Saturday, December 10, 2011

Why I Don't Listen to "Christian" Music:

In recent decades faithful Christians have attempted to offer an alternative to the generally immoral content that tends to appear in the movie and record industry. I applaud this effort. However, what I do not applaud is a kind of engineering of content so as to produce the correct message. That sounds a little bit too much like propaganda to me. Besides, in many respects, this effort has failed. Go ahead, try and think of a movie or song that was both Christian and substantive at the same time (other than The Passion of the Christ) and you will be sitting there for a long time. There may be one or two out there, but beyond that it's "slim pickings".

One could almost get the impression that there is nothing in common between God and good art. When you want good music, you listen to something godless, and when you want something godly you listen to "Jesus is my Friend" by Son Seed (I recommend it highly). The truth is very nearly the reverse. Indeed, there are elements in heavy metal that deal more substantively with Christian content  than do many of the Christian bands that are out there today. I am not arguing that we should canonize Black Sabbath or Judas Priest, but I am saying that their names are unarguably more theological than a band called Son Seed.

The problem arises fundamentally from a misapprehension of the nature of art and music. The Christian rocker thinks that in order to write a good Christian song he must say the name Jesus at least five times, otherwise he might be mistaken for a secular artist. Would that he were mistaken. I remember a number of years back Amy Grant (who was quite popular in Christian circles) was shunned by a number of Christian radio stations because she wrote a song called "Baby Baby". The reason this was unacceptable?  Because "Baby Baby" was a song about a man and not about God.

This is precisely where the mistake is made. To call a form of music "Christian music" is a terrible redundancy. Respectfully, God is the author of music, and no doubt we need to write songs praising him for it, but God is also the author of the "every day," which we should also depict. To simply write the same lyrics over and over again about praising God (which of course must be accompanied by an effeminate male voice who sounds like he would cry if you punched him in the stomach... see below) is not what I would call a religious experience. In fact, it would be more accurate to call it a hellish experience, for how else would you describe an experience that is at once unimaginative and repetitious.

The primary thing that these artists are missing is the simple notion that a song can be about God without being expressly about God. Art is at its most effective when it is not preachy and when it gives the one who is experiencing it a certain freedom of imagination. Christian music more often than not fails in this respect, condemning the imagination to a veritable crawl space of thought.

I am not speaking here about Christian hymns so much as about Christian rock/pop; for the previous, whether through chant or classic hymnody, generally strikes the right tone for the occasion, while the latter, with its ultra saccharine presentation, reduces God to something as nebulous and insubstantial as a fleeting emotion. When you address God directly, it should have some level of awe and reverence to accompany it. Writing songs that sound like mainstream pop and then super-imposing religious lyrics over it, does not exactly inspire holy fear in the listener; rather, it makes him dumber, and even worse, it dumbs down the dreadful name of God.

Secular artists write better Christian songs because they are not trying to write Christian songs. Certainly this is no virtue in itself, but it does produce the kind of content you want in music. When Chris Cornell, formerly of Audioslave, wrote the song "Like a Stone", I am sure he didn't sit down and say this must have Christian implications. Quite the reverse, because he wanted to say something meaningful, he wound up writing a song about Christ. He let the music speak to him and then wrote the lyrics accordingly. The longing that is expressed in this song is not so much an attempt to be sublime as it is to reveal in a very visceral way the present state of his soul. He sees the beauty of the Faith from an outsider's perspective because he is outside the Faith. He talks about it with the kind of newness because he brings a fresh pair of eye balls to the table. Thus, he is not predisposed to talk about the subject matter in any way except how it strikes him. That is the proper approach to art whether you are Christian or agnostic, or even an atheist.

Another accidental virtue these artists possess is the idea that when you talk about something (especially something like God) you should really not talk about it. In other words, one can surmise that a song is about God, abortion, etc. without the need to expressly say it. The artist may be doing this simply because he is ashamed of saying it, but it nevertheless serves as an effective tool in the art of good song writing. Hence, when the artist attempts to veil the Almighty, he actually winds up revealing him, and when he shrouds Him, he ultimately facilitates a most glorious discovery... the good news that Christ had been with us all along.

And so I don't listen to much "Christian" music these days, but not because it's too Christian for me. Rather, I don't listen to it because it's not Christian enough. In the Father's house, there are many mansions and many rooms, and unfortunately the Christian pop artist seems all too content to confine himself to one.



  1. Way to go Sean :) Did you know that St. Josemaria Escriva said that when he listened to songs (love songs or whatever) he always dedicated them to Christ; if it was a love song he would make it so that it was a love song being sung to God. :)

  2. Kansas and early King's X got the balance right - I think

  3. "Jesus is my friend" is... pathetic, and so funny! Excellent article, very instructive, since it's not a phenomenon that popular in France.