Johannes Brahms (1833)
It was on this date, May 7, 1833, that German composer Johannes Brahms was born in Hamburg. Brahms was equally adept at composing sacred and secular music. And he was an apostate from Christianity. His letters to his friend Heinrich von Hertzogenberg, who was likewise a Rationalist, show that he was an agnostic. The lyrics of the first of his Four Serious Songs, written the year before he died, as he admitted in a letter to Herzogenberg, express his disbelief in personal immortality (quoting Ecclesiastes 3:19-22, one of the most skeptical parts of the Bible):
For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts, as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
All go unto one place; all are of the dust and all turn to dust again. Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward, and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth? Wherefore I perceive that there is nothing better, than that a man should rejoice in his own works; for that is his portion: for who shall bring him to see what shall be after him?*
* As a matter of fact, Ecclesiastes 3:19-22 is one of the clearest examples of redaction (adaptation by later clerics) in the Old Testament. Experts say it was written by an Alexandrian Jew about 200 BCE or a little earlier, but Hebrew editors revised it to bring it in line with Judaism. Ecclesiastes has more wisdom in it, albeit of the cynical, common-sensical sort, than any other book in the Bible.
Originally published May 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.