Aug 312010

UK’s Telegraph reports this morning about an article written by the Rev. Rachel Mann, an Anglican priest at St. Nicholas church in Burnage, England, in a publication called Church Times. It’s about metal, and it’s probably not what you would expect from a priest. Granted, our impression is that the Anglican church is somewhat more tolerant and somewhat less judgmental than many institutional forms of religion, but still, Rev Rachel’s article is a refreshing change of pace.

It’s also humorous, in a guileless, probably unintentional way. It’s also a tad condescending. And it doesn’t go far enough.

Nevertheless, we thought it was worth re-printing the Telegraph piece, along with our own running commentary, and of course some musical accompaniment. We also invite you to comment, because we have a feeling this will inspire some thoughts — so don’t keep ’em to yourselves.

Christians could learn a lot about life from heavy metal, says cleric

By Martin Beckford, Religious Affairs Correspondent
Published: 7:00AM BST 31 Aug 2010

The Rev Rachel Mann claims that the much-maligned form of music demonstrates the “liberative theology of darkness”, allowing its tattooed and pierced fans to be more “relaxed and fun” by acknowledging the worst in human nature. She says that by contrast, churchgoers can appear too sincere and take themselves too seriously.

This is a defense of metal from an unusual quarter — not that we feel metal needs to be defended, by anyone, especially priests. Sure, sometimes it’s frustrating to hear people who don’t know the first thing about metal condemn it, but usually that frustrated feeling passes quickly, because, basically, we don’t give a fuck what non-metalheads think about our music. On the other hand, we’re not sure we agree with Rev Rachel’s defense.  (more of the Rev’s thoughts, and ours, after the jump . . .)

Does metal “acknowledge the worst in human nature”? I guess it depends on what she means. If she means that metal often expresses outrage about the worst in human nature, I’d agree. If she means that metal itself is an expression of the worst in human nature, I couldn’t disagree more.

Are metalheads “relaxed and fun”? Well, some are. And some are nasty, pissed-off pieces of shit, just like many non-metalheads. Does listening to metal and being part of the scene make you “relaxed and fun”? No, it ain’t that easy. If only it were.

The priest admits that many will be “concerned” about metal lyrics praising Satan and mocking Christianity, but insists it is just a form of “play-acting”.

Miss Mann, priest-in-charge of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, writes in this week’s Church Times: “Since Black Sabbath effectively created it in 1969 by using the dissonant sound of the medieval ‘Devil’s chord’, heavy metal has been cast as dumb, crass, and on, occasions satanic; music hardly fit for intelligent debate, led alone theological reflection.

“And yet, as both priest and metal musician and fan, it strikes me that the Church, especially at this agonized time, has a serious gospel lesson to learn from this darkest and heaviest music.”
Miss Mann says that heavy metal songs, characterized by distorted guitar sounds, “intense” beats and “muscular” vocals, are “unafraid to deal with death, violence and destruction”.

“Unafraid to deal with death, violence and destruction”? Yeah, you could definitely say that. Can’t wait to see what “gospel lesson” she has in mind.

Its “predominantly male and white” fans “generally like tattoos and piercings” but are “graceful, welcoming and gentle”.

“The music’s willingness to deal with nihilistic and, on occasion, extremely unpleasant subjects seems to offer its fans a space to accept others in a way that shames many Christians.
“Metal’s refusal to repress the bleak and violent truths of human nature liberates its fans to be more relaxed and fun people”.

“Graceful, welcoming and gentle” probably overstates the case, but I’m beginning to get where she’s coming from. We definitely want other people to give us space to be who and what we want to be, which usually is something different from the norms of society at large. But metalheads can also be pretty fucking judgmental, even about kinds of metal they don’t like. The “tattoos and piercings” thing is also a bit of a stereotype. I’ve got lots of tats, but I know lots of metalheads who have neither ink nor piercings.

I guess the “gospel lesson” she wants to draw from metal is to be less judgmental and more accepting of other people. Can’t disagree with that lesson. Problem is, religion itself (of all stripes) is the root cause of all sorts of destructive intolerance. The problem runs a lot deeper than getting your panties in a bunch over Slayer.

She goes on to claim that “metal has no fear of human darkness” and while some Christians are similarly unafraid, “many are yet to discover its potential as a place of integration”.

Miss Mann quotes lyrics by the famous thrash metal band Slayer that describe Christianity as an “abortion” and state: “I’ll take the devil any day, hail Satan.” But she claims: “Much of metal’s fascination with Satan or evil is play-acting, driven by a desire to shock. Metal invites Christianity to be less afraid of wildness and the ridiculous.”

Putting aside certain Norwegian black-metal artists, she’s probably right, for the most part, about the play-acting thing. As for that last sentence, what do you think? I wish people in general were less afraid of things they don’t understand, but mainly I wish they would just stay the fuck out of the lives of people who don’t subscribe to their beliefs.

She says metal festivals such as Sonisphere, where she saw Iron Maiden play last month, are modern versions of the Feast of Fools held in England in the middle ages, where “excess and anarchy” were allowed for a day.

Miss Mann says she worries that Anglicans have made their faith “too reasonable and ordered” rather than passionate.

“I am not suggesting that as Christians we have all had a humour bypass, but we are inclined to take ourselves too seriously even when we are having fun.”

Maybe Rev Rachel is right about Anglicans. I wouldn’t know. But here in the U.S., the problem with many Bible-thumpers is that they’re too fucking passionate. I’d be quite happy if they were more reasonable and ordered. I’d be even happier if they’d keep their opinions to themselves.

Rev Rachel seems like a good-hearted person, and I’m not blaming her a bit for defending metal or for trying to get Anglicans (or Christians generally) to chill out when it comes to extreme music and metalheads. She also seems to recognize that music which is liberating is a good thing.

But I have a feeling her words will fall on a lot of deaf ears, and lots of those ears have been deafened precisely by too much faith-based certainty and intolerance.

Liberation requires more than listening to liberating music, and unfortunately, teaching people to think for themselves isn’t on the curriculum of most churches, Anglican or otherwise.

Here’s your musical accompaniment for this rant.

Goatwhore: Carving Out the Eyes of God

Rotting Christ: Enuma Elish

  18 Responses to “RELAXED, FUN, AND SATANIC”

  1. Wow. Excellent find. I have more to say, but will have to wait till later this evening. I need to think on this some more.

    I am in shock that a Christian priest/minister whatever actually had the balls to stand up and admit that she is a fan. I’d be interested to see how long she stays in her church. I imagine she is going to be ripped to shreds by the intolerant bigots she is trying to eduacate. More later.

    • Needless to say, further thoughts would be cool. It is indeed a shocker to see something like this, but I did some browsing on the web site for Rev Rachel’s church, and it seems like a pretty laid-back, welcoming kind of place. At least her own congregation may actually listen to what she’s saying and not flame her for saying it. But past the bounds of her own parish, I doubt she’s going to be welcomed for this.

      • I would love to be a fly on the wall when her bishop calls her in for a meeting. That would be a highly entertaining conversation.

        As we have discussed several times, I tend to take the more negative approach to the human condition. Namely that most people are sheep waiting to be slaughtered. Most of us just wander around aimlessly following whatever trend is “in” at the time.

        The one great thing about metal, is that for the most part we buck that trend (scenster asshats aside; they are there own distinct group of sheep). Our one downfall as a group is that we are too loyal or passionate to whatever brand of metal we choose to listen too, and can make some of us rigid or intolerant. That’s where metal and religion meet. Our one saving grace is that we won’t kill each other in person for our genre loyalties. There is just a lot of internet tough guy message board banter over which type of metal is better. (Death metal and deathcore folks, I am looking at you).

        Now, getting back to her statement about Satanism and play acting. I am sure that is true in some sense. But I dare her to go talk to Aeon or Behemoth and ask those gentleman if they are playacting. The funny thing is I agree with her (partially) and was somewhat offended all at the same time. I know it doesn’t make much sense, but that was my gut reaction.

        I am by no means a religious person and I have a rather dim view of any organized religion in general. But I won’t condemn those I know who are Christian, Islam or Wiccan or any other devotee of an organized religion. Like Niek said, we can discuss theology, but don’t try to convert me. I can think for myself and don’t need the shadow of a 2000+ year old man shaking his finger at me to tell me what is right and wrong. We can debate about an afterlife, but to me it’s pretty fucking useless, because no one knows until they die. If my beliefs condemn me to hell, oh fucking well. I guess me and Satan can be BFF making our brains dribble from our ears and our eyes bleed listening to some brutal metal.

        • Lots of good points, well-made as usual. “I can think for myself and don’t need the shadow of a 2000+ year old man shaking his finger at me to tell me what is right and wrong.” ☠☠☠☠☠

  2. Cool find. And I have to say she expresses many thoughts I’ve had in the overlapping fields of religion and metal. I used to call myself a Catholic. I was raised as one, didn’t practice it much, but I liked its rather liberal attitude, at least in the Netherlands it’s fairly liberal (but what isn’t overhere ;)). Then came the Pope with his idiotic stance on condoms, birth control in general, and AIDS. The biggest sheppard of Christianity clearly hasn’t learned to think for himself.

    Anyway, it made me see that life is not about religion. Not about following blindly and without criticizing. Life is about making your own choices, thinking for yourself and doing what you think is right. Many a metalhead has long discovered that. You can love Satan as much as you like, but if you’re still a friendly dude, then I guess you’re just a nice guy. “Good” so to say. Personally I don’t give a rat’s arse about how anybody looks, dresses or smells. I don’t care what kind of music you like to listen to or what faith you adhere to. I will respect you as long as you respect me and don’t try to convert me, though it’s OK to openly discuss anything. Nobody ever died from open discussion.

    That said, I’m a passionate metalhead, but I have no tats or piercings. They did ask me once if I had any in (well after really) a job interview though – I got the job and start tomorrow.

    • That said, how about we take a look at this awesome Cappucin friar? Fratello Bonnizzi a.k.a. Fratello Metallo.

      • Now that was awesome! My eyes nearly popped out when he hit that shriek at the end of the video. I’m guessing Rev Rachel hasn’t quite worked herself up to fronting a metal band yet.

    • Niel,

      Love your posts and your insight. I h ave bookmarked your blog and now check it regularly along with NCS. You and Islander are the best that I have read so far!

      • Very cool thing for you to say! I really appreciate it.

        • I just call it like I see it. You two guys are a breath of fresh air in a stagnant industry that has been overrun by record exec’s trying to push the latest and usually not so greatest pile of crap on us poor sheep. I am glad there are still some people who appreciate music for the art that it is and not as a vehicle to become richer.

      • Fucking typos. Sorry Niek.

        • No worries about the typo mate. The compliment more than makes up for it 🙂
          I’m glad you like the site. I agree with your stance on NCS too: it’s a very fresh breath of fresh air and I love rthe writing style.

  3. There are assholes in every religion and denomination, and there are people who actually do practice what they preach and are tolerant – and often accepting – of differing points of view, faith, lifestyles or whatever. While I don’t have much experience with the Anglican church, I was a member of an Episcopal congregation, which for the most part was laid back in some regards and open to other ideas. Of course, having an openly gay bishop in one diocese did rattle a few people and there have been splits and other rumblings.

    Rock and metal are looked down upon by some churches. Then again, so is music in general, including the generic, lame stuff that’s pretty much sounds the same, but with different voices. Actually, sometimes they actually are the same songs. Metal tends to be associated more with darkness, evil and less pleasant aspects of life, as Rev. Mann points out, but our chosen form of music is hardly the only one. Country has its fair share of nasty stuff. Look at old blues. And hip-hop/rap covers some of the same ground that hard rock and metal do, just in a different direction.

    As for what’s being said here, a lot of it is for show, including from some of those who are anti-religion. Sure, there are some who despise anyone who identifies themselves as a Christian and spew forth their viewpoint just as enthusiastically as some Christians do, but these are not the people to be using as an example. People from different religions can get along and can get along with people without religion or with different ideals. For metal, look no further than Orphaned Land. A band of Jews with a strong Arab fanbase, brought back together in part because of a tattoo on a Jordanian man. Being a fan of metal can get you killed in some places, but OL’s fans form a brotherhood that should be seen as an example. Despite generations of hatred, they get along, they sing in each others’ languages, they simply get it.

    I honestly don’t know how some of the “better” known names in metal who have spoken out against religion, Christianity, churches and whatnot actually feel about the people in general. There are good people and bad people everywhere, all the religions included. But some people take the little things or the things that only a few do and use that as ammunition. It goes both ways as well.

    • I guess the lesson I take away from this discussion is that people should be judged based on who they are, and how they treat other people, and that tolerance is a two-way street. On the other hand, when it comes to churches, I still think Rev Mann is an outlier and that theism on the whole has done more harm than good to humankind. But that’s a big subject for another day.

      • I dunno, man’s done plenty on his own without any help, influence, inspiration or “divine order”. Granted, a lot has been done in the name of God, while at times He has been a crutch, excuse or scapegoat. But yeah, something to go into depth with at another time.

        Some people take things too far and are unwilling to budge, and when it comes to religion, it can turn ugly real quick. Based on her words, Rev. Mann doesn’t seem to be be someone that falls into this category, and these are the kinds of people I prefer in life, even if we don’t always see eye to eye. We’re all along for the ride together, like it or not. Might as well make the most of it and take it all in, not just what you see right in front of you. Treat someone with respect, and you’ll likely get the same. Treat them like shit, don’t be too surprised if you get the same. And that’s how it should be.

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