I remember being in an odd conversation in college with an unusually fanatic Christian. Given the sociological spectrum of religious adherence in this country, I imagine that's what most people would think of me. So it's probably amusing for others that I would call someone a fanatic Christian. But judgments we all make, and this kid wasn't particularly friendly.
More to the point: he carried all the negative connotations associated with being a "Bible thumper." He knew the Bible better than anybody I had yet met. Now, though I went to college in the Bible belt, the university culture was standardly anti-God and more specifically anti-Christian. I suppose I had reasons to consider this guy a co-belligerent. I just couldn't get past his smugness.
So, I asked him one time, "Why do you read the Bible so much? Why do you try to memorize it so much?" His honest answer to me was jarring. Still is jarring:
"To beat people in debates."
I thought about that moment last night in an equally breathless moment. If you are one of the chosen- and I say this with all sense of irony- then you know the frustration that is the drive to raise money for the classical music public radio station.
I mean, I get it. I know how hard it is to raise money. I work in a church after all. And given the difficulty, people attempt all sorts of motivations to raise such money. But I think I reached my tipping point last night on my way home. The host began his diatribe:
Don't you want such great music to continue on the radio? That's what we do here. If you are committed to listening, then help us continue our mission. Help us reach your neighbor. This helps you and your neighbor become more enlightened, more cultured.
And that's the moment I remembered the Bible thumper.
Do you know why it's good to read the Bible? Because it's good. Do you know why it's good to listen to classical music? Because it's beautiful. There is an intrinsic goodness to the thing, the thing to be delighted in in and of itself. In my best moments, I love those things for what they are, and not for what help me do or become.
And so, at root, the classical music radio host was appealing to the same motivation of the Bible thumper, which is a dangerous motivation indeed. It's the motivation to exalt self. "I want the glory for the winning the debate; I want the esteem from others for seeming enlightened." After all, enlightenment is not something you care about if you are the only audience for it. Being enlightened is a particularly showy attribute. And though I detect these selfish motivations all too often in myself, I hope I am stirred to love good things because they are good.
That truth was brought home this morning when I was listening to Beethoven's 9th Symphony in the car. Do I need another reason for that music when it provokes joy unspeakable, simply in the playing and listening? I think not.
Seek beauty because it's beautiful. Love goodness because it's good. Amen.