For the past several months (maybe even year or two), I’ve been pondering an essay on how short and overt expressions of Christianity seem to be a staple feature of the country music genre and the severe cognitive dissonance this sometimes produces. Several events have happened recently that convince me I need to write this essay sooner, rather than later.
So, to get the ball rolling, let me point out one juxtaposition that currently makes my teeth ache: Carrie Underwood, the new country sensation whose career was launched by American Idol. Her first release was a sappy number named “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and had all the theological subtlety of a brick in the face. Her second release was an unremarkable coming-of-age number “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” which pretty much confirmed her reputation as Sweetness and Light Personified. Her current release, however, changed all of that. “Before He Cheats” is a powerful and raw number about getting revenge on a no-good cheatin’ scoundrel — and let me tell you, his truck is toast. By the time she gets done with it, you could put it between your legs, squeeze it like toothpaste, and nine out of ten dentists wouldn’t recommend it for anything.
Of her three songs, “Before He Cheats” is the only one I like. Yet I’d like it a lot better if someone else — anyone else — sang it, because Carrie “Jesus, Take the Wheel” Underwood may have the singing chops to pull the number off, but the mental clash between the message in the two songs is overpowering. Now, I don’t want to say that people who profess Christian beliefs must always be paragons of virtue in every way, because even if it were possible I don’t think it’s a healthy goal to pursue. (Remind me some other time to share my thoughts on what being Christ-like means.)
On the other hand, though, there’s too big of a gap between “Jesus, Take the Wheel” and “Before He Cheats.” Yes, I know, these are songs; they’re entertainment. But that’s what really bothers me. There is a large group of people out there who self-identify as Christian, who are (for the most part) decent people. Yet few of them look at these two songs and say, “Um, gee, something doesn’t add up here.” The country music industry — widely known (and lampooned) for its constant repition of such uplifting themes as infidelity, drunkeness, violence, and other disaster of life both major and minor — has managed to pull a fast one on its audience by inserting brief interludes of verbal piousness in a format that is otherwise filled with examples of every heartache, vice, and sin known to man.
Where is the disconnect? How does this happen? Is this a failure of Christianity or is there something else at work here?