I sing baritone with a 55-member chorus in the Barbershop Harmony Society. Every year the chorus celebrates the Christmas season with a production of seasonal music. The first half is relatively light-hearted, including some sort of skit to tie together Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Chestnuts Roasting, etc.

The second half tells the traditional "birth of Jesus" story, with the more intensely religious songs like Silent Night, The First Noel, Adeste Fidelis, Mary Did You Know, and so on.

I love to sing, and I like supporting the chorus (the Christmas show is their big money-maker for the year) -- BUT, I've been an atheist for many years, and I feel like a total hypocrite warbling lyrics like "When I was a sinner, I prayed both day and night; I asked the Lord to help me, and he showed me the light . . ."  (from Go Tell It on the Mountain).

The chorus begins preparing for the big Xmas show months in advance, so I wind up singing these nonsensical lyrics over and over again. And it goes without saying that most of my fellow chorus members are sincere Christians -- or at least, they pay lip-service to this religion.

So I have this problem with hypocrisy. I could drop out of the chorus for about six months each year and only visit when they rehearse secular music. Or I could pretend to be a cultural anthropologist, watching how a primitive tribe observes their rituals, while still blending in like a native. Or I could simply sing during the first half of the show, and sit silent and sullen during the second half (and likewise during every rehearsal).

A close friend in the chorus knows about my conflict. A Christian himself, he doesn't see anything wrong with my singing these songs -- for one thing, the show will go on whether I was there or not. But I feel that standing on the risers and belting out "Christ is born!" is necessarily seen by others as testimony to my "faith."

Comments or suggestions?

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If you like to sing and singing that stuff doesn't bother you, I'd do it anyway. Then in that slim chance that someone said your singing was a wonderful testament to your faith, tell them you are not a Christian. When they look shocked and ask what faith you are just make something up. Be original and leave them guessing.

Comedians do this all the time. I forget the name here, but Christians told this one comedian that they were greatly upset by what he had said about their religion. He thought for a minute and says "well, then forgive me."

Thanks, Michael. I guess it's really a matter of cognitive dissonance. If I could get my head around the singing of religious music as you suggest, the problem would go away. So far I'm having trouble with that, though.

I'm an atheist ... and I positively LOVE the first solo of Handel's Messiah, "Comfort ye."  I have been known to sing along with the soloist when I have it cued up on my stereo system, and for no other reason than the lovely sound of the sustained notes and how it feels to sing.  Honestly, I couldn't care less about the words, but then, I'm one of those people who, with certain exceptions, is more interested in the music than what the words are saying.

And as it comes to song lyrics which are a bit off the beaten track ... have you ever sung "Water Night," as arranged by Eric Whitacre?  The words written by Octavio Paz and translated by Muriel Rukeyser are purely surreal ... and I KICK myself that I didn't participate in any of his Virtual Choirs (of which it was one) because I've let my voice go to hell ... because "Water Night" is superbly BEAUTIFUL:

Muriel Rukeyser,? Any relation to Louis Rukeyser: Host of Wall $treet Week with Louis Rukeyser?


I like your suggestion, Loren, of music far more than mine. I have a tin ear and lack appreciation of "quality" music.

I have seen and heard some of Whitacre's virtual choir music before, and greatly enjoy it. Thanks for the beautiful reminder, Loren!  (I must admit that the poetry seems a bit peculiar to me, though -- perhaps something was lost in translation!)

Like you, I normally listen to music for the rhythm, melody and harmony rather than the lyrics. However, as a choral singer with mediocre memory I have to spend a lot of time learning the lyrics, repeating them over and over. Thinking about the meaning of the lyric is unavoidable.  I can't just tune it out.

Guess I'll have to work on that.

I'm lucky. Anything I sing repeatedly gets embedded in my mind quickly. As I get older, though, that ability is waning. I only had a week to memorize lyrics to a Christmas carol I had never heard: "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas." I had other music to learn, too, so "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas" got edged out. It still went OK at the concert.

Many of the teachers at the Christian school I attended felt Santa Claus detracted from Christmas because it took focus off Jesus. My social studies teacher in high school went so far as to say Santa Claus was satanic. Even back then, I knew he was batshit crazy. My friends and I used to mock him behind his back because he thought all kinds of things were satanic, including Jiminy Cricket because he sang, "When You Wish Upon a Star." Apparently, that's astrology and astrology is satanic. XD I know all the religious Christmas carols, but there are a few secular ones I don't know due to some of these whack-job teachers.

My mother was always fine with Santa. She used to make me say I believed in Santa Claus up until my early twenties by threatening, "If you don't believe in Santa, you don't get any presents." Finally, I called her bluff, deciding it was better to go without presents than persist in this demeaning tradition. You see what shit I have to contend with? Jesus Christ. I got the presents anyway.

It must be worse if you have to pound those lyrics into your head that much. Maybe your mind is rebelling and that's part of why you're having trouble memorizing.

That's an intriguing theory, but no, I don't think it's a problem with my mind rebelling against the lyrics. I've always had trouble with rote memorization. My wife and friends joke about my forgetfulness, as a matter of fact.

Fortunately, I don't seem to be having increasing difficulty (which would cause me to wonder about senility or Alzheimers). I simply have a poor memory.

I'm sure you have other strengths that make up for it. All of us are "blessed" and "cursed"--isn't it interesting how religion invades our very language?--with strengths and weaknesses. I'd trade my ability to learn lyrics quickly for more energy. :)

I always sing hymns at funerals such as the old rugged cross and bread of heaven, I feel no uneasiness with it whatsoever. You probably wouldn't find many Christians, communists, or fascists for that matter, willing to sing John Lennon's ''imagine'' because it doesn't sit comfortable with their ideological worldviews. But as long as one hasn't any axe to grind a song is just a pleasant experience to listen to or maybe sing along with regardless of the original inspiration of the lyricist.

Gerald, I like the way you frame this concept, The issue is how Glenn thinks and feels about his situation and finding a process that he is comfortable with is appropriate. Your idea offers him another option to consider. 

Yeah. Christians are less flexible than we are. I would get crucified if I sang songs that made them uncomfortable, yet they expect singers like Glenn and me to perform their songs and not raise objections. Christian privilege is everywhere.




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