Friday, March 21, 2008

The Amorality of Music

Reclining at my computer listening to The Solus Christus Project, Shai Linne's older record, I'm thinking about music. Call it an obsession, call me near ridiculous, I love music. I'm not picky either, give me rap, give me reggae, give me rock...I love it all. In a 24 hour day, I'm probably listening to music half the time. I listen to reggae in the morning while I get ready for school, I listen to music on the way to school, sometimes I even listen to music in class when my teachers permit it. Then I come home and do homework to it, jog around the neighborhood to it, and at night I have it softly playing while reading the Bible. Obsessive huh? I know!

While the quantity of my addiction has been defined, I rather focus on the quality of it. Confession: I listen to secular music just as much as I listen to it's Christian counterparts. In the ever going battle of should Christians listen to non-Christian music, I've taken the position of allowing the answer to be individual. I believe that each Christian has discernment. God gives it to us all when we become children of God. Some, however, have more efficient levels of discernment than others. Never will anyone hear me say, "Christians should/should not listen to secular music." An answer to this kind of question isn't that simple. I don't know how strong one Christian is, or how weak another Christian is. I only know how strong I am and I've made the decision that though I will be discerning, I will not refuse an artist because they aren't labeled as "Christian".

So what about 1 Cor. 10:31, "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God."? I used to slightly resent people when they offered this answer. How do I glorify God by listening to things that don't glorify Him? The only sufficient answer I've ever come up with is that I don't listen to anything that dishonors God. Nor will I ever listen to anything that dishonors Him. However, I do listen to things that don't honor Him. Doesn't sound like there's much of a difference in the two does it? What's the difference between dishonoring God and not honoring God? I think of two examples when this question comes to mind. An example of music that dishonors God is Marilyn Manson. Now, I'm not a part of that "crucify Manson" sect of Christians but the man has blatantly dishonored and denied God in his music. Because of that content, I don't listen to him. An example of music that doesn't honor God is classical music. My piano teacher told me that listening to classical piano music can help my playing. In all the classical music I've listened to, I've never ran across one that honors God. So the difference is that music aimed to dishonor God is immoral while music that neither honors nor dishonors Him is amoral. I'm not making this case so that Christians everywhere can throw out the word of God and do what they want. Rather, I'm just trying to show that everything isn't always, "this is good and this is bad." We can't make general statements that condemn listening to certain kinds of music. What we can do is discern for ourselves what we believe honors and dishonors God and listen accordingly.

Now that I've thrown us all in deep water, I suppose I must also teach us how to swim for those who don't know how already. How do we discern whether music is moral, immoral, or amoral? Amoral is perhaps the easiest to define. Amoral music, I define, is just music with no lyrics at all, simply instrumentals. Many Christian friends of mine believe that music, as in the actual music and not the lyrics, can be sinful. I refuse to believe that because it's giving moral characteristics to something that is amoral. Music is only sinful or godly in the way that the artist wields it. Discerning whether music is godly or ungodly can be more simple than people would like to admit. Christianity Today introduced their Three L philosophy and I think it's a rather efficient way to discern music.

The Three L's

Label - is the record label that produces the artist known for Christian or non-Christian content? This L, in my opinion is the least discerning on its own. There are Christian bands that are not on Christian labels, two in particular would be Switchfoot (Columbia) and MuteMath (Warner Bros.)
Lyrics - do the lyrics honor or dishonor God? This is naturally the most common method of discerning music, and I believe the most efficient way. When listening to a certain artist, do they sing of things that brings God glory, or that brings Him dishonor?
Lifestyle - is the artist a known practicing Christian? Switchfoot, a common band that comes up when arguments about Christian and secular music evoke, does not label themselves as a Christian band. They rather refer to themselves as Christians in a band. Though their lyrics aren't always biblical, each member is known as practicing Christians and identify themselves as such in interviews, no matter whether the interviewer was from a Christian or secular magazine.

The best biblical advice I can give is to read Romans 14. This is by far the closest passage in scripture that we can utilize in discerning music. Paul speaks here about how some Christians are stronger in the faith than others, a point I stated earlier. In verse 2-3, Paul basically says that some Christians do one thing while another doesn't. However, he quickly points out that we should not condemn one another because of these differences. Paul uses the example of eating meat and eating vegetables. I substitute in Christian and non Christian music. "One man's faith allows him to listen to all music, while another man who is weak in the faith listens only to Christian music. The man who listens to all music must not look down on him who does not and vice versa, for God has accepted them both." I hate that the Church has been divided by opinions so insignificant as this. Mark 3:25 declares, "If a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand." Christ has accepted us all and we are all one in Him, no matter our differential musical preferences. When we allow ourselves to be divided on matters so unsubstantial and trivial as this, we simply miss the forest for the trees.

I listen to just about anything as long as God is not dishonored in it. Friends of mine only listen to Christian music. Which side am I on? There shouldn't be any side. Each individual should discern in themselves what their faith allows them to do. Whatever we do though, whether in eating, drinking, or listening to music, let us all do it for the glory of God.

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