Christian Rock: The Devil’s Music?

No, it isn’t.

The truth is, no music is the Devil’s music. I don’t say this because of my lack of belief in the Devil – I recognise a useful metaphor when I see one – I say it because I think that kind of statement has a nasty quality to it, and in turn it speaks volumes about the person using it. It says: I detest the music you like; it is evil and corrupt, and therefore you are too, for listening to it. And, of course, the only person who ends up looking ‘evil and corrupt’ is the person speaking against this music in the first place.

(On a side note, I am not fond of the term ‘evil’ either, a dehumanising and imaginary concept if ever I heard one, despite what George W. Bush would have us believe. But that is another blogpost for another day)

My point is that this kind of rhetoric reeks of the judgemental. It speaks of intolerance and ignorance; it speaks, ultimately, of fear. I recently blogged about a website called ‘Objective Ministries’, which purports to be a fundamentalist Christian site. It is most likely a hoax, but links to several other ‘Christian’ sites. Which of these are also hoaxes and which are genuine I find difficult to tell, but I’m not worried about that so much for now. One of these sites is called: ‘Zounds! – Youth Rock Ministry’. This site (whether real or imaginary) is a vehicle for Christian-themed music, mainly aimed at teenagers.

I feel I should mention that I am talking here about fundamentalist Christianity, which to my mind is a very different beast from your average, run of the mill, moderate Christianity. I don’t see the two as interacting together in any real sense. Fundamentalists view reality in a very different way from the rest of the population, religious and non-religious alike. Fundamentalism – of any kind – is a seperate world entirely, and is a serious issue of its own. Fundamentalist Christians are fundamentalists because of the way they view the world, not because they are Christian. There are a million outlets for fundamentalism, and I would not want anyone to think I am condemning Christianity in this post, because that is not my intention. My problem with the ‘Zounds!’ site is not the site itself, but the issues it brings up about the whole notion of ‘Christian’ music, which has always bugged me.

It is an old fundamentalist cliche that rock ‘n’ roll is the Devil’s music. It talks about, and uses, the human body; it celebrates areas that fundamentalist religion sees as taboo: desire, sexuality, youthful discovery – it’s all there, in the lyrics and the music. Rock ‘n’ roll is either talking about sex, or – shock horror – making you dance in a way that suggests it (except for Bon Jovi – they have the opposite effect). This threatens the self-appointed moral-arbiters of fundamentalist religion, who get very upset when humans remember they have genitals. This is the reason viewers of the Ed Sullivan show could only see Elvis’s third appearance on the show from the waist up. It is the reason 1960s parents whined endlessly about The Beatles and The Rolling Stones ‘corrupting’ their children. How on Earth celebrating a human function we all enjoy and harms no-one can be considered dangerous, I’ll never understand. As far as I can tell, the only dangers to human beings regarding sex are lack of education and repression. Teenagers fall pregnant generally because of insufficient knowledge about contraception. Sex abuse happens because people’s natural sexuality is repressed or they were abused themselves. No-one ever became a rapist or abuser because their sexuality was allowed to develop naturally. It seems to me that lack of education and repression are actively promoted by those who have problems with anything vaguely sexual in music. They seem to be saying: let’s keep it down, let’s pretend it doesn’t exist. Is it me, or is this the more dangerous influence? What do I know, I’m just an average human being with a sex drive and a brain. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by suggesting it’s ok to use both of those things.

So, back to Christian music. I’m not talking about hymns. That’s a phd in itself: “Let’s remove all human feelings except shame and devotion! Let’s sing about them in a cold, dead, impersonal building in the fervent hope that God won’t kill us on a whim! Praise Jesus before the depression sets in!” I’m talking about Christian ‘rock’, that vacuous, rictus-grin-wearing, disney-fied attempt to appeal to children by convincing them that not having fun is somehow more fun than having it. At some point, it seemed to be decided by some that the best way to deal with the Devil’s music – rock ‘n’ roll – was to bleed it dry and wear its corpse. So they took this kinetic, immediate and physical music, and replaced its lyrics with exhortations to be moral, i.e: celibate, devoted to the lord, repressed and bored. Sexual awareness and exploration becomes not a natural part of growing up, but an ‘unnatural’ influence to be avoided.

It is this that concerns me. It’s not just rock music that is mutilated: all kinds of music considered to be youthful or corrupting (or simply exciting) is taken and plastered over with prudish and terrified ‘morality’. Check out the song ‘Christian Side Hug’ for a tongue in cheek take (at least I hope it’s tongue in cheek) on what could be done to gangster rap (I personally think this song is a hoax, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s not). The Zounds! site contains many examples of these Christian songs, some of them actually quite enjoyable until you realise what they’re singing about. The principle is the same in each of these songs: they are saying your natural feelings are wrong. They are saying don’t think for yourself, let the Lord do it for you. They are saying pour those emotions you’re feeling into worship for the Lord, and don’t dare express it with a real flesh and blood person. At their best, these songs are laughable, at their worst they are attempts at brainwashing. It is manipulative in the name of education, simultaneously trying to deny human nature and impose a made-up ideal in its place.

The most distressing thing is that it is often honestly meant. They think they are helping. I’m sorry, but we’re supposed to be moving forward as a species, not backwards. These songs are just one aspect of a larger fundamentalist push that includes abstinence-only sex education, which we know doesn’t work, yet is promoted anyway because it is seen as what God wants. Fundamentalist groups tour US schools promoting abstinence-only schemes using these songs. Maybe I’m getting slightly paranoid, but education should be based around the facts of the reality we live in, not the ideals a particular relgious group holds. Denying the sexuality of human beings and trying to push it into a religious box is dangerous to the emotional development of young people. Some people might be perfectly happy to wait until their wedding night, but most will just be miserable and repressed. When did the human body become thought of as dirty? Sexual thoughts are not dirty. Sexual acts are not dirty. Telling people that these things are dirty is irresponsible and untrue.

Going back to Christian Side Hug – a song I’m still convinced is a prank – we find these lyrics:

“Gimmie that Christian side hug! That Christian side hug! I’m a rough rider, filled up with Christ’s Love! Gimmie that Christian side hug! That Christian side hug!”

A Christian side hug is apparently hugging someone with one arm from the side, so that the fronts of your bodies cannot touch and potentially cause sexual feelings or – heaven forbid – sexual thoughts. So these lyrics are basically saying to the teenage listener to avoid any human contact which might create sexual thoughts, in case it leads them into sinful behaviour. It’s not warning against the consequences of the behaviour or even asking kids to respond responsibly to their feelings, it’s saying don’t put yourself in any position where it might even cross your mind; because, as we all know, kids can’t be trusted with thoughts!

The message here is clear: rather than teach children that these feelings are inevitable and natural, subsequently helping them to navigate the minefield of life responsibly and without shame, it is saying that we should teach them to avoid and deny them instead. To me, this means that natural human emotions are being portrayed as abnormal things to be avoided. These songs may not explicitly say “You are bad for feeling this”, but they do say “You are bad if you let yourself feel this”, which in a way is worse, because when children do feel these things, they’re going to think they have somehow failed to do the ‘right’ thing. It sows guilt where there should be no guilt.

These thoughts are natural. Teenagers will have them despite what the songs say. These songs are quite clearly political. They aim to attempt to rewrite biology in the heads of impressionable children. Rock ‘n’ roll may have its faults, but at least it’s honest. It doesn’t deliberately paint a false picture, like these songs do. Is it too much for me to accuse these songs of lying? Isn’t that why fundamentalists called rock ‘n’ roll the Devil’s music in the first place, because they think it lies? If I were to flip the metaphor back onto where it originated, then by its own logic, isn’t Christian rock/gangster rap the Devil’s music?

As I said at the beginning, I don’t want to use that phrase. Especially considering that these songs can be honestly meant. That doesn’t mean that they’re not delusional. My question to those musicians is this: are you sure your worldview includes the whole world, or just the part of it you live in? The world is big and complicated Maybe fundamentalist ideas – about life, sexuality, whatever – appeal because they simplify things. That doesn’t make them true or fair or right. I’m simply asking that you imagine, if only briefly, that you might be wrong about your moral ideals. Let yourself imagine that they’re not true, just for a moment. Don’t worry: if your views are right, you have nothing to be scared of, they won’t fall apart. But let yourself imagine for a moment that they’re not. Look at things afresh. How does the world look now?

Apologies for ranting. Now give me that Christian side hug!


  1. #1 by SpaceCliff on January 19, 2010 - 00:29

    “Christian side hug” is not a parody.

    This follow to it is though

  2. #2 by Gittins on January 19, 2010 - 09:45

    I agree with you on the use of the word evil. Usually it’s used in the right wing tabloids, but often official statements from police or judges will describe a convicted criminal as “evil” or “wicked” and so-on.
    It’s like they’re labelling this person as being somehow different from the rest of us to avoid the uncomfortable truth that they are in fact just like us.

  3. #3 by Michael on January 19, 2010 - 21:05

    C’mon Colin. “Jiggy4Jesus” a parody of Queen’s “You’re my best friend (after Jesus)” and “Who let the praise out” It is a joke, surely. And it is good that it raises the issues it does because “the kids” need to wake up and smell the kerosene!

  4. #4 by Michael on January 19, 2010 - 21:07

    Oh shit! Have I fallen for Poe’s Law?

  5. #5 by Michael on January 20, 2010 - 18:59

    Actually that song was featured on one of the skeptical podcasts. They thought it was real, not a prank. The odd thing about it is it ends with what one can only assume as machine gun fire. Did Jesus have an Uzi? So many people are hot for the nailed up baby Jesus, one wonders what is going on in their minds- it can’t be healthy.

  6. #6 by Colin H on January 20, 2010 - 19:16

    In the live video of the song, when you hear the gunfire, they pretend to drop down dead as if they’ve all been shot. I think they’re trying to suggest that their ideas about hugging are dangerous and progressive and that evil atheists might want to kill them.

    Or maybe they were shot, and I’ve just watched a snuff film. Oh dear…

    Weirdly enough, I actually enjoyed some of the songs on the site. Just remove all the Jesus comments and I’d feel less uncomfortable.

    I love the title Jiggy4Jesus though…

  7. #7 by Death-batchick on July 7, 2010 - 06:11

    I agree with you on the whole thing about rock not being the Devils music. If its the devil’s music how come there are rock christian bands its all a bunch off bs. I believe in God and the devil and I listen to rock so what, does that make me a devil worshipper, hell no. I love God and I go to church.

  8. #8 by Letty Gelber on September 28, 2010 - 04:14

    Excellent stuff.

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