In the last few years, more and more Christian artists have been upholding the virtue of honesty in their craft. While this in itself can hardly be labelled as a fault, I fear we may have lost the reason for embracing the virtue in the first place.
To those unaware, a recent movement among Christian musicians has been growing for quite some time now. More and more artists are upholding a commitment to honesty in their craft by inserting curse words into their lyrics. A quick google search will bring up names so there’s no need to point to specifics here. What I want to address is the direction I’m seeing this pursuit of honesty taking.
I understand it. I really do. Christian media was built on the premise of a replacement or a counterpart to the secular media. Christians felt that consuming inappropriate or sinful content was a compromise to their walk, and many still feel this way. But on the other hand, this substitute to secular media was built on a misunderstanding of the media itself. We had a black and white view of media that placed violence, language, and explicit content into no other category than sin enticing, thus the Christian substitutes were soulless and hollow misrepresentations of the purpose of art. We had the “clean” but we didn’t have anything else to grab onto. Where was the relatability? Where was the humanity? Of course, this is hardly a representation of all Christian art, but to many, including the artists moving towards the pursuit of honesty, it’s a fair first glance.
As I grew older I realized media wasn’t black and white. I saw beautiful, challenging, and inspiring stories amidst evil expressions. Fight Club is my favourite film of all time, and one I sorely needed before I committed myself to teaching the Word and defending the Christian faith. I saw a story of conviction in a world full of debauchery, deception, and corruption. Indeed, it was because of the horrid content of the film that I saw how terrible a life without God was. It gave me a compassion I had never felt before. Fight Club attempted to explore a life of nihilism, a life without God, in the most honest sense, yet the film also showed us redemption in the person God made us to be. A person full of worth and value and love. Light can only be fully realized if it’s preceded by darkness; these films portrayed darkness as nothing but vile.
Not wanting to consume content such as above is a truly honourable thing, but the fact remains that there are times where rough content is needed to reveal a greater truth. I truly understood the consequences of atheism and why many reject Christ because of Fight Club. I truly understood Christ’s love through the brutality of Silence and Hacksaw Ridge. How does this tie in with the subject of cursing in Christian music? No one ever said war, persecution, or immorality was good.
Christian musicians began with the pursuit of honesty, but I have yet to see a recognition of the purpose of that pursuit. Many times I’ve seen a well-meaning fan express a concern with language on an album only to be met with a snarky response or a shaky justification. One can argue that swearing isn’t right or wrong, but those arguments miss the point entirely. Musicians, like many other artists, have become frustrated with the fake appearance of Christian media. They want to create art that is relatable. They want the listener to say, “I know where he’s coming from, I’ve felt that too.” Relatability is found in our struggle. Each time a Christian artist has cursed in their song it has been through an expression of frustration or desperation. It’s something we all struggle with. No one relates to the person saying “I’m clean and free of sin!” The Christian relates with those who recognise their corruption and need for redemption. Swearing is nothing but the outward expression of that corruption.
Nonetheless, I see artists and their fans missing this point. We should not be defending our usage of this language by saying there’s nothing wrong with it. Doing so only serves to contradict the purpose of using it in the first place to demonstrate the fallibility of humanity. It’s no longer honesty if it’s no longer sinful. Cursing in music is being celebrated for all the wrong reasons. We’re celebrating honesty over confession. The fall over the salvation.
So how should this be remedied? The first step is to stop defending the act of cursing itself. It’s irrelevant to the purpose of using it in our art. The second is to stop accepting our corrupted nature as a part of our identity. We are new creations in Christ and should aim to reflect that in everything we do and say. If we fall we just get back up and keep going. We need to recognise the fall and celebrate the return. Honesty is a beautiful and honorable thing but we cannot forget confession afterwards. If we cannot confess and recognize our need for forgiveness we may be expressing honesty for all the wrong reasons.