One of the toughest things I faced once I renewed my faith in Christ was deciding what to do about my music collection. I have what many Christians would find to be a blasphemous library of genres ranging from rap, heavy metal, 80’s music, 90’s alternative, darkwave, and enough electronica varieties (trance, industrial, techno etc.) to keep a European discothèque partying until the Second Coming. In other words, I have what the average person would call a horrible taste in music.
I can talk the talk and say that I am a Christian…but can I walk the walk if I am still getting crunk with Lil Jon and the Ying Yang Twins? Or jamming it out with Trent Reznor and Metallica? If I am only allowed to listen to wholesome, vanilla Christian music…what’s left? I guess some Gregorian Chants…at least that would be retro-cool and not the campy, contemporary stuff they often play on Christian radio.*
When having to make the tough decisions on what to vet, I decided to look less at the image associated with the artists, and more at the message that is conveyed and whether there is anything positive I can glean from listening to them. In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul mentions that there is freedom in what we can do. There are no lightning strikes from heaven if I blast Ludacris in the car. Or listen to Metallica on my runs. But Paul calls us to ask if it is beneficial or not.
Not to sound New Age-y or anything, but music is one of the ways we can grow closer to God, particularly for those of us who are musically inclined. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Sometimes what we immerse ourselves in can bring us closer to things that are not beneficial to us, and before we know it, we are idolizing things that are probably best left off of a pedestal.
One of the big misconceptions is that evil and demonic things are apparent and in your face. Kind of like Halloween, Black Sabbath, and goth kids. Nine Inch Nails (NIN), one of my all-time favorite bands, is just blatantly blasphemous. Lyrics such as: “God is dead / And No one cares / If there is a hell / I’ll see you there” sound just terrible…no Christian in their right mind would listen to that filth! NIN albums have that Parental Advisory label on them, and therefore are evil and must be avoided at all costs.
But the enemy does not always work like that to corrupt our fragile little souls. He prefers to sneak around like a thief in the night, undetected (John 10:10).
As long as people keep focusing on how satanic music like NIN is, the enemy is sending destructive messages to us via other means.
I’ve seen the same people who would deem someone like NIN’s Trent Reznor as evil and demonic listen to stuff like Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus like it’s nothing. The message portrayed by these stars promotes promiscuity and sexuality for young women, with little redeeming value other than how to gyrate on stage half-naked and shake your lady bits. It sells a message of fame and adoration that young girls idolize. And their well-meaning Christian parents just play cool with it, perhaps even listening to this music themselves. Not to mention, the music requires little compositional creativity other than a few hooks and samples.
Trent Reznor’s lyrics are off-putting and crazy and full of naughty words, but his music is unique and ingenious. He has actual musical talent. His lyrics speak from a place of pain and struggles; they seek to convey real emotions. Britney Spears is a manufactured pop icon. Her lyrics appear to reference only what industry executives want to promote so people will buy albums.
As long as a song has a catchy beat and does not put us on edge, it’s easy to ignore the message being sent:
Your identity is your sexuality, and little else. If you speak from your feelings, even if they are feelings of despair, they are of the devil and should be tamped down…immediately. Only upbeat music is God-worthy.
I have yet to find many Christians who are fans of NIN, but I am sure a decent proportion are fans of Britney Spears or Miley Cyrus. Newsflash: Your music choices are not any less worldly and demonic than mine are. At least Trent Reznor essentially says “My music is angry and I am against religion, but at least I am going be up front about it.” After the temporary thrill of breaking it down in the club to today’s catchy pop music, you wonder why you feel so ugly, so worthless, and why you need sexual admiration to feel validated.
So let’s return to Paul’s question. Is NIN or Britney or any other artist you listen to beneficial? Do you feel good about yourself when you listen to it? Can you appreciate the music for its creativity? Is there any value that can be gleaned from the music? If it’s lyrical, what is behind the lyrics and what messages do they convey?
And what is the answer? Do we go back to square one and only listen to approved Christian music? Is secular music all completely evil and demonic?
I honestly don’t know. I suppose it depends on the direction in which God wants you to move. This is not a post about which artists are better are worse, though I have made my personal tastes known. The purpose is to expose how the enemy can work in our lives through music, and in this post I make strong comparisons between artists to shed new light on some misconceptions; these beliefs that state that music that sounds angry or dark or has strong language is just sinful, but it’s perfectly OK to listen to today’s pop music that can have equally damaging effects on thoughts…before we even have a chance to fight back and realize what thoughts this music instills over time, even if we enjoyed hearing that catchy tune over and over on the radio.
And before you think this is a post about me wanting to justify my raunchy music tastes while enjoying the fruits of eternal salvation, I deleted about 50 rap songs that were all about bitches and hoes, thug life, weed, and rims. After praying and thinking about it, I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing beneficial from me listening to it. However, I admit that I am tempted to bust out into some Lil Jon lyrics because listening to rap makes me feel like a total gangsta, even though I am lily white and 110 lbs. And this image makes my friends laugh :-).
But strength does not come from the feeling like a badass thug or a rock-star…it comes from our salvation through Christ. Accepting salvation and my worth because of it is one of the most difficult things for me, which is why I often find myself returning to this crutch, and also why conventional Christian music is not on my Top 40 List.
*Except Gospel. I like Gospel because it feels real and tangible to me. Lyrics are often about how people overcome hard situations through the power of God, rather than just “yay Jesus” without the testimony to really show it’s power (Rev. 12:11). Plus it’s jazzy and funky.