#533: Spirituality as a Heavy Metal Fan

STOPARRETThe 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.

 

papa

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,
Satan Almighty,
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,
Incarnated,
Rise Up From Hell,
From Sitteth On The Left Hand Of His Father,
From Thense He Shall Come To Judge,
Out Of One Substance,
With Satan,
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.

OZZYThere 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?

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41 comments

        1. I’ve outgrown them I think. I didn’t like the Judas Priest cameo. I thought it was pretty lame. “Breaking the Law! Copyright law!” Honestly American Dad is the only cartoon that mixes modern music with laughs in the right proportions. The Metallica episode was genius and way better than anything the Simpsons have attempted.

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I’ve cut down a lot…Jen likes her sports so by default I watch less stuff than I used to. Still get a gas from old Star Treks on Netflix though! My goodness I’ll never get tired of Star Trek.

          Liked by 1 person

  1. Kudos to you, Mike, for the bravery and honesty in putting yourself and your views out there. I totally concur about the lack of necessary disconnect between personal spirituality and hard rocking. As for Ghost, their sweet, uniquely melodious hard rock and sometime-Satan-loving lyrics regularly bring a wide smile to my face. I also enjoy Slayer’s directly anti-Christian lyrics, some of which I view as actually pretty damn considered and though-provoking beyond the anger from which they are spawned. That said, this makes me neither a neo-occultist nor anti-Christian anymore than my recent giddy thrift store score of Stryper’s To Hell With the Devil or my love for Emmylou Harris’ traditional/spiritual Christmas album Light of the Stable makes me a Midwestern fundamentalist. In the end, real faith, whether its bent be spiritual or secular, is strongest when it embraces (and even headbangs to) challenge.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for this comment. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone in this contradictory world!

      And To Hell With the Devil still kicks. I hope they do a live album from this 30th anniversary tour.

      Like

  2. Nice post Mike! I grew up Catholic as well. I have never had issues with what rock artists sing about. Evil or not, if I like the music, I like the music. It didn’t change my religious beliefs. I am still Christian and will always be. Enjoying a song or artist that might lean a little to the dark side won’t sway me in the least, it is just entertainment.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice post Mike – I like that idea of faith not being about proof. And I’d say there’s also a big difference between ‘faith’ and ‘religion’ – your motto of trying to be the best person you can be in the time you’re given is a fine one to live by.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know what Geoff, I’ve spilled so much of my life here, I figured why not talk about another side too. This’ll be the first and last word on the “Word” (lol see what I did there?) as I don’t think I have anything else to add.

      As we wind down 2016 I have a few more stories left to post. I have a fun anecdotal one on the correlation between music speed and driving speed. I have yet another one on childhood recording sessions from the 1980’s — including an actual 1988 audio clip of us talking. And I have one about buying CDs with damaged cover or other packaging. I try to keep things varied, and I hope that this post was in that “spirit”! (again, pun intended.)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post Mike! I first indoctrination to rock music beyond AM radio came when I worked at a Christian summer camp in the late 1970s. Colleagues introduced me to KISS, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Jim Croce and opened the door for me to find Aerosmith. I also became more savvy on the Beatles and Rolling Stones. However, when I got out of the service in the mid 80s, many of these Christians were now denouncing rock music as evil. That contradiction put me off the Born Again faith forever. Nowadays, I can listen to Styper and then Mercyful Fate one after the other. The lyrics never bothered me. Today, I consider myself a spiritual anarchist. I have faith in God but no faith in any of the organised religions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Spiritual anarchist! I really like that. I think that might be what I am too. Although we do belong to the local Presbyterian church, which is the one we found the most easy-going. We made sure they were compatible for us. We’ve gone to Catholic services, and a few different Pentecostals, but the good old Protestants made us the most comfortable. Nothing against the others! Pentecostals had a lot of born agains, and I found they can be really hard core with their beliefs. “It says in Leviticus that it’s a sin for a man to sleep with another man.” Well, it also says in Leviticus that tattoos are sins. So if we are to take Leviticus at face value, I’m already fucked for being tattooed. I have to choose that I don’t believe in that. My rational mind tells me, “Maybe that was just an old taboo, because needles were probably not sanitary back then and tattoos could make you sick.” Think about it….

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d be condemned too for a tattoo. As for Leviticus, once, using the time when the woman taken in adultery was brought to Jesus, her accusers saying that the scriptures say should be stoned. I substituted the woman with two homosexuals and asked if Jesus would still say, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” I believe he would.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks J! Like many things in life, I find faith to work best with a flexible mind. Ever see that Kevin Smith movie Dogma? Some brilliance in that. Chris Rock had the best line. “Changing a belief is hard. But changing an idea, that’s easy.” So I like to keep up with all the latest science news and see what all the new ideas are.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for writing this post Mike, I’ve felt this way for years and years. Sometimes it really bothered me, sometimes I had periods of doubts in faith.

    I remember in high school listening to my KISS, AC/DC, Motley Crue CDs on the bus and being genuinely afraid I was doing something wrong! My parents would always said how “evil” the music was. My dad made me take down my Ozzy posters and mom tore my Iron Maiden posters off the wall when I was in class one day.

    As for Ghost, that’s their entire plan; they are “wrong” but know you can’t resist them. It’s a shtick and a great one at that. I can picture them singing those lyrics in the studio with wide smiles…

    Like

    1. HAHAHAH I love this guy!!

      Yes it’s true. This is the same site that has a story called “Open Door Shit”.

      Like I said to Geoff I like diversity!

      Glad you enjoyed it and I’m really flattered to hear a couple people use the word brave.

      I don’t feel “brave” because the writers in this community have been 100% supportive of everything.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. A thoughtful post, Mike. Very interesting comments as well. I believe you were raised (outside of the Catholic school) to be open minded and accepting. Your motto for life is also mine. I am not religious but I am spiritual.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think you were spot-on on a lot of the stuff you wrote here, Mike. I was raised in a non-religious home and I’m actually thankful for that, for not have been being force fed any relgious stuff by my parents or grand parents. I don’t believe in God but I believe that Jesus existed, only not in the supernatural way the bible says. Well, nuff of that, I do believe that there are powers out there that we don’t know of. We only use about 10% of our brains and only a usage of a couple of more % we might be aware of lots of stuff that we aren’t aware of now.
    But as you said, let’s just go through life as caring and good people without prejudice and hate and we will be home safe on judgement day. ;)

    As for Ghost, those guys are a hard rock theatre and should not be taken seriously. Their singer, Papa aka Tobias Forge, is just a rocker that has been through a lot of non-successful bands and who came up with a theme for a band that would at least give them some exposure. I guess he got lucky this time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here is my question about Tobias Forge. I have seen his pictures, and I have watched this video by Ghost:

      I love that video, but that guy does not look like Tobias Forge! So who is THIS guy in the video?

      But this was a great comment, probably my favourite one. I had a discussion with another blogger who didn’t realize that there is such a thing as the “historical Jesus”, a guy who walked around about 2000 years ago. Whoever He was, his impact on history is still felt. That much we know from looking back at all the wars in His name….

      But the key message is “don’t be shitty to each other”. We’re all sharing this earth! Let’s make it as nice a place as we can.

      Like

      1. Oh it is Forge. He’s wearing a mask. Look close around his mouth and eyes and you’ll see it. He wore the same mask when he did a “at home” story at my brother’s house for Sweden Rock Magazine.

        Like

        1. WOW. Well you know, that video has tons of closeups, and I never guessed. I love this mask though, the “old man” look, I have to say it’s my favourite Ghost video by far!

          Very cool Jon!!!

          Like

        2. Just noticed something about the “old man” mask. You can see his hands look young. Face looks old but hands are smooth and young. I guess that was the clue all along that it’s a mask!!!

          Like

  8. Fantastic post, man. I went back and forth with religion all my life, except for the last year or so when my belief was strengthened by certain events. I do believe there is a higher force at work, but I wouldn’t want to put a name on it. I think it works through us, through every person, guiding us to the places and mind-sets that make us happy. All you have to do is listen to that inner voice, that instinct, which is always right. The further you get away from it, the more you lose touch with who you’re meant to be. The more you follow it, the more you realize that everything makes sense, and everything that happens to you happens for a reason. These are my beliefs, and like you say, I am open-minded to everybody’s own. In fact, one of my best friends is an atheist and we argue all the time on this. I don’t expect him to convince me or how change how I feel, and he doesn’t expect that either, but it’s great to talk about something that really matters to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this great comment. It’s so awesome that you can talk to your atheist friend about stuff like this. Getting another person’s perspective is so important I think.

      If there is just one lesson anybody should try to take from Christianity, it’s the basic message that we should be good to each other. Our survival as a species pretty much depends on that! No matter what you believe, being good to each other should be in our values.

      Liked by 1 person

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