Young People Ask . . .
Can Music Really Hurt Me?
TOM was a normal 14-year-old—a top-notch student who liked to do favors for his neighbors. But after purchasing an expensive stereo system, he began listening to heavy-metal music.
Tom became a virtual recluse in his room. Recalls his father: “I would say, ‘You can’t stay up there all the time and listen to your stereo.’” But Tom kept on listening. Then, one winter day, he stabbed his mother to death and committed suicide. “Tell parents to watch what music their children listen to,” warns Tom’s anguished father. Days before the killings, Tom had repeatedly sung a song about “blood and killing your mother.”
An extreme case? Certainly. And while other factors no doubt played a part in this tragedy, it does give evidence of something that many youths tend to minimize: Music can influence you! You may not be a heavy-metal fan, nor are you likely to go on a violent rampage. Still, music can affect you in ways you may not even realize.
The Power of Music
Music has power. Indeed, it can play on the gamut of human emotions—from sadness and pathos to love and joy. Music can lull one into calmness and incite one to rage. It can inspire devotion and promote decadence. Little wonder, then, that from ancient times, music has been a potent tool of “the god of this system of things,” Satan the Devil.—2 Corinthians 4:4.
To illustrate: Shortly after the Israelites were rescued from slavery in Egypt, they abandoned the worship of Jehovah for that of a golden calf. What accompanied their disgraceful behavior? Wild and depraved music! (Exodus 32:1-6, 17, 18) And when egotistical King Nebuchadnezzar ordered his subjects to worship a pagan image, how did he seek to arouse his people’s patriotic and religious fervor? By using stirring music!—Daniel 3:1-7.
We should, therefore, expect Satan to use music to mislead people today. He is “the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:2) Much of today’s music reflects Satan’s spirit of rebellion. And no wonder, since it is for the most part written by those whom the Bible says are ‘walking in the unprofitableness of their minds, and who are in darkness mentally, and alienated from the life that belongs to God.’ Indeed, judging by their life-styles, many popular singers, musicians, and composers have “come to be past all moral sense.”—Ephesians 4:17-19.
Listening to their music can thus pose some real dangers for Christian youths. Not that all popular music is bad or that rock music is the only music you need to be cautious about.* Unwholesome music can be found among classical compositions and operas as well. But whereas in times past some music hinted at or suggested immorality, much of today’s music promotes depravity with unprecedented boldness.
Unfit for Ears and Eyes
Take heavy-metal music—a particularly noxious form of hard rock that is usually played at ear-splitting volume. Heavy-metal bands typically sport names like Poison, Skid Row, Guns N’ Roses, and Slayer. Time magazine said: “The band names alone conjure up images of mayhem, torture and death.” The same can be said of the horrifying artwork that adorns the album covers and that often depicts satanic symbols.
But what about the music itself? It features such titles as “Flesh and Blood” and “Appetite for Destruction” and has lyrics that glorify sadomasochism, rape, and murder. So it is not surprising that the heavy-metal music guide Stairway to Hell calls heavy metal “a triumph of vulgarity, velocity, verbal directness, violent apathy.” Heavy-metal music has also repeatedly been linked to drug abuse, Satanism, and suicide among its listeners. Yet, according to media reports, heavy metal is winning a growing mainstream audience.
Much of rap music (or, hip-hop) likewise goes to wild extremes.* Says Time magazine: “Rap poets . . . call for the fire of war against police or the brimstone of explicit . . . sex.” Frankly, the lyrics of many popular rap songs are too obscene to quote here. Referring to one such song, a teenage girl said: “The first word came on—and I was shocked!”
However, much of even mainstream rock is unfit for a Christian’s ears. While most Top 40 songs are seldom as brazen as rap or heavy metal, many still subtly—or openly—promote sexual immorality and other unchristian practices. Music videos, enormously popular among youths, increase the impact of the music by adding powerful visual images. In one study of music videos, 57 percent were found to contain violence, and 75 percent contained scenes of sexual intimacy. Provocative dress and sensual dancing were also found to be common fare in music videos.
Can It Harm You?
Rather than being uplifting and wholesome, much of the music being promoted today is clearly “earthly, animal, demonic.” (James 3:15) Curiously, though, not all Christian youths see any problem with listening to such songs or watching the videos. “You don’t have to worry about the lyrics in rap music,” argues one young girl. “You can’t understand them anyway!” Anyone who has tried to decipher rap lyrics may agree that there is some truth to this.
Youths do not always catch the hidden meanings of popular songs. In one study, teenagers were told to describe the contents of some popular songs. Most youths simply did not discern the subtle themes of sex, violence, drugs, and Satanism that permeated their music. The Journal of the American Medical Association thus concluded: “There is no evidence that this music has any [harmful] effect on the behavior of adolescents.”
The Bible indicates otherwise, though. For one thing, it tells us that “bad associations spoil useful habits.” (1 Corinthians 15:33) Now, would you spend hours associating with or listening to someone who used grossly obscene speech, who urged you to use drugs, who advocated the worship of Satan, or who described perverted sex in graphic terms? Of course not! Then why is such speech any less harmful simply because it is set to music or spoken to a beat? When such degrading themes are played over and over again, they cannot help but affect you! “Can a man rake together fire into his bosom and yet his very garments not be burned?” asks Proverbs 6:27.
For this reason the Bible exhorts us not even to mention immoral things, let alone repeat them over and over again. (Ephesians 5:3-5; Philippians 4:8) One who ignores this principle is sure to “reap corruption.” (Galatians 6:8) “The songs get you thinking,” admits a youth named Jodie. “When wrong desires come up, they give your mind fuel for the fire.” After listening to a rap song that graphically described perverted sex, one youth confessed: “I just couldn’t get it out of my mind.”
And what about listening to heavy-metal songs that preach death, drugs, or Satanism? One Christian youth began listening to heavy metal and soon became obsessed with death. Only with the determined efforts of his parents and a mature Christian friend was he able to escape spiritual and physical ruin.
At times, thoughts turn into action. (James 1:14, 15) And much of today’s music is carefully crafted to fill your mind with wicked thoughts. True, if you have been raised according to Bible standards, you are not likely to commit murder or sexual immorality simply because you heard about it in a song. But there are other ways you can be wrongfully influenced. Some Christian youths have taken to wearing the outlandish clothes and haircuts flaunted by rock and rap artists. The speech, gestures, and attitude of such youths clearly show that they are being influenced by what they hear.
“Youths say music doesn’t affect them,” says one South African boy. “But it gives Satan a way into your life—to control it.” He knows this from personal experience, as he explains: “The music I listened to was about spiritism, drugs, and sex.” How did he break free from the harmful effects of debasing music?
“I threw away all my music. It was a drastic change to sit in a quiet room. But it has made me a much better person.” Do you need to take similar steps—not necessarily throwing out all your music, but at least ridding yourself of records that are clearly degrading?—Compare Acts 19:19.
This means, not swearing off music, but learning to be selective! How to do so will be the subject of a future article.
The term “rock music” is used herein for any of the various styles of music popular among young people.
See “Young People Ask . . . What’s Wrong With My Music?” in the February 8, 1993, issue.
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Will filling your head with messages of death, destruction, and sexual degradation help you or hurt you?