How careful are we with our minds? Do we ever consider how what is received by our eyes and ears directly affects what emanates through our words, actions, thoughts, and lifestyles?
During my adolescence, I found and grew to love the rock band, Korn. To this day, they are my all-time favorite band. Now, perhaps before I go too heavily into explaining this, it would be wise to offer context.
I have written at some length about my traumatization as teen experiencing the pain, drama, and depression associated with the stress of my parents’ divorce, my family’s dismemberment, and the death of two of my grandparents, all within one year. Needless to explain, my self-image and desperation for something meaningful to save my heart from an ultimate downfall was at an all-time high, and I began finding solace in music, first beginning with open ears to a rock band called Godsmack, when I was 12.
For four years I was receptive to the sound of rock, and the anger that was expressed in such music matched my own. I didn’t have to wear a guise with the songs I listened to because they spoke directly into my darkest secrets—especially the rage and depression I was sucked into from the pain and stress of loss, resentment, bitterness, and hating my own existence. My emotional state became so intense that I even put theology in question, pushing the very idea of God off His pedestal and into an uncharted, bottomless pit in my mind where I didn’t have to think about it. Atheism closed in, and my choice was to replace the concept of a loving Messiah with something more seemingly “tangible” than the invisible, questionable theology derived of a two-thousand-year-old history that I had never personally experienced, nor cared to learn about.
When I was 16, I was in the music store at the mall in my hometown when I came across Korn’s album, “The Untouchables”. I found song titles curious, thought the cover was a bit strange—and therefore I was drawn in to discover what sort of music would come from the mirage of ambiguity the disc holder displayed. When I put the disc into my car’s CD player, the very first song, “Here To Stay”, immediately immersed me with raw emotion; this time, the words not only matched my own feelings, they surpassed them. The words were more than just relatable, they spoke for me and to me. I found myself listening to these songs repeatedly with absolute certainty that this band was exactly the music I was looking for. Every day I would listen to Korn and get blown away by the feeling of validation which came from the dark, melodic guitar riffs, heavy bass, and brutal lyrics. They spoke into my darkest pain, eliminating the idea that I was alone, and also replacing–although temporarily–my emotional void needing God.
Years passed by, more Korn albums were released, and sometimes their lyrics would offend me a little (I didn’t appreciate nor resonate with the use of the word “rape”–but I also understood this lyrical style was the Jonathon Davis’s (the lyric-writer and singer of Korn) way of representing horrific emotion and opening up about his own personal traumatizing life events. The offensive portion of lyrics got lost in the background and I continued paying attention to the feeling of validation I received while listening to Korn, and the way the rage within me felt mitigated through someone else adequately speaking for and through my excruciating experiences.
That was my musical input for 5 years. When I became a loose** Christian at 22, I was still listening to Korn and loving it. God was still a foreign concept to me while I began reading the Bible very slowly through a life group at the church I was attending during my college years. I did not feel my heart grasping for Him right away. And I was still lost in my emotional past with the baggage of what had happened to me and my family. “God, if you really exist, how could you let this happen?”, I would ask Him. For a while, there was nothing but silence. I figured that was commensurate for the years of denying Him, like punishment for being so stubborn. Later, I discovered that that was not true at all, but at the time, the explanation made sense.
**(I write “loose” because, though I was attending a Christian church weekly, I had just come from 7 years of atheism, and I was not interested in practicing everything Christianity preached and taught was necessary to grow close to Christ through faith, trust, and surrender–including but not limited to loving myself, because I had hated myself for about 11 years at that point, and when I loved others it was through stoic, gritted teeth and this feeling of self-betrayal. Christianity is freedom from the temptation to live in sin, and I was still very much invested in the guilt of living alone spiritually for so long; blaming God, myself, and my life for being so hard for me. Loving myself, and therefore loving God even more–was more alien and esoteric to me than neuroscience or astrophysics. Therefore, I would now, looking back— have considered myself a loose Christian at that time because I wasn’t practicing my faith in the sense that I am now, both emotionally and spiritually)
My questions from my time spent as an atheist becoming desperate for meaning came to the surface and I began using this as fuel. I figured if God wasn’t real, I’d definitely figure it out because I would find a loophole in the Christian faith and deny it, too. Funny, the bluff I was ready to call on God was eventually called on my disbelief. But, see, through this entire time of loose Christianity and testing the faith before taking it seriously—Korn was my go-to music. They were the band that stood out because they never spoke anything but brutal honesty in their words—the message was always relatable to me in an almost startlingly refreshing way; the way they would speak into my heart and not even have to mention divorce.
Have I been warned about listening to such heavy music? Yes, I have. And I have considered those words. But I want to be absolutely clear about something: We are not what we listen to unless we choose to deify the message of the lyrics, or to worship the rage and the anger rather than the God who allows such music to be relatable, and therefore helpful for those who find it as such. Do I believe God can speak through heavy metal rock music? Absolutely. There’s also other rock bands that I love, one called Red and the other Love and Death; the singer and one of the guitarists of Love Death is actually one of the main guitarist’s of Korn as well, and they are all Christian bands without actually claiming to be a Christian bands. They speak about God without being explicit about Christian faith, allowing the words to speak for themselves without drawing directly into any one faith system. This may consider them “safe” (instead of being cast aside by the secular listeners who don’t want to hear the terms “God” or “Jesus” in lyrics) , but that doesn’t change that they are singing and still praising/praying/talking to God. So their music is still inspiring for me.
Back to my previous point. We are not what we listen to unless we begin to worship those messages instead of the God who provides them. Korn may not be a Christian band (they are not at all Christian–despite how two of its members are), but they speak to me as a Christian. I believe God speaks to me through Korn, yes. Does that sound crazy? I can understand why for those who feel that it might think it to be crazy, because, “how could a band who sings about such dark emotion possibly bring someone back to Jesus?” Well, let’s be careful here. Korn didn’t convert me to Christianity, but listening to them does not deter my faith or make me feel more secular inside. The message and influence of music depends solely on the ears receiving the message, and the softness of the heart accepting the message– or rejecting it. My heart is for Jesus, and Jesus alone. Whatever words offend my faith against Him I rebuke in Jesus name.
Some would argue the safety the mind and heart by advising to simply stay away from anything that is not of God, in order to stay pure and clean in mind and body. I would never argue this point. What I add to that is that for me, it’s entirely possible to hear such heavy rock music with dark lyrics and still praise God and worship Jesus all the same. Can everyone do that? It depends on the context of where you come from. Remember, my childhood trauma led me to need validation. When I converted to Christianity, I realized I only needed Jesus’ love, but that didn’t mean Korn didn’t still resonate with a part of me that God had also touched. I continue to understand to this very day that God can reach me through metal music. In fact, I even wrote a previous blog post while listening to one of their newest singles, “Rotting In Vain”, and the post I wrote was strictly a Christian message. So, while I’m not trying to claim everyone is able to do what I do, what I am explicitly intending to get across is that music is what you make of it; if you are allowing music to influence you the wrong (negative) direction–music isn’t to blame, but your interpretation of what you put in your heart. If the music you listen to is hurting you and/or others, perhaps that is the most tell-all sign that you need to change the musical input you are letting yourself be exposed to.
Korn does not offend me, they still validate me. My experiences in life now are not nearly as traumatic as they were when I was 11, mostly because I am a much more mature adult man with control over myself and my life situation. I didn’t have that when my parents divorced. I was dependent and starving for something meaningful and purposeful to fill me up, but I was simultaneously rejecting God because I blamed the idea of pain on Him.
Interestingly, along my path of conversion from atheism to Christianity, I discovered a fascinating truth: Blaming God for pain and then disbelieving Him–one might think–would cancel out the pain itself by undermining its original cause of understanding. However, my mind didn’t think that way at the time. I basically bluffed myself by saying God didn’t exist, and yet hating pain while claiming if it was done by anyone, “It must have been God.” How could God be in control of the pain in my life if He doesn’t exist? And if He doesn’t exist, how could I be angry at Him for controlling it? If He doesn’t exist, and the pain still does— where does someone like an atheist aim their anger and censure?
You call your own bluff when you cancel out both ends of the equation; one side being God as the cause of pain, and the other that God doesn’t exist. For the atheists who are angry at the world for their pain, how do you separate yourselves from the rest of existence, seemingly claiming your experience of pain is as if no one else has similar experiences–when all humanity is the same species under the same worldly rules and consequences of pain and suffering? Furthermore, placing blame in the neutral position (that is, claiming God didn’t cause pain and that He doesn’t exist) cancels out the causality for any and all pain inflicted (which is insulting to humanity as a whole because there is no denying the existence of pain), either requiring, in effect, to wipe out the idea of pain itself–or the blame for which pain is placed. But the retention of both while claiming disbelief in God is not only irrational–again–it calls your bluff: To rationalize disbelief in God is to claim a worldly replacement for the void pain creates, which consequently would not resolve the problem of pain, nor correctly fix the position of causality towards any viable existential component–but would instead claim that nothing is the cause of pain and that pain must therefore not be a problem to resolve. And anyone who has been alive for more than a few minutes would tell you that notion is absolutely ludicrous.
In saying that, allow me to reiterate: Korn does not offend me, and it does not take me from my faith in Christ– but it is also a reminder that I cannot call God’s existential bluff if I feel angry at Him; therefore, whatever validation I’m receiving through listening to rock music–like Korn–is not validating any hatred toward God (there is no hatred from me towards God), but rather validation towards the discontentment of pain inflicted in life.
To follow through with that thread of thought, one must have a belief in the causality of pain, and if we follow the thread to its source, we culminate with evil, and evil cannot exist without love (not in this world), and love cannot exist without God because love is supernatural; supernatural being the very DNA of love—the DNA of God. God exhales the supernatural because He is the Source of all creation: One or multi-dimensional, tangible or intangible; spiritual or physical, metaphorical or literal. He is the Source of it all. Love would be impossible and nonexistent without God.
How does a person without faith in the supernatural even explain love? That might be a great idea for another blog post. For now, I will leave you with the understanding that if we choose to accept the existence of love, we must express faith in the existence of evil, because one does not exist without the other in this world. They are dichotomies which lead us back to the causality of existence itself, where the spiritual world unfolds in-between the choice to follow love or to follow evil—where evil breeds corruption while love engenders growth, change, opportunity, freedom, joy, and relationship. Without one or the other, the lack of comparison to argue the schism would eliminate the equal sign of our life equation and cancel out the equation of their existence altogether–again–eliminating both God and pain, which is impossible to construe based on all of life, history, and experience expressing otherwise.
Love cannot be without evil (or hate) to counter its personality and reason to exist, and evil cannot exist without love to counter its immorally corruptive fallacies. God is the instigator of existence, and simultaneously the mediator between both worlds: love and hate (evil); spiritual and physical. To claim one doesn’t exist means neither exist, but that is preposterous. Concordantly, to claim they both exist automatically opens the door to morality and theology, the source of opening the conversation for God and Christ. And if we open the case for Christ, there is no closing that conversation because the opening to that conversation would mean the elimination of our denial in admitting love and hate are two dichotomies requiring us to choose between God, or death. We cannot face this conundrum and simultaneously deny God. God’s face is the all-dimensional face of both worlds, where Jesus invites us into the light and the Devil tries dragging us back to darkness, all the while we’d rather claim there is no tug of war at all–but that is rubbish if you still want to try arguing the belief in the existence of morality without theology, especially arguing the dissension between faith and non-theism regarding purpose and meaning.
Coming full circle, I find Korn as a means of expressing myself, but I would never, for example, use Korn to worship at church. They do not deify Jesus as Lord. But I can listen to them without claiming Jesus is not Lord in my heart, and still appreciate their gift in melodic hard rock music. This means I can believe in love and hate (evil), the existence of morality (good/bad, right/wrong) and still appreciate music when it clearly does not exult the faith which I wholeheartedly put all of my faith into. Korn can be a translator of my rawest, deepest emotions, while my heart persistently and adamantly praises the goodness of Christ as my God and Messiah. Hard rock music is not evil unless you worship its message instead of the one who allows you to listen to it. The dark combinations of angry music do not have to trespass our moral compass unless we give it the keys to do so. Our ability to know who to turn to with decisions and life problems is a choice based on spiritual maturity, and if listening to angry music turns you away from belief in common sense and morality/theology, then perhaps you need to consider the truth that that kind of music is harming you. If you can listen to it and feel validated while still believing in God and worshipping Jesus as Lord over your heart, you have successfully separated the message and sound of the music from the faith in your heart, differentiating between music and worship; appreciation and deification.
What music do you listen to? Does it bring you hope, validation, faith in the good of what’s to come—or does it bring out your rage and make you feel more hopeless inside? Are you an agnostic, questioning whether or not you believe in what you think you do—and if so, does your music help you through the maze of your heart, or is it blurring the line of clarity between your emotions and faith? What do you think is better for you and your mental/spiritual health? Does music create a bridge from one side of yourself to another, or does it close the door and make you feel trapped? Be honest with yourself. Where do you feel your music is leading your heart?
If your music is hurting your ability to have faith in God, I strongly urge to you consider what changes would help you walk away from that separation between you and your faith life. I spent 7 years hating religion, and distancing myself completely from any theology. Faith in Christ is different from religion. Perhaps I can delve further into that in another post. Feel free to comment below on ideas you’d like touched upon. I’d be happy to write about topics you would like to understand better. For now, please consider what music is doing to your heart, be careful with what you feed your mind with, and revise as necessary until you feel liberated from the temptation of emotion to hold you hostage from faith life.
My conversion from atheism to Christianity is the best decision I’ve ever made, and I urge you to discover what that Truth means for you.