I have a confession to make. I watched the Grammys last night. I don’t know how many years it’s been since I’ve seen the Grammys, but I decided this year to break my long streak of paying no attention to them at all. As I watched last night, I remembered why it was that I haven’t given heed to these awards. As a cultural moment, the Grammys are supremely and exquisitely vacuous. In fact, I would say that they are quite depressing. As far as the decline of civilizations is concerned, the Grammys are right up there with gladiatorial games and barbarian invasions.
That is not to say that I don’t enjoy various forms of pop music. I do. But a banal three-hour long self-promote-athon I can do without. The only redeeming aspect of last night’s viewing was that I DVR’ed it and was able to fast forward through a good bit of the program. From now on, I think the better part of wisdom will be to meditate on Ephesians 5:16 and skip it altogether.
A pastor friend of mine recently said that the best secular musicians are those who look straight into the beauty of the face of God, refuse to worship, and then sing about it. I think that’s about right. There is a kind of image-bearing genius and beauty in the performances of many of these musicians, but their brilliance tends to be marred by weightlessness and vanity. Indeed it is still true that all creation groans to be set free from its original corruption. Pop music galas are no exception (Romans 8:20-21).
It is difficult to be shocked anymore. The envelope has already been pushed so far that there are hardly any other places for it to be pushed. Nevertheless, if anyone were able to find new ways to shock and awe polite company, Lady Gaga would be the one. Her performance last night was odd to say the least. She was carried into the ceremony in a giant egg from which she hatched herself on stage to perform her new hit single “Born This Way.”
Ironically, this song and Lady Gaga’s performance was perhaps the program’s best attempt at profundity. “Born This Way” is making a theological point. It contends that sexual orientation is an innate and immutable quality of the human conditionâ€”a trait that we are “born” with. Whether you are gay, straight, or whatever, God made you this way, and for that reason you should embrace it. Or as Gaga herself puts it, “I’m beautiful in my way ’cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track baby. I was born this way.”
The message of the song drinks deeply of the “is-ought” fallacyâ€”the idea that we can determine what ought to be by observing what is. The song’s message also flies in the face of the Bible’s depiction of a fallen creation. It is true that God created human beings in His own image and that as a result every single human has intrinsic value and worth (Genesis 1:26-27). It is not true, however, that God endorses every thought and intention of the human heart. We live in a Genesis 3 world in which humanity and the cosmos are fallen and compromised by sin. That means that some of our desires are misdirectedâ€”even some of the ones that we are born with. That we desire sin from birth is not a cause for celebratory anthems but an indication of just how desperate the human condition really is (Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Jeremiah 17:9).
In as much as the Grammys are a cultural barometer, I saw no surprises in last night’s spectacle. There were the flickers of image-bearing brilliance, but there was also the darkness of God-ignoring art. I was reminded of just how needy we all are of real beauty and real truth (which are of a piece in my view). I was also reminded that we are a people in desperate need of the only real profundity that there is in the worldâ€”the gospel of King Jesus crucified and raised for sinners-from-birth.