With apologies to those who are looking for a beer related post, I offer instead more thoughts on music. I promise, we will return to sudsy musings again very soon.
Last week my friend Marcus sent me an editorial entitled, “Dear Watain, Thank You For Being The Greatest Band Ever.” It was an interesting, even amusing read but it got me to thinking… can a Christian listen to black metal in good conscience?
Let’s backtrack for a moment, black metal is a sub genre of heavy metal that is typified, not just by its volume or often shrieked vocals, but also by its pro-Satanic and/or anti-Christian lyrics. Watain most certainly falls into that category. If you are not feint of heart then click here to see one of their videos complete with disturbing lyrics.
I hope that if you watched the video you are still with me and have not run off searching for some holy water to sprinkle on your monitor.
Anyway, even though I had an idea about their ideology, because I trust Marcus’ musical judgment I gave them a listen. While I must give them mad props for quoting New Model Army on their homepage, to me their music is only OK. I don’t love it and am not struggling with the question as to whether or not I should download the album or go see them live. I just don’t happen to like them that much.
But that brings me to the real point of this post. Because there are bands that I do happen to like such as Arch Enemy and King of Asgard (which I am listening to as I write this), which although they may not be as decidedly Satanic as Watain, are still no friends to Christianity. The question is can I as a Christian (or worse yet as a priest) listen to these bands at all?
I struggled with this all through my teenage years. I loved heavy metal. But my mother carefully scrutinized anything I wanted to order from Columbia House (remember them?) to make sure that nothing Satanic or unwholesome made its way through. I can still remember her vetoing a Journey album because of the song title “Lovin’, touching, squeezing.” Yet somehow, I managed to get a copy of Back in Black under her radar. Later it was Holy Diver by Dio.
Yet even after mom finally gave in and let me choose my own music, I could never go in for overtly Satanic references, symbolism or lyrics such as “Number of the Beast” by Iron Maiden, let alone Slayer, Venom or Celtic Frost. (Of course I now fully realize the absurdity of this considering the lyrics on Hell’s Bells and the fact that ole Ronnie James (RIP) was all about challenging the Judeo-Christian worldview and values)
In time I got involved in some pretty conservative youth groups. It was there that I was first really introduced both to “Christian Rock” and to the notion that as a Christian I should not be listening to anything that was not expressly Christian. For months I wrestled with this until finally one day, in my zeal, I took all the non-Christian albums and posters out into the back yard, put them in a trash can, and burned them.
As you may have guessed, this phase didn’t last. In the end the music won out over the ideology. This was aided and abetted by the fact that a lot of “Christian” Rock (in this case meaning bands on “Christian” labels as opposed Christian bands like U2 or The Call who are on secular labels) just sucks. There are exceptions of course, but especially in the metal genre they were inferior rip offs of secular bands. I realized that the reason why I loved a band was not necessarily because I agreed or disagreed with them philosophically, but because of the quality and character of the music they made.
And so began to rebuild my collection appropriately starting with Back in Black. Today I have about 1000 albums which includes a huge range of music and covers the whole spectrum of ideologies. Yet I still struggle with the original question.
For example, when last at an Arch Enemy gig, I remember trying to decide if I should buy one of their t-shirts which prominently sported a pentagram (which is often associated with Satanism) in the background. I thought about what my parishioners might think if they saw me in it. And so ultimately I didn’t buy it.
It is no different when it comes to deciding to listen to bands like Watain or the critically acclaimed Ghost BC. If the music is all that matters, then there should be no issue. Listen to it and like it for what it is. After all, no music, no matter how hostile to Christianity it may be, is going to destroy my faith.
So what is the role of ideology when it comes to music? I realize we are venturing into the realm of hermeneutics ( the study of how we interpret things) now which is a long way from the relative simplicity of Iron Maiden, but the question is important. Does the intent or personal ideology of the author/performer have any moral bearing on its validity or quality? Does their moral standing (or lack thereof) reflect on us if we choose to listen to it? To parse the issue differently, should we no longer read the philosophy of Martin Heidegger because he was a Nazi sympathizer? Or in terms of music, what about Wagner? He was a nationalist whose work was co-opted by the Nazis… should we nix Ride of the Valkyries from our playlists?
Not such an easy question now is it? And so I turn it over to you, gentle reader. What do you think? Does the fact that I like Arch Enemy make me a bad Christian? Does the fact that I am uncomfortable listening to Ghost BC because of my faith make me a hypocrite? Where do you draw the line, if you draw the line at all?