Wednesday, July 12, 2017

This is My Story

Recently I was rereading the early autobiography of Jerome Hines: This is My Story, This is My Song (Fleming-Revel, 1968). Hines was trained in the hard sciences (chemistry, physics). As a young man he was a Deist. Didn't subscribe to an interventionist God. The universe was a closed system. 

But that all changed when he had a dramatic conversion experience. He reports many examples of special guidance. God speaking to him in an audible voice. God making promises that were providentially fulfilled. 

1. I admit that I balk at some of the the things he quotes God telling him. If that really happened, then I'd say this is a case of divine accommodation. 

I don't have to have a firm opinion on the accuracy of the claims. I can take it or leave it.

There are, however, some factors that lend credibility to the claims:

2. His account is peppered with self-deprecating anecdotes. If he's regaling the reader with tall tales, I'd expect him to paint a more flattering self-portrait rather than divulging his foibles and insecurities. The candor suggests honesty. It certainly passes the criterion of embarrassment.

3. Given, moreover, his background in the hard sciences, it might well take something miraculous or at least preternatural to break through that naturalistic prejudice. 

4. Hines often sang at soup kitchens in the slums. I wouldn't expect that from someone who's motivated by self-aggrandizement.

5. Seems to me that from a professional standpoint, he had more to lose than to gain by making this up. The operatic subculture is very worldly. Conventional Catholic piety might be toleranted, but I think his robust, outspoken evangelical piety would hurt his career as an opera singer. The more so when James Levine, reputedly an avid homosexual, became musical director of the Met. 

6. Finally, there's his preternatural vocal preservation. Amazing how much voice he had left right up to his death from cancer at age 80. 

7. An alternative naturalistic explanation is that he was sincere, but delusional. Yet I don't find that plausible:

i) If he was psychotic, how was he able to have a long successful musical career? That takes lots of discipline and presence of mind. Would a psychotic be that reliable?

Moreover, he wasn't a superstar with an entourage. He had to do most of it on his own. No one to cover for him. 

ii) It's not just a case of hearing voices. He says the predictions came true, in highly unlikely ways. Hallucinations lack veridical confirmation. 

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