September 2, 2012

Music and Atheism

I've enjoyed listening to many different kinds of music for as long as I can remember. My parents had a kick-ass classic rock and folk record collection back in the day. The Stones, Beatles, Doors, Janis Joplin, and all sorts of others from the late 60s and early 70s. When an uncle died in a car accident at a young age, I took his massive collection of 70s hard rock cassettes nobody else in the family wanted. I had never heard of many of the bands, but this was how I first heard Bad Company, Mott the Hoople, Slade, Black Sabbath, and many others.

As I grew up and got more into music, I finally understood what people meant when they spoke about having a soundtrack to their lives. There are songs I can hear today that bring back vivid memories of particular times in my life. I might not recall the exact date, but I remember exactly what I was doing, what was important to me, and why the music mattered. There has definitely been a soundtrack to my life, and it has been a fairly diverse one.

I started thinking about this after a recent post at krissthesexyatheist got my attention. He pointed out that while we typically think of music bringing people together, it can also divide. So true. Even when music brings together one group, it can divide them from the rest of society. I found myself thinking about the possible connection between by atheism and the music I love. I think there might be something there.

I remember that part of the appeal to the punk I listened to during the early Reagan years was that it was angry and off-putting to those who were happy with where the country was headed. It was rebellious, but much of it also had a message in that it spoke for the voiceless among us. In that way, it did bring us together. The early thrash metal scene was similar. Part of the appeal was that the adults didn't get it. It was loud, fast, and angry. But there was also a sense that the musicians were speaking directly to us. We might have felt alienated, but someone got it.

I was in high school when I first heard metal bands with blatantly Satanic themes (e.g., Mercyful Fate, Venom, Slayer) and not just those accused of having such themes. I loved it immediately because it sounded evil like metal is supposed to, Christians feared it, and much of it was anti-religious. Does music like this divide people? Absolutely. I had to hide it from my parents for fear they would destroy it. That was probably another aspect of the appeal.

I never realized this before, but it probably isn't a coincidence that I found many of these bands shortly after I realized that I no longer believed in gods. At a time in my life when I was losing friends due to atheism and felt like my family was against me much of the time, I was mad much of the time. I needed a release, and I found it in the music. Do I still love it today? Yep.

I know full well that most of my fellow adults consider this music to be garbage, and they are certainly entitled to their opinion. I have little interest in arguing with them, but I do not hide my love of it like I used to. I listen to many different types of music today, but I continue to have a soft spot for loud, fast music with anti-religious themes. And why not? It has been part of the soundtrack to my life.

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