On a summer’s day when I can work with the windows open, I hear the bells of a local church. We haven’t been in our current location long enough to know for sure, but they seem to come from the direction of the United Methodists. Around noon each day they ring out hymn tunes to which I often find myself filling in the words. These are traditional hymns that I’ve known from childhood, and there’s an easy familiarity about hearing them, although my own spiritual journey may have taken me in different directions. The sound of bells is so pleasant, I think, that nobody really objects. Then I wonder about what I thought.
Music in public places does impact other people. Consider the heavy metal or rap booming out of a passing car with the stereo turned up too high for human consumption. Or jazz in the park. Music impacts other people. What, I wonder, is the message those of other religions hear along with these old hymns? Do they suggest more than the praise of the locals for their version of the Almighty? Is there some subtle proselytizing going on? Is the music for members of the parish only, or can outsiders hear it and be free of obligation? In many ways this encapsulates, I believe, the conflicts rife throughout our nation. Traditionalists who see nothing wrong with “white” Christianity spreading its message but who object to a mosque being built in their community would likely find church bells comforting, even if they personally don’t attend. Those from the outside, meanwhile, hear a message of cultural superiority.
Some sects feel compelled to praise God vocally, often and enthusiastically. Their religion insists they do so. Hymns ringing from the steeple, even if they’re not exactly your brand, participate in that mandate. The deity likes to be adored. (Think Psalms.) This specific divinity, however, isn’t alone. Perhaps beyond the bounds of where these sound waves flatten out to inaudibility, there are others with religious beliefs often older. They too have rules about how to behave. They may not be friendly to those who come bearing a new message of a new truth. Globalization follows in the wake of technology and no god beyond the laws of physics oversees tech. Our smartphones have made the world a much smaller place. In such tight quarters, sounds carry. Church bells, innocent as they seem, may be heard as a war cry. But I wouldn’t suggest such things on a day so pleasant that I can work with my windows open and listen to the bells.