The Songs of a Nation
In Plato's classic “The Republic,” Socrates discusses what the perfect State would look like. What laws would have to be in place; what classes of citizens would be necessary; what types of guardians would be preferable for a State to truly be a Just State. (Plato's society is a little totalitarian for my liking--but it is a thought provoking read nonetheless)
Interestingly enough, talk of music and artistry comes up in the debate and Socrates argues for a type of censorship of the nation's songs as well as other artistic forms. This utopian Republic would expel: the singers that glorified injustice, the painters that adored deformities and immoralities, the architects that deviated from sound practices; while encouraging those who produced that which is true.
Why so serious? Socrates later says in the dialogue: "Musical training is a more potent instrument than any other, because rhythm and harmony find their way into the inward places of the soul" (Plato, Loc. 4991).
Plato understood how immeasurably valuable the songs of a state were. He knew the importance of the arts. If the songs were immoral--the guardians would be influenced gradually: "little by little, until they silently gather a festering mass of corruption in their own soul." Conversely if the songs of the state were moral, just, true, beautiful, noble: "the effluence of fair works, shall flow into the eye and ear, like a heath-giving breeze from a purer region, and insensibly draw the soul from earliest years into likeness and sympathy with the beauty of reason."
Songs and mediums of art speak directly to "the inward places of the soul," influencing us in ways nothing else can. This is why one of the first things dictators do when taking over a nation is seize a stifling control of all artistry: music, entertainment, song, paintings. They do this because human beings are not primarily “thinking things” (Smith, Loc. 153). We are thinking beings to be sure, but we are lovers first and foremost, guided by our hearts like a ship is directed by a compass. The path to life change does not come through doing math homework, accumulating Bible knowledge, or even an extensive study of Systematic Theology. Change comes from the heart, from the affections--which is so easily influenced through the arts. Plato understood this more than most.
Perhaps Andrew Fletcher said it best: “Let me write the songs of a nation, and I don’t care who writes its laws.”
If songs are then so important, why does the world have such a monopoly on the songs of our nation? Is it any wonder my generation is leaving the church in droves, when we have tuned in to Hollywood artistry every day of our waking lives? Is it any wonder how quickly public sentiment has changed over ideas of sexuality in the last 20 years with the torrent of entertainment based promotion? Is it any wonder why marriages have plummeted, when the pornography industry booms to record highs? Is it any wonder why over 55,000,000 abortions have taken place in the US, when the artists of our country bow down to the altar of self?
We are listening to the songs of the world--and we are reaping the benefits.
I am of the conviction that in order for the church to be revived here in the West we will need a resurgence of sound doctrinal preaching followed by believers walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. I now believe that we Christians also need a renaissance of the arts.
Christians need to write and sing songs about what is true. Paint pictures of what is true. Write books and tell stories about what is true. Build and create based on what is true. Make films about what is true. Instead of recoiling into the safety of the inner sanctuaries of our churches, believers need to step out and produce truth with quality in the market place of life.
And as the world, who has so long been immersed in counterfeits and falsehoods; believing lies about morality, humanity, and eternity--comes face to face with truth, perhaps they will inquire about The Truth. And then we can tell them.
Plato, The Republic. Translation by Benjamin Jowett. Amazon Digital Services LLC. May 12, 2012. Kindle Edition.
Smith, James. You are what You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Brazos Press. April 5, 2016. Kindle Edition.