The Problem of Binding Beliefs to Feelings

A choir sang in church. Beautiful harmonies resonated deep in the chest of the child who grew into the one writing this. I connected the feeling with the thought – Wonderful, God and the church are like this. The deep emotion had little or nothing to do with my conclusions. The music would have affected me if the singers had been in the lounge of a brothel. Though, very likely, the latter would be less pretentious. Songs can evoke tremendous feeling. But notice singing evokes angst, on the lips of a talent-less person.

I heard a love song a-cappella by a jazz choir. It moved me to tearful delight. That experience had scarcely anything to do with the jazz festival surroundings. The faith of Tomaso Albinoni doesn’t matter. Hearing his Adagio, my heart, adrift on a breaking wave of melody – heaves. Beauty has little to do with belief; whether art or a beautiful sunset, the meaning arises in the observer.  The desire to possess beauty, when achieved, often reveals a difference between imagination and reality. Why confuse love of beauty with beauty being loving (or anything else.)

Similarly cherished beliefs can be associations between feelings and events. This makes us vulnerable. Emotion can deceptively distort present circumstances. Bernie Madoff, the notorious ponzi schemer, lulled victims into confidence with opulence, (undeserved) reputation and pictures of himself with celebrities.

Have you ever witnessed an innocent blamed? Then only to have the truth quickly revealed. If so you understand the meaning of delusion. Thoughts about events are mistaken for facts. An explanation suffices to impugn another – i.e. my wallet is gone. You were present. Therefore, you took my wallet. Real emotion arises with the fiction. Then the forgetful owner finds the billfold in a different pocket. Meaning was added to the wallet episode until the truth was known. But what about emotion like gratitude for a real gain?

One can be taught to tie a knot called bowline. It has countless uses and unties easily. It withstands great stress. Let this knot possessing integrity represent any benefit gained from others. It could be acquired in a religious school or from a drunken bigoted sailor who, by virtue of his profession, will know it. The benefit received shouldn’t give anymore credence to the beliefs of a church than it would the seaman. Acknowledge value without binding ourselves through thankfulness to the errors in our benefactors. Otherwise gratitude can mislead.

I am not speaking about people who do nothing but talk and expect others to give them credence simply because of the vigor of their persuasion. That, too, requires discernment. I am talking about an appropriate response for a boon granted.

Delving into matters of spirituality, the absurdities abound. Take uncommon experiential states as an example. If one doesn’t understand what altered states are, the temptation to be over-impressed can be compelling. I’m familiar with this mistake which includes admiration of those who show the means. I’ll give a blunt definition. Altered states = suspension of habits. Now let’s return to music. Being an enthusiast and modest player, I grasp ways that music affects the body-mind.

Almost every religion uses music to support belief, as has almost every state. In the past the Catholic Church feared and rejected music,[i] believing it stirred dangerous passions in people. When the waltz became popular, brushing aside the minuet, it was the devil’s music.

Martin Luther playing for his friends family.

Astounding to think classical composers have something in common with Ozzy Osbourne. During the Renaissance, people were going to the marketplace to listen to music and see the dancing girls.

The church opted to be diversionary also, in order to attract people. Thus began the choirs and pipe organs and the decorating of dreary churches with artistry. Case in point, Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine chapel. Art made church more attractive, regardless of the belief. None of the aesthetic changes stopped the religious mass-murder that followed and which occasionally happens today.

A universal language could communicate anything including absurdities and lies. Talented people are tempted to identify themselves egoistically with an ability which leads to distortions or deceptions. When hearing talk of peace through music or its mysterious healing powers, I ask, “How many great talents have lived suffering lives in the midst of their gift?” Music didn’t save Charlie Parker from anguish and death, or cure Beethoven’s deafness. Moreover, artists lease their talent to the world’s most destructive forces. What tyrant’s haven’t been heralded with song? Any

despot, religious fanatic, or unscrupulous corporation with cash can hire musicians. Some players call themselves whores, play any gig that pays and undercut rivals. That sounds like common avarice, which doesn’t seem very lofty.

Exposing ideas like this can make people frown. The belief might be described like, “music feels good, and therefore it is good. Moreover, I play music, therefore I’m good.” This exemplifies a fallacy.[ii] Why not let music be beautiful. Art is debased by insisting it possesses qualities that it doesn’t. Science explores music occasionally, how wonderful. Remarkable things may be discovered to be the case, but skepticism is needed. I can’t imagine a double blind test on the effects of music. If a cancer goes into remission listening to Bach and a similar result happened while gambling would we be tempted to say that rolling dice cured cancer? I think not. Delight in music but remember the capacity to hear or play music dissolves.

See benefits and see the limitations. Emotion can be both anguish and delight but don’t be deceived by it into believing things that are doubtful.

 By Todd Vickers

Content Copyright 2012 © Vickers Publications. All Rights Reserved



[i] Stuart Isacoff – Temperament,  The idea that solved music’s great riddle.

[ii] G.E. Moore –  Prencipia Ethica – The naturalistic fallacy

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