“You must destroy your secular music!”
The speaker told us we had to get rid of all of our “secular” music. I was in high school, and the speaker at the youth event was a youngish, cool youth pastor. He said we had to destroy our albums; selling it or giving it away would just spread the evil.
He mocked the counter arguments leveled at him by those who loved the pagan lyrics and musical brilliance of Led Zeppelin and The Who. One argument I remember, perhaps because it was mine, was that, although there might be some “bad” content in it, there was much that was good in the songs of my favorite artists – especially Pink Floyd.
His response to this argument was the dog-poop-in-the-brownies analogy. It went something like this:
If I offered you a plate of brownies and I told you that I mixed a tablespoon of dog poop in the batter, would you still eat it?
I didn’t like this analogy. For one thing, it seemed pretty convincing and I didn’t want to be convinced.
But, I also sensed there was something inherently wrong with this analogy. I knew that Pink Floyd’s songs were artistically beautiful, which is more than could be said of most Christian Contemporary Music of the day. What’s more, some of what the secular artists said was true. I had a hard time reconciling the truth and beauty with the analogy.
I wasn’t so clever to reframe and ask, “Would he eat a plate of tofu and Brussel sprouts soaked in cod liver oil just because it had no dog poop in it?”
I still encounter this issue in my personal and professional life. My musical tastes are now acceptable to most people except, possibly, my children. Nowadays, I find myself in conversations around literature and movies like Lord of the Flies and Harry Potter; Shawshank Redemption and No Country for Old Men.
Those who question whether Christians should read/watch these often use an argument similar to the dog-poop analogy and they do so by invoking Philippians 4:8.
“[W]hatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
I am almost certain the youth pastor who wanted us to burn our secular music used this verse as his scriptural back up.
After all these years, I can now declare confidently that I agree with Philippians 4:8 while at the same time I dismiss the dog-poop-in-the-brownies analogy.
Sorry, but there are no Poopless Brownies
Foundational to the analogy is the notion that there are things in this world that are purely good, and true and beautiful–chocolate brownies–and other things that are thoroughly evil, false and ugly–dog poop.
This is a false dichotomy; not only logically, but also biblically.
All things were created by God and he declared it all, very good. Later, with the Fall, the same “all things” were distorted by sin. If this is true, then we don’t live in a world full of clearly evil things and clearly good things. We live in a world where everything is fundamentally good and also profoundly distorted by sin; in other words, everything and everyone, is both good and evil.
When Paul tells us to think about things that are true and noble and right, we are doing so in a world where it’s all mixed together. And it’s not simply that one song on the album is good and true and beautiful, and the other is not; the blending happens within the same song.
This complicates life, but complicated is good in this case. We can end up doing a lot of harm when we start seeing the world in terms of good and evil.
I think the speaker of my youth was wrong when he suggested the Christian life meant burning all my secular music. If he had understood Philippians 4: 8 in the light of Genesis 1-3, he would have told us to burn some of our “secular” albums, and we knew which ones he’d have been talking about, and then he’d tell us to listen to our Christian music and burn all the trite, simplistic and sentimental gunk that was far from true, excellent and admirable. Which, at that time, would have been most of it.