Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Devil Has the Best Tunes (Part 3): The Roll and Thump of the Voodoo Drum

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 [1].” 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 [2]. 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 [3].”

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 [4]. 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 [5].

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 [6].”

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.

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? [7]

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:
[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 [8].”
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 [9].” 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 [10]!

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 [11].
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.

NOTES

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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Devil Has the Best Tunes (Part 2): "Why Should the Devil Have the Best Music?"

In his book The Role of Rock, evangelist John Muncy asks his readers an interesting question:

Think about it… when was the last time you heard a rock and roll song offer it’s [sic] listener forgiveness? When was the last time you heard a rock and roll singer tell about being forgiven and set free from guilt? Well, they never will until they come in contact with the ROCK THAT DOESN’T ROLL…JESUS CHRIST!!!! [1]
Reading this, one gets the impression that Muncy is either ignoring the cultural phenomenon known as “Contemporary Christian Music,” or else he had been living under the proverbial rock when he penned these impassioned words, thus rendering his “research” skills questionable. Christian rock music, including Christian heavy metal, featured rockers who sang often about divine forgiveness and being set free from guilt, screaming out their modernized hymns to the exact same kind of musical accompaniment with which their secular counterparts sang about sex, drugs, violence and Satanism.

For instance, consider the following lyrics:

Honestly, I believe in you
Do you trust in me
Patiently, I will stand by you
I will stand beside you faithfully
And through the years
I will be a friend
For always and forever
Call on me and I'll be there for you
I'm a friend who always will be true
And I love you can't you see
That I can say I love you honestly
The words of this poem are not likely to call to one’s mind the heavy metal genre of music. Yet these lyrics belong to Stryper, a metal band in the 1980s who associated themselves with Jesus Christ rather than with Satan, sex and drugs. Standing for “Salvation Through Redemption Yielding Peace, Encouragement, and Righteousness,” the name Stryper was derived from a verse in the Christian Old Testament, Isaiah 53:5. Frequently appearing as part of their logo, the verse speaks of a personage “by whose stripes we are healed.” Known by their fan base as the “Yellow and Black Attack” (the name of their 1984 debut album released on the secular label Enigma Records), the band members wore yellow and black spandex outfits and sported the long and disheveled hairstyle and makeup characteristic of Eighties metal musicians. Author and radio host Paul Baker, in his definitive history of the CCM movement, called Stryper “the most ostentatious of the groups in their appearance [2].” The lead singer, Michael Sweet, sung in an extremely high-pitched voice that at times reminds one of a dog whistle. The lyrics quoted above are from the band’s song “Honestly,” a piano ballad from Stryper’s 1986 album To Hell with the Devil. The song (a fairly pathetic addition to what in my opinion is an otherwise rather good album, musically speaking) was featured on mainstream pop radio once it somehow became a crossover hit.

The band members of Stryper in full regalia: I think the Devil was okay with letting them go.

At the time Stryper came on the music scene in the early 1980s, the pious backlash to secular music known as “Contemporary Christian Music” (CCM) was still only a fledgling venture struggling to get on its feet [3]. The phenomenon of CCM, of which Stryper is a particularly interesting part, is an emulation of the kind of fare offered by secular pop and rock radio. In the mid- to late 1960s, the church decided it would serve as a great evangelistic tool, as well as a wholesome alternative to “worldly” music. Christian radio, complete with guitars, drums and solos, was born in the Seventies, and Christian bands such as Petra and The 2nd Chapter of Acts became household names among Christian youth. Attempting to seamlessly wed faith and culture, Christian rock is “full-on rock and roll with the volume and the syncopation and the downbeats and the noise, yet it is used for worship, evangelism, and the entertainment of abstinent youth-group members and 50-year-old biker pastors [4].”

In marked contrast to its lowly and awkward beginnings, Christian record labels today are owned by large music corporations who know how very profitable CCM has become. In his recent scholarly treatment of Christian pop music, David W. Stowe remarks that “CCM is now one of the fastest-growing genres of music, its records outselling those of classical, jazz, and New Age combined [5].” In fact, it is now often difficult to discern any significant difference between the production values of Christian music and that of secular pop and rock music. But this was not always the case. In its early days, CCM suffered from very rough production quality. This was largely owing to the fact that the primary (and possibly the only) motivation driving the emergence of CCM was the desire on the part of its creators to have young people listen to good, wholesome, Jesus-oriented Christian music as an alternative to secular rock music, which of course was “of the devil.” This evil influence was thought to be quite ubiquitous in the world of secular music, and even seemingly benign music that did not sing about sex, drugs and Satan was warned against. Hence, according to Pastor Jacob Aranza, one of the most vocal anti-rock evangelists of the 1980s, “Just because a group doesn’t openly sing about immorality doesn’t mean their music is approved by God. If the music you’re listening to doesn’t come from the heart of a spiritual Christian artist, you are opening the door to carnality, humanism and demonic forces. It will distract you from serving him, feed self-centeredness, and eventually breed rebellion in your heart [6].”

The Traditionalists Fight Back

But several fundamentalist Christian writers even warned against Christian rock and other forms of Contemporary Christian Music, insisting that their artists were not “spiritual Christians” of the kind Aranza supported. In fact, to some concerned believers, Christian rock was and is just as evil and satanic as any secular and worldly rock. Terry Watkins, head of Dial-the-Truth Ministries, is especially emphatic in exposing Christian rock as an evil ploy of the devil. His fundamentalist Christian website contains a number of very long articles accusing virtually all Contemporary Christian Music artists of consciously or unconsciously operating under Satan’s influence. Says Watkins, “Today, rock music is a common companion of the church. . . . the rebellion, the sexual theme, the blasphemy, the occult influence, are found ‘lurking under the cover’ of Christian rock [7].” Watkins sees these devilish elements in the lyrical and musical contents of even the most overtly Christian artists such as Sandi Patti, Michael W. Smith and Point of Grace, whose song lyrics unmistakably and unambiguously promote Christian and biblical beliefs. Of course, the usual suspects are included as well. Watkins says of the band Stryper,

With long womanish hair, earrings, mascara, lip-gloss, eye shadow and effeminate clothes, Stryper demolished any convictions left in Christian music! How Christians tolerate such ungodly behavior is frightening! And despite the Bible's clear warnings! 1 Corinthians 6:9 says “. . . Be not deceived: neither fornicators, . . . NOR EFFEMINATE, . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God.” The demonic creatures from the bottomless pit in Revelation 9:8 are described as “their faces were as the faces of men. And they had hair as THE HAIR OF WOMEN. . .”! [8]
Thanks to Watkins belligerent ravings, I can no longer read Revelation 9 without picturing the swarm of demonic locusts, which are described in the passage as pouring out upon the earth from a bottomless pit, having the heads of the Stryper band members. There is a striking irony that presents itself when one studies fundamentalist attacks against Christian rock music: while such fundamentalists are more than willing to view the theological themes and elements present in Christian rock as nothing more than a façade or a gimmick, they refuse to concede the fact that the use of Satan in secular heavy metal and other forms of rock is just as much or more of a money-making gimmick.

As early as 1980, the most vocal spokesperson for the view that Christian rock is a ploy of the devil was the infamous televangelist Jimmy Swaggart. In the pages of his monthly magazine The Evangelist, Swaggart criticized Christian rockers for doing nothing more than “copying the ways of the world” and lambasted Christian rock for having “vacated the premise of the Holy Spirit and succumbed to the methods used by demon spirits [9].” Swaggart – who has since come to be known primarily for his own moral lapses – categorically denounced as sinful all “contemporary” music, and his failure to see recognize the relative nature inherent in the designation of “contemporary” is reflected in the fact that he himself had often made use of certain instruments and arrangements for his own recordings which were widely considered too risqué for conservative churches only a few years before [10]. Relying on anecdotal accounts of the offense he took when seeing Christian music artists performing on television rather than scholarly analysis, Swaggart writes,

I turn on my television set. I see a young lady who goes under the guise of being a Christian, known all over the nation, dressed in skin-tight leather pants, shaking and wiggling her hips to the beat and rhythm of the music as the strobe lights beat their patterns across the stage and the band plays the contemporary rock sound which cannot be differentiated from songs by the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, or anyone else. And you may try to tell me this is of God and that it is leading people to Christ, but I know better [11].
Following closely on the heels of Swaggart’s well-publicized attacks on CCM, fundamentalist Bible teacher Lowell Hart authored a 189-page tirade entitled Satan’s Music Exposed, in which he indicts all modern Christian music as evil. Undertaking to blow the cover off CCM and reveal it as a means devised by Satan himself to sneak his way into the church through the back door, Hart writes,
Like the hamburger-French fry diet of today (that has replaced the nutritious foods of grandfather’s day) the teen-agers’ fare of today’s Christian music, with its frothy, candy-coated content, has been substituted for the solid meat of Luther, Wesley, Watts, and Sankey. In search of something that will reach turned-off youth, many have incorporated the sweet but empty sounds of the world into Christian music in hopes of spreading the good news. Unfortunately, this unholy alliance of pop music with church music is leading many young people into distorted concepts and false impressions of the Christian life [12].
Contrary to Hart’s assertions, a great deal of the traditional and hymnological music of the likes of Luther, Wesley, Watts and Sankey was not the “solid meat” he believes it to be. Much of it was appropriated from “frothy, candy-coated content” as well. The famous hymn-writer Charles Wesley, a prominent figure in the Methodist movement of the 18th century, wrote about 6,500 hymns during his lifetime. The tune of most of Wesley’s hymns was lifted directly from a great number of popular tunes current at that time. This was mainly due to the fact that Wesley lacked any formal musical training and ability. The same is true of Luther’s hymns. The late historian and educator Benjamin Brawley observed that “With the Gospel Hymns came a more popular tone and greater effort to reach the man in the street; and out of the social forces at work a little later a demand for a hymnody specially adapted to the needs of the new age [13].” In other words, the same worldly motivations to accommodate popular mediums that gave rise to Contemporary Christian Music in the early Seventies were in essence the same as those that produced the hymns congregations consider as sacred and transcendent over pop culture. But a look at history shows they are anything but transcendent; they too are a product of “lowbrow” popular culture.

Hart addresses these points and attempts to offer a counterargument near the end of his book. He quotes Luther’s own words: “These songs were arranged in four parts to give the young – who at any rate should be trained in music and other fine arts – something to wean them from love ballads and carnal songs and teach them something of value in their place, thus combining the good with the pleasing as is proper for youth [14].” Hart comments, “This doesn’t sound like a man who borrowed drinking tunes to make into hymns! [15]” But Hart is clearly missing the point; Luther certainly had an antipathy toward tavern tunes, and no one contests this. But Luther did see in “love ballads and carnal songs” an opportunity to introduce the youth of his day to music with sacred themes, and he appropriated them for that purpose. Hart also conveniently leaves out the remainder of Luther’s words on the subject. Luther went on to write,

Nor am I of the opinion that the Gospel should destroy and blight all the arts, as some of the pseudo-religious claim. But I would like to see all the arts, especially music, used in the service of Him who gave and made them [16].
Unlike Hart, who certainly does wish to destroy and blight all musical arts except classical, hymns and Sousa marches, Luther had no qualms about borrowing the popular musical styles of his day and writing new words to their tunes. Hart again completely misses the point when he writes that “to equate today’s rock music, with all of its heavy syncopated rhythms and dissonant harmonies, with the simple hymn tunes and folk melodies of two or three centuries ago is to stretch the comparison beyond the breaking point [17].” The fact that today’s style of rock music obviously did not exist in Luther’s and Wesley’s day does nothing to invalidate the argument that Luther, Wesley and others did in fact borrow the prevailing styles of pop music in wide use among those who did not frequent traditional church environments.

Even though Hart’s book is over thirty years old and out of print, Christians today who have a bone to pick with those who mix their otherworldly haunts with sinful, dirty rock music continue to cite him as a source. Fundamentalist Christian blogger Cody Watters drags in Hart as a source in his diatribe against CCM. In an unabashed display of ethnocentrism, he writes,

Why dirty the name of Jesus Christ by dragging him into Rock and Roll? The beat of Rock and Roll stems from African music and Paganism. Rock and Roll has been used to glorify sex, drug, alcohol, immodesty and the Devil, so why use it for God? God is not pleased with people that dirty His Holy name [18].

The Growing Secularization of the Sacred

The fears of the most tradition-bound believers, even those who rely on obscure, out-of-print and largely-forgotten tirades, is well justified. The Contemporary Christian Music scene has undergone many changes since the days Swaggart, Hart and others railed against it, and all these changes absorb more and more of the secular market. Today, most churches are so heavily marketed toward the pop culture and toward mainstream audiences that many now feature full-blown rock and roll shows. Today’s churches make use of many electric instruments, and many have bands that are actually very talented. They feature full lighting, fog, multiple multimedia screens, and stadium seating. Attending many churches today can in fact be a very concert-esque experience.

The key to this evolution of church environment lies in advanced marketing techniques. The modern church is very adept at getting secular audiences into their doors and in drawing out the emotions of the audience during the course of their over-the-top religious shows. In fact, everything is designed to manipulate the emotions – every dimming of the lights, every pause in the music, every tap of the cymbal, every strum of the guitar – so that when each person leaves, they feel as if they have been touched by something literally out of this world. Rather than being a new phenomenon, the emotional manipulation in today’s high-tech religious worship services is merely an advanced level of previously-existing emotional manipulation in religious music. As the late Congregational minister and musicologist Erik Routley observed,

[H]ymn-singing is, as a matter of fact, the most insistent and clamorous of all the ways in which the Christian faith and worship makes impact on the world around it . . . You can close your eyes; you can stay away from the church and so neither taste nor see that the Lord is good. But you cannot close your ears, and if a group of Christian people chose to sing a hymn under your windows you are defenceless [19].
Unfortunately, there is nothing of substance in the experience.

NOTES

1. John Muncy, The Role of Rock: Harmless Entertainment or Destructive Influence? (Canton, OH: Daring Books, 1989), p. 309 (bold font in original).

2. Paul Baker, Contemporary Christian Music: Where It Came from, What It Is, Where It’s Going (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1985), p. 185.

3. For my brief discussion of the history of the CCM movement, see Nathan Dickey, “Religion in American Popular Culture (Part 3): Contemporary Christian Music,” The Journeyman Heretic (blog) 7 June 2012, http://journeymanheretic.blogspot.com/2012/06/religious-evangelism-in-american_07.html (accessed 22 October 2012).

4. John J. Thompson, Raised by Wolves: The Story of Christian Rock & Roll (Toronto, Ontario: ECW Press, 2000).

5. David W. Stowe, No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2011), p. 1.

6. Jacob Aranza, More Rock, Country and Backward Masking Unmasked (Shreveport, LA: Huntington House Inc., 1985), p. 47.

7. Terry Watkins, “Christian Rock: Blessing or Blasphemy,” Dial-the-Truth Ministries n.d. (last modified 21 March 2012, italics in original), http://www.av1611.org/crock.html (accessed 23 October 2012).

8. Ibid., bold font, capitalization and italics in original.

9. Jimmy Swaggart, “Two Points of View: ‘Christian’ Rock and Roll,” The Evangelist 17, no. 8 (August 1985): 50.

10. Baker, Contemporary Christian Music (see note 2), p. 178.

11. Swaggart, “Two Points of View: ‘Christian’ Rock and Roll” (see note 9). Swaggart may be here referring to Amy Grant, the Christian singer who had at that time been the recipient of four Grammy Awards and whose performances were featured on MTV in addition to explicitly Christian programming. If Swaggart was in fact referring to Grant, he is obviously a very poor judge of popular music. Amy Grant sounds nothing like the Grateful Dead or the Beatles.

12. Lowell Hart, Satan’s Music Exposed (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1981), p. 11.

13. Benjamin Brawley, History of the English Hymn (New York: Abingdon Press, 1932), p. 234.

14. Martin Luther, as quoted in Dwight Gustafson, “Should Sacred Music Swing?” Faith for the Family Jan/Feb 1975, p. 40.

15. Hart, Satan’s Music Exposed (see note 12), p. 177.

16. Martin Luther, as quoted in Robin A Leaver, Luther’s Liturgical Music: Principles and Implications (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), p. 37.

17. Hart, Satan’s Music Exposed (see note 12), p. 176.

18. Cody Watters, “The Evils of CCM,” Ruckmanite 1611 (blog) 28 May 2012, http://ruckmanite1611.blogspot.com/2012/05/evils-of-ccm.html (accessed 20 October 2012).

19. Erik Routley, B.D., D.Phil., Hymns and Human Life (New York: Philosophical Library, 1952), pp. 2-3.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Devil Has the Best Tunes (Part 1): Introduction

[T]he not-so-subliminal messages invariably present in fundamentalist Christian criticisms of rock music are reaching millions of people, and these messages are so inimical to what most of us are trying to do as educators and scholars that one must not ignore them. Since it is in the very nature of fundamentalism that ideological positions are simply announced to the faithful, who are expected to accept them without thought or question, it must fall to outsiders to challenge and contradict these pronouncements if they run contrary to rational discourse, scholarly objectivity, or the constitutionally protected rights of American citizens.

~ Charles Hamm [1]


Heavy metal vocalist and songwriter Ozzy Osbourne hitchhiking to hell

For well over a generation, many fundamentalist Christians and other conservative religious believers have spread dire warnings about the evil in rock music. These deprecations became especially widespread and ubiquitous in the 1980s and reached a frenzied peak in the 1990s. Fundamentalist preacher Fletcher Brothers concludes his book The Rock Report with a bit of pious arithmetic:

Sex and drugs equals rock and roll. Rebellion, Satan equals rock and roll. Homosexuality, incest equals rock and roll. Sado-masochism, mutilation equals rock and roll. Suicide, alcohol equals rock and roll. Hopelessness, anti-godliness equals rock and roll. Murder, occultism equals rock and roll. The list goes on and on. [2]
It is little wonder, then, that Brothers declares at the outset, “I make no apology when I say that I believe that rock music . . . is public enemy number one of our young people today [3].” He goes on to complain, “I can’t think of one good thing to come out of the recent trend in rock music other than the revenue it provides to our free enterprise system [4].” But for Brothers, this benefit is not enough to counteract the harmful effects he perceives rock music to be wreaking on society; he openly and explicitly advocates censorship in The Rock Report, which he intended to serve as a “quick, ready reference guide” for knowing which music groups parents and activist organizations should work toward banning. Religious conservative David Noebel flatly states, “Rock music is evil because it is to music what Dada and surrealism are to art – atheistic, chaotic, nihilistic [5].”

In 1989, a 400-page anti-rock polemic written by itinerant evangelist John Muncy was published, entitled The Role of Rock: Harmless Entertainment or Destructive Influence? Muncy, founder and president of Jesus Cares Ministries, maintains that the latter is true of rock music, which he asserts is primarily responsible for an increase in society of rebellion, sexual promiscuity and deviance, alcohol abuse, drug use, “false religions,” violence, suicide and Satanism [6].

It is interesting to note that conservative anti-rock alarmists who complain about the lyrics and imagery in rock music being replete with bloody violence and supernaturally-oppressive dark themes never apply these criticisms to several of the most well-known hymns of the Christian faith. For example, any objective assessment of the lyrics contained in the famous hymn “Are You Washed in the Blood?” will not fail to call to one’s mind a mental image of people bathing themselves in human blood. Using the metaphor of a lamb sacrifice, the hymn makes reference to Christianity’s literal doctrine of a human sacrifice. The hymn “There is Power in the Blood” contains a clear reference to a flow of literal blood which possesses occultic power to erase “sin stains.” Coming just short of raising images of gushes of blood, the hymn is speaking of blood that was shed on a crucifix from a human sacrifice. Again, the hymn “Nothing but the Blood” makes reference to a “fount” of human blood that flows from Jesus’ body. Fanny Crosby’s hymn “Saved by the Blood” tells us “We’re saved by the blood that was drawn from the side of Jesus our Lord, when He languished and died.” That blood, again, is described as a fountain, “where the vilest may go and wash their souls [7].” All this bloody and occult imagery in Christian hymns, of which many more examples could be given, would fit right in with any black- death- or heavy-metal rock band’s motifs.

Themes of the occult and of Satanism in rock music were and are almost always nothing more than a money-making gimmick (in fact, the rock artist King Diamond, who takes his Satanism very seriously, is probably the single exception) and only fundamentalist Christians and “cult cops” tend to take their imagery and lyrics seriously. Pop and rock music has always prided itself in being “over the top,” cutting-edge and often overtly sexual. This has been the case since rock music’s inception, and little has changed in this regard. In an earlier generation, Christian fundamentalists and other conservatives denounced musicians like Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley as an evil influence on the youth. When Elvis performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, television producers were pressured into avoiding shooting any video of him below the waist. His gyrations were that offensive to the millions of concerned conservatives in the viewing audience.

NOTES

1. Charles Hamm, Putting Popular Music in Its Place (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 369.

2. Fletcher A. Brothers, The Rock Report (Lancaster, PA: Starburst Publishers, 1987), p. 141, bold font and italics in original.

3. Ibid., p. 13.

4. Ibid.

5. David A. Noebel, The Legacy of John Lennon: Charming or Harming a Generation? (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1982), p. 42.

6. John Muncy, The Role of Rock: Harmless Entertainment or Destructive Influence? (Canton, OH: Daring Books, 1989).

7. For my discussion and deconstruction of the themes present in Christian hymnology, see Nathan Dickey, “Songs of Human Sacrifice: An Exploration of the Theme of Redemption in Christian Hymns,” The Journeyman Heretic (blog) 14 May 2010, http://journeymanheretic.blogspot.com/2010/05/songs-of-human-sacrifice-exploration-of.html (accessed 22 October 2012).