Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Laughing With God

Friends of mine can tell you that I have a rather eclectic taste in music, and I tend to gravitate toward musicians who are less than mainstream. Yes, I've been accused of being a hipster. When Clayton and I were roommates he often had this confounded look on his face when I'd sit in the living room listening to The Silver Jews or Vampire Weekend (he's such an uncultured philistine).

I have a special place in my heart for female vocalists who play piano (or female pianists who sing, whichever): Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Amanda Palmer, Regina Spektor for example. Lately I've been on a Regina Spektor kick, listening to her album Far mostly. The album has a wonderful (and thought-provoking) song called "Laughing With." Have a listen (lyrics are below the video):


[via WeidnerbrautDD]



Laughing With

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one's laughing at God when they're starving or freezing or so very poor

No one laughs at God when the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one's laughing at God when it's gotten real late and their kid's not back from that party yet

No one laughs at God when their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake
No one's laughing at God when they see the one they love hand in hand with someone else and they hope that they're mistaken
No one laughs at God when the cops knock on their door and they say "We've got some bad news, sir,"
No one's laughing at God when there's a famine, fire or flood

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party while listening to a good God-themed joke or
Or when the crazies say he hates us and they get so red in the head you think that they're about to choke

God can be funny
When told he'll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie
Who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus

God can be so hilarious
Ha ha
Ha ha

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one's laughing at God when they've lost all they got and they don't know what for

No one laughs at God on the day they realize that the last sight they'll ever see is a pair of hateful eyes
No one's laughing at God when they're saying their goodbyes

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party while listening to a good God-themed joke or
Or when the crazies say he hates us and they get so red in the head you think that they're about to choke

God can be funny
When told he'll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie
Who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus

God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war

No one's laughing at God in a hospital
No one's laughing at God in a war

No one's laughing at God when they're starving or freezing or so very poor

No one's laughing at God
No one's laughing at God
No one's laughing at God
We're all laughing with God



There are certainly those who will put their own interpretation on the song, regardless of their religious or non-religious predilections. I think we need not forget that Regina Spektor's style is that of a storyteller. Regina herself isn't entirely sure what to make of god and religion, going back and forth on the matter. I get the impression that it interests her, but she doesn't spend much energy dwelling on it or trying to figure it all out. Considering her song "Laughing With," I keep her storyteller spirit in mind when I hear the lyrics. I also keep in mind the fact that a song like this is rather open-ended, and thus it lends itself to numerous possible interpretations and applications. Good art can do that, regardless of the medium.

This song isn't so much a story about god as it is about people. When I first heard it I thought of the old "there's no atheists in foxholes" canard, but the more I listen to the song the less I think that's the angle. I lean more toward the idea that the song is about believers, particularly casual believers who don't care much about their god - even being flippant about god, telling their best "god-themed jokes" - until it hits the fan and suddenly they get all solemn and reverent because now they're looking for a divine bailout.

I can't help but suspect that the only "true believers" out there are "the crazies" who live out their religious convictions with no reservations: folks like Fred Phelps, Marshall Applewhite, Harold Camping, Osama bin Laden, and Rick Perry. Nutjobs we call them, but at least they are consistent, right?

Think about it: why would a Christian be afraid to die? Why does a Christian mourn the death of another Christian? Don't they know heaven awaits them once they shed this mortal coil, and this life is but the brief flicker of a candle's flame? And if most of the world's population is going to die and go to hell as so many Christians believe, why is most of their money going toward fried chicken and ice cream and home entertainment instead of constant evangelization and mission work? Seriously, look at how fat Southern Baptists are. Of course, one could argue that they're just trying to get to heaven as quickly (and as deliciously) as possible.

Oh, the religious folks will shout and argue and protest and vote Republican until they're blue in the face over such "crucial" issues as making sure gays never marry and the god damn Flintstones creationism gets equal representation next to evolution in science classrooms and "In God We Trust" stays on our money and women stay the fuck in the kitchen and never ever have abortions, like you know, never ever ever. Why? Because it's "god's will," that's why. Yeah, god's will. Believers never seem to notice how god always tends to agree with their ideas of what's right and wrong. Convenient.


"If God has made us in his image, we have returned him the favor." ~ Voltaire

I love the blatant jabs at religious fanatics and Bible-thumpers in the song's lyrics. When Regina says "the crazies" who say god hates us and the folks who speak on god's behalf who present him as a genie or Santa Claus make god "funny," the next line, "God can be so hilarious" sounds facetious, like when we give the guy who's 6'4 and 250 lbs. the nickname "Tiny."

The most haunting lyric in the song is the very last line: "No one's laughing at God... We're all laughing with God." Appropriately, it's the lyric that serves as the song's title. It's the lyric that ties up the story Regina tells to us. Most of the time, when we tell someone, "we're not laughing at you, we're laughing with you," it's a (rather obvious) line of bull. Seems like something an atheist might say to a section of empty space that represents the god who isn't there. Throughout the song Regina lists numerous examples of suffering and pain. I think of believers who must force themselves to "laugh with god" - i.e., take his side - even though they don't really "get the joke" or understand why any of this is happening or how any of it could jive with god's "perfect plan." I know I sure as hell don't get the joke.

"We're laughing with you" is an obviously fake line we say to someone we're actually laughing at. The lyric reminds me of Pascal's Wager: the supposed "safe bet" that's little more than faking belief just in case god's there and he happens to be insecure enough to care about what we believe. If god is what the Christians think he is, then god would certainly know such "belief" is obviously fake - just another line of bull.

These aren't my interpretations of the song as much as they are where the lyrics take my mind. Where do they take your mind?

Dead-Logic

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