Saturday, December 22, 2007

Atheism and Emmylou

Anyway, that atheism stuff. Having been alternating between two rather demanding books - Dominic Sandbrook's Never Had It So Good and John Burnside's The Devil's Footprints - I turned to the television and stumbled upon an Emmylou Harris concert. For more than thirty years, Nige and I have worshipped this woman, the greatest female singer since Ella Fitzgerald. I heard her say something about religion being the poetry of the people. She then sang a gospel song that made all the hairs on my body stand on end, followed by two Parsons/Hillman masterpieces, Sin City and Wheels, which made me cry. When Keith Richards heard Sin City, he knew his friend Gram Parsons had left him far behind. The band was not right for Daniel Lanois' The Maker, the baptismal prayer that ends her album Spyboy and always makes my mouth go dry. It was perhaps as well; I couldn't have taken much more.
I suppose you could listen to Emmylou while maintaining a lively sense that God does not exist. But why bother? You see, what I really don't get about atheism is, what's the point?


  1. You're right: there is no POINT to atheism. It's a shame it has to become dogma, with its own self aggrandizing priesthood. Some of us just feel comfortable in a godless universe. That's it. But then what is the point of G-D? BTW how can you jump from Ella Fitzgerald to Emmy Lou Harris and miss out the divine Joni?

  2. The point about God, much lost in the progress through time, is that in the words of the Chandogya Upanishad, Tat Tvam Asi, or Thou Art That; Ultimate Reality and the individual soul are one and the same. The idea of being content to leave God as an intellectual category of the mind, and not experiencing the mind that produces the thought of God for onself would approximate with reading about Emmylou Harris, and being content to ardently believing her to be a great artist but never listening to her.

  3. It's not the sort of thing most people have a choice about. But if there is a point to atheism (and assuming we're defining atheism as an absence of belief in any of the traditional conceptions of God, rather than a strong assertion that there cannot be a God), then the point is the acceptance of the limits of our knowledge.

  4. My dear friend Simon Heffer has a piece about atheism in todays Daily Telegraph - oddly he is very pro.

  5. Emmylou, yeah. But the one song that does it to me is by Bonnie Raitt: "I can't make you love me if you don't......"

    But, forget these country croonin' chicks. I just discovered another of my fave actors -- a Brit, bien sur -- lives in Norfolk. Bryan, do you know that soulful dude, Brendan Coyle? He's amazing. "Prime Suspect" or "North and South," he's equally brill.

  6. The Spice Girls reunion certainly confirmed my belief in the existence of Satan.

  7. Mark Radcliffe says Emmylou is the one singer he'd enjoy hearing sing the phone book. I think you also have school and Man City in common, and I suppose Nige is your Maconie (not your Lard, obviously).

  8. brit has an interesting parenthetical above:

    (and assuming we're defining atheism as an absence of belief in any of the traditional conceptions of God, rather than a strong assertion that there cannot be a God)

    Atheism by definition is that strong assertion that there cannot be a god.

    On the Emmylou point, I had not listened to her in a long time. But, I am a big fan of Patty Griffin, and just two nights ago went looking for her "One Big Love" online. It's not in the video search, but here's what I found first on the list: Emmylou Harris - One Big Love. Not bad, not bad.

    Better than that for me is Griffin doing her "Mary", gospel of sorts. What purpose does that have to evolution? A song like that may move us physically, but does so through our psyche or soul.

    The problem, though, with injecting gospel into such an argument, is that it is so easy to tag it as man-made propaganda designed specifically to beg the issue. I'd rather see the point made by noting guitar gods, such as Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Beck. I mean, why does everyone agree to call them gods?

    But, if I were an atheist, I would simply say, "Yeah? So? Isn't evolution great? Why do you think we call it evolution?"


  9. on religion, do you remember the chat show when jewish actor Dustin Hoffman was asked whether he regretted the religious practice of circumcision - I mean, you could be experiencing increased sensitivity if you had a foreskin, right? He said he didn't think his mind could survive any increase in sensitivity.

    So, let god be your graphic equalizer! I like it.

  10. It is peculiar how many people have no sense of 'god', or of a meaning beyond the purely material (get enough food to survive, etc.). i suppose it's just the way we are.

    Be nice if religious folk would accept that Joe Smith can't feel anything more than biological imperatives, and JS vice versa, but instead they often feel this need to shout each other into silence.

    The middle ground people - those who can't affirm any particular religion but can't deny that sense of something 'beyond' the material, that nonetheless energises the material, are a funny breed, unable to take refuge in dogma but likewise unable to deny that glimpse of 'god', or meaning, if you like.

  11. Hi elberry,

    You just reminded me of the GMH.




    by Gerard Manley Hopkins

    God's Grandeur

    The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
        It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
        It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
    Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
    Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
        And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
        And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
    Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

    And for all this, nature is never spent;
        There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
    And though the last lights off the black West went
        Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
    Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
        World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.



  12. Ah, Rus -- I love GMH, especially "Pied Beauty." Thank you for posting that.