Friday, October 21, 2011

Metal and Christianity, Part 2

How my faith is compatible with metal

If you are a Christian, you have no business listening to metal. You are not welcome. And you will always know and feel that.
--anonymous comment

In a previous post, I addressed the topic of how my musical preferences don't conflict with my faith. Here, I address the less obvious topic of how my faith doesn't conflict with my musical preferences.

Where Do You Stand?

My recent poll asked, "How do you feel about Christianity and metal?" I was surprised that nearly a third (9) of the respondents answered that being anti-Christian is an integral part of metal. They might be offended to find out that a lot of church leadership looks at it exactly the same way. I was also surprised that an equal number of people answered that they are Christian metalheads. More of you (11) are neutral toward Christians and Christian lyrics. Honestly, I thought many more would be neutral, and am honestly shocked at how many fell into the pro- and anti- camps. And 45% of you think the (often anti-religious) lyrics of metal are important, compared to 11% who don't believe they're important and another 42% who think they are sometimes important.

Assuming my poll is accurate, about a third of metalheads think that being against God is a necessary part of metal. I suspect due to both things being important to them, and finding a lot of support for their religious ideas in the metal community. But it's hardly necessary to the genre. In fact, early Black Sabbath lyrics were far from Satanic--they faced the devil, but did not embrace him. Doom metal pioneers Trouble had overtly Christian lyrics. And believe it or not, there are actually a few good Christian metal bands out there in just about every genre (including black metal).

There are a lot of good reasons that Christianity and metal can blend well.

The Bible: The Most Metal Book Ever Written

Looks like an album cover to me.
As much as metal has drawn on Lovecraft and Tolkien, more metal lyrical content is drawn from the Bible than from any other literary source. Granted, not all of that content deals with the Bible in a positive light. But there's some really awesome stuff in that book. There's plenty of violence, epic conflicts, mysterious plagues, punishment from above, and the Apocalypse. Where would metal be without Metallica classics like "Creeping Death" and "The Four Horsemen", or the countless songs dealing with the Beast? Maybe we'd still have Vikings, but metal would be all-but-unrecognizable without the Bible.

You Don't Own Metal

All music fans have the right to refuse to listen to certain bands based on lyrical content, but they also need to realize that music is universal and no one philosophy has the right to claim total control over a genre.

Fenriz seems to think he owns black metal, and that he gets to decide what does and doesn't belong to the genre. In his egomania, he is just as likely to declare a heavy metal/hard rock act like Ghost to be black metal as he is to deny the genre tag to a band with Christian lyrics. Dehumanization's Matthew Kelly had this to say:
The forerunners of most ‘extreme metal’ styles were not social butterflies and they didn't really give a shit either way what other people thought of what they were doing - they did it to satisfy an inner craving for music of a type they didn't hear coming from any other bands around them at the time. That being said I think the most apparent thing that's wrong with black metal in particular is the idea that there's some peer-based review board of people somewhere in Norway who meet on a weekly basis to decide what's black metal this year and what's not.
Nobody owns it, but clearly black metal must be angry. That's not based on a study of lyrics as they've been written in the past, but on the emotional content of the music itself. So how can Christians, with the messages of forgiveness, fit into this? Easily. Christianity gives you plenty of evil things to rail against, and Christ himself raged against moneychangers in the temple. Which brings me to my next point.

Jesus Is Fucking Metal

Jesus himself actually exhibited a lot of metal traits. Christ embraced sinners and the worst of the worst, and he didn’t put up with the bullshit (and especially the posturing) from the religious establishment (like the Pharisees). He wholly rejected society’s values and lived his principles. He spoke his mind and didn’t tolerate hypocrisy. That's the very definition of a metal attitude. Then he went on to endure brutal torture and a slow, painful execution, when he could have gotten out of it by simply backing down. After he died, he went to hell and proclaimed his victory, then got up and walked out of the grave. Any way you look at it, that's badass.

Comic from Penny Arcade, August 4, 2004
(click for larger)

To follow Jesus is to go against the grain, just as metal is. I don't mean to suggest that simply professing Christianity is metal. That's not. To claim membership in that group is mainstream, and to be honest I myself am skeptical of people who wear it on their sleeves. But to actually choose to follow Christ, that's different. This is not a difference of degree, but of kind.

Living as a Christian and standing up for Christian beliefs will invite criticism. Christianity has just as much opposition to mainstream society as secular metal, albeit in different ways. Christianity is also concerned with being True, just like metal.

Common Ground

The similarity of personality between actual (rather than merely professing) Christians and metalheads is evident when you look at all the prominent Christian metal musicians. Dave Mustaine, Alice Cooper, and Tom Araya are just a few.

We Christian metalheads have a lot more in common with the non-Christians than you might think. None of us like self-righteous hypocrisy.
The self righteous, religious and egocentric folks that we have today are really no different than those who executed Jesus 2,000 years ago. I can totally [sympathize] with my non-Christian brethren in the Metal scene; televangelists, street preachers and the ilk drive me mad!
Most people are content to pretend everything is OK, and they don't like to talk about religious issues. That's why you have so many people who don't have an opinion about religion, or who identify themselves as a member of a religion just because they were raised that way. In contrast, metalheads have all thought about religion. That's why we all have such strong opinions. Plus, we know the world is fucked up, and we face the issue.
People in the Metal scene know there is something deeply wrong with the world. And Metal often expresses our outrage. Instead of pretending everything is OK or anesthetizing ourselves with consumerism, self pity, or poison, Metalheads tend to confront things head on. This is unbelievably important because it is the hardest part of the Christian message for most people to grasp and Metalheads understand it from the get-go. Metalheads know something is really, really wrong.
That's why you see all the good-versus-evil themes in all kinds of metal, going back to "Black Sabbath".

What is important to metal is that it deals with big, dramatic issues like good and evil--whether in a serious way or a fantastic way. Metal doesn't dictate that you take one side. When confronted about the demon defeating the priest on the cover of Holy Diver, Ronnie James Dio countered that it could be the priest defeating the demon. The important thing is the confrontation.


"OK," you may say, "if Christians can be so metal, then where are the good Christian metal bands?" That's a good question, because the names that tend to get cited as examples are not that great. For the first and last time, The Devil Wears Prada sucks, and they have a stupid name. But like I said, there are great Christian bands in just about every genre. And, contrary to popular belief, some of them are actually innovative. Here are just a few of the better ones:


Virgin Black


(early) Extol
A Hill to Die Upon

Black Metal

Crimson Moonlight


Seventh Angel
Living Sacrifice (self-titled debut)


(later) Extol

Power Metal




  1. I personally look at Christian lyrics in metal the same way I look at everything else: if the music is good, the lyrics do not matter at all. I listen to some incredibly violent music, just look at last week's Slam Week. Slam is as violent as it comes in metal a lot of the time, but the lyrics do not bother me at all. Christian lyrics are the same way.

  2. According to my poll, a little more than a third of metalheads feel that way. For another third, I'm preaching to the choir, if you'll excuse the pun. For the other third--the intended audience for this post--I wonder if they can get past their preconceptions to get anything out of this. (Which is not to say that intelligent, considered disagreement isn't possible. It's just that I expect obstinance.)

  3. Earlier today I blasted Eparistera Daimones. Right now I'm blasting Saviour Machine.

  4. what, exactly, are the preconceptions that need to be bypassed?

    I'll assume you're referring to a supposed cognitive dissonance of seeing christians in metal? well, it's not at all surprising, as the history of the spread of christianity is one of them colonizing pre-established forms to suit their evangelicalizing/proselytizing needs. this is just a contemporary example of it.

    what is irksome to non-xian metal subculture is that, as a form, it developed as a means (whether or not explicitly remains arguable) to criticize the greater project of the Abrahamic religions' co-opting and supercession of pre-xian pagan & atheist metaphysics. so when xians start coming around again and claiming that space for themselves, you're damn right it's gonna start pissing people off. xians run/own/dominate enough public space, yet they continue to act out their persecution complex as if that's not true.

    to quote Diderot: Humankind will celebrate when the last king is hung with the entrails of the last priest.

  5. Their preconceptions about Christians, of course. As I've mentioned before, it's odd that metalheads can (as a rule) find so many varying degrees of Satanism and racism/Nazism with infinite shades of gray, yet all Christianity is viewed as a monolithic caricature.

    I dispute your view of metal in general and its relationship to Christianity. Perhaps it's true for black metal only (and that only if you look at late first wave and later, as Venom's "Satanism" clearly was meant for show). What's interesting about your claims is this idea that metal is meant only for non-Christians, and their offense is that others want just one thing only for themselves. (I wonder how the hip hop community feels about Eminem?) Then why, I would ask, are there so many prominent Christians? And why does that begin, under any defensible view, about 20 years into metal's 40 year history?

    Your last comment would make you sound like a hipster to most metalheads, but I like to tolerate intelligence and literacy, so I won't go there. Forgive me, but I don't put much stock in a fatalist's philosophy, whether he be Diderot or Calvin.

  6. I got sloppy with here, so I should specify that I meant:
    - Why are there so many prominent Christians in metal?
    - And why does the anti-Christianity of metal begin 20 years into metal's 40 year history?

  7. I think that most people see Christianity as a part of the establishment and this is why people choose to rebel against it. A brief scan of wikipedia finds a 2007 study where 78.4% of Americans identified themselves as Christian, whereas only 16.1% of Americans identified themselves as agnostic, atheist or otherwise non-religious. 54% of the world's population consider themselves adherents of one of the three Abrahamic religions.

    Regardless of the whole "being true"/"following Christ" thing, you cannot argue that Christianity has been used as a tool of oppression and control throughout history. Do you think that it was right to rob the Native Americans or the Scandinavians of their culture and indigenous religious practices/beliefs so they could "follow Christ" and be subjugated? Whatever Christ's intentions were, mankind's corruption and hypocrisy ultimately won out, and this is why people feel the need to rebel against it.

  8. Right, and that was the distinction I was making--between being and labeling. Christianity isn't really a part of the establishment, and that was another point I was trying to make. The organized Church, yes. Christianity, no. How much overlap there is between the two is up for debate.

    I must call you out on the Scandinavians, though, because that's what all those pagan/Viking black metal folks want you to believe, but it's simply not true. Missionaries came, and then Scandinavians forcefully converted/killed each other. It wasn't as if an invading army took over.

    And in any case, just about any major world view has been used as a tool of oppression and control. But for the most part, as far as Christianity is concerned, it was really neo-Platonism filtered through Christianity, when really Plato's ideas are quite foreign to the religion through a Biblical view (not to Catholicism, however, due to Augustine).

  9. I want to expound on that last point a little. It says more about the kind of people who want to put themselves in power than about the ideas they twist to their own ends. Clearly Christianity as taught by Christ (and also Paul) is a religion of love for one's fellow man. Anything else is not Christianity, but a perversion of the idea.

  10. I find all the anti-Christian rhetoric really boring and a bit adolescent. It's a cliche and any shock value long drained away. I'm no fan of organised religion but I think there are more interesting things to explore in art.

    Conversely, I wouldn't discount a band that is Christian but I am a bit wary of preachy lyrics.

    Whether pro or anti Christian, if the band cuts it musically then I will get on board.

    FMA - I respect your stance on this especially as you are sticking your neck out and inviting anonymous flaming. Even as a non-Christian, I quite like your argument about Jesus being metal even if I am not utterly convinced!

    Anyway, thought-provoking post!

    That said, I do find it odd that you are more tolerant of racist music than overtly anti-Christian. Given that racism is pretty abhorrent and completely at odds with Christ's message of love, I'm not sure why you would give it a free pass.

  11. Thanks! I agree with a lot of what you've said, about anti-Christian lyrics being a tired cliche (I've mentioned that somewhere on this blog previously), about being wary of preachy lyrics (music is not going to convert anyone TO a religion any more than it's going to drive someone AWAY from a religion), and that the music is far more important than the message.

    Racism is abhorrent and incompatible with Christ's message, but I find it slightly less abhorrent. In my world view ("world view" being an unfortunate term considering the topic), you'd be better off being a misguided, ignorant racist Christian than an otherwise perfect human being who's not a Christian. The point I'm trying to make here is a subtle one that's going to be easily twisted by someone who would want to argue with it, but hopefully I've made it clear enough to understand.

  12. "you'd be better off being a misguided, ignorant, racist christian than an otherwise perfect human being who's not a christian"

    How is it possible for a "misguided, ignorant, racist" person to truly follow Christ's teachings? I have always been under the impression that love and respect for your fellow man was central to Christ's philosophy. I think that Christ would scorn such hypocrisy, although he would ultimately show them forgiveness and attempt to help them see the error of their ways. No offense but I think you're trying to justify your ethnocentric "world view" here, and it's pretty thin.

    As for your earlier point about the Scandinavians, I think it is even more deplorable that they fought amongst themselves due to being infected with the corrupt "convert the savages" version of Christianity that the missionaries undoubtedly brought them, rather than being invaded conquered. I don't think Christ would approve of these methods.

  13. You're right, Christ would not approve of racism or "convert or die" methodology. Isn't it just as likely that this version of Christianity was the result of the Scandinavian way of thinking, rather than what the missionaries said? After all, the Vikings were known for ruthlessness. We'll probably never know for sure.

    And again, my point is a subtle one. The misguided, ignorant racist Christian is--let's break it down here--a Christian, but also misguided and ignorant. As long as the heart is in the right place, you can be an idiot fool. It's not necessarily hypocrisy, it's stupidity.

    Finally, I hope you're not trying to paint me as having an "ethnocentric" world view, at least not any more than anyone else. I am not racist, nor do I condone racist philosophy. I am only saying that it is less deleterious to one's eternal well-being than the other. Think crack versus meth, if you will. I don't approve of either, but if you had to choose, crack isn't quite as bad. And ultimately, people can be cured of addiction to either, although it's far more difficult to cure a meth addiction.

  14. I always think of something else I want to add.

    When I was comparing relative evils above, I was speaking in terms of potential harm to the person who holds the beliefs in question, and to a lesser extent to any potential harm to an impressionable listener. I realized that you are probably thinking in terms of harm to society. In that case, the question become much more difficult to answer for someone with a Christian outlook. To someone with a completely secular outlook, it probably becomes easier.

  15. So let me see if I've got this straight. The racist, ignorant, misguided Christian who ties a black man to the bumper of his pickup truck and drags him for 20 miles is ok and has his heart in the right place. But me, a non-christian who respects his fellow man, is a contributing member of society, helped take care of his invalid grandfather, etc, is somehow "evil" or better yet, "inferior" to the racist, or to someone that has done the exact same things that I have, yet also happens to be christian? Stupidity is acceptable as long as it's coupled with conviction?

    I'm not saying your particular brand of ethnocentrism is racial, it is religious. Although you haven't come right out and said it, it's painfully obvious that you consider christians somehow superior to non-christians.

  16. It's amazing how profoundly you misunderstood me. I get the impression it's not an intentional mischaracterization, but there's a very fundamental issue that's causing the confusion. What's painfully obvious is that you have made no effort to see things from my point of view, or you have rendered yourself nearly incapable of doing so. I mentioned I expected obstinance. I hadn't considered that it could be unintentional.

    The key point is your actions don't matter for salvation. What you believe does--well, now that's an oversimplification. Even the demons believe in God. I'm not sure what the right word is here--perhaps dedication? Your beliefs/dedications should influence your actions, so the example you've provided is unlikely. Now, the atheist is no more evil (and certainly not "inferior"). He is probably even less evil (although this gets into some finer points I'm not sure about). The point is that neither one is, on his own, good. Sin is like a disease, and evil actions are the symptoms. We all have the disease, regardless of how symptomatic we are. Christ is the cure necessary for salvation. All I said is that the one is eligible for salvation, while the other is not. I didn't speak to how "good" they are in any kind of secular moral sense (although a secular moral system is absurd--but that is an entirely separate discussion).

    I don't consider Christians superior to non-Christians. In fact, you are the one who injected notions of inferiority/superiority, which are clearly different from good/evil, right/wrong, or saved/unsaved. Perhaps the above has clarified your misunderstanding. Actually, I'm not even sure exactly what your statement means. If you're referring to people who self-identify as Christians, I suggest you re-read the post, as I make it quite clear that I don't put any stock in that. If you're referring to people who share my world view, then they are "superior" only to the extent that they have a more correct world view. If I didn't believe that, I would have a different world view (obviously). Surely you can see the latter point, unless you don't believe in objective truth. But if you don't believe in objective truth, then I see no point in further discussions, so I hope that you do.

  17. Alright man, at this point I''d say we're going to have to agree to disagree. To be perfectly blunt, I truly am incapable of comprehending or even attempting to see things from the point of view of your beliefs and world view, it simply isn't in my programming, which probably explains all the "misunderstanding" that's going on here. That said, I think it would be pretty easy for anyone coming from the same place that I am to misunderstand you and vice versa. I don't think that your points are necessarily unclear, I just think they are bound to be interpreted in a different way by someone that's wired differently. How can I be expected to fully get where you're coming from, when for me believing in a god is no different than believing in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny?

    Now you're probably wondering why I bothered to engage you in the first place if I find the whole thing absurd to begin with. It's because I'm interested in what others believe, regardless of what I think about. It's for those same reasons I watch a movie like Jesus Camp or take a class on world religions. I'm interested in religion in spite of having no personal use for it.

  18. Fair enough. I guess I don't see what's so difficult about understanding my points, as I can perfectly well understand what any atheist has ever told me. Their explanations just seem incomplete, misguided, simplistic, and stunted by misunderstandings created by the limitations of/mental shortcuts encouraged by human language. To be fair, such shortcomings are usually found in Christian points of view as well, but I guess that's the result of most people not fully thinking things through.

    Again, I'm going to plug C.S. Lewis and his Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain. I had come to the conclusions represented by those books through my own reasoning before ever picking them up, and it was both humbling and refreshing to find that they had been so well-stated some half a century before I thought of them. I wouldn't say they have influenced my thinking, but they represent how I think about religious issues extremely well.

    I wasn't actually wondering why you bothered to engage in this conversation. You bring up another point that is tangential to what I spoke about in the main post, and that is the fact that nearly all metalheads are interested in religion. They find it an important topic, wherever they fall on the spectrum of beliefs.

  19. not really surprised to see that this thread kept going. I'm totally with THKD here. FMA, you say you understand the atheist point of view and that it is we "others" who do not understand you. That is untrue. I do understand your perspective and I vehemently disagree with it; I do not believe in the supernatural (as there is no evidence to support such a notion in the history of the universe that we know) nor do I believe in salvation or being "saved".

    As far as your comment on the racist/homophobic/misogynist/classist/etc. christian being "better off" than myself (an atheist), that is a remarkably ignorant stance to take. It clearly betrays a sense of christian superiority (it's irrelevant that you disagree, because, frankly, you've shown yourself to be that misguided, ignorant christian) that has been the hallmark of christianity since before its inception (as in Christ thought himself better than others, as do all cult leaders who try to herd their flock or whatever).

    I think it's funny, though, that you discount my Diderot quote as "hipsterism" (yes, I live in Brooklyn, you can kiss my ass) and say you don't bother with "fatalists". the great paradox of your limited outlook on the world is how all-encompassing it is.

  20. How can you, in one breath, say that you don't believe in the concept of salvation, and then in the next breath, dispute the criteria for salvation? That's ridiculous. There is no air of superiority about it, because nobody deserves salvation. No one has earned it.

    There is quite a bit of evidence for God, found in reason, human experience, and history. For example, how do you think you can convince an entire nation of people that they lived for 40 years on food they picked up off the desert floor unless it really happened? That's just one of many.

    I did not dismiss your quote as hipsterism. I merely commented that others would do so. I'm interested to hear where this paradox is.

  21. this guy put together an elegant/well-composed critique of Mere Christianity, which I think is the source of some of conceptual/semantic differences. at the very least it's a decent summary of why I find that book's premises faulty (and maybe a better view of what's in my head? hopefully).

  22. That critique is so deeply flawed as to border on the ridiculous. His basic thread is a problem with a morality that is unyielding, and does not permit situational ethics. But of course morality is situational--that hardly needs any exposition, because reality is situational. The situational ethics broached by the comparison of genocide to genuine politeness doesn't even conflict with anything in the book, so I'm not sure why it's brought up. And any serious theologian or minister will tell you that there are some situations where a lesser harm is moral to avoid a greater harm. For instance, in my confirmation classes we were taught that abortion is OK to save the mother's life, or that killing someone in self-defense is OK.

    Lewis does not argue that God exists because we have morals, so that's a nice straw man. And his argument about a thread of morality understood in humanism actually agrees with and substantiates Lewis's argument, rather than minimizing it. (I'm not quite sure how anyone could see that any other way.)

    His argument about the Nazis is first of all wrong on the point that they were Catholics and Lutherans (this was previously addressed). But moreover, he says they "were wrong not because they broke an absolute law, but because they desecrated human life." Why is desecrating human life wrong, if not because of absolute moral law?

    And finally, he addresses the stupid, stupid argument (brought up many times by many otherwise intelligent people) that because evil things have been done in the name of religion, that religion is somehow harmful. Evil things have been done in the name of just about any cause (see ecoterrorism, for instance), and people will justify the evil things they want to do for any reason they can find. They will also wholly misunderstand ideas and take them where they were never meant to go--see Leopold and Loeb, or atrocities committed by governments in the name of peace or "the greater good".

  23. While we're on the subject of ad hominem attacks (the last argument addressed above illustrates the fallacy nicely, so it's sad how often it comes up) the guy who wrote that article exhibits the problem that most people have with atheists--that air of superiority. Atheists like to accuse the religious (especially Christians) of believing themselves superior, but it's quite the contrary. Atheists like to call themselves "free thinkers" or imply that they are more intelligent. I saw a comedian a while back who said he likes everyone, Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, except for atheists, and it's for that reason. I have seen nothing in my life to suggest a correlation (negative or positive) between intelligence and faith. I have, however, seen a negative correlation between faith and pride. Here is another situation where our language is inadequate to address the topic, because there is a kind of pride that is good (pride in family, pride to be a part of a group). But here I mean something more akin to hubris, the Pride of the Seven Deadly Sins.