Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thoughts on Music

[The following is part of an email to a friend. It was preceded by a discussion in which we disagreed. I thought I'd put it up here to see what others thought. As usual, any and all comments are appreciated. By the way, the email was titled "Sorry for the length..." You'll see why in a second.]


  1. IMPORTANT POINT: To say that some action, event, or thought universally detracts from everyone’s relationship with God is to say that action, event, or thought is sinful. This is what sin is: a rupturing of, in a minor or major way, one’s relationship with God.
  2. The Catholic Church, though Scriptures, Tradition, and the Magisterium, has declared certain actions, etc. as sinful.
    1. i.e. Choosing to murder someone, no matter the subjective or cultural situation, is always wrong, since it always ruptures a person’s relationship with God.
  3. However, when we begin to take other events, actions, or thoughts that the Church has not declared as sins, and to assign them the definition of sin, we are dealing with one of two things:
    1. actions that are specific to contemporary times, i.e. driving your car too fast or cyber bullying: the Counsel of Nicea could not deal with these; or
    2. subjectively creating new form of moralities. We are imposing ethical standards that are our own. At the very least, this is wrong; on another level, we are drifting from our Catholic faith; and on a different level, we are being bad evangelists.
  4. This is exactly what you are doing when you say that Metallica always affects in a negative way a person’s relationship with God.
    1. We could get angry or at least fed up, and rightfully so, at a Catholic who says, “Well, the Church says that’s a sin, but I don’t think so. It’s fine for me; it doesn’t adversely affect my relationship with God.” In quite the reverse form, but equally incorrect, you’re saying, “Well the Church doesn’t say it’s a sin, but I think so. The Church doesn’t say it adversely affects everyone’s relationship with God, but I think it does.” The first speaker is a cafeteria Catholic; the second is either egotistical or poorly informed; either way, he is not acting Christianly, just as the first man is not.
  5. Please note: What I wrote above does NOT mean I can’t say: “Most people are negatively affected by Metallica;” “As a parent, I don’t want my kids listening to Metallica;” “Let’s make a commitment not to listen to Metallica;” “If so-and-so asked me if he should give up listening to Metallica, I would say yes,” etc. I’m not saying I agree with all of these statements; I’m simply saying that my earlier statements aren’t contradictory to these.
  6. Final theological point: You may say, “Well, you say Metallica is usually not good for people, and I say it always is. Isn’t that close? Aren’t we almost saying the same thing?” No, and one of my most important points is this: Our different conclusions, while they look similar, have extremely different ethical foundations; and this is important to note. Your premises, stated or not, are:
    1. A genre of music or a specific band can be labeled as intrinsically wrong/evil
    2. (and this is more incorrect) We can use our opinions of things to create ethical boundaries not supplied us by Mother Church. This is wrong.


  1. I firmly believe that you hold your values about music on good faith; I also firmly believe that they are based on insufficient theological foundations, developed on account of your social background (growing up in the POH and having a conversion in and through the POH), and a few examples that aren’t good enough for a real survey, let alone a moral belief.
  2. The specific affectation of music is relative and cultural. This simply means that music’s affect on us will have greatly to do with our cultural, social, and chronological background (living in the 90’s as opposed to the 20’s).
  3. IMPORTANT ANALOGY/EXAMPLE: The Beatles: When the Beatles came out, people probably had your exact same argument: “Hey, I’m not exactly saying the Beatles are “intrinsically evil,” but they CAN’T have a positive or neutral affect on anyone --- and that’s a fact.” And guess what? There may have seemed legitimate reasons to hold to this argument: in their mind, everyone who listened to the Beatles and went to concerts did drugs, rebelled, left the Church, etc. The argument above seemed reasonable. And perhaps it may have been best to not let kids listen to the Beatles (although I’m not saying I definitely believe that). However, this same music does not have the same affect on us today. Do you see the point? It isn’t the BEATLES MUSIC that is or was evil, wrong, or HAD to affect people’s relationship with God in an adverse way. Instead, it was the affect the music had on kids of the 60’s. We wouldn’t say that the Beatles music MUST affect people adversely, even if it may have seemed that way. From a distance --- 40-50 years --- we can now see that it was the culture, the times, the society, etc. that had the poor affect. And yes, it had to do with the music --- I agree with that --- but it was the “way it affected the people then” that is important, good, or bad --- not the music itself. [If you don’t like the Beatles example, replace them with Simon and Garfunkle or the Beach Boys, for I’m sure people had the same argument against them.]
  4. Music does have positive and negative effects; it is extremely powerful. However, the way to deal with it in a Christian way is NOT to label groups or genres as evil simply because it looks like that or we really think it is or it’s a strongly held opinion; as I said before, this act is in essence UN-Catholic. We can’t make up morality.
  5. [PS: Music doesn’t fit into our Christian sense of sin --- not exactly at least. Why? Because sin comes in the form of an action, thought, or failure to act; and one of these three things ruptures our relationship with God; and it is this rupture that is evil. Therefore, music can’t be evil in and of itself. It is the act of listening to it that can be evil; and listening to it is evil only insofar as it ruptures our relationship with God.]


  1. Below are three examples. Please note that my examples don’t PROVE my argument --- just as opposing examples don’t disprove me. They are here simply to show you that my rather abstract points above make some practical sense in the world.
  2. Example 1: Jimmy from Florida. Jimmy was a sophomore at FSU; he had had a deep conversation to Christ his freshmen year. When I met him, he was developing his prayer life, going to Mass daily, etc. I remember coming home from a Spirit Night with him in his car. He threw the radio on, blasting some pretty hard music. My initial instinct was to judge or question him, thinking in my mind, “Wow, I guess he isn’t too converted yet. In time, in time…” I was extremely convicted later that I had it wrong. At the moment in his personal walk with Christ, the music he was listening to was NOT rupturing his relationship with God, despite the fact that when I heard the specific kind of music I automatically thought of druggies, prostitutes, and Satanists. As Jimmy grew spiritually that year, he ended up telling me he felt convicted to not listen to as much music. As his relationship with God changed, so did his relationship with the world. He felt called to give up some of his music, but in the same way that Tom Appert said God might call him to give up classical music. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with either; there’s nothing universally negative about either. It’s about a person’s walk with Christ.
  3. Example 2: Miller. I lived with Miller for a year. Now Miller likes some heavy crap. Without ever putting the stuff on myself, I got a decent dose of stuff WAY heavier than Metallica. Do I think it was good for Miller? That’s irrelevant, and I hope you understand that. My point is elsewhere. For me, Metallica used to raise in me scenes of rebellion, drugs, sex, violence, etc. Now, quite frankly, a lot of it seems trite, silly, cute, twangy, and immature. It doesn’t hold those long held feelings like it used to. What’s my point? Once again, it’s how the music affects you that is important, and how it affects you has to do with every single person. If I run into a Metallica song on the radio, I don’t always leave it on; but at times I do. Do I listen to much of it? Hardly any. But that’s because I feel the Lord has called me to other things, in the same way that 5 years down the road He may ask me to give up some of the music I listen to now. But I can listen to a song on the radio and enjoy it; bottom line. It’s as if we that grew up and had conversions in and through the POH have some negative nostalgia about the sound of Metallica and like bands. But that’s not objective or universal; and it won’t always last.
  4. Example 3: My Mom. Unlike your family, we talked a lot of the YA rules out, a major one being music. My Mom always witnessed to us. She told us that she had a conversion and continued listening to Simon and Garfunkle (S&G). At one point, she realized that the music was making her sad, and her sadness was not a sadness that was bringing her towards God. Even before she met the POH, she gave up S&G. At that moment, the community’s rule made absolute sense. I can’t blame her one bit for thinking it was absolutely true. However, even before the POH revamped their teaching, my Mom came to her own, newer conclusion. She realized that S&G wasn’t wrong in itself; it wasn’t wrong for her to listen to it. Earlier, it probably helped her relationship with God to give it up entirely, but that was a specific moment. Now, she doesn’t listen to S&G all the time; I’m not even sure she has a CD. But she will ask us to turn it up if we’re listening to it; and she even has her favorite S&G song as a ringer. To her, the POH’s revamping, once again, made complete sense. It wasn’t extremely unreasonably for her to claim S&G was intrinsically wrong; but at the same time, she realized it had no theological foundation; last, she realized it didn’t completely make sense, at least once she was in a different situation and life-state.
  5. I share these examples with you to counter your examples. Remember, examples don’t prove anything; they simply help convince people that certain abstract principles make sense in practical life. I urge you to consider these examples whenever you consider the few you cling to so strongly.


  1. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way. Sometimes I’m bitter in speech or writing. I don’t intend to be. This is simply a topic that I have thought and prayed on a lot. It got on my nerves that someone from the younger generation still wanted to label non-objective things with objective labels: “always wrong,” or “always harmful,” etc. I understand that some of the older generation will never be convinced; but I’m very disheartened if those of the younger generation can’t.
  2. Feel free to respond. However, if you do, please don’t simply counter with other examples. You really need to get at the heart of the theological battle at hand (see points 3-6).
  3. Please don’t take my next and last point as a snide criticism of the community. I have learned to love Christ through the POH. The POH has more men and women that love and live for God than I have ever seen. And I believe in the POH. It is my love for the POH that leads me to my last point.
  4. When it comes down to it, we need to learn from our mistakes. The community has in the past made very objective claims about non-objective things: “It’s wrong for a boy to wear shorts.” Music, while something that should always be discussed and monitored, still falls under this tendency of going outside of our ethical bounds for the sake of keeping the faith strong. However, at the end of the day, if you’re out of your ethical bounds, you’ve drifted from the faith.

In Christ,


PS At a different time, we can discuss why the POH’s teaching came about; there are plenty of cultural reasons for its inception and people’s cleaving to it.


  1. wow, I haven't thought about music in a looong time. I guess I got so sick of it I just stopped to much baggage with it for me. Glad to read this tho thought provoking.

    Is it weird that about half way through I started playing Metallica?

  2. I luahged thinking of your mom asking you to turn up a rock song...
    I think to address this issue, one must look at what the POH believes about making certain decisions on issues that may not be intrinsically evil, but still do not allow it. For example, the music teaching was brought about to counter a rebelling younger generation where the POH determined music to be one of the commonalities among all their rebellious youth. So in turn they decided to ban this music and (maybe mistakenly) call it evil. However, I would argue that their move was somewhat effective. Are they in a position to make a universal moral judgement on music? no. But they have every right to determine what their members should listen to, however extreme.

    This brings up a deeper point about raising children in an environment where they are taught to be catholic AND members of comunity. To distinguish the two at an early age would be fruitless in their young moral understandings. But I believe a problem does arise when one begins to move away from POH teachings and tries to find their catholic roots. It is not an easy task to do! More on this later... Good points Jonas. I've thoroughly enjoyed exploring this issue over the last several years. It helped me alot.

  3. Yoda, my friend, your words are well put. We were both at the POH’s extended meetings concerning music and heard about the origins and purpose of the music teaching. For me, that was the most useful knowledge I obtained through those meetings. We like to make the “rock rule” look so silly, trite, and narrow-minded, without empathetically understanding a cultural moment in which the statement “rock music is evil” may have looked pretty objective and real. And I also agree with the point that possibly it was good to disallow people to listen to it, for, even if it wasn’t pure evil, its exclusion probably aided in people’s spiritual growth and distancing from the world of sin. As my last statement implies, I am also fine with saying you can make rules about non-intrinsic-evil issues, such as music.

    Regardless, I disagree with a further point made by you, that the difference between the POH teaching and Catholic teachings – between sin issues and social practice issues – needn’t be emphasized in a child’s early life, for it would be too difficult to explain. Of course it depends on how young we’re talking, i.e. You tell a toddler “it’s bad to touch a hot iron” without explaining that “the hot iron is not bad in-and-of-itself; it is the affect of the iron (which is also good in-and-of-itself) on the skin that will produce pain (and even though pain is not bad-in-and-of-itself, it may complicate the natural order of your body’s nervous system.”) However, a young kid, whenever he discovers his sexual desires, should be told RIGHT AWAY that these desires are good in-and-of-themselves, but that there are appropriate ways and times to express them. We don’t say (as some may have at different times), “Those feelings are bad; reject them.” Not only is that not helpful, it’s also not truthful; and most importantly, it doesn’t allow a person to understand the world and himself the way God intended.

    Now perhaps you think I am exaggerating your point, which was a lot simpler – perhaps. However, the tone of your response (yes, writing has “tone”) seemed to imply what I fear: the possible teaching that grays the line between sin and non-sin. You state, “To distinguish the two at an early age would be fruitless in their young moral understandings;” but doesn’t NOT distinguishing between the two TAINT their young moral understandings?

    Last, although it’s perfectly acceptable to have rules about non-sin issues (we are trying to create a counter-culture through the POH), the lines between sin and non-sin need to be clear. Often I truly think people thought things were sinful when they were simply rules. It’s a perfectly acceptable practice to recommend wearing skirts and modest clothes – but when it’s implied that “not wearing skirts” is somehow sinful, and when the ideas behind the rules aren’t clear, you have children – and adults – who are very confused. Then you get the kids who wake up and think to themselves, “Wait, what? They said rock was evil? How silly. What else did they say was wrong? Having sex before marriage. That’s silly too.” And hence, you undermine the gravity, and real consequence, of sin. We aren’t responsible for people choices; but we are responsible for the ways we teach guide the young morally.

  4. Jonas, you pose the question, "doesn’t NOT distinguishing between the two TAINT their young moral understandings?" Intuitively, I absolutely agree with your answer and explanation. However, that being said, it's one thing to agree in theory and (as I'm sure you know) attempt to pactice it. Since the POH and their teachings are rooted in Church teaching (I would assume), their expression of faith and rules imposed on their members are not so easily distinguished from the Church's teachings.

    Case in point: The POH at one point (if this isn't the case, consider it hypothetical) deemed bikinis not to be worn nor supported on the grounds of being immodest and being apart of the world (and being tempting for the opposite sex). This way, there is a concrete line as to what is appropriate for someone in POH to wear AND makes it simple to support each other in wearing proper and modest swimming attire. I have absolutely no problem with this reasoning and think, for the sake of community, a very good rule to have!

    However, if one were to leave community (let's say on good grounds and in good terms) and then wants to wear a bikini at the beach, how hard would it be to distinguish the POH teaching and the Church's teaching?! Let's also assume the act of wearing a bikini is acceptable at the beach and arguments can be put both ways as to the modesty of such clothing. So let's just leave it at a catholic can wear a biniki and not incur sin and a POH member can argue the sinfulness of it. If you don't think this is possible, I'll think of another example.

    What would go through my head is "if the POH says this is immoral and they arrived at this through Church teaching, then all Catholics should abide by this rule." Therefore, if I wore a bikini and I'm not in community anymore, it is still wrong for me because it is against the Church. (and clearly I have some gender issues to deal with as well)

    My point here is that using the simple transitive propoerty (A=B=C) will become kind of a defualt for those who leave POH, so determining what is and isnt a valid use of the transitive property can be quite complicating and frustrating. Granted, much of this may be more in the sub-conscious. I think this should suffice for now what I'm trying to get at. Does this make sense?

  5. actually John you point sounds more like it confirms Jonas's point response more then anything.

    It is not the case that just becasue the POH teachs something does it it make sense to assume the Catholic church teaches it just because the POH is catholic.

    your transitive arguement doesn't work because it it assumes that the POH is a perfect arbiter of the Catholic faith, which is silly since, well, only the church is that, and thats hard enough to accept sometimes. Since it is clearly not that, an atitude that promotes that (yours) Taints the truth, in that it is certainly harmful to promoting it

  6. My comments weren't pointed at POH nor were they saying this 'transitive argument' is correct. My point was an observation.

    I was recently in a discussion about this and the person I was speaking with made a good point which I'll elaberated on. If you take anyone out of a certain environment, it's almost inevitable that you would run into some mental conflict.

    Example #1: As a child my parents die and I was put into another home. The differences between the families would be confusing and it would take time to adjust. what we are and aren't allowed to do changes and causes conflict.

    Example #2: If a christian goes to college and decides to live a good life but not be Christian anymore, the amount of conflict resulting could be very damaging in the short term and lead them down a very immoral path. Christianity justified and formed what was 'good' for them so if you remove justification and do not replace it with something else, one would be hard pressed to justify 'good' and may just give up. (this I think is why my Dad always asked when I stopped doing something what replaced it...)

    So my point is simply when you leave something which played a major role in your formation, it should be expected that adjusting to a different environment is not a simple nor easy process. So if one is taught the in and outs of POH lifestyle and then leaves it, it take some time to adjust. And it should be expected that there will be some points of conflict and confusion to work out.

  7. Yoda, I have many thoughts – like usual. First, your second example is silly. If a man gives up Christianity, then he isn’t living an “immoral” life in his eyes. I understand the rest of the paragraph, but I don’t see how it helps your argument as a whole. Unless, of course, you’ve drifted from your argument, which I think you have. If all you’re saying now is that changes in people’s lives – social, physical, moral, etc. – cause mental conflict, then yes, I’m not sure many people would disagree with you there.

    However, it was the specific mental conflict that was the initial contention. Although someone leaving the POH will be faced with challenges, as is a normal, human, social occurrence, he shouldn’t be faced with certain issues. The following sentence is my point, a point that some of your recent posts have indirectly and directly disagreed with: If a man leaves the POH and remains a practicing Catholic, he should not be confused as to what is Sin and what isn’t Sin.

    I know you may be thinking, “I don’t disagree with that, and my comments haven’t disagreed with that.” But I think they have. Let us return to your bikini example. [I know this is one example; but I think you’ll be able to apply it to most other issues at hand.] If the community deems to make rule or statement such as “People in the POH don’t wear bikinis,” there’s a possibility that this is OK. [At another point, perhaps we can discuss that; I’m not sure I think rules like that help anyone. The people who agree with them wouldn’t wear bikinis anyway, and those who disagree are going to be hard pressed to be convinced. I think this is more of a family issue: parents teaching kids about modesty.] But, it should be clear, either in the rule or by the teaching of the rule, that this is not a statement about objective Sin. As JQ stated, the POH needs to be extremely conscious (and I think they usually are) that they are NOT perfect arbiters of the Catholic faith. This confusion is how schisms begin.

    I sort of see where you’re going, but you’re holding two thoughts at the same time: 1) The POH is justified in arguing that X is sinful; 2) X isn’t actually sinful. Look at your statement: “So let's just leave it at a catholic can wear a bikini (sic) and not incur sin and a POH member can argue the sinfulness of it.” No, no, no. If a Catholic can wear a bikini and not incur sin, the POH should not argue its sinfulness. That’s not to say that the POH shouldn’t discourage it, and perhaps make a rule (or ideal – I’m more for the ideal way). Unless given some sort of super-Catholic-God-power, a group of laypeople cannot make statements about morality by themselves.

    I know that you may think this only applies to the bikini-example, but I argue it can be applied to all topics like this. You can’t argue that something is actually morally neutral (at least in the sense that it isn’t sin), but that the POH can say it isn’t morally neutral.

    This reminds me of the old, Mr. Giegerich saying: “It’s not sin; it’s just wrong.” I may not be interpreting him correctly, but I take it to mean something like this: There are things that aren’t objective sin, but they’re just not helpful to the Christian way of life, i.e. wearing bikinis. But the power of Mr. G’s statement is that it recognizes that not everything is a Sin-issue.