|Category:||Interview - Internet||Publish date:||9/20/2003|
Graffin tackles academia
by Erin Glass
dailybruin.com, September 20, 2003
Just over a month ago, Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin did what not many of the pierced and tattooed expect of their punk rock heroes. On Aug. 15, the singer/songwriter who has helped shape the California punk scene for the last 22 years, completed his doctorate in evolutionary biology-paleontology at Cornell University.
What interest does a man who screams into microphones and gets crowds head banging have in higher education? Apparently, a lot.
Graffin, who is known for his socially conscious lyrics, takes the punk rock distrust in dogmatic thinking to the academic level. In his dissertation, which he will soon be working on to convert to book format, Graffin focused on the conflict between evolutionary theory and the tenants of traditional religion.
“I found out something very interesting,” Graffin said. “Most evolutionary biologists at the top level see no conflict between evolutionary theory and religion on the one important condition that religion is essentially atheistic.”
That may come as a bit confusing to anyone even vaguely familiar with the core structure of the major religions of society. How can any religion be compatible with the belief that there is no god? But Graffin’s new book will discuss the possibility of a different kind of religion, one that is based not on the belief of a spiritual force, but rather on naturalism, or the belief that scientific principle can theoretically explain all phenomena.
“Naturalism has gotten a bad rap throughout the course of the 20th century,” Graffin said. “But my goal is to show it’s just as ethical and moral as any other religion. It just doesn’t base its morals or ethics on the life of Jesus Christ.”
Graffin graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degrees in anthropology and geology, as well as a master’s degree in geology. Graffin attributes his interest in evolution to a lack of a religious upbringing.
“I had no burden of having to learn the stories of the Bible,” Graffin said. “That left me with a vacuum in terms of answering the larger questions of the world. Geology and biology helped me to understand the world from where I came, as well as the other organisms from which are part of the same species I am.”
The punk music genre which Bad Religion is mainly associated with isn’t especially famous for it’s high regard of education, due to the general suspicion it holds against most institutions. Graffin, however, sees college education as not only a privilege, but even perhaps as a means to uphold and explore controversial beliefs.
“There is nothing more important than education,” Graffin said. “I entered the university with a lot of skepticism that my government couldn’t care less about its citizens, and I think it’s a little similar today. But going to a university makes me a lot smarter than the president, and if citizens are smarter than the politicians, there’s hope that we can rid ourselves of the bad politicians.”
Of course high school is a different story. Graffin’s best advice for anyone who has not yet escaped with a diploma in hand is to just get through it. The lack of connection that he felt with many of the students of his own high school, along with his distaste for the youth sex and drug culture may have led to him to embrace the punk subculture.
And perhaps the experience was useful, as it granted him an insight that influenced his entire career as a songwriter. But still, improvements could be made, and Graffin sees the problem largely as a lack of respect for the teaching profession.
“Teachers need to earn a lot more money,” Graffin said. “Whether we like it or not, they influence society to an extremely serious degree. They’re the first social action that children have in the world, and it’s worth it to have the best people interacting with our children.”
It may be hard for some UCLA students to believe, as the university’s rigorous workload can leave little time for outside activities, but Graffin was involved with Bad Religion throughout his college years. Although the band proved to be wildly successful, he always saw school as a first priority.
“I looked at the band as a hobby,” Graffin said. “I can’t overstate that enough. The chances of a band getting recognition outside their local environment are really slim, and you can’t put all your eggs in that basket. It’s what’s in the course load that you carry for the rest of your life.”
Graffin plans to continue his two pursuits of music and academia side by side, and there is much opportunity for one to influence the other. After its last show for the summer today at Pauley Pavilion, the band plans on disappearing for six months to work on its next album. And as a break from recording, Graffin will be writing his new book that explores the possibility of an atheistic religion.
“For the first time in my life, I am able to write academically about things I’ve been writing songs about all my life,” Graffin said. “And another step in academia I hope is also another step forward for Bad Religion.”
Bad Religion performs with Zion I at Pauley Pavilion on Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. For more information go to students.asucla.ucla.edu/cec/v.01/welcome-week/bts-concert.html.
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