The Desire for Music and its Importance in Religion

Music has the ability to deepen the meaning of words that accompany it, both in a religious context or even on your local pop radio station you listen to on the way to work. As described by St. Augustine in Weiss and Taruskin’s Music of the Western World, St. Augustine reflects on his baptism, “The tears flowed from me when I heard your hymns and canticles, for the sweet singing of your church moved me deeply…The music surged in my ears, truth seeped into my heart, and my feelings of devotion overflowed…” (24). St. Augustine’s account makes it clear that the hymns and canticles sung at his baptism amplified his personal religious experience all the way back in the 4th century. At the same time, music wasn’t always considered an appropriate mode of worship, so why has music become such a universal part of worship today?

In the early Christian tradition, as with many other religions, one had to be careful with their use of music. According to Weiss and Taruskin’s Music of the Western World, using music for unholy purposes such as pleasure was sinful because pleasure gets in the way of the Lord. If early Christians considered music a pleasure capable of distracting them from their relationship with God, then the impact music had on people of this time must have been significant. Luckily, many religions agreed the sin of music is taken away when it is used for worship. Putting religious text to music allows for a more involved worship experience, incorporating song performance skills that give the performer and the listener a heightened sense of praise. In this way, music can be used as a tool for praise that is appealing to the worshiper.

Music has a way of filling in the gaps in thought, feeling, and emotion that words cannot do justice, which can be incredibly powerful when accompanied by a spiritual belief. Using music for religious reasons also gave early humans the ability to experience and explore the tantalizing effects of music without committing a sin. In the present day, music is used much more widely and for purposes other than worship, which has allowed religious music to grow and expand into many types of praise that have a wider impact many people. Music is a nearly universal part of religion because it appeals to and heightens human senses in a pleasurable way which, in turn, allows humans to praise through a medium that makes worship more enjoyable.