Stories, and how to use them

10 Scriptural Reasons

Well, today we’re going to tackle a fun topic; 10 reasons that rock music is evil. I tried writing some on this topic last night, using Ten Scriptural Reasons Why the “Rock Beat” Is Evil in Any Form, and I ended up feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer weight of so many misuses of Scripture, faulty uses of logic or outrageous statements. How can you respond to so much?

Upon reflection, it seemed best to break this response into several parts. Today I won’t actually spend a lot of time in this booklet; I’d like to speak a little bit about my own experiences with music and IBLP. Then over the next few weeks I’ll see if I can go through these ten points and cut through some of the faulty logic to expose the prejudices behind it. To help us all keep our sanity, I’m going to randomly insert links to unapproved music. Here’s the first one: an Indian band called Thaikkudam Bridge does a cover of Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters. It’s awesome.

Before I talk about my experiences, let’s talk for just a moment about one of Gothard’s favorite techniques for proving a point: the personal testimony. You could make a very good argument that this is Gothard’s primary method of making his case, whatever the topic. Ten Scriptural Reasons contains no fewer than ten personal testimonies. These testimonies take up a significant portion of the booklet: out of 16 pages, fully six and a half are testimonies. The problem with personal stories is that they cannot prove a point, they can only illustrate a point. Testimonies have their place in a logical argument, but their limitations must be understood.

Allow me to illustrate with a different (and controversial) topic: global climate change. Let’s say I want to argue that the Earth is not experiencing a significant rise in temperature (please keep in mind that I’m just giving an example here; I have no desire to get into the climate debate). If I were to first state my thesis (The Earth is not experiencing any significant rise in temperature) and then follow that with 10 stories about unusually cold days in different parts of the world, I would be laughed out of the room. Why? Because isolated events cannot prove or disprove the truth of a global trend, event or principal.  It is entirely possible that the global warming is happening even though there are isolated events that don’t fit the trend. In the same way, you cannot prove that global warming is happening by giving examples of hot days in recent years.

This is not to say that examples or personal testimonies have no place in a good argument. To construct a good argument that global warming is not happening, I would have to demonstrate a global trend (or lack thereof) using measurements taken over a long period of time and in multiple locations. I would have to reference the work of respect authorities on the subject, and show how their research supported my point. I would have to present a weather model that explained why the factors my opponents say cause global warming are not having a warming effect. After I’ve done this, I can use examples to illustrate the point I’ve already proved. The hard numbers, opinions of authorities and well researched weather model are my evidence; the stories help people to understand how this evidence can be seen in the real world.

Here’s Come With Me Now by Kongos. Garage band sound mixed with steel guitar and accordion; how awesome is that?

It’s also important to make a clear distinction between a personal story and an expert witness. These two perform very different tasks in a logically constructed argument. Personal stories (be they your own stories or somebody else’s story) are from people who have no particular expertise in the subject matter. Your uncle who tells stories about Mexicans taking our jobs is an example. Me talking about oils spills in the Gulf is another example. While our stories are not without value, they are not to be given particular weight. These stories (and the opinions they directly or indirectly communicate) are just a few among literally millions on the subject.

Expert witness, on the other hand, should be given much greater weight. These are the opinions or stories of people who have spent significant amounts of time and energy studying, discussing, researching and examining an issue. They often (but not always) have some academic evidence of their expertise. They are recognized by other in the field as reliable, honest and knowledgeable. Opinions and stories from these people can be used as evidence to establish or support a thesis. Their opinion is more weighty; it simply matters more.

An important note: Experiencing something does not make you an expert. A war refugee is not an expert on war, someone who helps clean a beach is not an expert on oil spills, and a teenager who listened to rock music for a while and then rejected it is not an expert on rock music. To be an expert, you must have a deep understanding of the topic outside of your own personal experience. In the same way that feeling the cold in my hometown does not qualify me to make judgments about global temperature trends, observing rock music‘s effect on myself does not qualify me to judge rock music to be either good or evil.

I really like the band Cake. Here’s one of their best.

In a strange twist, I am now going to tell my personal experience with rock music! Allow me to explain why my personal story is pertinent, even though I just spent 700 plus words telling you that personal stories cannot prove a point; I’m not trying to prove a point with this story. Everything you just read related to constructing a logical argument to prove a point. I’m sharing my experience in the hopes that it may resonate with some of you who have had similar experiences. What I’ve written below is not a logical argument: it’s just something that might help some people think about their own experiences. Maybe I’ve felt something that you’ve felt too.

As a child there were many things that I was absolutely sure of. God was real. Bill Clinton was evil. Biking downhill fast was always worth the effort to get to the top of the hill. You should go to church on Sunday. Public school was a horrible place. The park on the other side of town had the best slide (because it was tall and had waves in it). And rock music was evil.

Really, really evil. Not just that some evil people listened to or performed rock music. Not that some parts of rock culture were wrong. Not that I didn’t like the sound. It was, quite literally, demonic. The beat invited demons into your heart, it could cause heart attacks, and it made plants die.

On the few occasions that our family ate out, my siblings and I could hardly contain our excitement. Mom and Dad would put together a list of possible restaurants and we would drive to the first one. Awesome smells would waft into the van, and we would excitedly talk about what food they might have. “This one is a Mexican restaurant!” “This one has barbeque sandwiches!” Dad would get out of the van and we would hold our breath. Were we going to eat here? Could this actually be the place? Sometimes Dad was gone a long time, other times he returned quickly. By the time he walked out of the restaurant, it felt like a black hole had opened in your stomach. Please, please, let this be the place. We all tried to judge from Dad’s expression, or the way he held his shoulders. What had the manager said?

It seemed to take an eternity for Dad to get back into the van. We all held our breath as he answered our unspoken question: Had the manager agreed to turn off the music while we ate?

Rock music was serious business in our family. We left two churches before I was 10 years old over the issue of music. I remember walking up to our pastor during greeting time to tell him about the evils of the music during praise time. Almost every time somebody sang a special our family would stand up, file out of our pew and stand in the foyer until the music was over. One time my parents let me go home with another family after church to spend the afternoon with their boys. On the way home they were listening to soft Christian rock. I knew what to do (we had been trained for situations just like these!) I boldly asked that they turn off the music, and explained that it was wrapping God’s message in Satan’s methods, and it was evil.

At the same time, I loved rock music. I didn’t dare admit it to myself. My mother was going through counseling at the time, and her counselor gave her a tape with Christian music on it. Mom didn’t actually buy into Gothard’s teaching on music, but didn’t tell us for years. (I assume this was because of the submission teaching that is so heavily emphasized in IBLP circles, but I’ve never actually asked her…I need to ask her about that…) She kept that tape in a high drawer and only listened to it on a Walkman with headphones. But whenever she left us at the house, I would run straight for that drawer, pull out the tape and listen to Our God Is An Awesome God over and over and over again. I don’t know how to express the feelings of those moments; time has dulled a lot of the memories. But the emotion was strong. I felt alive and inspired. For some reason it made me feel like I was part of a greater whole, something much bigger than the isolated world of my family.

I told myself it wasn’t actually rock music. I can’t even remember how I justified that in my mind.

(Side note: I just talked with my mother about this. She told me that her marriage was going through some very rough waters during those years, and “I had much bigger battles to fight in my marriage than what was on the radio.” She told me that she actually did communicate to us that she disagreed with Dad and Gothard about music. I don’t doubt her, but I was a stubborn kid, and apparently ignored what she said. Was this perhaps some evidence of the male chauvinism so prevalent in IBLP circles?)

When I was 13 my family moved to Wilbur, Washington, a tiny farming community not far from the Grand Coulee Dam.  There were 170,000 people in Amarillo, and I didn’t have a single friend my age. Wilbur had 800 people, yet oddly I found my first friends in that little town. JC was the son of a local pastor. He and his brother David were both homeschooled; they were a lot like us. Grady and his sister Chelsa were wheat farmers kids, also homeschooled. Annie and Melissa were in public school. We were an odd group, but each of those people impacted my life greatly. Soon we had a small Bible study, and JC and I were putting out a home school newsletter for the county. Almost every day of the week one or all of the “Wilbur Gang” would spend time at our home.

My friends all listened to normal Christian music. I was unsure of what to do; they were nice about not playing it around me, and I was suddenly uncomfortable saying that I had problems with rock music. I blamed it on my dad. Then my sister quietly shared a CD with me. It was highly secret contraband; she has purchased The Back Street Boy’s Millennium CD. I wasn’t sure what to think, but we listened, and again, I loved it.

Secretly, I began listening to different types of music. I found a country station, and listened whenever I could. At some point along the way I learned about my Mom’s feelings on music, and things became less secretive; we just made sure all music was off and hidden before Dad got home. I discovered Merle Haggard and George Strait.

After my parents learned about my porn usage, I tried valiantly for some time to deal with the lust in my life. The Rock by Clay Crosse was a great help during that time. (Wow…I haven’t listened to that song in years. Talk about taking you back…)

Though my teen years I struggled to figure out the truth about music. I knew enough about music theory to see the holes in the “syncopation is evil” argument. Loren Elms said that syncopation was like spice; so I reasoned that rock music was like spicy food. It was ok to eat some, but you couldn’t eat only spicy food. Then I thought that maybe syncopation wasn’t the real issue; there was some music that was evil, but the amount of syncopation wasn’t what made it evil. But then what did make it evil?

It took me a lot of years to come to the point I’m at today. I realize now that music, like all art, doesn’t fit so easily into these neat little boxes that Gothard wanted to paint. I don’t have all the answer about music, and that’s ok. God created music, and when we sing, or write or make music, we are expressing part of God’s creative nature, and that is a beautiful thing.