Greetings of Peace. This blog contains selections from my correspondence and other sources on a variety of subjects related to religion, philosophy, and spirituality. I hope that they may be of benefit to the interested reader. Concerning the title of the blog, read this entry.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Entertainment and the Spiritual Life




With regard to contemporary music and in fact music in general, I approach it as a muslim and so have investigated the subject primarily from this perspective. Apparently there is a lengthy precedent within Islam of denouncing all popular music in favor of quranic recitation only. However, among all of those whom I consider authoritative, there is a more judicious veiwpoint expressed. Although spiritual music is given the greatest merit, that which is beautiful and pleasant (as opposed to vulgar) is not forbidden to us as a form of leisure activity. This is the perspective for example of al-Ghazali in his book The Alchemy of Happiness where he states, "It is not right that music be considered forbidden because it is pleasant, for pleasant things are not forbidden. Pleasant things which are held to be unlawful are so deemed not because they are pleasant. Rather, they are forbidden because they are are deleterious and corrupting. The songs of birds are pleasing, but not forbidden. Vegetation, flowing water, and admiring the blossoms of flowers are pleasant but not forbidden. Consequently, a beautiful sound is the same to the ear as greenery, flowing water, and blossoms are to the eye, or the smell of musk to the nose, or good tasting food to the taste, or good wisdom to the mind. For each of the senses there is a kind of pleasure. Why should it be unlawful?" Elsewhere he also states that "being excessively pious, frowning, and refraining from things is not part of religion." In other words there should be a certain gentle quality to the soul rather than a heart hardened against beauty in any of its myriad forms.

Based upon these observations, the implications for any kind of music, classical or contemporary should be clear. Personally, I would be somewhat wary against the prospect of marginalizing certain activities and separating them, at least psychologically, from our spiritual lives, for once we have consciously entered into it, there is no activity that can be divorced from it. From that time on, anything that we do can be a support or a hindrance, "Is he then unaware that Allah seeth?" (46:14) Such a compartmentalization is unnecessary, however, granted that even leisure is justifiable and salutary from this perspective. It is not simply frivolity or laziness as it may also serve the function of enabling us to rest and gather our strength to continue the holy war with renewed vigor.

Concerning video games in particular, I think that they range from relatively harmless to genuinely harmful. I have a peripheral interest in certain independent video games playable though my iphone, for instance, while I find that most popular large productions center around the realistic emulation of the experience of killing, theft, destruction of the environment, etc. Another deleterious aspect of these types of games concerns the creation of an alternate reality, an aspect also present in film, which when pursued as a lifestyle, can cause one to live in a world of dreams (or nightmares depending upon the nature of the fabrication) whereas our aim should be to live in the reality of the present. One of the most interesting critiques of video games I have seen comes from the insiders perspective of a video game developer and is called Design Reboot by Jonathan Blow.

Unfortunately, I do not seem to have any definitive answers for you, just a few miscellaneous reflections. Ultimately, I think that we are responsible for determining the nature of the world that we choose to participate in, and whether or not we want to fill our mental, emotional, and physical space with things contrary to the spiritual life, always keeping in mind that that which is leisurely, fun, pleasant, and especially beautiful is not intrinsically incompatible.

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