Monday, December 03, 2007

Is Certain Music Sinful?

There is no such thing as music that is sinful. This is because things are not sinful in themselves. Rather, sin is a function of the human heart.

Nevertheless, some forms of music can be reflective of worldviews that seep into the culture and then influence composers without them even realising it. Thus, music written during the Western tonal age was reflective of Trinitarian Theism even without artists realising it, because the Biblical worldview permeated that entire culture. That is why such music can have an underlying ‘message’ even when it is instrumental. The ‘message’ that we find in Christian composers such as Bach, Mozart, Handel as well as pagan composers like Mozart and Beethoven is that there is unity and diversity, that time is linear, that history has a beginning and an end, that the universe is ordered, and so forth. Such music therefore gives glory to God even if the artists are not self-consciously doing it for those reasons.

Eastern forms of music are often based on the pentatonic scale in which there is no beginning and end and in which there is no need for resolution. This has a ‘message’ that time is cyclic – that history comes from nowhere and is going no where. Now this does NOT mean that all composers who wrote in the pentatonic scale held to a circular worldview, but it does mean that the general religious consensus of Asia is reflected by their musical forms.

Given the above principles, we should expect that as Western culture moves away from a Biblical worldview, our music will become progressively reflective of non-Biblical religious commitments. Examples would be music that is overtly aggressive, chaotic and dark as well as postmodern styles that glory in sentimentalism and triviality. In this way, many contemporary styles are increasingly reflecting a non-biblical worldview even if individual composers working in those styles may themselves be Christians. Now this does not mean that playing or listening to such music is a sin, but it does mean that music can give a message independent of the lyrics. As Christians seeking to be wise and discerning, we do not want to be naive to that message or to think that we can change that deeper message by simply tacking on Christian lyrics.

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