Aquinas and More. Good Faith. Guaranteed.

Why Does it Have to be Wrong or Right?

by Ian on May 25, 2006

Okay, this is almost entirely off topic but a post over at Jimmy Akin's site made me want to bring this up for discussion.

The title of this post is in reference to a song by Restless Heart bemoaning the fact that cheating on your spouse is a black and white issue.

What I would like to discuss here is why in Country music you find not only in the same genre but even by the same singer songs that at one turn praise faith (Jesus Take the Wheel, Carry Underwood), family (Another Day in Paradise, Phil Vasser) and patriotism (Politically Uncorrect, Gretchen Wilson (oops)) and the next praise infidelity (Victoria's Secret, Toby Keith), drunkeness (Get Drunk and be Somebody, Toby Keith), murder (Earl Had to Die, Dixie Chicks or Independence Day, Martina McBride) or ambivilence about abortion (Red Rag Top, Tim McGraw) - Thanks for correcting the title, Charlotte.

Is this pure pandering to the public? Sing about as many things as possible so that everyone will like something you sing? For example, Kenny Chesney sings "Who You'd Be Today" with a video that includes a gothic church, a St. Christopher medal, and themes, albiet Evangelical ones, about Heaven. He also sings "Anything But Mine" about having sex with some girl he met at the beach during the summer and saying "I love you" without meaning it.

Is this an Evangelical strain in Country music singers who figure that they are "saved" so they can sing about whatever they want because they're going to Heaven anyway?

Any thoughts on this?

Update: Jimmy Akin, Cowboy Apologist, has posted a long and thoughtful response here.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

The Soccer Mom May 25, 2006 at 11:38 am

I have noticed that there are some people who say they are saved, but seem to use that “I’m forgiven” as an excuse to act any way they wish. I knew one person who was active on Pro Life message boards who would just berate people who weren’t yet repentant of their past abortions, or take the nastiest tones with people who disagreed that calling someone “murderer” might not be the best way to bring the Gospel to them. I think it might be an Evanglical thing, personally. It’s okay to do these things because, after all, Jesus died for me and I’m forgiven.

One thing that is so great about Catholicism is that, while we absolutely believe we’re forgiven, we also know that first we must be sorry. Without any kind of contrition, how can we be forgiven? You can’t ask for forgiveness when you aren’t contrite.

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MissJean May 25, 2006 at 1:09 pm

Partly it’s a tradition to sing about cheatin’ and so forth (I always think of “Honky Tonk Angels” and the countersong “God Didn’t Make Honky Tonk Angels”). And there’s a lot of lipservice songs to both, mostly because some country singers buy other people’s songs rather than writing their own lyrics. I look on it similarly to those proper novelists who include sex and murder in their books because that’s the genre.

I don’t have cable so I don’t watch music videos. I was outraged by one of Jackson’s songs and the accompanying skanky video; I can only imagine it’s worse now.

Soccer Mom may be onto something. My beloved uncle from Arkansas was a born-again Christian who pretty much took salvation as a guarantee. Kind of like a “Get Out of Hell Free” card from Jesus for adultery, drunkeness, etc. He wasn’t a Calvinist, but he generally had a similar viewpoint – that if you were saved, it didn’t matter what you actually did because your salvation through faith alone.

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charlotte May 25, 2006 at 6:46 pm

I just read the lyrics for Red Rag Top (not Red Truck for anyone trying to find it) and I have to say that this is one that could go either way. It could be interpreted as a man who is lamenting what he did— trying to explain what he thought at the time, but the last lines about seeing a “young girl” with green eyes, I had to wonder if he wasn’t thinking about the child that should have been about that age that might have had her mother’s green eyes. I know it is neither here nor there and that even if this song is not actually glorifying abortion, there are probably many others that are. I can’t speak for the videos since I don’t watch them, but I have to wonder if songwriters aren’t sometimes just trying to explain what they were feeling or thinking at the time, without offering justification or approval.
As for Ian’s original topic, I would have to say that I agree that country music is very much influenced by the Protestant understanding of salvation. It doesn’t really matter what you do, so long as you and the Big Guy are buds everything will work out in the end.
Sorry if there are a lot of typos. We just finished birthday #2 in as many days.

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aquinasandmore May 25, 2006 at 7:08 pm

I agree that the song Red Rag Top can be interpreted either way. That’s why I said ambivilent. I also recall an interview he did back when the song was causing some controversy where he said that he didn’t want to come down on the issue one way or another. That’s cute. I doubt he would have said the same thing if one of his songs was vague about its stance on racism.

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charlotte May 25, 2006 at 8:48 pm

I agree with you completely, I am just wondering whether or not an average person listening to a song on the radio can determine if the songwriter is attempting to condone a particular choice or rather just convey the thoughts and feelings associated with that experience. I do believe that with some songs it is very obvious and no one need second guess their first impressions, but what about, for example, Alcohol by Brad Paisley. Is it possible to determine his stance on drunkenness completely from the lyrics? Or would we need more information? In the case you cited, Mr. McGraw certainly added to the controversy by making the statements he did, but if one has never heard an artist’s personal interpretation, how are we to know? I didn’t.

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Mike Roesch May 26, 2006 at 9:15 am

First , “Politically Uncorrect” is by Gretchen Wilson and Merle Haggard, not SheDaisy.

I think country music at its best does not necessarily glorify or praise sin. Johnny Cash’s songs about murder (insofar as they are not also about remorse themselves) and Hank Williams’s songs about cheating and general carousing are incomplete without their songs about redemption. It’s not a Protestant “saved” thing at all with the greatest artists, but rather more of a “the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” sort of thing. I agree that modern commercialized country music can get a bit confused with this at times, though, but there are also many songs that are intended to be tongue in cheek (“Alcohol” being one of them).

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Kate May 26, 2006 at 11:08 am

I think its worth noting that “jesus take the wheel” has had amazing staying power in the charts, as have other faith themed songs/videos over the ast few years. Whatever you can sya about the mix, the Jesus music is here to stay in country music.

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dymphna May 27, 2006 at 8:17 am

What I love about country music is the honesty. Not all the people sitting in the pews are saints and many did some bad stuff on Saturday night. Coutnry music is about real life.

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aquinasandmore May 27, 2006 at 8:20 am

I make the distinction based on the message of the song. I don’t care what its age or style is. You can have classical music that from a message standpoint is just as bad as stuff today.

If the song is about sin, does the sinner regret what he has done or does the song portray the sin as having negative effects? If so, baring considerations of skill, I consider it good music. For example, Fine Line by Radney Foster is about a guy who has committed adultery and gets both women pregnant. He realizes that he has done something wrong and goes home to confess to his wife.

Does the song glorify sin or treat it as harmless? Stays in Mexico by Toby Keith, Not Goin’ Down ‘Till the Sun Comes Up by Garth Brooks, etc. fall into this category. These songs are bad regardless of the overall theme of redemption that may exist in the singer’s other work.

Songs are not like books. With few exceptions, you aren’t going to find people familiar enough with a singer’s entire career to be able to trace a path to redemption that puts the music in context. For the most part, people are only really familiar with a few favorites that they hear on the radio so you have to take each song individually.

Remember, music, like movies and books, have a message. Think about the messages you absorb when you listen to music like Shores of Mexico or Fireman by George Strait. I don’t think that as a Catholic you can really justify listening to this stuff.

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Tim Rohr May 27, 2006 at 4:55 pm

I don’t have time to read all the replies, etc., but seems like some of us pay no heed to the maxim “the medium is the message”. In music this is particularly true. As a musician and avid student of both the history and the physics of music I must say that we cannot negate the power of the music itself, despite the text, to ennoble or to degrade. Physiologically, music has the power to “center” one or destroy one’s center. Since there is no time or room for a long discussion on the issue I would simply remind you of the reason wny “marching” music is selected for going into war, whether it be the battlefied or the football field, and why another type of music mixes better with alcohol and dim lights. Neither type of music has to have words. The music stands on its own. Our Church in its wisdom knew which type of music to give “pride of place”, and for good reason. Too bad we ignore it.

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Gail M. Conrad June 9, 2006 at 11:35 am

To put it bluntly, the Baptists are plainly going to HELL…..
You can say that about any “religion” that does not follow the
teachings of the Catholic Church. Sex outside of marriage is
pure Adultry, please refer to Sixth Commandment. Idolizing
anything other than our Lord is committing sin against the
First Commandment….. You can go on and on.

Remember, over 2,000 “religions” are in schizm with the Roman
Catholic Church. Any Pope that kisses the Koran, or participates
in OTHER Religious Ceremonies is committing SIN AGAINST
OUR LORD. We are the ONE TRUE CHURCH, as Jesus Christ
pointed out to us.

Look at King Henry VIII, the church wouldn’t allow him to marry
his brothers wife, so he split from the Church and formed the
Episcopal Church….

Most will go to HELL for sins of the flesh, which includes the
Commandments Six through Ten…Think of that.

I say, DON’T CHANGE THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
THAT WE KNEW PRE-VATICAN II, you may end up in Hell
“bicariously through the instructions of a “bad” Priest who is
just trying to be “liked”. Vatican II brought us NO NEW DOGMA,
only further separation of our Church.

Help Save our Church..
Gail M. Conrad,

Remember….”many will be chosen, but few will be taken”.
That includes even our Bishops, Priests, and Popes…..

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gail sirotnak March 26, 2007 at 6:40 am

where does the church get their lyrics where is there interested party/ies scripure based lyrics nothing about what jane wore to mass sunday thank you for your time humble servant verses gail sirotnak gailsr@verizon.net

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