Supertramp’s critique of modernism, and truth for postmodern lovers

Written by on March 4, 2009 in Faith and Spiritual Life, Notes By The Way with 12 Comments

I received this by email today. The writer said to think about the song as a critique of modernism. What does it say about modernism? Feel free to share your own thoughts below.

Supertramp – The Logical Song

When I was young, it seemed that life was so wonderful,
A miracle, oh it was beautiful, magical.
And all the birds in the trees, well they’d be singing so happily,
Joyfully, playfully watching me.
But then they sent me away to teach me how to be sensible,
Logical, responsible, practical.
And they showed me a world where I could be so dependable,
Clinical, intellectual, cynical.

There are times when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.

Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical,
Liberal, fanatical, criminal.
Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re
Acceptable, respectable, presentable, a vegetable!

At night, when all the world’s asleep,
The questions run so deep
For such a simple man.
Won’t you please, please tell me what we’ve learned
I know it sounds absurd
But please tell me who I am.

Here is how I replied:

When he was young he lived freely in the moment. Then in school he was taught to function and contribute responsibly in society. It was a project to transform the way he thought to a way that was logical but not connected to his real self (it was cynical). It was not true. After years in the system, now he lays awake wondering who he is. He feels like a simple man forced into a complicated way of living and thinking (i.e., pretending). He wonders whether anything that he learned is of value at all.

Postmoderns suspect, or know, that modernism failed in it’s project to make us better, and to make the world a better place. But we’ve been so shaped by it that we don’t know how to change our way of thinking. We are accused of being negative, because all we can do is reject and deny the logical answers and patterns that we had to give and accept. We yearn for a positive way forward, for truth, and a new way of thinking, and we remember the freedom and simplicity of childhood looking for clues. But the truth is not in denial or looking back. Perhaps it starts with awareness and embracing mystery.

I’m reminded of something Jim Palmer writes about, that repentance (metanoia in Greek) means “a new way of thinking about everything.” Rather than changing ourselves, which is the modern way, Jesus tells us the Kingdom of God is here — we just need to have eyes to see and a willingness to change course. And, of course, we still need to drop our modern habits of trying to control and understand everything.

To paraphrase something Peter Rollins says, If you want to understand love, do what lovers do. If you want to know Jesus, join what Jesus is doing.

I was going to include the following interview with Peter Rollins in another post, but here you go. Peter Rollins is a Jesus follower from Ireland. If you are interested in “new kinds of Christians” (and what that means) then watch this.

(UPDATE) And then there’s this (h/t: Brant):


Sad, when you think about it

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About the Author

About the Author: Andy Gray is a writer and photographer living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and working with Alongsiders International. You can find him puttering around the streets of Phnom Penh on his Suzuki Viva 125, running stoplights and driving on the wrong side of the road or on the sidewalks like a local. If you see him in a coffee shop, he'll be the one typing and deleting the same line over and over again. .


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  • Isabelle (^^)

    I am 34. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fond of Supertramp, first of their music and then I was able to understand the lyrics: I began to love them even more. Pay attention to the lyrics in “Child of vision”, “If everyone was listening” and “Take the long way home”. It is interesting as well.
    “The logical song” makes me feel nostalgic. It’s true that many things were simpler when I was a child.

  • Andy,
    I’ll spare you my usual stuff about false dichotomies and such and just tell you what I think of the song. I love that song and have since I heard it back in the 80’s. I think it presents a view of childhood innocence that is nice to contemplate, but is not true. Children are not as innocent as we like to think they are in our utopian fantasies. The choice is not between some “Edenic” childhood and cold, cynical, “know-it-all” modernistic adulthood. For there is no “Edenic” childhood that ever existed, except in the person of Jesus, and logic, education, order, and knowing things (along with acknowledging mystery) is not the downfall of man. But more on this later. I’ve got to go.

  • I agree that childhood innocence is not perfect or pure. I don’t know if the writer thinks that either. I only know that he is yearning for innocence and, most simply, to know who he is. How would you relate with him?

  • I would relate to him by agreeing that there are times when “the questions run too deep.” And then I’d ask him what he thinks those questions are. I might offer a few I’ve had myself. I imagine this would be a fruitful area to chat about if he was really thinking about these things. After that I might ask him more about what he thinks has caused him to be so cynical and clinical, and I might get around to asking him how he thinks he might find out “who he is” or whether he thinks he even can. And then I would agree with his question about what we’ve really learned, because for all of our education we still seem to be as confused and helpless as ever, which would lead me into some kind of mention of our inherent sinfulness (hmm, a topic I’ve been speaking of lately.).

    Bottom line, it’s a great tune.

  • Oh, and per your recent comments on my webpage, I am less “bothered” by your views on Scripture, and more motivated, in the words of William Wilberforce, that “it is the duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow-creatures to the utmost of his power; and that he who thinks he sees many around him, whom he esteems and loves, labouring under a fatal error, must have a cold heart, or a most confined notion of benevolence, if he could refrain from endeavouring to set them right, lest in so doing he should be accused of stepping out of his proper walk, and expose himself on that ground to the imputation of officiousness.” No matter the depth of your communion with Christ, and I’ve no doubt you have depth there, it will be even deeper the more you take into yourself and meditate upon and chew upon the actual words of Scripture. For so the Scripture exhorts you to do. So I go round and round about these things not to win an argument. Who cares about that. But to perhaps promote a greater love, indeed God’s own love, for his words, which King David said, “revive the soul.” Indeed.

  • Indeed. Heh.

  • Andy,

    Interesting post. I think Emergent is an interesting and thoughtful answer to some of the problems of the “modern” church. I fear that the answer lies somewhere in between.

    While admitting Rollins says some interesting stuff, like the parallel between art and God’s word as well as his engagements with folks outside the church, I respectfully disagree with Rollin’s interpretation of baptism. I believe scripture firmly establishes the symbolic role of baptism for all parties involved and speaks to it on multiple occassions. I will admit that its a reading I’ve never heard before, and an interesting one that might even cause us to pause in our interpretation ever so slightly, but never-the-less feel that he might be pushing the limits of interpretation.

    Take care,

  • The first time I heard someone question baptism it caught me off-guard, and I rejected what he had said out of hand. Now I’ve thought more about it, and I’m not so sure. In the first century church, baptism was an initiation rite already practiced in the culture. It wasn’t such a stretch to be baptized into Christian faith. We have continued the tradition of baptism in the West, so most people are not shocked to hear about it. But in Japan there is no history or tradition of baptism. It is a shocking, scary ritual associated with a foreign religion. Most Japanese wait years to get baptized, because their families perceive it as going over the edge. Of course, the point of baptism IS that you are going over the edge — in a sense — but in the New Testament it wasn’t a foreign and scary ritual. It was JUST a simple and familiar ritual. I haven’t made up my mind one way or the other, but I wonder if we could find other ways to welcome people into faith that would be true to Jesus’ message and intent.

  • Andy, I wasn’t aware that baptism was an initiation rite in the first century. I didn’t watch the above video. Does he talk about it there? Where else can I learn more about that?

  • I should 100% double check this, but that seems to be the one principle the gospels agree on.

    I understand its “different” or “exotic” for the Japanese and certainly there are more parts to a relationship with Jesus than just a baptism and I’m not going to say that someone who isn’t baptized isn’t going to heaven and certainly not that they don’t have a relationship with Jesus. To me its an uphill battle both realistically and scripturally–not unlike trying to get a college education at a major university without funding or financial aid.

    There seem to be layers of meaning in other passages that would provide much more fruitful spiritual/relationship enhancing discussions. I think its an interesting intellectual discussion–but a bit of a non-starter. Like…what if Gravity moved in the opposite direction…

  • I don’t want to keep going off topic. Maybe I’ll post about baptism later. I agree it’s a non-starter to debate doctrines that are deeply rooted in both the Bible and (even more so) in tradition with people who grew up in those traditions. I count myself to a degree in that number. I met a guy who doesn’t advocate baptism, and he is very Bible oriented. It shocked me, and I disagreed. But I’ve often thought about his reasons, and my mind is open. There are a great many others like him. My intention, at the moment, isn’t to make a case that they’re right and others are wrong, but I think you can believe the Bible and apply doctrines in ways that diverge from hundreds of years of tradition — and it’s most likely to happen if you’re living and relating with people from other cultures and seeing the Bible freshly through their eyes. (In our own culture we have come up with some extravagant non-Biblical applications of scripture that don’t bother us much, like drinking little cups of grape juice and crackers and calling that “communion” or teaching that tithing is Biblical when in fact it wasn’t practiced until the 8th century, coincident with professional clergy, and the Old Testament actually called for 2 annual tithes and one biannual tithe that came out to about 25 percent giving per year.)

  • Joel,
    After looking around on Google, my point about baptism being a ritual in the surrounding culture was based on things I’ve heard that are not well substantiated. There are parallels to baptism in the Old Testament and in pagan religions, but what Jesus taught was quite different both in content and form.