Silent Witness: BBC Radio 3 Sunday 7pm-ish 2020-07-12
July 13, 2020
I do get upset when reverence and respect is paid to ‘spiritualities’, and they are taken very politely seriously, especially in British broadcasting, when the patent avoidance, dismissal, disrespect, and general relegation of our ‘native’ Christianity – and I know it’s of Middle Eastern origin – is the dish of the day and has been the fare now for twenty or more years.
There’s a sense of Christ being considered passe, and slightly embarrassing; his life and teaching felt to have been outgrown and superseded, and at best Our Lord is paid coy and flimsy lip-service and the show moves on as quickly as possible.
The ’values’ he is said to have ‘represented’ in his life and teaching may remain in place and respected; although more and more as if as a sort of fairy tale idealism, and our new understanding of the operations of power, and of ‘free-expresion’ and of room and extension for the self, collectively have clearly shown up the errors of impracticality in those teachings and their ‘values’.
This evening Radio 3, a station which if any station has done, and aims to do today, makes claim on the intellectual high-ground amongst all of UK broadcasting, has presented a homage to John Cage, a 20th century musical composer, whom if he is known by anyone is usually known for his silent piece 4.38 seconds.
There was a dreadful amount of posturing and nonsense talked in this programme; from persons making their livings by proposing thoughts and opinions which tend to sound weighty and deep, of matter and instance; but which I fear are just mere bread and butter – or rather Brut and caviare – on their fine-dining tables.
It’s no accident that John Cage had amongst his associates, more especially after he had ‘arrived’ as a composer, names from families which are known and instantly recognised as being among the wealthiest ranks of US society. His induction into their ‘books of approval’ marks a certain level of shallow following to my mind.
The influences upon Cage discussed in the programme were chiefly oriental and either mystical or religious. Zen Buddhism; iChing; D T Suzuki; and a young Yoko Ono. Let me say that I do believe that Zen is able to help a person see ‘things’ in the world much more clearly and from a perspective of some rather better foundation than many persons’ views are rested upon.
I do believe that possibly practitioners of Zen themselves would have been dismayed at the sort of attributions to their discipline couched within the volleys of crazy thoughts and non sequiturs which were being emitted from the minds and mouths of most of the persons being interviewed or sound-byted in this programme.
And yes I agree that silence, in so far as a person can get silence, is a great thing, a thing which is able to open up one’s thoughts and dispel all those side-issue interferences which fill up our daily rounds, and crowd out our time and space for first things.
It is the making a fettish of such things as silence and of other items such as ‘liberating the ear to unintended noise’ and creating ‘music without ego’, without the self directing composition. It’s not that such things are not worth experimenting with; they have a place, although not so forward a place as those programme commentators would big up for them.
These things, these concepts and activities, are only for those persons whose day to day basic human needs for life are pretty secure. Like the US high-society families’ wealth holders.
In this regard John Cage was said to have sold shares to his friends and supporters in a work he was ‘doing’ by use of the iChing and three coins, and which took him a year to complete. He was said to have been tossing coins so frequently for so long he had no other means to live on but by selling these shares. This was before his ‘arrival’.
So there’s no lack of commitment to his ideas in Cage’s earnest for music. You see how such a programme as this with its misnomers and solecisms, flat logical contradictions, and general spoken nonsense, is able to make a hash of a person’s dearest concerns and mire them with overzealous sychophancies.
But that said Cage has his limitations. He was a musician. He may have been a mystic and a spiritual person after his fashion, but in the service first and foremost of art, and that art music. As being an artist Cage has audiences, followings, admirers, and a career. These are not the things of Christ nor of Christian importance.
The Lord Jesus wrote down nothing of his teaching and preaching, of his life and deeds. The only person like him in this, but a mere mortal, and whom I know of, is Socrates, who also was put to death by his own people and accepted his death as part of his expectation and life. A likeness not a coincidence I think.
Both were men, one was God, whose life and mission were about behaviour; how a person is to carry herself, himself, through life and in regard first to God and then no less towards fellow men and women. Jesus Christ however acted throughout his mission years in a full knowledge of his destiny and status and purposes for being God born a man. Socrates was perhaps a man very greatly enlightened, but a man only. Socrates was a man. All men are mortal. Socrates was mortal.
It is this great and crucial emphasis on behaviour, on attitude and above all on love, towards God and one’s neighbour – that is the definitive sine qua non hallmark of any follower of Christ, and the bottom line of Christ’s teaching on conduct.
To this aim of achieving such conduct Christ tells us we are to subordinate everything else in our lives – the one thing needful, seek ye first the Kingdom Of God, and all other things will be added unto you.
This area of conduct and its terms are the distinguishing difference between a life of spirituality pursued for self-improvement’s sake and a Christian life. My own view taken away from the programme on John Cage was that he was spiritual so as to improve himself – I don’t believe I heard any mention on the programme, not a jot, about anything like approaching a life in the footsteps of the Master the Lord Christ.
The unkind, when looking at this programme alone , would call John Cage’s interest ‘navel-gazing’; and sadly that is how it came across in regard to the views of all participants, and in their words on the leading figures surrounding John Cage’s quest for spiritual advancement. Similarly these same people depicted all those leading figures also as being anxious for improvement of the self rather than them aiming to put their lives at the disposal of others.
And this programme had nothing negative to say about anyone concerned in the programme – it was celebratory and eulogistic – of John Cage, his works and the influences it discussed which went into his making music. This recall is the leading intellectual high-ground of all British broadcasting.
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed...
I cite this passage of the words of Jesus here because I do feel with some pain and earnest that here we have a root cause of the relegation and disenfranchisement of Jesus Christ from our public broadcasting national life. It is for many I believe, and I am sorry to say, that Jesus Christ is an embarrassment too large for them to mention. The Wisdoms of the East are less difficult for we here in UK publicly to witness and acknowledge simply because they are not ‘native’ to Britain, and are not so concerned with those awkward commandments of Love God, and Love one another. For us it is OK for a Brahmin to love God because we can quite easily and we do put some psychical distance between ourselves and a Brahmin. Jesus Christ is too near home.
As Britons we have a worldwide reputation for repudiating our own worthy things – as far back as 1970 I recall Barry Humphries calling this habit of ours ‘crying stinking fish in our own backyard’. Just as we are renowned also for having peoples from Eastern Europe come in ‘to do’ for us; our shellfish pickers and hop and fruit pickers, and we bring them in simply because no self-aggrandizing Brit would be seen dead doing such jobs as these being beneath them – in the same way we have ‘midfulness’ and ‘yoga’ and ‘tai chi’ and all kinds of sidesteps away from religion and which we use as drained-dry spiritualities.
There are non-ethnic enthusiasts of Zen and of Buddhism and of Krishna here in UK and they generally have respect and even kudos. But just look at UK TV dramas the murder mysteries and the episodic thrillers to see how a British clerygman is depicted as a weirdo and a straw man (women priests get less flak I think simply because the women’s movement ethos shields them somewhat).
This programme on John Cage proffered such insights as “I have nothing to say, and I am saying it here” and ‘silence is unintended sound’ and ‘silence is music’; and ‘every noise is music’ and ‘we call silence awareness of a little amount of noise, and noiseiness we call awareness of a large amount of noise, so it is all a matter of perception’ etc etc. This was all ‘spiritual insight’.
How might a life of such interest in such observations help anyone in the sense that the attempting of the commandments of Jesus Christ is able to offer help to anyone, everyone?
And above all, the imperative in the heart of the Divine Love in the Person of Jesus is sidelined altogether by these incursions into and vivisections of the nature of spirituality and silence. Safely avoided altogether. No arduous and charitable effort is demanded desired required aimed at in being an artist, a musician with such spiritual aspirations – I am not aiming at John Cage, he’s just ‘some other guy’ like all of us – and to make a radio fetish out of his approaches to his art and his earnest for it is perhaps more harmful than helpful.
Such an approach offers an impression it is legitimate to waste one’s life, and occupy wastefully others’ - listeners’ - time by issuing cant and blancmange over the airwaves like this. Once more an evidence that there’s a dreadful detachment from what Wordsworth called ‘ the essential passions of the heart’ and, by the bye, also from that natural world which Wordsworth loved so much, and this is how it is in Britain now. In all wealthy built up nations today.
Jesus told parables and stories and his images were growing things, household relations, husbandry, weather, farming behaviours and he was a carpenter – what are we today? Sitters behind screens and ghosts haunting high streets, phone answerers and callers, you see people speaking on the streets into their phones all day. Today I heard an ad for a Honda electronic car which had – wait for it – remote controls which ‘whilst you finish your breakfast toast you can have the heater switched on and warming the drive to work for you on a winter morning’.
This plus Dara O'Briain's futuristic programme on how all our food in a generation’s time will be grown in huge Kew Gardens type glass amphitheatres, with controlled environments including ‘good bugs’ that keep plants healthy, auto watering, and weather, and all that stuff – makes the future look dreadful and I’m glad I’m out of it.
I used to read US comicstrip magazines, sci fi horrors as a teenager – loved them. I do wish they’d stayed in those comicstrip books.
Too much concentration on the obvious nature of silence – not enough on the Gospels and the dear Love of Jesus our Christ.