The below is a personal non-preachy discussion on living life as a Christian heavy metal fan. I’m not interested in changing anyone’s personal convictions, just telling a story. If this bothers you, press “back” now.
GETTING MORE TALE #533: Spirituality as a Heavy Metal Fan
Any fan of heavy metal music who is also a believer in the Lord above has had to come to grips with this apparently hypocrisy. How can one follow the word of God and yet listen to Ghost?
Believe In One God Do We,
The Uncreator Of Heaven And Evil,
And The Unvisable And The Visable,
And In His Son,
Begotten Of Father,
By Whom All Things Shall Be Unmade,
Who For Man And His Damnation,
Rise Up From Hell,
From Sitteth On The Left Hand Of His Father,
From Thense He Shall Come To Judge,
Out Of One Substance,
Whose Kingdom Shall Haveth No End.
I wrestled with this contradiction very early in life. As a young Catholic-raised kid discovering rock music, I wanted to make up my own mind. One of my earliest sources of music via the magic of Sunday afternoon taping sessions was my next door neighbor George. In addition to the Kiss discography, George had most of the Maiden, Priest and Ozzy catalogue either on LP or cassette. George wasn’t particularly religious, but one afternoon he did tell me, “I won’t listen to anything Satanic.” I took that to mean that Maiden, Priest and Ozzy lyrics checked out A-OK.
Many people of faith have found that their religious convictions shake and waver over the years. That period for me began in the 1990s, although I never considered myself an agnostic or an atheist. I was in the early years of my University career; that period when you think you know it all. I remember some fierce discussions around the dinner table with me loudly proclaiming that I was the only sitting authority on whatever subject had come up. My parents remember them too, as the naive younger me spouted off about whatever I read on an overhead projector. Meanwhile, I was frustrated that they didn’t seem to be giving my lecture serious enough consideration. Some dinners ended up with me storming up to my room in anger with my food unfinished.
One of my earliest courses in University was my first year introduction to Anthropology. The prof, whose name long escapes me now, was an animated character. His long hair was always tied up in a ponytail on the back of his head. He wore suits and ties to class, which most profs did not. Many (especially in the psych department) preferred socks and sandals. He told anecdotes and moved around a lot. He always kept one hand on the podium. The class noticed his storytelling sessions always proceeded with one hand firmly anchored, keeping him in a tight orbit at the front of the classroom. He was a fantastic teacher and I briefly considered a career in Anthropology before I realized it involved a great deal of travel and going out of doors.
He was most certainly an atheist, which is unsurprising considering that the first semester of the class was about primate evolution. He was fascinating, and though I never doubted the science of genetics and natural selection, he certainly proved to me that the simple 7-days 7-nights story of the Bible did not happen as simply as it was written. That could only be allegory for a sequence of events that humanity did not have words for or basic knowledge of at the time. Knowledge is cumulative. We know now that we can follow the development of life through fossils, getting older and older as we dig deeper. Things line up, make sense. He explained to us why the concept of a “missing link” is a logical fallacy.
None of this bothered me. Even though I wouldn’t consider myself a spiritual person at that age, I just assumed any God who is truly all knowing and all powerful could easily create the universe as it was, with the laws of nature, physics and all the matter inside it, via the Big Bang. It would still turn out exactly as He envisioned it to, because that’s the definition of an all powerful God. There didn’t seem to be any contradiction to me. I tried to argue this as part of an intro Philosophy course paper that I wrote the same year. I attempted to go to the quantum scale to explain things and blew it fabulously. That paper was a C-, if I recall correctly. The T.A. that marked it suggested that the quantum section should have been axed completely. (He was absolutely right!)
At the same time, I was very deeply invested in a love of heavy music, having collected at least 400 tapes at that stage. Stryper aside, none of them were Christian rock. There were plenty of masters of the dark arts, however: Alice Cooper, the Ozzman, the Sabs, Priest, Maiden and the lot. As least, that’s the way many religious folks seemed to think it was over the years. I couldn’t hear any Satanism in their lyrics. Look at the words to Sabbath’s “After Forever”:
I think it was true it was people like you that crucified Christ,
I think it is sad the opinion you had was the only one voiced,
Will you be so sure when your day is near, say you don’t believe?
You had the chance but you turned it down, now you can’t retrieve.
Perhaps you’ll think before you say that God is dead and gone,
Open your eyes, just realize that He’s the one,
The only one who can save you now from all this sin and hate,
Or will you still jeer at all you hear? Yes! I think it’s too late.
Because the song also has a line that goes “Would you like to see the Pope on the end of a rope – do you think he’s a fool?,” some folks are likely to get their panties in a bunch. Context in any art form is important, often true with lyrics. It’s hard to imagine Ozzy sitting there seriously worshipping Satan when he’d rather be drinking, don’t you think?
At the same time, I was collecting the albums of Savatage, and their lyrics sometimes had a clearly Christian bent. Their Streets album features a character called “D.T. Jesus” and a full-on Holy character redemption. This didn’t bother me either. It stirred warm memories of Bible stories that I learned in school. Most importantly at that time, I was learning that music lyrics are not always meant to be taken at face value. Take Poison for example. You might think that the “Unskinny Bop” might be an exercise regime. They cleverly disguised their true intention with made-up words. Ozzy isn’t singing about his belief in the undead in “Bark at the Moon”. Maybe he’s inspired by some movie he saw as a kid. Does it really even matter? It’s just a song. It’s just entertainment.
There is one instance when paying attention to the words does really matter, such as when a vulnerable youth might think “Flying High Again” sounds really fun and cool because Ozzy said so. But that is where the parents must step up. It’s not Ozzy’s responsibility, nor the state’s, to monitor what your kids are doing. Pay attention to what they are listening to and make sure you give them the straight talk on any issues that concern you. That’s what my parents did (unbeknownst to me). My mom read over the lyrics when I wasn’t home. She never had made any musical demands of her son other than “turn it down” when it was too loud.
I felt a stronger return to my faith around the time I met my wife. Our connection seemed beyond just two random people falling for each other. It seemed like two puzzle pieces coming together. Like I’d finally found the one who understands and puts up with my bizarre self, and vice versa. It’s not about thinking “I was made for loving you, and you were made me loving me,” so much as feeling it. One thing I learned from Philosophy class is that faith is not something you can prove or disprove. The definition of an omniscient and omnipotent God means He or She could create the universe we live in without leaving any trace of His/Her existence, nor any purpose we can comprehend. Maybe we’re all just chess pieces on a big chess board. You don’t know and you can never prove it one way or another, because how do you know your “proof” isn’t just another move in the chess game?
Faith means you believe something or not. I think science is pretty bang-on with how it describes how the universe behaves, and will continue to modify and reshape its theories based on what comes flying out of the next particle accelerators. It’s an exciting time to be following science, as we unlock some of the most elusive particles predicted by theory. At the same time, events in my life (far more than just meeting my wife) have made my heart lean further in the direction of faith than disbelief. I think whoever it is that created the universe did so with the laws of nature that we study today. I think that science is peering into the mind of God, as Einstein suggested. I came to these conclusions on my own; only later did I realize many got there before me.
As for lyrics about Satan even though I’m on the other guy’s side? I think it’s all about being a good person in the time you’re given on this Earth. I don’t care what you call it; that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. As long as you try to go about your life without being an asshole, sure we can be friends. For example I’d be foolish to exclude you from friendship just because we don’t share the same opinions on (delicious) olives. I’d be equally foolish to exclude you just because you have different ideas about how we all got here. I think, if anything, we’re all here to help each other. We should do that anyway, even if it’s just holding a door open for your neighbor. There are some things that some Christians consider hellfire-worthy sins that I could care less about. It was always important for me to find a balance between my spiritual beliefs and what I know to be right or wrong. I’ve encountered a few Christians who say that homosexuality in a sin. A really bad one, too. I don’t want anything to do with that statement. I know in my mind and my heart that it doesn’t matter what gender you’re attracted to. What matters is using your time on this Earth to be the best person you can be.
I like Ghost; I don’t have to sing along to their music if I’m not feeling the words. That’s free will, and I don’t think I’ll go to hell for exercising it, even though some folks have warned me that’s where I’m headed. I hope that when it comes to the important choices in life, I’ve made more of the good kind than bad. At the end of it all, that seems to be more important.
Reverend X. Much different than Catholic school. Is that a phone book?