Is some music morally “good” and some music morally “bad”? Dr. Frank Garlock says, “of course.” In fact, he argued that ours is the first generation which has attempted to claim that music is amoral.
I just finished listening to a sermon Dr. Garlock gave at Bob Jones University a few years ago, and I was surprised that he didn’t focus on music lyrics. Rather, he focused on the sound of the music itself. Although he noted that the Bible refers to music over 500 times, he based most of his message on 1 Corinthians 14:7-11. These verses, he claimed, showed that one can tell whether or not the music is good by its language.
In the examples he provided, he suggested that we instinctively know what to do when we hear a specific sort of music. We know how we’re supposed to feel when we hear “Taps,” for example. I suppose this is the same logic some people use to explain why only “traditional organ hymns” are appropriate for Christian services.
According to Dr. Garlock, people today choose where to go to church more based on the music they play rather than the teachings they preach. Music, he argued, closely aligns to a person’s values and identity. The implication is, I guess, that people who listen to Hard Rock music have different values than people who listen exclusively to traditional organ hymns.
So, what if you used the same lyrics from a traditional organ hymn and set them to Hard Rock? According to Dr. Garlock, that doesn’t work, because Hard Rock music has its own “language,” remember? So the “bad language” of the Hard Rock music contradicts whatever “good message” might come from the lyrics? That seems to be Dr. Garlock’s point.
But how does one determine whether the language of a particular music style is morally good or bad? Dr. Garlock never directly answered this question, although he did warn that rock music 1) is as addictive as alcohol and drugs, 2) can alter your state of consciousness, 3) has the power to possess your spirit, 4) hooks into your life, 5) and causes serious withdrawal symptoms if you try to quit listening to it.
Why, I thought, Dr. Garlock isn’t holding back here. All this from 1 Corinthians 14:7-11? I have to admit that I read these four verses, but I didn’t understand them in nearly the same way. First off, I agree that music is a language, but I disagree that some music is automatically morally good while some is automatically morally bad. Like any language, it depends on how the music is used. Hard Rock isn’t a “bad language”; rather, it would be more accurate to think of Hard Rock as “English” and traditional organ hymns as “Spanish.” In other words, they are two distinct and separate languages. Nobody would ever try to claim that English is somehow better than Spanish, right? (Yes, as I type this, I imagine the Catholic Church's fondness for Latin, and the Muslim's preference for Arabic, but anyway...)
It has long interested me that some people promote traditional organ hymns as the only sort of music appropriate to God. The organ has been around for a long time – over two thousand years – but it 1) is distinctively Western, and 2) does not have its origins in church music. So, people who claim that a church should only use the organ to accompany singing in church are 1) consciously or unconsciously demonstrating a Western music bias, and 2) probably unaware that organ music accompanied gladiatorial combat before it was ever used in church services.
Did Paul know that organ music was used in gladiatorial combat? Whether he was aware of this or not, how does this fact change our understanding of the verses in 1 Corinthians 14? My point is, it would be rather silly to throw out organ music just because it used to be played while gladiators killed each other, right?
If people want to argue that Ke$ha’s lyrics aren’t good for impressionable young girls to hear, that’s one thing. If people want to suggest that certain music videos are inappropriate, fine. However, I find it to be quite silly for anyone to try to make a blanket statement that certain music styles are inherently “bad" or "evil," and that certain musical instruments are somehow automatically “good” or “holy.” To me, it’s a classic case of people reading too much into a few sentences.
What are your thoughts on the power and influence of music?
“Music is my religion.” – Jimi Hendrix