After posting my huge outline on Using Music to Build Spirituality last Sunday I received quite a number of e-mails! Some were wanting to know if I had any sources for rejecting music because the video may be bad but the lyrics are not. Others were asking if I was really justified in telling the boys they should reject a song just based on the video or even the album cover? Isn’t that getting a little nit picky just for a song?
In short, NO!
When the purpose of music is to build one up, then every aspect must be looked at – from the cover image used to sell the music CD to the artist’s interpretation of their lyrics and what they want the song to represent. If it is evil than we must keep it out of our lives as much as possible. We don’t have control over what we hear when we are in a store that plays background music (except for leaving the store) but we do have control over what we allow into our homes.
The pocket sized booklet I created for their handout has several checklists to use when choosing good music. I didn’t list the sources for those checklists on the handout itself (there wasn’t room!) so I will share them here. Hopefully this will help to clarify some points. The items from the handout will be highlighted in blue. Various quotes from church leaders or other church magazine articles will be used as well in green blockquotes. All the emphasis in those quotes (bolded and italicized) are mine for ease of seeing which part of the quote pertains to music videos or album covers.
The first page of the booklet says:
Do you realize the impact of that first sentence? “The nearer we get to God, the more easily our spirits are touched by refined and beautiful things.” If our objective in life to get nearer to God than we should be seeking out that which is refined and beautiful, for it is those things which will bring us closer to God. If, however, it is difficult for our spirits to be touched by that which is refined and beautiful than maybe it is time to take a hard look at why. Music is a good place to start.
“Music is one of the Lord’s greatest tools in helping us build spirituality. But it is also one of the adversary’s deadliest weapons. Using it, he creates sugar-coated poison that can slowly destroy all our brightest dreams and leave us spiritually wounded.“The irony is that we take this deadly spiritual poison voluntarily into our homes, schools, and churches. We share it with our loved ones. We pay millions of dollars a year for the privilege of exposing ourselves to it. Like foolish Trojans, we open the gates of our strongholds and let the enemy in.“When a person eats unhealthy food, he often senses very little immediate effect. But the body is affected nevertheless, and if that diet is continued, the effect can be severe. Our physical bodies are the sum total of the foods we consume. The same is true of our minds and spirits. We are living in a telestial world, complete with telestial arts and entertainment which can fill our minds with telestial images. Those telestial images often stimulate telestial thoughts, which, if not rejected, will lead to telestial behavior. The eventual result can be a telestial person. We would be more healthy spiritually if we never consumed any evil. Every bit harms us.” (Lex de Azevedo, A Closer Look at Popular Music, Ensign March 1985)
The checklists on pages 2-5 of the booklet both come from the same New Era article “In Tune.”
Try Mormon’s method. Listen to some of your favorite songs and write down the lyrics. Then turn off the music and read through them. If they invite you to do good, they’re probably okay. If they suggest that you violate the standards of the Church, it might be time to clean out your music collection (see Moro. 7:16–17).
Don’t say, “But I don’t listen to the lyrics.” Research shows that the human brain automatically picks up almost any message within sight or sound. Lyrics set to music can be especially influencing because they sneak past the screening mechanism of the brain and can be stored in the subconscious without your knowledge.
Ask what the performer represents. We sometimes imitate the groups we listen to. Think about the name, album covers, videos, stage reputation, costumes, and publicized attitudes of your favorite group. Are you impressed with what they stand for?
Ask yourself if you’re ever embarrassed by the music. The beat may be great and even harmless, but if there’s anything about the music that makes you uncomfortable listening to it with anyone else around—like your seminary teacher, your mom, etc.—it might be time to change your tune.
Define how you feel. Life is a series of emotional ups and downs, so it’s normal to feel a little blue now and then. But music that constantly makes you feel depressed, frustrated, angry, or stressed isn’t healthy. Choose music that clears your mind, relieves stress, and cheers you up.
“Many groups use sex and nudity on album covers to help sell records. Some base their name and image on sexually descriptive words. Some groups and singers openly admit to sexual deviation. They seem to glory in their decadent image.” (Lex de Azevedo, A Closer Look at Popular Music, Ensign March 1985)
It’s interesting that not only the albums covers, videos, costumes, and reputation are mentioned as things to look out for but even the name of the performer. Lady Gaga, anyone? Gaga being a “code” name for certain female body parts. And let’s not even get into her costumes – or lack thereof.
“How does one learn to select the best popular music? The answer to this question lies in what a song says, what a performance implies, and what kind of response is elicited. It’s quite easy to evaluate the explicit message of a song by listening to the words. If moral misconduct, the use of drugs, Satan-worship, rejection of legal authority, or any act or attitude contrary to the gospel is advocated, the song should not be used. For example, Jesus Christ, Superstar was found to be unacceptable because its doctrine is incorrect.“The second part of the selection process requires that we evaluate the intent of the performance. Unfortunately, it is possible to make even an innocent song appear “dirty” or evil by the way it is presented. If the intent of a performance is to agitate a negative emotion or to convey an unrighteous desire, even though the message may not be explicitly detailed in words, the work should obviously not be used. Some artists of “superstar” status must be passed by because of their reputations for improper intent in their performance.“Dress, grooming, and body gestures of the performers can convey improper intent, as can a vocal style that intimates more than a song lyric says, or a style that is uncontrolled and animalistic.” (Larry Bastian, Popular Music Guidelines, Ensign 1974)
“Because entertainers are constantly before the public eye, they exert a great influence on society. Some exert a better influence than others. There is a point, however, where Latter-day Saints in good conscience cannot support the works of certain performers. When we patronize the music of individuals who openly advocate evil, we contribute to the success of their careers and their ability to influence others. We literally supply the financial backing for Satan’s work.” (Lex de Azevedo, What About Pop Music?, New Era 1971)
Ouch. I have been guilty of doing that! Satan in very crafty. One of his tactics is to camouflage evil with the appearance of good. Good lyrics, nice beat – there must be nothing wrong with this music. But dig a little further and you find the album cover is pornographic or the artist has a different intent for their music than what you originally thought. And if you paid for that song or CD already – BOOM! you’ve just added your financial backing to Satan’s work.
“Wherever we are we should carefully choose what we see and hear. We would not knowingly tolerate pornography in our homes, but if we are not careful, we may allow music into our lives that can be just as devastating.” (Elder Russell M. Nelson, The Power and Protection of Worthy Music, Ensign, Dec 2009)
Are we unknowingly tolerating pornography in our homes through the album covers of music CDs or those that are downloaded through iTunes or other mp3 programs? Would you be comfortable looking at those with every single member of your family present including young children? A friend of mine was telling me last week she downloaded a song her 10 year old daughter wanted. She looked at the lyrics and they were fine. When she downloaded the song BAM! the pornographic album cover came up on the screen and her 7 year old son was standing behind her. She covered the screen with her hands and told him to get out of the room quick.
- Hang onto high quality. “Why not go through your collection? Get rid of the worst of it. Keep just the best. Be selective in what you consume and what you produce. It becomes a part of you,” said Elder Boyd K. Packer (Ensign, Jan. 1974, p. 27).
- Don’t lighten up. Once you’ve set your standards, don’t tolerate even small doses of conflicting music. President Spencer W. Kimball said, “It is obvious that to remain clean and worthy, one must stay positively and conclusively away from the devil’s territory” (Miracle of Forgiveness, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1969, p. 232).
- Talk about music with your parents. If your parents worry about the music you listen to, set their minds at ease by talking about your musical standards. Ask them how they evaluate the music they listen to and try to agree on some mutual standards. Listen to their music too.
- Cultivate the Spirit. Now that you’ve eliminated the bad, fill your collection with the good. Cultivate the Spirit by reading the scriptures and praying. Then listen to music that adds to that spirit.
- Widen your options. If you can’t find good music in the style you usually listen to, try something new. You can find good music in everything from jazz to reggae to classical, and a variety makes your musical taste more interesting.
- Remember that blessings come from choosing appropriate music. In a revelation directed to Emma Smith, the Lord said, “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads” (D&C 25:12).
One of my favorite all time quotes is from Pres. James E. Faust, “May we dedicate our lives to serving the Lord and not worry about offending the devil.” (Serving the Lord and Resisting the Devil, Ensign September 1995) When we decide to overlook certain things because we really like a piece of music are we doing it because we are afraid of offending the devil? Or our friends? Or our family? who might happen to not think there is anything wrong with a song?
If a song is associated with a pornographic cover on its album or the video is advocating that which is against gospel principles we must as Pres. Kimball said, “stay positively and conclusively away from the devil’s territory.”
The last page of the booklet has a quick checklist. The questions came from “Pop Quiz” a June 2006 New Era article.
Have I felt a change in spirit while listening to this music? The Spirit often prompts through feelings. Pay attention to how the music makes you feel.
How do I act or imagine myself acting when I listen to this music?
How is the music affecting those around me?
Do I see my surroundings as light and hopeful while listening to this music, or dark and depressing?
Are the lyrics words that I would comfortably speak to my family and friends?
Does the music cover display degrading material?
If this music is accompanied by a video, does the video portray degrading actions or ideas?
Does the group performing promote standards similar to my own?
Is the music helping me accomplish my current goals? Some music may help you while jogging, but may not be the best when studying or preparing for a church meeting.
Does the music cause me to think, act, or feel contrary to the teachings of Christ?
“Do not degrade yourself with the numbing shabbiness and irreverence of music that is not worthy of you. Delete the rubbish from your minds and your MP3 players. Protect your personal standards! Be selective! Be wise!” (Elder Russell M. Nelson, The Power and Protection of Worthy Music, Ensign Dec 2009)
“Young people, you cannot afford to fill your mind with the unworthy hard music of our day. It is not harmless. It can welcome onto the stage of your mind unworthy thoughts and set the tempo to which they dance and to which you may act.“You degrade yourself when you identify with all of those things which seem now to surround such extremes in music: the shabbiness, the irreverence, the immorality, and the addictions. Such music as that is not worthy of you. You should have self-respect.
“You are a son or a daughter of Almighty God. He has inspired a world full of wonderful things to learn and to do, uplifting music of many kinds that you may enjoy” (Boyd K. Packer, Inspiring Music – Worthy Thoughts, Ensign, Jan. 1974)
With all of the wonderful, good music out there we do not need to clutter our minds with junk. Once we begin to feast upon that which is good, refined, and beautiful our taste for the “junk” will lessen.
“When some music has passed the tests of time and been cherished by the noble and refined, our failure to appreciate it is not an indictment of grand music. The omission is within. If a young person grows up on a steady diet of hamburgers and french fries, he is not likely to become a gourmet. But the fault is not with fine food. He just grew up on something less. Some have grown up on a steady diet of musical french fries.” (Elder Douglas Callister, Your Refined Heavenly Home)