When I was in high school, I used to hear charismatic Christians talk about how rock and roll music conjured demons. “It’s in the drum beat,” they said. “It’s the same drum beat that witchdoctors use in primitive cultures to call up their evil spirits.” Basically, if you listened to rock music, no matter what your intentions may have been, you were (according to these folks) unintentionally making yourself vulnerable to the malevolent influence of opportunistic spirits.
It’s interesting how I don’t hear that kind of rhetoric any more, and maybe it’s just because I no longer move in those kind of culturally reactionary circles. I guess it’s hard to maintain the “rock-and-roll-conjures-demons” theory in a world where rock bands like Third Day, Kutless and Switchfoot crank out music as heavy as Led Zeppelin in their heyday — and with a decidedly Christian message.
But nowadays it seems like the devil-alarmists have found a new target: Christian mysticism and centering prayer. For a representative example, read this article by John Dreher: The Danger of Centering Prayer. Dreher takes aim at centering prayer’s admitted use of eastern spiritual techniques, but then goes on to tell the story of a young girl who practices centering prayer only to have her life invaded by demons (and while it’s debatable if she really were under demonic attack, Dreher’s insistence that centering prayer was the culprit, without looking at family history, psychological issues, or other possible factors, is singularly unconvincing).
According to what the demon-watchers are saying, it seems that centering prayer, just like rock and roll, acts as a beacon for those same nasty opportunistic spirits. The alarmists must be afraid of rhythm, I think, because that’s the only connection I can see between centering prayer and rock and roll: whether it’s the rhythm of a steady drumbeat, or the rhythm of a repetitive prayer word, either way the fundamentalists see demons lurking behind the “beat.” Of course, centering prayer’s critics argue that it is the silence itself that makes us vulnerable to demonic attack! (Man, those folks must keep their TVs and radios blaring 24 hours a day). Go read the drivel that propagandists like Ken Silva and the Lighthouse Trails Research folks are putting out, and you’ll start to wonder why movies like “The Exorcist” weren’t about Thomas Merton or Julian of Norwich.
You know, I think at the end of the day rock and roll is far more subversive of Christianity than is mysticism. But Christianity dealt with the “threat” of rock music by creating its own shadow rock culture. Despite its embarrassing beginnings (anyone remember Stryper?), the contemporary Christian music scene has matured nicely, with some wonderful music being put forth in the name of Jesus.
Well, my friends, go back and read what mystics from Clement of Alexandria in the second century up to Merton and Thomas Keating in our own time have been doing. They have been taking spiritual practices from non-Christian sources (whether pagan mystery religions or the TM movement) and re-fashioning those exercises with a decidedly Christian focus. The result: Christian mysticism. Now, the purists will always whine that this is not the “real” gospel. And by doing so, they are unwittingly (or maybe not so unwittingly) doing the devil’s work, for they are pushing people of goodwill away from the gospel by their xenophobic fear/hatred/rejection of anything that does not conform to their narrow definition of what is “righteous.”
I’m tired of people who attack art or spirituality by accusing the object of their hostility of being a demon-magnet. It’s metaphysical nonsense devoid of real content, a straw-man argument designed strictly to frighten the gullible. Instead of alarmist propaganda, I’d rather hear from reasonable people of goodwill, even those who have thoughtful, nuanced criticism of mysticism’s (or rock’s) failings and limitations. That kind of discourse can be enlightening and interesting. Meanwhile, hooray for the musicians (and aspiring mystics) who keep exploring the boundaries where Christianity interfaces with non-Christian culture. By doing so, they are creating new places where God’s grace may lavishly flow. And double hooray for their doing so even when they are attacked by fundamentalist ideologues for being dupes of the devil. I think Matthew 5:11-16 applies here.