A response to Christian Berdahl; #1 – Syncopation (Part Two)

So Theomusicologist, you do realise that I have been waiting a considerable time for this conversation to continue, don’t you??

Yes indeed, and I’m so sorry! It has been an incredibly intense period with pretty much no letup. And you’re not the only one. But as we get into this, I thought I’d share a comment that came from a reader of Part One of this mini-series.

Really? OK, what did they have to say? Let me quote verbatim:

“hmm..interesting piece…Where is your scientific or whatever to refute berdahls “claim”? sorry but it seems all you have here is opinion rather than fact.”

I hate to use the word ‘interesting’ as they used it, but this is a very ‘interesting’ comment… I can only agree. The evidence suggests that they must have read the last exchange we had, but somehow I still find myself wanting to ask if they actually read it… What do you think? Hard to tell from this, I must say. I mean, the fact is that the very ‘claim’ itself…(and that’s a question, why on earth have they put ‘claim’ in inverted commas when the video is as clear as daylight? That IS what the man said!) is  as wild as it gets, and having thought about it a bit, I can see that Berdahl could have made a diatribe against syncopation without over-stating things as he does with that claim.

Yes, I would say you are definitely tracking on this one. I’ve not begun to unpick the issues regarding syncopation itself as yet – so our friend has shown us all exactly how to read and respond to something without a coherent grasp of what has been read. And so it is easy to now accuse me of having only offered opinions rather than fact. As it is, what I have done is very simple: I have drawn attention to a “fact” of history and the video is evidence (for those who accept). I have proceeded to ask a series of questions, and I have also made statements that are definitely more than mere ‘opinion’ – an example being my point that not everyone who speaks an ‘untruth’ has set out to lie. This is just the kind of unfocussed, empty question that I have come to expect from some people, and I am only drawing attention to this for the benefit of those who would actually like to grow their understanding of matters such as these but who are woefully short of “match practice” in the area of thinking for themselves more rigorously. If you want to be taken seriously in a serious conversation with actual technical content, learn how to ask serious questions!!

Okay, right, got you. This person obviously failed to get the fact that they needed to wait to see what case you were going to make in a future post rather than looking for all your answers in the last post. But don’t you think you’re being a bit harsh? Not everyone thinks as you do, Theomusicologist, and I just worry that people who just don’t think like you will just back away from what you say because…well, to be fair, you’re not what a lot of people expect and your firmness about stuff is hard for people to deal with. I find you hard work sometimes and I’m your friend!

I really appreciate that, and I guess this is why I am trying to communicate on this occasion using a conversational style. It is my professional – not personal – opinion that what Berdahl has said about syncopation is dangerously misleading, and this is why we are engaged in a public conversation about it. But look, I am more than ready to step up the technical conversation. Shall we?

Absolutely! I think it’s time you broke down syncopation in more detail!

Good stuff; so, let’s keep grounded in the context – Berdahl claimed that syncopation itself is the source of ALL occult power in pagan rituals. So my first question is: does the conceptual and practical entity that we call syncopation have what it takes to be the source of any kind of power in and of itself?

What??

Hmm…not entirely sure how to make this one simpler, but let me see…okay, let me put it this way. Just for a moment, freeze on the fact that syncopation is a word with a definition. I’m asking a question on a level of principle here. And the question is this: does “syncopation” have the scope or capacity to actually be a source of occult power in and of itself?

Okay, I am sort of following; I guess Berdahl is saying that it does. Or rather – he is making an assumption on the basis of whatever information he has acquired that syncopation not only has the capacity to be a source of occult power, but that it really actually IS the source of occult power…whoa!

Technical point: that would presuppose that he has actually ‘acquired some information’ – do we know this for a fact? Or has he made this statement on a basis of his own beliefs and opinions?

I’m starting to see where you might be going with all this, Theomusicologist. I’ve just thought of something. I am ALL ears, talk to me! Well, a PhD in systematic theology is not required to understand that Satan himself is the author of sin…sin comes from him, right? That’s what my Bible says – and I’m kind of starting to get a line of thought going in my head that the actual source of ‘occult power’ has be the occult itself, right? Semantically speaking, in this line of thought it can ONLY be the occult itself, my friend! Right! It can only be the occult itself – therefore, the actual source of occult power in pagan worship services is…Satan himself?? Hang on, that would mean that he is the one they are worshipping, but he is the one empowering them to worship him??? Whoa…Theomusicologist, you are a very dangerous person. I can’t always keep up with you, now you’ve started asking questions and my own mind has begun to run into directions faster than I can keep up…you academic theologians are mad, do you hear me?! Mad! My life was simple before I met you…

It’s been said before… But I would hasten to point out that you were responsible for that line of thought, not me! But as you are showing such commendable enthusiasm for the task of thinking through this issue, I think that perhaps we ought to shake things up a bit more. What you’re saying is that you enjoy seeing me even more confused than I am already! Go on, admit it! My good friend, while of course I know what you are getting at, we both know that we can only joke about this because we both respect each other and you know that nothing matters more to me than people having a correct understanding of issues such as this – because sometimes salvation can literally depend on it!

Yes, of course I know this. So shake away, I can take it! What are you about to drop on me? Well now – what do you think the word ‘occult’ actually means?

I already don’t like this question as I know you too well by now! But I will play the game. I’m assuming that it means to do with witchcraft, paganism and satanism. In the way I have tended to use it, I see it as one of the words that defines the kingdom of Satan. Are you about to tell me that this is not quite right? Because if so, I am seriously intrigued!

Loving the framework of that definition, my friend. I can also say that for most of my life I would have said the exact same thing. But I then learnt that the word ‘occult’ comes from the Latin word family starting from the word occultere which means ‘secrete’ – that’s a technical word, but the rest of the word family gives us “to hide,” “conceal” and “covered over.”

Okay…hmm. Wait – are you saying that the word ‘occult’ refers to secret stuff – supernatural stuff that we can’t ‘see’ physically – but that it is not actually always specific to Satanic stuff??

Well, that is unfortunately more complicated than some might find ideal. Why am I not surprised?! Such is life, but let me explain. Okay!

Generally, the modern English word “occult” pertains to: “mystical, supernatural, or magical powers, practices, or phenomena.” That’s a difficulty because theologically we know that good and evil are not equal. What do you mean? Just that! God is the very embodiment of “good.” If God is eternal, then good in any ultimate sense is also eternal. But who does bad come from (if you’re a Christian)?

Satan!

And is Satan eternal?

Er…no, I know he’s not, somehow, but I can’t say why… Let me help. Question: what was Satan? Well, he was Lucifer before he was Satan, and as Lucifer he was an angel, the chief angel in heaven. Of course! And did angels create themselves? No, God made them! Right, so they are not eternal, are they? No, and that means that Satan is not eternal…

Now this is theology, isn’t it? Lucifer had a beginning, and as Satan he will have an end. Sin has a beginning, and it will also have an end. So good and evil are therefore not equal.

You know, I kind of knew they weren’t – but at the same time, I didn’t know that. So how does this relate to the definition of ‘occult?’

Well, the linking of ‘mystical,’ ‘supernatural’ and ‘magical’ is complicated because ‘magic’ cannot apply to God, but ‘supernatural’ can and does, and even ‘mystical’ can and does. I know that some people will get bent out of shape on that issue because they honestly associate the word family around ‘mystical’ to heresies such as Gnosticism, but I can’t stop to fix that right now. My point is that for many people (maybe even most people), all of this ‘supernatural’ stuff is essentially in the same dimension of life.

Okay! So, this is what you call ‘an overgeneralisation to make a point’ isn’t it? Absolutely. Right. And yes, that makes sense to me, actually – because most people I know outside the Christian world have a much more vague conception of the real differences in beliefs across different religions, and even different worldviews. But even that’s not straightforward – because for some African Christians, belief in both God and what we Westerners would call ‘magic’ is not as far apart as would be ideal…

It really could not be less straightforward. Both inside and outside religious communities, confusion reigns. I jokingly refer to what I call the ‘divine magic wand’ when I want to make a serious point about some Christian people’s views regarding and expectations of God and what He is supposed to be doing. There is NO divine magic wand – the very concept is reprehensible on every level – but my point is that one of the great deceptions of the modern world (and the pluralistic notions that are now as common as litter on the streets) is this mish-mash of religious understanding. Result: for too many of us, the dividing line between good and evil is now seriously blurred. I have a confession to make, by the way!

Okay…

I used to watch shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer regularly when I was younger. I comforted myself with vague notions that all this stuff was not real, so it wasn’t hurting me. But eventually I realised – and I know it had to be the Holy Spirit – that to watch these programmes was effectively endorsing the values they espoused, even if I was only interested in being “entertained.” If the storylines were effectively “make-believe” based on lies, then how on earth was it coherent for a Bible-believing Christian to be watching this stuff?

I’m with you, Theomusicologist, and I have a few tales of my own in that regard. But look, we both have to go soon. You’ve spent all this time talking about the word ‘occult’ and our understanding of things to do with the occult. And I am STILL waiting to get to grips with the actual business of syncopation itself! So I need a signpost to where we’re going to go before we part company today, if that’s ok…

Of course, and I really appreciate your willingness to engage with me and my very strange mind. Here’s the signpost: It is not just the secular people whose notions of the occult are scrambled – it is also many Christians! We needed to talk through the fact that good and evil are not equal, didn’t we? You had access to all the information to know that fact, but you hadn’t put those pieces together. Uh-huh. So when anyone talks about “occult power” and “pagan worship services” it is imperative that we break down those phrases – because where I’m going is this: if Berdahl really knew anything about this stuff on any serious technical level, he would not have expressed himself so loosely. I’m not merely questioning his credibility in the area of a technical musical concept such as syncopation; I am questioning his actual understanding of words like ‘occult.’ He insisted that he had somehow come into contact with information from “all occult experts around the world” and on that basis his statement about syncopation ought to be taken seriously.

This is not about a simplistic, emotional response to a highly questionable statement. This is about asking how and why Christians don’t think more rigorously than they do, and encouraging everyone to think more deeply about the stuff that they hear preached and taught. Until next time, my friend: God bless you!

And you too, Theomusicologist!

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