Monday, November 19

Graffin tackles academia


Just over a month ago, Bad Religion frontman Greg Graffin did
what not many of the pierced and tattooed expect of their punk rock
heroes. On Aug. 15, the singer/songwriter who has helped shape the
California punk scene for the last 22 years, completed his
doctorate in evolutionary biology-paleontology at Cornell
University.

What interest does a man who screams into microphones and gets
crowds head banging have in higher education? Apparently, a
lot.

Graffin, who is known for his socially conscious lyrics, takes
the punk rock distrust in dogmatic thinking to the academic level.
In his dissertation, which he will soon be working on to convert to
book format, Graffin focused on the conflict between evolutionary
theory and the tenants of traditional religion.

“I found out something very interesting,” Graffin
said. “Most evolutionary biologists at the top level see no
conflict between evolutionary theory and religion on the one
important condition that religion is essentially
atheistic.”

That may come as a bit confusing to anyone even vaguely familiar
with the core structure of the major religions of society. How can
any religion be compatible with the belief that there is no god?
But Graffin’s new book will discuss the possibility of a
different kind of religion, one that is based not on the belief of
a spiritual force, but rather on naturalism, or the belief that
scientific principle can theoretically explain all phenomena.

“Naturalism has gotten a bad rap throughout the course of
the 20th century,” Graffin said. “But my goal is to
show it’s just as ethical and moral as any other religion. It
just doesn’t base its morals or ethics on the life of Jesus
Christ.”

Graffin graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degrees in
anthropology and geology, as well as a master’s degree in
geology. Graffin attributes his interest in evolution to a lack of
a religious upbringing.

“I had no burden of having to learn the stories of the
Bible,” Graffin said. “That left me with a vacuum in
terms of answering the larger questions of the world. Geology and
biology helped me to understand the world from where I came, as
well as the other organisms from which are part of the same species
I am.”

The punk music genre which Bad Religion is mainly associated
with isn’t especially famous for it’s high regard of
education, due to the general suspicion it holds against most
institutions. Graffin, however, sees college education as not only
a privilege, but even perhaps as a means to uphold and explore
controversial beliefs.

“There is nothing more important than education,”
Graffin said. “I entered the university with a lot of
skepticism that my government couldn’t care less about its
citizens, and I think it’s a little similar today. But going
to a university makes me a lot smarter than the president, and if
citizens are smarter than the politicians, there’s hope that
we can rid ourselves of the bad politicians.”

Of course high school is a different story. Graffin’s best
advice for anyone who has not yet escaped with a diploma in hand is
to just get through it. The lack of connection that he felt with
many of the students of his own high school, along with his
distaste for the youth sex and drug culture may have led to him to
embrace the punk subculture.

And perhaps the experience was useful, as it granted him an
insight that influenced his entire career as a songwriter. But
still, improvements could be made, and Graffin sees the problem
largely as a lack of respect for the teaching profession.

“Teachers need to earn a lot more money,” Graffin
said. “Whether we like it or not, they influence society to
an extremely serious degree. They’re the first social action
that children have in the world, and it’s worth it to have
the best people interacting with our children.”

It may be hard for some UCLA students to believe, as the
university’s rigorous workload can leave little time for
outside activities, but Graffin was involved with Bad Religion
throughout his college years. Although the band proved to be wildly
successful, he always saw school as a first priority.

“I looked at the band as a hobby,” Graffin said.
“I can’t overstate that enough. The chances of a band
getting recognition outside their local environment are really
slim, and you can’t put all your eggs in that basket.
It’s what’s in the course load that you carry for the
rest of your life.”

Graffin plans to continue his two pursuits of music and academia
side by side, and there is much opportunity for one to influence
the other. After its last show for the summer today at Pauley
Pavilion, the band plans on disappearing for six months to work on
its next album. And as a break from recording, Graffin will be
writing his new book that explores the possibility of an atheistic
religion.

“For the first time in my life, I am able to write
academically about things I’ve been writing songs about all
my life,” Graffin said. “And another step in academia I
hope is also another step forward for Bad Religion.”

Bad Religion performs with Zion I at Pauley Pavilion on
Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. For more information go to
students.asucla.ucla.edu/cec/v.01/welcome-week/bts-concert.html.

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