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ROCK & ROLL AND HUMANISM.

The text of my Open Forum talk to the BHA’s Conference in Peterborough in September 1994.

A common question at meetings and conferences is "Why can't we get many young people interested in Humanism?" The reason is primarily that many `young people" know nothing of Humanism, even when so many of them have a strong sense of dissatisfaction with religion of all kinds. The question should therefore be, what are young people interested in, and how can we, as Humanists, tap into these interest areas?

Many people find, as we do, that they have difficulty in appealing to young people today; Humanists are by no means alone in being adversely affected by the generation gap. This is why so many forty something. advertisers resort to patronising young people by showing break-dancing bank managers and rap-talking salesmen shouting "yo!" a lot. Teenagers and people in their twenties find this a major turn off,

The real problem is that many Humanists are traditionalists and puritans: our social gatherings are often polite and informal - fork suppers, poetry readings and so on. Perhaps it is time to try something bolder, more innovative, and loud: My proposal is - have a disco!

Some Humanists will be shrieking in terror at the very thought of this, but consider the possibilities. Devise a poster showing our Happy Human logo dressed as Elvis, in a spangled jacket, clutching a microphone. The slogan proclaims MUSIC AND MORALITY WITHOUT RELIGION. The ordinary DJ-led dancing can be interspersed with theme intervals where the song chosen says something relevant to Humanism. The problem now becomes finding such songs. In fact, this is no problem at all, when you listen beyond the beat to the lyrics themselves and when you look at the history of the radical rock and pop music from a Humanist perspective.

The giant early rockers, Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis included, got their vibrant dance steps and loud repetitive rhythms from attendance at Negro churches where the music was strongly influenced by blues and jazz. The initial outcry against rock and roll, which youngsters adored, was from predominantly white Christians of the Bible Belt and Ku Klux Klan who objected to the combining of religious musical rhythms and so-called Nigger Music beat by young white performers to tell fairly conventional boy-meets girl love stories. Christian evangelists, including Jimmy Swaggart who was Jerry Lee Lewis' cousin, tried to decry the new sound as immoral, unchristian and even satanic. Each new wave of musical inspiration reopens this futile, hateful protest, helping to advertise bands more effectively than their own managers and promoters often dream of achieving.

Many performers intentionally adopt names deliberately mocking religion; Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Jesus Jones, The Cult, Blue Oyster Cult, and of course, Madonna.

Other rockers have made direct statements against religion. Sinead O'Connor tore up the Pope's picture live on the Johnny Carson Show; John Lennon said, quite correctly, that the Beatles were bigger than Jesus.

Christians have tried promoting their own wholesome brand of rock music. Cliff Richard asks, as the Wesley's did, why the Devil should have all the best tunes. Sadly, most Christian rock is just bland sentimental pap of the type "Jesus wants me for a sunbeam".

Some rockers who have become religious zealots have somehow lost their talent in the process, notably Bob Dylan. Recently, former Page Three girl and alleged singer, Samantha Fox, saw the Light and now sings out in the name of Jesus Porn again Christians awake! Saddest of all must be Cat Steven's decision to renounce his art forever, changing his name to Josef Islam in a move to Islamic fundamentalism.

"Back-masking" allegations still surface, claiming that rock music carries subliminal satanic messages, especially if the records are played backwards. The allegation is totally without foundation. Few people play expensive records backwards anyway, though some might arguably sound better if they did.

Bob Larson, Christian rock-knocker. (Rock, Larson, Living Books 1994), encourages parents to remove rock-idol posters from their children's walls, gradually replacing them with appropriate religious ones. Had I found my Megadeath posters replaced by portraits of Mother Teresa I would have left home immediately. Such advise is cruel and insensitive to the point of being sinister. Dan Peters (What about Christian Rock?) claims that R & R is a medium for "rebellion, violence, hedonism, drug & alcohol abuse, despondency, suicide, escapism, Satanism, occultism, secular Humanism and worldly commercialism."

In fact, Rock Music says a great deal about all aspects of life, positive and negative. It ranges from the bleak pessimism of punk to Future generation, to the lyrical peace ballads of the 1960's Woodstock era which helped to bring an end to the Vietnam war. There are also a great many songs which reflect, intentionally or otherwise, aspects of Humanist beliefs. Here aye my personal top ten:

1: John Lennon - Imagine

2: REM - Losing My Religion

3: Monty Python - Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.

4: The Crash Test Dummies - MMM MMM MMM MMM

5: Bob Dylan -With God On Our Side

6: The Rolling Stones - Sympathy For The Devil

7: Queen - The Days Of Our Lives

8: Talking Heads - The Road To Nowhere

9: Black - Wonderful Life.

10: The Beatles - The Ballad Of John & Yoko

Space won't permit and explanation of my choices. There are many more to choose from. The choices of music for Humanist ceremonies speak volumes. Go on, organize a promotional disco - Party on, dudes!

© Copyright. Arthur Chappell           

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