The Bible, Music, and the Western Soul

Thoughts and quotations from a book I am currently reading…

“Criticisms of the Bible are recognition of its unique cultural power. Contrary to what my university taught, the Bible was the force that had created modern India.”

“Western (education) can make good robots but it cannot even define a good man… The postmodern university can teach one how to travel to Mars but not how to live in one’s home or nation”

Vishal Mangalwadi wrote The Book that made your World in response to criticism by politicians of the Bible’s effect on Indian culture. It acts primarily as a warning/reminder to the West of what they are sacrificing along with their biblical heritage.

He surprisingly begins with the topic of music, stating that “Those who think that the universe is only material substance and the soul is an illusion find it hard to explain music.”

church music_3He goes on to tell how music was always held in high regard, after theology only, at the educational core of Biblical (‘Western’) cultures, as it was seen to consist of mathematical harmony and associated with a rational, eternal, unchangeable, meaningful and objective reality under a monotheistic, intelligent designer. Much of this was due to St Augustine’s philosophical works on music and the influence it had on Europe. The pipe organs in church was the world’s most advanced machine until the mechanical clock and stood as emblems of the West’s unique desire and ability to use the arts, science, and technology for the glory of God as well as for the relief of humanity’s suffering and toil.

While top modern/postmodern music artists are so attractive because they capture human suffering in their lyrics, those who have gone before saw hope through the pain, as is still the case within the Christian musical tradition. Kurt Cobain is held up as the musical symbol of the West’s state under the post-Augustinian Nietzschean world. While Augustine affirmed every human being as a trinity of existence (being), intellect, and will, Cobain bought into the Nietzschean idea that God is dead and thus the self too is dead. This is aligned with the Buddhist idea of the self as illusion. Cobain is, however, held up as a legitimate icon because he lived by what he believed. Only a few followed his example of suicide but most follow that of Sartre and Camus who advocate for choice in spite of the nihilism they embraced. Suicide is not necessary because an own reality could be created through choice – Cobain did not create such a reality for himself.

Golden Pipe Organ - Granada, Spain

Golden Pipe Organ – Granada, Spain

Music did exist within non-Christian cultures but was hardly ever treated in a similar manner and developed to the same level of complexity and, states Mangalwadi, universities with a Christian heritage tend to still hold music in a much higher regard than most universities founded upon secularism during the twentieth century. Within the church, music is also less developed where St Augustine had less influence.

This is mainly based on and quoted from the first chapter ‘The West without its Soul: from Bach to Cobain’ from Mangalwadi’s The Book that made your World: how the Bible created the soul of Western civilisation.




photo of organ via

About Servaas Hofmeyr

For life through Truth.
This entry was posted in Arts, Christianity, Culture, Music, Religion and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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