Many years ago, when I was in my mid-teen years, I made the decision to stop listening to mainstream rock music and to turn instead to Christian music. Until that time I had been listening to whatever was on the radio. I had quite a few tapes and had once had a whole collection of those old vinyl 45’s. While I was usually not interested in music that was blatantly anti-God, I did listen to some that would surely have made my parents cringe had they heard it. But when I was fourteen or fifteen, my conscience began to accuse me about this music and I remember what was a near-religious experience for me, where I biked down to a local waterfall and, with no one else present, tossed some tapes over the edge in what was really a ceremony whereby I repented of that music. In the subsequent years, I bought Christian music and have since had little interest in mainstream music. Every now and then a song or a band catches my attention, but since I have so little willful exposure to it, this is quite rare. At the same time, I have kept abreast of what is happening in the music industry. Music saturates our culture, and it is difficult not to know what songs and artists are popular, for they are played on television, in commercials and are piped through malls, airports and any other public location. Needless to say, where the music of the 80’s and 90’s was bad, the music of our day is even worse. There has been a continual slide whereby the mainstream songs of our day are far worse than what was acceptable even ten or twenty years ago.
Many years ago, soon after I repented of my old music, I heard of a video called Hells Bells. Unfortunately, try as I might, I was never able to watch this video. I recently discovered that a sequel to this production was available and was able to secure a copy and study it this weekend. It is over six hours long, so this was no small undertaking. The DVD is produced by the same group that made Amazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism which I reviewed here, and it is likewise hosted by Eric Holmberg. As with Amazing Grace, it is well-written, well-produced and theologically-sound. What I found especially impressive, is that while it is passionate about the subject matter, it avoids becoming what I feared it might - an obnoxious, uninformed tirade against the evils of anyone who likes to listen to music with a beat. It is alarming without begin alarmist.
It is important to note that because of the subject matter, this presentation contains disturbing material of a sexual and occultic nature and is inappropriate for younger viewers. At the beginning of the video, Holmberg warns that if you have no interest in or access to this type of music, you should probably not continue watching. But the bulk of the material, while it represents the worst of what the rock culture has to offer, is drawn largely from material that you might see on MTV or hear on your morning commute while listening to the radio. There are many places where details are blurred, film is censored and words are blanked out, but the heart of the horror remains in place.
While not explicitly stated, it seems that the presentation is targetted primarily at unbelievers, but secondarily at believers who have been drawn into this rock-n-roll culture. I would suggest that parents of teenaged children would do well to watch it as well. It kicks off with an introduction that provides the foundations for cultural analysis. Among the topics discussed is the philosophy of “judge not,” which dictates that we are wrong to question what others do, for morality is a personal matter. This is examined in light of what Jesus really meant when he warned against judgment. Having been assured that it is not only our right but even our responsibility to examine and judge something so revered as music, the presentation turns to this topic for the next six hours. Particular topics that the presentation covers in-depth are:
- An Examination of the Power of Music
- Music’s Spiritual Connection
- The Occult History of Rock
- Rebellion, Nihilism and Death
- Satanic Sex and Rock-n-Roll
- Rock’s Ultimate Rebellion
- Music and Life at the Cross-Roads
Following these sections is a time of challenge and response, and finally some personal testimonies of God’s grace and goodness in the lives of a few individuals. The clear purpose of the producers is to contrast Biblical morality and order, with the rock culture’s immorality and choas. Constant contrasts are made between the words of the Bible and the words of artists and listeners of rock music, between the heart of God and the blackened hearts of the rockers. We learn that the heart of rock-n-roll is rebellion, the sin that is at the heart of every sin, for Satan sinned by rebelling against God and the led humans in the same rebellion. When we sin against God, we make idols of ourselves, displaying the “me-ism” that is at the heart of rebellion. In one particularly noteworthy moment, the host asks many different teens to name three songs that promote sexual purity before marriage. Soon he was asking them for two, and then for one. No one could name a single song. While this is interesting, what is even more important is to ask ourselves why this question seems so absurd. It is absurd to ask about a rock song promoting purity or love for parents because such sentiments are antithetical to the very heart of rock music.
Another interesting observation was that the people at the heart of the music seem to understand what rock music is all about far more clearly than the kids who merely drink it all in. I am reminded of the latest series of American Idol where Gene Simmons (of KISS fame) was a guest judge. When confronted with a talented contestant who was a youth pastor, Simmons said to him, “I think you’re a country artist, and I'll tell you why. If you sing pop lyrics, you're going to have a problem with your ministry. Because rock and roll by definition — and popular music — is about sexuality. The rules are different for country. You can sing Christian oriented lyrics and be acceptable, and you can sell millions of records.” Time and again we see that the people who make and produce this music understand that it is, at heart, Satanic and in direct opposition to God. I was left wondering why it is that others cannot see this. And I came to realize that we cannot examine rock music without beginning with the foundation of the rebellion that is at its core.
One of the sections I found most shocking and convicting was the one dealing with the blasphemy that takes place when artists act out their rebellion and hatred towards God, and then thank him for their success or wear a cross around their neck. The video shows a montage of artists thanking God for their success (Backstreet Boys, N*Sync, Destiny’s Child (who were dressed in very-nearly nothing), Sisqo (who subsequently thanked a thong for its part in his success)) and praying before their shows (Limp Bizkit, Christina Aguilera (immediately before performing the song “Dirty” which is true to its name)). I was forced to wrestle with the anger that must burn in God as he looks at these people acting out their hatred towards Him, and then ascribing this “success” to Him - to a God who is infinitely holy and infinitely pure, incapable of committing or condoning sin.
A further strength of the presentation is that its relevance is enhanced by the fact that it is only one year old. Watching the original Hells Bells may be interesting, but when the criticism goes no further than Van Halen and Lynrd Skynrd, it is easy to write it off as a dinosaur that has no bearing on our day. And while people who listen to this type of music may be able to avoid any association with the ultra-hard-core Satanic death-metal bands, the focus on the big names means that there will be some connection to each viewer. In this edition, there are literally hundreds of different artists that receive at least a passing mention, many of whom are still on the charts: Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Dave Mattews Band, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Blink 180, Sarah McLachlan, MxPx, KISS, Incubus, (to name just a few) and any number of rappers and hip hop artists whose names meant very little to me.
If there is a place this presentation falters, I would suggest it is in the area of “what next.” Having proven that much of the popular music of our day is absolutely unsuitable for consumption, the producers do not suggest next steps. I was left with questions such as: Can rock music be redeemed? Is it evil to its core, or is Christian rock music a suitable alternative? At the heart of these questions, is the deeper question of what makes evil music evil - the words, the music or the intent of the person who made it. I am sure it is for the best that Holmberg did not tell us to burn our CD collections and turn exclusively to classical music, but some guidance in moving forward would have been helpful, especially for those who were convicted of their need to remove themselves from this rock culture.
A consideration for me after watching this video was, How much is too much? How graphic is too graphic? I was forced to examine what I feel is given in a spirit of information, and what is just “too much.” I concluded that generally the producers did a good job of knowing where to draw the line. By the very nature of the content, this video had to be graphic, and even shocking. For example, it is one thing to state that today’s popular songs laud or laugh about every type of sin and debauchery - rape, bestiality, masturbation, homosexuality and every other type of deviant sex, but it becomes a reality in our minds when we see that the artists singing about these topics are considered “family-friendly” and may be playing in your son or daughter’s stereo at this very moment. I remember many years ago my friends and I would sing Cyndi Lauper’s song “She Bop” never knowing that it was a song about masturbation. Similarly, young children today are singing songs about topics that are far beyond their years, for Britney sings a song about masturbation and N*Sync sings one about cybersex. Many other artists sing about topics far worse. Some information will only reach us when it shocks us.
In summary, I found this presentation both convicting and biblical. The producers went to great lengths to be accurate and to do thorough analysis on the heart of music, rather than merely attacking the peripheral issues. The presentation continually turns to Scripture and ends with a theologically-sound time of response where people are invited to repent of their sin and turn to the Lord. Despite being graphic and discussing very dark subject matter, and with the same caveats as given by Holmberg at the beginning of the series, I recommend this presentation for both teens and parents. I am sure that this video can and will be used to reach many as God uses it to convict them of the evil heart of popular music.