Are different music styles sinful?

Question:

Is dubstep bad?  Is (blank) style of music bad?

Answer:

There are two common categories of Christians. Those in the first think inanimate objects (any lifeless or soulless) things have an inherent sin/evil nature. Those in the second view sin as something that stems from an incorrect motivation of the heart for creating or using the object. If you belong to the first, then you can answer questions about “things” with a yes and a no, usually more things are no than yes. However, I belong to the second group, which I think is far more respectful of the Scripture and thus I think we need to discern the attitude of our heart towards music. Also we should always look at the lyrics or message of the song, not just the style. We ought to ask questions like “why do I like this song?” or “does this music release my feelings of anger, lust, or foolishness?”

MUSIC IS ART

Music is unique and strange, in fact its unparalleled by any other thing. It is a form of art that invites us to feel something. Yet it is also a medium that transmits a message from one person to another. Music helps us express meaning or share ideas, often through a combination of melody with poetry or lyrics. However, there are also many forms of music that don’t have lyrics, yet they still share some feelings or ideas, even if those are as simple as ideas of calmness and relaxation.

Styles express certain feelings

As I’m typing this I have classical music playing in my headphones (which is probably why it’s taking so long to type). I am listening to a channel on Pandora that contains movie soundtracks and hearing the difference in songs serves as a perfect illustration. One song may be slow and calming while another may be boisterous and makes me feel as if my office is being invaded by barbarians. You can turn on a loud punk rock song which has an emphatic sense of anger and then you can change the radio channel and hear a sad piano ballad that transmits sorrow. The average person can distinguish between these different styles and feelings of music, even when there are no lyrics, just like we can distinguish a person’s tone of voice from angry to sad.

Styles or feelings aren’t inherently bad

Often people want to isolate a few styles as bad, anything that’s new or different is usually the prime suspect. For example “rock” music was the target for a long time, and terrible ideas were attached to the idea of “rock” partly because secular musicians were using such a style. It was said that rock was too loud and therefore bad. However, if we look into the Scripture we see there is no limit on different emotions, and there are occasions and times for many assorted things and feelings (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). In fact there are specific times to be loud and joyful (Psalm 98:4 among many others). We cannot moralize emotions and therefore certain styles of expressing those feelings, whether in poetry, art, or music. (This is not to say we can’t moralize expressing sin via those methods, for in fact Scripture does. Yet just because sin has been expressed via one method, genre, or style, doesn’t mean good things cannot e expressed through it.

“But its evil.. but plants died and etc”

There are many reasons people often bring up to say that a particular style (usually something loud) of music is evil, satanic, or etc. The first and most common is by pointing out a few songs or artist in that genre who dedicate their works to satan or glorify sin.  So therefore, some Christians say, that genre is evil. However, there are also very calm, gentle, and soothing songs, that have lyrics that specifically glorify sin. There are “church styles” of music that are used by the worst of people for the worst of messages, should we also stop with church music because someone misuses it? I once heard an argument about rock music that people played rock and classical to a group of plants, and after some time the plants with classical music grew up, while the plants with rock music didn’t grow, therefore (get this) rock music is demonic. This makes me burst out laughing. So we are using third grade science projects to find the devil? Even if that experiment was true, all it could show is that the volume or wavelength is physically harmful to plants, it’s a biological statement, not a Biblical statement. During college I did some construction and can attest that the loud machinery was much more damaging to my ears than rock music, but that doesn’t make it demonic. J

LYRICS ARE THE MESSAGE

What is the purpose of the song?

When we give blanket approval to a certain musical style we can miss that the largest parts of the song’s identity or function is found in the lyrics. The lyrics are the mission statement of the song. The lyrics are often the driving force of the song and give it very clear meaning. Generally you want to discern the motives of the artist in creating the song, and ask what is the song promoting or mocking. If you look through most lyrical music you will easily see that there are cultural values, ideas, emotions that are explored and shown as either good or bad. As far as some styles where there are lyrics but they are hard to hear and understand, particularly certain types of ‘screamo’, these are styles that still transmit a message, most commonly frustration and or a strong outburst of emotion. This fact alone doesn’t make them evil songs (though if their purpose by the artist is evil, that can), instead a hard to understand style is merely one that does a poor job at transmitting a very clear meaning.

Why would you enjoy songs about sin?

I am not saying if you listen to one ‘bad’ song you will become a raving lunatic and a psycho, you won’t (unless it’s a song by Lady Gaga). However, there is something about the glorification of sin that a real Christian can never commit themselves to.  I have listened to songs that have glorified sin and wasn’t automatically transformed into a sinner by it (because along with all of humanity I was already a sinner).  In some cases I even acknowledged that it is a good musical composition and a very talented singer, but I could not and still cannot bring myself to fully enjoy the song when it elevates sinful values, desires, or actions. Why? Because it numbs my conscience and imposes the glorification of something that should bring tears to our eyes.  Don’t be deceived “bad company corrupts good morals” (1 Cor 15:33).

YOUR HEART IS THE SOURCE OF SIN

The real issue is in your heart and why you do that which you do. John Calvin, the great theologian, once said “The human heart is a perpetual factory of idols… Everyone of us is, from his mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” (ICR, 1.11.8). Every that the human mind can conceive, hand can grasp, ear can hear, eye can see has the potential of becoming an idol. An idol isn’t just a statue of Zeus, it’s any created thing that we admire as an ultimate source of our joy, instead of being a reflection of a much greater Creator.

What are the reasons you desire to listen to a particular style, is it because it is pleasant to listen to and reminds you that God created good pleasure? Or does it promote a particular feeling or emotional high which is your ultimate desire and source of joy? Is it an undertaking by which you experience art and beauty, which you attribute to a God who created art and beauty? Or is a form of worship where you submit yourself to attributing ultimate perfection to a style, an artist, a musical sub-culture, or any other created thing instead of the Creator of all things?

2 responses

    • You shouldn’t.

      Contrary to popular opinion there are many strong themes of good vs evil battles in many contemporary films.
      If you take, for example, the Lord of the Rings, you find many Biblical themes. A ring that symbolizes ultimate power, a power that corrupts when in human hands and needs to be destroyed in a lake of fire. An evil Lord named Sauron (similar to satan) who desires to destroy humanity, and a journey of self sacrifice to defeat the evil. A good wizard who dies to save those on the journey and is reborn after 3 days. All of this is because the author, a devout catholic, specifically wrote the books as a fantasy “Pilgrims progress-like tale.” There are many other examples of movies, some may even include violence or sin in the film, but it is portrayed as something morally bad. Of course many films equally portray sin as normal, for example showing premarital sex as good and normal.

      If you compare films with good vs evil morals to some contemporary song, you find the lyrics actually “teach” that there is no moral or immoral things, so Flo Rida can sing about degrading women sexually and the theme is that it is cool and hip, not evil that is conquered by good.

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