Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why I'm No Longer a Fundamentalist Christian - Part III

Reason #2 - The Music

This post is not intended to bash Christian music - Christian music, like all musical genres, is filled with the talented and the not-so-talented. There was a time when I exclusively listened to Christian music, and I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Jars of Clay, Amy Grant, and Michael W. Smith. Like it or not, music heard during certain time periods has a visceral way of connecting us to memories, as I was strongly reminded of this last weekend when I ran across this song by Audio Adrenaline while searching around the radio dial. If you're not familiar with this song, be careful before you look it up on YouTube - it's quite catchy.

What this post is about is cultural control, and the possibility that before condemning culture, perhaps we should know more about it. In eighth grade, my teachers at the Christian school began a program to control the popular culture that we students consumed. The following anecdote describes this program well.

One day, we were "treated" to a movie, a movie that described a lot of the popular music at the time as "satanic." The movie went through bands systematically, starting (as I remember) with heavy metal (Guns N' Roses, Alice in Chains (my husband disputes whether Alice in Chains is heavy metal, with good reason), Metallica, etc.), and ending with The Beatles' infamous satanic message in Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds that can only be heard if you play the song backwards! With each band, much was made of the symbolism they chose to use (skeletons and fire were the worst offenders), and sometimes the lyrics they sang were also targeted. The movie itself was problematic, but it's not the crux of this story.

The day after watching this movie, we had our usual prayer time at the beginning of Bible class. Before praying, it was customary for students to share if they had a "praise" or a "concern" that they wished somebody else in the class to pray about on their behalf. I remember quite clearly when one of the most popular students in class stated a "praise" that he had. The day before, he had gone home after school and thrown away all of his Metallica cds. At this news, many of my classmates made noises of assent. In that environment, such behavior was clearly praise-worthy.

Fast forward ten years to the beginning of graduate school (almost 10 years ago now), no longer a Christian, I had just met the man that I eventually married, whose favorite band of all-time happened to be Metallica. GASP! My gut reaction upon learning this was a mixture of awe, horror, and incredulity. The man that I liked so much could not possibly like such an awful musical group, could he?

Well, it turns out that some of Metallica's lyrics are actually quite socially conscious, as can be seen in the lyrics below:

My mind was blown. I had shaken off the ideology of Christianity, but it shocked me to find I still had such a strong emotional reaction to non-Christian cultural products. To be fair, I don't find heavy metal music particularly pleasing to listen to (and still don't choose to listen to it to relax), but I was concerned that I equated Metallica with evil on an emotional level, rather than forming my own opinion of their lyrics separate from their sound. What a lasting impression a movie I had watched in 8th grade, and the actions of a fellow student, had years later. The implications of this for fundamentalist Christians trying to communicate with "others" seem stark. If I, as a "reformed" fundamentalist Christian, was still so emotionally invested in the cultural message, it seems hard to believe that somebody still steeped in the emotional appeal would be able to get beyond the emotion to have rational discussion. But this is something to think about another day.

In retrospect, I think that the movie we watched in 8th grade used words like "satanic" and "evil" to get us to blindly buy into the notion that certain cultural content was simply unacceptable. I wonder, though, whether the creators of the film were really concerned with music like Metallica's being satanic, or whether they were more concerned with getting us to avoid lyrics like the following: