2015: Advent Religion: The Drugs Don’t Work

by on December 11, 2015

As a teenager growing up in a strict Evangelical church and household, I didn’t listen to much music. I wasn’t really allowed to. It wasn’t a rule, as such, but I knew the music of the world wasn’t meant for me. It was something between sinful and beneath me. I was supposed to be above such things. And since my parents had no interest whatever in facilitating my education in popular music, I just didn’t listen to any. I listened to Radio 4, which was highly suitable to my station in life.

What good little evangelicals are meant to listen to is good evangelical music. There is an entire industry – we liked to pretend it wasn’t an industry, but of course it was, record labels don’t spring up from love and ether – an entire industry catering to the desire to have music to listen to and feel holy while you do it. This is known as Contemporary Christian Music and it often sounds like it’s been written by checklist.

There are several styles of music. There’s the folky stuff, and the rock-ish stuff, and if you look hard enough you can find gospel and soul, and of course there’s the stuff that hasn’t tried very hard and straight-up sounds like church music, usually choral.

The important thing about this music is that it doesn’t have any icky, earthy connection to what’s going on in your actual life. It is focused on your personal relationship with God. It is usually pretty vague about what that means in practical terms. This is all about your feelings.

There are several proper uses for this music. The largest in terms of percentage time is that you use it as background music. You put it on in the car, or while you’re doing your homework or the gardening or working in the shed. It’s not really there to be concentrated on, in that circumstance, no more than the secular folk music I’ve got in the background while I’m writing now. I always felt a little uncomfortable with this use. It seemed disrespectful. Taking things for granted.

The second use is that some of the songs make their way into the church as new hymns and sweet merciful muses, that is rarely a good idea. The songs are written to be sung by one person and a guitar. They rarely translate well to congregational singing. They have the wrong kind of tunes for that, with interesting timings and key changes and repeating refrains at the end to lull the ear while they fade out and the church copied those details faithfully. It was awful. It was embarrassing. I hated it. I continue to have strong opinions on the matter, as the attentive reader will note.

The third use is fascinating. This music is for getting high.

I don’t mean it’s for listening to while you take intoxicating substances. I mean the music itself is an intoxicant. That is one of the things it is for. You listen to it and croon along with as much sincerity as you can muster, swaying in time and waving your hands in the air, until you reach a euphoric state. You can, if you’re that way inclined, do this with any music you can dance repetitively to, but when the music is all focused on how good it feels to love God and you use it to get loopy on your own brain chemicals, that validates your entire religion. You are happy and fuzzy and in love with existence and that proves your God is real.

One Response to “The Drugs Don’t Work”

  • I am now curious to hear about the crossover between music typical of evangelical churches, and the Anglican tradition that I was brought up in (not particularly strongly, but I did and still do really like singing hymns, especially Christmas carols.)

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