Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Metal Briefs: "Unblack" Metal

Christian Black Metal

I love black metal. Today, thankfully, it seems to be the most forward-thinking and flexible subgenre within metal. This is definitely a good thing. If it means I can have Botanist and Cobalt, then I will tolerate the existence of Liturgy.

But it hasn't always been that way. And in some corners it's still not that way. There are those who have a very narrow conception of what black metal is. I could bear that narrow-mindedness if it stuck to the music itself, but it goes into ideology as well. I have repeatedly harped on the stupidity of drawing musical genre lines based on non-musical characteristics. You may as well kick a band out of the black metal club if they don't wear corpse paint, or if they're from the wrong part of the world, or if they don't have the right logo.

This is not to say that Official Black Metal Ideology is an extremely narrow field. In fact, the genre nazis will accept just about any ideology within black metal, from neo-Nazism to paganism to theistic Satanism to atheism. There is only one exception: To them, you can't be black metal if you follow one of the Abrahamic religions. In this case, your Metal Archives genre will almost never be listed as black metal, but instead as "black" metal (with quotes) or unblack metal.

Well, let the genre nazis be butthurt. I'm going to talk about Christian black metal.

Horde: Hellig Usvart (1994)

Satanism--at least as it's found in black metal--is a parody of Christianity. The symbolism, lyrical content, and even the music are all in many ways Christian traditions turned on their heads (in some cases quite literally). Horde took that, and then righted it. Hellig Usvart (said to be the first "unblack" metal album) is a parody of a parody, as titles like "Invert the Inverted Cross" demonstrate. Musically, it's pure Norwegian style black metal, with fantastic (and gorgeous-sounding) drums and the occasional tasteful synth. Thematically, it was taken as a deep insult by the black metal community. In a sense, it's more black metal than thou, designed to insult them on their own terms and show that not everyone takes them seriously. As a result, it's said that some people demanded to know who was behind the project (it was an Australian) and death threats were supposedly made. That could just be the label trying to generate controversy, but in any case the album stands on its own in terms of quality. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Lengsel: Solace (2000)

Lengsel is actually from Norway, and they messed with the genre of black metal lyrically and musically. Today it may not seem so strange, but in 2000 it was practically avant-garde to interweave acoustic guitars and clean singing into the Norwegian standards. Those could have come out as gimmicks, but Solace has plenty of very strong riffs and catchy hooks. There are some off moments, like the dull "Opaque" and the out-of-place (if good) heavy metal outro to "Coat of Arms". But on the whole, the songs are better than they have any right to be. 4 out of 5 stars.

Crimson Moonlight: The Covenant Progress (2003)

Crimson Moonlight is one of the first black metal bands I got into. Maybe you could call it ironic: some people decide to play Christian black metal to preach to the unsaved, whereas I used Christian black metal as a doorway into the rest of the black metal world. Even for Swedish BM, this is heavy stuff, so that made it a bit easier for a death metal fan like me to appreciate. It's incredibly aggressive material, with vitriolic rasping vocals and fantastic production. You can hear the bass, and you can also hear the synths--the latter being buried deep in the mix so as to make them almost unnoticeable. That's a wise choice here, because they don't detract from the fury of the music. The songs are good too, with some great riffs. "Eternal Emperor" is on the weaker side, but highlights like "Thy Wilderness" and "A Thorn in My Heart" more than make up for that. I give The Covenant Progress 4.5 out of 5 stars.


  1. Black Metal is war music. By and large, it is crafted to be against Christianity. No matter which ideology you choose to create your black metal, it is almost always offensive to Christianity.

    For Christianity to co-opt the tenants of black metal is fine in theory. I can understand the strategical thinking of fighting fire with fire. Sure. However, there are two problems with this:

    1. Listening to both types of black metal pro and anti Christian, is akin to fighting on both sides of a war. Either that, or it's being a fence sitter. The Christian God will spew one from his mouth over that shit. Just ask any of the host of heaven who failed to choose a side.

    2. Christianity is about peace and love (unless your talking about the current American religious right). Those are hardly characteristics of black metal. So, what's the point?

    Now, this does not mean that these guys have no musical ability. I'm sure they can write a rockin tune just as well as the next guy. So, I don't really care if they do what they do. I'm just not interested in it. I've spent half my life studying Christianity. I've had my fill.

  2. Thanks for the comment. We've already gone over this, I think, but I find lyrical content to be largely irrelevant, and only speak of it out of a kind of academic-like curiosity. It's not important to my musical enjoyment in any way, although I do find it interesting to compare the musical styles of Christian bands to those of non-Christian bands.

    Why do people insist on tying a musical style to an ideology? That's the first problem I find with your comment. While it can certainly convey a particular mood, music is ideologically neutral. And as I've pointed out in the past, Christians have as much to be pissed off about as anyone else. Which is not antithetical to Christian teachings. The incident involving Christ and the moneychangers in the temple is just one example.

    If lyrics are important to you, and Christianity bothers you, I can't blame you for not listening to a Christian band. It confuses the heck out of me why lyrics you can't understand would make any difference to you, but to each his own, I guess. I'm just annoyed at people who try to define music by its lyrics, rather than by the music. I'm even more annoyed when the exception is so narrow. You can be a black metal band who talks about philosophy of any stripe, or indeed whatever the hell you want--with just one exception. That's beyond silly.

    Finally, I want to pick out one sentence in your comment: "Just ask any of the host of heaven who failed to choose a side." If I didn't already know you were raised Mormon, this would have given it away. That is a purely Mormon idea, which to my knowledge has not been adopted by any other sect. (My choice of words here avoids defining Mormonism as either Christian or not Christian, because I don't want to get into that rather complicated discussion.)

  3. Avoiding lyrics in metal is exactly what I used to do to justify listening to it back when I was striving to be a good Mormon. I always felt bad about it. In fact, I felt so bad about it that I actually swore off metal for about 10 years. I found that just listening to it was detrimental to my purpose of becoming close with God. It drove the feelings of peace and love away. Music elicits an emotional response. ( I used to think this was the Holy Spirit leaving me) Some of those emotions have no place in Christianity. I believe these moods are intrinsically tied to ideologies. Sure, it may be more difficult to convey a specific lesson using only music, but when that is accomplished, the effects of the lesson are MUCH more powerful and transformative.

    I suppose if I had heard a Christian black metal band and enjoyed it in full ignorance of the lyrics, then I would have no problem with it. However, if I were to discover later what the true meaning of the lyrics I would be kinda blown away. See, for me to enjoy most black metal, it would be for the usual reasons. To discover that the lyrics clashed with the music It would be pretty darn distracting. Now, as a lover of black metal I have to say that I'm inherently an appreciator of discord (I'm listening to WOLD as we speak). Contradicting ideologies and sounds could make for a very interesting listen. On that level, I could appreciate Christ-loving lyrics set to cold, aggressive, chaos-churning filth. Why not? The part that I don't get is why a Christian would want to create music like that. You can make the argument that Christians have plenty to be pissed about. Sure. But Christ driving money changers out of his Father's house is hardly justification for the blasphemies heavy metal musicians perpetrate.

    The more I think about it, maybe I could derive a preverse pleasure from listening to Christians damming themselves. It's even sweeter to know that they have deluded themselves into thinking they are actually praising God through music.

    Also, sorry about that Mormon doctrine reference. Go ahead and ignore that because you are correct, it is LDS doctrine. However, I think the argument still stands as it is backed up by my biblical reference.

  4. You have some interesting thoughts on how you might approach Christian black metal. I'm not sure what "the usual reasons" are. I'm not so certain that enough black metal fans enjoy it for its lyrical content that you can call that the primary reason.

    You're still assuming quite a bit, conflating things, and making assertions that I simply do not agree with, mostly about music but also about Christianity.

    To me, the emotional impact of metal has never felt like the Holy Spirit leaving or anything like that. It's cathartic. It's scratching an itch, to paraphrase Patrick. It in fact mellows me out, rather than making me angry or hateful or whatever concerns it raised for you. It's mind-opening, dramatic, interesting, and visceral. None of these are inherently negative things.

    Contrary to what you seem to believe, Christianity is not all fluffy puppies and sunshine. Every book (or at least nearly every book) of the Bible records at least one barbaric act, horrific prophecy, or other unpleasantness. There are a lot of people who like to ignore those parts. I don't. This paragraph alone is sufficient refutation of your entire stance, as far as I'm concerned.

    I also don't feel like I have to agree with the message of entertainment. Because, after all, it's just entertainment.

    I can appreciate the fact that ideology or whatever is an important part of the musical experience for you. But even you admit that you could conceivably appreciate the music without knowing the lyrical content.

    One final note. I like your observation about discord. It brings to mind the creation story from Tolkien's The Silmarillion. In it, Eru Ilúvatar (representing God) creates the world through song, and the first created beings (the Ainur, comparable to angels) join in the song. But Melkor (the devil figure) tries to disrupt the harmonies by introducing what he believes to be his own ideas. However, Eru always manages to incorporate those melodies into the grand scheme of the music. Take from that what you will.

  5. "The usual reasons" as I put it refers more to music than lyrics. I attempted to describe those in a later paragraph with "cold, aggressive, chaos-churning filth". Not a very good description but I think you know what I mean.

    What am I assuming and conflating? I am certainly making assertions that you don't agree with. I think that's why we're arguing.

    My experience with the "Holy Spirit" comes from a Mormon perspective which teaches that the Holy Spirit is a constant companion that is there to help inspire you to follow God's plan. He cannot dwell in an unholy temple. Allowing blasphemy in, drives the Holy Spirit out, thus cutting you off from God. You describe listening to metal as cathartic. Well, you tell me what's leaving.

    Peace and love is not as saccharine as puppies and sunshine. I'm well aware of the atrocities recounted in the bible. I'm aware that the god of the old testament is a vengeful one. I'm aware there is plenty of discord in the bible itself. However, most good bible apologists would point out that the law of Moses was fulfilled in Christ thus justifying the change in tone from the old to the new testament. Remember to put those atrocities in context before using them as justification for heinous acts. I really don't understand your argument here. It's pretty flimsy.

    I don't agree with every piece of entertainment either. But boiling metal down to mere entertainment is doing it a major disservice. There's a difference between entertainment and art.

    Sure, I can enjoy a certain element of a piece of music. I can look at it as mere entertainment for a while. A deeper study will usually help me to know what kind of lasting affect it will have on me. Expressing that you can understand that an ideology in music is important to me is a tacit expression that it's not important to you. This suggests a very perfunctory examination of heavy metal and perhaps other forms of art. One of the reasons I left my church was because I felt like I was constantly holding back a deep study of things that intrigued me because I felt it threatened my belief system. I'm not accusing you of that but it does seem like it and it would fit the behavioral pattern of many Christians I've known.

    I can appreciate music without the lyrical content and without paying as much attention to the music as I should on a purely entertainment level. It doesn't become art to me until after I've studied it deeply.

    That first chapter from the Silmarillion is pretty great. Endlessly fascinating. Thanks for reminding me of it. I'd be careful about interpreting Tolkien, as he has stated that he detests allegory. You seem to be quite the fan of The Inklings.

  6. "For Christianity to co-opt the tenants of black metal is fine in theory."

    Assuming that we're talking about a genre of music rather than a social movement, it seems to me that the tenets being held are irrelevant. Could a Christian band be part of Euronymous and Varg's 2nd wave Norwegian scene? No. Because that was a movement that encompassed political, religious, and social concerns in addition to the music. That is not, however, all of black metal. Black metal can be more, but in many ways it really is much less. It is a MUSICAL STYLE. That's it. And musical styles don't have dogmas, ideologies, or tenets. They just have people playing songs that sound a certain way.

    A death metal song about peanut butter sandwiches is still death metal. A power metal song about filing tax returns is still power metal. And a black metal song about Jesus is still black metal.

  7. @ Patrick: That last paragraph is golden.

    @ Miskatonic: Let's take it little by little.

    "What am I assuming and conflating? I am certainly making assertions that you don't agree with. I think that's why we're arguing."

    You're assuming a very particular and narrow view of Christianity. And a particular view of metal (which is sadly more common than it ought to be). And a particular view of how art must be appreciated. You're conflating appreciation of art with approval of the artist's intended meaning. I've already stated my positions before, and any rational mind must admit they are valid. In fact, my position (that there is no conflict) should be the default position, in light of a lack of evidence that there is an inherent conflict. Yet you make no allowance for my positions. We really need not go over this discussion again, because we've already had it. I don't know why you would approach it in this way.

    "You describe listening to metal as cathartic. Well, you tell me what's leaving."

    Catharsis denotes a "purging of the emotions or relieving of emotional tensions, especially through certain kinds of art, as tragedy or music." It relieves negative emotions in a way not too dissimilar to the way exorcisms are depicted in film (although admittedly less dramatic).

    "I really don't understand your argument here [relating to the Bible and peace and love]." There really was a miscommunication there. Your counter-argument completely missed the point I was attempting to make. So allow me to rephrase it. I am not saying that barbarism warrants approval. I'm saying that barbarism is a part of stories in the Bible, and a part of the human experience, and therefore there is nothing wrong with appreciating art that examines barbarism.

    "There's a difference between entertainment and art."

    Admittedly, I overstated the case. But a great thing about art is that it teaches us about the viewpoints of others. We don't have to buy into it, only to learn it. Or take it and view it in our own way that has nothing to do with the viewpoint from which it was created. The latter is one of the most amazing things about great art. Timeless art can be interpreted in a multitude of different ways.

    "One of the reasons I left my church was because I felt like I was constantly holding back a deep study of things that intrigued me because I felt it threatened my belief system."

    I've never felt a threat to my belief system based on music. I'm always struck, when I have these conversations with you and a few others, by how entirely different our understandings of both metal and religion are. You (and a few others) seem to have grown into a set of understandings that create this basic opposition. Which requires, as I noted, a very narrow understanding of both topics. A wider view of either one destroys your false opposition.

    As far as the Inklings, I only know the two. But they are two of my favorite authors. Tolkien did detest allegory, but that's because an allegory is too forceful and narrow. It doesn't allow for multiple interpretations. So instead he took many timeless elements and wove them together, and you can take many different lessons from each story. Which may be why (subconsciously at least) I chose to tell you to take from it what you will.

    I feel like I'm learning more about you each time we speak. All my data is out there for anyone to see. But most people are private, like you. I get the impression you are between 26 and 32, a former liberal arts major, and that you are single, without children. I could be wrong. I'm operating on intuition here, and not getting very specific just yet.

  8. "You're assuming a very particular and narrow view of Christianity."

    I think that's very unfair to accuse me of assuming a narrow view of Christianity. Depicting my actual view of Christianity would take much more than a few comments on a blog. Previously you had mentioned that I had a puppy dog and sunshine view of Christianity. This was an enormous assumption based upon my citation of one of the single most influential teachings of Christ. I don't believe the bible is full of the phrase "peace and love" repeated ad nauseam. Also, it's unfair to say that I have a narrow view of metal, based upon what we've discussed. I have made specific claims and you have distilled them to me having a narrow view.

    From the OED - Catharsis a. Purgation of the excrements of the body; esp. evacuation of the bowels. b. The purification of the emotions by vicarious experience, esp. through the drama (in reference to Aristotle's Poetics 6).

    When I made the comment about the holy spirit leaving you I was mostly thinking of the primitive definition (a). It was supposed to be a joke laden with truth. I guess I only impressed myself with that one. However, I do find the primitive definition quite interesting since the process of bowel evacuation is incredibly metaphorical when compared to the experience of relieving harmful emotions kept within. I guess I drew parallels to my experience of purging the Holy Ghost from my life.

    "I am not saying that barbarism warrants approval."

    Your rephrase was much more lucid. Thank you. And, I agree that metal is a fantastic medium for examining barbarism. However, that's quite different than shouting praises to God in a metal song. And I believe I've already expressed how I feel about that.

    "I've never felt a threat to my belief system based on music."

    Music that doesn't threaten a belief system is either too shallow to be worthy of deep study or is being listened to on such a shallow level that it will never achieve the status of art.

    "...take it and view it in our own way that has nothing to do with the viewpoint from which it was created. [This] is one of the most amazing things about great art. Timeless art can be interpreted in a multitude of different ways."

    I agree. Great art often starts a conversation between artist and audience. The artist doesn't win if the audience converts entirely to their point of view, but it should have a transformative affect, at least. I spent many years trying to ignore the messages from my favorite musicians. When I allowed their point of view to mingle with my own I was able to achieve a greater understanding of the world around me. That's one of my problems with organized religion (and I concede that Mormonism is perhaps MORE organized than most, if you get what I mean), one is given a set of doctrines to believe in and then points of view which contradict those beliefs are considered to be invasive. The most liberal practitioners seem to respect the other point of view but are unable to reconcile it with their beliefs. The natural reaction is to ignore it and move on. Eventually, one ceases to consider other perspectives in order to avoid the pain caused by cognitive dissonance.

    I don't have much of an online presence. I'm not much interested in connecting with people on a personal level in an online environment. About the only things I enjoy discussing online are metal and religion. But, since you are curious about me (and because I've probably spent more time in discussion with you than anyone else online) I'll give you my specs.

    I just turned 37. I hold a masters degree in librarianship and am employed at an academic library (so your liberal arts guess wasn't too far off, even though my undergraduate degree was a very poorly chosen science/engineering degree). I am married and have a four year old girl.

  9. Fair enough. It appears, to me at least, that your view of Christianity and of metal must be narrow in order to believe that there is an inherent conflict between the two. Mormonism seems especially appropriate to your position (at least from my knowledge) considering their tendency to separate themselves in many ways from popular culture, e.g., not watching R-rated movies. I've always rejected that because, among other things, a rating given by some outside group is hardly a good way to draw such a line and because foul language (in and of itself) doesn't run afoul of any Biblical teaching (although it could under certain circumstances). More importantly, I think that if you separate yourself completely from the world, you won't understand it. I understand more than most Christians about a particular subset of people, i.e., my brothers in metal. I hope to be able to use that to do some good.

    I want to pick up something on your point about the shallowness of music in the absence of lyrics. I tend to listen to metal in much the same way I listen to classical music. I hardly think you're asserting that Bach's music was shallow, but that seems to be a logical conclusion to be drawn from your statement. Lyrics are, to me, like poetry, and are not an inherently important element of music. I will draw a distinction here between lyrics and vocals. I find vocals to be important for conveying emotional content and musical interest. I find lyrics extraneous. Perhaps it will be interesting to note that I've never cared for poetry in any form, with few exceptions.

    I think I get your meaning about Mormonism being "MORE organized than most". I'm quite confident in my religious convictions, and I've never found anything which contradicts them. There are things from science and elsewhere which have contradicted specific interpretations. But that is only evidence that the interpretation may be out of line with the truth (and human grasp of truth is always at best tenuous). For instance, there was the common belief that the earth is the center of the universe. Why? Because people conflated their understanding of the universe with religious truth. I was recently listening to something that posited the question of what would happen to religious belief if intelligent alien life were found, and I've also read some hypothetical discussions of original sin and salvation for alien life. The Bible does not preclude such a thing. One of the beautiful things about that text is that it tells things in a way that is timeless. If the Bible had discussed all manner of extraneous things that the people of the time could not grasp, then it would have been dismissed.

    On your stats, I was way off. I mistook your higher level of world-weariness (compared to me) for the effects of a recently resolved but still painful philosophical struggle, the kind which is usually experienced in a person's early- to mid-20's. I should have been able to see that considering how you don't seem actively hostile to religion, a mellowing that comes with experience. I've been known (at least to myself) to miss certain obvious cues. For instance, in the IO thread on that Graveland album I suspected a person of being a particularly brilliant troll. Then offered a link to my own blog, and the person followed it. Checking my blog stats, I discovered the ISP belonged to a school district, and I realized I was wasting my time arguing with a teenager. So, not a brilliant troll, but a teenager, with everything that entails.

  10. One more thing. I was not aware of that particular meaning of catharsis, and it didn't show up in the dictionary entry I looked at to figure out what you were trying to say. I suppose that is a cathartic experience, too.

  11. I think I should step in and note that there is a fundamental difference between challenging a belief and the believer feeling threatened.

    In order to be art, music doesn't really need to do either (many classical symphonies serve as good examples). In the sense you're referring to, though, I think the challenge is beneficial. Just because something challenges your beliefs doesn't mean you have to feel threatened by it. That's the point I think Kelly is making when he says he's never felt his beliefs threatened by music (please correct me if I'm wrong). It has nothing to do with the depth or shallowness with which one listens to the music. Rather, it has to do purely with one's own security. I've always felt that if somebody is afraid to have their belief about something challenged, then they don't really hold that belief.

    On a side note, this entire conversation appears to fallaciously presuppose that ALL black metal is art, simply by virtue of being black metal. Some black metal is undeniably art, but being a work of art is not a necessary condition for a piece of music to be black metal. This is true of every genre of music in existence, and black metal is not any kind of special exception to the rule.

  12. Though I see now that he wrote a response himself while I was typing.

  13. And another thing. I wasn't trying to assert that you have a puppy-dogs-and-sunshine view of Christianity. I was merely pointing out that to boil it all down to "peace and love" is reductionist. "[S]houting praises to God in a metal song" is not the only way to have Christian lyrics. Praise-type lyrics might work in power metal, progressive metal, standard heavy metal, or maybe even some stripes of doom. But black metal and death metal are definitely dark, and if you're going to have lyrics they should match the mood, for the benefit of those who examine lyrics. You can talk about the evils of the world just fine, quote apocalyptic prophecy, or explore the struggle between good and evil (and the ultimate triumph of good accomplished through the conquering of death, which is pretty badass if you think about it). Non-Christian metal bands do these things all the time. See Dio for just one of many examples.

    NOW I think that's everything I wanted to say.

  14. Thanks for the comments, Patrick. Yes, I think that was what I was trying to say.

  15. Yes, my experience as a Mormon has given me a narrow view of Christianity. I think most folks who don't hold a degree in theology or have a very deep interest in religion can also be accused of holding a narrow view of Christianity. I hope you're not saying that your view of Christianity is much wider than mine simply because your sect allows a wider interpretation of what constitutes sin than my own. I completely agree with everything else you said in your first paragraph. I've never been comfortable with the way the church views pop culture.

    Your point about Bach is heard loud and clear. I think you'll find if you read over some of my previous comments you'll find I've been making your point all along. I think you keep assuming that I'm specifically talking about lyrics when I mention looking into music more deeply. I'm not. Music is a dynamic medium for delivering a message. To deliberately ignore one or more aspect(s) of it is to short change yourself. Now, don't get me wrong. I am far from the paragon on how to listen to music. I ignore the deeper aspects far too often. I'm not much of a poetry lover nor do I spend hours poring over heavy metal lyrics. I prefer to read a good horror novel while blasting Deathspell Omega. That can often be a very scary experience.

    Ambiguity in the bible, in my cynical view, is a very powerful tool in keeping people interested. If all of the answers aren't perfectly enumerated then people are going to go on a quest of discovery. The supposition that people would've dismissed the truth if it had been revealed to them is a perfect example of begging the question. If the truth had been revealed in it's entirety, I'm pretty sure it would've made sense, as truth tends to make sense. Also, your assertion that the Bible is timeless is completely ridiculous. I don't know how many times people have sought to explain away the weird goings-on in the bible by stating that the story took place in a different time and culture. Hell, God's own prophet fucked his own daughters. God tortured the hell out of one of His most faithful servants in order to win a bet. God played a trick on his own prophet by commanding him to kill his own son. The later two examples have been twisted into parables, but the former is just plain fucked up and might make for a pretty great porno grind song. Ha!

    The LDS church is incredibly effective at brainwashing by sending it's 19 year old boys on missions. 19 is the perfect time for a religious crisis. What better way to head that off at the pass then sending somebody out into the world as an emissary for God's word? There, you learn a whole new level of zeal and for most it carries them through life. That was what was happening to me. The difference was that I kept my toe in the world more than most of my contemporaries.

    As for your final comment, I think I agree. Your point about some types of metal being better vessels for praise is noted. Mormons praise God to organ, piano, and sometimes strings and odd flute here and there. That's about it. The idea of using any variation of rock to praise God is an extremely alien concept to a Mormon. It's borderline silly to us. So, using any form of extreme metal is just out-n-out blasphemy. Having said that, I can see that those types of metal might be used as praise music if one comes from a certain religious background. As you said black and death aren't appropriate for praising God. I suppose they could be used for the other ideas you have mentioned.

  16. I was speaking to a Mormon yesterday and he, too, said that separating themselves from the world has its downside.

    I've said/implied that my view of Christianity is broader because it includes a wide variety of different styles of practice. In other words, I'm not trying to assert that one particular view is correct, which is why I will not opine on whether Mormons (or Jehovah's Witnesses for that matter) are Christian, although at one point in my life I would have vehemently insisted they are not. I do have a view of which way is correct, but practicing some kind of Christianity is better than not at all, in my opinion. There are those within the sect within which I grew up who seemed to think they were the only ones going to heaven, but that's just preposterous. Jesus laid out a few very specific requirements, but the more sectarian-minded seem to think there are more than that (unless pressed on the issue, in which case I think they would admit there are only the few).

    Your paragraph on lyrics is interesting. If I take your meaning correctly, you think that the music itself can be sinful, regardless of lyrical content. In my opinion, that's ridiculous, but it is thought-provoking. However, there is no emotion which is in and of itself sinful. (Things such as lust, pride, or envy are more than mere emotion, but also active thought.) Tying that together with your last paragraph, I'm aware of a metal-oriented church which has a web site somewhere, but generally speaking most people would be alarmed by metal in church. The church where I grew up has a "contemporary" music service, with guitar and drums and so forth. I find the majority of contemporary Christian praise music to be vapid and irritatingly devoid of anything *real*, and prefer the organ-based music. But it connects with a lot of people, and there's nothing wrong with it.

    On the "ambiguity" of the Bible, I think you've misunderstood what I was saying. People would have dismissed it, if it had every detail about the universe, because it would have been overwhelming, too hard to know where to start, and too hard to grasp. That's why it would be dismissed, not because people would have thought it untrue, but because they wouldn't have paid any attention to it. It also would not have been tailored to its purpose. It would be silly to expect it to include details about alien life, because that's not the point of it. On the rest of your comments about the Bible, one thing people fail to recognize is that one of its major themes is how disgusting and reprehensible mankind is, including the so-called men of God. It doesn't approve of incestuous rape. It shows that we all need God, because we're all fucked-up bastards inside. I don't know whether Job was anything more than a parable, but as I recall God never tortured him. He allowed the devil to do things. I see that as quite different. Finally, on Isaac and Abraham, I've never understood why people have a problem with that story. I'm not sure whether there's any literal truth to it (as it does take place in Genesis, which I think is largely metaphorical), but even if there is, I simply don't see the problem. It was a test of faith. Isaac was a son that Abraham never thought he would have, and God tested whether he was willing to sacrifice any gift required, but never actually intended he go through with it.