Eric Clapton Bends The Knee (To God)
On the continuing excesses of cancel culture and the proper occasions for knee-bending.
The music of Eric Clapton holds a special place in my heart. It was only after emulating his style, or at least attempting to, that I finally felt I was learning how to play the instrument I had been picking at since the age of 12.
I was recently cleaning my kitchen, as one does, listening to some of Clapton’s music, and I noticed how so much of his collection sounds very, well, spiritual. How soulful is this man? I wondered. So I got up on Google and searched for “eric clapton religious beliefs” and found some interesting articles.
In his journey through recovery, feeling as though he had no refuge left to turn to, Clapton reports falling to his knees and praying for his sobriety. And it worked. Here’s a quote I found particularly evocative:
I choose to kneel because I feel I need to humble myself when I pray, and with my ego, this is the most I can do.
Thanks for reading The Wittenburg Door! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.
This got me thinking about how the posture of “bending the knee” has taken on a new meaning in today’s culture wars. There is much praise to be had for sportsballers who kneel during the national anthem, ostensibly protesting — what exactly, it depends. In the face of social media cancellation and deplatforming, if a celebrity apologizes to the mob for their imagined sins they are said to have “bent the knee”.
Clapton has had his own run-ins with the social media mob when he protested the UK COVID lockdowns and mandates, expressed in a song called “This Has Gotta Stop”. And for the temerity of landing this artful rebuke, the cultural repudiators dug up decades-old comments the guitarist had made about — you know, the things you’re not supposed to say. Thus, the response to Clapton’s COVID protest was not a rigorous defense of mandates but rather out-of-context accusations of racism which had not much at all to do with the virus.
The culture wars are not about defending science, making amends for historic injustices, or saving the climate, or deconstructing the gender struggles of Pee-wee Herman, or whatever the social media unintelligentsia would hope it to be. They are about what philosopher Roger Scruton called a “culture of repudiation” in which everything, from viruses to Mr. Potato Head, are subject to “critical theories” of society developed by French intellectuals in the 1960s. It is what happens when everything goes up for grabs and nothing is sacred.
But regardless of whatever Clapton said in the drug-addled 1970s, I rather like his style of prayer. We could all afford to be more humble, more forgiving. We can all be less like the Pharisee and more like the tax collector who beat his breast in the temple and said, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” We can all bend the knee a little, if it bends for the right reasons, in the right and proper spirit.