The antipathy of the most hidebound fundamentalists toward Christian rock music and other forms of Contemporary Christian Music is a clear indication of the fact that the offense they take at rock music in general goes beyond the edgy lyrics characteristic of secular rock and pop. So, what is it about the music itself that makes religious fundamentalists so angry?
Generally speaking, most Christians today look back on their fellow believers in earlier generations and shake their head in embarrassment at the panic their forebears manifested in anti-rock writings and lectures. But back in the 1980s, ministers and many lay believers came out of the woodwork to warn entire congregations, as well as television audiences who watched talk shows with low guest standards, that the beat of secular rock songs utilized some kind of “satanic drumbeat.”
As evidence, these ministers often claimed that rock music emulated the same beats used by African music tribes when they called upon spirits for guidance and to “incite warriors into violent frenzy .” In several of his seminars, conservative Christian minister Bill Gothard has agreed, saying that rock music is used by African natives to call up evil spirits . Michael R. O’Doonan, a retired Christian radio singer and former vocal music instructor at Faith Baptist Bible College, claimed that “the same melodic and rhythmic styles found in rock music existed in Africa centuries before classical music appeared in Europe .”
The notion that rhythm in music was able to take control of brain function was to some extent encouraged by some practitioners of scientific research that was peer-reviewed but nevertheless flawed. In the early 1960s, neurophysiologist Andrew Neher proposed that ritual drumming – the kind that the fundamentalists cited above were afraid of – drove alpha waves in the human brain into a “possession trance” state . This proposition was embraced uncritically by many anthropologists as definitive “proof” that drumming can induce trances, but Neher’s experimental evidence and theory has been shown to be seriously flawed .
The claimed presence of African styles of rhythm and melody in rock music has been highly problematic for many fundamentalists. In Satan’s Music Exposed (reviewed in Part 2 of this series), Bible teacher Lowell Hart offers the following bit of fundamentalist anthropology: “Have you ever wondered why in pagan cultures men can dance for hours, sometimes all night, seemingly without becoming exhausted? Not discounting the reality of demonic activity, rhythm plays a major role. Pagan dances and rituals are always accompanied by the incessant beat of drums .”
Indeed, the antipathy of the more ethnocentric naysayers of rock toward the rhythm and beat of the music is especially pronounced. According to Terry Watkins’ fundamentalist website,
With all the many references to musical instruments, there is one instrument that is NEVER mentioned! The DRUM! Why is that? The drum was a very common instrument in Egypt and the lands around Israel. And yet the DRUM is NEVER mentioned in a King James Bible.There is nothing new in the religious fear of and hostility toward popular music. Back in the 1930s, English clergyman Montague Summers, who professed belief in witches, vampires and werewolves, noted that “some acute observers have shrewdly scented the devil’s own orchestra” in jazz music. In his 1937 work A Popular History of Witchcraft, he cites the authority of one Father Philip De Ternant in support of his condemnation:
Did the Lord just forget to include the DRUM or is there another reason?
Is it because — drums are associated with voodoo, shamanism, paganism and magic rituals? 
[De Ternant] justly and in good time condemns the “Voodoo Cult imported into our Dance Halls without protest”, and points out how young people are being corrupted by “the roll and the thump of the Voodoo Drum” which “responsive to subtle manipulation not far removed from black magic, plays a most hypnotic part” in the obscene, murderous, and wholly diabolical Voodoo cult. Quite unwittingly, no doubt, to-day many dancers are exercising their steps to the music of the witches. “Dreary pushing and pulling about the floor with almost aimless steps have now taken the place of dancing .”Not to be outdone by the moral crusaders of yesteryear, Jacob Aranza, writing in the 1980s, goes even further. He asserts that rock music was invented by the angel Lucifer at the time of his rebellion against God in heaven, presumably before the earth was created. “Lucifer is the only angelic being mentioned in the Bible to possess a musical ministry,” he writes. “At one point in time, he used his musical abilities for God’s purposes, but now he uses them to exalt evil and draw men away from God. Having been created with musical abilities, it is not hard to believe that Satan indeed influences music today . . . Party music goes back a long way! Ever since Lucifer’s fall, music that incites the flesh to fulfill its lusts, and encourages mankind to sin has always been played .” Aranza even cites the account of the Israelites singing and worshipping the golden calf in the absence of their desert-wandering leader Moses (as told in the Old Testament’s Book of Exodus) as one of the very first rock concerts in human history !
Pastor Fletcher Brothers agrees with this highly-imaginative interpretation. He notes that in Exodus 32:17, Moses is said to have heard the Israelites shouting as he descended the mountain on which he had sojourned alone with the desert god Yahweh. The verse also speaks of the “noise of war in the camp.” Brothers wonders to what this passage could possibly be referring, since there were no guns or bombs at that time in history. He proceeds to speculate that the verse referred to the beating of drums, such as when used in war. He notes the references to “dancing” in verse 19 and to “singing” in verse 18. He also highlights the passages that speak of the mischief and corruption of the Israelites and concludes,
Could this have been the first recorded “rock concert?” Who knows? But we do know it was music or singing. We do know that the people had “corrupted themselves.” They were naked, and . . . leave the rest to your imagination. We know the “singing” sounded more like “screaming” and “screeching.” Whatever was going on was “bad news”, because as you read on you will find that many people lost their lives .One wonders if Aranza and Brothers had spent a bit too much time listening to the thrash metal band Exodus while high on the drug of religious fundamentalism (I am sure metal lovers would love to see a music video in which the bloody massacre of the calf-worshipping heretics at the hands of Moses’ soldiers is set to Exodus’s song “Bonded By Blood” – I know I would).
The “first recorded rock concert” interpretation of the 32nd chapter of Exodus is a prime example of the practice common among biblical inerrantists and literalists of superimposing ancient biblical narratives onto modern-day issues and interpreting said issues accordingly. But in fact, the highly-imaginative alternate-history rendering of Exodus 32 indulged in by these evangelists is certainly an unwarranted hermeneutical stretch. If self-professed “rock experts” such as Aranza and Brothers can find rock music in the Old Testament, it is little wonder that they also found diabolical satanic messages hidden in rock records, messages which yield themselves only when records are reversed and played backwards.
1. Dennis Corle, “The Pied Piper” of Rock Music (Milford, OH: J.P. Printing Ministry, 1985), p. 63.
2. Paul Baker, Contemporary Christian Music: Where It Came from, What It Is, Where It’s Going (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1985), p. 178.
3. Michael R. O’Doonan, Why Not Christian Rock? (Ankeny, IA: Laudamus Press, 1987), p. 2.
4. Andrew Neher, “A Physiological Explanation of Unusual Behavior in Ceremonies Involving Drums,” Human Biology 34, no. 2 (May 1962): 151-160.
5. Gilbert Rouget, Music and Trance: A Theory of the Relations between Music and Possession (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), pp. 172-176.
6. Lowell Hart, Satan’s Music Exposed (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1981), p. 76
7. Dial-the-Truth Ministries, “Bible Guidelines for Christian Music,” AV1611.org, http://www.av1611.org/cqguide.html (accessed 5 September 2012, italics and bold font in original).
8. Montague Summers, A Popular History of Witchcraft (London: Kegan Paul, 1937), p. 153.
9. Jacob Aranza, More Rock, Country and Backward Masking Unmasked (Shreveport, LA: Huntington House Inc., 1985), pp. 18-19, 20.
10. Ibid., p. 20.
11. Fletcher A. Brothers, The Rock Report (Lancaster, PA: Starburst Publishers, 1987), p. 140.