Following on our August feature article on Rock for Life, a network of pro-life rock bands, The Interimoffers the thoughts of a devout young Roman Catholic who has decided listening to secular rock music is incompatible with her call to Christian discipleship.
So, you’ve given your life to Christ. You’ve started to like going to mass. You’re saying the Rosary more than usual, and you may even be reading your Bible every day. You are a good Catholic young adult.
But what kind of music do you like? Is it secular rock such as Nirvana? Smashing Pumpkins? Our Lady Peace? Maybe it’s a little milder. Perhaps it’s Sarah McLachlan, Rod Stewart, or Bryan Adams.
I know that a fair number of “good” young Catholics will excitedly relate the details of a faith-filled retreat, and yet continue to let themselves be influenced by the world through the music they listen to.
Do I sound judgmental? Probably. But I was there once. Over a year ago, I would have said there was nothing wrong with my choice of music. I listened to a “tame” radio station which featured the likes of Céline Dion, Crash Test Dummies, Elton John, and Blue Rodeo. Then, one day, during my year at Franciscan University, I realized I had not surrendered my entire life to Christ. By refusing to give up the music I was listening to, I was still clinging to the world.
Shamed by this realization, I threw out my small collection of cassettes, and vowed I would never listen to the radio again. I was proud of the step I’d taken, and was convinced the change would be easy to make.
As I visited other dorm rooms, though, I found myself lingering in order to hear the songs playing on other people’s stereos—secular songs which I knew well and loved. I stopped in malls to listen to the background melodies and silently followed the lyrics.
Secular rock music had become a mild addiction. How could I deal with it?
First, I replaced the bad habit with a good one. My mother always says, “You’re going to develop habits. They might as well be good ones.” I discovered that “Christian music” no longer means only Southern-style gospel. In fact, there are enough Christian groups to suit every taste, be it rap, rock, alternative, or easy-listening. Some of the more well-known bands such as Jars of Clay and DCTalk are even played on secular radio stations. One group has even put praise and worship songs to a dance beat, though I must admit I find this a little disturbing.
Since Christian-contemporary sounds very similar to pop secular fare, people often ask, “What does it matter whether it’s secular or Christian? It all sounds the same anyhow!” Well, I’ll give them that one. But the messages are about as opposite as winter and summer … or heaven and hell, for that matter. Compare these lyrics by Critical Mass, a Catholic group, to those of Joan Osborne, a secular pop artist:
Take my Body, broken for you/Take my Blood, the covenant of Truth/Truly I am here/As I was at the cross/To die for your sins/I am God.
— Critical Mass, “Body and Blood”
What if God was one of us?/Just a slob like one of us/Just a stranger on the bus, tryin’ to make his way home/Back up to heaven all alone/Nobody callin’ on the phone/’cept for the Pope, maybe, in Rome.
— Joan Osborne, “One of Us”
I can see the difference. Can you see the difference?
After replacing my collection with exclusively Christian CDs, I began to reflect on the logic behind my decision. Why was I listening to Christian music? The first point to occur to me was the fact that I was now financially supporting fellow Christians instead of secular artists.
Next, I thought about what Jesus said in Luke 10:16—”Anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me.” Do you think secular musicians have accepted Christ into their lives? Do you think they believe in the same truths we do? Some may, but I imagine the majority do not. Even if they casually admit the existence of a God, we know what Jesus said about the halfhearted: “… you are neither cold nor hot … (since you are) only lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3:15-16)
C.S. Lewis tells us if we want to ignore God, we can do so by avoiding silence and solitude.
Then I began examining secular lyrics – a frustrating exercise. Some of the artists and producers think we are ignorant and backward because we value morality. So many of the songs are about what the world calls “love,” but the idea of love they present bears no resemblance to our beliefs about Christian marriage.
I am tired of society trying to devalue life, to cheapen the gift of sex within marriage, and to destroy the Christian family! These three principles are constantly attacked in Hollywood and the media. Are we going to go with the flow? A young Catholic speaker once said, “Only a dead fish floats downstream.” We must fight the current of the world.
Christian music is not the perfect answer, however. Eventually, I found myself listening to it all the time, so when Lent came around this year, I decided to give up music entirely. I quickly realized that every time I was driving, I could be praying a Rosary instead of listening to Jars of Clay.
As C.S. Lewis tells us, if we want to ignore God, we can do so by avoiding silence and solitude, and keeping the radio on. Even “holy” music can become addictive, if it’s not helping us raise our hearts to God, or helping us reach our eternal goal of heaven. Though Christian music is better than most secular music, it cannot replace prayer.
If we are unable to give up secular rock music for Christ, who gave up His life for us, can we at least do it for ourselves? Can we try to keep from being influenced by anti-Christian ideas? I believe one Christian band, in a song called “Them,” clearly shows the threat the world poses to our souls:
They tell us what they want us to hear/They patronized our aching ears/We don’t have to watch what they want us to see/Yet we’ve let them bind our hands and feet.
— PFR, “Them”
Andrea Procher studied at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Oh. during the 1996-97 school year. She is now in second-year nursing at Georgian College in Barrie, Ont.