Can a Certain Style of ART be Evil?
To answer this question, let’s first define art: Art is creative expression to entertain or share a message. Forms of art include paintings, illustration, sculpture, music, movies, poetry, crafts, photography and storytelling. Styles of art refer to the differing types of art in any form. Even the works of architects, engineers and landscapers — buildings, bridges, etc. — could be considered artistic works to some degree, combining the practical with the aesthetical.
Where does the desire to create originate? The answer can be found in the very first verse of the Bible: “In the beginning God created…” Human beings are created in God’s likeness (Genesis 1:26-27) and the Scriptures show that it’s spiritual to imitate our Creator (Ephesians 5:1). In other words, we create because our Maker is a creator.
No art form or its particular style is intrinsically evil. As Paul put it by the Holy Spirit: “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself” (Romans 14:14). Art is simply a tool for people to use. It’s neutral. Only the message it conveys can be evil. But evil shouldn’t be confused with heavy, brooding, shocking or ugly. While these things aren’t light, fun, pleasant or beautiful, they’re relevant to the human experience in a fallen world.
Furthermore, just because an individual might be an unbeliever it doesn’t automatically make his/her art evil. For instance, an atheist who hates Christianity could paint an outstanding picture of a beautiful landscape. Would this make the painting evil? No, the piece simply conveys the inspiring beauty of the Earth; the spiritual condition of the artist is irrelevant. So a Christian could hang this work in his/her home and enjoy it for what it is. You could say that believers are free to enjoy works of art that aren’t stamped “safe” by their local Christian store (or their pastor/sect).
Conversely, just because a Christian paints a painting or writes a song it doesn’t automatically elevate these works to the level of “sacred art.” They could very well be derivative, shallow or mediocre art; the fact that the artist is a believer is irrelevant. Believing in God, by the way, shouldn’t be an excuse to produce bad art!
Of course art is a matter of taste and so not everyone likes the same kinds of art or styles of the art in question. But just because someone doesn’t personally like a particular form/style of art doesn’t make it evil or worthless. It just means they don’t like it; and that’s their prerogative.
To illustrate, I don’t like movies that are musicals wherein people suddenly break out in song & dance while doing mundane activities, but that doesn’t negate these kinds of musicals as a legitimate form of art. Nor do I look down on those who appreciate these films. My mother loved ’em. (Just so there’s no confusion, I don’t mind musicals where the singing/dancing is intrinsic to the story, like the excellent 1952 version of Moulin Rouge).
I also don’t favor country music or rap, generally speaking, but that doesn’t make those styles of music evil or worthless. Nor do I negatively judge those who listen to these styles. It’s a matter of a person’s subculture and personal preference.
‘What about Metal Music, including Death Metal and Black Metal?’
Again, every style of music is art and art is not intrinsically evil. But it can become evil if the creators use it to convey a wicked message, like encouraging sin and glorifying evil, whether satanism, the occult or what have you.
But you have to be careful in making rash judgments because some works might seem like they glorify evil on the surface, but it’s not really the case. For instance, take the 1985 album Seek and Destroy by the band Philadelphia. The cover looks decidedly satanic, as you can see below, but all the group members are Evangelical believers and the songs are blatantly pro-Christian. While this art isn’t something you’d hang on your living room wall, the band obviously used it to reach metal listeners who would find the cover “cool” or what have you.
Now someone might argue that the cover art makes the album evil, but that would be like saying certain passages in the Bible that frankly address the devil make the Bible evil, such as “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). No doubt this is the message the band wanted to get across and it’s a good message.
Similarly, you don’t have to approve of the personal ‘look’ that a particular artist cops. Christian musicians look/dress a certain way because, in many cases, they came out of a particular subculture and therefore minister to that demographic, which is a biblical principle (1 Corinthians 7:20-24 & 9:22). So we have to be careful about hastily denouncing artists as “worldly” because their style of dress or hairstyle might strike us as different and aren’t akin to what we would likely see at a conventional church service. You can read the Bible’s actual definition of worldliness in 1 John 2:16-17.
As far as the claim that metal music is inherently evil goes, it has been called “the devil’s music” and there have been several bands with a satanic message, although often it’s just a shtick to draw attention and sell albums/tickets. Nevertheless, the idea that metal music is innately “of the devil” is a stereotypical myth. Again, all art forms are a neutral tool for what the artist wants to convey, whatever his/her ideology.
For proof, the band Black Sabbath started the genre and they had a few overtly pro-Christian songs, like “After Forever” and “War Pigs.” If you doubt this, just read the lyrics. Here’s the final stanza of “War Pigs”:
Now in darkness world stops turning,
Ashes where the bodies burning
No more War Pigs have the power,
Hand of God has struck the hour
Day of judgment, God is calling
On their knees the war pigs crawling,
Begging mercies for their sins
Satan, laughing, spreads his wings
Oh, LORD, yeah
I’m not saying Black Sabbath was a “Christian band,” just that – clearly – some of their songs were pro-Christian and anti-satanic. Again, this is the band that started the genre.
Since that time there have been countless Christian-oriented songs in metal. Some bands merely dabbled in an occasional biblical song whereas others shot for full-tilt Christian status, which I’ll give examples of momentarily.
Let’s first consider the popular 1982 song “Hallowed Be Thy Name,” which is about an imprisoned man from centuries past who is taken to the gallows pole. Here are the concluding verses…
When you know that your time is close at hand
Maybe then you’ll begin to understand
Life down there is just a strange illusion
Yeah, Hallowed be Thy Name
Yeah, Hallowed by Thy Name
The lyrics don’t indicate if the man was guilty of a crime or not, but these words clearly show that, after his his body is hanged, he goes to heaven wherein he naturally praises the LORD. For those not in the know, this song was released by Iron Maiden, who were wrongly labeled “satanic” in the early 80s due to their song “The Number of the Beast,” which was actually based on a nightmare that writer Steve Harris had. In other words, the song is strictly fantasy-based and has nothing to do with the number of the beast as detailed in the book of Revelation. Iron Maiden songs address myriad topics with many focusing on history, like “Aces High,” which is about WW1 flying aces. Thematically, they basically fall within the ‘neutral’ category. Meanwhile, their drummer, Nicko McBrain, has been an unabashed Christian for over twenty years.
Obviously I’m not encouraging anyone to rush out and purchase albums by these bands – that’s between you & God and where you happen to be at spiritually (your calling & the counsel of the Spirit, etc.). What I encourage is moderation in all things. After all, even a good thing can become bad if you allow it to become an “idol” in your life, that is, something that fascinates you to the point of negatively preoccupying your time & attention. “Idols” by their very nature cool your affection for the LORD and hinder your sensitivity to the leading of the Spirit. Every believer has to be vigilant to prevent this from happening, whatever the “idol” might be.
As to the claim that certain styles of metal are inherently evil – such as death metal, black metal and gothic metal – this simply isn’t true. Whether a style of music is evil or not depends on the message of any given band/song. Here’s a list of several prominent styles of metal and the pro-Christian groups that have used this art to share overtly biblical themes (you can click on the sample songs in parentheses if you’re interested):
- Rock/metal: Bride (sample song), Barnabas (sample song) (sample song)
- Heavy metal: Saint (sample song), Septer (sample song)
- Power metal: Sardonyx (sample song), Theocracy
- Progressive metal: Tourniquet (sample song)
- Thrash metal: Ultimatum (sample song), Hand of Fire (sample song)
- Doom metal: Seventh Angel (sample song), Veni Domine
- Death metal: Living Sacrifice, Creation of Death
- Black metal: Antestor
- Gothic rock/metal: Saviour Machine (sample song)
- Nu-metal: P.O.D. (sample song), Demon Hunter (sample song)
All of these bands are blatantly and boldly Christian (which is why I included song samples so you can see for yourself). Through the medium of music & live performance they venture into ‘enemy territory’ to share the truths of God’s Word, which is a challenging task to say the least. (It’s much easier to “speak to the choir” at church services). In short, these musicians should be respected.
Furthermore, as noted earlier, there are secular bands that have released occasional songs with glaringly pro-biblical lyrics, like Helloween, Megadeth, Deadly Blessing, Trouble, Riot, Meliah Rage and many more. I’m not advocating that you listen to these groups; I’m just saying that they’ve released songs that contain positive Christian themes.
The reason I went into a little detail about metal is because this style of music has been slandered by sincere-but-sincerely-wrong people as wholly evil when that’s obviously not the case. It’s a lie; and the devil is the “father of lies” (John 8:44). You may not like (or understand) this style — and that’s perfectly okay — but please don’t slander the good examples of this music or the genuine children of God who like it, write it and perform it. Anyone who does so — and is stubbornly impenitent — will have to answer for it when they come face-to-face with the Mighty Christ at the Judgment Seat.
Now let’s consider a linking argument…
‘The Only Truly Spiritual Music is Praise & Worship’
Praise & Worship is indeed spiritual, but it isn’t the only God-approved music out there. Praise & worship is its own genre and is made specifically for Christian devotion. Praise ushers in God’s presence and worship (adoration) is the response to being in the Lord’s presence. You can read more about this here. This explains why I spend more time listening to praise & worship than any other style of music, by far. It facilitates a spiritual atmosphere. Need I say more? But let’s not be stupid and suggest that this is the only kind of musical style that Christians can listen to or the only genre that’s approved of God.
For biblical proof, consider the songs we observe in the Bible, like the Psalms, which consist of the lyrics to actual songs. These songs, as well as poetry in the Bible, don’t only feature praise & worship. They also include emotional (brutally honest) venting, romance, historical accounts, prophecy, evangelism and even fantasy elements.
Speaking of which, praise & worship is limited in its topical scope. It’s naturally all about praising & worshiping the LORD, which means this style of music omits a lot of important truths chronicled in the Bible. For instance, generally speaking, praise & worship doesn’t detail the sobering prophecies chronicled in Revelation & elsewhere or the importance of spiritual warfare or the horrors of divine judgment or the historical truths of our spiritual forefathers & foremothers (that is, the good, the bad and the ugly of their lives). Christian metal, by contrast, addresses all of these things and much more; and is often very frank about it.
So, please, let’s drop this notion that praise & worship is the only God-approved music. It isn’t. The LORD’s not one-dimensional and it’s healthy to imitate that quality (Ephesians 5:1).
Keep in mind, as already covered, that everything we do – including the music we listen to – must be done with moderation lest it become a hindrance in our lives (Hebrews 12:1-2). That includes collecting & listening to various forms of music and keeping up with the myriad artists, including praise & worship.
‘Well Horror Movies are Certainly Evil’
They can be. But, again, it depends on the message that’s delivered. If the message is good then that makes the movie good. And, if the message is neutral, that means it can be viewed as a piece of entertainment, depending on the tastes of the viewer. Some Christians don’t like horror movies – or movies period – and that’s their prerogative.
I heard one preacher make a blanket statement denouncing all horror flicks because they’re theoretically created for the purpose of creeping people out one way or another, which – he argued – creates a spirit of fear. But what if the purpose of scaring/shocking people has a worthwhile moral, like the positive message that good people can overcome evil if they rise to the challenge and persevere?
Speaking of which, what about all the horrific & shocking stories/situations chronicled in God’s very Word? Here are some glaring examples: David chopping off Goliath’s head and parading it around as a trophy; David’s lust for the nude Bathsheba and his subsequent adultery and murder of Uriah; Lot’s daughters’ incestuous actions; the mass slaughter of infants; whole cities put to the sword, including women and children; the shocking global bloodshed in Revelation; the naked demoniac; the witch of Endor; Judah having sex with his daughter-in-law who was posing as a prostitute; the overt eroticism of the Song of Songs. Need I go on?
The reason I added the Song of Songs. to this list is because — while it’s certainly not horrific — it can be shocking the first time you read. For instance, I initially read it when I was 20 and my jaw dropped at the express sexual descriptions within the figurative language. Yet this poetic book is a blessing to God’s people because it shows that sex is a beautiful thing in the context for which the Creator intended. Only outside of this context does it become dirty and destructive.
The bottom line is that horror movies are art and art is good, bad or neutral depending on the content and message, as well as the leading of the Spirit in the life of the potential viewer in question (for instance, if the Lord instructs you not to fish for 40 days because you’ve become obsessed with the activity, it becomes a sin if you do it anyway even though there’s nothing intrinsically evil about fishing itself. How would it become a sin? Because the Spirit led you to remove it from your life for a season and you disobeyed).
Examples of quality horror flicks include Jaws, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Stigmata and even the Jurassic Park films which include seriously horrific moments. You may not like some of these movies, but I appreciate most of them for their artistic merit, entertainment value and, in some cases, their ultimate message, which doesn’t mean I think they’re flawless. Speaking of the Jurrasic Park flicks, the characters aren’t fleshed-out enough in my humble opinion, although they’re certainly flesh-eaten.*
* That was a joke.
Which brings us to gore. Is the presence of overt gore in a movie automatically evil? No, God created blood and the insides of human bodies. When a surgeon operates on a patient it’s good, not negative. Similarly, The Thin Red Line has gory battle scenes, but they illustrate the horrors of warfare and point to something deeper. Even some slasher flicks have a good message about the reality of evil people, the immorality of sexual promiscuity and boldly confronting evil & triumphing.
You can read more on this topic here.
Notice what Solomon said about life:
So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.
“Enjoyment of life” is relevant to our sojourn on this earth, which would include the appreciation of art. But, as with everything, we need to keep wisdom in view and be careful to “guard [our] hearts as the wellspring of life,” which you can read about here.
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