An exchange with frequent commentator John Situmbeko in my post on Michael Buble (which has gotten an inordinate number of hits since I first posted it), seemed interesting enough for me to make it a post unto itself.
John commented agreeing with my points and saying that he had been unimpressed by a Buble TV special with profanity in the bloopers. He then opined, “What then can be advised to Christians that are fans of such artists, despite knowing the character of the artist? I’d rather stay away from his music, after all it is not produced with me a Christian as the customer in mind.”
I replied that I myself enjoy lots of music by non-Christians but that I wouldn’t necessarily attend a concert by one of my favorite secular musicians (although in the massively unlikely event that Paul Simon ever comes within a 500-mile radius of “my little town,” I am so already there). Upon reflection, perhaps I would revise that statement to say that I do draw a distinction between people whose character clashes with the marketing image they project and people who have never claimed to be squeaky-clean in the first place. Buble seems to me like he falls into the former category. The fact that people bring young kids to his concerts says something about the image he projects. As I discussed in my post, I think that’s deceptive given the language he’s felt free to use at concerts and in taped shows (my uncle and his wife told me they checked out a DVD from the library and were turned off by his off-color humor). For that reason, I am actually disinclined to get interested in his music. So it’s really Buble’s hypocrisy that turns me off, not the fact that he’s secular per se.
But John went on to ask a further provocative and interesting question in this longer reply: Which is better/worse to listen to—an openly heathen artist who makes good but secular music, or a Christian artist who continues to sing Christian music while living in sin?
In music the artist and the art are closely connected, that is especially true with Christian singers, if their behaviour is a mess and unChristlike, no Christian will proudly claim them as their favourite. Many will shun their music. But it is not so with non Christian artists, most Christians would rather listen to Bublé and proudly name themselves his biggest fans than listen to X, a sinful Christian, yet X though in his sin, sings the mighty power of God, whereas Bublé sings of the chick he is yet to meet. Who among the two deserves a listen, Bublé or X?
For non Christian artists, they have no standard of uprightness to measure up to so they can do whatever they want yet their music will sell because the consumers of their products are mostly those that don’t care about how well behaved they are, but about how good their music is. Among this group, some Christians can be found, those that enjoy the artist’s music and not the artist. I think it is a package, the artist and the art. The good or bad name is associated to the music. If the voice belongs to disrespectful Jack, its angelic beauty is filtered and all that remains is noise.
Although I see John’s point, I still think one can get something good out of a secular artist’s music—provided, of course, that the music itself isn’t wallowing in/celebrating immorality. And I think there’s an important difference between that and supporting a Christian who is living in sin but still “singing the mighty power of God.” Once again, it’s the hypocrisy that makes me lose my appetite for the music, even when all considerations of the music’s own quality are set aside. Just to make it clear, I am NOT saying that I therefore think a performance of a profanity-laden, disgusting song is therefore “better” than a performance of a hymn by a hypocritical Christian. God forbid. What I am saying is that for me to enjoy either secular OR Christian music, I expect both a certain level of quality in the lyrics/music and some kind of integrity from the artist making it. From the Christian, personal integrity. From the heathen, professional integrity.
Sometimes a lack of professional integrity takes the form of behavior that the rest of the world views as “authentic.” Take Elton John, for example. I cannot deny that he’s a musical genius who’s written some fantastic melodies. But the damage he is proudly inflicting on society and the next generation by becoming a mascot for the gay agenda, pretending to be “married” to his homosexual partner and adopting two children is so revolting to me that I can’t stand to listen to his music. The only time I can tolerate hearing his songs is when different artists cover them, because then the only thing Elton has contributed to the musical experience is the melody (never lyrics, which were always written by Bernie Taupin—a helpful consideration, for obvious reasons).
Still, I do sometimes ask myself, “Hey, I may not have Elton John on my ipod, but aren’t I enjoying music by unrepentant, casual adulterers, fornicators, etc., when I listen to a lot of the secular stuff that is on my ipod?” Such behavior has always been accepted as normal among artists in rock and roll or pop, be it yesterday’s or today’s. And the fact that it happens to be hetero doesn’t make it any less hateful in God’s sight.
I could say more about why I still feel justified in leaving them on the ipod and leaving Sir Elton off, but instead I’m going to hit pause on my ramblings and let you, the readers, continue this conversation amongst yourselves. What are your thoughts? Do you lean more towards John’s side or my side? I’m really very interested to hear what you come up with, all the more so if you’re an artist yourself.