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June 10, 2003

Jesus Christ, This Music Rocks!

The New York Times has a really interesting article on the newest generation of Christian bands, who are all basically breaking the long-established rules of Christian music -- i.e., that the music has to be a pathetic imitation of safe, already existing musical forms, the lyrics all have to mention God and Christ every other line, that it can't freak out parents who see The Powerpuff Girls as examples of secular evil, and that any attempt to reach a larger audience beyond the already-saved will result in an immediate shunning. In short: boring, unoriginal and paranoid. The new kids are saying to hell with that (well, you know) and are making music they like, tackle themes that give the safely saved the jitters, and make no bones about reaching a larger audience.

Good for them. Beyond the fact that no creative person should have to make art that sucks simply because they believe in a higher power, in showing the willingness to present their relationship with God on their own terms, these bands exemplify one of the best traits of Christianity, which is its total plasticity and it's ability to adapt to changing situations. Part of this is the simplicity of its core message, which is to accept Christ and to love one another. Once you've got that down, the rest is mostly window dressing (don't tell the Pope. Or Jerry Falwell). This makes Christianity portable, malleable and adaptable, which is why there are over nearly 21,000 denominations of Christianity, according to the World Christian Encyclopedia.

Implicitly this suggests that Christianity (and Christians) also have problems with authority: If a Christian feels you're getting in the way of his or her relationship with Christ with your rules, you'll be told to go hang. This is particularly the case here in the United States, what with that whole freedom of religion thing we've got going in our Constitution, but it's been going pretty much as long as Christianity could officially have been said to become a religion. Anytime Christianity gets too far boxed in, someone takes it out of the box and starts over. In other words, Christianity evolves, although I know some Christians (but tellingly, not nearly all), who would wince at that description.

So what you're seeing these new Christian bands do is part of the great Christian tradition of adaptability -- and a new generation of Christians saying "I'll experience Christ my way, not yours, thank you very much." Many evangelical Christians may fret that these bands are losing their way by breaking off from the current Christian mainstream thinking, but that's an interesting perspective coming from any evangelical Christian, whose current state of Christian understanding is itself informed by numerous doctrinal and social schisms. I expect these kids will be fine. I also expect the kids they reach with their music will also have a new appreciation for the message of Christ, namely that it doesn't have to be painfully dweeby. Christ can rock.

Posted by john at June 10, 2003 11:24 AM

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Comments

Craig Senatore | June 10, 2003 11:33 AM

"which is to accept Christ and to love one another. Once you've got that down, the rest is mostly window dressing (don't tell the Pope. Or Jerry Falwell)"

Actually, I suspect that the current pope at least would more or less agree with you. Having read a number of his writings (Catholic schools, gotta love 'em) that seems to me the message that comes across.

Sue | June 10, 2003 11:37 AM

The same fundies that worry about these new bands are the same types of people who think that the Catholic Church should have made churches in places like rural Mexico straighten up and fly right, rather than incorporate local culture into the religion. Never mind that the Catholic Church and its descendents incorporated or allowed pagan rituals and festivals into the Church calendar to keep people happy and going to Church events rather than secular ones.

To some degree, religious denominations must evolve or it will be increasingly abandoned in search of some other form of finding meaning in life and answers to the questions we humans inevitably ask. Religion, in some form, will always be with us; it's simply a question of how much denominations can evolve without abandoning their original values.

Dane | June 10, 2003 12:30 PM

Luke Chpt 12 verse 51;
Says Jesus," Do you think I came here to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division."

Comes as no surprise to me. Christ wanted maore then anything, for each person to come to know God and have a personal relationship with Him through Him.

I like what you said,"Anytime Christianity gets too far boxed in, someone takes it out of the box and starts over".
I can get behind that. Christ IS The Rock.

mark | June 10, 2003 02:05 PM

"Christ IS The Rock."

$deity, I hope not. I prefer to believe that Christ is a better actor. Oh, and he's more gentlemanly than to go for a smackdown...

Bill Peschel | June 10, 2003 02:43 PM

What this form of freedom to worship also does is open the door to debate about just what Christianity is and should mean. Debate is a good, if very messy, way to separate the wheat from the chaff. Of course, some people won't believe what you say, or simply choose to agree to disagree, but in a free and open debate, there will be some who will benefit, and there seems no harm in that, apart from the threat it poses to established religions.

Bowler | June 10, 2003 03:37 PM

"To some degree, religious denominations must evolve or it will be increasingly abandoned in search of some other form of finding meaning in life and answers to the questions we humans inevitably ask."

I like to think of this new religion as "science."

John | June 10, 2003 03:48 PM

I'm not gonna dismiss the "new" christian bands out of hand (I really want to), without hearing the music. I listen to alot of bands whose lyrics I don't really agree with, so if the music is good....
The Butthole Surfers, one of my all-time faves, wrote alot of songs about heroin. I don't use heroin, and have no desire to. Run 911 (as a medic) in an urban setting for a bit. If you were ever intrigued by the "glamor" of it, you won't be after that.

The fact that they (the bands) believe in a almighty god that is born out of a fairy tale novel (and a poorly written one at that) DOES have 'em starting out with 2 strikes against in my book. I'm prejudiced that way.

But if you say they rock...I'll give the music a listen. If's it good, I'll continue to listen. But, like not using heroin just 'cause some of my rock idols sing about it; I'm not gonna start believing in fairy tales either.

John Scalzi | June 10, 2003 03:51 PM

Heh. Well, John, I'm not exactly a Christian myself. Belief is not required to enjoy the message, just the acknowledgement that the message is there.

crak | June 10, 2003 05:44 PM

John, you're relationship with the church is interesting to me. It reminds me of a line from Stephenson's Cryptonomicon:

Enoch Root: "If you're trying to tell me my relationship with the Church is complicated, I already knew that."

Heh.

Gordon | June 10, 2003 08:24 PM

Thus far, I don't think I've found a single "Christian" band that I like... of course, I'm pretty sure I don't like any bands whose singers are named Albert, either. That is, it's not to say that I couldn't, just that I don't. On the other hand, it occurs to me that it's kinda hard to write a really great song about a personal belief. I listen to a decent amount of hardcore, which is a style of music pretty big on ideologies. And truthfully, while I enjoy plenty of bands who espouse ideologies that I don't (I like One King Down, though I'm not straightedge, and I like Shelter even though I'm not a Hare Krishna), the ones who write the best music don't write directly about their beliefs. You can tell me how great it is to be straightedge, but that doesn't make for very compelling songwriting, in my eyes. A band can possess a wealth of musical talent, but if said band can't write any insightful or moving lyrics, I'm probably not going to be particularly into it. To return to my point: bands who write lame-ass lyrics about Christ suck. Christianity is all well and good, but I've never yet seen anyone write a song about it that impressed me. I wouldn't be upset if that were to change, but I doubt it will any time soon.

rick mcginnis | June 10, 2003 09:58 PM

I've never had much of an inkling that rock and roll and evangelical Christianity went together all that well, to be honest. It's like the French language and rock and roll - bad fit.

Rock and roll has always excelled as an existential thing - all about the futile act, rebellion as an end unto itself; very appealing when you're a young 'un, but as you age, a kind of distance should set in, I think - if you're sane, that is.

Now, religion and Country, or R&B - nice fit all around.

Scott | June 11, 2003 04:08 AM

They may not be anybody's bag (except one lurking Byron) but mine... but there's a group "Aslan Faction" that does some very impressive industrial music, lyrically influenced by their practicing Christianity.

Being so used to uhh... "bad" Christian Rock... it took a couple reconfirmations that they were indeed down with the "God Squad" 'cause the music pleases me.

"Wait, are you sure that Aslan Faction is really a Christian Industrial group? I mean... the name has that implication via C.S. Lewis, but maybe the name is shallower than that?"

"No Scott, they're Very Christian, and if you could actually decypher any lyrics from the huge amounts of electronic distortion on the vocals, you'd know that."

Just mentioning...

Dane | June 11, 2003 08:29 AM

If anyone is looking for a "Christian" band who has insightful or moving lyrics, might I suggest a band named "Five Iron Frenzy" and their song "Yellow Flowers" on the albumn "Quanity is Job One".
It is a Ska band from Denver who just happen to be Christian and have included on most of their albumns some music in that vein.

As for music in a different language (not specifically Christian) might I suggest El Oreja de Van Gogh. I know- it is Spanish, not French- but they most definitely have a good sound.

mark | June 11, 2003 10:16 AM

I might suggest Midnight Oil. They're not a Christian band (ha!), but they *do* preach through their music (mainly 'bout environmentalism, treatment of Aborigines, and war), and they still manage to be a great band in the tradition of Australian rock. (For those unfamiliar with it, Australia has produced a hell of a lot of *great* rock bands... Cold Chisel, Midnight Oil, AC/DC, INXS, Live...)

I noticed the NYT article mentions Evanescence, or whatever they're called. The local radio's been playing them a lot lately. Today, instead of screwing up my face in disgust and changing the channel, I actually made an effort to listen to the lyrics. Holy crap! They *are* a Christian band! I'd just assumed it was the standard incoherent "love" pop song.

Kevin | June 11, 2003 02:45 PM

I, also, like the sound of Midnight Oil, but what I don't like is the feeling I get from them, from Christian bands, and from Ani DiFranco (among others): The feeling that I'm being preached at. When you create art, a part of yourself should always shine through. But when you make a point to emphasize your inner beliefs in your art, you run the risk of turning some people (like me) off. Which is funny, because I agree with the points that Midnight Oil and DiFranco make, but I don't enjoy how they make them.

the other guy | June 11, 2003 05:07 PM

Actually, Evanescence is really not a Christian band, according to this article in MTV News (www.mtvasia.com/news/International/ Items/0304/0304049.html, damn this thing for not enabling HTML). Basically, their record label pulled their CDs from Christian stores after the band insisted that they were quite secular.

There ARE some religious overtones with many of their lyrics, and there's at least two songs that are almost explicitly Christian, but for the most part their lyrics are pretty secular.

All this, of course, doesn't matter jack diddly squat because their music is great. Good lord, Amy Lee can SING.

Tripp | June 12, 2003 04:30 PM

I heard to switch a song from Gospel to R and B just replace 'My Lord' with "My Baby".