MARS HILL AUDIO Journal

Volume 65

Guests on Volume 65: Stephen G. Post, on why there should be more room for public forms of religious expression; Glenn C. Altschuler, on the advent of rock 'n' roll, and the various fears it created; Mark Oppenheimer, on the importance of style and the rise of radical informality; Johnny Cash, on faith, vocation, the Incarnation, and the Last Supper; George Marsden, on how Jonathan Edwards understood world history and the American experience; and Julian Johnson, on various misunderstandings about classical music, the differences between music as art and music as commodity, and on expectations of immediate gratification in music.

Part 1

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    Stephen G. Post on why there should be more room for public forms of religious expression

    Human Nature and the Freedom of Public Religious Expression (University of Notre Dame, 2003)

    In his book Human Nature and the Freedom of Public Religious Expression, ethicist Stephen G. Post critiques the contemporary exclusion of religious expression from public discourse and institutions, stating that it does an injustice to human nature. Human nature, Post explains, has "a powerful religious and spiritual inclination." Post, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, has seen this inclination demonstrated when patients receive serious diagnoses, and the results of several medical studies—which demonstrate that people make sense of serious illness through religious belief and spirituality—lend credibility to his first-hand experience. Because personal religious conviction plays such a strong role in how patients come to terms with life-changing illnesses, patients feel belittled as individuals when their doctors and nurses do not acknowledge those convictions; medical schools and personnel have responded to the concerns of patients, working to acknowledge and honor the convictions of patients so they will not feel demeaned. Post compares the realm of medical practice to the public square, advocating for wide-spread recognition of personal religious conviction across all public discourse.

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    Glenn C. Altschuler on the advent of rock 'n' roll, and the various fears it created

    All Shook Up: How Rock 'N' Roll Changed America (Oxford University Press, 2003)

    Professor Glenn C. Altschuler examines the cultural influence of rock 'n' roll music in his book All Shook Up: How Rock 'N' Roll Changed America. Rock 'n' roll has had the ability to cause more conflict between the generations than other types of music partly because of the cultural changes with which it is associated. For example, rock 'n' roll developed during a time of unprecedented attention to and pampering of young people, exploiting the increasing purchasing power of youths while exciting the fears of those who were concerned with the possibility of increasing juvenile delinquency, and who saw rock 'n' roll as an instigator of misbehavior. These extra-musical affairs, along with large numbers of albums that easily made their way into homes and well-attended concerts, placed the music of rock 'n' roll and its milieu in the category of mass culture phenomenon.

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    Mark Oppenheimer on the importance of style and the rise of radical informality

    Knocking on Heaven's Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture (Yale University Press, 2003)

    Writer Mark Oppenheimer argues that one of the major changes in American society since the 1960s is a change in style: people today are less formal in their sensibilities than were people before the 1960s. This informality manifests itself in many ways, including in how people dress, in their attitudes towards authority, and in the styles of worship religious communities employ. In his book Knocking on Heaven's Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture, Oppenheimer examines the changes in the Roman Catholic Church after Vatican II as one example of the latter. Among other changes, he states, Vatican II replaced the Latin mass with vernacular mass while also exchanging ancient church music for music more akin to that of the rock 'n' roll culture. Oppenheimer explains that these changes rendered the Church more informal than it had been, and, because of the powerful role style plays in determining a person's sense of belonging to a religious community, left many Church members feeling displaced.

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    Johnny Cash on faith, vocation, the Incarnation, and the Last Supper

    Johnny Cash (1932-2003)

    In this interview from Ken Myers's archives (Ken's first ever interview), Johnny Cash (1932-2003) discusses his career as a musician, including his special affection for gospel music and his film project, "The Gospel Road." Cash explains that he views his work as a ministry to which God called him. He states that he enjoys himself most when he performs gospel music, and he attributes his ability to recognize truly inspired gospel songs to God. Cash also uses his guitar to help him describe the music of his film on the life of Christ.

Part 2

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    George Marsden on how Jonathan Edwards understood world history and the American experience

    Jonathan Edwards: A Life (Yale University Press, 2003)

    In 2003, the three-hundredth anniversary of Jonathan Edwards's birth, historian and professor George Marsden contributed an important work to the scholarship about the theologian and philosopher. In Jonathan Edwards: A Life Marsden portrays a man in keeping with his times: like others of his era, Edwards applied biblical interpretation to political and social events in order to decipher their spiritual importance and thus God's workings in the world. Edwards, because he evaluated the events of his day in the light of what he read in the Bible, was convinced that worldwide religious revival was close at hand. In fact, states Marsden, revivals are at the heart of Edwards's main contribution to thinking about history and God's purposes. Edwards thought that instead of God working out his purposes in history through the Church, he would, rather, work them out through religious revivals.

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    Julian Johnson on various misunderstandings about classical music, and the differences between music as art and music as commodity

    Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value (Oxford University Press, 2002)

    Classical music's position in Western societies is not as prominent as it once was, partly because of the misconceptions people have about classical music and about art more generally. In his book Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value, composer Julian Johnson identifies and explains the error of some of the misconceptions. One idea he denounces is that classical music is impersonal, that it pays no attention to the particular. "It seems to me art is nothing," he says, "if it doesn't accord great value to this particular face, this particular place, this particular sentiment, and, in the case of music, these particular materials that a composer works with." Johnson also discusses his concerns about how recordings have affected classical music.

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    Julian Johnson from the bonus track of the CD edition, on music and the expectations of immediate gratification

    Many activities and experiences in one's life give immediate pleasure but listening to classical music, says composer Julian Johnson, is not necessarily one of those things. Johnson, author of Who Needs Classical Music? Cultural Choice and Musical Value, explains that while classical music does bring pleasure immediately on one level, the enjoyment that comes from deeply engaging the complex schemes of classical pieces demands more time and attention than contemporary listeners are used to giving. The demands that the music makes on a listener's time, attention, and musical vocabulary can be off-putting and make the music seem inaccessible. If the listener is willing, however, to become familiar with the music's language and to engage it with a "contemplative attitude"—to surrender to a work and where it goes—it will bring rewards that something which is immediately accessible cannot bring, Johnson states. "I think that attitude, that attitude of giving yourself up to a particular experience is a particularly precious one, and the contemplation—to be grand about it—the contemplation of artworks . . . Has been one of the richest and most special activities that we as humans in every culture across the world have managed to produce."