The Supreme Being has been taking a lot of lumps this week. Although CNN already has its own wrathful Old Testament dispenser of judgment and retribution, its religion editor Dan Gilgoff nonetheless surveyed recent opinion on His role in the Aurora shootings — posted two days ago, the survey has already garnered nearly 10,000 comments. Missing from the commentary there are any Tweets from François-Marie Arouet (also known as Voltaire), who considered the question of God, suffering, and evil in his poem on the Lisbon disaster. Admittedly, that catastrophe was the product of plate tectonics and not human madness. But then, pre-Revolutionary France had better gun-control laws.
God, or at least spirituality, is also busting out in Austria, according to New York Times music critic James Oestreich. In “A New Faith in Classical Music,” an article on this year’s Salzburg Festival that appears today (on the front page, no less), he reports: “[Last] weekend the festival … embarked on a 10-day Spiritual Overture. And in doing so, the festival … seems to have caught a wave of spirituality that is surging through the world of classical music (or, given the years of advance planning involved, helped instigate it).” With Teutonic precision, the festival aims to feature a different faith overture every year: in 2012 it is Judaism, and next year it will be Buddhism, a notably inclusive program for one of the most Catholic of European nations. The festival’s artistic director Alexander Pereira told Mr. Oestreich that “people are looking for something beyond rationalism: a kind of idealism, something that speaks to their own values.” Among the composers featured at this overture are Schoenberg, Noam Sheriff, and Mahler; though the Catholic Messiaen is conspicuously absent, one can expect Cage and Jonathan Harvey next year, I imagine.
Mr. Oestreich manages to write over a thousand words about faith, spirituality, requiems by both Verdi and Mozart, Judaism, and Easter without once mentioning the word “God,” a notable achievement, making God something of the elephant in the room, or at least the concerthouse. Given that one needn’t be anything of a spiritualist oneself to enjoy all this music, this is quite apt. Faith and religion have always provided the basis for some of the world’s most astonishing aesthetic creations, from the Greek tragedies onward. Mencken in his tongue-in-cheek “The Divine Afflatus” located aesthetic inspiration somewhat further down in the human body, and this is no doubt not without some truth as well (writer’s block, he wryly notes, can easily be associated with other, more gastrointestinal blockages). And whether it’s the bowels or the gods which are the source of great art, there’s still this thoughtful observation from theologian Archie Bunker: “Faith is something that you believe that nobody in his right mind would believe.”
Here endeth today’s lesson.