Encouraging a higher standard for Christian music

Images of Hell

Somehow or other North Dakota did not seem quite the place where my husband and I expected to find the sort of television program which shocked us. We were in a motel–not one of those that offers Home Box Office or other special shows for a fee, but a perfectly ordinary one. The program that stopped us in our tracks was, we discovered, a perfectly ordinary one that is shown all over the country, twenty-four hours a day. It hasn’t gotten to the Boston area as far as I know, but it will. It is rock music–the screaming, thundering, pulsating, shrieking, eardrubbing, earsplitting, ear-bludgeoning kind, played by groups with names like Cheap Trick, the Boomtown Rats, the Sex Pistols, Missing Persons, The Destroyers, and The Clash. Across the bottom of the screen ran a legend from time to time, giving the name of the soloist, the title of the “music,” and the group performing. Song titles were such things as “Screaming for Vengeance,” “Bad Boy Having a Party,” “Children of the Grave,” “Escalator of Life” (“I’m shoppin’ the human mall” was a line from that one), “Combat Rock,” “Maneater,” and “Paranoid.

Songs, they’re called. I had some idea that singing was supposed to touch the heart. What is the condition of the heart that is touched by titles like those? What was happening on the screen was at least as depressing. The music was being dramatized by children. They were heavily made up, of course, doing their level best to act as sophisticated, blase, and bored as adults must seem to them, but it was plain that most of them were teenagers, early teenagers. They were slinking around bars, slouching along brilliantly lighted city streets; toying with elegant wineglasses in high-toned restaurants, smoking with long, slim, shiny cigarette holders. They were gazing dully at the camera, looking up through lowered eyebrows or down through false eyelashes. They were writhing in horizontal positions, or girls were sashaying away from boys, casting over a raised shoulder the cruel come-on glance of the vamp. Boys were striding with thrust-forward pelvises toward the girls, breathing heavily through parted lips, hulking, swaying, scowling.

The camera went from these scenes to the rock groups sweating and screaming under the colored lights, dressed in rags, blue jeans, tights, sequins, undershirts, and in some cases nearly nothing. Hair was stringy, spinachy, wild–or “punk rock,” dyed, partially shaved, stiff. They smashed, hammered, clobbered those drums. They doubled up in agony over their guitars, striving, twisting, stamping, and jumping. Their faces were contorted with hatred or pain, at times jeering, insolent, defiant. Back the camera would go then to the slithering kids trying to “express themselves” or to play out the lyrics which were being yelled at top decibel by whoever was clutching the microphone. (How do their vocal cords stand it?)

But oh, the faces of those kids. I was riveted to the screen, aghast, horrified. There was a terrible fascination in the very absence of reality. How had they been programmed to erase from their fresh young faces every trace of personality, every least hint of humanity? They stared with unblinking blankness, lifeless, spiritless, cold. A strange and surreal alternative to the spastic seizures, paroxysms, and nauseated retchings of the “musicians.”

This, then, is what rock music is all about. Images of Hell. That’s all I could think of. Hell is the place where those whose motto is My will be done will finally and forever get what they want. Hell is agony and blankness and torture and the absence of all that humanity was originally destined to be. The glory has terminally departed. It is the heat of flames (not of passion–that will long since have burned out) and the appalling lifelessness of solid ice, an everlasting burning and an irreversible freezing.

Tyndale House’s little paper, The Church Around the World, cited a study by Columbia University which helps to explain why we get what we get on TV:

· 50% of those controlling the media have “no religion”
· 8% attend church or synagogue weekly
· 86% attend seldom or never
· 84% believe government should have no laws regulating sex
· 55% believe extramarital affairs are not immoral
· 95% believe homosexuality is not wrong
· 85% believe homosexuals should be permitted to teach in public schools

I do not plan a campaign to squelch rock music. It is simply an accurate expression of the powers that are at work in our society:

For the words that the mouth utters come from the overflowing of the heart. A good man produces good from the store of good within himself; and an evil man from evil within produces evil…. Out of your own mouth you will be acquitted; out of your own mouth you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:35, 36 NEB).

From racket, din, cacophony, and pandemonium (“all demons”), Good Lord, deliver us. Give us the strength that comes from quietness; your gentleness, Lord, your peace. And one more thing, Lord–put a new song in our mouths, even praise to our God.

Copyright© 1989, by Elisabeth Elliot
all rights reserved. Source: On Asking God Why

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