“The confusion comes about because much so-called religious art is in fact bad art, and therefore bad religion.”
— Madeleine L’Engle
I have a friend who will only listen to Christian music. By that she means music that only uses explicitly Christian lyrics – Jesus, God, Bible verses – all mingled throughout.
However, she would also contend that her musical tastes aren’t marked so much by lyrics contained within the songs, as the words that are kept out of them. No swear words ever darken the doors of her iPhone or Spotify account. Profanities of any kind are all blocked by an unassailable wall of Christian censorship.
Her favorite band is a group called Apologetix. They make their living by taking popular songs that everyone likes on the radio and making the lyrics palatable to those within the evangelical/fundamentalist subculture.
A number of years ago a group named Smashmouth came out with a song called “All-Star.” Unless you’re Amish, you’ve obviously heard it. The song begins:
Somebody once told me the world is gonna roll me
I ain’t the sharpest tool in the shed
She was looking kind of dumb with her finger and her thumb
In the shape of an “L” on her forehead
Apologetix took that song, re-wrote the lyrics for Christians and re-titled it “Pray Now.” Here’s how the spiritually revised tune starts out:
Somebody once told me the Lord is not your roadie
You ain’t the star so do it yourself
I said look it’s kind of dumb if there’s things I need done
It’s a shame not to call on the Lord’s help
When I first listened to Apologetix’s re-make I immediately prayed, “Dear Jesus, please make my head explode.”
It was embarrassing. Not because I don’t have the ability to recognize a parody when I hear it, but because Christians feel the need to replace good music with this crap (and/or create a uniquely Christian music subculture) because of their fundamentalist leanings.
Expunging profanity and vulgarity from a song or a poem does not necessarily make what replaces it art. And it most definitely does not make it Christian art.
The Sistine Chapel. Mozart. Paradise Lost. Wendell Berry novels. The Pieta. These are examples of great Christian art.
Juxtapose those pieces with 85% of the music on the Christian radio station, the fifty kagillion Thomas Kinkade paintings in evangelical homes everywhere, or most of the poorly written books sagging Christian bookstore shelves across the country.
Just because something is labeled Christian, doesn’t make it so.
To me something is “Christian art” if…
- It is done with excellence.
- It is done with beauty.
- It creatively captures some piece of the human experience.
- It points to something greater than the artist who created it.
Art doesn’t become “Christian” simply because someone throws in evangelical buzzwords, and it certainly doesn’t happen when someone high-jacks someone else’s body of work and makes it palatable to a certain audience.
Art becomes “Christian” when those who view it, read it, or listen to it swear to themselves that they can see fingerprints left from another world.
What’s your take?