Is Christian Music Only for the Religious?

These days, I happily listen to Christian radio. This may seem odd since I don’t have a church I regularly attend and am not 100% sure the beliefs I hold at this point count as Christian. Furthermore, when I was into a religion, I hardly ever listened to Christian music. In fact, I’m not sure I even knew there was religious music outside of church hymns until I went to college. It was there I made friends with a self-proclaimed pagan, the first to raise my awareness of Christian music.

I was reflecting on this the other week as I drove with the boyfriend listening to Christian radio. My family is so intense about their religion. Why on earth aren’t they listening to Christian music? Other friends who were obsessed with their religion hardly listened to anything else. I do remember hearing about Mercy Me and Barlow Girls, but I never heard them on pop or country radio, so their music was still a mystery to me.

As I made my way through high school, discussing ideas, beliefs and futures with my friends, developing further understanding of other cultures and figuring out where I fit in it all, I became to solidify my core ideas on life. While I would continue to be Catholic for years to come, it was here that the first cracks started to show. I was fooling myself into thinking I could believe in things Catholics didn’t, disagree on the things Catholics did believe in and still be Catholic.

On college went, where I met my aforementioned pagan friend. She was a fan of a band called Skillet. While I knew Christian music existed at this point, Skillet was not what I expected. They had a rock sound that matched what I was currently listening to on the radio and a great message in their songs.

If you’re wondering why a pagan would listen to Christian music, it’s because they kept their lyrics vague. one of her favorite songs was Better Than Drugs. The words about being better than drugs and love being like wine were meant to describe the love of God, but never specifically saying that, she choose to listen to the music with a different perspective. The song could relate to the love she shared with her fiance or her family.

This friend was not the only one interested in this music, and my collection soon grew. I was at a point where I was trying to justify being a part of a religion I didn’t believe in. My argument was that I could change the religion. It would be slow, but maybe my influence would help.

The cracks in the hold organized religion had on me broken when I studied abroad in Northern Ireland. It seemed crazy to me that Catholics in this day and age still used their religion as a reason to hate. The whole area was different. This was not the universal church I thought it was. I didn’t want to be associated with a religion like this. Just like that, everything piled in that idea. I didn’t want to be associated with a religion that didn’t have gender equality or marriage equality. I didn’t want to be a part of a community that looked down on people who believed differently or who did something ‘sinful.’

I cleared my music collection of the Christian music that suddenly felt tainted and went on my merry way. The only thing I kept was Skillet, which – religious or otherwise – I couldn’t help but enjoy.

This brings us to 2014. Am I listening to Christian music today?

My boyfriend has a long trek to work. He found listening to the local Christian radio station made him happier and more at peace during his commute. Whenever I drive with him, that’s the radio station we listen to. My interests in the music has grown again, and I even went so far as to embed a video from Barlow Girls as my musical obsession last week.

Maybe it’s odd for two people who don’t practice any organized religion to have such an interest in Christian music, but here we are. My boyfriend always notes how they share positive stories and how the music makes him feel happy. What more could you ask from a radio station? I admit, I intended to hear something about those heathens trying to pass equal marriage and popping contraception like candy, but those things are never mentioned. Specific religions are never mentioned. By far, the only thing they discuss are positive stories.

Sometimes, I listen and wonder if my interpretation of a song is the same as another’s. How many people, who dislike each other because their religions don’t agree, listen and enjoy the same Christian message in these songs? Or are they getting a different message? I  can’t imagine someone who participates in organized religion thinks the same thing I do when I listen to Skillet’s ‘My Religion.’

Are you surprised people who aren’t religious actively listen to religious music? Do you? What do you think of Christian music? Does it make people more fundamental in their beliefs or more accepting?

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37 thoughts on “Is Christian Music Only for the Religious?”

  1. I love the fact that you are confident and honest in your musical taste! I do go to church, yet unashamedly listen to more “secular” music on any given day, unless my soul yearns for Drew Holcomb, Jars of Clay, Sixpence none the richer, or even Rich Mullins. I think that “all truth is God’s truth” and He is a multi faceted God who won’t fall off His throne if I feel the need to dance to some hard core rock…as He accepts you two in your enjoyment of Christian music. I love the diversity of perspectives and would love to discuss music with you any time 🙂 love, Gracie

    1. It blows my mind to this day that my family is so religious and yet religious music was never a thing in my house. My dad loved Rush and Ozzy Ozborne, so that’s what got blasted.

      I think the lyrics in Christian music may speak differently to me than someone who goes to church all the time, but that’s okay. Nothing wrong with listening to what speaks to you, regardless of where it comes from.

  2. I’m not religious, but I don’t have a problem with Christian music as long as I like the song. I’m not into gospel or worship music, but there are many Christian bands that I like. A lot of people would be surprised to know that some of the bands they are listening to are Christian bands. I thought this list was interesting. I was aware of some of them being Christian bands already, but others surprised me! http://www.buzzfeed.com/perpetua/bands-you-might-not-realize-are-christian#34ykp2z

  3. It’s not something I’ve ever really contemplated. I don’t listen to religious music simply because I’ve not been exposed to it beyond hymns sung in church. I’m a lifelong atheist but have not made a conscious decision to avoid faith-based music and nor would I dismiss the idea that I might enjoy it. I think music engages us on so many levels and the lyrics and any message they carry is only one component and maybe not even the most significant. As a kid, I loved The Smiths even though I could not relate directly to the experiences being sung about – that came later – and loved The Jam even though I was not an urban discontented yoof. Musically something just spoke to me that was beyond lyrics I was too young to even interpret properly. My favourite song at one point in early childhood was ‘Golden Brown’ and in my head that was about hazy summer dusk and sunset and nostalgia. I had not a clue it was about drugs. My taste in music is eclectic because my moods vary so I think I connect to music emotionally more than I do on an analytical or cerebral level. As such, Christian music might appeal to me as much as British indie or Motown does.

    1. Yeah, until my friend introduced Christian music to me, all I had were church hymns as well. I’m not opposed to the ideology either, but when someone sings about God accepting them the way they are, I hear support for all races, religions, genders, sexuality and ideologies. I’m sure others, including those who sing the song, probably wouldn’t agree.

      I’m almost afraid to go back to a church for fear all the messages I get from these songs will be twisted to mean something negative and judgmental.

      1. People – being fallible humans – will always be capable of interpreting things to suit their own agendas and ideologies. One only has to look at what atrocities are committed by people professing that their religious texts compel them to act in that way to see that in evidence. The texts are not at fault; the willful interpretation to justify behaviour and attitudes is. I’m an atheist so don’t have to find a community that espouses the same interpretation as I do but I hope, if and when you look to rejoin a faith group, you find one that is tolerant and maybe even encouraging of debate and dialogue.

  4. Great music, like all art, should always be written in a way that allows the listener to assign their own personal meaning to it. My opinion at least.

    That also makes it fun when you find out what it was written about, often it is completely different to your interpretation.
    Then again I suppose worship specifically should not really be open to interpretation the message should be clear. That is not to say that all Christian music is or should be worship music. Hopefully that makes sense

    1. yeah, it does. I guess from the outside, anything labeled Christian music should be interpreted with a Christian meaning. And I do get that – I do believe in a higher power, after all. But I hear more about love and acceptance than I do about the rules, rituals and judgement so prominent in Christianity. Maybe that’s why I like it. It feeds the part of me that likes the idea of religion without touching on the things I dislike about religion.

      1. When you put it like that, the music is a much closer representation of what the religion purports to be than the religion itself (at times). Maybe the emotionoif the music somehow gets rid of the man made rules that strangle religion sometimes.

  5. In my opinion, the quality of contemporary Christian music is generally crap. Of the entire genre, there’s a couple handfuls of songs that are so good they could easily be considered divinely inspired; the rest are very, very bad.

    In general, I like songs that don’t sound like they were produced on a shoestring budget, and where the artist actually writes their own original lyrics instead of stringing together the same Biblical phrases and metaphors that are overused by the Evangelical community. So that leaves, like 10 songs I like.

    1. Well, that may explain why I like some of things songs, too. I’m not always familiar with the Biblical phrases and I’m not going to church where they are repeated to me again. That may make the music sound a lot more unique to me. I’ve also found there are some songs – like the video above – which seems to support the idea church is not necessary to have a relationship with divinity.

      But, yeah, in terms of songs I just adore and hold up as great music, there are only a few in Christian music.

  6. I hardly go to church and I’m not as good of a Christian as I wish I could be. I love Skillet, Red, Thousand Foot Krutch, and Disciple. All Christian rock bands and honestly, their music is very uplifting on my daily commutes. Especially with my own writing. I think a lot of the songs I’ve listened to by these bands are relatable and have messages hidden within. That’s why I love the genre so much. As far as religion goes, I’ll say it the way my grandmother said it, “My church is not in a building sitting in seats, it’s in my garden where I worship God.”

    1. I like your grandmother’s idea of religion, if I interpenetrate it correctly. It’s why I’m so laid back when it comes to religion. We should all be where ever we can best grow in our divine relationship. Where a person gets that growth will differ depending on who they are, where they are and what they need.

  7. “I was fooling myself into thinking I could believe in things Catholics didn’t, disagree on the things Catholics did believe in and still be Catholic.”

    I know a gay catholic who is currently fooling themselves in the same way.

    But about the Christian music, music is music. I may not agree with all the lyrics of religious songs anymore, but I don’t mind dancing to them if they have rhythm.

    However, I can sometimes enjoy songs about love and friendship. I just tend to apply them in a way that makes sense for me as a pro-life atheist. I think everybody can enjoy some things like the idea of unconditional love.

    1. I still feel bad sometimes for leaving the Catholic faith. When the less radical people walk away, it makes the religion become more and more radical. So, if your friend finds peace in the Catholic faith, then good. I hope their influence will help the religion realize there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality.

      I’m surprised to find I usually don’t disagree with the messages, as I interpret them, from Christian music. It’s so welcoming and accepting. It also seems odd to me, because that also seems so unlike most religious communities I’ve seen.

  8. You think of the most interesting questions.

    Given how you’ve described Christian music it actually makes some sense to me. Sounds like the music communicates the parts you like about Christianity, And not the part you don’t like. And since you aren’t attending a church and getting a regular spiritual feeding, perhaps the music nourishes your soul.

    And did you decide to do study a broad in Ireland because of your Catholic background?

    1. “Sounds like the music communicates the parts you like about Christianity, And not the part you don’t like. ”

      I think you are right on this. That’s exactly how I feel.

      I actually decided to study in Ireland because I was looking for a place I could use towards my focus in human rights. The conflict therefore interested me enough to go. I often wonder what my parents would have thought if they realized Northern Ireland was not the same as Ireland.

  9. I’m not surprised people who aren’t religious actively listen to religious music b/c everyone has different taste in music. I like to listen to Japanese music and I only know 4 words in Japanese. If it sounds good, it sounds good. Doesn’t really matter what precedence it’s supposed to set. I did listen to Christian Music for awhile when I was a Southern Baptist and I remember most of the songs I learned but my musical preference has changed over time and I don’t find it appealing anymore. I do like Skillet. I don’t listen to them unless they pop-up on Pandora though. I don’t think listening to Christian Music makes someone more fundamental in their beliefs or more accepting. As a matter of fact the pool of Christians I’ve met who were accepting of me and my beliefs is a pretty small one compared to the pool of Christians I’ve met who listen to Christian Radio.

    All in All I’d say, if you like it go with it. If it makes you happy, more power to you. The world is full of things that will bring you down so if some uplifting music is going to give you a brighter perspective on your day than turn that shit up!

    1. While I doubt listing to a song will change someone beliefs, it does seem like those who listen to Christian music tend to be more fundamental. That’s just my experience, though. It’s probably why I purged myself of the music when I first became disenchanted with religion.

      1. I actually marathoned some Skillet when I got home on Friday. I was talking to J & B about your blog post and then it turned into an hour of us playing songs we knew. It was a great time!

  10. I used to be religious, but now I’m agnostic. I still listen to Jars of Clay, though that’s probably the only band labeled as “Christian” I listen to these days. Their songs strike me as stories of humanity at their core, so they still speak to me even though I’m no longer a religious person.

    1. That’s kind of how I feel about Skillet. They seem to sign about the human condition most of the time. Few of their songs seem to specifically point out religion or God, though many elude to God.

  11. I am a Christian and I initially was surprised to hear that you really enjoy listening to Christian music.

    I think one of the main reasons it surprises me is that for the past several years I’ve seen Christian radio more and more as an attempt by some Christians to withdraw from the culture–to create their own little safe bubble away from the corrupting mainstream music! I wish that wasn’t the case. There’s nothing wrong with Christians enjoying Christian music but when some ignore the beauty created by musicians (or any other type of artists) outside the faith I think there’s a significant loss.

    But at the same time, as one within the faith, I do find the messages and stories and truths sung about in the songs on Christian radio to be precious and meaningful–so I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that someone from the ‘outside’ would experience them in a similar way–at the very least in a positive way. Redemption, Forgiveness, Love, Grace, Acceptance, Security etc are all powerful in anyone’s life because something inside of every single person longs for them but can spend all of their time looking for them where they can’t be found.

    All in all I appreciate your thoughtful post and openness to engage with people who see things differently than you. As a Christian I must admit that reading ‘I intended to hear something about those heathens trying to pass equal marriage and popping contraception like candy’ made me a little sad but it’s not surprising that’s what you expected. We are often known more for what we are against than what we are for. I’m glad you found something besides that on the Christian radios station and I hope you will have more positive experiences with Christians and Christianity down the line.

    1. I think I had that negative interpretation of Christian music because it seemed like only the most fundamental Christa’s listened to Christian radio. Like you say, they completely block off the rest of the world using their religion and this music. I don’t like that. It seems very…. well…. I don’t mean this to sound offensive, but it feels brainwashy to me. If you only allow yourself to hear one message and never hear counter opinions, you’re just programming yourself like a robot. Those counter arguments are necessary so that people ask questions of themselves and their beliefs. Questions are what help us grow in life and in faith.

      and yes, as you say, Redemption, Forgiveness, Love, Grace, Acceptance, Security etc are all powerful ideas. While I may see them differently than most Christians, those messages still resonate with me.

  12. Wow! Skillet! I used to listen to that band a lot! I used to listen to a lot more Christian rock when I first was a Christian, but I stopped. I suppose I assumed this music was only reaching a clique circle of closed modern Christians, only existing not for its spiritual content but for its marketability. It was good to read your view, because I think maybe I have been wrong, cynical or closed minded.

    1. I definitely left this kind of music for a while due to the community I thought I was joining by listening to it. In a way, getting away from that kind of community has helped me enjoy this music again.

      And I have found a few Christian communities who seem to live up to the idea of total acceptance promoted in these songs. In a way, I’m surprised really religious people even like them. I mean, I just don’t see a Christian liking “I don’t need no priest, don’t need no pew.” Seems like the opposite of organized religion to me.

  13. I listen to rock, country, classical, blues, and more than anything else, Christian music. I think there is a fundamental difference between religion and a relationship; God wants the latter, not the former. Great post!

    1. Exactly. I may rejoin organized religion one day, but only if it further the relationship. I was once blinded by rituals and traditions. I don’t want that to happen again.

  14. I grew up the opposite — my mom listened to nothing but Christian music, and I wasn’t aware there was such a thing as non-Christian music for a long time, except maybe a vague sense that if non-Christians had music it must be sinful. When I first started hearing it, I was amazed by the complexity of the songs, the presence of lyrics that actually meant something to me and conveyed more than one experience. I do still enjoy some Christian bands, like Skillet, but as you say, they have to be vague enough that I can’t always tell they’re Christian. They have to have a distinctive sound, and have songs about a variety of things. The Christian radio here could basically be the same song over and over again — insipid sentiments about Jesus being “all I need” or how they used to be distressed but now Jesus is beautiful or something, and the quality of the music is just crap too.

    1. There’s definitely some that aren’t so great, like the ones where they were saved just because they started to believe in Jesus. I think the radio stations have gotten more vague because it allows them to have a wider audience.

      I used to think Christian music was not different than church hymn, some which I still do like. It’s nice to know that, even though I don’t like most modern Christians, there’s still something there that speaks to me. I haven’t abandoned the belief in a higher power, so the fact there is something like that out there i can connect to makes me happy.

  15. Love this entry! Christian music has changed my life. For me, it’s all I can listen to because with random songs coming on secular radio, I never know what might pop up. I have defined a lot of dark periods of my life with music, so those songs are triggers for me. It’s also amazing to watch my kids singing songs about how much God loves them as opposed to how they can shake their booties lol

    1. Both Christian and public radio can be hit or miss for me. I get that Christian is religious, but I expect a little more than Bible versus and statements about God’s love. At the same time, pop radio seems to only be about sex, partying and dancing. None of those are bad, but I demand a little more from music than the same three words repeated over and over.

      I get what you say about music defining parts of your life. There are songs my boyfriend refuses to listen to because of the poor memories they bring up.

  16. I have not been raised to be a part of any religion, and I am certainly not Christian. Possibly agnostic, but I don’t really give any of it pause for consideration.

    Most Christian music has overarching messages about overcoming obsticales, and finding “someone” that enables profound change in you.

    Often I’ll find myself thinking “darn, why’s that one lyric about God in there?” because to me it isn’t about religion, and if they song could just be a little more ambiguous I’d love it even more.

    I, like everyone, assign my own spin on things. There is no one truth, even in lyrics where the band flat out tell you its meaning, that’s only their reality, not mine.

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