Music Reviews: Josh Garrels and Mumford & Sons

JoshGarrelsI don’t do too much reviewing on this site, and I don’t really have the time or expertise for a good blow-by-blow evaluation of these albums, but I thought I’d draw attention to a couple I’ve been listening to lately.

I make no secret of the fact that I typically dislike Christian pop music. It is usually very derivative, very safe, and very corny. I’d rather listen to someone interesting with whom I disagree any day. So, when a friend claimed that Josh Garrels’ album was his favourite of any kind ever, and when he said it’s a free download, I thought I’d check it out (I’m also pretty stingy).

Having given it a few listens, Josh seems to me to be the born-again lovechild of Jack Johnson and Tracy Chapman, sometimes being the acoustic guitarist, sometimes donning a 10-gallon New Country hat, and sometimes unexpectedly breaking out into how I think Aretha Franklin might sound if I ever listened to her.

Although that ought to endear him to me about only one-third of the time, the combination is pleasant, if not always as musically challenging as it might be, and there are some strong songs on the album. For my money (oh wait, I didn’t pay!), the album is never better than on the first track, and (perhaps as a function of his over-generosity), the album feels  a couple of tracks too heavy to be able to get one’s head around it in a single listen. Nevertheless, I rate it pretty highly, especially given how totally free it is. Get the album here (or from me, but I think Josh wants you to sign up for the album. Sign up then get it from me):

http://joshgarrels.bandcamp.com/

If his guitar were any bigger, he'd have to charge you for his songs

If his guitar were any bigger, he’d have to charge you for his songs

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Mumford & Sons: Sigh No More

English folkster types, Mumford & Sons, are not trying to fish in the Christian music pond — their album even contains swears on at least one track — but on their way to critical acclaim in Britain, they’ve managed to turn out some very interesting Christian-themed songs.

I have to say at the outset that their success is surprising to me, because I didn’t know the UK was so broadly in favour of quite that much banjo or mandolin or whatever it is they keep playing, and the rhyme schemes can be annoyingly two-dimensional at times. Nevertheless, the depth evident in their album outweighs those gripes, and thoughtfully putting Christian ideas and songs based on Plato’s Republic out there on the radio when other artists are singing about whipping their hair or lipgloss does set them quite far apart.

The Cave (excerpt)

So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker’s land

So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say

Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be

And I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck

And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again

And another one:

Roll Away Your Stone (excerpt)

You told me that I would find a hole,
Within the fragile substance of my soul
And I have filled this void with things unreal,
And all the while my character it steals

Darkness is a harsh term don’t you think?
And yet it dominates the things I seek

It seems that all my bridges have been burned,
But, you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works
It’s not the long walk home
that will change this heart,
But the welcome I receive with the restart

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Don’t be a Dawk about it

Richard feeling grumpy after an embarrassing radio interview

Richard Dawkins recently published the results of a survey into the level of religious belief in Britain. Among the more shocking revelations was that only one in three Christians could correctly answer a four-option multiple choice question asking them to identify the first book of the New Testament.

Rev Giles Fraser made a risky comeback, asking Dawkins whether he could give the full title of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Dawkins went blank on it, stumbled around for a while, but eventually got it mostly right.

Fraser used this lapse to say,

‘If you ask people who believe in evolution that question, and you came back and said 2 per cent got it right, it would be terribly easy for me to say they don’t believe it after all.’ (Source: Daily Mail)

As a result, there has been a fair bit of ridicule and triumphalism bandied about on the net by Christians or other Dawkins-dislikers.

This is unfortunate for more reasons than Dawkins gives (i.e. that the question he had to answer was disproportionately difficult, compared with the Matthew multiple-choice).

Firstly, Fraser’s retort seems to suggest that Christian belief without even the most basic awareness of Christian content is somehow acceptable. Yet on the contrary, even the most rudimentary acquaintance with Jesus’ teachings makes it clear that Jesus rests everything on hearing, keeping, and obeying his teaching, and following his example, such as:

  • Lk. 14:27 “And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
  • Jn. 8:31 “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.”
  • Jn. 15:14 “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (See also Matt. 7:26-27; John 8:47,51; 15:10)

Dawkins is probably right, therefore, that the majority of Britons who identify themselves as Christians actually have no functioning religious belief whatsoever.

Secondly, Fraser’s superficial victory has drawn Christian attention away from these rather alarming revelations from Dawkins’ research. Instead of hearing what Dawkins said, Christians have majored on his (understandable) memory lapse. Yet these are some of the conclusions of his research (taken also from AndrewCopson.net):

  • 17% of Christians have never read the Bible
  • 28% of census Christians believe in Christian teachings
  • 6% had attended a church in the last week
  • 65% said they were not religious
  • 48% believe Jesus was a real person who was the son of God, died and came back to life
  • 10% say they seek most guidance on questions of right and wrong from religious teachings or beliefs
  • 60% hadn’t read the Bible in the last year
  • 28% say that it is a belief in the teachings of Christianity that makes them tick the Christian census-box

Dawkins is surely right, therefore, that the majority of British Christians are functionally atheistic. And how can Fraser be correct that the statistics do not fairly describe belief in Christianity when the stats show that ‘Christians’ are not acquainted with Christian writings, do not concern themselves all that much with Christian morality, do not identify with Christian beliefs, and do not attend church? Is there something more basic than belief and practice that defines the Christian religion? There isn’t according to Christian texts and church history, but maybe these days the enjoyment of cake and warm handshakes is sufficient (although diabetics and the arthritic are also more than welcome).

Dawkins also wrong

Having said all that, let me not give the impression that I think Dawkins’ point stretches any further. His motivation for presenting this research is to say that even though the census reveals that almost 70% call themselves Christian, tax money should not be allocated to the benefit of Christian organisations or religious ends of any kind, because the people are not really Christian.

The object of the poll , carried out by Ipsos Mori for the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, appears to have been to discredit the use of census data to justify Christian practices such as government funding for faith schools and bishops having seats in the House of Lords. (Source: The Week)

The obvious response is that Dawkins’ findings will matter for nominal Christians on Judgement Day, should there prove to be one. Where they don’t matter is in the realm of politics. Government ought to be distributing some of its funds (taken from the taxpayer) according to the will of the taxpayer. If people wish for government to spend money on environmental preservation, it doesn’t really matter how many of those people have Range Rovers and don’t recycle. It remains their will. Similarly, if census respondents identify themselves with Christian things, it is right for government to spend accordingly, irrespective of how devout those people turn out to be, or how consistent their beliefs are. Charges of hypocrisy are unfortunately not relevant, Mr Dawkins.