Music: Moral or Amoral?
A discussion surfaces in praise and worship circles now and then; it used to be a much hotter debate than it seems to be right now. Some say music is inherently moral or immoral, some say it’s a-moral; as in – neither, that it depends on how music is utilized.
While I don’t intend to dig up an old hatchet or start a new skirmish, it may help you to know my perspective on this one. The paragraphs that follow should sufficiently describe my view. I don’t make a big deal of it, there are better people than I am who have good reason to disagree. But here it is.
Music is powerful, there’s no denying it.
Music has the ability to influence and motivate.
Music can soothe and comfort – or do just the opposite.
It is comprised (once Bach tempered the scale) of thirteen tones per octave, arranged in time, colored and textured by instruments, voices and rhythms.
Lyrics are powerful, there’s no denying it. The pen is more powerful than the sword, some have said.
Words have the ability to influence and motivate.
The pen can soothe and comfort or do just the opposite.
Text is comprised of twenty-six letters (in the English language, anyway) arranged in words and sentences, situated on a surface where it can be read, colored and influenced by phrases, inferences, varied definitions, and remembrances or associations.
Combine the two and you have the potential for one of the most powerful tools in the world for good or for evil; a song.
I’ve watched and studied this carefully for several decades and have concluded that notes, scales and chords have the same moral character as the alphabet, dictionary and thesaurus. While I hold to that, I at the same time acknowledge that we have thousands if not millions of learned responses and associations to deal with in society. Influences in our world teach us from our earliest cognitive moments how to respond to certain sounds or certain expressions. The more years, experiences and education we have behind us the more complex our positions become. This too can be cause for rejoicing or reason for concern.
Music’s potential is reason for applied skill (Ps. 33.3, 40.3) and care (Eph 5.15-16) but thus far in life (I’m a half-century into things) I’ve not found good cause to classify the elements of music or the written text as inherently moral or immoral. It is, however, and will continue to be “very powerful stuff” in the hands of all who use it. Some for great good and God’s glory. Some for personal gain. Some for immeasurable harm. Many simply waste it. But that’s another post.
One thing is certain; God has high expectations for how we use it each day, on a personal level and in our public worship.