Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Leonard Cohen's 1984 song "Hallelujah" is both beautiful and disappointing.   For years Christians have been drawn to it for both its beautiful melody and its refrain of "hallelujah."  But, like a lot of people, most Christians haven't listened to the rest of the lyrics or considered what the original author meant by them.  Long story short: just because someone says "hallelujah" doesn't mean they're praising God.

Leonard Cohen is a Jew who converted to Buddhism is the 70's.  While many different interpretations exist for this song (in part because Cohen drafted as many as 80 verses and sung multiple versions of the song over the years), all of them revolve around "different hallelujahs" other than the one that praises the Lord.  Cohen writes about hallelujahs of defiance, love, apathy, passion, and loneliness.  Some verses seem redemptive while most seem to express despair and emptiness.  Remember, this is after he left Judaism and turned to Buddhism, which believes in no personal God.  Cohen was ordained as a Buddhist monk in the 90's.

It's funny how some Christians see what they want to see, going to great lengths to defend Cohen's lyrics as if they were written by Bill Gaither or Michael W. Smith.  I like the melody and find the lyrics fascinating as a glimpse into someone's mind as they are having doubts and losing their faith.  But I cannot personally accept the "other" hallelujahs.  I can't say for certain who is Cohen's "Lord of Song" or what he really means when he says hallelujah, but hallelujah means "Praise Yahweh."  Anything else is a corruption of the word.

Thankfully, the Christian band Cloverton redeems the melody with much better lyrics in this Christmas version released last season.

[Thanks, Alanna]

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