Recently, on a Sunday morning after church, as we were waiting for Dad (Kris) to come out of a “quick meeting” (which is an oxymoron, if there ever was one in a Baptist church), my college-age boys and I were having a conversation about music. This discussion was prompted by an earlier conversation we had with friends about Christian rap music. That whole rap conversation could probably be developed into an article of its own, but, in the end, our second son, Wes, proposed, “I think music is amoral.” Just as I was preparing to ask Wes how he came to that conclusion, Kris got out of his meeting, of course, so I had to place this debate on the back burner. Simmering thoughts are usually good for me—because they cause me to respond less emotionally, and more logically than I normally would. And simmering thoughts make me look for answers, not just accept traditions I’ve upheld for years.
Finally, after some more clarification from Wes of what he meant, and after letting the thoughts percolate in my head and heart for a few weeks, here are my conclusions about music’s morality:
- Musical notes and rhythms are amoral.
- Music is moral/immoral. It cannot be amoral.
- Lyrics are an element of music, so they are moral/immoral.
- We must be intentional in the music to which we listen.
Perhaps even more so, the lyrics of songs directly express the moral mindset of the composer. The words of a song verbalize the love, anger, compassion, awe, angst, weariness, loneliness, and any other emotion that the lyricist wishes to express. Those emotions are present, regardless of the musical notes or rhythms that accompany the words. Therefore, lyrics can be crude and lewd (immoral) or uplifting and righteous (moral) depending on their order and purpose.
Consider another of the fine arts to illustrate this concept of morality in the arts: painting. Paint in and of itself is amoral. Colorful pigments mixed together have no moral quality. But how those paints are organized on the canvas leads to an image that is either immoral or moral in nature. The pigments can be composed into a lovely landscape or still-life, or they can be combined to form a sensuous nude or confusing abstract. The moral quality comes from the composition, not the individual elements of the painting. And the moral quality of that painting exists within the work, whether a spectator views it or not.
Music cannot be amoral, and because of its influence on the listener’s heart, each individual must be selective and intentional in his musical choices. A person’s playlist demonstrates his moral state, his heart’s desires, and his moral tastes. Yes, that’s a pretty strong statement. But music is a powerful resource that can be used for God’s glory and man’s edification, or for the devil’s purposes and man’s ruin. Whether it be classical works by George F. Handel, Christian rap by LeCrae, love songs by Taylor Swift, hymns by Fanny Crosby, or punk rock by The Delinquents—music’s moral impact is determined by each of our musical choices. Music is not amoral. Music is moral. In light of the One who gave us music, please choose your playlist wisely.