Although I am a Nonsupernaturalist, I like listening to Contemporary Christian Music because it covers a wide range of themes in human life that go beyond the important and moving, but not-wide-ranging-enough themes of the ups and downs of romantic relationships that animate the bulk of popular music. Growing up, I liked the political songs of the 60s for a similar reason: they added political themes to the romantic themes of most popular music. (You can tell that I pay a lot of attention to lyrics; I know many people focus almost entirely on the music itself in what they listen to, apart from lyrics.)
A common human experience is to have something one has worked hard for fall apart. Nichole Nordeman's song "The Unmaking," (see the videos and links above) points to the deep truth that rebuilding after everything seems to have fallen down sometimes leads to something better than what fell. This has certainly been the case in many instances in my own life. For example, the professional disappointment I wrote about in "Believe in Yourself" led me through a long road to even better research projects. And the crumbling of my belief in Mormonism led me to a better place, religiously.
To explain why "Demolition Day" can lead to something even better than what came crashing down, Nichole Nordeman suggests that the new creation was God's doing, while what came crashing down was one's own doing, even if done while invoking God's name. Even if no God currently exists, there is a lot of truth to this view.
Most of us, in our first attempts to build follow the lead of society's current notions of how to proceed. Often that means engaging in "tournaments" in the broad sense in which economists use the word: competitions in which, by design, only a few can reach the top. It is only after failing in a tournament or several tournaments that one begins to question whether the things all the many other people also engaged in tournaments are after are really the most important things.
In my own belief, asking the question of what is most important and what is really worth doing is the first step toward God—even if God does not yet exist. This is the message of my sermon "Teleotheism and the Purpose of Life." This past year, I have tried to dig into how to begin answering that question in a series of posts that are often framed as advice to young economists, but I hope are helpful to others as well. These three are about not getting caught in the rat race, aiming to do good, and thinking big:
And these three are about questioning the narrow views other people might have about how one should proceed (here the translation from my attacks on narrow views in economics and academia to attacks on narrow views in other fields may take some extra work):
- Economics Needs to Tackle All of the Big Questions in the Social Sciences
- Defining Economics
- Does the Journal System Distort Scientific Research?
talks about the importance of love in getting to where we want to go.
Despite all that I have written so far, I feel there are other deep insights in Nichole Nordeman's lyrics about the experience of seeing things one has built fall down and then rebuilding that I can't fully articulate. There is much that we Nonsupernaturalists can learn from Supernaturalists, even without giving up our disbelief.