Ascribing music with morality, either good or bad, has followed us from the ancient world. Ever since war drums, pipes, and other instruments were played to signal war, man has struggled with music forms he considered “evil.” To the realist, music is nothing more than notes played in a specific rhythm. To the idealist, music is beauty and grace that envelopes us.
First, what does scripture say about music?
“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!” -Psalm 95:1
“Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!” -Psalm 98:5
“And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him.” -1 Samuel 16:23
“I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” -Psalm 13:6
“They sing to the tambourine and the lyre and rejoice to the sound of the pipe.” -Job 21:12
Nowhere does is say what the music should sound like, but one thing is certain. Music is associated with happiness, jubilation, and even exorcism in 1 Samuel. So, how does music become “evil” in the modern world?
First, it should be reiterated that “evil” music is not a modern invention at all. For centuries, the violin was considered the devil’s instrument. In history, Nero was said to play the fiddle while Rome burned. He didn’t, but the emotion violin music incited was met with fear and terror, much like electric guitars in the Twentieth Century.
Music only becomes dark when humans manipulate it in such a way. Most people who declare a music form “evil” only do so to forms they don’t like anyway. It’s much easier to declare freeform jazz to be evil, when you aren’t a fan. Perhaps the better statement is that what we see as “dark” is only in our mind in the majority of music. Of course, this is not to say there are no Satanic or evil songs, for there are artists today who openly and vocally declare their music is deliberately created to be “evil.” Those are excluded from this conversation.
Someone else may not have that perception of a song at all. What you may see as chaotic and oppressive, another person may see as liberating or empowering. We likewise can’t go by lyrics because the lyrics are virtually inaudible in much of the music out there.
Rock and heavy metal received the brunt of this lambast during the 1980s, to the delight of record companies. They truly went above and beyond to promote and perpetuate the public fear. Many Christians believed they were performing a public service by highlighting the lyrics that glorified drugs and promiscuity. What they didn’t do, since most didn’t listen to rock anyway, is point out the equal (or worse) negative connotations found in the music they actually listened to, easily found in pop or country. Songs here are used for reference, not necessarily to condemn the artists. For example, here’s a look at country music:
“Heaven’s just a sin away oh oh just a sin away. Heaven help me when I say I think I’m giving in.” -Kendalls
“On a mission to make something happen. Feel like Delilah lookin’ for Samson. Do a little mattress dancin’. That’s right I said mattress dancin’.” -Dixie Chicks
“Cowboys are frequently secretly fond of each other. What did you think those saddles and boots was about? There’s many a cowboy who don’t understand the way that he feels towards his brother. Inside every cowboy there’s a lady who’d love to slip out.” –Willie Nelson
“Give me weed instead of roses. Bring me whiskey instead of wine.” -Ashley Monroe
The lyrics just in the songs referenced above cover everything from sex to drugs. Again, these examples are used, not to condemn the artists, but to point out that no musical genre outside of inspirational can say it does not condone or celebrate what is against scripture.
Even bluegrass, as genteel and harmless as it’s regarded, can’t shrug off moral reproach with songs that glorify a number of evils, from murder to alcohol abuse.
Christians would have been better served to consider the situation, as opposed to shoveling out judgment. While the “Satanic Panic,” was a boon to the recording industry, it did great harm to Christianity as a whole. It is tangible proof that good intentions are meaningless without substance. The practice of Christian websites today of rehashing those old scare tactics are likewise detrimental to the faith.
God does not give us a spirit of fear and we have to question the source of anyone promoting fear. We can’t judge someone’s salvation because he or she is a musician, or any other artist, and it’s not our place to do so. We do not know where God has placed them or for what purpose, and that is none of our business. We don’t have that authority.
We can point out what’s offensive, cite the reasons why, and allow others to come to their own opinion. Above all, we should thoroughly research what we believe to be offensive before taking any action. It’s currently unknown how many people have been eternally lost because a well-meaning Christian rushed to judgment and pushed them farther from Christ. We should sum up the majority of the music controversies by saying, if you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. If you don’t want your kids to hear it, don’t let them listen.