Spiritual Plagiarism?

In the film, Walk the Line, Johnny Cash auditions for Sam Phillips with a traditional gospel tune. Phillips stops the audition short leaving Johnny puzzled and then issues this devastating but life altering critique.    (You can see the video here)

Sam Phillips: I’m sorry, I can’t market gospel no more

Johnny Cash: So that’s it?

Sam Phillips: I don’t record material that doesn’t sell, Mr. Cash.  And gospel, like that, doesn’t sell.

Johnny Cash: So is it the gospel or the way I sing it?

Sam Phillips: Both

Johnny Cash: What’s wrong with the way I sing it?…

Sam Phillips: I don’t believe you.

Johnny Cash: You saying I don’t believe in God?…

Sam Phillips: You know exactly what I’m telling you. We’ve already heard that song a hundred times. Just like that. Just… like… how… you… sang it.

Johnny Cash: Well you didn’t let us bring it home.

Sam Phillips: Bring… bring it home? All right, let’s bring it home. If you was hit by a truck and you was lying out there in that gutter dying, and you had time to sing *one* song. Huh? One song that people would remember before you’re dirt. One song that would let God know how you felt about your time here on Earth. One song that would sum you up. You tellin’ me that’s the song you’d sing? That same Jimmy Davis tune we hear on the radio all day, about your peace within, and how it’s real, and how you’re gonna shout it? Or… would you sing somethin’ different. Somethin’ real. Somethin’ *you* felt.

Phillips is really accusing Cash of spiritual plagiarism.   Dictionary.com defines plagiarism as the, “unauthorized use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of another and the representation of them as one’s own original work.”  Plagiarism is, essentially, borrowed mind.  Spiritual Plagiarism is borrowed soul.  We might think of spiritual plagiarism as the use or close imitation of the language and thoughts of the another’s soul and the representation of them as one’s own.  As with Cash, the words may be there, but not the soul. Paul cautioned Timothy there would be those, “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (2 Tim 3:5).

The key difference, Jonathan Edwards contends, is opinion versus sense.  He writes:

there is a difference between having an opinion, that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness. A man may have the former, that knows not how honey tastes; but a man cannot have the latter unless he has an idea of the taste of honey in his mind. So there is a difference between believing that a person is beautiful, and having a sense of his beauty. The former may be obtained by hearsay, but the latter only by seeing the countenance. There is a wide difference between mere speculative rational judging any thing to be excellent, and having a sense of its sweetness and beauty. The former rests only in the head, speculation only is concerned in it; but the heart is concerned in the latter. When the heart is sensible of the beauty and amiableness of a thing, it necessarily feels pleasure in the apprehension. It is implied in a person’s being heartily sensible of the loveliness of a thing, that the idea of it is sweet and pleasant to his soul; which is a far different thing from having a rational opinion that it is excellent. (A Divine and Supernatural Light, Immediately Imparted to the Soul by the Spirit of God,  Shown to be Both Scriptural and Rational Doctrine)

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures? (Lk 24:32)

O Christ.  As you spoke on the Emmaus road and caused their hearts to burn, so speak to our hearts that they too may burn and we run to report what we have heard.  Awaken spiritual taste that we may genuinely believe.  As Job said, “before I knew you by the hearing of the ear but now my eye has seen you…”, let us see and savor your great beauty that spiritual plagiarist we may never be.


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