in on the morality of objects vs. acts. Had a very long debate w/a relative on that subject once. At least it seemed long. Maybe it just felt long.
Anyway, the conclusion I came to is that it's kind of pointless to assert that objects do not have morality since all of the objects we care about applying Scripture to were made by someone and are viewed, used, listened to, contemplated, etc. by someone. In the end, it simply doesn't matter whether the mass of canvas and paint is moral or not because it was a moral act when it was made, will be a moral act as soon as someone looks at it, etc.

Dave, I believe, suggested above somewhere that the painting has no morality until there is shared meaning. This is not necessarily the case. It had morality when it was made and meaning only existed in the mind of its maker. Meaning need not be shared to be moral. And meaning is only one factor. There is purpose and motive. If the artist intended to convey his deep bitterness at God for not making him wealthy, the painting has moral significance in the context of his creation of it, even if he utterly fails to convey that meaning in the piece and no one else ever sees it (or even if all who see it find themselves admiring God instead).
My point is that the morality of the creation can be quite different for one person than for another. But this is a very different thing from saying it is amoral. As for the object itself, I accept that it is technically amoral, but the distinction is completely useless since no one ever looked amorally at an object, or listened amorally to one, or even thought amorally about one.

As soon as we interact in any way with something, it becomes an entity in a moral phenomenon.

To get back to Kevin's piece a little: what I appreciate most about it is that that he points out how indispensable second premise arguments are. We cannot live biblically without them. And an approach to Scripture and Christian living that sometimes rejects second-premise arguments as a matter of principle while other times employing those arguments is ultimately an incoherent approach. It's doomed to get arbitrary sooner or later.

(Maybe a good way to sum up my view is that objects are amoral only as long a they are sealed in a box where no one can relate to them in any way)

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Eric R. wrote:
Getting back to the original post (what was it again?), denying the moral implications of music as sound is what leads to philosophies like http://www.worshipmatters.com/wp-content/uploads/Does-God-Even-Like-Our-... ]this :
Bob Kauflin wrote:
Did you ever wonder — What kind of music does GOD like? He commands us to make music, so he must take pleasure in it. Does he like modern worship better than hymns? Rock better than country? Folk better than jazz? What if God’s favorite music is opera? The kind of music God likes isn’t determined by a style, genre, beat, or generation.

Deferring for the moment your other questions for lack of time (though I do want to get to them as this subject interests me), I would ask this: What kind of music does God like? Where does he state that for us? Given we are talking about arguments from 2nd premises and such, where are we even given enough information to be able to come to a conclusion about what God likes in music? Most of what we can conclusively say about God, he has told us. He hates lying, he hates divorce, he cannot look upon sin, and so forth.

Personally, I avoid music that sounds too much like the world, because of its associations and such. And I would also avoid offering to God in worship songs that I find trivial, silly, or inappropriate for a worship setting. And any songs with doctrinally incorrect texts are also out. But even having eliminated the all of those, what do I really know about what God likes in music? If music itself can be morally wrong, then maybe some of the trivial tunes in many hymnbooks are dishonoring to God, regardless of the hearts of the people attempting to use them for worship.

I'm not sure we can answer the question "What kind of music does God like?"

Dave Barnhart

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Aaron,

Just a couple of things:

1. If the painting in your example, painted to express ideas against God instead causes all who view it to admire God, is it then a morally good painting, or is it both? (Or does it have any?)

2. I agree that considering morality of an object in the abstract is not really useful in real life. That's one of the reasons I don't think it's actually useful to talk about music being inherently moral (on it's own, apart from interacting with humans). I simply don't believe people evaluate music that way even when they think they are. What is more interesting is evaluating its interaction with us in context. However, that is complicated given that different people can have different perceptions, and once we evaluate in context, we are immediately mixing in association and appropriateness, which I would argue are the actual moral qualities being evaluated.

I am interested in your notion that if something has a different morality for each person that perceives it, that is still different from amorality. Does that mean you believe there is such a thing as variable morality? An interesting thought ...

OK, I've wasted enough thread space on this rabbit trail, and I'm well aware that my view is, shall we say, a minority view in fundamentalism. I do question Don's view above that he could cooperate with someone who had different choices but the same philosophy (i.e. music is moral, but CCM is OK), vs. someone who made essentially the same choices, but with a different philosophy (i.e. music is inherently amoral, but only music without strong worldly association is OK). I much prefer the music in most fundamental churches (though I lean toward high-church sound) to what would be the norm in evangelical churches, and I would generally oppose going toward the musical sound we associate with a lot of CCM, since it doesn't sound much different from the world's music, even though I would disagree with most in the fundamental church on how I got there.

I agree with the main thrust that second premise arguments are necessary. However, we can't just make up the second premise, and then make strong application from that. The second premise should be something that can be shown to be true. If one makes an application that avoiding evil means one needs to avoid a certain type of music, one had better be prepared to show that that type of music is, in fact, evil. If you are avoiding it on other grounds, then no such proof is necessary.

Dave Barnhart

Don Johnson's picture

dcbii wrote:
I am interested in your notion that if something has a different morality for each person that perceives it, that is still different from amorality. Does that mean you believe there is such a thing as variable morality? An interesting thought ...

That would be pomo-rality, I think!

dcbii wrote:
OK, I've wasted enough thread space on this rabbit trail, and I'm well aware that my view is, shall we say, a minority view in fundamentalism. I do question Don's view above that he could cooperate with someone who had different choices but the same philosophy (i.e. music is moral, but CCM is OK), vs. someone who made essentially the same choices, but with a different philosophy (i.e. music is inherently amoral, but only music without strong worldly association is OK).

I thought I qualified that a bit in one of my later responses. I think that the person with the different philosophy would inevitably express himself in a way that would demand some distancing at some point. And my cooperation with people who say they have the same philosophy but different applications would be 'applications within a range'. In other words, I would question someone who said their philosophy was the same as mine but in application were wildly different, like incorporating rap or grunge or something like that. The range I can tolerate to some extent would allow for, say, Southern Gospel style, but it wouldn't be my choice for a steady diet in our church etc.

dcbii wrote:
I much prefer the music in most fundamental churches (though I lean toward high-church sound) to what would be the norm in evangelical churches, and I would generally oppose going toward the musical sound we associate with a lot of CCM, since it doesn't sound much different from the world's music, even though I would disagree with most in the fundamental church on how I got there.

Your applications makes me think that at bottom you and I don't think that differently. We probably aren't communicating our views as precisely as we think.

dcbii wrote:
I agree with the main thrust that second premise arguments are necessary. However, we can't just make up the second premise, and then make strong application from that. The second premise should be something that can be shown to be true. If one makes an application that avoiding evil means one needs to avoid a certain type of music, one had better be prepared to show that that type of music is, in fact, evil. If you are avoiding it on other grounds, then no such proof is necessary.

I agree with you here.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Mike Durning wrote:
Don, I don't believe the things themselves, either in genre or style, possess any moral qualities.

You know Mike, it's interesting to note that movies made in America are transported all over the world. Subtitles are added so that they can be shown in various countries. But the music is never changed and always has the same effect on the audience. It would seem that there are some universal communicational attributes of music that transcend cultural context.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Greg Long's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Mike Durning wrote:
Don, I don't believe the things themselves, either in genre or style, possess any moral qualities.

You know Mike, it's interesting to note that movies made in America are transported all over the world. Subtitles are added so that they can be shown in various countries. But the music is never changed and always has the same effect on the audience. It would seem that there are some universal communicational attributes of music that transcend cultural context.

But what does it communicate? It doesn't communicate propositional truth or else they wouldn't need the subtitles.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Dan Miller's picture

Don J wrote:
I think Dan's two points are correct, and speak to denotation and connotation. Some things are wrong because of what they denote (inherent meaning). Other things are wrong because of what they connote (cultural context).
Don, I would say, "connotes [I ]to or from a human[/I ]." It's important that such connotations only can exist where they are perceived to exist.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

dcbii wrote:
1. If the painting in your example, painted to express ideas against God instead causes all who view it to admire God, is it then a morally good painting, or is it both? (Or does it have any?)

In that example, it would be morally good as far as effect on viewers/contemplators is concerned, morally bad for the artist. It could still be morally bad for some viewers in other ways such as motive, stewardship of resources (taking the time to go see it, paying gallery admission, etc.), etc.

dcbii wrote:
I am interested in your notion that if something has a different morality for each person that perceives it, that is still different from amorality. Does that mean you believe there is such a thing as variable morality? An interesting thought ...

All "objects" are part of morally variable scenarios. The issue of Playboy, for example, is serving a morally good purpose when it's kindling for the wood stove on a cold day! You can think of a "good" purpose for almost anything. But "amoral" as I've seen people use the term in reference to music (w/o words) is like a lump of natural clay. Usually, they are trying to narrow the morality of use down to very few possibilities in order to support the conclusion that "it's the words that count." So there's a pretty silly reductionism going on there. There are a zillion moral factors in the use or creation of any object, including a piece of music.
Once you go from something God made to something a human being made, you already have a thing with moral significance attached to it. Some of the factors that define its morality are very variable, others less so, some perhaps not at all.[br ]
One part of the whole soup I'm still wrestling with is objective meaning.
To go back to the example of the guy who makes a painting with the purpose of expressing his bitterness toward God, though it's possible for viewers of that piece to interpret it quite differently (perhaps because the artist completely failed to communicate what he intended), what does the piece really mean? Supposing that its "objective" meaning is its meaning in God's eyes, are we free to interpret it differently? Are we really redeeming it if we do so, or does God judge our use of the object as the use of something objectively anti-God? See what I'm saying?
I don't know the answer to that.
But the effect/impact of things on humans who use them is only one factor in measuring the morality. The most obvious message (in the case of music, the lyrics) is only one factor.

Then you have the whole area of conventional meaning: what groups of people in a culture generally take a style of art to "mean." We always live in a cultural setting of some sort so it's silly for us to imagine that we can reverse the meaning a culture generally assigns to something by giving it different words--or, as in the case of a painting, depicting different scenes (but still in a style that has a contrary conventional meaning). This is why, for example, we're kidding ourselves with "Christian hip hop," and--even though it's a good 30 yrs old now, "Christian metal." These styles have meaning in our culture and it's a bit like painting a vampire and putting a clerical collar and cross around his neck. A paradoxical image.

In general, I think it's better to use terms like "variable morality" or "complex morality" rather than "amorality" because the latter tends to contribute to a "style doesn't matter" attitude, whereas the former assumes style matters and asks, how does it matter from case to case?

dcbii wrote:
I do question Don's view above that he could cooperate with someone who had different choices but the same philosophy (i.e. music is moral, but CCM is OK), vs. someone who made essentially the same choices, but with a different philosophy

I think Don's idea has some merit because a different philosophy is likely to make different choices. I've wrestled with this one a good bit from a pastoral standpoint. There are aspects of church life that, ideally, should be internally motivated. That is, getting folks on the same page in their thinking by the teaching of Scripture should result in similar conduct without imposing rules. Can this happen with music? I believe it can to a degree. People who share a philosophy about what music in worship is for, what qualities it ought to have, etc., tend to arrive in roughly the same ball park, provided they take that philosophy seriously. But it only goes so far. I've seen this with the principle of modesty as well. Seems like you can get alot accomplished via teaching but then you have a few who will officially own the principles but seem to be unable (or unwilling?) to connect dots... and sometimes you have to do it for them, it seems.

Dan Miller's picture

It seems to me that the watershed between simple morality and complex is multiple cultures.
If God's people were uniform in culture they would find morality simple. Very simple - such that the good or bad underlying heart attitudes would become basically indistinguishable with the signs that connote them.

With the church's mission to the Gentiles, God's people became varied in culture. And morals became complex. Maybe a hint of that is seen in 2 Kings 5.

PhilKnight's picture

[Sorry, had trouble getting bullet lists to work correctly ]

Aaron Blumer wrote:

FWIW, I do believe "music is moral." Technically, I think I'd rather say it's "creating, performing and listening to music" that is moral. What it's being used for is just one of the ways the morality of it is shaped. I think a whole lot comes as well from what the music means, and that meaning occurs on many levels: what it means to the composer, what it means to the listener, what it means "objectively" (to God--and the angels, I suppose). All of these shape the morality of the acts of composing, performing, listening, etc.

Wow. I started a response to this thread on music last week, then decided not to post for fear it would get things too much off topic. However, upon returning today and catching up on new the posts, I see the music focus is still alive and well :-).

It seems most everyone is in agreement that saying merely "music is moral" or "music is amoral" is unhelpful in gaining clarity (except for the purpose of pointing out why it's unhelpful). The problem, as Aaron's response above illustrates, is that these statements are not specific enough. Either statement, if properly qualified, can be shown to be true (illustrated by the disucssion here on the thread). In my own teaching, I've illustrated this by pointing out that the statement "music is amoral" is about as helpful as saying "words innately (i.e. a combination of letters on a page) are amoral." There is a sense, technically, in which that latter statement is true. However, that fact is not really useful in a practical sense, because the moment you begin combining those letters of the alphabet into words they become agents which convey meaning. The meaning is conveyed in multiple ways (formal definition, verbal context, associational context, vocal inflection, poetic beauty [rhythm & meter, pace ]). The same thing is true of music: When a sequence of innately amoral pitches and tones are put together creatively to form music, they become conveyers of meaning, too. As Dave and others pointed out, what makes the morality of music more difficult to grasp for people than the morality of words is that the meaning conveyed by words is more precise and cognitive.

However, I think there is something further that needs to be pointed out very specifically (and this was a watershed for me once I grasped it): Music's meaning is directed primarily at the emotions or affections. Jonathan Edwards makes the point very well in Religious Affections

Quote:

And the duty of singing praises to God seems to be appointed wholly to excite and express religious affections. No other reason can be assigned why we should express ourselves to God in verse, rather than in prose, and do it with music but only, that such is our nature and frame, that these things have a tendency to move our affections.

In my opinion, when discussing music with Christians who are more libertine in that area, rather than debating the "music is amoral" statement, it would be much more effective to quickly concede that point (with the qualifications above), then move on and try to gain agreement on the following:

  • Words are conveyors of both cognitive and emotional meaning: They influence us in the realm of our thoughts and, to varying degrees, also the realm of our affections. Music conveys primarily emotional meaning. It influences us in the realm of our affections.

  • Music’s affect, when combined with words, is similar in many respects to the effect that our vocal tone or facial expression has on our words:

    - It has the ability to reinforce or emphasize our intended meaning by evoking the same sort of emotions that the words themselves demand.

    - It has the ability to color our meaning by providing emotional nuance that would be absent in the words alone. Note: This “coloring” of meaning can be either intentional or unintentional. When intentional and well-done, this quality of music enables more and deeper meaning to be conveyed with fewer words. (E.g. the word “love” has a broad range of meanings, but the way it is sung can make it clear which type of “love” is being sung about.)

    - It has the ability to detract from or even reverse our meaning.

  • Music can attain a moral dimension based on the type of affections (or emotions) it generates. Affections (or emotions) can be ordinate or inordinate. Affections are inordinate if they are directed at wicked things. Affections, even when directed at good things are inordinate if they are not appropriate to the relative virtue of that thing.
  • Music can also attain a moral dimension based on associational elements. In this way it is also similar to words. Certain words are considered appropriate and others with the precisely the same definitional meaning are considered coarse or crude. The coarseness or crudeness of a word has nothing to do with that word’s innate characteristics (except, perhaps, in the case of onomonopia) , nor does it always have to do with its dictionary definition. A word can attain the quality of coarseness from its identification with certain types of people who use that word and the immoral context in which they use it. I had this discussion recently with my kids in the context of the the use of so-called “bathroom words.” We discussed how that at the times when “nature calls” there are a range of ways to express that need, some more polite than others. I used that occasion to instruct them about the reasoning behind the language etiquette we use: First, not being unnecessarily explicit when referring to unpleasant things in order to be considerate of others. Second, using polite synonyms rather than course words when more specificity is necessary. On the second point, I explained the reason some words are acceptable and some aren’t (due to their identification). My children had no trouble understanding how a word could be unacceptable to use merely because of its identification--even though that word may have precisely the same dictionary meaning. We also discussed how certain words that were acceptable many years ago could become unacceptable due to associational elements. It seems to me that same association/identification rationale that applies to words also applies equally to music.

    I think it’s this association/identification element that we’re usually referring to when we say that a certain type of music is “worldly music.” However, I think the term worldly has been used so much that we need to be mor specific in the way we define. Nothing that God’s Word makes permissible is worldly merely because sinful people use it. However, it can, in fact, be worldly if it becomes identified with particular sinful practices or attitudes. Applying this to music: it is possible for a particular style of music to become worldly and sinful based on identification with sinful elements within the culture. Years later, that same music may lose that identification and may, therefore, no longer be worldly.

.

Philip Knight

Greg Long's picture

Thank you, Phil, that was very helpful.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Rob Fall's picture

Greg Long wrote:
Thank you, Phil, that was very helpful.
It was helpful to me.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Dan Miller's picture

Phil, I also thought that was a good post. I have written more on this previously. I think I agree with you.
I would add two things:
- music not only influences our affections, but also serves as a display of our affections.
- music does this in ways that might or might not be physiologic and universal (at least to humans).

What I intended to say by my watershed comment is that the correlation between a particular musical form and a particular affection will be very strong IF the music occurs completely within ONE culture. Inside that culture, the affection displayed by the musician will match strongly the affection perceived by the listener. Thus, morality will be simple.

When two different cultures display and perceive affections in dissimilar ways, morality becomes more complex.

PhilKnight's picture

Dan Miller wrote:
Phil, I also thought that was a good post. I have written more on this previously. I think I agree with you.
I would add two things:
- music not only influences our affections, but also serves as a display of our affections.

Agree. Good point.

Dan Miller wrote:

- music does this in ways that might or might not be physiologic and universal (at least to humans).

I agree that this is true within a range. I think (though I don't know how to prove it ) that certain styles of musical expression convey, within a range, certain emotions in a way that is virtually universal across cultures and time periods. I would compare it to the way facial expressions convey emotions: All cultures across all times know the difference between a happy expression and an angry one. Thus when the Bible speaks of a "joyful countenance" we know exactly what it's talking about. To some degree, this defies analysis. I don't know how to define, scientifically, a joyful countenance, and wouldn't know how to begin to write a step-by-step manual on how to teach someone who does not experience emotions to smile. However, even small infants know the difference between a joyful countenance and an angry one. I think the same is true of certain styles of music.

I think an excellent illustration of this is the song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh17BI7ztA0 ]"Mansions of the Lord" that was performed at Ronald Reagan's funeral. (If you follow the link, the music starts around the 1:00 mark). When the funeral was broadcast, this piece was heard by a diverse range of cultures all over the world. It has a has a sober, majestic quality (the music itself, not just the words) that I believe was communicated cross-culturally. Although different cultures and different individuals likely experienced that sobriety and majesty in a varying range of degrees, you'd have a hard time convincing me that any culture interpreted it as trite or funny. The music itself carried emotional content that was deemed appropriate to the sobriety of the occasion. It is not difficult to imagine how someone could have taken the words to that song and created a completely different sort of musical arrangement that, if played at the funeral, would have created a very different cross-cultural effect--one that would have been regarded as inappropriate to the occasion and disrespectful of President Reagan and his high office. (You could pick various examples to illustrate here. Right now, I'm thinking about something with a banjo accompaniment and a "lighter" melody [think "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" style ].)

Dan Miller wrote:

What I intended to say by my watershed comment is that the correlation between a particular musical form and a particular affection will be very strong IF the music occurs completely within ONE culture. Inside that culture, the affection displayed by the musician will match strongly the affection perceived by the listener. Thus, morality will be simple.

When two different cultures display and perceive affections in dissimilar ways, morality becomes more complex.

Agree. Although I'd say "morality will be simpler" rather than "morality will be simple."

BTW, I didn't intend to make a jab at your "watershed" statement, although the juxtaposition of our two messages made it appear so. (I was responding to earlier postings.)

Philip Knight

PhilKnight's picture

PhilKnight wrote:

Dan Miller wrote:

- music does this in ways that might or might not be physiologic and universal (at least to humans).

I agree that this is true within a range. I think (though I don't know how to prove it ) that certain styles of musical expression convey, within a range, certain emotions in a way that is virtually universal across cultures and time periods. I would compare it to the way facial expressions convey emotions: All cultures across all times know the difference between a happy expression and an angry one. Thus when the Bible speaks of a "joyful countenance" we know exactly what it's talking about. To some degree, this defies analysis. I don't know how to define, scientifically, a joyful countenance, and wouldn't know how to begin to write a step-by-step manual on how to teach someone who does not experience emotions to smile. However, even small infants know the difference between a joyful countenance and an angry one. I think the same is true of certain styles of music.

I think the facial expression analogy can be extended to also illustrate Dan's point. If I am extremely angry, people across all cultures would be able to look at me and recognize my "angry countenance." However, they may not be able to pick up on more subtle facial cues that my wife, because she knows me well, would recognize instantly. For example, she may be able to pick up on more subtle indications of anger, or the fact that I disagree with what was just said. Within our family, we might have certain facial expressions that are meaningful because we relate them to certain things we have experienced together. Thus, a very subtle facial expression that means nothing to others, may elicit a private, shared chuckle among us: it is understood within the "culture" of my family. Worse, though, is the case where that facial expression means one thing (something entirely innocent) to my family, but another thing entirely different to others outside my family: it is understood differently within the "culture" of my family. In the same way, music can communicate things within a given culture that are either: (1) not perceived at all outside that culture or (2) perceived differently outside that culture.

Philip Knight

Dan Miller's picture

PhilKnight wrote:
I agree that this is true within a range. I think (though I don't know how to prove it ) that certain styles of musical expression convey, within a range, certain emotions in a way that is virtually universal across cultures and time periods.
Yeah, that has been discussed quite a bit here. Actually it was during SharperIron 2.0.

I'm glad you said you don't know how to prove it, because with that included, I agree. There is a tendency to feel deeply that one's perception of particular emotions in a particular music style are surely felt by everyone. The strength of this tendency is demonstrated every time an English speaker instinctively tries to clarify to a non-English speaker by repeating louder in English. That tendency is not helpful when dealing with other cultures.

I think that this notion of universality can become a tool to reinforce that tendency by making it seem "scientific."

It must be remembered that the act of designating an expression as approaching universal is an act that must have a basis in the observation of people. It is therefore ridiculous to conclude "universal" and then to tell a large group of people who do not perceive that meaning that they are wrong. If that is done, it is an abandonment of science, because it refuses to recognize observations that contradict that universality.

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