Most of my friends are aware that I consider myself to be an evangelical antitheist. This means, that like atheists, I don’t hold any belief in any deity. It also means, that unlike many atheists, I hold a positive belief that there aren’t any gods, that the belief in such things is harmful to our society and that these views should be shared with everyone willing to listen.
With that in mind, some of my friends and many acquaintances are surprised to learn that I really like religious music (mostly Christian actually). And I don’t mean only songs that are often played in secular crowds during the holidays like ‘White Christmas‘, or ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas‘. While I do really like both of those songs (and play them frequently on the piano in mid July even), I also really like many overtly religious pieces — Cantique Noël, Silent Night for Christmas themed examples. In fact, some of my favourite pieces of all time are Catholic masses like Mozart’s breathtaking Requiem, which still gives me goose bumps every time I hear it, or another incredible piece of music of his:
What I find annoying about this is that many Christians are confused as to why I would like this music. Some would even suggest that I’m some sort of hypocrite, and that because I’m an antitheist, I should not like this music at all. On face value, this is stupid — why would the fact that I’m rejecting metaphysics implied in the lyrics or theme of some music mean that I must also dislike the aesthetics of how they delivered it? I also like vampire movies and ghost stories, does this mean I’m a hypocrite for not believing in boogeymen and the occult as well?
I can still get the sentiment in the idea without having to submit to its religious views, while still appreciating the religious feelings and perspective of the composer. Like any other human, I can understand and feel the concept awe and wonder at the thought of the beauty in the universe and my utter insignificance in it all. These are not themes that are purely in the religious domain – in fact, many psychologists believe that religion is a child of the innate feelings of awe, reverence and wonder — it is these feelings that spawned religion and not vice-versa.
I also really love stories with the Christian ideal of forgiveness, redemption and salvation(*). From the Sandman character arch in Spiderman 3 (the only good thing about that movie), to Phil Connors’ acceptance of his flaws in Groundhog Day (with a fantastic juxtaposition with Larry the cameraman) to the double redemption and salvation theme in Saving Mr. Banks (Mr. Banks and P.L. Travers’ father, Travers Goff). This idea of redemption and salvation, which is ubiquitous in Western culture, is very a Christian perspective of human solidarity and sympathy. However, even if these ideas where more fully developed in and because of a religious context, the underlying sentiments and the feelings they trigger transcend religion — they are part of what it is to be human, and I don’t need to know about, let alone believe in Jesus and his followers to appreciate or understand it.