Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Apostasy Done Right: The case of David Bazan

I was pretty rough on apostates earlier, but I wouldn't want to give the impression that I think everyone who switches ideological sides needs to grow a beard, get false papers, and move to another country under an assumed identity. I put a lot of stock in team loyalty, but I also think it's possible to desert your former team with everyone's honor intact. And I think David Bazan has done it.

Bazan made it pretty big in the Christian rock world performing as the one-man band Pedro the Lion — he was the only Christian act I ever came across in my secular adolescence. The Pitchfork crowd liked him okay; the evangelical kids adored him. And he recently announced that he probably doesn't believe in God anymore. Moreover, he has serious concerns about where the evangelical movement has ended up: "The last 30 years of it have been hijacked; the boomer evangelicals, they were seduced in the most embarrassing and scandalous way into a social, political, and economical posture that is the antithesis of Jesus's teaching."

He admits that his latest album, Curse Your Branches, is about his loss of faith — a break-up album to God. The opening images from "Lost My Shape" aren't as obvious as some on the other tracks, but I think they're his most interesting lyrics on the subject:
You used to feel like a smoker
Shivering in the cold
Waiting outside the bar
Till the opener's over,

But now you feel like a drinker
Twenty days off the sauce
Down at the liquor store
Trying to call your sponsor.
And yet, as this magazine piece lovingly describes, nobody has disavowed anybody. He still performs at the Cornerstone festival, he still admits to caring about what happens to American evangelicalism, and his fans keep praying for him. The piece describes one touching scene from a recent show:
After Bazan plays a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," reinstating the sacrilegious verses left out of the best-known versions, someone shouts, "How's your soul?" Bazan looks up from tuning his guitar and says, "My soul? Oh, it's fine." This elicits an "Amen, brother!" from the back of the tent.
The author of the magazine article asked Bazan outright how he threads the needle of being a doubter among the faithful without offending his former flock-mates:
[When talking to fans] Bazan doesn't usually get into the subtle barometric fluctuations in his relationship with Jesus, but that still leaves room for plenty of postshow theological talk. "This process feels necessary and natural for these people," he says. "They're in a precarious situation—maybe I am too. To maintain their particular posture, they have to figure out: Do they need to get distance from me, or is it just safe enough to listen to? I empathize as people are trying to gauge, 'Is this guy an atheist? Because I heard he was.'"
It's a "precarious situation," like he says, but it matters that both sides are trying. It also matters that Bazan couldn't run away from evangelicalism even if he tried, something I wish more apostates realized. If you were ever really part of something, it shaped you. If you were ever drawn to something, then at some level you always will be.

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