Amusing the Church to Death

"When church music directors lead the congregation in singing some praise music, I often listen stoically with teeth clenched. But one Sunday morning, I cracked. We had been led through endless repetitions of a meaningless ditty called, ‘Draw Me Close to You.’ The song has zero theological content and could be sung in a nightclub, for that matter. When I thought it was finally and mercifully over, the music leader beamed at us and said in a cheerful voice, ‘Let’s sing that again, shall we?’ ‘No!’ I shouted loudly. Heads all around me spun while my wife cringed."

"I admit I prefer more traditional hymns. But even given that, I am convinced that much of the music being written for the Church today reflects an unfortunate trend—slipping across the line from worship to entertainment. [We] are in danger of amusing ourselves to death, to borrow the title of the classic Neil Postman book."

That quote might have been written by any number of disgruntled (neo-, ultra-, or otherwise) traditionalist Catholics I know, but it wasn’t. Chuck Colson, a prominent Evangelical wrote it. Read the rest and leave a comment here so we can discuss this problem Evangelicals and Catholics must face together.

On a side note, Amused to Death is also the title of a very good Roger Waters solo album.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

21 thoughts on “Amusing the Church to Death

  1. Rob

    The actual lyrics are:

    Draw me close to You
    Never let me go
    I lay it all down again
    To hear You say that I’m Your friend

    You are my desire
    No one else will do
    ‘Cause nothing else could take Your place
    To feel the warmth of Your embrace
    Help me find the way
    Bring me back to You

    You’re all I want
    You’re all I’ve ever needed
    You’re all I want
    Help me know You are near

    Now, do I really need to go back through the psalms (and for that matter, the Last Supper) to point out the theological content? No, it’s not a debate over the Trinity, or an explication of the theory of salvation. This is a song of repentance, glorifying God, and worship.

    I like it. I’ve played it with our praise band at church on keyboard and bass, and I could easily manage rhythm guitar for it. So yeah, it’s simple. Sometimes we need simple songs in church to worship God to.

    Our band does some deeper numbers and you know what? The congregation either has trouble singing along or gives up on a lot of them.

    Colson was rude and ignorant in speaking out the way he did. His having spent time in prison is no excuse. He’s been out long enough to have adapted back to civilization.

    If Colson doesn’t like the worship that much, he’s free to pick another service or find some place else to worship. Of course, I’m not surprised he’s trying to force others to worship according to his beliefs and tastes. I wonder if he’ll suggest a constitutional ammendment to solve his problem with church music.

  2. Funky Dung

    You ever think that maybe that church is his faith home (like the Oratory is mine) and that he’s appalled by how the worship there has degraded? I agree he shouldn’t have shouted out, but I can imagine myself doing the same under the right (wrong?) circumstances. As for the song being like a psalm, I think it’s too vague to be a psalm. There’s no address to God. It could just as well be sung to a girlfriend/boyfriend. The psalms are simple, but they are also elegent (at least most of them) and meaty. There’s no meat to that mush. Besides, there are better things to be doing during worship that swaying to Kumbayah crapola. Partaking of the Eucharist, hearing the Word preached, or listening to an exegetical or ehortative homily come to mind. There are times and places for all things (c.f. Ecclesiastes), and worship is not the place for warm fuzzies that don’t nourish the soul.

  3. edey

    “Besides, there are better things to be doing during worship that swaying to Kumbayah crapola. Partaking of the Eucharist,”

    true, but they don’t have the Eucharist to partake. plus, it’s not just partaking of the Eucharist but also the offering of the Holy Sacrifice.

  4. Steve Nicoloso

    Rob, the mere fact that you equated liturgical music with “the worship” really gets at the root of the problem, Freudian slip or not. As “worship leader” (I prefer the term “song leader” or “cantor”) in my Evangelical church for most of the last 8 years, it was a linguistic (and theological) error I tried, with limited success, to stamp out. The Christian corporate worship service (liturgy) is either a worship service (an offering up of our bodies as living sacrafices) from beginning to end or it is not. If it is, then every part of the liturgy is worship. If not, then the portions that are not are in utterly extraneous and, whether they be entertaining or drudgery, ought be expunged.

    Now I won’t argue the liturgical value of this particular song. It is not utterly devoid of value (“value” being defined in a liturgical sense as edifying or correcting or encouraging) and there are far worse songs in the Evangelical and (now that I’ve gotten acquainted with it) the Catholic “praise” canons. On the other hand, there are no doubt dozens of hymns and songs that convey a similar message much more powerfully and poignantly and engage the intellect a bit more thoroughly. Why weren’t they chosen? Perhaps because they are “boring”…. Oh my, we can’t have boring worship. “Here we are now, entertain us!”

    I think what was raising Colson’s ire was a perception that the “Worship Leader” was trying to use song to manipulate a certain feeling. “Worshipful” is an adjective that I have heard used often (and uncritically) in my Evangelical travels. To even use such a (made-up) word reveals a serious deficiency in our understanding of worship. Worship is a verb. Biblically it means to bow down and to serve. It is something you do, not necessarily something you feel. If we come to “worship” looking for a particular feeling, we are not worshiping Biblically. We’re doing something else… I know not what.

    Too often modern “worship” services attempt to put the cart before the horse by placing an emphasis on the feeling of worship. And hence you get these diddies (relatively inoffensive, possibly even useful, in small doses) repeated over and over, with the worship leader imposing his “worshipful” personality into the mix to try and whip up some corporate feeling, some mass delusion that now… finally… we are REALLY worshiping God… let’s sing it again… even slower. Hogswill. Feelings are fine, and when they come are surely icing on the cake, but true devotion (the cake) involves resolution of will and consent of the intellect as well. Unfortunately these latter aspects of worship are a whole lot tougher to extract from the average churchgoer, and therefore if you want to be a “relevant” church, an “attractive” church, you’ll put these harder aspects of discipleship behind a curtain, and put the touchy good-feely emotional aspects front and center. It’s a marketing ploy, and sadly, it works. It works so well in fact that traditionalist churches of all stripes are joining the fray.

    Postman’s point was that message content cannot be isolated from the medium–that the medium affects us in subtle and therefore all the more potentially harmful ways. This is exactly what is wrong with modern sing-songy “worship”. And what’s worse is that Postman’s point is really quite subtle, and those who do get it and try to apply it in public life often come off sounding like elitist prigs to the rest.

    I agree Colson should not have shouted “No” in the church service. It was rude, and, more importantly it displays a contempt for his Church’s leadership. If he trusts that leadership for the salvation of his immortal soul, as Biblically he must, then he should trust them to choose the right “worship leader” and the right “praise songs”. If he doesn’t trust them, then well that’s a different story.

  5. Rob

    I put up a discussion of this song.

    In our tradition, not everything is worship in the worship service. I’m thinking specifically about announcements. Otherwise, everything is indeed worship, but different pieces can have different main objectives. The sermon, while a part of worship and (hopefully) worshipful, is often about edification. From a musician’s viewpoint, I see some songs as educational, some as setting a mood, some as having praise as their goal, and even some as being prayerful.

    As a member of the band, I am a worship leader, but I’m not one of the worship leaders. There are some positions in the church I avoid.

    If I need to, I can go into the theology of the worship service, going back to Isaiah 6. But a lot of times, I tend to take a brute-force approach to things.

    Humans do not only process on an intellectual level. We are both intellectual and emotional creatures. Appeals to only one aspect of who we are fail because they do not approach the whole human.

    (I’d argue that we’re even more than a duality, but that’s not appropriate here.)

  6. The Waffling Anglican

    “Now, do I really need to go back through the psalms (and for that matter, the Last Supper) to point out the theological content?”

    Sorry, Rob. If you want to sing a psalm, there are – well – the Psalms! The lyrics could just as well apply to a girl I blew it with in High School as to Jesus. In my book, not being able to differentiate between Jesus and an old girl friend means it is indeed devoid of theological content.

    I’ve heard some modern worship music that’s pretty good; it’s not a matter of style but of substance. In all fairness to those who prefer modern worship, 90% of everything is junk, and the “old standards” are old standards because the junk has been filtered out by time. Eventually the junk will get filtered out of praise music as well. In the meantime, however, it is often painful.

    But modern or not, there’s a difference between what’s appropriate on the Christian radio station and what’s appropriate service music. One repeated verse of American vernacular with a good beat and some primo guitar riffs may be a very catchy song. But what goes into a Eucharist or Morning Prayer service should, IMHO, should uplift and inform as well as entertain.

  7. edey

    here’s the thing: the high point of Christian worship throughout the centuries has always the Eucharistic Sacrifice, the unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice on the Cross that happens on the Altar. while everything else is to lead up to It, to support It, to draw us more into It, everything else is supposed to be God-centered rather than us-centered. i don’t see how any of these un-edifying songs draw us closer to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, particularly when there are more edifying hymns out there. if they don’t draw us closer to His Sacrifice, they are detracting from our worship of Him. i would also argue that Isaiah 6 is not the root of worship, but there are elements that do stem from it (the Munda Cor Meum refers to it and the Sactus comes out of it).

    i do agree, though, that we are complete persons, which is exactly why the externals, so to say, are important. that’s why edifying music, drawing us closer to His Sacrifice, is essential rather than things like “Draw Me Close”. that’s why incense and bells are good. we aren’t just minds; we aren’t just souls; we are also sensual, physical beings.

  8. Funky Dung

    “Humans do not only process on an intellectual level. We are both
    intellectual and emotional creatures. Appeals to only one aspect of
    who we are fail because they do not approach the whole human.”

    If you think I disagree with that, you do not know me very well. Music is an important part of worship. Feeling loved is an important part of worship. Neither is paramount, though, or stands alone. Remember, heresy is often not about believing and teaching a wrong idea, but rather treating one right idea as though it’s the *only* right idea.

  9. Mark La Roi

    A flower praises God by the very act of blooming, yet not once is His name said aloud. Yes, there is a slide going on that is moving worship through singin away from solid theology, but he (Chuck Colson) doesn’t clearly relate if the worship leader had verbally pointed folks in the right direction beforehand or not.

    I myself do find it becomes distracting to sing songs in which every other line begins with the letter “I”, but at the same time I know that “You light up my life” had a spiritual intent in its penning.

    Plus it starts with “You”. 🙂

  10. Rob

    …the high point of Christian worship throughout the centuries has always the Eucharistic Sacrifice…

    You’re speaking of the Catholic tradition. Not everyone follows it. We Presbyterians diverge markedly right there, with Communion about once a month, more or less — and Maundy Thursday and Good Friday aren’t Sundays.

    One Presbyterian church that I attended celebrates Communion every Sunday, and there was quite a bit of concern that we had suddenly become Catholic!

    The meaning of Communion is quite different according to most people of the Catholic and Reformed traditions.

    So’s the source of the service.

  11. Tom Smith

    Worship isn’t about feeling good. It’s about glorifying God. Our edification *must* come second to the glorification of God.

    The primary problem with Evangelicals trying to define “worship” has to do with their unfortunate inheretence of Calvinistic Reformation iconoclasm. That may seem a rather tenuous connection, but let me explain.

    During the Iconoclasm crisis of the eighth century, we see the resurrection of the threefold theology of worship which came about in response to Nestorianism in the fifth century. St. John of Damascus, among others, points out the difference between dulia, the worship given to the saints; hyperdulia, that given to the Mother of God; and latria, the highest form of worship, given to the Holy Trinity alone. Traditionally (meaning universally before the Reformation), Christians have believed that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is the only way to truly offer latria. Singing the Lord’s praise is an act of dulia.

    Needless to say, when Zwingli and Calvin threw out the idea of liturgical Sacrifice, there arose a little problem: there was now no way to tell the difference between the honor given the saints and that given God. Reformers struggled to define worship, settling on the idea that it is in the act of praising that worship is accomplished. Needless to say, if, in the act of praising God, one is offering divine worship, one can’t go about praising the saints with hymns and such, for fear of idolatry.

    Anyway, the point is that Evangelicals have inhereted this confused notion of what worship is, and their service music bears this out.

    (Also, take notice that so much of Christianity hangs on the theology of liturgical sacrifice; this is why the doctrine of the Sacrifice of the Mass is such a linchpin within traditional, pre-Reformation Christianity, and why it’s a shame that Catholics really don’t emphasize it much anymore.)

  12. Steve Nicoloso

    Anyway, the point is that Evangelicals have inhereted this confused notion of what worship is, and their service music bears this out.

    Tom, I mean no disrespect but what then explains the sad state of Catholic music? I’ve been an Evanglical. I am now Catholic in all but name. My impression is that the Catholics are TRYING to do (manipulate a feeling with shallow music) that thing at which many Evangelicals have long been successful, but that they simply don’t do it as well… yet.

    Rob, weekly communion is common (tho’ not universal) in the PCA and OP, and far from being Catholic these are the Presbyterian denominations that hold most ferociously (vis-a-vis PCUSA) to Calvin and the original complaints against Rome.

    I would agree that the modern quazi-charismatic evangelical praise service was utterly unknown in the pre-reformation world. But I think it arose much later than that. It is essentially a 20th century phenomenon, arising largely from the phenomenal growth in the charismatic sects. Churches of an heretofore traditionalist bent, but with weak ecclesiology and weak views on Christian Liturgy basically stepped back and said, “We gotta get us some of that!” And they did. Ergo, Willow Creek. Ergo, Vineyard. Ergo, Calvary Chapels. And in America, you can’t argue with success….

  13. Tom Smith


    My main point was that the goofy ideas about worship, in the Calvinist churches, are rooted in the denial of the Scarficial nature of liturgy.

    Catholics have bad liturgical music because liberal people exploited Vatican II and pushed their modernist ideas on the Church, emphasizing, among a passel of other things, exaggerated notions of “inclusivity” and “participation” in worship.

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