by Doctor Science
Via Slacktivist and Jessica at Friendly Atheist, I've learned that WORLD magazine editor and developer of "compassionate conservatism" Marvin Olasky has re-written the lyrics to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, the better to "take the music captive" for Christianity.
Now, I don't agree with Jessica that "Hallelujah" is The Best Song Ever, but it's certainly one of the best. Importantly, it's one of the best and most popular religious songs written in the past several decades. "Religious" in the way Rufus Wainwright described it: "The music never pummels the words. The melody is almost liturgical and conjures up religious feelings."
The trouble for a Christianist like Olasky is that the complex and poetic lyrics Cohen wrote for "Hallelujah" don't lend themselves to a single, straightforward, doctrinally pure interpretation. That's one reason I think they *work*, but it doesn't make them comfortable in the way he prefers.
I'm cutting here because this somehow turned into 2000 words about "Hallelujah", religion, the Silmarillion, and Stargate: Atlantis.
Here are the first two verses of "Hallelujah", comparing versions:
|Cohen lyrics||Olasky lyrics|
| I heard there was a secret chord |
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
| I’ve heard there was a secret chord |
That David played, it pleased the Lord.
But You don’t love us for our music, do You?
Sin goes like this: The fourth, the fifth,
Adam’s fall, the major rift,
The baffled king neglecting Hallelujah.
|Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah|
| Your faith was strong but you needed proof |
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah
| Nathan said, "I see your lust. |
You violate a soldier’s trust.
Your pride, your pomp, at night they overthrew you.
You steal, you kill, you get your way,
But God has said, your child will pay,
And from your lips He’ll draw the Hallelujah."
|Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah|
Now the Children of Ilúvatar are Elves and Men, the Firstborn and the Followers. And amid all the splendours of the World, its vast halls and spaces, and its wheeling fires, Ilúvatar chose a place for their habitation in the Deeps of Time and in the midst of the innumerable stars.
And this habitation might seem a little thing to those who consider only the majesty of the Ainur, and not their terrible sharpness; as who should take the whole field of Arda for the foundation of a pillar and so raise it until the cone of its summit were more bitter than a needle; or who consider only the immeasurable vastness of the World, which still the Ainur are shaping, and not the minute precision to which they shape all things therein.
The Music of the Ainur, Ainulindalë, was one of the oldest elements in Tolkien's writing, composed decades before The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien wrote a creation story where Eru (=God) conducts the Ainur (=angels) in a musical chorus, before the world was made. Melkor (=Lucifer) rebels, and tries to make his own solos, until
And it seemed at last that there were two musics progressing at one time before the seat of Ilúvatar, and they were utterly at variance. The one was deep and wide and beautiful, but slow and blended with an immeasurable sorrow, from which its beauty chiefly came. The other had now achieved a unity of its own; but it was loud, and vain, and endlessly repeated; and it had little harmony, but rather a clamorous unison as of many trumpets braying upon a few notes.One reason, I believe, that "Hallelujah" is so popular and feels religious to so many people is because it has that quality of "immeasurable sorrow", instead of a "clamorous unison" proclaiming victory. The latter is a quality Fred says he hears in Awesome God, currently an extremely popular Christian "praise song":
There’s something a bit off-puttingly possessive about the possessive pronoun in the chorus: "Our God is an awesome God" That word "our" has become increasingly common in evangelical praise choruses. It no longer seems enough to sing that "God is an awesome God," or that "God reigns" — we sing that "Our God is an awesome God," and "Our God ray-ay-ay-ayns, Our God reigns."This is Christianism, Christianity as (or in aid of) a political agenda, flattened out and made pure and simple.
Not even one person is that simple, much less a worldwide religious community. Fred points out that Rich Mullins, the writer of "Awesome God", also wrote Hard to Get, about human limitations and doubts about a God who seems to be "up there just playing hard to get". If Mullins' songs can fit into the "Christian" category, so could these verses of "Hallelujah":
You say I took the name in vain-- though they were written by a Buddhist Jew (it's a thing). It seems to me that any religion that has room for Job has room for these feelings, and for words like these.
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
There are about 6234897 versions of "Hallelujah", but I imprinted on Rufus Wainwright's. That was mostly because of this Stargate: Atlantis fanvid:
Direct YouTube Link
by Zoë Rayne and Rache (uploaded to YouTube by me, with their gracious permission). The vid was created for Vividcon in August 2005, when only one season of SG:A had aired; it was one of the agents that drew me into the fandom.
I watched this vid over and over again in the fall of 2005, as I was drifting towards SGA, part of a mass migration away from Smallville fandom at the time. I hadn't started watching the show yet, but I was reading a lot of the fanfiction, some of which was of startlingly high quality.
SGA, which ended up running for five seasons, was never really all that *good*, considered as either TV or science fiction. But "Good enough to be interesting, not good enough to be completely satisfying" is the sweet spot for fanfiction, and SGA really hit it.
Here's how I "read" this vid, and why it affected me so much:
The vid, like the song, has an "I" and a "you". "I" is Rodney McKay, "you" is John Sheppard:
This is Dr. Rodney McKay. As you can see, he is (a) Canadian, (b) a scientist, and (c) surrounded by idiots.
This is Major John Sheppard, USAF. He has no idea what is going on.
Sheppard was the lead in SGA, the military commander/pilot/hero; McKay was the scientist/nerd/smart guy. Or at least that's how TPTB ("The Powers That Be": the showrunners, the people who were in charge of the series) seemed to think of them. Fandom, on the other hand, looked at them and said, "that weird guy from the chess club and my slacker ex-boyfriend are supposed to save the world? WE'RE DOOMED"
During the first season of SGA, the gang (including McKay and Sheppard) go through a wormhole to the Pegasus galaxy to explore the lost city of Atlantis. The expedition finds themselves fighting against an unexpected, horrible enemy, the Wraith (the guys with the long white hair, flying the pointy little spaceships).
Among other things, a fanvid can be an argument, a way of presenting evidence toward a conclusion. Zoë & Rache's vid has an emotional arc, which they are arguing for as the emotional arc for Season 1 of SGA. Or as a way of reading Season 1 that makes it more emotionally coherent than the actual broadcast show turned out to be.
You can trace the arc by just looking at the choruses. Even though they all are just the one word, repeated over and over, it's not just one meaning: hallelujah takes on different resonances each time. It's multifaceted and multivalent -- and I think this is one of the reasons Olasky and his ilk want to re-write Cohen's song. One of the tenets of their stripe of American evangelical fundamentalism is that Scripture is both simple and transparent: anyone can read the Bible, and all correct readings of the Bible give the same message.
The first chorus (at 0:43) begins with Atlantis rising from the ocean, ends with Sheppard killing the Wraith Queen. The hallelujahs celebrate beauty and triumph. Second chorus (1:25): begins with stars turning overhead in a holo-display, ends with the puddlejumper (Sheppard's ship) bombing the Wraith. This is beauty and triumph again, but more ambiguous: we've achieved victory, but it was very destructive. Third chorus (2:09): begins with Wraith coming through the Stargate in a perfect melding of beauty and terror, ends with them being blown up -- and McKay's face, as he learns that more are coming. The hallelujahs seem ironic, the minor key more important than the celebration. Fourth chorus(2:52): Wraith fleet arriving, McKay watching them destroy the space station that was supposed to defend Atlantis (killing one of his good friends, as well). Hallelujah here is a cry out of sorrow and despair: it is the enemy that's triumphing, not our heroes.
The final chorus (3:35) is actual a double: the first repetition begins with the approach of the Wraith fleet to battle Atlantis, and ends with Sheppard's puddlejumper rising through its gate. The second rep is just cutting back and forth between McKay and Sheppard, as Sheppard heads out on a suicide mission: to detonate the bomb McKay built -- which was how Season 1 ended.
Now, this might seem like a completely despairing conclusion, with hallelujah being totally ironic and bitter. Except (a) since this is TV, we always knew Sheppard was protected by Plot Armor, so the question wasn't whether he was going to survive, but *how*. But more important for the feel of the vid, I think, is that it was established early in Season 1 that Sheppard is a huge fan of Doug Flutie's great "Hail Mary" pass. Having the second rep of the final chorus be almost action-free, just showing their faces while hearing hallelujah, hallelujah, makes me recognize Sheppard's mission as a Hail Mary (I don't know if that was Zoë & Rache's intention, or if the SGA writers themselves thought of it that way), and thus makes the hallelujahs more of a directed prayer, a hope for succor in desperate need. It asks for rescue, yes, but also, as the Hail Mary prayer says, for solace "now and in the hour of our death".
How could I resist the fandom, when this vid promised me joy and beauty and awe and terror and grief and hope, all together? Even knowing that, as Tolkien says of The Silmarillion,
If it has passed from the high and the beautiful to darkness and ruin, that was of old the fate of Arda Marred-- that is, that stories (and, even more frequently, TV shows) that begin well often end poorly, due to the weakness of human nature, injudicious apple-eating and other original sins, Sturgeon's Law, and other consequences of entropy.
 This was originally intended to be my Super Bowl Sunday post, but I kind of failed. Long-windedly.