Dear Concerned Citizen,

February 16, 2005

 During the 47th annual Grammy Awards Mavis Staples opened a worship vignette with “I’ll Take You There”, setting up acclaimed producer and now rapper Kanye West who emerged from the back pew in a black suit singing “If I talk about God my record won’t get played, huh?”

After West’s staged death the Blind Boys of Alabama sang “I’ll Fly Away” a cappella over his casket. Suddenly West ascended from his coffin, coiffed in a white suit and sporting giant angel wings. He then flew over the stunned audience singing his Grammy winning “Jesus Walks”.

Kevin Bacon, the next noncelestial to take the stage, asked the rapper Ludacris,
“Do I look different to you? ‘Cause I think I might have just been saved.”

The ratings for the Grammy Awards have fallen precipitously over the years. This year their audience share was down 28%. The music industry’s financial woes are partially to blame. Kids now steal as much music off the web as they purchase.

But the biggest culprit is self-inflicted by the industry’s negative stance toward America’s cherished institutions of faith and family.

Isn’t that shocking? If you ridicule people for their beliefs and how they live their lives they stop watching your awards shows and stop buying your music.


So maybe the producers of the Grammys decided it was time to tone down the ridicule and tune up some respect for the role of faith in our culture.
If so we’ll take it.

These same producers must have noticed that Christian music is one of the fastest growing segments in contemporary music. Christian concerts are packed. What’s more, Christian kids tend not to pirate music off the net, so Christian labels make money.

But something more than this is going on.

After West won the Grammy for Best Rap Album and for Best Rap Song “Jesus Walks”, he recalled his near-fatal car crash in 2002.

When I had my accident, I found out at that moment, nothing in life is promised except death. If you have the opportunity to play this game of life, you need to appreciate every moment. A lot of people don’t appreciate their moment, until it’s past.

In an earlier interview:

I have flashbacks of what happened everyday. And anytime I hear about any accident my heart sinks in and I just thank God that I’m still here.

West is now credited with having something to say, not just beats to play. For contemporary music to sustain itself it must be more than "Bling Bling", sex, guns, and rims. Make no mistake about it, West is conversant with these as well. But, as with the rest of our culture, he recognizes we need to commit ourselves to more than just getting what we want.

Getting what you want is the seduction of an emerging radicalized secularism in America and the West. But secularism alone can never sustain us. Why is this?

Because secularism relegates nature, society, and government to the status of instruments dedicated only to the fulfillment of our material desires masquerading as "rights".

Because secularism forces us to pretend we do not have deeply held religious beliefs. It censors discussions of the transcendent, only allowing recognition of the temporal in the public square.

About a hundred years ago William James described this in The Varieties of Religious Experience. He concluded that religion in the modern West was splitting between the public and the private. Because of the conflict inherent in arbitrating deeply held beliefs, conflict that historically has resulted in,“hypocrisy and tyranny and meanness and tenacity of superstition,” James concluded that the proper realm for religious faith was the purely private.

We hear this today, that people have God within them so churches aren’t important any more.

This goes beyond the separation of church and state. It is one thing to limit the influence of the state on religious organizations. It is quite another to limit the influence of religion on the state and culture by relegating religion to only the private sphere.

Our experience of God requires a vocabulary. If churches are no longer important and it is considered impolite or silly or illegal to speak of God and our faith in public, how can an individual come to faith?

This is why radicalized secularism is inherently atheistic.

The danger, therefore, is that a secular culture can easily slide into secularism when it denies the use of religious vocabularies in public.

This is why people of faith in America are working against this trend.

From West’s Jesus Walks:

They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes
But if I talk about God my record won’t get played, Huh?

West has won this in-your-face challenge. His record has been played and played and played. And now it’s won a Grammy.

Religion sustains many of us, not just personally, but corporately. This means expressing our faith publicly. And this expression should not be limited to our worship services and religious associations.

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We live complex lives. We strive to sort out priorities that sometimes conflict or seem incompatible. A moral framework is needed to help us understand the reality around us. Our Judeo-Christian heritage provides a framework to help us comprehend the choices we make and the conflicts that arise over them. It is not only the main source of our spiritual values, but also many of the secular values we depend on.

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