Secularism & The Witch Hunt by the Pentecostal Christian
Secularism & The Witch Hunt by the Pentecostal Christian
Thirteenth of April, 2011. Eleven thirty-eight.
Sex. Kanye West. Illuminati. Freemasons. Alcohol. Rihanna. Hip Hop. The Catholic Church. Jay Z. Positive music. Triangles. Fire.
Did any, or all, of the words above offend you?
In 2005, a passion and love for God was reignited within me and I decided to let my claim to Christ and Christianity truly govern the way I live my life, so I began looking for a church that I could settle and grow in. Eventually I found an amazing Pentecostal one, which at the time I felt operated under a level of spiritual freedom, openness and inclusivity, things which are arguably not often found within charismatic and black churches. I had high expectations, which were mostly fulfilled, but interestingly, I was unwittingly introduced to a new, complex and intriguing culture, with its own language, standards and laws.
Many Christians entering into this ‘Pentecostal’ world find themselves swamped by a superfluity of words and phrases, some of which are completely new additions to their vocabulary, and others that have been familiar but in this somewhat alternate reality, mysteriously adopt new, elaborately decorated meanings.
Tithes. Altar call. Born-again. Speaking in tongues. Adult baptism. Praise and Worship. Secular music.
In addition to some others that I can’t even remember because they have become so entrenched in my sense of normality that I can no longer distinguish between what was originally part of me and what was foreign.
As I’ve grown, I’ve come to understand the reasoning behind most of these terms and practices, though I may not agree with them all. And from the title of this blog, it can be surmised that one of my greatest conflictions and topics that intrigue me is the profound fixation that the black, Pentecostal church has on the secularism and ‘holy-ness’ of music.
Most people who frequent The SuperWoman Chronicles will be aware of the debate around whether Christians should listen to secular music, and a lot of these people may have even been a part of these discussions. There are the zealous Christians who suppose that Christians should not listen to music that does not mention the words (listed in order of increasing importance), ‘Scripture’, ‘Gospel’, ‘Jesus’ or ‘God’. There are the more laissez-faire Christians (who, the zealous Christians will conclude are not really Christians at all) , who listen to Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Kanye West at their own leisure, and know more about the rise [and fall] and rise of Britney Spears than they do about the Gospel.
Then there are those in the middle, who are more discriminating with the music they listen to than the laissez-faire Christian, and sympathise with the more sensible concerns of the zealous Christians, but cares not for the analysis of ‘On To The Next One’ played on a tape backwards and refuses to be bound by such a dogmatic approach to a topic they see as ‘not that important’.
Of course, I think I am something like the latter.
Anyone who has watched television, listened to the radio, or been on YouTube, will be aware that much of the music available today is either of an overt or implied sexual nature, and often contains some sort of vulgarity. But this is not a new thing. From primary school, I remember the lyrics of Ginuwine ‘Pony’, SWV ‘You’re The One’, and even the Spice Girls ‘Two Become One’. If you look closely, and I mean over the rim of rose-tinted, nostalgic glasses, you will find that much of what the women wore was as revealing as the singers of today (look out for my upcoming blog, ‘With the Demeanour of an R’n’B singer’). Bodysuits, cropped tops, mini-skirts, semi-nudity, singing frivolously about sex – Janet Jackson, Madonna and Diana Ross have all been there and done that. Music has not changed. It can be argued that decades ago it was packaged in a ‘classier’ encasement, but that argument would be weak at best. Nothing is new under the sun.
Most of us are at an age where we are all able to choose our entertainment. It is obvious that a woman dressed in a revealing high-leg bodysuit, thrusting her cleavage and crotch at the camera and singing about how her vagina keeps a plethora of men attracted to her, is not the most edifying kind of music for anyone with a shred of self-respect, Christian or not.
However, when it comes to songs by consistently kosher artists, songs about friendship, about daily life, about love, about family, but are not explicitly about God, the reaction from the zealous Christian that is supposedly anti-all-things-secular, really confounds me.
Some time ago, I was eavesdropping on one of the many discussions about Christians and secular music on Twitter, with one guy explaining why it was wrong for a Christian to listen to secular music. And knowing that this man was also a fan of a very popular, extremely violent, and immoral (if judging by the same standards as songs) TV show, I postulated that if this rule of secularism was to be applied, it must be applied to all forms of entertainment and luxury, not just music. But my suggestion was ignored.
And this is the thing that annoys me the most – the obstinacy of this over-zealous Christian minority, whose claims and ideas start off from good intentions, but evolve into a capricious, culture-specific and mostly subjective, imposing doctrine, supported by their many credible sources – namely YouTube videos, playing songs backwards, analysing shapes and colours in music videos, translating things into Latin and quoting synonymous excerpts from Greek Mythology.
After the online release of the sixth Truth Behind Hip-Hop video (which, ironically, was illegally uploaded on YouTube and watched and advertised by thousands of Christians), I decided to watch a few of the shorter videos made by the ‘researcher’ behind these videos. I was dumbfounded and embarrassed at the fact that instead of people using their common sense, Holy Spirit and expensive education, they instead chose to rely on the information of a man who clearly had missed the history and science lessons at school when they would have explained that after every postulation you make within a piece of work, you must give a reliable, peer-reviewed reference.
Now, I’m not saying that secular music is good, but I’m not saying it’s bad either. As a Christian matures, they must be able to distinguish what might be offensive to God, but they must also get to a point where any decisions or opinions they have are grounded in a Truth that they have tested and accepted within themselves, and not just because it has been shoved down their throats by others who masquerade their opinions as the gospel authority.
As a scientist and psychologist (and daughter of an African mother!), I’ve been trained in how to differentiate between legitimate claims and phony ones, and how to then appraise these legitimate ones and establish their quality. Every time I see or hear a discussion about whether secular music is good or bad for you, I always wonder about several things, like, do people even know what the word secular means, and I think the fact that on several occasions I’ve seen it written ‘circular’ justifies my concerns. And if they understand what the word means, then how on earth has it become such a negative thing, seeing that, 1. We live largely secular lives, with a secular education, job, wardrobe, hairstyle, etc., and 2. Contradictorily, as a Christian it is technically impossible to live a life without God, whether or not you say His name in 16 bars (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16).
The fact that God Himself dwells within us should govern the way we think, live, act, make decisions. So what should it matter if one day I want to write about how I had to forget all the hurt I’d suffered in the past so I could love someone else properly? Why should I be looked down upon if I decide to listen to a song about a guy who had taken the idea of sex too lightly, and apologised for asking his girlfriend to abort his baby – all because he never mentioned Jesus? Musicians sing and rap about a whole host of different topics (granted, love and sex make up the majority), but this is because a whole host of different things happen in a person’s life. And the main reason why music is so focused on love and sex is because our whole existence is so centred and rooted in relationships with other people and sex is imperative for our success as a human race.
I think it is right to advise people, to warn people of the dangers of exposing yourself to things that are not edifying or explicitly agreeable to the tenets of Christianity, but to make these suppositions with only a cut and paste, six minute clip on Youtube* by an anonymous author, and not with solid biblical support, is irresponsible to say the least. I’ve heard of so many new Christians who have thrown out their entire CD collection after attending a seminar discussing the evil behind non-Gospel music, only to re-stock this collection with the same artists and more, within a year of their clear-out It is pointless!
If there is a genuine concern, rather than dictatorially outlaw all ‘secular’ music, or worse, say nothing, it is best to encourage the person to develop their relationship with God using the Bible in a holistic way.
A few weeks ago, I pondered on the dream that Peter had about the unclean animals, and the Voice that told Him that what God has called clean, or what He has created, he mustn’t call common or unclean. And I thought to myself, is this what the Pentecostal Church is now doing with its incessant hunt for symbolism: taking shapes and animals that God has created and labelling them as demonic? For example, the ram is actually a real-life animal, so although its head has been (and still is) used by self-proclaimed devil-worshippers, it doesn’t mean that we must perpetuate this association and declare everything with rams demonic. The whole thing is reminiscent of superstition. I understand the power of association, so for example, a Christian accountant setting up his own firm may find that it’s not the best idea to use a ram’s head as his emblem, but we reduce the enormity of our God and seriousness of our faith by going in hopeless searches of all these symbols and implicit meanings. And when did a triangle become the crest of the devil?
I think it is right to be discriminating with your means of entertainment, but if you can’t apply your reasoning to all sources of entertainment (e.g. what you watch on TV, films you see in the cinema, books that you read) then it is best to desist from imposing your views on other people. Also, I found the following Scripture quite interesting:
It is not what goes into the mouth of a man that makes him unclean and defiled,
but what comes out of the mouth; this makes a man unclean and defiles [him]. Matthew 15:11
No one, not even non-Christians, can say that the world we live in is not filled with evil and desperation, but we need to remember that the more we focus on this evil around us, the more we allow it to proliferate and inhabit our lives, similar to the ‘Bad press is good press’ theory (look at how many views R’n’B singers get after releasing compromising or controversial videos, and then look at how their record sales increase correspondingly). What matters the most is what we have on the inside, how much we are working on and refining our character. It is naive to think that it is the outside factors (music, TV, literature) that make us bad; no, it is the bad we have within us that is merely stirred by these forms of entertainment. And once the inside begins to change, it often, if not always, becomes the reason for sincere changes in entertainment choices.
Je t’embrasse, x
*I’ve mentioned Youtube videos a few times in this blog but I wanted to clarify that I have absolutely nothing against Youtube as a source of general information – it has taught me many important things, like how to do a smoky eye, how to do a full-head weave and how to flambé. Yes, I do love a good Youtube video.