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Friday, January 13, 2012

You Can Thank A Christian Monk

One can tell a lot about a worldview by the kind of music it produces.

The Buddhist worldview, for example, sees life as a cycle of suffering. This suffering is caused by desire. Salvation, for the serious-minded Buddhist, is escape from the cycle of suffering through the extinction of desire, and detachment from this world. A song like Joy To The World is not something you would hear in a Buddhist temple. Life is not something to sing about. There is no God to thank and praise. Creation is not something to celebrate. The closest thing to music developed by Buddhist monks, historically, would be a single-note drone. It helps. [Some Buddhists now incorporate Western-style music into their practice, but this is a relatively recent phenomenon, introduced by Westerners converting to Buddhism.]

If you visit any Muslim mosque, you will not see an organ or piano. No orchestra will be heard. Not even an acoustic guitar. Most devout followers of Mohammad believe music is heram, which means "illegitimate." Some make an exception for certain sacred “songs,” which sound more like non-melodic chants. [Again, many Westernized Muslims are not as strict, but historically, Islam is neither a melody nor harmony-producing worldview.] 

We take melody and harmony for granted. But Western music did not spring from a vacuum. Nor was it a chance happening. It came out of a worldview that saw music as a means of praise for an Almighty God who dresses flowers with colors a King's robe cannot match, and relates to humans in mindful and loving ways. It's a worldview that employs music as a celebration of joy and hope.

Western music came out of Christian worship that birthed new melodies—and harmony. Single-voice melody called “Plainsong” [notably Gregorian Chant] is believed to have originated in the 3rd century by followers of Christ in worship. In the 9th century, Plainsong developed two-voice melody, and eventually polyphony [multi-voice music] emerged. From this, in due course, came J.S. Bach and the musical tradition we call “Western music.” [That is, the music of “Western civilization.” Yes, it includes, but is not limited to, the music of Gene Autry and Johnny Cash.]

The next time you download that favorite song from i-Tunes, you can thank a Christian monk. Better yet, thank the living God, and think about what this world would be like if Christ had never been born--or resurrected.

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