05 May, 2008

Book Review: “Music is Amoral” Myth Put To Death

While seriously committed Christians have long sensed the inherent evil lurking in Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), until now there has been no scholarly champion to flush out the demons hiding in the PowerPoint music all too often found in otherwise sound evangelical churches.

Until now. Mrs. Kimberly Smith, of Saint Charles, Missiouri has stepped forth as a gladiator defending pure Christian music and smiting the diabolical counterfeits wherever they may lurk.

In her book Music and Morals: Dispelling the Myth That Music is Amoral Mrs. Smith cogently enlightens her readers that music affects listeners, “putting to rest the myth that music is amoral. You will learn…Scientific evidence proving that music has positive and negative effects on the listener” according to the book’s blurb.

Said Shirley Staples of Little Rock, Arkansas, “I always suspected that music affected me. This book proves it! Now, when I listen to Johnny Cash, I recognize that I have good feelings stirred in me. I guess I’d never noticed that but Mrs. Smith really nailed it!”

“Duh,” was Ed Spanner’s comment, of Redondo Beach, California. “But listen to this: ‘Mrs. Smith rejects the anapestic (weak-strong) rhythmic foot out of hand as inherently evil (because of its =constant repetition=) is indeed sensual.’ I don’t get the ana-whatsit part, but rhythm is like waaay vital, you know what I mean? What’s wrong with sensual anyway? This lady is a missus, isn’t she?”

Paul Brinkley of Dallas, TX exploded, “Gadzooks! No wonder I'm such a hardened sinner! I listen to 5 minutes of music with anapestic rhythm each morning before breakfast!”
The Right Reverend David Walker of Sunshine Baptist Church, Cooper, Georgia thoughtfully enjoined, “I’m fascinated to finally understand the difference between moral and immoral music techniques. Apparently, there is an underlying meaning of certain types of rhythms and Mrs. Smith is showing me how to reevaluate how we come into the Lord’s presence. Her book even has a mini reference guide to different musical styles and their origins and a CD with example clips of moral and immoral music.”

Brinkley rejoiced, “Oh boy! Now I can actually hear for myself what type of music will cause me to sin! Oh wait, if I listen even to a 10-second clip, will that lead me into 10 seconds of sinning? The only safe thing to do, gloooory to God, is to listen to those examples with multiple Q-tips stuffed in my ears.”

Ethnomusicologist Dr. Robin Kink of Biola University mused, “I’m troubled that Mrs. Smith believes that “immoral music is more powerful than Christian lyrics." I don’t see anything in scripture that indicates that and I certainly don’t see inherently imbedded meanings in music when viewed trans-culturally. I’m afraid her potato salad’s a few pickles shy.”

When reinterviewed later in the day, Mr. Brinkley had apparently repented of his earlier rash views. “I don't care if the lyrics come from King David himself, that devil's rhythm just makes my body start to sway and bend and all of a sudden, my toe's a-tappin'. I better follow the advice of Christ that it's "better to cut off your [tappin'] toe and enter heaven than go to hell with all toes." Get thee behind me, you weak-strong weak-strong repetitive rhythm! My toes are dedicated to JE-sus! 'All music with a backbeat is sinful' - it's only the front beat from here on out for me, yessir! Only the front beat on the highway to holiness. I am so glad that Mrs. Kimberly Smith has had a word from the Lord to graciously guide our beats frontwards and backwards. Though I suppose if I listen to music with a backbeat going backwards, it becomes the front beat. Quick, let me spin my old LPs backwards...”
Book reviewer D. Wallace said, "She asserts that 'swaying to the music' is prima facie evidence for sensuality and immorality induced by the musical style, but fails to show how these are linked (except by her own assertion). I suppose that since I sway on the Metro as it moves down the track that the subway system is an "immoral" mode of transportation (wow, had I only known!)."
Book reviewer K. Nakaqawa remarked, "Now I know that rhythm you hear might hypnotize you - with or without you realizing it. Actually you can not avoid it. This is very scientific. Rhythm you hear will skip a frontal lobe which means your brain - decision making (right or wrong) function does not work during you hearing certain rhythm. Information you hear will go directly into your brain without filtering. I think this utilize as part of mind control technique."
Brinkley exclaimed, “Ooh, those sneaky weak-strong rhythms - they're a-gonna hypnotize me and control my braaaaiiiin!!!!  AAAgghh...Defeat the beat! Defeat the beat!”
Longtime Deaconess Gladys Hemmel of Cogdon, Alabama glowed, "Kimberly Smith, a church organist and classically trained pianist, can be likened to a modern-day Dr. Van Helsing in pursuit of the fiendish ‘undead.’ Armed with the Word of God, she triumphantly impales ‘Christian’ rock music, the most carnal and prevalent style of contemporary Christian music (CCM) today.”

Brinkley, now quite beside himself, proclaimed throughout Concourse B of the Dallas Airport, “Thank God this vampire killer has come among us to save us. "The truth shall set us free," GLO-ry halle-LU-jah!”
Mrs. Shirley explained, "Carnal music is music that appeals to us physically-it makes our bodies respond. Spiritual music makes our spirit respond. If you cannot tell the difference, you have a problem...  The spiritual person responds like Elijah on the mount. The carnal person reacts like the prophets of Baal. God responded to the spiritual plea of Elijah. He will not respond to jiving, dancing, or any other physical action music may motivate."

Dr. Kink rebutted, “That’s a isogetical scripture interpretation making a false analogy and then using it to drive truth. What about David dancing before the Lord?”
Jose Rodriguez, temporarily of Houston, Texas speaking through a translator mused, "I, too, have grave concerns about the musical offerings of the church. But not just rock and roll: Country and country-western music have deep roots in alcoholism and adultery. Bluegrass has roots in the moonshiners of Appalachia and in the Irish rebellion and gang wars of New York. Why even large portions of classical music were formed around the decadent lifestyles of royalty."
The third book Mrs. Smith has published within the past 10 years, Music and Morals
is receiving largely positive reviews.  Mrs. Smith rejoiced, “I have so much more work to do. Stay tuned. You’ll be hearing more!”


Jason said...

Sometimes you guys are funny. Sometimes you're not. This time you're just offensive.

The key defense for CCM is that music is amoral. You agree that the moral influence of music is a "duh," and then turn around and mock someone who tries to wrestle with the ways in which that music influences us. Grow up. You're hurting your own position.

Jerry Boyce said...

Wow. That sounds like it "struck a cord" with Jason.

Brother Slawson said...


Please raise your hand and wait to be called upon before speaking next time.

Jerry Boyce said...

yes ma'am

Richard Boyce said...

Ok, this one had me giggling like a girl.

I have a theory that I would love to research, if I only had the time.

It goes like this:

What if music has always been intended by God to create that psychological "feel-good" fluff that many Christians are so leery of?

What if that's how worship music is SUPPOSED to be?

What if we're counter-reacting against "fleshly" music merely because the world jumped on the band wagon but screwed it up on the basis of their lyrics?

Just a thought.

Devout Hypocrite said...

That Jose Rodriguez bit at the end? Priceless. Absolutely priceless.

Colin said...

"Weak-strong" Rats...looks like polka's out, too. Of course, that has roots in beer-guzzling Oktoberfests.

And of course everyone knows that descendants of Cain were the first musicians (Gen. 4)...so wouldn't that mean that all music is immoral?

Anyway, this one was hilarious!

I would concur in Mr. R. Boyce's theory; my only objection is when the "feel-good" is solely the music, and the lyrics lack deep content (or truth). And Bach makes me feel better than CCM anyway. :-)

Team Tominthebox News Network said...

Dear Jason,

I knew this post was probably going to draw some people out of the woodwork.

I'd like to begin by asking you upon what basis do you think music, in and of itself, is moral? I'm not talking about the context in which music is used, that's not the argument here, but whether or not certain beats, certain tone combinations, certain chord progressions, etc. are inherently sinful outside of their contexts.

Secondly, you say that we are mocking someone who is attempting "wrestle with" this subject, and you are completely wrong in this sentiment. To wrestle with a subject means to be uncertain about it, still examining all the sides, still looking for more evidence. In essence one who is wrestling with a subject still has not made up his or her mind. That's admirable in many ways especially when it comes to hard doctrines. But Mrs. Smith is not wrestling at all. She's made up her mind and presents her understanding along with so-called factual evidence.

Mrs. Smith's position isn't new either. In fact her view has been around quite a long time. My wife still laughs about the time her copy of the soundtrack for The Man from Snowy River was taken from her at Bob Jones University. The reason? The orchestral music for the scene where a herd of horses was running had drum rhythms that were "too strong." No doubt this could have led to foot tapping or something.

I will be so bold as to guess that the reason you didn't like this post was because you don't like CCM. Well, there's much of it I don't like either, I'll admit that. But would I go so far to say that certain sounds, pitches, and musical combinations are inherently sinful? Is a distorted guitar chord played to a hard drum beat in a Hard Rock song evil in and of itself outside of the context in which it's being used? If you say yes then we need to start talking about your views of Gnosticism.

Grant said...

It looks like Smith read Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind (pretty decent book, btw, apart from its treatment of music), read the section on rock and jazz music, and removed what little nuance Bloom had there in the first place.

Joe said...

Anyone interested in hearing more fundamentalist arguments for the inherent morality of music should check out SermonAudio.com (requires registration, and receiving a weekly email) and search for Frank Garlock and his two part message entitled "The Music God Wants Us to Have." (Garlock teaches at Bob Jones...)

Very interesting stuff. I went through it with a younger guy at my church in our exploration of worship and its relation to theology.

I won't spoil your own explorations of Garlock's arguments, but let's just say I still play my hot-rodded Telecaster at church, and we still have drummers who can play anapestic beats AND syncopated beats. And, sometimes we play with SIX beats to a measure.

Joe said...

Oh, and I should point out that I do take C.S. Lewis' warnings about chronological snobbery seriously, and I absolutely love so many of the hymns that our spiritual forefathers (and mothers) have left us. I don't reject the old in favor of the new.

Veritas Valebit said...

First off, I think that the arguments that anti-rock critics use are pretty weak, and some seem to be willing to use any argument that seems like it will support their view. There is no reason why music is evil just because it has a physical effect on our body. And even if the music does increase our heartbeat, there are other things (like exercise) that also increase our heartbeat that obviously aren't evil.

But music does have different effects on us, and I think music must be suited for its purpose. There is some music that I think is good to enjoy and profitable to help us to relax and clear out our minds and to enjoy the creativity that God has given to His creatures that is not suitable in public worship. Secondly, certain music (even apart from the lyrics) does have certain effects on us, and we should always consider how certain music affects us.

Jason said...

This thread reminds me of how easy it is for the two sides on an issue to cloister and develop a very wrong impression of what the other side holds.

1) The articles says "I always suspected that music affected me. This book proves it! Now, when I listen to Johnny Cash, I recognize that I have good feelings stirred in me. I guess I’d never noticed that but Mrs. Smith really nailed it!" This is, understood as sarcasm, a simple admission that music does indeed "affect" us and can cause "good feelings." The music. Not the text. So if something influences your feelings (Jonathan Edwards would have used the word "affections"), it is having a moral influence on you. No, it's not forcing you to think anything, but it is influencing you.

2) Maybe you're right about the term "wrestle." All I know is that what she is doing is a whole lot closer to wrestling with the issue than what you are doing by mocking the idea that we ought to be discerning in the styles of music we use.

3) You're right. In fact, it is your position that is new. No one in the history of the world, secular or religious, has claimed that music is amoral except for Christians in the last forty years.

4) Whether I like CCM is not the issue. The issue is whether God likes CCM and the various styles it employs. I will not make statements that Scripture doesn't make (eg. "syncopation is sin," "rock is wrong," etc.). That would be foolish. But that doesn't mean we get a free pass to indulge in whatever makes us feel good. Believer's are called to discern and it's time we grow up and start wrestling with this issue.

Team Tominthebox News Network said...


I would argue that culture and context, not the music itself, are the foundations for how music affects us. For instance, we in the Western world often find the minor key to be sad. But in other cultures that is not necessarily the case. In one culture a particular rhythm and/or beat will illicit one emotional response while in another it will stir something totally different.

I will argue again that music in and of itself is amoral, but the way in which it is used and employed is not. Substance, matter, sound waves and various combinations of parts of the physically created world are not inherently evil. If you believe they are then, as I said before, you're dabbling in gnosticism.

I have wrestled with and continue to wrestle with this issue. You're right in saying we should not make statements that Scripture does not such as, "syncopation is sin" or "rock is wrong." That is what Mrs. Smith essentially does, thus going beyond Scripture. When one does such a thing he or she is therefore open to critique. The way we critique here at TBNN is not by writing theological treatises but by satirizing and exaggerating error and absurdity .

I agree with you that because Scripture doesn't explicitly spell out what styles of music are "good" or "bad" that "we get a free pass to indulge in whatever makes us feel good." But at the same time, also because Scripture is silent we don't get to immediately pass judgment upon what makes us feel bad.

If we want to discuss whether or not CCM is sinful or not before the Lord, we must discuss it upon a truthful foundation, asking questions about the content of the words, cultural understandings of certain musical styles, whether or not Scripture condemns or condones all or any bodily movements during worship, etc. We don't begin by saying "this tone" or "this beat" in and of itself is sin. There is no Scriptural basis for that.

Jonathan said...

Just jumping in...

As a former worship leader for a large church, pastor of some time in the US (Las Vegas), and currently a foreign missionary, I'd like to weigh in on the 'culture' issue.

Team Tom very ably made the point that things are interpreted vastly different in different cultures. One of the most frightening things for Americans to deal with is that the Bible in general and Christianity in particular are NOT American.

Jesus birthed a movement that was 'not of this world'. As such, it had it's own 'culture' (Php 3:20).

Whats my point? Just as TT said, things are interpreted vastly different in different cultures, and that goes for musical styles here. You should see how difficult it is to get the people in my church to clap on the (holy, righteous, and only ordained by God) 'off beat'. Their music is just different.

When I hear the popular music here (India), it sounds like a horror movie theme, and invokes that same response, yet they will dance and laugh and have a great time.

What is (ultimately) my point? Basically, 'Style' cannot be righteous or unrighteous, inasmuch as it does not directly violate scripture. If your clothing style is seductive, than your 'style' is unrighteous. But are bright colors wrong? (I've heard that from many a Christian)

In your music, the formation of the beat/tune cannot be, scripturally, logically, or otherwise construed as being inherently evil OR righteous, unless the directly evoke something unrighteous.

An example? You might want to avoid writing a new worship chorus using the tune from 'Highway to Hell'. Is the tune itself unrighteous? No. Just like a womans clothes hanging on a rack are not unrighteous.

However, when aired, that tune (at least in a western church) could send many people back to 'the bad old days', just as those clothes, when worn (in)appropriately, can evoke unrighteous desires that they couldn't otherwise while hanging on the rack.

BTW, I've gotta say, I loved the article - keep up the good work!

-J in India

Jeff said...

I think it was chapter 6 where she covered the part that most CCM churches have pastors who pisith sitting down...

Jerry Boyce said...

I have watched my children as they were 4,5,6 months old in the store as music was played in Walmart and the food stores. They would move their bodies to the beat. That has nothing to do with Western culture. That has nothing to do with what they were exposed to, since they do not hear it anywhere else- except for the punk in the lowrider beside me at the light.
We did not teach them how to dance. Their bodies responded to the music. Interesting indeed.

Jason said...

1) Since I don't live in the USA, I understand and agree that culture is a huge factor. While some of the influences of music are merely cultural (which, btw, cultural scripts cannot be re-written at the drop of a hat), I would argue that some are also inherent. Jerry illustrated this with the story about his children. I suspect playing a Sousa march in China would also confirm this. This then brings us back to the issue of what the music itself is communicating.

2) Your repeated comment about Gnosticism seems to reveal Deconstructionalism in your thinking. Just because letters are amoral does not mean that words and sentences do not communicate morals. Just because lines and shapes are amoral does not mean that art cannot communicate moral ideas.

3) To sum it up rather bluntly, you "wrestle with the issues" by mocking those who disagree with you. I'm not arguing against satire, but I would suggest that this one is different because it deals with a specific person and a specific publication.

4) I can agree with you there. It's important to admit the complexity of the issues and allow the tone of our conclusions to correspond appropriately.

Team Tominthebox News Network said...


I never argued that music doesn't affect us, even outside of culture. I argued against saying that music can be inherently moral.

Besides, since when does the Bible condemn dancing?


Team Tominthebox News Network said...


First, let me say, I didn't write this story. Dr. Bill wrote this, but I support it. Mrs. Smith's book represents a school of thought, therefore I would argue that we're not only satirizing her but the whole school. But I will still say though that when any one person presents an argument as fact that has no Scriptural basis I have no problem taking him or her to task on the subject in a satirical way.

Now, using your word illustration, you're exactly right, words do convey meaning. No, letters and written words themselves are not evil, but when combined into certain patterns and forms they can convey wickedness and sin. But again I would argue that it all falls into the context of the culture. Words and sounds have their meaning in context.

I'm an American who lives in Russia. I speak both English and Russian (though the Russian is still...ahem...developing if I might say.) There are some Russian words that sound very much like profane and crude words in English. I won't quote them here, but some of them are used every day like the Russian words for "like/as" or "to write." There are others too common but not perhaps used every day like the words for "to sew" or "choir." If I were to simply say these words out loud in an all English-speaking setting with no context people would probably give me dirty looks. So you see every day I'm putting together sounds and letter that to English-speakers could be perceived as profane and vulger, yet to a Russian are not, because when said in context the words mean something different. Language is not universal.

Now, music is a language too, but I'll admit somewhat universal and somewhat not. Granted, from one end of the earth to the other loud is loud. You blow a trumpet in someone's ear he or she will either be deafened and or annoyed. I would say that for the most part tempo is fairly universal. Generally fast seems to be fast and slow seems to be slow. But dissonance and consonance are not.

Now certainly, over time a form or style of music can become so tied to an activity, person, movement, etc. that simply the style itself takes on the meaning of those who play it. The question then becomes, is the style too far gone to be "redeemed" in any way? Some of Luther's hymns used common folk tunes from among the people. So this is the basis upon which to discuss this subject. We ask questions such as "What has this or that style come to mean/represent?"

Now what about beat? No one is arguing that beats affect the body in some way throughout the world, but still not necessarily universally. But the question is by what standard do judge one rhythm, syncopation or style as good or bad, wicked or righteous? So let's say that such and such rhythm makes someone dance. Is all dance wrong? Scripture does not condemn dance, and in some places actually commands it. Correct me if I'm wrong but "Praise him with timbrel and dancing" seems to imply dancing to music. The Bible, however, does condemn sexual provocation, immorality and impurity. It does command modesty and sobriety. So it's not a matter of dancing or not dancing but how that dancing should be done. So if a man or woman dances provocatively to a piece of music who's to blame?

Now to address your point about my use of the word "Gnosticism." One of the chief tenants of Gnostic beliefs was that the material world is evil in and of itself. Is that all they believed? No, of course not, I never said that. But at the depths of Smith's arguments and others of like-mindedness, seems to be a clear indication that there are combinations of sounds and rhythms that are universally and inherently evil. Like it or not, that is an incipiently gnostic idea.

And finally, just out of curiosity, I don't know how long you've been coming here and reading, but I know this is not the first time we've singled out and picked on one particular person. The names Joel Osteen, Ergun Caner, Fred Phelps and Creflo Dollar are but a few that have made frequent appearances here at TBNN. Did it bother you before when we satirized them? Why only speak up now?

Team Tominthebox News Network said...

BTW, sorry for the typos. I wrote this rather hastily, and I'll try to proofread better next time. For clarity sake I do need to point out one major correct. In the sixth paragraph the beginning of the second sentence reads...

"No one is arguing that beats affect the body in some way throughout the world,"

This ought to read...

"No one is arguing that beats do not affect the body in some way throughout the world,"

Jerry Boyce said...

Re-read my post. I never said anything negitive about danceing, did I?

Team Tominthebox News Network said...


Touche =)


Darrin said...

Is it mean to start your kid on a string instrument? Elementary school orchestras sound so bad!

Jim Pemberton said...

Hint - it's not about the music.

Music affects us not intrinsically, but because of our particular sociological conditioning. This is the cultural observation already made simply put another way.

The music ministry of my church just offered a time of worship at the CEF International Conference in Ridgecrest, NC. We have a large choir and although many were not able to come, we still had 60 or so people, plus a 20 piece orchestra. That doesn't include the scaled-down children's choir of 40 or so. Sensitive to the presence of missionaries from around the world (80 +/- countries?) we still used a range of styles from hymns to black gospel to CCM. It seems blithe to merely say that we love music. However, it's even more so to say that our heart is in the worship of Lord and it is evident when we minister on Sunday morning or an event such as this. Through cultural and linguistic barriers, our goal is primarily to worship God and secondarily to bring as many people with us as we can: Not just for a moment, but after the final prayer as we depart that we maybe emboldened to continue in worship in our service to God. I don't say this to exalt anyone, but to encourage all that this should always be our goal regardless of the music we use.

Jason said...


We agree that the influence of music is based somewhat on conditioned factors and and somewhat on intrinsic factors. You ask "is all dance wrong?" but that's irrelevant. The question should be, "is all dance right?" Are you suggesting that music doesn't play a significant role in sensual, erotic dance? Obviously it does and this leads to the question, "can I use that same music with different words to communicate a Christian message?"

Regarding Gnosticism, I understand what it is and the point you are making. I'm merely pointing out that it is a straw man. I made the statement that "Just because letters are amoral..." In other words, I explicitly stated that the material elements are amoral, not evil. As far as the combinations of sounds being "universally and inherently evil," I don't believe that either. I did say that combinations of sound have the ability to influence us morally just as a sermon does. There's nothing Gnostic about that.


I'd be interested to hear an argument as to why you believe music affects us merely based on our sociological conditioning and not intrinsically. Merely stating your opinion with no support isn't very convincing.