Parallels of Pornography and “Praise” Music

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Warning: this post contains sexually explicit material

Pornography is wicked. So is the sinful flesh, which is why porn sells. One source reported a “conservative estimate” of U.S. pornography revenues around $8 billion in 2012. Pornography is just as damnable a sin as any other sexual sin, but for all the outcry from (orthodox) churches over the legalization of homosexual marriage, where is the same outcry against the legality of pornography? Pornography is a much greater problem than homosexuality, statistically speaking. Maybe this one hits too close to home?

Pornography is such an abomination because, like all sin, it dehumanizes people. In the case of pornography, it reduces living, breathing human beings, made in the image of God, to nothing more than objects for sexual pleasure. In The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis observes:

We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling the streets, that he “wants a woman.” Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want.

He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. How much he cares about the woman as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition (one does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes).

Speaking against the evil of masturbation in Volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, he writes:

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides.

And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman.

For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival.

Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.

In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. . . . After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.

At the risk of making a very obvious point: sexually explicit magazines sell because of the aesthetics, not because of the words. Take all of the articles away, make it purely a picture book, and I guarantee it will still sell. Porn is all about the aesthetics.

The same is largely true of CCM “praise” music. It’s not about the words; it’s about the sound, the aesthetics. The texts tend to be very shallow, and sometimes even teach false doctrine. Just as pornography encourages lust for a “woman apparatus” over intimate knowledge of a spouse, so-called “praise music” is nothing more than a cheap “God apparatus” that encourages lust for a catchy beat over intimate knowledge of God’s Word. Consider the chorus to “Trading My Sorrows”:

And we say yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord
Yes Lord yes Lord yes yes Lord Amen

I know, it’s profound. It’s not for no reason this genre has earned itself the label “7-11” songs (songs where you sing the same seven words eleven times).  So why do some churches tolerate this nonsense? For the same reason pornography sells: because of the aesthetics. Remember Nirvana? Nobody could understand what Kurt Cobain was saying, and if you finally did figure it out, it was mostly nonsense. Granted Nirvana wasn’t a praise band, but this principle remains true of much praise music. Much of what passes for “praise music” is shallow, nonsensical, and sometimes even false. True praise of God consists of declaring who God is and what He’s done, not in singing about how much we like to sing about Him. Consider this gem (“I Love to Praise Him”):

Verse 1:
I Love to praise Him (I Love to praise His name) {x3}
I Love to praise His holy name
I Love to praise Him (I Love to praise His name)
I Love to praise up my Lord (I Love to praise His name)
I Love to praise Him (I Love to praise His name)
I Love to praise His holy name
I Love to praise Him (I Love to praise His name)
I Love to put my hands together and praise Him (I Love to praise His name)
Is there anybody out here feel the same tonight (I Love to praise His name)
I Love to praise His holy name

Verse 2:
For He’s my rock (He’s my rock, my rock, my sword, my shield)
He’s my will (He’s my will in the middle of the week)
I know He’ll never (I know He’ll never, never let me down)
He’s just a Jewel (He’s just a Jewel that I have found)
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
I Love to praise His name
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
I Love to praise His name
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
I Love to praise His name
I Love to praise His holy name

Repeat Verse 2:
For He’s my rock (He’s my rock, my rock, my sword, my shield)
He’s my will (He’s my will in the middle of the week)
I know He’ll never (I know He’ll never, never let me down)
He’s just a Jewel (He’s just a Jewel that I have found)
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
I Love to praise His name
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
I Love to praise His name
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
Hallelujah (hallelujah)
I Love to praise His name
I Love to praise (x8)
I Love to praise His holy name
I Love to praise Him (I Love to praise) {x3}
Make me feel good to praise Him (I Love to praise)
He’s worthy of the praise (I Love to praise)
He’s worthy of the glory (I Love to praise)
Everybody Love to praise Him (I Love to praise) {x2}
Help me say
I Love (I Love) {x15}
I Love to praise (x8)
I Love (I Love) {x16}
I Love to praise (x8)
I Love (I Love) {x16}
I Love to praise

Well-meaning Christians are sometimes even able to tolerate false doctrine in a song they really like. Consider, for example, the once-popular Michael W. Smith song “Breathe”, which sounds quite pantheistic:

This is the air I breathe
This is the air I breathe
Your holy presence living in me

Or consider “Dance with Me” by Jesus Culture, which asks God to “romance me” and frames our relationship with God as if we were His sexual partners:

Won’t You dance with me, Oh
Lover of my soul,
to the song of all songs?
Romance me, Oh
Lover of my soul
to the song of all songs.

Hymns, on the other hand, are not about the aesthetics. They are about the Word, not the music. We sing them because of what they teach us about the faith. Augsburg Confession XXIV.2—3 says:

Meanwhile no conspicuous changes have been made in the public ceremonies of the Mass, except that in certain places German hymns are sung in addition to the Latin responses for the instruction and exercise of the people. After all, the chief purpose of all ceremonies is to teach the people what they need to know about Christ.

Likewise, the Apology (XXIV.3) says:

The purpose of observing ceremonies is that men may learn the Scriptures and that those who have been touched by the Word may receive faith and fear and so may also pray. Therefore we keep Latin for the sake of those who study and understand it, and we insert German hymns to give the common people something to learn that will arouse their faith and fear.

In a good hymn (and certainly they are not all created equal), the music serves the text. I suspect this is why many people dislike hymns today: they are more interested in singing something that has a catchy beat than in learning something about God’s Word through music.

This is why most praise music is ear porn. People like it because of the feeling it creates; they listen for the aesthetics, not for the words. Nobody sings or listens to this stuff because it’s such an eloquent expression of the faith; they like the way it sounds.

This is not to say that there are not any doctrinally sound, substantive praise songs out there. However, the genre is flooded with songs that are mostly shallow, and when they do teach doctrine, it is usually false. There aren’t too many orthodox theologians writing praise songs these days, and most of those who write CCM songs are hardly orthodox theologians. And even where the text is orthodox, the music still usually takes center stage and the text is an afterthought. The music should serve the text, not the other way around.

Aesthetics do matter, especially in God’s house. Which is more suitable for use in the presence of the living God? A genre of music where the emphasis is clearly on the music and not the message (not to mention is a genre that has strong ties to sex, drugs, and rock and roll), or a genre that seeks to decrease so that Christ might increase?

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