17 January 2009

Eureka Hallelujah

Long ago in a galaxy far away called graduate school, I wrote a thesis. A long thesis. One of the books I had to read was a very short one with a very long title. “The Science of Religion and the Sociology of Knowledge,” by Ninian Smart. Little did I know it would explain my ignorance of Leonard Cohen, or actually a song of his I knew but did not know he wrote.

I’ll bet almost all of you not only know the song, “Hallelujah,” but that he wrote it. I knew it, chiefly as a moving backdrop to several TV drama moments. It was interesting enough for me to wonder about it. But if you google, “hallelujah,” you’ll get lots of things that aren’t that song. Not knowing who sang it, who wrote it, or even quite what the words were as I do not have a copy and was never close to a pen and pencil when it came on, I had no way to find out about it.

Then, thanks to the almighty power of the NYTimes, and my astute choice to subscribe to it, and my scanning the arts pages last week, I saw that Leonard Cohen (whom I knew about but not much about) was making his first appearance in the US in seventeen years. The headline for the small squib was “Hallelujahs heard in New York.” I took a chance the title was significant and after a few clicks presto, Youtube filled up with versions of it.

How is this about the sociology of knowledge? Well, the theory is that knowledge flows unevenly, along curvy paths, gets caught in eddies, and otherwise meanders. We make connections between facts the same way as when you find someone who had the same teacher you did, or run into an old friend thousands of miles from where you expect them. (These both happened to me) We can know part of something and not all and not know we know only part of it.

I guess what I am trying to say is that even when we know stuff, we don’t know as much as we think and the more we learn the more we should realize there is always more out of our sight. Learning makes a soul more humble if you do it right.

To prove it, I know something about that some of you don't. Yes it was written by Leonard Cohen, but do you know he stole the story from someone else? Two points for the first person who tells me.


James said...

lovely post.

Here's a link to three cover versions and at the end another link to Cohen himself...


WFW said...

Note, I mistakenly deleted James' other comment, which replicated this one but told me, rightly, that the original comes from the Old Good Book Itself, being the story of David's adultery with Bathsheba. You go, J guy

Robin Edgar said...

*I* thought everybody knows that Leonard Cohen wrote 'Hallelujah', to say nothing of 'Everybody Knows'. Who would have thought that Leonard Cohen's song 'Everybody Knows' was, amongst other things. . . about Rev. Forrest Church's alleged adultery? ;-)

Robin Edgar said...

Thank you Rev. Wooden,

Your decision to post that critical comment is sincerely appreciated.

Best Regards,

Robin Edgar aka The Emerson Avenger

Elisa Winter said...

Great song but you haven't heard it sung properly until you've listened to Jeff Buckley sing it on his cd "Grace."

You should also listen to Rufus Wainwright sing this song too. Don't know which cd. Just gorgeous, almost as gorgeous as Jeff Buckley's version.

Let me know what you think. You do have an ipod and access to itunes don't you, Reverend?

Robin Edgar said...

And I should mention that it is lovely aka loverly to see James using the word lovely. I used to get ragged about using it by my younger brothers way back when. . .

Revwilly said...

Forgive me for using this means to reach you, but it's the quickest way I know. I watched your service on TV tonight as you preach on the prophetic role of the pastor and churches. You are a powerful preacher. Even though I've heard you use the phrase "liberal religion" before it seemed to really catch my attention tonight as I reflected on your message. I would be considered a conservative by most who know me, although I never think of myself as such and would never identify myself as such. I don't really like labels because they can mean different things to different people and too often can too narrowly define people. They become easy generalizations which do not require people to think and too often shut down people's hearing when they think someone wears a particular label. I say that to say this. I agree with much of what you said about Isaiah and his preaching to his people about their injustices and oppression of others. I see the same kind of injustices and oppression goes on today and that we all called to point them out and challenge them to repent. I believe God has a heart for the poor and that may are so in our society today because of the greed of individuals and the greed of multinational corporations. To put it simply I would be happy to have you preach that same message in my church. So here's my question: does that make me a liberal?

WFW said...


I define loberal religion by three measures - does it seek to free minds, grow soul and change the world? That sounds simple and it is. But it is not easy. How free? How far? How much? Conservative religion conserves, wants to keep and hold and control. Liberal religion sets free. Each can overdo, and has, and will. But if I have to choose where I will err, I choose more freedom over less.

You tell me.

Anonymous said...

kd lang outdoes cohen, wainwright, buckley an dylan here.