*Contains explicit language
Looking for Emotional Support
Saxe sets the scene for “4:30 in Toronto” by describing a distressing circumstance in his family life affecting him emotionally. He sings on the first verse:
My father’s having surgery
And I’m ashamed so I’ve been thinking more
About how maybe all of this would make
A good excuse to call you, say
“I just need emotional support,”
Saxe contemplates his own need for emotional support and his desire to receive that emotional support from a past lover. He describes in these paradoxical statements in the song’s pre-chorus:
It doesn’t have to mean anything
I don’t think that it cannot mean anything
But I still wanna hold you
I just wanna call you
It doesn’t have to mean anything
I don’t think it cannot mean anything
But I still wanna call you
The repeated statement “I don’t think it cannot mean anything” stands in sharp contrast to the repeated statement “It doesn’t have to mean anything,” creating the central tension in the song. So which is it? The dominant message of our culture is that investing in a relationship, physically or emotionally, whether it be casually hooking up or something else, doesn’t have to mean anything. Saxe mouths this sentiment but immediately follows it up with the opposite statement. For some reason, perhaps a reason unbeknownst even to him, Saxe finds the cultural message of “it doesn’t have to mean anything” unsatisfying and untrue.
A World with False Dichotomies
The unsatisfying attitude “it doesn’t have to mean anything” can be traced to what is sometimes called “the fact/value split.” This is “the view that the empirical sciences give us knowledge of the facts, whereas religion and ethics give us opinions, preferences, and opinions.”1 Whether consciously or not, the vast majority of people, religious or not, accept the fact/value split. Accepting the fact/value split means that a person cannot know any religious claims to be true—all religious claims are value claims that are personal and private. Therefore, sexual standards, as not based upon empirical science, are “values” without any universal basis; they are personal. They don’t have to mean anything.
A further result of the fact/value split is what could be called the mind/emotion split. Flowing from the idea that facts and values are separate is the idea that what we think and what we feel can be separated, and that what we think is what is real (facts) and what we feel is personal and unverifiable (values). Saxe’s apparently contradictory statements co-exist in “4:30 in Toronto” because one statement allegedly lives in the realm of facts and the other lives in the realm of values. “It doesn’t have to mean anything” has been repeated so often that it has taken on the status of a fact. “I don’t think it can not mean anything” is Saxe’s honest expression of his own experience. In reality, the fact/value split and mind/emotion split are problematic, because people then hold “facts” and “values” which are apparently in contradictions with one another. They are also problematic because they assume that the only way we can really know something is through the empirical sciences. On the contrary, philosophers are aware that we must have some basis for knowledge other than the empirical sciences to have knowledge about anything at all.2 This rules out the epistemological assumption of the fact/value split and means that facts are not necessarily “more true” than values; we can know that values are as real as facts.
In “4:30 in Toronto,” it is Saxe’s feelings, perhaps ironically, that point towards truth. What is supposedly true, “it doesn’t have to mean anything,” is a lie perpetuated by a culture that sees sexual ethics as a personal and arbitrary value. However, because God made us for relationships ( Genesis 2:24) and not to casually engage our bodies and emotions with other people in ways that “don’t mean anything,” Saxe is onto something when he says: “I don’t think it cannot mean anything.” We cannot separate what we do with our bodies or where we invest our emotions from what is important to us. We cannot separate relationships from sex. We cannot separate emotions from sex. This is attested to in Scripture over and over ( 1 Corinthians 6:15-18, Matthew 19:5, Genesis 2:23, Song of Solomon 8:4) not only as a value but also as a fact.
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