Monday, 26 September 2011
Losing my religion
You may have heard that the band R.E.M have announced they are going to split. This was certainly news to me as I didn't know they were still together (!) but I immediately thought of some of their songs and in particular, "Losing my religion", a wonderful track full of anguished lyrics such as, "That's me in the corner, that's me in the spotlight, losing my religion." Losing my religion is apparently an idiomatic phrase which means something like "at my wits end" and, according to the Internet, was inspired by attempts to grapple with a guitar chord rather than a Jacob-like wrestling match with the maker of the universe. However, there has to be more to it than that as a whole generation found a mystical focus in the song - yes, it said so on the Internet (who needs religion anyhow with such a source of infallible knowledge and wisdom at the click of a mouse...)
Well, I've done a little bit of questioning, doubting and journeying in terms of faith and religion over the years, so I decided to have a look at the lyrics. I couldn't quite make my mind up if they were "profound" (the Internet told me so...) or " complete bollocks" (the humble opinion of a commenter on one thread I looked at), but they did seem to me to be about more than just breaking a nail on a guitar string. I felt there were two key strands in the song. The first is that our faith becomes poisoned when we cannot be ourselves with God, or when we think that we can hide from him,
"Every whisper, every waking hour, I'm choosing my confessions."
The idea that we can hide ourselves from God goes right back to Genesis when Adam first sins and is aware of his nakedness and tries to hide from God. Of course, it is futile to try to hide from God because he is all seeing, but I am not sure that is the point, the point is more that shame can cause us to hide from ourselves and to hide from God and it is only when we can be open and vulnerable with God that we can understand ourselves to be loved completely and that we can have faith in ourselves and our potential for goodness as made in the divine image (I'm not saying REM was saying all that, you know, most of that is me being profound...)
The second idea that I noticed was very similar - the idea that to have faith we have to be able to trust that God is good. This is by no means as easy as it seems. The concluding lyrics of the song show a desire to believe in a benevolent God, but a doubt and suspicion that overcome this:
" I thought that I heard you laughing, I thought that I heard you sing, I think I thought I heard you try... but that was just a dream... just a dream."
Does God laugh with us, or at us? Is his response to human suffering one of compassion - tears - or the laughter of a cruel or capricious deity? Given all the horrors of human existence, is the belief in a God of love a pipe dream that only the most misguided cling onto? It always affects me when I hear stories of people who have suffered great tragedy - the death of a child is the most poignant example- who lose their faith. It affects me because I know that I cannot say, hand on heart, that I would not be the same, that I would not blame God and feel angry and disbelieving rather than cling to my faith. I wonder how many of us could say the same?