PERENNIAL QUESTIONS

Added: June 30, 2000
Religious music is an integral part of our musical departments and ceremonies in our public schools.  Considering your apparent antithesis to matters religious, would you not, at least agree that it is an extremely important part of their spiritual education?

This question begs for an understanding of the meanings of the terms, 'Religious,' 'Education,' 'Spiritual,' and 'Music.'
      Elsewhere in this homepage, I have addressed the meanings of the first three of these terms; therefore, I shall not dwell on them, here, extensively.
      Originally the definition of the term 'religion' was "belief," "community," and the like with no necessary connection with organized religion or 'theism' which refers to a god.
      There are, after all, non-theistic religions.
      Education, in the true meaning of the term, must never be confused with schooling, training, rote learning, or the gathering of information.
      Rather, education is the acquiring of wisdom, understanding, recognizing presuppositions, dealing with abstract ideas, and especially acquiring the ability for clear, critical, and analytical thinking.
      The term 'spiritual,' so often equated with "supernatural" (an unverifiable "realm), is much more in tune with the experience and awe of beauty and mystery than with divinity or presumed supernatural entities.
      As for the equally misunderstood term, 'music,' in a strict sense of the term, it is pure sound.
      Music is not words or ink on paper.
Let's, then, examine the question posed.
      First, I do not have an "antithesis" for religion.
      I, a proponent for the dignity of man, having a profound reverence for life, being in awe of mysteries and a lover (and performer) of music, art, poetry, the beauties of nature, consider myself a deeply religious, spiritual person in the sense defined above.
      There is little doubt that "religious" music is effective in the development of spirituality in one's schooling, but no more than a development of appreciation in all forms of beauty.
      The problem does not lie with "religious" music.
      It lies with the theistic lyrics that the masses confuse and conflate with "music."
      If by "religious music" we mean music in the absence of lyrics, then we are referring to music that has been associated with theistic lyrics.
      Perhaps the best way for me to address this issue is to refer to a letter to the editor I submitted a number or years ago addressed to the issue of RELIGION IN THE SCHOOLS which was being debated by others, one of whom was accused of implying that "religious music" is unconstitutional and having misguided principles.
      I wrote in his defense but will present an edited version of my address to the issue.

There is a great deal of religion (and theism) infused in public school teaching.
"Religious music" is an example of the method through which it is done.
Maintaining separation of church and state is hardly a "misguided principle."
Think back to when the church was the state.
We are, of course, far from that state of affairs today .
But there are powerful forces supported by multimillions of dollars trying to make the United States a "Christian" nation despite the fact that one of our basic principles as a democracy is that we, each and every one of us, shall be free to worship -- or not -- as and when we please -- even individually silently and privately in the classroom.
As for "religious music" in the popular but inaccurate use of that phrase, it is beautiful and spiritual -- as is all art and all beauty -- especially the beauties of nature. 
Music, however, in a strict sense of the term, is pure sound -- not words or ink on paper.
It is theistic language, or lack thereof, that, through the passage of time has, through association, determined whether music is called "religious" or ""secular."
By no sense of logic can it be declared that unverifiable theistic language put to music, however constitutional, spiritual, or beautiful it may be is not still proselytizing, teaching, and indoctrinating young, uncritical, unanalytical, and impressionistic minds.
I am, as are others, one of the many millions -- not "a few individuals" -- profoundly concerned with the possibility that our multi-religious freedom may "inch by inch" be slowly eroded by unrecognized, deceptive, and/or innocent-appearing activities or methods.
As the philosopher, George Santayana, said, "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."
This, of course, assumes that they were not ignorant of it to begin with.

1997 by Pasqual S. Schievella