|Interview - Internet
|laweekly.com (United States)
|Greg Graffin about the new album, True North, and free will.
Bad Religion's Greg Graffin Challenges Authority Through Science
For over 30 years, Bad Religion have carved out a niche as the thinking man's punk rock band. When they formed in Los Angeles in 1980, the inspiration for their lyrics came from the topic of corporate greed and the conflicts between philosophy, science, and religion. The band's 16th full-length album True North -- out today -- continues the band's lifelong exploration of these topics.
Corporate greed is explored on our favorite track from the new album, "Robin Hood In Reverse." The song is a rousing punk rocker full of shoutalongs recapping the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court case that bars the U.S. government from restricting political expenditures by corporations. We spoke with vocalist Greg Graffin, who has a zoology Ph.D. from Cornell University, about this and other topics.
"It is interesting that the concept was just as viable in 1980 as it is now," Graffin says. "There are universal truths we talk about on all of our albums. Me and [band co-founder and co-lyricist] Brett Gurewitz were nerdy teenage kids that were interested in science and philosophy. We wanted to incorporate metaphors from those fields into songs at a very young age. It became a trademark of the band."
Those sources of inspiration have helped the punk rockers remain relevant for over three decades, he goes on. "Those are things that you can talk about into your old age. They will always be relevant. Ultimately, we are a punk rock band interested in entertainment. But entertainment can also be inspiring, and eye-opening. It's not hard for me to say that music is my life. But we've always desired for something more out of life than just punk rock."
Graffin's desire for something more led to forays into academia; since getting his Ph.D. he's taught classes in life science and evolution at UCLA and Cornell, and has authored several books on those topics -- most recently 2010's Anarchy Evolution: Faith, Science and Bad Religion in a World Without God. He says his work in academia parallels his pursuit of punk rock as a teenager.
"Ideologically, the pursuit of science is not that different from the ideology that goes into punk rock. The idea of challenging authority is consistent with what I have been taught as a scientist. Science is very vibrant. There are always new observations to be found. And it's all in the interest in challenging the authority that came before you. That's consistent with the punk rock ethos that suggests that you should not take what people say at face value."
This idea extends to the title of the new album. "True North reflects the idea that as young people, we set out on this plan that our parents gave us," Graffin explains. "You can look at a map as a metaphor for this plan. Every map has a legend with an arrow that points to true north. But when you go out into the field with a compass, your needle is always pointing to magnetic north, which does not match exactly to true north. What we experience in life is truly our own experience, and it's significantly different from the course that the map sent us out on. That is the journey of not only every young punk rocker. It's the journey of every human being that doesn't throw in the towel and stop living. We're always searching for our own sense of true north."
Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin on Free Will, Which He Thinks Is Bullshit
[Editor's note: Yesterday, we talked with Greg Graffin, front man for Bad Religion, whose new album True North was just released. Turns out, however, that Graffin, who has a freaking PhD from Cornell University, said too many smart things to fit in one post. And so ahead of their show tonight at the Echo, here he is talking about conflicts between science and religion, and how that relates to free will.]
"Recently we had this Mayan apocalypse. One of the things that all religions have is a narrative of doomsday. There has to be some kind of overarching fear of the future. If there wasn't, none of the religions could invoke this important thing -- that science has no evidence of by the way -- called free will.
The Mayan Apocalypse scenario shows that other civilizations also had the doomsday scenario. The Judeo-Christian concept of free will is wrapped up in that doomsday scenario. According to theology, you and I are supposed to have free will. But none of the animals and plants has free will. It's supposed to be a gift given to us by our creator because we were God's favorite creation. There's no scientific data that shows anything like that.
In order to make this theology consistent, it requires that consequences occur from choosing not to live a good life. The doomsday thing falls perfectly into that. Everyone talks about how doomsday is punishment for the many sinners on this planet. Religious leaders say, "This catastrophe is God's punishment because we are all living in sin." If we use our free will to not live in sin, there won't be a doomsday. There wouldn't be any natural disasters.
The more we know about the history of life on this planet, we realize those things have nothing to do with free will. There just happens to be a recurring pattern of mass extinctions on this planet. It's foolish to believe that it has anything to do with cultural phenomena like religion. When it happened in the past, it happened to organisms that did not have religion or free will. The struggle to maintain this narrative of theology is in contradiction with the narrative of science. That's why I've spent my adult life studying this conflict between science and religion."
We also asked Graffin if he finds it bizarre that, given our various science and technological advances, many people still cling to religious beliefs.
"I don't think we're clinging to [religious beliefs]. I think we are letting go of them very slowly. There has been change in my lifetime. If you go back far enough and get a wider enough picture of history, we have let go of many things that follow a religious narrative. We don't burn witches any more. Most people would consider that barbaric. We don't sacrifice human beings, which was a religious act practiced by numerous cultures on this planet. Those things we've let go of, but there are still things we cling to tenaciously."
"One of them is this belief in free will, which almost no professional psychologist in the modern world believes. Every religious leader insists on it to the point where they get apoplectic if you suggest otherwise. That is something we won't be able to let go of right away. It will take a while.
Charles Darwin has been dead since 1881. If you take his death as the beginning date of the movement away from a belief in free will, that's only 130 years. In order to incorporate what he wrote about into our culture, it's going to take some time.
People are still very uncomfortable with the idea that humans are not specially created species. I believe we are a fantastic species. But we are not created specially. That's very hard for people to accept in their day-to-day routine. That's how they justify so many of the environmental crises that we see. So much of the habitat destruction and pollution is based on the simple principle that we somehow have been given free license over other species to degrade the planet."
- Jason Roche
German transcript updated
English transcript added
English transcript added
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