Monday, April 12, 2010

The source

Songwriter Jeff Shattuck has an interesting post up about creativity and atheism. Specifically, he takes issue with artists who claim that God is responsible for all of their creations.
... claiming that some god wrote your song is not the height of humility, it’s the height of arrogance. After all, you’re basically saying that of all the people on earth, the god you believe in chose to give you a particular song.
(Full post here. Hat tip: Tom Slatter.)

Up to a point, I'm right there with Shattuck. I am also an unbeliever. I am also comfortable with my lack of belief.

Comfortable for the most part, anyway. When it comes to songwriting, it gets a little awkward.

See, I never intended to become a songwriter. One day, while musing about some hard-won insights, I sang three words. They were sort of related to my musings, but I hadn't been thinking those particular words, or about music. I hadn't realized I was about to sing. It was as though the words hadn't come from me at all.

Nothing quite that surreal ever happened again. When I wrote the rest of that song, and the others that followed, my efforts primarily involved ... well ... effort. Crafting a song meant rolling up my sleeves, going to work, and thinking up stuff with my own brain. Still, every now and again I'd get a flash of insight. As if someone or something outside of me had put the words in my head.

Again, I don't subscribe to a belief system in which a god or the universe gets personally involved in human affairs. I don't believe in muses either. But damn, they make pretty good metaphors for the way it feels when ideas come out of nowhere. And silly as it sounds coming from an atheist, I don't feel right claiming credit for the out-of-nowhere bits.

Unfortunately, I have no clue what to give credit to.

To the source of all those ideas, words, and notes: If you ever feel like divulging your identity, you know where to find me. I'll be happy to share royalties with you. 'til then, all I can offer is my undying gratitude.


Tom said...

I know exactly what you mean, ideas just leap out of nowhere don't they. While I share your lack of belief in the supernatural, inspiration sure can seem supernatural sometimes.

- Tom Slatter

Jeff Shattuck said...

Hello, thanks for your thoughts on my post. I hear you about creativity, it's a mystery, but here's a link to an article about it that makes a compelling case for creativity being manmade.

Sadly, you'll need a subscrition to read the whole thing, but the abstract is decent.

Off to check out your tunes!

Dave Tutin said...

I credit the subconscious mind. I think all our brains work in slightly different ways, which is why we all have different skills or aptitudes.

Songwriting is about making connections - between words, thoughts, events - that are a little less predictable than everyday life. And therefore more interesting.

This happens subconsciously and all we know is we've suddenly got the next line or the next chord or the idea for the next song!

The great news is: no sharing of royalties required. It is ALL you, you just don't always know it.

Sally said...

I tend to credit the subconscious as Dave does. It's why I can give someone a damn good Tarot reading - though I ascribe to no supernatural "Tarot god" or any other mystical realm. There's some stuff deep within us all that takes either quiet, or excitement, or any combo thereof for our minds to bring it to the forefront.

John Wenger said...

You describe yourself as an atheist, but you aren't an atheist; you are an agnostic. I don't think I know any atheists, because an atheist has to somehow know there is no god (or God), and I do not understand how anyone can know such a thing.

I'm not sure it makes sense to ascribe the belief that one's inspiration comes from God as either an expression of humility or of arrogance. Why can't it simply be a belief which is deeply felt?

Dave Tutin said...

John - If people of faith are sure, then atheists can be equally sure. Agnostic is a name for people who are not sure - or just cannot reach a decision.

Just like the battle between the extreme right and extreme left of this country, the refusal of religious people to allow non-religious people the same degree of certainty in their beliefs is at the root of our problems.

I am totally willing to allow you your beliefs: allow me mine. I am an atheist.

cinderkeys said...

Interesting stuff. I wish I could have read more than the New Yorker abstract. (They charged something like $6 to read just the one article. I could by a whole magazine -- in print -- for less than that!)

As for agnosticism vs. atheism, I used to be in the adamant agnostic camp: I don't know, and you don't either! Since then I've come to a different understanding of what atheism means. It doesn't mean I think I can absolutely disprove the existence of a supernatural being through the sheer force of my logic. It means I don't believe in one.

Why do atheists have to prove they're right to be atheists, whereas believers in some specific religion don't?

Tom Slatter said...

John, 'atheist' refers to someone who doesn't believe in God, not someone who can prove the negative that God doesn't exist.

You might be interested in looking up 'Bertrand Russel's Teapot' for the thoughts of someone much more eloquent than me on the question you ask about whether or not someone can know there is no God.

Fireblossom said...

If the devil can make you do it, why not the angels? ;-)

John Wenger said...

Three people (so far) disagree with my post saying that Susan isn't an atheist (Susan being one of them), but only one of them seems to actually disagree with the substance of my comment, while the other two disagreed with my definition.

One of the great mathematicians of the 20th century once yelled at me in class because I told him his definition was wrong (this is the only time in the semester he lost his temper), but after I pointed out the consequence of his definition, he admitted I was right.

Cinderkeys Wenger and Tom Slatter both said that atheism means not believing. But an agnostic doesn't believe either, so the force of their logic implies that all agnostics are atheists, which destroys the distinction between them.

Dave Tutin seems to have no quarrel with my definition, but he quarrels with my logic, saying that if believers can be sure, so can atheists. That sounds reasonable. But at least some believers believe that God somehow manifests Himself to them, but no one can believe that nothing can manifest itself to anyone.

It is true that most believers simply trust the tradition that tells them the Bible (or Koran, etc.) is a true account without any other evidence, while atheists often challenge the Biblical account using the Book of Job as their guide, but this is a reason not to believe in the God revealed in the Bible, not to reject belief in a Supreme Being simply.

I have a friend whose position is that there are believers and atheists, and that agnostics are just cowards who cannot declare what they believe or are atheists in mufti. We still argue about this (the argument is now 46 years old, as old as my marriage).

Since God is supposed to be ineffable, to be beyond the sphere of human reason, it makes no sense to me that one can conclude His non-existence, since to do so is to use the limited tools at our disposal that He is supposed to transcend.