Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.

And there was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt.



When I hear Radiohead's Pyramid Song, I am taken back to the brightest day I can remember, that Tuesday morning eleven years ago. The weather in New Haven, CT is perfect, with a slight chill on the hill of Yale Divinity School, where I had just left my homiletics class. And every time there is a day like that, I can only feel dread. 

Pyramid Song is a vision of an alternative world. A time where past and future come together into a present that exists in the past. Everything is in the past, the vision is in the past. It is a utopia that only could have been. Because now is over. And the video expresses that. Now is over. The past is gone and any present connected to it is over. All present is loss, here, in this place, above the water. The past lives underwater.

I jumped in the river and what did I see?
Black-eyed angels swam with me
A moon full of stars and astral cars
All the things I used to see
All my lovers were there with me
All my past and futures
And we all went to heaven in a little row boat
There was nothing to fear and nothing to doubt

I see a vision of injured angels, damaged divinity and inverted astronomies. Everything that I knew is there. Everyone intimate is there. Everyone I ever touched or will touch or ever touched me or will touch me. They are there with me. Everyone I ever loved. And all of us, black-eyed angels, moon and stars, lovers, pasts and futures, every expectation, every hope and dream, every anchor of memory, we all went to heaven, our tiny ascent above the moon and stars, and we went in the frailest boat, ever on the verge of tipping into the river. And there was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt. All horror, all dread, all insecurity is all gone.

And the stanza is repeated. That's it. Just this vision underwater. And there was nothing to fear, nothing to doubt.

This song is the dream (for it was like a dream and still seems like a dream some days) of September 11 for me, that I could escape that bluest day, that coolest day, that perfect, perfect day. The day that theology failed, as it should, as it must, and that all expectation must fail and that September 11, 2001 serves as a national eschaton, an end time, for us as Americans.

Today, we have shared memories all about our place at that time, where time and place intersected and concretized in a way like we had never considered before. And it was so jarring that some say, "it was like a movie." They describe it in terms of myth and fiction, controlled and contrived narratives because it is so out of control of anything we could ever concieve. It was something we couldn't conceive. There really was something apocalyptic about it, an unexpected revelation of what violence and confusion and shock and sorrow and horror could and can be. 

There is loss. And Pyramid Song is a song of loss. It's a song about everything lost and the vision of something that cannot be: nothing to fear, nothing to doubt. September 11, 2001 is  a watershed for Americans and that watershed is understood in different ways, but it is a stark watershed. My watershed is that I naively thought that Christian theology would change in the United States, that people would stop and ask and consider the Other, consider the Stranger, consider why someone would want to do this terrible act of aggression.

Theology did change. I watched it shatter and I saw certain parties pick up shards and use it to justify terrible terrible national things. I saw people consider theodicy in ways they'd never thought before. I saw people cling to easy answer in blind faith. I saw theology blister and I saw it mourn. I saw theological trajectories I never could have imagined. It was pyroclastic, really.

And in Pyramid Song, I see a dream, a desire of ascent to heaven, to where there is nothing to fear, nothing to doubt. A quiet, sad song of wistful sorrow surrounded by injured angels and everyone I've ever loved in the most dodgy of seacrafts. But there is nothing to fear, nothing to doubt. Nothing to fear, nothing to doubt.

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By Burke
Bleak Theology A post-punk counterweight to joy.


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