This past weekend, I watched a short segment on CBS about a young trumpet player from Afghanistan who now attends music school in the United States, thanks to the efforts of a professional symphonic trumpet player who mentored him and spurred fundraising efforts that allowed the young man to get to the U.S. What amazed me was that, according to the story, and to the young man, playing trumpet in Afghanistan is viewed as anti-religious and that even carrying the trumpet openly would have been dangerous to his life.
Now, for decades there have been news stories and reports about how various religious leaders, largely fundamentalist Islamic types, decry and frown upon the licentiousness of Western popular music, and frankly, some Western popular music is licentious, but how is wanting to be a symphonic trumpet player anti-religious?
All this raises in my mind the issue about how many “fundamentalist” or evangelical religions approach the arts. Some Christian denominations decry dancing, and one popular evangelical Southern Baptist preacher, years ago, declared that “a dancing foot and a praying knee don’t grow on the same leg.” Certainly, most of the books that have been banned or found objectionable have been singled out for “religious” reasons. Certainly, within the “Christian” world, at times, certain paintings and sculptures, if not entire schools of art, have been found objectionable.
Yet I have to ask why any religion should want and be able to forbid activities that are not physically dangerous? Dancing certainly doesn’t disrespect a deity, and is actually considered worship in some faiths, nor does playing a trumpet or any other instrument convey theological disrespect. Bad dancing and bad playing are certainly painful to eyes and ears, but why should any deity even care?
That fact is that religious doctrines reflect an attempt to unify believers in a common doctrine while gaining power for the leaders of that doctrine. And for some religions, free expression, particularly in the arts, is considered as a threat to either the doctrine or that power, if not both. And that’s not only a shame, but a good reason to question a faith that insists on such prohibitions.