God’s Song

I’m a HUGE Randy Newman fan. He’s one of my favorite singer-songwriters. His current batch of Toy Story tunes don’t do as much for me as his more personal works; they’re a little too sweet for my tastes.

I love his film scores (i.e., The Natural). But most of all I love his short, pungent takes on the follies and foibles of humanity. Newman is a true American treasure who mines many of the same fields as Mark Twain. Randy has a streak of dark humor a mile wide — which is just fine with me, as I’m a connoisseur of such.

For today’s Journal entry, here are the biting lyrics to my favorite Randy Newman song:
God’s Song
by Randy Newman

Cain slew Abel; Seth knew not why
For if the children of Israel were to multiply —
Why must any of the children die?
So he asked the Lord
And the Lord said:

“Man means nothing; he means less to me
Than the lowliest cactus flower
Or the humblest yucca tree.
He chases ’round this desert
‘Cause he thinks that’s where I’ll be —
That’s why I love mankind

I recoil in horror from the foulness of thee;
From the squalor and the filth and the misery.
How we laugh up here in heaven at the prayers you offer me —
That’s why I love mankind!”

The Christians and the Jews were having a jamboree;
The Buddhists and the Hindus joined on satellite TV.
They picked their four greatest priests
And they began to speak…
They said “Lord, the Plague is on the world;
Lord, no man is free.
The temples that we built to you
Have tumbled into the sea.
Lord, if you won’t take care of us
Won’t you please
just let us be?

And the Lord said…
And the Lord said:

“I burn down your cities–how blind you must be!
I take from you your children — and you say how blessed are we.
You must all be crazy to put your faith in me —
That’s why I love mankind!
You really
need me;
That’s why I
love mankind”.

19 Responses to “God’s Song”

  1. Rick Catizone says:

    Wow. That’s not only dark and cynical, but in great contrast to what the Bible has to say about how much God loves man.

    Even the Old Testament…in which most only point out the acts of the “angry God”… is full of examples of God’s mercy and compassion. Makes one wonder if he ever even read it.

    Maybe the music carries it…but the lyrics are opposite of my experience and belief.

    Best,
    Rick

  2. Rick Catizone says:

    BTW, forgot to mention….I really like Randy Newman….and the Natural really blew me away(and still does, as does the film) ….and when I saw his name on the screen I thought..can this be the “Short People” guy?!!

    Best,
    Rick

  3. Rick Tucker says:

    Bill,
    As usual, thanks for providing these great lyrics, and yeah, Randy’s been the trickster lyricist for quite some time. His dark wit and sociopolitical insights into human nature are always cause for stopping and listening.

    Ciao,
    Tucker

  4. Aaron says:

    i’m with rick on this one. religion is an easy target. the cartoon i like better is two angels and god looking at earth. one angel says “typical, cool breezes, and sunny skies they take for granted but hurricanes and earthquakes are acts of yours.” 🙂
    like rick i’m also a big fan of randy newman.
    excuse this post.
    i broke my wrist yesterday, have surgery on weds.
    the icy sidewalks of st. paul wreak their grizzly toll.

  5. Bill says:

    Let’s drop the Big One and see what happens…

    To Rick C. and Aaron: You’re both great sports, guys! Sadly, not every Christian would be so forgiving of ol’ irascible Randy. I hope you heal quickly, Aaron. Was your icy accident an act of God in your opinion? Did you do something to piss Him/Her off?

    Religion helps to make itself an easy target with its great wealth of contradictions and by asking us to suspend belief in many of the laws of science. I find the banned Gnostic Books of the Bible fascinating (particularly the Book of Judas) and question whether their deletion from the Bible was/is justified when they add so much to the story, clarifying so many points. On a related subject, I highly recommend the book Misquoting Jesus by meticulous Bible scholar Bart D. Ehrman.

    To Rick T.: I think Randy Newman is an American Living Treasure. Like Aaron Copeland, his compositions are sublimely and uniquely American, although I’m sure his works touch people outside our borders. I have always loved the twisted tales within his stories, his caustic, ironic wit and his great empathy (without any condescension) for the oft-neglected parts of humanity, particularly poor folks in the South (Randy is from Louisiana).

    While we’re on controversial subject matter:
    Q: Why did Adolf Hitler never drink alcohol?
    A: It made him mean…

  6. Aaron says:

    very ticklish subject being able to say what is/is not an act of God. better theologians
    than i have got themselves in big trouble with that one.
    as far as being a good sport i always remember what a favorite prof of mine said, “believing in the grace and mercy of a loving God means we don’t have to take ourselves so deadly seriously.” a believer in any religion without a sense of humor is missing one of God’s great gifts.

  7. Rick Catizone says:

    Bill,

    “…by asking us to suspend belief in many of the laws of science..”

    Pick up a copy of Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis, one of the greatest logical minds of this century. He was a devout atheist until his great logic confirmed the truth of the Bible. He was led to Christ by Tolkien.

    In that book, each sentence is a paragraph, each paragraph a page of wisdom. If one does not eliminate the possibility of a spiritual world a priori, and just allows for the possibility, one must draw conclusions from evidence. If there is a supernatural dimension, someone could intervene in this world without “violating” the laws of this world as such. One analogy he uses is that if you put a dollar in a draw every day for a week, the laws of arithmetic tell you that you must have seven dollars at that time. But you open the drawer to find it all gone. A thief has stolen it. The laws of arithmetic have not been broken. But another agent was introduced that interfered with the expected result. The same with a ball that toss in the air. You know gravity says that it will fall to the ground. But if you reach out and catch it, the laws of gravity are still true. Some other factor has been introduced that affected the result. If there is a God, His intervention would not break laws here, but supersede them in some fashion that we don’t yet understand.

    While the gnostic books sometimes prove titillating, one must remember that they were not considered as scripture because in many cases the earliest ones were centuries after the main gospels. There is also the real fact that everyone who lived in the period when Jesus walked was there to confront anything that was a lie about Him or His teaching. “Gospels” that contradict that Judas was a thief and traitor fly in direct conflict with the testimony of his fellow apostles, and so on. One must be very careful when ascribing equal value to documents and supposed testimony that directly conflicts with those who not only knew Him intimately, but all went to tortuous deaths rather than renounce Him as a fake, a lie, or not the Messiah. So while I am open to reading new things, one cannot make everything equal unless it truly deserves to be.

    I mean, if you follow some of these, Jesus was gay, Judas really didn’t do anything wrong, Jesus didn’t really know Who He was or why He was here, etc. Things which are clearly in direct conflict with the gospels, epistles, and knowledge and teaching of the first century disciples who were students of direct disciples and so on.

    Best,
    Rick

  8. Matt Mulford says:

    And yet, on the very same album as “God’s Song” (“Sail Away,” one of the best albums of all time in my opinion), is a song entitled “He Gives Us All His Love,” which in my interpretation seems to be a warm acknowledgment of a higher power. We’re all searching, even many devout Christians who want more from their religion. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that we’re full of contradictions politically, theologically and personally. If “God’s Song” is in contrast to the Bible it is so because it is one man’s search, exploration and personal expression of this extremely contradictory human experience. In that vein, it’s a sad world where striving to be a good, caring, decent, loving, tolerant, non-judgmental and forgiving human being isn’t enough to get you through the gates of Heaven.

    Bill, thanks for sharing in your journal. It’s always an interesting read and gives us fans good insight into yourself, for those of us who only get to see you at the occasional convention.

    Matt

  9. fws says:

    I too love Randy Newman, the early Newman! His later stuff is a little trite! But the early stuff is great! I only hope he returns to his roots before he succumbs fully to the mediocrity of political correctness that marks his “newer” material! His social criticism is usually relevant! But he has lately become a shadow of his own style!
    Newman needs a fire lit under his ass before he fades into history as just another aged musician with little or nothing to say! If you’re looking for an example of a seasoned musician that still “delivers” the goods…look no further than Bob Dylan! What a songster! There’s no fading there! His last 4 or 5 albums are amazing!

  10. fws says:

    I’m sorry for this second entry but after reading Catizone’s entry I thought I would also chime in on the theological commentary! I am also a BIG fan of C. S. Lewis! He is without a doubt one of the great logicians of the last century! I’m not sure what any of this has to do with Randy Newman except perhaps that Newman’s sarcastic cynicism sometimes appears to question certian Christian presuppositions! Some of those presuppositions need to be questioned! It’s true! But many critics of Christianity allow their own predjudices to shape and define their antagonisms against those who hold to traditional Christian values and views! None of us are perfect! But some of us are trying to be better than we are!

  11. Bill says:

    Wow…this posting seems to have touched a nerve! I’m delighted to respond again.

    To Aaron: I believe a strong sense of humor (and an honest sense of self) is crucial to enjoying our existence in what Preston Sturges referred to as “this cockeyed caravan”, aka Life.

    To Rick: Lewis was led to Christ by Tolkein? Yikes! There must have been something in his tea, although I applaud him for his perseverance. I just can’t make it through any of those books except The Hobbit. I find them all painful slogging, plus I’m annoyed whenever I see his obvious lifts from other sources. I’ll take my Arthurian legends straight, sir.

    I’ve had Lewis recommended to me by a number of people (I’ve been given a few of his books). Along the same lines, Dale Russell, one of the most brilliant paleontologists in the world (and a great lover/appreciator of art), is also one of the most deeply devout Catholics I have ever met. We’ve had many interesting conversations on the subject.

    Re: the banned Gospels and/or Gnostic writings and whether or not they have validity in regards to the officially accepted Bible writings, I strongly recommend you read “Misquoting Jesus”. In Ehrman’s thorough studies of all the original Biblical sources that have formed the modern Bible, Ehrman discovered that there have been more changes to the Bible than there are words in the Bible. He found that Jesus was never initially described as the son of God, but that came about later as the result of a medieval “typo” — a bleed through from the other side of a page that inadvertently changed the meaning of the text’s opposite side. When this was first discovered and brought to the attention of the Church, its discoverer was excommunicated.

    Ehrman also discovered that one of my favorite Bible stories (whose punchline is: Let he who is without sin cast the first stone), while a great story, never happened. It was made up and added to the Bible many centuries after the Bible was first written.

    In many ways, the Bible is like the longest version ever of the Telephone Game.

    My take on this is that having experienced the nature of man in regards to power, it is not inconceivable that the Gnostic writings and other Books or Gospels should not be so easily dismissed. There may be a lot of suppressed truth within those pages. The discovery of the Book of Judas to me reveals that Christ’s story has many Rashomon-like qualities.

    As far as the Hand of God in our (mankind’s) affairs, the Woody Allen quote always comes to mind: “If there is a God, He’s an underachiever”.

    On a similar train of thought: if the Bible is indeed the word of God, something that He felt was crucially important to mankind, and if God is indeed omnipotent, then why the heck didn’t He give the Bible to us in a somewhat permanent (and unchangeable) form? That seems a much easier task than, say, creating the world.

    To Matt: Very well put. And I had forgotten about Randy’s beautiful “He Gives Us All His Love”.

    To fws: Man, Newman was on an incredible streak for those first half a dozen LPs of his. I’m really glad I got to see him live at The Troubadour around the time of his second or third album.

    I agree with you about Dylan, too. I am loving his last several blues-tinged CDs to pieces. Great stuff! Great band!

    In regards to your following post, I certainly agree. Like all of you, I’m sure, I have experienced both good and bad people who claimed to be Christians — and good and bad atheists as well (although I am racking my brain trying to come up with the name of a single atheist I’ve met who turned out to be a bad person — but it’ll come to me, I’m sure).

    Related note: As you know, I’m a guest at a lot of comic book and sci-fi/fantasy conventions where I sell my art and books. In the over forty years I’ve been doing this, I have only received five checks that have bounced (and never cleared). They were all from either priests or ministers. So, sadly, I now have to maintain a policy of not accepting checks from people who claim to be priests or ministers. Since that policy went into effect, I have not received any bad checks.

    I also happened to buy my house from a (I did not know this at the time) sociopathic minister. For a while we believed what he told us because of his “higher calling”. In the years my wife and I knew him (and in subsequent years, as various aspects of our home began to quickly deteriorate due to his cheapness), we eventually discovered that he never once told us the truth. He was like the Robert Mitchum character in “Night of the Hunter”, except that he didn’t kill his many wives. He just bled each one dry financially before moving on to the next one.

    As I told my sons when I introduced them to the Universal horror films: “Real monsters don’t look like this. They usually have a kind and pleasing face.”

  12. fws says:

    Your reference to Mitchum was great! And your overall caution when dealing with anybody claiming to be Christian is justified! Today’s “christianity” is marked by a shallowness easily percieved! But your inability to identify “bad” athiests is somewhat puzzling! I can think of a few! How about Lenin, or Stalin, or Mao, or Ho Chi Minh, or Pol Pot! They murdered MILLIONS! I agree that “christianity” has produced it’s many frauds, but Christianity has also produced Augustine, Anselm and Aquinus, it has produced Luther, Calvin and Knox, it has produced Wesley, Whitefield and Edwards, it has produced Chesterton, Lewis and Tolkien! I only intended to comment on the music of Newman…but it’s hard to pass-up a good theological debate! I love your art, your intellect and your productivity!

  13. Rick Catizone says:

    fws,

    I would phrase your point a bit differently, even tho’ I saw your use of small “c” and large “C” in Christianity.

    A thing can only be its true essence. Therefore, I would say Christ (and by extension( Christianity has produced all the good people you mentioned, and millions more. That is all.

    It is those who have distorted it and falsely claimed to be Christian who are the other lot. Christianity has not made the Jim Joneses and all the false preachers which have permeated the world throughout history. They were formed by walking away from Christ and elevating their own minds to take His place …and used His name to achieve their goals.

    Best,
    Rick

  14. Rick Catizone says:

    Bill,

    I am in complete agreement on Tolkein’s writings. I was never even able to make it through the Hobbit…and I LOVE to read.

    I might pick up Misquoting Jesus just to read the whole thing. I have read critiques of Ehrman. But let me make a couple of observations. By the way, Lee Strobel, journalist, was also one who started out as an aetheist. You might find his Case for Christ and Case for the Real Jesus an extremely eye-opening counterpoint to much of this conjecture.

    It is quite fashionable for others to put out books that are in direct conflict with 2,000 years of direct, continuous teaching on Christ. Again, we have first-hand eyewitness accounts of Who He was and what He preached and taught.

    Regarding the telephone game analogy, it falls to pieces immediately. The “fun” in that game is to say the thing quickly, and no one really cares if they get it all or correctly. That is in direct conflict with how serious all who wrote what we now have as The Bible. God was taken very seriously, and no one wanted to change anything or make a mistake. And from my study on the subject, no major “mistakes” were ever made. There is nothing that has changed the meaning, and that can’t be cleared up by checking another part of the Bible that relates to it. Look at it this way. If you were dying and a friend was with you, and you asked them to relay your last words to your family, do you think they would get it wrong? And even if they used a different word that meant the exact same thing, would they be wrong in the message conveyed? Some things we take VERY seriously….a parlor game isn’t really one of them. If someone made a mistake copying the Bible, they started the page or scroll over in most cases.

    While Jesus normally used the title “the Son of Man”, which was an Old Testament reference to the Messiah, so they would realize Who He was claiming to be, He did acknowledge Himself as the Son of God. In one place for sure, when the high priest said that he charged Christ by the living God to tell him if He was the Christ, the Son of God. (You see, they KNEW the full implication of who the Messiah was.) And Jesus said (depending on the translation), “You have said it”, “It is as you say”, etc. Then Jesus goes on to again reference that He is the Son of Man, the Messiah, the Son of God. There was no ambiguity in His answer. The high priest fully understood what Jesus just claimed, and tore his robes and charged blasphemy. So, to be clear, the idea that Jesus “became” the Son of God because of medieval typo is absurd on its face. The apostles and the earliest members of the church acknowledged that Jesus was the Son of God. There are other places as well.

    I didn’t say any “other gospels or epistles” should easily be dismissed. I did say that from all I have read about various “gospels” that have become popular in the last 30 years or so, they do not hold up on many accounts. Again,Lee Strobel takes some of these to task (or rather the scholars he interviews in his books do), as has Walter Martin, Josh McDowell and many other writers.

    All I ask, is that one read intelligent analyses from scholars on both sides. Ehrman is only one side, and as I have said, I have read some very good reasons that contradict his views on those particular writings.

    Again, not wanting to hijack a thread or such…but as long as the thread stays open and we can discuss all this is friendly way, I’m open to it all.

    Best Always,
    Rick

  15. Bill says:

    My time is really tight right now (I just got a call regarding a J J Abrams/Spielberg project for work they want completed by Friday evening) but I need to give at least a few quick comments on your comments. I’ll try to put down something in more detail after my deadline has passed.

    To fws: You’re absolutely right — good list of deadly atheists. Interesting that all the guys on your list mostly slaughtered their own people (as opposed to starting, say, an international holy war).

    To Rick: Speaking of typos, the small “c” was unintentional.

    What I find interesting about Ehrman is that he’s the opposite of guys like Lewis. Ehrman began as the most hardcore of fundamentalist Christians. His exploration of the origins of the Bible began because he sought out the most undiluted version of God’s words, worried that what he was getting was changed or diluted. That’s why he became an expert on ancient Greek, Aramaic, etc. so that he could do his own translations directly from the earliest original texts.

    What he discovered shook him to his core and turned him from a super devout Christian into an agnostic (if not an atheist). I find that (and his rather dry, scholarly book) fascinating.

    More later…

  16. Rick Catizone says:

    Bill,

    The Abrams/Spielberg thing sounds cool, hope it went well; crash deadlines are always “thrilling”.

    While an interesting observation that Ehrman went the “other way” as you say, to me, the huge majority of scholarship does not support his conclusions. My son studied Greek for the very same reason of wanting to know exactly what was said. And it is a most interesting language because even if one gets the order “wrong”, you can’t change it’s meaning. Many groups attempt to (mis)translate verses, but you can’t subvert the Greek.

    Daniel Wallace, Greek scholar, in The Case for the Real Jesus, observes that Ehrman never really proves that anything regarding Jesus was doctrinally changed, but his book is a more general attack on the Bible itself. For example, The hundreds of thousands of “variants” he mentions would seem to cast doubt on any the reliability of anything recorded. However, he notes that at least 80% of the variants are such things such as whether a word ended in two “n’s” or one….(Doesn’t change the meaning)…. The same with a word being out of order…doesn’t change the meaning at all…. And a very large percentage were changes for clarification, such as changing “he” to Jesus where one may have gotten lost in context of a longer passage. And there where times that “God” and “Jesus” were interchanged…something clearly believed and taught as found in Titus and other writings. Also the supposed “variants” include any writings of church fathers and not just the primary gospels and epistles themselves, as intimated.

    However, between the Gospels and epistles alone, we have plenty of cross referencing to be sure of what was being stated doctrinally. Additionally, we have the creeds and the writings of the earliest church fathers who were directly taught by the apostles. There is no real doubt as to the unity, meaning, and relevance of what they wrote. Only whether one believes the evidence…or does not like where the evidence points and must find an alternate “explanation”.

    Again, from my studies over the years, almost all biblical scholars are in agreement as to what the New Testament says, Who Jesus said He was, what He taught, that He indeed was resurrected, and returned to His Father in heaven. I find it interesting to read other points of view, but when you then also look to other scholars views who answer some who liberally distort the clear presentation and meaning of scripture, it answers with great veracity the questions proposed. So you may want to read Lee Strobel’s Case for the Real Jesus. There is a chapter specifically addressing all these issues. Or, Reinventing Jesus is another one that addresses all these issues and more.

    Best,
    Rick

  17. fws says:

    Thanks for including me in your debate! I am a fundamentalist type Christian struggling to be what I should be…kind, considerate and loving! For me it’s very difficult! For others it may be easier! But I believe the Bible to be the Word of God! Yet, I also understand the skepticism people entertain when dealing with Christians and Christian theology! I work with a “Christian” guy who will screw you out of your work schedule without the slightest pang of guilt! So I understand the reservations many have regarding those claiming to be something they are not! But I also recognize humanity’s innate need to frame life’s experiences with some kind of meaning! I personally find the Old and New Testaments a sufficient answer to the many questions that have tormented humanity down through the ages! Why are people all screwed up? Why do we kill each other? Why do we hurt each other? Why do we lie and cheat and steal? There is a common perception that something is terribly wrong with humans! And many have sought to isolate the problem and then offer the solution! Darwin believed we were and are simply evolving into a more refined species! Hitler sought to speed up that evolutionary process, the result being a history of horror only the devil could author! Freud believed sexual inhibition led to neurosis! Sexual libertarians created even greater problems! Marx believed fiscal inequality was responsible for many of the world’s woes! Yet, socialist solutions to inequality have created a world of other problems! I’m not smart enough to think through all of these issues and claims and solutions so I’ll just believe there was a person long ago who advocated love and compassion and patience and consideration and forgiveness as the way we should conduct ourselves as we travel through this life! But let me tell you…that’s not as easy as it sounds! Anyway, thanks for letting me participate! I’ll try to restrict my future commentary to art and music!

  18. PJ Landis says:

    CS Lewis might have been a strong advocate for Christianity, and a dedicated evangelizer in his own way, but his appeals are purely emotional so I’m confused to see him called a logician.

    Here’s a good example of where logic seems to have failed him:

    ““I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”

    Read more: http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/22-awesome-c-s-lewis-quotes/#ixzz2BpjD4Hzz

  19. David T says:

    Human suffering- And specifically the suffering of children is the hardest hurdle to get over for anyone who gives this stuff even the slightest thought. Any honest Christian (who has confronted their own doubt with reason) can only say that they’ve found resolution to this problem through blind faith. There is no reasonable explanation for a loving creator turning a blind eye to the pain and misery of children. The only explanation is that we simply aren’t bright enough to understand what is really at play. We can assume more sinister things. We can even say that it is evil that a God capable of ending a child’s misery would sit back and do nothing. Or we can believe that such a God is still good despite our inability to know what is really happening behind the scenes. I opt for trusting beyond my own reasonable doubt- Believing that my doubt is based in a limited human understanding which does not hold all of the facts. It is by faith and faith alone that I trust that my creator is good. It is those same children- Their innocence and the amazing trust in the eyes of a baby- That can also convince me of God’s goodness. What is more pure than a baby? What gives more of a doorway into the heart of the creator than a kid? The same one who makes that child is not the one who revels in seeing it destroyed. I just can’t believe that. It doesn’t ring true in my heart.

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