Skinner: Reverend, this is Principal Skinner. I'm facing a crisis, and I didn't know to whom to turn …
Lovejoy: Well, maybe you should read your Bible.
Skinner: Um, any particular passage?
Lovejoy: Oh, it's all good.
"Canon" means many things to many people, but it literally means 'rule' in the sense of a measuring stick. The term, allegedly, comes from the end of the biblical era (New Testament), and it means a closed, authoritative collection. The canon is the yardstick by which the religious authorities and redactors measured closeness to God.
Those of us who have trouble with the idea of God nevertheless have our own canons. We may not believe in the Bible, but it's almost inevitable that there are moments in our lives when we turn to it for consolation, for wisdom, for transcendence, and for catharsis. The Bible has many, many passages that are just plain dull, and others that are downright offensive. Fortunately, we live in an era when we can ignore them...
But the truly glorious biblical excerpts - Exodus (at least chapters 1-24) and Genesis (just about all of it), Jonah and Isaiah (heavily edited), Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Jonah and the Song of Deborah, the Psalms and the Proverbs, Joel and Amos, Micah and Jonah, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (let it never be said that the Hebrews didn't know how to have a good time...), and the St. Mark Gospel... for obvious reasons, I never read as much of the New Testament, and what I read seemed to be not quite as interesting - are still some of the greatest literature we yet have. Even for a non-believer (especially?), these writings are every bit as moving, as challenging, and as beautiful as anything in Shakespeare or Beethoven. In the same way that I can hear Beethoven's Eroica Symphony in my head and know that obstacles can be overcome, or read Sonnet 29 (hopefully one day I can quote it from memory) to remember better days, so too could I turn to Psalm 23 or 27, and know hope and comfort, even if God won't be the one to provide it. Everyone has their own personal canon, comprised of works as close to our hearts as any family or close friend, and after sampling something from that canon, we can only hope that our demons can be purged, and life becomes that much easier to live.
(Text continued in Part 2...)
John Lennon: Imagine
Marvin Gaye: What's Going On
Aretha Franklin: Respect
Chuck Berry: Johnny B Goode
The Beatles: Hey Jude
Sam Cooke: A Change is Gonna Come
Bob Dylan: Blowin' in the Wind
The Beatles: Let It Be
The Beatles: In My Life
Curtis Mayfield: People Get Ready
The Beach Boys: God Only Knows
Tina Turner: River Deep, Mountain High
U2: One (under protest, and only when Johnny Cash sings it)
Martha & The Vandellas: Dancing in the Street
The Band: The Weight
Ray Charles: Georgia On My Mind
Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water
Percy Sledge: When a Man Loves a Woman
Bob Dylan: The Times They Are a-Changin'
Buffalo Springfield: For What It's Worth
Bob Marley: Redemption Song
Bob Dylan: Tangled Up in Blue
Dionne Warwick: Walk On By
Stevie Wonder: Superstition
Bob Dylan: Mr. Tambourine Man
Bruce Springstein: Thunder Road
Johnny Cash: Ring of Fire
The Mamas & The Papas: California Dreamin'
U2: I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (goddamnit...)
Al Green: Love and Happiness
Creedence Clearwater Revival: Fortunate Son
Rolling Stones: You Can't Always Get What You Want
Stevie Wonder: Living For The City
Simon & Garfunkel: The Boxer
Van Morrison: Brown-Eyed Girl
Otis Redding: I've Been Loving You Too Long
The Drifters: Up On The Roof
Al Green: Take Me To The River
Ben E. King: Stand By Me
James Brown: It's a Man's World
Rolling Stones: Jumpin' Jack Flash
The Shirelles: Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
(along with more songs...)