In terms of my creative calling in this world, I am most fundamentally a writer. Before I knew anything about teaching, scholarship, or the formal disciplines of philosophy and theology, I had a strong sense that writing would somehow define my life. This awareness even preceded my conversion to Christianity as a teenager. And almost immediately upon my conversion, I began to pursue this aspect of my calling. During my college career, the contours of my future writing career came more fully into view as I discovered the field of philosophy and eventually adjusted my professional aims in that direction. For the last 25 years I have been publishing my work, mainly in the scholarly realm. But all along I have been a lover of music as well and have developed my songwriting craft as a hobby. I estimate that I have written some 350 songs. Many of these I have recorded, others I have played live in various venues, but most have not been heard by anyone.
So, to ensure that most of these saw the light of day, back in August I began posting demos of my songs on YouTube, which you can check out here. I recognize that I am, at best, only a serviceable guitarist and vocalist, but these demos are about the songs, not the particular performances. I have been posting one song per week since mid-August, and I intend to maintain this pace until I exhaust my inventory and then, perhaps, simply post songs as I write them.
Since in most cases I have not provided any background or explanation regarding the songs, I thought it would be a good idea to do so here. But first, an explanation for my pseudonym. The name “Philonous” derives from two Greek terms, philo and nous, which together mean “love of mind.” This moniker is not original with me but was coined by the eighteenth century Irish Anglican bishop George Berkeley, whose metaphysical idealism has had a more powerful impact on my thinking than anything besides the Christian Gospel. I believe Berkeley’s idealist thesis—that “to be is to be perceived”—offers the best philosophical lens through which to view this world and to make sense of it in biblical terms. Metaphysical idealism asserts that mind is most real, and that everything else is somehow dependent upon and an expression of that mind. Jonathan Edwards, among many other great Christian thinkers, held the same conviction. So I am just one in a long line of Berkeleyans dating back more than 250 years. For more on recent Berkeleyan scholarship, you can look here and here and here.
But I digress . . . sort of. The point is that the Philonous pseudonym is purposeful and reinforces the idea that the entire cosmos, all of human history, and each of our individual stories, are literally the thoughts of God made public. We are all actors on the divine stage, and God is directing this drama with exquisite care and intention to create the most beautiful story possible. I find this to be not only philosophically and theologically rich and insightful, but also an especially inspiring aesthetic perspective which charges all human endeavor and every subject matter with significance.
So that’s a bit of background. Now here are some brief annotations regarding the first dozen songs posted on my YouTube channel:
- State of Mind – This is my Berkeleyan “anthem” which I deemed to be an appropriate launching song for my YouTube channel because, as I explained above, the metaphysical idealist thesis has driven so much of my thinking about all aspects of the cosmos and human existence.
- Government Man – This one was borne out of exasperation with government ineptitude. Politically, I am a conservative/libertarian (or classical liberal, depending on which categories one prefers), and this song reflects that perspective like a few other songs I’ve written over the years.
- Little Hitler – As I explain in the song’s description on YouTube, this song is about original sin (echoing such biblical passages as Genesis 6:5 and Jeremiah 17:9, which also are hyperbolic in their emphasis on human depravity). As you might already know, this one caused a bit of controversy a while back. If you’re not familiar with the story, you can look here and here and here.
- What it’s Like to be Born – This song is not as straightforwardly about religious conversion as it might appear, though it certainly concerns that as well, obviously playing with Jesus’s metaphor of rebirth. Here I try to highlight the oft-overlooked aspect of this metaphor—that such rebirth is both joyful and painful.
- Let’s Start Our Own Country – I have written at least three versions of this song, the first back in 1988. Because the lyrics have always related to current events, the song always dates itself. So I wrote new lyrics for this version this past summer.
- Jesus Never Let Me Down – I wrote this one after the fallout from the “Little Hitler” controversy. I have been a Christian forty years, and Jesus has yet to let me down even once. And he is not letting me down through this recent trial, which is very small compared to what other Christians have suffered and are currently suffering around the world.
- Out of the Question – This is a sort of wordplay that poses a variety of questions which, though all significant, are in some way or another self-answering. Thus, the answer in each case comes “out” of the question. Even the title is a twist, since the phrase usually means something very different, something along the lines of “beyond consideration.”
- Define it Away – This song is a critical commentary on a cultural trend among leftists to redefine terms and concepts in such a way as to warp or hide certain truths. It is also intended to be comical, though those on the political left will likely be more annoyed than humored by it.
- Bend the Rules – I wrote this one many years ago in response to a friend who repeatedly challenged certain standards within our local church and eventually left the church out of exasperation.
- What’s Wrong With the Media – This song is a critique of certain aspects of much of the contemporary American media. Obviously, many media outlets and reporters are still doing good, admirable work. The song highlights disturbing general trends.
- Secret – I wrote this song about twenty years ago after the death of a good friend. I am convinced he was murdered, but his death was ruled a suicide. Thus, my friend’s murderer “got away with it.” Yet, alas, in the end that killer won’t really get away with anything.
- Rainbow – Many years ago I wrote this song about a good friend after hearing some people observe that he always seemed to be living under a cloud and was depressing to be around. The truth was, and is, that he is a beautiful and interesting person, even if most people can’t see this.