Godspell: An Unexpected Source for Doubt

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Confession time. I’m often somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but I’m absolutely crazy about musicals, and some of my relatives are too. A few years ago, during the years that I was only beginning to doubt Catholicism, my mom got very excited that Godspell was coming to Broadway. It was worth the trip to New York to see it, she promised, and bought several tickets, intending to take me and my brothers with her. Somewhat skeptical and not particularly interested in seeing a play that would, I assumed, portray the same Jesus story I’d heard retold in a million different ways throughout my life, I came anyway.

I had seen musicals on Broadway before, but I didn’t know what to expect with Godspell. What I discovered was a musical comedy with very little plot, based on the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament and, as I suspected, the Biblical story of his life. As far as musicals go, this one is far tamer than the ones that criticize religion, such as The Book of Mormon. Godspell is actually very Christian friendly. There are certainly some Christians who can’t stomach it because of the amount of popular culture it contains, but it doesn’t really do anything that conflicts with Christian teachings. Frankly, it does an awful lot to promote them. Many of the songs are actually song versions of Jesus’ parables.

The performance I saw was phenomenal. Corbin Bleu played Jesus, and damn, that guy can sing (I always thought Disney stars were auto tuned because they all sound so similar. Another Disney star, Anna Maria Perez De Tagle, was also on the cast, and she too had notable talent. I take back my former distrust of Disney). The humor had been updated since the original version of the show, with jokes about Donald Trump, Obama, and other such contemporary figures. While I wasn’t particularly into the subject matter, I was definitely entertained.

This show did something surprising for me, though. As I began to question my faith, I began to return again and again to some of the show’s lyrics. Those lyrics wound up propelling me into further questioning, and further thinking.

The lyrics in question come from the show’s opening. In it, the cast enters, singing a song in which each person takes the role of one or two philosophers. The song they sing is titled “Tower of Babble,” and it’s one of the few Godspell songs I’ll still listen to on occasion. It represents the different ideas of philosophers by having the various cast members sing paraphrased versions of their thoughts, many of them about God. My favorite by far from the moment I heard it was a paraphrased version of what I later realized was a Galileo quote. Originally, Galileo said:

“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.”

The Godspell version of this idea is as follows:

“God endows us with sense and intellect. God endows us with reason we neglect. And despite the abolition by the current inquisition of any intuition that they don’t choose, when it comes to God I find I can’t believe that he designed a human being with a mind he’s not supposed to use.”

Those lyrics stayed in my head for years, and kept coming back to me. Partially because of those words, whenever I stopped myself from questioning religion, I began to change my mind and question it anyway. Galileo was a brilliant man. As I mentioned in my last post, I’d already begun to think religion and intellect didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. To find that Galileo had come to the same conclusion gave me hope that I wasn’t crazy–that I wasn’t the only one. It was, for me, a subtler version of the goal of the atheist billboards humanist groups occasionally put up, like this one:

Sometimes, the most important thing a person can hear is that other people have similar ideas. Knowing that got me thinking that maybe I’d stumbled upon some sort of religious truth. I thought there might be theological reasons to support the belief that intellectualism wasn’t contrary to the Bible. If one does some cherry picking, it’s certainly a plausible idea. Genesis says “God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Hypothetically, if God created man, and man was good, then everything about humanity is good. That should include natural bodily functions, the human sex drive, and perhaps most importantly of all, the human intellect.

I later realized just how much cherry picking I was doing, and that for every verse supporting my opinion, there was another one telling me to close my mind to any dissenting thoughts. For example, Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight [Emphasis mine].”

After a while of this, I realized I needed to choose between faith and intellectualism, and that’s when the faith that had always come naturally to me started slipping away.

As usual, feel free to comment! All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!