Christian review of songs about God by R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins, Creed, Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Madonna, and Lauryn Hill

Christian review of songs about God by R.E.M., Smashing Pumpkins, Creed, Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan, Madonna, and Lauryn Hill

Here is a great article I read:


Spirituality and Pop Music - from Tori Amos to Lauryn Hill spacer Spirituality and Pop Music – from Tori Amos to Lauryn Hill
BY: David John Seel, Jr.
Spirituality is hip and was omnipresent in pop music in 1998. From pop to hip-hop, Sanskrit to Scripture, popular culture displayed a renewed spiritual consciousness. At the year’s Video Music Awards, Madonna, the former Material Girl, performed “Shanti/Ashtangi,” a Sanskrit sloka off her award-winning album, Ray of Light. At the Grammy Awards, Lauryn Hill accepted the award for “Album of the Year” by reading a passage from Psalm 40, and adding “Know that God is great and he conquers all.”And the growth in spiritual interest is hardly limited to the universe of music. One could also point to the popularity of the angel-to-the-rescue dramas on TV, the apocalyptic blockbusters in theaters, and the bestsellers on the soul in bookstores. Some cultural analysts have even suggested that the 1990s may well be remembered in the publishing world as “the decade of the soul.”Is this simply a fad—a shallow fashion statement like wearing a crucifix or Tibetan mala beads? A reader responds in the April 1999 issue of Spin, “This current emphasis on spirituality is just another confirmation of the state of emptiness we all feel at times. But for a chic guru to flaunt it like the newest Tamagotchi is pretty pathetic.” And you too may want to explain this away to a crass commercialism of matters best left in private.

Nevertheless, spirituality is going platinum in the music world and it may well portend to a deeper longing in the contemporary consciousness. It is to this possibility that my comments are addressed.

The Beat of the Heart
Music has a unique place within youth culture. Even more than fashion or entertainment choices, music is the identity trademark of teens. Historian Garry Wills once wrote, “Show me your leader and you have bared your soul.” Likewise, show me your CD collection and you have bared your soul. Tell me what music you most identify with, what posters hang in your dorm room, and you say a lot about the state of your heart. Whether you listen to pop, electronica, metal, Ska, grunge, Goth, hip-hop, country, Phish or the women of Lilith Fair, your choice says something about who you are. For example, if I were to tell you that my nineteen-year-old son who attends Colby College in Maine listens to Phish and my fifteen-year-old son who attends a boarding school in New York listens to Ska, then you would be able to place them in a particular social group within any college or prep school.

Music, then, is the beat of the heart and explores the most basic questions of identity: “Where do I find security?” and “How do I find significance?” Put differently, teens long to “find a home” and to “make a name” for themselves. In the parlance of hip-hop, identity is about “finding blood” and “getting big.” The New York Times Magazine editor Charles McGrath, commenting on a photo essay of American teens, observes, “The really powerful feeling here, the emotion animating almost all these pictures in one way or another, is not so much physical desire as simply the wish to connect: to belong, to fit in. It may not be too much to say that all these kids are looking for surrogate families, for people who will take them in and accept them without question, and what’s fascinating is how much the process is reduced to symbols and uniforms.”

“Will you be there for me?” is the central religious question for youth today, writes Tom Beaudoin, author of Virtual Faith: The Irreverent Spiritual Quest of Generation X. At its most basic, it is a relational rather than a philosophical question. It is personal rather than abstract. It is a question born of broken relationships, laced with realism, poignant with need. It unmasks the fear of abandonment as well as the loss of meaning. It is the cry for an embrace, the passion for intimacy, the longing for fidelity at the deepest levels of the heart. It is the longing for a love that will not leave in the morning light. Augustine, reflecting on his youth, admits in his Confessions that “The single desire that dominated my search for delight was simply to love and to be loved.” It is the desire expressed in Madonna’s 1998 song “Drowned World/Substitute for Love:” “I traveled round the world / Looking for a home / I found myself in crowded rooms / Feeling so alone.” The song ends, “My substitute for love / This is my religion.” Music is an experience that often speaks in a language more profound than words. Here we find expressed the soul’s longings and loves that we don’t often dare to express ourselves.

Spirituality is an important theme within pop music and music is an important vehicle through which teenage identity is expressed. We will look now at three frequent themes expressed through pop spirituality: a crisis of meaning, a critique of Christianity, and a celebration of paganism. This analysis will not examine explicitly gospel or Christian music, even though I am well aware of the popularity of such groups as Jars of Clay and DC Talk as well as artists such as Kirk Franklin. What is of particular interest to me is how spirituality is being expressed musically in venues where it is most unlikely.

Pop Spirituality Unplugged
1. Crisis of Meaning
In the summer of 1996, Rolling Stone magazine declared that the “Hot Mood” of 90s youth was confusion. In the article, Will Dana referred to a line in Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming:” “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.” Of contemporary youth culture, he wrote, “We used to think the center couldn’t hold. All of a sudden, there doesn’t seem to be a center at all.” Contemporary music does not simply speak of the loss of meaning, but the loss of the possibility of meaning. Michael Stipes of the rock group R.E.M. sings, “I can’t taste it / I’m tired and naked / I don’t know what I’m hungry for / I don’t know what I want anymore.” Or Smashing Pumpkin’s lead singer Billy Corgan’s shout “God is empty / just like me,” from the song “Zero.” Sheryl Crow asks, “If it makes you happy / Then why the hell are you so sad?” Grunge band, Creed’s My Own Prison album, asks pointedly, “What’s this life for?”

R.E.M. – Bittersweet Me (Video)

Uploaded on Oct 26, 2009

© 2007 WMG
Bittersweet Me (Video)


Zero-Smashing Pumpkins

Published on Feb 24, 2013

A video for my uni project on the negative side of technology, i focused on weaponry and war, nuclear war in particular. I used clips released by the American government during the Cold War to inform the public (and on the whole) mislead them, by suggesting procedures they could carry out to ensure their safety. Of course in a nuclear war situation, they would make little difference! I used the fantastic Zero by Smashing Pumpkins as the soundtrack.


Creed – What’s This Life For (Video 2009)

Uploaded on Dec 2, 2009

Music video by Creed performing What’s This Life For. (C) 2009 Wind-up Records, LLC


Reality doesn’t leave many options. Most of the time our answer is simply whatever is fun—follow Jimmy Buffett’s “parrot-heads” to “Margaritaville.” Sometimes our answer is the freedom to have and do whatever we want, a freedom that comes with wealth and power—follow hip-hop’s Master P to the land of No Limit. On rarer occasions, we might think of helping out someone else—realizing with Jewel that the “ugly girl,” “faggot,” and “Jew” are all just “pieces of you.” Education for most people is just a means of delayed gratification for wealth, power, and pleasure. The getting of wisdom, it seems, inspires few songs. And that leaves spirituality. When everything else seems like a wild goose chase, when the diversions seem like dead-ends, some may stop and ask the deeper questions of the heart. There are many songs that explore these cul-de-sacs of meaning-when all our life’s aspirations seem out of synch with our life’s actualities.

Stuck in an abusive relationship, Tori Amos asks on her 1991 album, Little Earthquakes, “Why do we crucify ourselves / Every day I crucify myself / Nothing I do is good enough for you / Crucify myself every day / And my HEART is sick of being in chains.” Jewel explained on her 1998 album, Spirit, “When you’re standing in deep water / And you’re bailing yourself out with a straw / And when you’re drowning in deep water / And you wake up making love to a wall / Well it’s these little times that help to remind / It’s nothing without love.” But “Is love possible in a world like this?” Amos asks whether love is only a series of one-night stands where sex substitutes for intimacy. Is there more than sex? Can you hold what I hold dear? Will you be there for me?

Songs about sex, love, and relationships are essentially spiritual explorations about the meaning of life at heart-level. Listen to Tori Amos’ song “Leather,” to the poignancy of her questions. There is nothing theoretical or abstract about the fear, loneliness, and finally despair exposed in her music.

Tori Amos Leather

Uploaded on Jan 7, 2007

Tori Amos, Leather


Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes (1991)

Look I’m standing naked before you
Don’t you want more than my sex
I can scream as loud as your last one
But I can’t claim innocence

Oh god could it be the weather
Oh god why am I here
If love isn’t forever
Hand me my leather

I could just pretend that you love me
The night would lose all sense of fear
But why do I need you to love me
When you can’t hold what I hold dear

I almost ran over an angel
He had a nice big fat cigar
“IN A SENSE” he said
“You’re alone here
So if you jump you best jump far”…

The angel’s spiritual counsel is that you are, in fact, alone here, and so if you want a solution, you’d best jump far. Many are following Tori Amos’ lead by abandoning traditional religious answers for newer forms of spirituality. But in route, a few cheap shots at one’s upbringing are standard fare. This is the second theme of pop spirituality—a critique of Christianity.

2. Critique of Christianity
Tori Amos was born the daughter of a North Carolina Methodist minister. She long since abandoned Christianity for a mythical, pagan, fairy world. Amos is the “Anne Rice of rock,” or as another observer put it, “a moon child for lost souls and misfits.” Her hostility toward Christianity—in part explainable to her experience of rape—is legendary. (Listen to her song, “Me and a Gun,” on Little Earthquakes.) Rolling Stone’s Steven Daly says of Amos, “The woman has few peers in the God-baiting stakes. Compared with the Amos oeuvre, Madonna’s blasphemous stunts look positively devout; and when this little minister’s daughter starts exorcising the ‘shame’ of her ‘Victorian Christian’ upbringing, she makes soi-disant Satanist Marilyn Manson seem cartoonish and ineffectual.”

“Yes, I do have a mission,” Amos says bluntly, “To expose the dark side of Christianity.” Of her song, “God,” on the 1996 album, Boys For Pele, she comments, “Why don’t people want to hear about God getting a blow job? I thought those born-again Christians would love that.”

Emily Saliers of Indigo Girls is also a preacher’s kid. In her 1989 song, “Closer To Fine,” she proclaims her liberation from moral absolutes, “The less I seek my source for some definitive / The closer I am to fine.” On R.E.M.’s 1991 Out of Time album, Michael Stipes sings about “Losing My Religion.” Alanis Morisette, on her 1995 Jagged Little Pill album, takes aim at her Catholic upbringing in her song, “Forgiven:” “We all had delusions in our heads / We all had our minds made up for us / We had to believe in something / So we did.”

Pop spirituality is largely spirituality without God, if God is understood as the transcendent God of the Bible. Sarah McLachlan in her 1997 cover of XTC’s song “Dear God,” sings a cosmic “Dear John” letter blaming God for all the evil and disease in the world. Listen to her musical testimony to the rejection of God.

Sarah McLachlan Dear God

Uploaded on Dec 19, 2010

Heartwrenching cover of the XTC song…a commentary on the authenticity of the traditional portrayal of the universal construction which shockingly retains its creationist ideologies. To question is to illuminate.


“Dear God”
Sarah McLachlan, Sampler (1997)

Dear God,
Hope you got the letter down here.
I don’t mean a big reduction in the price of beer
But all the people that you made in your image,
See them starving on their feet
‘Cause they don’t get enough to eat
From God
I can’t believe in you.

Dear God,
Sorry to disturb you, but
I feel that I should be heard loud and clear.
We all need a big reduction in the amount of tears
And all the people that you made in your image,
See them fighting in the street
‘Cause they can’t make opinions meet
About God,
I can’t believe in you.

Did you make disease, and the diamond blue?
Did you make mankind after we made you?
And the devil, too?!

Dear God,
Don’t know if you notice, but…
Your name is on a lot of quotes in this book,
Us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look,
And all the people that you made in your image,
Still believing that junk is true
Well I know it ain’t, and so do you

Dear God,
I can’t believe in…
I don’t believe in…

I won’t believe in heaven and hell.
No saints, no sinners, no devil as well.
No pearly gates, no thorny crown.
You’re always letting us humans down.
The wars you bring, the babes you drown.
And it’s the same the whole world ‘round.
The hurt I see helps to compound
That Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Is just somebody’s unholy hoax
And if you’re up there you’d perceive
That my heart’s here upon my sleeve.
If there’s one thing I don’t believe in….

It’s you…
Dear God.

There are many people who may still use “god-talk,” but in more and more cases the meaning has changed. The immanent gods of Nature are replacing the historic transcendent Creator God of Christianity. This is the third trend in pop spirituality: the celebration of paganism.

3. Celebration of Paganism
With a few notable exceptions, God is largely dead in pop spirituality. Instead we are offered a design-it-yourself, cafeteria approach to religion that is non-institutional, individualist, subjective, and syncretistic. The cover of July-August 1998 UTNE Reader reads, “Designer God: In a mix-and-match world, why not create your own religion?” Pop spirituality is infused with an eclectic array of Eastern and neopagan spiritualities. “Contemporary American spirituality is largely a cut-and-paste affair,” writes Spin’s Erik Davis, “perfectly in tune with today’s musical mixology.”

The central characteristic of contemporary spirituality is an “inner pluralism.” All of the world religions are found in a single psyche. Traditional boundaries between religion dissolve and individuals hold multiple citizenship in a number of separate faiths with no complete allegiance to any. Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow recently interviewed a 26-year-old disabilities counselor for a study on American spirituality. She described her religious preference as “Methodist-Taoist-Native American-Quaker-Russian Orthodox-Buddhist-Jew.” Spirituality today is a divine deli where consumers of meaning pick and choose among increasingly exotic pagan alternatives. Art historian Camille Paglia argues that “Popular culture is an eruption of paganism… Judeo-Christianity never defeated paganism but rather drove it underground, from which it constantly erupts in all kinds of ways.”

The rebirth of paganism is a return to varieties of pantheism, the worship of nature. Pantheism, C.S. Lewis observed, is “humanity’s natural religion.” Here one doesn’t get “saved,” one gets “connected.” Pagan wisdom consists in the attempt to understand how our lives are to be properly placed and perceived within the forces of Nature. The aim is to open one’s heart to these unseen realities. “Consumed with how much you get,” Madonna chides, “you’re frozen when your heart is not open.” Pop spirituality combines personal autonomy with cosmic meaning. “You hold the key,” Madonna explains. Everyone follows their own road as they follow the signs of their heart. Listen to Madonna’s techno-influenced “Sky Fits Heaven” on the 1998 Grammy Pop Album of the Year, Ray of Light.

Madonna – 07. Sky Fits Heaven

Uploaded on Apr 27, 2011

Sky Fits Heaven
Ray Of Light [1998]


“Sky Fits Heaven”
Madonna, Ray of Light (1998)

Sky fits heaven so fly it
That’s what the prophet said to me
Child fits mother so hold your baby tight
That’s what my future could see

Fate fits karma so use it
That’s what the wise man said to me
Love fits virtue so hold on to the light
That’s what our future will be

Traveling down this road
Watching the signs as I go
I think I’ll follow the sun
Isn’t everyone just

Traveling down their own road
Watching the signs as they go
I think I’ll follow my heart
It’s a very good place to start

Traveling down my own road
Watching the signs as they go
Traveling down my own road
Watching the signs as I go
Traveling, traveling
Watching the signs as I go

Hand fits giving so do it
That’s what the Gospel said to me
Life fits living so let your judgments go
That’s how our future should be

Traveling down this road
Watching the signs as I go
Think I’ll follow the sun
Isn’t everyone just

Traveling down their own road
Watching the signs as they go
Think I’ll follow my heart
It’s a very good place to start

Traveling down my own road
Watching the signs as they go

Just in case anyone misses her religious direction, “Sky Fits Heaven” flows seamlessly into the next song, Madonna’s Sanskrit version of a Hindu prayer.

Examined more closely, however, theoretical pantheism quickly degenerates into practical “metheism.” The worship of nature becomes the worship of one’s own nature, even the spiritualizing of one’s instincts, bordering on autoeroticism.

Neale Donald Walsch’s book series Conversations With God is a multi-year run-away best seller. What is it that makes these books so popular? Walsch’s central argument is simply that God is me. Listen to these excerpts: “Blessed are the Self-centered, for they shall know God… The highest good is that which produces the highest good for you… A thing is only right or wrong because you say it is. A thing is not right or wrong intrinsically… So be ready, kind soul. For you will be vilified and spat upon…from the moment you accept and adopt your holy cause—the realization of Self.”

G. K. Chesterton was right to warn, “That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones.” Again Spin’s Erik Davis observes of the current music scene, “Mystical options such as yoga and pop cabala offer direct access to deeper essence, without the pesky moral codes of conventional religion. Unfortunately, this search can easily degenerate into another American cult of the self, a cult that already enshrines celebrities as the closest thing mortals come to being realized beings.” Likewise, Princeton theologian Thomas Molnar concludes, “A good case can be made for the proposition that what attracts members of a weakened Christian civilization to Oriental creeds and occult doctrines is not Buddhism, the Tantra, the Tao, the Zen, Brahmanism, or shamanism. Much more important, is the presence in each of these new religions…of the hope of self-divination.”

This is consumer spirituality well suited for the celebrity limelight and lifestyle. Paganism is spirituality attuned to the postmodern zeitgeist; for in the end, it celebrates self and sex. Whenever meaning is sought in Nature its practice takes a predictable course—and it has been this way from the beginning of time: a personal deity offers a personal morality reinforced by a personal power, which ends in the worship of the person and their passions. Paganism always ends in that which is violent and orgiastic. Chesterton again observes, “A man loves Nature in the morning for her innocence and amiability, and at nightfall, if he is loving her still, it is for her darkness and her cruelty.” Paganism is a theology of hubris and hedonism.

Pop spirituality, then, quickly becomes the highest form of self-worship—the divination of ego, the spiritualizing of desire. This is religion adapted to therapeutic consumerism: cosmic meaning without personal morality, self-affirmation without self-constraint. Jewel, whose debut 1995 album Pieces of You sold over 10 million copies, asks, “Who will save your soul, if you won’t save your own?” Who’s my savior in pop spirituality? In the final analysis, I am. God is me and what I want is god.

The Miseducation of Spirituality Lite
But the story doesn’t end here. Enter Lauryn Hill. In her truly remarkable debut solo hip-hop album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, she raises the stakes on pop spirituality lite. Here is a 23-year-old with spiritual unction. “There is always a spiritual war, but there’s a battle for the souls of black folk, and just folk in general, and the music has a lot to do with it,” she says. In interviews, Hill unequivocally describes herself as Christian (tinged with Rastafarian influences). Locating her prophetic message within the Christian narrative gives her words an unusual gravity and grace. Life is lived not for personal freedom, but personal responsibility. One’s choices are made before the face of God. In her song, “Final Hour,” she challenges the avarice of hip-hop: “You could get the money / You could get the power / But keep your eyes on the final hour.” In “Superstar,” Hill warns that no one—not even hip-hop superstars—can live above spiritual laws: “Now tell me your philosophy / On exactly what an artist should be / Should they be someone with prosperity / And no concept of reality? / Now who you know without any flaws / That lives above the spiritual laws / And does anything they feel just because / There’s always someone there who’ll applaud.”

The significance of Lauryn Hill’s accomplishments—10 Grammy Award nominations, 5 Grammy Awards (more than any other artist in history), a triple-platinum album—cannot be appreciated without understanding hip-hop. Mall America has become hip-hop. Hip-hop is pop style. No other musical genre has as much influence today in youth culture than rap. “Hip-hop is the rock of today,” boasts MC Jean Wyclef. “It is the folk music of this generation,” says Beck. Music critic Nelson George writes, “Now we know that rap music, and hip-hop style as a whole, has utterly broken through from its ghetto roots to assert a lasting influence on American clothing, magazine publication, television, language, sexuality, and social policy as well as its obvious presence in records and movies.” In 1998, for the first time ever, rap out-sold what previously had been America’s top-selling format, country music. White kids purchase more than 70% of hip-hop albums. There is an increasing influence of white rap artist such as the Beastie Boys, Everlast, and the artist Eminen, (a.k.a. Marshall Mathers) a white 19-year-old rapper from Detroit backed by Dr. Dre.

Nor is hip-hop known for its positive message. “Hip-hop is the rebellious voice of youth. It’s what people want to hear,” explains MC Jay-Z in Time’s cover story, “Hip-Hop Nation.” “Kids don’t want to be like Mike anymore. Their heroes are rappers,” claims MC Sean (Puffy) Combs. The central tenets of hip-hop are rebellion, aggression, and materialism. It is pop culture’s answer to commodified rebellion. “Hip-hop is perhaps the only art form that celebrates capitalism openly…. Rappers make money without remorse,” writes Time’s Christopher Farley. Hip-hop is hoppin’, writes Nelson George, because “materialism replaced spirituality as the definer of life’s worth…. A voracious appetite for ‘goods,’ not good.”

Hip-hop is the most image-driven part of pop music and has spawned a revolution in fashion. By 1996, Tommy Hilfiger had become the leading apparel company traded on the New York Stock Exchange largely due to its embrace of hip-hop. Finally, hip-hop promotes an in-your-face aggressive attitude toward others. Hip-hop rules the world of youth culture for a reason. It reflects what kids are thinking, an uncaring attitude about rules or responsibility.

Not so Lauryn Hill. She is on a mission to change the world for the good. Change will come, she argues, from the inside out. “How you gon’ win / When you ain’t right within?” she asks in her hot single, “Doo Wop That Thing.” Hers is a message of hope and optimism like Jewel. But unlike Jewel, her confidence is in a God who is more than a New Age dream or a neopagan natural force. She sings of our responsibility to plant the seeds of change. Hill does not have a Polyannaish faith in faith, but a realistic confidence that everything is in God’s hands. It is because she is adjacent to the King that she fears no human being and believes that after winter comes the spring. Here is “Everything Is Everything,” where Hill addresses the hopelessness of urban youth and the possibility that their dreams will one day find their place.

Lauryn Hill – Everything Is Everything

Uploaded on Jun 23, 2010

Music video by Lauryn Hill performing Everything Is Everything. (C) 1998 Sony BMG Music Entertainment


“Everything Is Everything”
Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998)

Everything is everything
What is meant to be, will be
After winter, must come spring
Change, it comes eventually

I wrote these words for everyone
Who struggles in their youth
Who won’t accept deception
Instead of what is truth
It seems we lose the game
Before we even start to play
Who made these rules? We’re so confused
Easily led astray
Let me tell ya that
I philosophy
Possibly speak tongues
Beat drums, Abyssinian, street Baptist
Rap this in fine linen
From the beginning

My practice extending across the atlas
I begat this
Flippin’ in the ghetto on a dirty mattress
You can’t match this rapper/actress
More powerful than two Cleopatras
Bomb graffiti on the tomb of Nefertiti
MCs ain’t ready to take it to the Serengeti
My rhymes is heavy like the mind of Sister Betty
L. Boogie spars with stars and constellations
Then came down for a little conversation
Adjacent to the king, fear no human being
Roll with cherubims to Nassau Coliseum
Now hear this mixture
Where hip hop meets scripture
Develop a negative into a positive picture

Sometimes it seems
We’ll touch that dream
But things come slow or not at all
And the ones on top, won’t make it stop
So convinced that they might fall
Let’s love ourselves then we can’t fail
To make a better situation
Tomorrow, our seed will grow
All we need is dedication

Lauryn Hill portrays a traditional spiritual search in the most unlikely of musical forms. A point not lost on Hill herself. Accepting the Grammy she beamed, “Wow, ya know what, this is amazing. I thank you God. Thank you Father, so much. This is crazy ‘cause this is hip-hop music.” Hill is larger than life, because unlike Amos, McLachlan, Madonna, and Jewel her spiritual resources are finally outside herself.

Pop Spirituality Assessed
We began with the question what is pop spirituality? And I’ve explored three dominant themes. Its depiction of the crisis of meaning; its conscious critique of Christianity; and its celebration of paganism. I have also suggested that Lauryn Hill stands alone in the music world today speaking like the Old Testament prophetess Deborah. But more important than what is pop spirituality, is the more personal question, what does it say about us?

The popularity of pop spirituality says that many are stopping the distractions long enough to ask the deeper questions of life. In this way, this trend in pop music is a significant spiritual accomplishment. Here is an honest look at the deeper longings of the heart. Here is a critique of the unreflective life. Here is an admission of the vanity of fame, fashion, and fortune. We all live cluttered lives. Pop spirituality challenges the distractions that fill our hours and indifference that fill our hearts with the honest seeker’s question: “There must be something more?” “Hell is not populated mainly by passionate rebels,” writes philosopher Peter Kreeft, “but by nice, bland, indifferent, respectable people who simply never gave a damn.” For the Mod Squad soundtrack, Lauryn Hill wrote these lyrics: “There ain’t no excuse / ‘Cause in every situation man chooses / His own plate / His own fate / His own date at redemption / And only fools and babies get exemptions / In the hereafter school / See, we all stay for detention / And, uh, did I mention / It’s either ascension or descension / No third dimension / So pay attention.”

Paganism may offer spirituality without morality, a religion that celebrates self and sex. But even paganism—with all its talk of fairies and spirits—puts to the lie the arrogant materialism that rules out the inner realities of the soul. C. S. Lewis observed, “Christians and pagans had much more in common with each other than either has with a post-Christian. The gap between those who worship different gods is not so wide as that between those who worship and those who do not.” The discerning question is not “whether spirits,” but “which spirits.” In pop spirituality there is the recognition that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience. The spiritual is our highest and natural environment: life lived at its fullest. As Augustine concluded after years of hard partying and intellectual seeking, “You have formed us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Pop spirituality is the outer voice of this inner search.

Celtic scholar John O’Donohue has written a new book entitled, Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Yearning to Belong. Our heart’s longings to belong are, in fact, eternal echoes. O’Donohue said recently, “Maybe divinity is actually that secret tissue which links everything that is—matter, spirit, future, past, possibility, fact, question, quest. Maybe the divine is the great belonging.” The Apostle John says, “Perfect love drives out fear.” It is for this love that we long.

This is beautifully captured in Jewel’s song, “Absence of Fear.” Listen to her haunting lyrics and music and ask yourself this question: For what are you wanting and waiting?

“Absence of Fear”
Jewel, Spirit (1998)

Inside my skin there is this space
It twists and turns
It bleeds and aches
Inside my heart there’s an empty room
It’s waiting for lightning
It’s waiting for you

And I am wanting
And I am needing you here

Inside the absence of fear

Muscle and sinew
Velvet and stone
This vessel is haunted
It creaks and moans
My bones call to you
In their separate skin
I make myself translucent
To let you in, for

I am wanting
And I am needing you here
Inside the absence of fear

There is this hunger
This restlessness inside of me
And it knows that you’re no stranger
You’re my gravity
My hands will adore you though all darkness aim
They will lay you out in moonlight
And reinvent your name

For I am wanting you
And I am needing you here
I need you near
Inside the absence of fear


1. When Dr. Seel gave this address at Chatham Hall, he played the five songs, “Leather,” “Dear God,” “Sky Fits Heaven,” “Everything is Everything,” and “Absence of Fear” so the students could listen to them with him. We recommend that you do the same, especially if you meet with friends in a small group to discuss this article—something we also highly recommend. (If you are not familiar with this music, listen to each song more than once. It would also be wise to take the time to listen to some—or preferably all—of the rest of the songs on each album.) 2. “Spirituality in Pop Music” is an example of a Christian using pop music as a window of insight into our culture. How does Dr. Seel go about accomplishing this? To what extent are you developing skill in finding windows of insight into the surrounding culture? What plans should you make? 3. Because this was a talk given to a group of college students, it is also an example of how believers can use pop culture as a point of contact with non-Christians to prompt discussion about the Big Questions of life. (What Francis Schaeffer called pre-evangelism.) How does Dr. Seel go about accomplishing this? 4. To what extent are you developing skill in finding points of contact in the surrounding culture to prompt discussion with non-Christians? What plans should you make? 5. “Show me your CD collection,” Dr. Seel says, “and you have bared your soul. Tell me what music you most identify with, what posters hang in your dorm room, and you say a lot about the state of your heart.” What does your CD collection say about you? 6. Some Christians would raise questions—or serious objections—to purchasing, listening to, or displaying some (or all) of the albums Dr. Seel mentions. What might their questions / objections consist of? What passages of Scripture might they raise? How would you respond to their questions / objections? 7. To what extent is the Christian community prepared for the interest in spirituality which is occurring on post-modern culture? What reading (or listening) might you plan to do in order to better understand this cultural shift? If you are involved in either home-schooling or Christian schooling—especially with junior- or senior-high students—to what extent is that schooling preparing your children with the discernment skills Dr. Seel models in this article? To what extent is that schooling introducing your children to this cultural shift? To what extent is that schooling teaching your children to think Christianly about pop music so they can listen to it with discernment?


about the author
David John Seel, Jr.
John Seel is a cultural renewal entrepreneur, film producer, and educational reformer. He is a Senior Fellow at the Work Research Foundation and adjunct professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Kathryn, live in Cohasset, Massachusetts. He can be reached at


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