gravity always wins: Radiohead and Christianity Part III

Part I and Part II

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Ecclesiastes 1:15  15 What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.”

These words penned by Qoheleth of Ecclesiastes are some of the most penetrating in the entire cannon of the Bible.  In one sentence the great teacher poignantly expresses what we all know: something is wrong that we can’t quite fix.  Thousands of years later the Apostle Paul expanded on Qoheleth’s observations by plainly stating just what is crooked and lacking.  In a diagnostic stroke of genius Paul writes:

Romans 3:10-20  “None is righteous, no, not one;  11 no one understands; no one seeks for God.  12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”  13 “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.”  14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”  15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;  16 in their paths are ruin and misery,  17 and the way of peace they have not known.”  18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”  19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.  20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”   

The theological term for Paul’s diagnosis is original sin.  These two words express the idea that every man and woman who has ever existed is infected to the core of their DNA with the tendency to think and do wrong[i].  Anyone who is remotely self-aware, regardless of their religion or lack thereof, usually on some level can agree with this definition.  G.K. Chesterton once cleverly wrote that original sin, “Is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.”  What he means is that to prove original sin you simply have to look out your window and see all the chaos and violence in the world.  If you’re brave all you have to do is look into your own heart.  No matter who we are, we’re capable of some pretty nasty stuff.  Just take a look at this year’s Black Friday rush!

Whether they know it or not, Radiohead’s music bears witness to the reality of this dark force within humanity.  The first song that comes to mind is “Just” found on “The Bends.”  In this song Thom Yorke sings of the distorted behavior of a compulsive narcissist (in this way it’s about all of us to some degree) who just won’t go way.  The chorus speaks to sinners of all shapes and sizes:

“You do it to yourself, you do And that’s what really hurts

Is that you do it to yourself Just you and no-one else

You do it to yourself.”

Here Thom’s definition of the narcissist’s behavior is strikingly similar to the definition of Original Sin found in the 39 Articles of religion in the Anglican Communion which read:

Original sin… is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the Spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation. [ii]

Simply put, when it comes to original sin, we do it to ourselves and that’s what really hurts.  As much as we try to shirk off our culpability, our conscience often bears witness to this fact. 

Another song that comes to mind is “Backdrifts (Honeymoon is over)” from their album “Hail to the Theif.”  I think this one is Radiohead’s most profound treatments of human paralysis when it comes to sin.  Just take a look at some of the lyrics:

“We’re rotten fruit, We’re damaged goods

What the hell, we’ve got nothing more to lose

One gust and we will probably crumble

We’re backdrifters

This far but no further, I’m hanging off a branch

I’m teetering on the brink, Oh honey sweet, So full of sleep

I’m backsliding”

In listening to this song I can’t help but hear the Apostle Paul’s words in Galatians:

Galatians 5:17  17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

Simply put, when it comes to the control of our libidinal desires we don’t have as much control as we think.  The Bible and Radiohead both bear witness to this fact.

The good news in all of this is that when we understand just bound we are to our sin, we become all the more astounded at the depths of God’s salvation revealed in the Gospel.  Jesus died for our sins, by taking our place on the cross (1 Peter 3:18).  We our forgiven (Eph 1:7)!  More than this he brings us into his family as adopted children and heirs(Gal 4:4-7).  If this wasn’t enough, God deals with our original sin by creating us anew.  Paul says it this way, “2 Corinthians 5:17   17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Although sin remains in us and at times seems to have never lost its grip, we can be confident that even in the midst of this intense daily struggle God has begun something new in our hearts.

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