Saturday, December 17, 2005

Ministry of Sound, Clubbing, Modern Music and Christian Party Animals

We could talk about opening night at the largest Ministry of Sound in the world: free passes, bypassing the snaking queues; the main congregational techno hall with its groovers and moovers and podium dancers; Studio 54: named for its legendary predecessor, therefore retro, with a LCD-tiled disco dance floor, a bunch of flashing disco balls, psychedelic walls and egg and marshmellow chairs; Pure: white walls, white beds, white gossamer screens and supposedly down-tempo and chill-out; Smoove: seamless R&B, ghetto interiors, a caged dance floor for slinkies, reclinable airplane seats with retractable tray tables; the fairies (the kind with silver wigs and plastic wings) and the suits with shades and bowler hats and those private little nooks...
But first, God-fearing Christians going clubbing?!

Pitchfork (irony on a silver platter) reminded us of "Hell's Bells" recently, a very retro "Christian" documentary accusing rock music of being Satanic, occultish, demonic and brainwashing innocent kids by subliminal backmasking. Now that George Michael and Bananarama are really rather passé, they've come up with a sequel "Hell's Bells 2" updating accusations to Marilyn Manson, Madonna, nü-metal, and hip-hop.

When I was a kid, our whole church choir went to watch "Hell's Bells" because (1) free tickets to a movie (duh!); (2) our church was of a racial make-up where you had air-kissing, house-to-house carolling at Christmas, endless shepherd's pie under mistletoe and fairy lights, adults insisting on alcohol in the punch, at least one guitar in every bedroom and lots of spinning and dancing in the darkened halls of someone's homes and so interest was high when there were rumours that you could see and hear cool music vids (this was before MTV arrived on our sunny shores) in the movie; and (3) really. Cool Music Vids.

Suffice to say, we were just too excited watching all that never-before-seen footage and new bands and thought the scary message of occultism, Satanism and demon-possession really rather below the standard of the usual educational videos and horror movie fare to which we were accustomed.

Before jumping to either extreme conclusion (contemporary music/clubbing is evil. contemporary music/clubbing is good), it is interesting to tease out:
  • what is merely cultural;
  • what could be unhelpful; and
  • what is in direct and express opposition to God himself.
What is merely cultural
Music history is a really fun read. It's very easy to score full marks on that section in theory exams because it's like reading the gossip mags, only a few centuries too late. As our history teachers always said, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it because they do not act in the present with the wisdom of 20/20 hindsight.

Well-loved as JS Bach's music is now, his contemporaries thought that his new type of music killed the feeling for pure melody and expressed...nothing”. They dissed his compositions as being, to put it mildly, “deprived of beauty, of harmony and of melodic clarity.

Beethoven, now considered one of the greatest ‘classical’ composers, was savaged by the critics of his time. His Second Symphony was “a crude monstrosity”. His Third was “harsh and bizarre”, while the Fifth, was “an orgy of vulgar noise”, the Sixth “much too long” and the Ninth really ugly, in such bad taste”. The celebrated critic, John Ruskin, thought Beethoven's music was nothing more than “the upsetting of bags of nails”. But nothing compared with Stravinsky's first performance of his ballet, Le Sacré du Printemps, which so culturally shocked the audience of his time that there were shouts and fist-fights in the aisles which later escalated into a full-scale riot.

And if you were religious, and you were a church authority with power, then your criticism of new-fangled music would take on a more religious tone: Handel's oratorios are sung without criticism in churches nowadays. But back in a time when the ink on his scores was still wet, his new music apparently riled some church authorities enough for them to preach angrily against his music in sermons and hire small boys to tear away notices for his performances.

History tells us that cultural criticism of emergent music at any time is to be expected. The oldies , generally, don't like it. It's too flowery (that's what they said about both Bach and Mozart), it's too loud, it's too fast, we don't like the instruments, it gives us a headache. And...we don't like the way you dress when you sing/play/dance to that music.

No one criticises old music. No one protests furiously against Gregorian chants or Georgian three-part polyphonic harmonies. But new music...

Well, everyone is entitled to dislike different genres of music, but we cannot channel our dislike of the new music into fear of the new music and then confuse our fear with Satanism, corruption and devil worship.

What is in direct and express opposition to God himself
Of course there is music that praises Satan and spits on God and laughs at Jesus and scorns his death on the cross. No-brainer. No one can never even tolerate any mockery of the people he loves and cherishes with all his life, much less enjoy such mockery set to music.

What could be unhelpful
Alot of music (contemporary or otherwise, secular or even Christian) could be unhelpful.

"Unhelpful" as in Hebrews 12:1-2 unhelpful. As in something that hinders; something that either distracts us from the truth about Christ or gets in the way of you growing to be like Christ. It could be specific to a particular time or set of circumstances, but it is unhelpful in that instance, in that point in our lives.

But we cannot legislate for such decisions. Music, dancing, and alot of the grey areas of life are a matter of personal mindset and interpretation. One person might think nothing of the lyrics of songs because in his mind, the songs glorifying sex are in the setting of a monogamous marriage and the songs glorifying love are in relation to the love relationship between God and Christians, and songs about heartbreak and pain about the fallenness of the world awaiting its redemption and the like. As Mafia Boss pointed out while mambo-ing, even "Last Christmas (I Gave You My Heart)" could be an evangelistic song. And with clubbing, for one, the point of clubbing might be nothing more than mere enjoyment of God's creation: good music, friendship and the beauty of moving bodies. For another, it might provoke unbridled envy or lust for sex or relationship. And for yet another, it might be a lifestyle in which he finds his value or identity, to see and be seen (or scene); an idol which he cannot live without.

In the end, it is to be trecherously blind-sided to finger contemporary music and the dancing that goes along with it as the root of all evil. It distracts us from the real problem: our own sinfulness and entrenched rebellion against God. For what goes into a man's mouth does not make him "unclean", but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him "unclean" (Matthew 15:10).

So even if there were Christian nightclubs, without the booze-fuelled misconduct and consequent lack of self-control, without the suggestive dancing, without the drug-induced raving, we are still "unclean", because it is what is in us that makes us "unclean". For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander (Matthew 15:19).

And we are so very depraved that we cannot change our own evil hearts. We need God to change it for us; we need him to take the initiative to give us hearts which are willing to live in submission to him, within the order he has created and not do evil to our neighbour.

And after being given new hearts, we cannot live in the way we used to, doomed for destruction. Whatever hinders us from following Christ and continuing on the path of salvation, we must throw it away. As with a live grenade with its pin out, because our very lives depend on it, we must fling it far away and flee from it. Without hesitation.

And whether it is clubbing or helping old ladies cross streets, we must not continue against our conscience.

But. If we think clubbing is not unhelpful for us, then there're opportunities for Christian party animals to do good.

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At December 19, 2005 4:23 pm , Anonymous Mr/Ms/Mrs/Dr Redhotchillipadi said...

how was the music?

At December 20, 2005 12:06 pm , Blogger shadow said...

Thought it was passable. Didn't think they were really working the crowd. Like the barstaff and security, there're definitely kinks to be ironed out. On a positive note, however, the Budak has given the toilets of both sexes the thumbs up in his Toilets of the World series.

At December 20, 2005 1:57 pm , Blogger kelvin said...

What is "clubbing?" What happened to disco? Very noisy... give me headache! Must listen to some Teresa Teng :)

At December 20, 2005 11:30 pm , Anonymous fellow blissed out mos-sie said...

good take shadow. some others & i were just musing abt this, the morning after... will share my views with you next meetup! ;)

At December 21, 2005 6:30 pm , Blogger shadow said...

Kelvin, I assure you it has nothing to do with baby seals. ;-)

fellow blissed out mos-sie, a Date with Jam Orange's kitchen we have.

At December 21, 2005 11:41 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

ur a cutie u know =)

At June 02, 2008 6:52 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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