Wealth, Fame-And Jesus: Pop Musician Moby on How His Faith Affects His Lifestyle, Art, and Activism

By Potter, John | Sojourners Magazine, January 2007 | Go to article overview

Wealth, Fame-And Jesus: Pop Musician Moby on How His Faith Affects His Lifestyle, Art, and Activism


Potter, John, Sojourners Magazine


'Watch your head," Moby says thoughtfully as he guides me up the ladder that leads from his living room to his roof. The smallish loft we've just left is Ikea-like in its design and decor; the walls are a stark white, and there are few decorations. It's been his home for years--since before he sold 15 million records, before his 1999 smash "Play" was named one of Rolling Stone magazine's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time," and before he became one of the world's most recognized electronic artists.

Richard Melville Hall--nicknamed Moby after family ancestor and Moby Dick author Herman Melville--hasn't shaved for a while and is wearing an old T-shirt, faded jeans, and thick black glasses. It's windy on the roof, which is decorated with plants. With a gorgeous view of the New York City skyline around us, and his Little Italy neighborhood directly below, the soft-spoken, courteous pop star settles down for an interview. Topic A? Jesus.

"When I was around 19 or 20, I read the New Testament, specifically the gospels, and I was just struck by their divinity--the feeling that humans could not have figured this out on our own. We're just not bright enough," he says. "I also was struck by how utterly difficult so many of the teachings were. I was expecting a pat on the head, like, you know, 'Go be nice to people and be forgiving and friendly.'"

The gospel teachings were so overwhelming he didn't think he could follow them. Then he came across Matthew 11:29: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." "That put it all into focus," Moby said. "It's not just arbitrary, harsh teachings; it's harsh teachings with a purpose and motivated by divine love and compassion."

He says he tried to be "a good conventional Christian" by teaching Bible studies and going to church every week, but he soon became frustrated. "A lot of the religion I was encountering didn't want to talk about how nuanced and complicated the world is." Now, he calls himself a "clueless" Christian. "You know something is true, but how do you live it? Do you become a snake handler? Do you read Kierkegaard? Do you go to Russian Orthodox churches? Do you move to Calcutta and bathe the wounds of the poor? Do you go to strip clubs and minister to strippers?"

They are questions anyone trying to follow Jesus grapples with. Throw in wealth and global celebrity, and it gets a little more complicated. So how does he reconcile his material success with trying to live like Jesus? "It's incredibly uncomfortable. You sell a bunch of records and you make some money, and as a Christian, what do you do? Christ didn't have such nice things to say about the accumulation of wealth and money. I'm relatively comfortable with simple living, but I do a lot of stupid, ostentatious things as well. It's the hardest thing trying to figure out what's right and what's wrong, you know? Is flying business class wrong? I just don't know."

Playing the system's own game is one strategy. When ear companies have asked to license his songs for their advertisements, he agrees, but then donates part of the proceeds from the agreements to environmental groups. "There is sort of a perverse thrill in Robin Hood-style philanthropy," he says. "Take money from a bad corporation and give it to an NGO or a charitable organization that actually works against the corporation who gave you the money." But he's quick to add, "I certainly don't do it enough."

It's an example of how Moby's views have softened over the years, the ways in which he embraees more of life's grays. The title of his first major record, Everything is Wrong, released in 1995, reflected his adherence at that point in his life to hard and fast rules, his rigid veganism being one example. If he were to make a record today, he said, he'd call it "Everything is Complicated." "I don't think that everything is wrong, and a lot of things that are wrong lead to things that are right, you know? …

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