Wednesday, October 07, 2009

An idol is, well, an idol.

Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, "Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire." But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god." They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, "I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!" He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself, nor say, "Is there not a lie in my right hand?"
(Isaiah 44:14-20 NASB)
Over in Frank's meta, I made mention of a certain Mr. Schoenberg, who was a composer in the previous century. His purpose was to make mincemeat of the tonal system, so that all 12 notes in the scale carried equal weight; none would stand as a tonal center and there would be no possibility of resolution. Schoenberg had faith in the rationality of man, and wished music to reflect his hope in this mathematical rationality. This is the clearest example I can give of music being idolatry.

Now, it doesn't take long before someone says, "How can you say that Schoenberg is objectively bad or harmful?" I want to note here that I have chosen my words carefully. That's why I have not said that Schoenberg's music is bad, nor that it is harmful to listen to.

Idols are always crafted by someone, and a good idolater crafts his idol well. One can see the art of the idol. If the idol had not been well-crafted, the idolater probably wouldn't worship it. But it takes a worshiper of the true God to see the truth behind the false god, even while appreciating the craft that went into making the false god. But a true worshiper is not going to make the same kind of art as the idolater, because he is not in the service of a false god.


Anonymous said...

I agree with everything in this post, except the last sentence. :) I think there are decent enough reasons to create music such as Schoenberg's for the glory of God - namely, to acknowledge the disharmony of this world. (Which God does regularly, particularly in the prophetic books. Of course, there are passages where the harmony that will be achieved by the blood of Christ is recognised, but some of those minor prophets end on a dire note...)

David said...

When I was in music college, I wrote a 12-tone serial string quartet as an assignment for advanced theory. Was it idolatry? Of course not. Was it good? As serialism, no. I kept trying to fix the sequences toward some sort of harmony, some sort of consonance, some sort of resolution.

Your worldview will find you out. And if your art continually and always exists to magnify (not just acknowledge) dissonance as such, without a clear call to repentance and reconciliation (such as the prophets gave), then your art will be false to what God has created.

I'm grateful that you're responding to this thread. How are your music classes going?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for letting me comment. I think I just failed (what was meant to be) my final piano exam this morning - not too happy about that. Nerves make just about anything sound atonal - and I'd agree that too much atonal in any context is bad!

Stefan said...

Suddenly, I'm hearing in my mind a 4-part symphony (or for that matter, a 3-act play or movie) that starts off good, gets all sturm und drang fast as the antogonist (or antagonistic discordant harmonies?) make their appearance, works through a series of semi-climaxes, and ultimately ends in triumph and resolution.

Somewhat like the Bible (except the semi-climax is the climax, and the anti-climax is more like a second climax).

Am I on to what you're saying?

Sir Aaron said...

Art will reflect your spiritual state, but both an unbeleiver and a believer could, in fact, paint the same portrait of a tree.

David said...

Think about a tree-worshiper who lives in a land of tree-worshipers. Are his representations realistic or idealized?

Sir Aaron said...

Is it a portrait or painting? Canvas or paper?