September 19, 2017

“A New Song for an Old World” (Notes & Excerpt 8)

More notes & excerpts from Calvin R. Stapert’s book, A New Song for an Old World. Previous excerpts: OneTwoThreeFourFiveSixSeven

Stapert believes that modern-day Christians should follow the church fathers in rejecting pagan music: “In our sensation-hungry, pleasure-mad society, we should be no less courageous than were the church fathers in holding and promoting counter-cultural views and practices. They did not hesitate to denounce the music of their society that they saw a pernicious, no matter how popular it was. We should be as ready to denounce what is pernicious in our own society.” (Stapert, 106.)

Stapert notes, however, that moderns have provided three arguments to deny that any music may be pernicious.

“First, there is the argument that ‘it’s just a song,’ which is dismissive of the age-old and virtually universal belief that a song is not just a song.” (Stapert, 196)

In response:

“It has been recognized for many centuries and across many cultures that song has great rhetorical power.” Most famously Plato: “Let me make the songs of a nation and I won’t care who makes its laws.” (Stapert, 196)

Stapert notes secondly that “those who say ‘it’s just a song’ do not actually act as if that were true. Most of those who use that argument bring it into the discussion only when they feel threatened by criticism.” (Stapert, 196)

This claim is, ironically, given plausibility by “a recent phase in the history of art criticism that has rejected ethical criticism. … This phase of art criticism views art as so important, subtle, and sophisticated in its own right that ethical concerns become trivial. What matters are ‘purely artistic’ concerns—whatever those are.” Again, this is a theory that does not fare well in reality. In practice art critics do engage ethical matters. (Stapert, 197)

In sum: “Because the church fathers knew this, music mattered in their thought. Therefore, they took ethical criticism seriously: they realized that the music company we keep matters, and that if we think otherwise, we do so to our own detriment.” (Stapert, 197)

Arguments two and three next week in the final installment of this series.

All excerpts from:

Calvin R. Stapert, A New Song for an Old World (Eerdmans, 2007), 154-57


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