catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 8 :: 2003.04.11 — 2003.04.24


Dealing with devil music

Before I could enroll for another year at my Christian high school, my parents had to sign a statement saying they would not let me listen to rock music ? including Christian rock. In school chapel services, preachers illustrated how the rock beat was inherently evil; it led directly to premarital sex, drugs, and rebellion against authority. The principal often punished my classmates for having tapes or magazine pictures of rock musicians. Our coaches blamed lost games on our lackluster efforts or a team member?s illicit affair with rock music ? a relationship portending even greater disaster in that individual?s life, unless, with every head bowed and every eye closed, that person came to the front and confessed.

Of course, my friends and I listened to rock just as much as our ?public school? neighbors did. We sang along with Kurt Cobain and mourned his death. We watched Forrest Gump

dozens of times, and when movies or rock was banned at a friend?s house, we opened our homes for viewing and listening pleasure.

Despite the school?s condemnations of pop culture, my classmates participated in as much of the banned entertainment as our peers across the country. We just felt guilty about it. And because we thought listening to any rock was wrong, we never tried to distinguish between music that glorified sex and violence, and music that honestly and artistically dealt with life.

My experience was not different from many who have been exposed to fundamental Christianity. Though that view of rock music seems a bit radical today, the basic premise ? that popular culture has an immoral influence on participants ? is alive and well in large parts of American Christianity. As a result, Christians have either left pop culture to the sinful saps who choose to engage it, or Christians have tried to clean it up by calling for family entertainment and creating their own Christian versions.

Professor of communication arts and sciences at Calvin College, William Romanowski believes Christians should avoid both reactions to pop culture, and instead engage it with Christian discernment and creation. In Eyes Wide Open, Romanowski says,

We need to look as Christians at the stories (in music, movies, and television) that contemporary culture is telling us by learning how to discern and evaluate perspectives in these representations of life in God?s world. And as Christians we also need to create popular art that shows what it means to live everyday life in God?s world, while others consume and eavesdrop on our contribution to the cultural conversation. (italics Romanowski?s)

Romanowski says Christians haven?t accepted the church?s ban on pop culture, just as my classmates did not. We listen to music and go to movies as much as the next guy. What?s more, Christians don?t watch the family entertainment they?ve asked for, and they generally don?t want the Christian alternatives offered to them. According to Romanowski, though we recognize that Hollywood?s portrayal of sex and violence is probably bad for us, we?re willing to regularly plop down our $8.50 to see the latest blockbuster. We?re so familiar with pop culture, that when Christians offer Christianized versions, we recognize it for what it is, and we prefer the real thing.

Christian music, Christian movies, and other attempts at providing Christian alternatives tend to sentimentalize Christian life or reduce it to simple, ?happy? themes. ?If you listen to most contemporary Christian music, you would think that all Christians do is worship and evangelize,? Romanowski says. Therefore, when Christians want something fun, entertaining, and thoughtful, they often turn to Dave Mathews rather than Third Day.

Romanowski says Christian art (seen mainly in Christian music) has neglected the true purpose of art ? to reflect and discuss life. Culture is a part of the creation that God has called Christians to subdue and cultivate. It is our responsibility to participate in today?s culture by creating and critiquing art for popular culture. Instead, Romanowski says, Christians have equated Christian art with family friendly entertainment and left pop culture to Hollywood and MTV.

Eyes Wide Open provides a rather simple solution after such a critique. Romanowski says that Christians ought to create meaningful art, which can contribute to the cultural conversation. But, rather than explaining how to change the Christian entertainment industry or how to develop the Christian artists he calls for, Romanowski spends a good portion of the book educating readers to critique the pop culture they choose to engage.

Of course, changing the industry starts with changing minds, and Romanowski provides guidelines to help beginners learn art criticism. Because of this, a small group study or even a Sunday school class would make the best use of the book. Eyes Wide Open offers Christians an artistic vision that avoids sentimental Christian art and morally bankrupt pop culture.

Romanowski?s introduction to Christian cultural criticism teaches discernment in our encounter with pop culture. I wish my friends and I could have read Eyes Wide Open ten years ago. We could have enjoyed rock music and movies without whole heartedly believing its message.

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