Entertainment attracts but it does not educate.
It was a passing remark made by Chris in one of our phone conversations that made me think. He said something along the lines of: ‘If you are being entertained in church, you are not thinking’. He was in fact talking about Christian music of the kind that fills festivals like Spring Harvest. Such music fills the brain with its noise and rhythm, banishing any possibility of reflection or rational thought. But then my thinking about this topic went further and began to sense a conspiracy. Suppose this driving out of thought and reflection is actually a deliberate ploy. Christian leaders perhaps don’t want their people to think, so they turn worship times to non-stop entertainment. It is this link between entertainment and worship that I want to try to explore.
Those of us who are older can remember the church worship of childhood before the advent of modern language or music. We listened to long prayers interspersed with hymns and readings. Often our attention wandered but we tried to pray, to absorb atmosphere and ideas that made some sort of sense. I suspect that none of us would have dreamt that this activity was meant to resemble entertainment. It was later during the 60s and 70s that modern language crept in at the same time as modern music. At first the music was gentle and melodious but still it hardly fitted the description of entertainment. It merely lightened up the atmosphere and made the experience more pleasant. But then in the 70s something called ‘youth culture’ invaded worship and this was supposed to bring the young people back into church. This new music, being related to popular music would always have had a strong rhythm. The rhythm and beat came to be the dominant feature and we found our brains totally mesmerised by the thunder of this beat hammering away inside our minds. It is in fact impossible to engage in any kind of thought when this primal beat is at work around us.
I suspect that many older people did not in fact survive many exposures to this kind of music. We retreated either to another church or to an early service totally free of primal music and rhythm. Many churches up and down the country are indeed divided between a small group of older people who cling to an early service and a younger set who revel in ‘relevant’ worship with its mesmerising music. The question arises then as to what is going on in such ‘youth’ services. If, as I would suggest, all rational thought is impossible in this environment , then we have to accept that such music makes the worship at the very least deficient. The person who enjoys such an experience is not in all probability loving God with the mind, even though he or she might claim to be engaging God with the heart , soul and strength. The cynic might call it entertainment with a pious wrapping.
Some people would argue that the sorts of service which have modern music attract young people and that we must leave them alone. But the serious question remains. If the type of music actually prevents normal thought processes happening, what kind of future in the Christian faith awaits these young people? Can we really expect any long term evolution of faith if the minds of the participants have never been really engaged? Entertainment attracts but it does not educate. Has music been used to suppress rationality and thus growth of understanding?.
These thoughts are meant to be genuine questions and I stand to be contradicted on my insinuations about the use of Christian ‘pop’. But the point made by Chris at the beginning that entertainment suppresses thought and by implication rationality has serious consequences for the future of the Church. My comments probably do not apply to all music in church as I believe that there is a case for the type of reflective music that has grown up in the Anglican tradition and elsewhere that makes mediation and prayer somehow more accessible. I am well aware of the effect that well-sung Taizé choruses can have on the sense of peace and stillness in a church building lit only by candles. The thinking test has to be applied. Does this or that music allow thought or does it banish it out of the brain? When thought is banished and entertainment dominates during worship, we must question what is really going on. It may even be that people are drawn to church, to come under the influence of charismatic preachers and listen to catchy entertaining music as a way of being controlled by them. Readers of this blog will know from several of my earlier posts that I wonder at the motives of some churches and church leaders. Because the church is an institution that does sometimes exploit and corrupt its members, we must be alert to the means by which this is done. It may be that music of a particular kind is one such method of drawing in people to become in due course victims of an abusive Christianity. Let us at least be always alert to this possibility.