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Thread: Was JS Bach an atheist?

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    Senior Member beetzart's Avatar
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    Default Was JS Bach an atheist?

    Is it possible to prove Bach was an atheist, or even why bother trying I expect you'll say? I take some axioms that logically express a path to a possible answer.

    Axiom one. JS Bach was a highly intelligent man.

    Axiom two. JS Bach was a grieving father and husband.

    He lost ten children in infancy and his first wife died while he was away and he didn't even attend her funeral. Taking just these two axioms you could conclude that perhaps he had doubts about the existence of a loving God although unable to express them.

    Axiom three. He had access to various reading materials in Leipzig University and he lived around the start of the Age of Enlightenment.

    Axiom four. He wrote music because from a young age he realised he had a special talent and spent his entire life making the most of it, sacred or secular. I doubt anyone listens much to the words when listening to his cantatas (which I think are the greatest body of work ever written). Listen to BWV 54 or BWV 4 or BWV 134, they are truly amazing pieces and it is the music that matters.

    Axiom Five. He had to 'believe' in God as he may have been burnt at the stake if he expressed doubts. Also the church provided him with an income and a place to show off his talents.

    This is an interesting article I came across which puts the argument over better then I can: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Bach-Atheist.htm

    I suppose I have to answer the why bother questions. Same as a mountaineer climbs mountains because they are there. I am interested in important figures in history and possibly what they really thought about religion. Sorry if this offends anyone!
    I love Muzio Clementi's music.

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    Senior Member GreenMamba's Avatar
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    Sorry, but this is a poor argument. It's not hard to find intelligent and/or grieving people who believe in God. Most people who lived around the Age of Enlightenment believed in God. I don't understand Axion 4, and Axiom 5 doesn't prove anything.

    Note: I have yet to read the link.

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    Senior Member Kieran's Avatar
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    Actually, being a highly intelligent man would be as likely to lead him to believe in God.

    Being a grieving father would be irrelevant, but most likely would cause him to look into spiritual things.

    The rest of the reasons don't compute with somebody not believing in God either.

    Bizarre thread, but not offensive to anyone, I'm sure...
    Last edited by Kieran; May-07-2016 at 22:40.
    The Brain - is wider than the Sky

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    Senior Member beetzart's Avatar
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    So do you just accept he was religious because that is what people had to do in that era? Bach lived for 65 years and I believe he must have doubted 'god' at some point, surely? And I bet he wasn't the only one either. Don't know why this is a bizarre thread. Pretty straight forward I would think, was JS Bach an atheist? Nothing wrong is questioning things. I love Bach,more than any other composer (just pips Beethoven), still I am an atheist so I must be biased. Read the article attached it is better then what I can say here but it rather long but well argued out. Why do we always have to accept something without question? It is not a conspiracy as I don't believe he would have expressed his views to anyone else, but he must have doubted, he must have!
    I love Muzio Clementi's music.

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    Senior Member Gordontrek's Avatar
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    Even after reading the article I'm not convinced. Losing children in infancy is equally likely to strengthen someone's faith as it is to break it; I've seen it firsthand. Why would Bach be any different, especially since there's no indication his faith took a hit?
    The first axiom seems rather irrelevant; intelligence, contrary to popular belief, has little to no correlation with someone's intelligence. The third follows a similar vein, and the fourth also sounds irrelevant. The rest of them are valid points, but no sure-fire indication that Bach harbored secret atheism or was putting on when he glorified God in word or music.
    "May God have mercy on my enemies, because I won't." - George S. Patton

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    Senior Member beetzart's Avatar
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    Bach was different, we all know that, that is why we are talking about him over 250 years after his death. He made a pretty big impact on Western Music or is that my imagination too? Bach was like a god himself but above any perceived christian god of that title because he didn't kill anyone and he wrote music that makes men weep.

    To live on the same planet that through natural selection created a man as great as JS Bach is an honour.
    I love Muzio Clementi's music.

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    Senior Member ArtMusic's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by beetzart View Post
    Is it possible to prove Bach was an atheist, or even why bother trying I expect you'll say? I take some axioms that logically express a path to a possible answer.

    Axiom one. JS Bach was a highly intelligent man.

    Axiom two. JS Bach was a grieving father and husband.

    He lost ten children in infancy and his first wife died while he was away and he didn't even attend her funeral. Taking just these two axioms you could conclude that perhaps he had doubts about the existence of a loving God although unable to express them.

    Axiom three. He had access to various reading materials in Leipzig University and he lived around the start of the Age of Enlightenment.

    Axiom four. He wrote music because from a young age he realised he had a special talent and spent his entire life making the most of it, sacred or secular. I doubt anyone listens much to the words when listening to his cantatas (which I think are the greatest body of work ever written). Listen to BWV 54 or BWV 4 or BWV 134, they are truly amazing pieces and it is the music that matters.

    Axiom Five. He had to 'believe' in God as he may have been burnt at the stake if he expressed doubts. Also the church provided him with an income and a place to show off his talents.

    This is an interesting article I came across which puts the argument over better then I can: http://www.bach-cantatas.com/Articles/Bach-Atheist.htm

    I suppose I have to answer the why bother questions. Same as a mountaineer climbs mountains because they are there. I am interested in important figures in history and possibly what they really thought about religion. Sorry if this offends anyone!
    Your points are the thinking of a 21st century person. This is a very common fallacy in historical analysis: that we cannot use 21st century social values and impose them to centuries ago and deduce reasoning based on that for today.
    "You must have no dependence on your own genius. If you have great talents, industry will improve them; if you have but moderate abilities, industry will supply their deficiency." Sir Joshua Reynolds, PRA, FRS, FRSA (1723 - 1792)

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    Senior Member Kieran's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by beetzart View Post
    So do you just accept he was religious because that is what people had to do in that era? Bach lived for 65 years and I believe he must have doubted 'god' at some point, surely? And I bet he wasn't the only one either. Don't know why this is a bizarre thread. Pretty straight forward I would think, was JS Bach an atheist? Nothing wrong is questioning things. I love Bach,more than any other composer (just pips Beethoven), still I am an atheist so I must be biased. Read the article attached it is better then what I can say here but it rather long but well argued out. Why do we always have to accept something without question? It is not a conspiracy as I don't believe he would have expressed his views to anyone else, but he must have doubted, he must have!
    It's bizarre because the axioms sound forced. To me, anyway. But even people of the strongest faith sometimes doubt. This is all part of it. I suppose it was the fact that somehow his intelligence would lead him to only one conclusion struck me as funny, too. Atheists in general are never really good at understanding faith. They tend to have a very simplistic view of it, as if it can be explained away if only those silly folks in the pews would listen. But things are more complicated than that, and I think Bach's music reflects this also...
    The Brain - is wider than the Sky

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    Senior Member beetzart's Avatar
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    What do we do then? I think it is important to try and work out what important figures thought and did and expressed. Perhaps you have a way that I don't know about, if you do please share it I am keen to learn.

    We could all agree maybe that Brahms and Tchaikovsky were atheists but they lived in a different era, a time when science was unravelling the secrets of nature especially with Darwin, Planck, and Boltzmann et al. Bach maybe read Newtons Principia and we know he was clever in his compositions he changed the face of music. Nothing really compares, he is an extreme outlier, his thought processes must have been staggering. I don't think we can ever appreciate just how good JS Bach was at his job. I would say he was beyond the pettiness of organised religion.
    I love Muzio Clementi's music.

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    Senior Member beetzart's Avatar
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    Funny haha!? I don't see what is so complicated about faith. A person believes in a supernatural entity that they can't see but when they die they will spend eternity with it. But In The meantime keep putting money in the church pots and do as you are told. Bach was above that, I would expect. He had to work and the church was the only place he could secure himself an income.

    Science is difficult, I can't see how faith is anything more than just wishful thinking.
    Last edited by beetzart; May-07-2016 at 23:36.
    I love Muzio Clementi's music.

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    Senior Member Ukko's Avatar
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    I have a way. Listen to Bach praise God. He either loved Him or he was a two-faced fraud.
    I spent a fortune on deodorant before I realized that people don't like me anyway.

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    Senior Member GreenMamba's Avatar
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    For the record, I'm an atheist. And I'll admit the proposition that it's *possible* JSB was an atheist is hard to argue against. "Possible" is such a weak thesis.

    Was it likely Bach was an atheist? I don't see any evidence here. If his thought process was "staggering," than how can you get inside his mind and reason that he was a non-believer? E.g., that organized religion is petty is your thought, not his.
    Last edited by GreenMamba; May-07-2016 at 23:44.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    You are misusing the word axiom. I think the word you want is "factoid," modified by "irrelevant" and "dubious" in several cases. Everybody had dead children in that era, and if one rutted with the regularity of JS and his wives, one had lots of dead children. It was normal and people probably learned not to get too attached to them until they had survived a few years. He was a musician because, like Beethoven and Mozart, it was the family business. Nobody was going to burn him at the stake. That is just silly. By the way, I do not believe in supernatural beings or phenomena of any kind.

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    Senior Member beetzart's Avatar
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    Nothing wrong in suggesting something. I may be totally wrong, but...it is not silly. How do you know he didn't get attached to his new born children, that is just an assumption?
    I love Muzio Clementi's music.

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    I'd like to present a "third option." What religion looks like today, is not what it looked like back then. Furthermore, the amount of time spent reflecting on spiritual matters for someone from that time would be far more than what we have today merely because of the fewer distractions available. The fundamentalists of today that make the news every week are taking various ancient collections of stories as if they were literal modern documents and so the "version" of religion so railed against by many atheists is actually a very modern one. Fighting to claim figures of the past as a part of one camp or another therefore strikes me as a little like questioning the witness' great grandfather that never actually met the witness instead of the actual relevant witness.

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