“Dear God:” Conor Oberst, Monsters of Folk and Religion

17 November 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

(Lyrics):

Dear God, I’m trying hard to reach you / Dear God, I see your face in all I do / Sometimes it’s so hard to believe in / Good God I know you have your reasons

Dear God I see you move the mountains / Dear God I see you moving trees / Sometimes it’s nothing to believe in / Sometimes it’s everything I see

Well I’ve been thinking about, / And I’ve been breaking it down without an answer / I know I’m thinking aloud but if your loves / Still around why do we suffer? / Why do we suffer?

Dear God, I wish that I could touch you / How strange sometimes I feel I almost do / And then I’m back behind the glass again / Oh God what keeps you out it keeps me in

Well I’ve been thinking about, / And I’ve been breaking down without an answer / I know I’m thinking aloud but if your loves / Still around why do we suffer? / Why do we suffer?

“Dear God” is less a song than a prayer, the kind of song you’d almost expect to hear in a church.

It was written by an atheist.

Yes, that’s Conor Oberst you’re hearing on vocals, one of four members of the “supergroup” known as Monsters of Folk, consisting of M. Ward and members of Bright Eyes and My Morning Jacket.

The song is both beautiful and haunting, speaking of that inner ache of loneliness that affects us all. It is a song that speaks of being separated, “behind glass.” And it is a song that articulates the powerful question of “why do we suffer?” It is almost a (post)modern gospel song in the vein of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

Conor Oberst was raised Catholic, yet has since abandoned this faith. His work with Bright Eyes has occasionally reflected his religious background (e.g., the song “Don’t Know When but a Day’s Gonna Come”). In an interview in Paste Magazine, Oberst comments on his take on religion:

“I guess I’m just conflicted. I mean, I want to find something like that. Badly. But in all the forms where it’s been offered to me, they seem fraudulent, you know? And so, yeah, I guess it’s one of those topics that keeps coming up. My family is Catholic. I went to a Catholic school, that kind of thing, so that was my childhood for sure. And not that I’m an expert on all these religions, but what I know about all the other major religions kind of all just fall a little flat in their—I guess, just in their kind of narrowmindedness. I feel like there’s something much more basic than what all these people are worried about. I find it really shocking that two groups that are, from an outsider’s perspective, almost identical—you know, Shiites and Sunnis, or Catholics and Protestants—can actually kill each other over these minor details. And dogma and all that stuff, to me it’s anti- whatever I would consider God-like. Which is, I think, a connectedness and an all-encompassing sort of love for things. I suppose that’s a lot of what Buddhism is, but I haven’t found anything that really hits the mark for me. But it’s fascinating—what people believe in.”

Young people today are extremely open to discussions of “spirituality.” Research documents that as many as 9 out of 10 claim to be open to a discussion with Christian friends regarding their beliefs. And this song reflects the incredible soul searching that many young musicians undergo. Yet at the same time, like Oberst many are quite equally distrusting of the church, dismissing it as “organized religion.”  Christians would be wise to understand this dichotomy among outsiders, and would be even more wise to recognize the way that the arts can powerfully speak to the human soul.

I don’t know what Oberst’s spiritual future holds, but I pray his searching would not be in vain. In the meanwhile, this song has found frequent play on my iPod, a reminder of the depth of man’s quest for meaning and for his Creator.

17 November 2009

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.

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