Ask someone to picture a scene of fainting women, weeping men, and masses of devoted followers chanting the words preached by their idol on a gleaming stage. Some may imagine a religious leader speaking before a crowd of disciples. Most would probably think of a rock concert.
Religion is characterized as an organized system of beliefs from which the faithful derive moral guidance and self-purpose by adhering to the doctrine of sacred texts and deities. By this definition, I’m going to propose something blasphemous: Music is a religion. Let me tell you why.
First, like traditional religions, music forms the basis for a shared community from which members construct their personal identity. For example, in the Buddhist faith, monks traditionally wear coloured robes as a physical representation of devotion to the humble minimalism of their religion. Compare this with the hoards of tweens sporting One Direction T-shirts, and it is clear that this sort of teeny-bopper uniform is being used in much the same way as monk robes: as an outward manifestation of loyalty, and a means of identifying with fellow members of their pop faith. Conversely, just as animosity exists between various religious sects, members of the musical faith accept and reject group members based on their musical preferences, the belief being that to share the same taste in artists is to share the same outlook on life. Thus, in both music and religion, members of respective faiths forge their own individuality by comparing themselves to those who are unlike them, and associating with others who share and validate their beliefs.
Secondly, whether it be in a sacred text or the lyrics of “All You Need is Love,” both music and religion possess a form of doctrine from which the devoted derive their moral codes and ways of life. These sacred texts offer a shared and accessible language by which one can communicate with members of a particular faith. Intense religious devotion often arises as a result of individuals finding the ability to articulate and overcome otherwise insurmountable adversity. To internalize the word of scripture is to learn a unique language, along with gaining membership within a compassionate community with a shared dialect of belief.
Likewise, the poetry of song lyrics often functions as a means to express and prevail over life’s challenges; the confessions of musicians and shared sentiments of a vast fan base offer a common experience for listeners, who may have felt emotionally isolated otherwise. Fortunately, the languages of both music and religion excel in their unique ability to bring people together. As such, both music and traditional religion serve to provide a language through which devotees may discover their voice and a community in which to share it.
Finally, the gods of both music and traditional religions share the same ultimate purpose: to sacrifice themselves on behalf of the greater good of humanity. Legendary musicians, from Clapton to Joplin, have the capacity to communicate emotions that would cripple most — from heartbreak to first love. Great musicians exist as survivors of the human condition as they record their experiences for the benefit of the listener. As the sole possessors of the ability to both withstand and communicate the devastating force of human nature, they sacrifice themselves to their art for our benefit.
Kurt Cobain killed himself when the pressure of fame became too great, and the Beatles stopped touring when they realized that their music, no longer belonged to them, but to the world. John Lennon’s murderer supposedly rationalized killing him as the only way to protect Lennon’s legacy, taking inspiration from The Catcher in the Rye in his desire to “save” his idol before his music fell into Paul McCartney-esque commercial appeal.
This tragedy is reflected all too clearly in the life of Jesus Christ, whose death represented the exchange of a sinless man for a sinful humanity’s forgiveness. In both cases, the deity no longer exists as a unique individual, but as a transcendent entity belonging to all those who are faithful to them. As the purest form of human potential, it seems that it is destiny for our idols to be used as tools in both music and traditional religion as the best, and perhaps the only, means for humanity to achieve both redemption, understanding, and artistic beauty.
Cassandra Mazza is a second-year student from Victoria University studying English.