Back in high school for my AP English class, one of the texts we had to read was Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. Naturally we had to dissect it and try to figure out how it was a good example of persuasive speaking for that time period. One of the prominent things I remember thinking was, “wow! This would make a sick heavy metal song!” I am one of those people who are so lovingly referred to as a “headbanger” so hopefully my ideas won’t seem too farfetched when I make comparisons.
So my question is this: why is it that Jonathan Edwards’ sermon has been so influential to politics and Christians for so long yet both Christians and politicians alike are more hasty in censoring Slayer even though their lyrics are really not all that different from Edwards’ sermon?
When Edwards gave this sermon, he was a part of a congregationalist colony where the laws of the church were synonymous with the laws of the government. When the Puritan system was starting to shake up from religious revivals thanks to preachers like Whitfield, people like Edwards had to devise a new way to keep their church members and their citizens in their proper place in society. Apparently the best way to do that was to use a super strong scare tactic. If you seriously sit down and read this thing, it’s pretty freaking terrifying! For instance, this passage:
“If you cry to God to pity you, he will be so far from pitying you in your doleful case, or showing you the least regard or favour, that instead of that, he will only tread you under foot. And though he will know that you cannot bear the weight of omnipotence treading upon you, yet he will not regard that, but he will crush you under his feet without mercy; he will crush out your blood, and make it fly, and it shall be sprinkled on his garments, so as to stain all his raiment. He will not only hate you, but he will have you in the utmost contempt: no place shall be thought fit for you, but under his feet to be trodden down as the mire of the streets.”
That’s…..pretty brutal. The graphic nature of this passage would have been one to strike fear into most churchgoers because, let’s face it, being crushed by an omnipotent being and having your blood splayed onto him like Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is terrifying. But that is what makes it brilliant rhetorically. Edwards knows his audience are Christians in the colony who only want to learn the right way to live, therefore they can be easily swayed by messages that may be more appealing personally. Yeah it may be nice for the individual, but the Congregationalist Church being in power at that time did not want to lose the influence it had held over the people for some time. This was Edwards’ way of winning back citizens to the classic Puritan fold. He told people that if they did not change they’re ways, God would hate them forever and then all of Heaven would come together to watch them suffer in the abyss of Hell:
“Thus it will be with you that are in an unconverted state, if you continue in it; the infinite might, and majesty, and terribleness of the omnipotent God shall be magnified upon you, in the ineffable strength of your torments. You shall be tormented in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb; and when you shall be in this state of suffering, the glorious inhabitants of heaven shall go forth and look on the awful spectacle, that they may see what the wrath and fierceness of the Almighty is; and when they have seen it, they will fall down and adore that great power and majesty.”
This sermon is what has sealed Edwards’ place in American History: his use of language that was able to win over churchgoers and citizens of the colony in one fell swoop. I think this has been very influential for fellow preachers and politicians alike throughout the years. Who hasn’t heard a politician speak so adamantly about the tenets of his political platform as if it was their religion? Are not politicians preachers for civil law and order amongst a group of people? Edwards goes to show that imagery and language are key to entering the minds of the populace in order to gain control of their “vote” towards what religion should be in power.
But what about Slayer? Like Edwards’ most referenced and taught sermon, they speak of very graphic imagery of Hell. One need not doubt this after reading the lyrics of Behind The Crooked Cross. However, they were affected by the wishes of the PMRC (Parents’ Music Research Center) which was founded by several wives of senators who wanted to censor music for the graphic violence, sexual content, and drug and alcohol use that may be present in a song. They succeeded enough in getting the Parental Advisory Sticker put on albums with questionable content. Ever since, Slayer has come under intense criticism for the political nature and anti-Christian nature of some of their songs including Cult, Angel Of Death, Jihad, and Hell Awaits. The band itself has been called Satanic, regardless of the fact that Tom Araya, the lead singer, is Catholic. Once when questioned on the lyrics shown below, Tom Araya stated that God doesn’t hate, they just make great lyrics. Here is the beginning of Disciple:
“Drones since the dawn of time
Compelled to live your sheltered lives
Not once has anyone ever seen
Such a rise of pure hypocracy
I’ll instigate I’ll free your mind
I’ll show you what I’ve known all this time
God Hates Us All, God Hates Us All
You know it’s true God hates this place
You know it’s true he hates this race”
From a certain perspective, how is this no different from the words of Edwards telling his congregation about the fickleness of their actions and the intense anger of God? Slayer also achieves to pervade itself onto the mind of their listeners with the help of fast paced riffs and pounding drums to emphasize the rhetoric of their message in the lyrics. The sound of the thunder and rain at the beginning and end of Raining Blood is there to effectively transport the listener to the greater reality that is Hell. Is this not like Edwards as well who wants the citizens of his colony to see the horrors of Hell if they do not turn away from the teachings of people like Whitfield? Only in intent do they differ. Slayer says this to raise a point about the danger of extreme religiosity and its effect on people. This is why they come under attack from church goers and religious politicians in general because it offends them and, like the accusation of Socrates, is the corrupter of youth. Yet are these the same kinds of people that proclaim Edwards to be America’s greatest theologian? I would love for them or any other metal band to condense Edwards’ sermon and make it into a metal song just to see if it is strongly criticized for its content.