Music and Moral Character

I was not a particularly diligent or present student in my freshman year Greek culture/literature/philosophy class. I don’t want to defend my own ignorance, but the abstraction of the philosophical texts always bored me. I was never so bored as when the philosophers turned to music. Greek philosophers were big on creating taxonomies of music, to reduce music to the level of science in which specific musical scales and rhythms produced a quantifiable effect in the listener. For example, this dialogue from Plato’s Republic:

And therefore, I said, Glaucon, musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the sound, on which they mightily fasten, imparting grace, and making the soul of him who is rightly educated graceful, or of him who is ill-educated ungraceful: and also because he who has received this true education of the inner being will most shrewdly perceive omissions or faults in art and nature, and with a true taste, while he praises and rejoices over and receives into his soul the good, and becomes noble and good, he will justify blame and hate the bad, now in the days of his youth, even before he will recognize and salute the friend with whom his education has made him long familiar.
Yes, he said, I quite agree with you in thinking that it is for such reasons that they should be trained in music…
Even so, as I maintain, neither we nor the guardians, whom we say that we have to educate, can ever become musical until we and they know the essential forms of temperance, courage, liberality, magnanimity, and their kindred, as well as the contrary forms, in all their combinations, and can recognise then and their images wherever they are found, not slighting them either in small things or great, but believing them all to be within the sphere of one art and study.

I think if there is one consistent pattern that emerges at times of musical conflict, from the rise of polyphony in the 14th century to the popularization of jazz, rock and hip hop in the 20th, is that abstract discussion of the moral dimensions of music usually serve to reassure the status quo that they are good people because they listen to music that the status quo likes, and other people are bad people because they listen to music that the status quo dislikes.
Still, it’s hard for me to not be outraged on a moral level at the use of music to manipulate people in a context like this:
Once I get over the disgust I feel for the cruelty of this pastor, I start to notice everything else that’s fucked up about this video.
I’ve written before about how distasteful I find the Christian music industry, and Protestant “worship” music. And this must also resonate somewhat in the culture, because that piece, “Keith Green and the Commercialization of Christianity” is one of the most read posts on this blog, and I get traffic every week from people Googling “commercialization of Christianity.” This video shows that style of music at its worst–a cynical tool to increase the emotional stimulation of a group of teenagers.
As I wrote before, the emergence of “Contemporary Christian Music” in the 60’s and 70’s through figures like Keith Green, the Jesus People movement, and Maranatha! Music was a genuine attempt to try and praise god in the musical language of the culture. Although I am no longer a part of the church, I think that’s a fine and noble goal. Somehow in the past 50 years that has morphed into musically bankrupt and calculatedly manipulative aural wallpaper.
I know that this church does not give a fuck about my opinion, but I feel like it takes all the power away from the video for this just to be any church and this just any pastor in anyplace. The video is Pastor Damon Thompson at the Ramp in Hamilton, Alabama.
UPDATE: The first person account of someone who was there at that service.

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