Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

The Impossibility of Negation: A Theoretical Defense of "Cross-Over" Christian Rock

Academic journal article Journal of Religion and Popular Culture

The Impossibility of Negation: A Theoretical Defense of "Cross-Over" Christian Rock

Article excerpt

Brian Schill University of North Dakota

Abstract

After grounding the genre's traditional rejection of the secular world in H.R. Niebuhr's influential heuristic of Christian "types," this essay distances itself from both Niebuhr's largely existential theology and adopts Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (1807) in order to critique the "negationism" of Contemporary Christian music (CCM) and defend its late synthesis with popular culture. In essence, what follows is a theoretical, specifically dialectical, reading of CCM which moves beyond Howard and Streck's (1999) qualitative reading to suggest that negation as a response to popular culture has not, indeed cannot, successfully accomplish a subculture's explicit and implicit goals, and that the late pop presence of CCM is proof of negation's "failure." More, CCM serves as a representative case study for the theoretical conundrum that inevitably becomes any strict negationist venture.

[1] As torn-clothed, sharp-tongued punkers A Story Untold dismantle their amplifiers and cymbal stands following their brief set of punchy rock songs, a mop-haired teen requests that all white lights in the basement-cum-concert hall be dimmed in lieu of the blue-bulbed lantern his band has brought to play beneath. The five members of this new, young band, who call themselves If I Die, pace apprehensively as a mostly new crowd of midwestern teens slowly files in past the previous band's fans, many of whom are lazily indulging in a collective smoke outside the dirty, unwrought venue. The new audience in place, a staccato drum beat begins as the If I Die lead singer speaks: "Everyone in this room tonight: release yourself. Release yourself from the crap that goes on in the world today," he encourages the song builds. "Free yourselves tonight!" The singer's words get louder, slowly evolving into unintelligible screams--the opening lyrics to "One World Contradiction," the second track on the band's self-released They Hated Me Without Reason CD single. Deafening, caustic guitars erupt and the train wreck is complete: "I won't take this world!" growls the singer, falling. From the first chord to the last, each of the musicians flails and stomps aimlessly, pounding on broken instruments and crashing, obliviously, into each other and the audience, which grows more energized with each collision. The rapt crowd, now a hazy, bluish silhouette, is in another place as well, moved to a world free of the pressures of school, parents, and menial jobs. Some fans shout lyrics along with the singer; others flail and dance; the rest simply watch and listen intently with the occasional bobbed head or closed eyes.

[2] The music stops abruptly and the If I Die singer thanks the crowd politely, announcing a few of the stops on his band's forthcoming summer tour which includes a July appearance at the Cornerstone Festival. What the singer does not disclose, and is lost on the less-than-savvy listener, is that "Cornerstone," as it is referred to simply by the more cultivated members of the audience, is an annual music event administered by Cornerstone Magazine, the "literary voice of Jesus People USA." Beyond a mere attempt at "working the crowd," indeed, the band's respite makes it clear that the singer's pre-song comments were suggestive of something more: If I Die, its name a candid reference to the children's bedtime prayer containing the same phrase, is a Christian rock band whose emphatic refusal of the world is but the latest in a long history of "negationist" words and deeds by musical acts who consider themselves part of the American Contemporary Christian music (CCM) subculture. [1]

[3] A theory of such a negation was initially offered by nineteenth century German philosopher, historian, and theologian G.W.F. Hegel, whose dialectical method (often referred to as dialectical or historical materialism) canonized the opposition of self and other. In the Hegelian system, any concept or theoretical position known as the thesis (affirmation) is proven inadequate and thus rejected by an antithesis (negation). …

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