Thursday, September 3, 2009

Pop Music Ponderings vol. 2: Tori Amos

Last time I posted, I talked a bit about Trent Reznor's particular brand of atheism, and the way he replaces God with sex.

Today I want to talk to you about Tori Amos's own "lack of god," for I hesitate to conclude that it is atheism. Rather, it is more like a guilt complex that is fairly Christian-centered, but with Jesus absent from the equation:
I've been looking for a savior in these dirty streets
Looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets

I've been raising up my hands--drive another nail in
Just what God needs, one more victim

Why do we crucify ourselves

Everyday I crucify myself

Nothing I do is good enough for you...

And my heart is sick of being in chains
Some forms of Christianity (notably Catholicism) place a lot of emphasis on guilt, because all of our sins are absolved through Jesus. It is a bit like the way that modern marketing works: you convince your audience that they have a problem that can be solved with your product. "Feeling tired? Run-down? Feel like you don't have any purpose in your life? Do you feel like you have done unspeakably horrible things and now nobody will ever love you? Maybe you need Jesus in your life. Ask your doctor if Jesus is right for you."

If this were true at face value, that we are all horrible sinners who can be saved through Jesus, then there would not be a problem here. But what happens when you convince yourself that you are a horrible sinner... and Jesus doesn't really make you feel any better?

This is the problem faced by the speaker in "Crucify": she is looking for a savior other than Jesus, and in the meantime, she cannot forgive herself for anything. (If you want to continue the marketing analogy, this is similar to how pharmaceutical advertising can make a hypochondriac out of the most ordinary person. And if you are in any kind of bad mood, Zoloft can help you.)

The thing is, making mistakes is just part of what it is to be human. (For more on this, see my post regarding Pi Approximation Day.) If you're not making mistakes, then you're not really living... and that itself is a mistake, so I guess there's no way around it. Mistakes do not always have to be regrets--at best, they they can be learning experiences, with the mistake itself being just an "oh well" kind of thing. Burning your toast is not all that big of a deal, but now you learned something about how not to make toast!

This is not to say that it's okay to make mistakes indiscriminately. It's also important to prevent mistakes as best we can, and plan in advance for a worst case scenario. "What could possibly go wrong?" should not be a rhetorical question: one should form a mental list of the things that can go wrong, how they can be avoided, and whether they are an acceptable risk. There is a variety of safe and unsafe ways to cross the street, and each one of them carries some amount of risk that you will be hit by a car. Sometimes it's an acceptable level, and sometimes it's not.

Unfortunately, sometimes we make mistakes big enough that they are difficult to forget. Sometimes they stare us in the face every day of our lives, be it literally or figuratively. We run them through in our heads over and over again, thinking of ways it could have been done differently, things we should and shouldn't have done. This is the self-cruficixion Tori Amos is talking about. (Maybe... let's assume it is.) Adjusting to it or getting over it is usually a lengthy and drawn-out process. Commonly, the most effective part of the healing process is when one goes beyond mere acceptance of the circumstances, and becomes appreciative of the amount one has learned from this experience: about oneself, about loss and sacrifice, about life itself.

But the acceptance has to come first. If you're stuck in the other four stages of grief, you're just going to crucify yourself every day.

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