June 1, 2017


Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper are right about God (Christian Schneider, May 30, 2017, USA Today)

While Chicago's Chance -- an electric rubber band of optimism -- uses his album Coloring Book to describe the suffering around him, he also praises God as the source of all of his blessings. Chance has been praised as a pioneer of "gospel rap," which explains why seeing him perform his exhortations about God's love in person is such a joyous experience.

Contrast that with Kendrick Lamar, whose recent album DAMN. portrays a God that imposes dire consequences for not following His teachings. Lamar's God is like the IRS -- He's always watching, and punishment might be heading your way when He decides you need an audit.

"Our God is a loving God," Lamar told DJBooth in an email. "Yes. He's a merciful God. Yes. But he's even more so a God of DISCIPLE. OBEDIENCE. A JEALOUS God."

"And for every conscious choice of sin, will be corrected through his discipline," Lamar continues. "Whether physical or mental. Direct or indirect. Through your sufferings, or someone that's close to [sic] ken. It will be corrected."

Not exactly a slogan one will find on a coffee mug at Target. But as Miguelito notes, Chance and Kendrick are "two sides of one coin, illustrating two separate but necessary ways for the religious believer to move through the world."

While that may be true, Lamar's conception of God is by far the more useful.  [...]

[W]hat is the point in devoting your life to serving God if you just think His beliefs merely happen to track along with yours? Do you support the death penalty? Well, then God probably does, too. Think the Lord is cool with you abandoning your children? He probably wouldn't want you to feel bad about it! Do you secretly believe La La Land was better than Moonlight? Then so does God! (Just kidding -- even a super chill God couldn't stand being lectured about jazz by Ryan Gosling.)

The main benefit of religious belief is to compel people to serve themselves and others. Worshiping a higher power is supposed to make you do things you normally wouldn't do. Without some sort of need to follow God's orders, you turn into one of those insufferable "spiritual but not religious" hippies that hopefully God is saving for lightning bolt practice.

The idea of a harsh, demanding God has a long tradition in American gospel music, particularly among the African-American Pentecostals of the early twentieth century -- many of whom survived slavery.

"Yes, He killed the rich and poor / And He's going to kill more / If you don't turn away from your shame," sings Elder David R. Curry and his congregation in the 1930 song Memphis Flu. God's vengeance is always lurking in songs like Reverend Sister Mary Nelson's Judgment, which counsels, "Well, all you hypocrite members / You wasting your time away / My God's calling for workmens / And you had better obey." As Matt Labash once wrote about Pentecostal hymns, "Holiness types didn't play around."

Posted by at June 1, 2017 4:57 AM