God in country music

Joe Carter conducts a fascinating comparison of how country music talks about God, marriage, children, as opposed to the absence of such topics in pop, hip-hop, R&B, and even adult contemporary.  The post defies excerpt, so read it here  Finding God in the Gaps of Country Music | First Things.

Why do you think that is?  It can’t be just the age of the listeners, since lots of young people listen to country music, and young people can be religious.  African Americans tend to be more religious, we are told, than other demographics, yet that might not be evident in their music.  Is it a class thing?  If so, why should poorer people lower on the socio-economic totem pole be more openly religious than the upper crust?

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  • Booklover

    Could the reason partially be singability? Country music has been the music of the people in that they can sing it for themselves and make it their own after listening to it a few times. It is harder to do that with some of the other genres.

    Generally, country music has focused on familial things while other genres focus outwardly on more worldly matters. So the other genres are more inclined to be enjoyed with the masses of people, whereas the country music can be taken home with the listener.

  • Booklover

    Could the reason partially be singability? Country music has been the music of the people in that they can sing it for themselves and make it their own after listening to it a few times. It is harder to do that with some of the other genres.

    Generally, country music has focused on familial things while other genres focus outwardly on more worldly matters. So the other genres are more inclined to be enjoyed with the masses of people, whereas the country music can be taken home with the listener.

  • Michael Z.

    Country music was born and raised in the Bible Belt. That should be enough of an explanation. Also, your last sentence about the “socioeconomic totem pole” is highly inaccurate. Country Music fans are not poorer, or lower class than the rest of America, in fact I would say that Country Music is a middle class genre. Like the TEA Party, Country music puts off the feel of hick/redneck culture, but is not the genre of the poor by any means.

  • Michael Z.

    Country music was born and raised in the Bible Belt. That should be enough of an explanation. Also, your last sentence about the “socioeconomic totem pole” is highly inaccurate. Country Music fans are not poorer, or lower class than the rest of America, in fact I would say that Country Music is a middle class genre. Like the TEA Party, Country music puts off the feel of hick/redneck culture, but is not the genre of the poor by any means.

  • Porcell

    Michael Z is right that it’s a myth that country music is mainly for poor southern folk. WHRB, Harvard’s radio station, has broadcast a four-hour Country program on Saturday’s from 9 in the morning to 1 that can be picked up online. The program includes a fair amount of Gospel songs. The Boston area has many country music fans spread across a variety of class lines. I listen to it most Saturdays, followed by the Met opera broadcast in the afternoon.

  • Porcell

    Michael Z is right that it’s a myth that country music is mainly for poor southern folk. WHRB, Harvard’s radio station, has broadcast a four-hour Country program on Saturday’s from 9 in the morning to 1 that can be picked up online. The program includes a fair amount of Gospel songs. The Boston area has many country music fans spread across a variety of class lines. I listen to it most Saturdays, followed by the Met opera broadcast in the afternoon.

  • Joe

    As a proud northern Wisconsin boy, I can attest to the fact that country ain’t a place, its a state of mind.

  • Joe

    As a proud northern Wisconsin boy, I can attest to the fact that country ain’t a place, its a state of mind.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Interestingly, country music is the only genre that has been commercial from the word go. What that means for Christianity I’ll leave up to you – but keep in mind that you can sell almost anything, good, bad or fluffy to the average Christian nowadays by simply labelling it Christian….

    Not to say that there is not good country music, even with some Christian themes. I would just prefer not to hear it….

    Porcell, I’ve wanted to take the family to the direct broadcast of the Met (one downtown Saskatoon theatre offers it), but the cost is a bit prohibitive.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Interestingly, country music is the only genre that has been commercial from the word go. What that means for Christianity I’ll leave up to you – but keep in mind that you can sell almost anything, good, bad or fluffy to the average Christian nowadays by simply labelling it Christian….

    Not to say that there is not good country music, even with some Christian themes. I would just prefer not to hear it….

    Porcell, I’ve wanted to take the family to the direct broadcast of the Met (one downtown Saskatoon theatre offers it), but the cost is a bit prohibitive.

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Before anybody gets their knickers in a knot – there is a tongue-in-cheek element to my comment above. But generally, country music ain’t for me….

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Before anybody gets their knickers in a knot – there is a tongue-in-cheek element to my comment above. But generally, country music ain’t for me….

  • collie

    I agree with most of the points that Joe Carter makes except that I don’t really like the country music sound. I wish I did, because the lyrics are definitely more varied and interesting than most popular music. Plus, I like the God themes in country. Maybe I just haven’t found the right artist yet.

  • collie

    I agree with most of the points that Joe Carter makes except that I don’t really like the country music sound. I wish I did, because the lyrics are definitely more varied and interesting than most popular music. Plus, I like the God themes in country. Maybe I just haven’t found the right artist yet.

  • utahrainbow

    I do not like most of what passes for country and the theology in some of those God songs is just so bad. I can’t bear to listen to them on a couple of levels.

  • utahrainbow

    I do not like most of what passes for country and the theology in some of those God songs is just so bad. I can’t bear to listen to them on a couple of levels.

  • Joe

    “The theology in some of those God songs is just so bad.” True, but that is not unique to country music.

  • Joe

    “The theology in some of those God songs is just so bad.” True, but that is not unique to country music.

  • utahrainbow

    True enough, Joe. Maybe I’m not being fair because I do love bluegrass. I guess the brand of lousy theology in the mainstream country world bothers me more than the bluegrass type. I can get along with the bluegrass gospel-ly stuff. On occasion you can actually get some songs with decent theology in that realm, whereas in country I can’t think of one. But, admittedly, I don’t know my country that well.

  • utahrainbow

    True enough, Joe. Maybe I’m not being fair because I do love bluegrass. I guess the brand of lousy theology in the mainstream country world bothers me more than the bluegrass type. I can get along with the bluegrass gospel-ly stuff. On occasion you can actually get some songs with decent theology in that realm, whereas in country I can’t think of one. But, admittedly, I don’t know my country that well.

  • Tom Hering

    Sometime in the past year, I saw a study that gave a percentage of the population in America that doesn’t much care for music, and almost never listens to any voluntarily (beyond what they’re forced to listen to in stores and workplaces). I can’t find the darn study now, but it was a higher percentage than I would have guessed, and that made me feel better. Because I’m part of that percentage. (There’s nothing I find more beautiful or satisfying than quiet.)

    Anyone else?

  • Tom Hering

    Sometime in the past year, I saw a study that gave a percentage of the population in America that doesn’t much care for music, and almost never listens to any voluntarily (beyond what they’re forced to listen to in stores and workplaces). I can’t find the darn study now, but it was a higher percentage than I would have guessed, and that made me feel better. Because I’m part of that percentage. (There’s nothing I find more beautiful or satisfying than quiet.)

    Anyone else?

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Ah, Tom, I gues we’re all just going to have to be very, very kind to you… :)

  • http://theobservationtree.blogspot.com Louis

    Ah, Tom, I gues we’re all just going to have to be very, very kind to you… :)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    So let me get this straight. Joe Carter takes the Billboard top 60 songs in each of several categories (country, pop, R&B, and adult contemporary), apparently does a word search for selected terms, and then tabulated his results to determine which category is most wholesome or something like that?

    Hmm. I mean, for one thing, there’s the question of whether the top 60 songs are a good representative of a genre. Most people I know who like country would not consider the modern Nashville hits to be true country (this is also true of the small amount of country I listen to). Most people I know who like hip-hop do not consider the R&B chart-toppers to be indicative of the genre as a whole, either. But let’s take that as a given.

    Then there’s the question of whether searching for particular words is the best way to determine a song’s thematic content. You’re pretty much going to miss all the images and metaphors that way, aren’t you?

    Hey, let’s run my favorite Rich Mullins song (“If I Stand”) through this wholesomeness detector and see what Mullins has to say about religion! Let’s see, no mention of “father”. One mention of a “mother” and her “baby”. No mention of “marriage”. And nary a single instance of any of these words: Prayer, Preacher, Church, Heaven, God, Bible. So, based on these data, “If I Stand” is a song about mothers and children! Ta-da! (It isn’t, in case you didn’t know; it’s about faith, and grace.) So perhaps this methodology is a poor substitute for actual lyrical analysis.

    Okay, let’s accept all that. So how did country music actually do, lyrics-wise?

    An examination of the sixty most popular country songs of 2010 reveals that faith and family are recurring themes within the musical genre: Fathers are mentioned in ten of the songs, mothers in seven, and children in five; six of the songs allude to marriage; mentions of prayer, preachers, church, heaven, and God are heard discussed in three songs; and the Bible is named in one.

    Hey, wow, um, what? One song out of sixty mentioned the Bible? And a whopping three (possibly including the aforementioned one) mentioned other faith topics? And for this paltry showing, Joe Carter sums things up by saying that “faith” is a “recurring theme within the musical genre”? And Veith writes an article about Carter’s work titled “God in country music”? Am I missing something?

    Isn’t the real story here that faith, religion, God, etc., are largely absent from all forms of popular music, including country? Country is merely the least worst of the options, but not significantly.

    Also Veith’s claim that this would-be emphasis on God in country music “can’t be just the age of the listeners, since lots of young people listen to country music” would seem to be contrary to Carter’s note that 64% of country fans are between the ages of 25 and 54. Anyone wanna take bets on how that age bracket measures among fans of pop and R&B? I’m pretty certain country music’s popularity among older people is responsible for the prevalance of family themes in its lyrics (which are, per Carter’s analysis, at least statistically more significant, if still dramatically in the minority).

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    So let me get this straight. Joe Carter takes the Billboard top 60 songs in each of several categories (country, pop, R&B, and adult contemporary), apparently does a word search for selected terms, and then tabulated his results to determine which category is most wholesome or something like that?

    Hmm. I mean, for one thing, there’s the question of whether the top 60 songs are a good representative of a genre. Most people I know who like country would not consider the modern Nashville hits to be true country (this is also true of the small amount of country I listen to). Most people I know who like hip-hop do not consider the R&B chart-toppers to be indicative of the genre as a whole, either. But let’s take that as a given.

    Then there’s the question of whether searching for particular words is the best way to determine a song’s thematic content. You’re pretty much going to miss all the images and metaphors that way, aren’t you?

    Hey, let’s run my favorite Rich Mullins song (“If I Stand”) through this wholesomeness detector and see what Mullins has to say about religion! Let’s see, no mention of “father”. One mention of a “mother” and her “baby”. No mention of “marriage”. And nary a single instance of any of these words: Prayer, Preacher, Church, Heaven, God, Bible. So, based on these data, “If I Stand” is a song about mothers and children! Ta-da! (It isn’t, in case you didn’t know; it’s about faith, and grace.) So perhaps this methodology is a poor substitute for actual lyrical analysis.

    Okay, let’s accept all that. So how did country music actually do, lyrics-wise?

    An examination of the sixty most popular country songs of 2010 reveals that faith and family are recurring themes within the musical genre: Fathers are mentioned in ten of the songs, mothers in seven, and children in five; six of the songs allude to marriage; mentions of prayer, preachers, church, heaven, and God are heard discussed in three songs; and the Bible is named in one.

    Hey, wow, um, what? One song out of sixty mentioned the Bible? And a whopping three (possibly including the aforementioned one) mentioned other faith topics? And for this paltry showing, Joe Carter sums things up by saying that “faith” is a “recurring theme within the musical genre”? And Veith writes an article about Carter’s work titled “God in country music”? Am I missing something?

    Isn’t the real story here that faith, religion, God, etc., are largely absent from all forms of popular music, including country? Country is merely the least worst of the options, but not significantly.

    Also Veith’s claim that this would-be emphasis on God in country music “can’t be just the age of the listeners, since lots of young people listen to country music” would seem to be contrary to Carter’s note that 64% of country fans are between the ages of 25 and 54. Anyone wanna take bets on how that age bracket measures among fans of pop and R&B? I’m pretty certain country music’s popularity among older people is responsible for the prevalance of family themes in its lyrics (which are, per Carter’s analysis, at least statistically more significant, if still dramatically in the minority).

  • Tom Hering

    “Ah, Tom, I gues we’re all just going to have to be very, very kind to you…” – Louis @ 13.

    Oh goody. Now I’m that relative at the family picnic. The subject of whispered advice. (“If he tries to talk to you, just smile, say it’s good to see him again, and pat him on the back as you excuse yourself.”)

  • Tom Hering

    “Ah, Tom, I gues we’re all just going to have to be very, very kind to you…” – Louis @ 13.

    Oh goody. Now I’m that relative at the family picnic. The subject of whispered advice. (“If he tries to talk to you, just smile, say it’s good to see him again, and pat him on the back as you excuse yourself.”)

  • Porcell

    One doesn’t need to reference the Billboard top sixty songs to make the point that Country Gospel music is a serious form of American music. Wiki has a fine article on the subject including:

    Christian country music (sometimes marketed as Country Gospel or Inspirational Country) is music that is written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as (in terms of the varying music styles) to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music. Christian country music is a form of Christian music and a subgenre of both Gospel music and Country music.
    Like other forms of music the creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of Christian country music varies according to culture and social context. It is composed and performed for many purposes, ranging from aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, or as an entertainment product for the marketplace. However, a common theme as with most Christian music is praise, worship or thanks to God and/or Christ.

    Plenty of young as well as older people enjoy Country Gospel. Hillbilly at Harvard, a Four-hour Saturday radio program, frequently refers to and plays Country Gospel.

  • Porcell

    One doesn’t need to reference the Billboard top sixty songs to make the point that Country Gospel music is a serious form of American music. Wiki has a fine article on the subject including:

    Christian country music (sometimes marketed as Country Gospel or Inspirational Country) is music that is written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as (in terms of the varying music styles) to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music. Christian country music is a form of Christian music and a subgenre of both Gospel music and Country music.
    Like other forms of music the creation, performance, significance, and even the definition of Christian country music varies according to culture and social context. It is composed and performed for many purposes, ranging from aesthetic pleasure, religious or ceremonial purposes, or as an entertainment product for the marketplace. However, a common theme as with most Christian music is praise, worship or thanks to God and/or Christ.

    Plenty of young as well as older people enjoy Country Gospel. Hillbilly at Harvard, a Four-hour Saturday radio program, frequently refers to and plays Country Gospel.

  • Porcell

    Pardon me, the link to the Wiki article is Here.

  • Porcell

    Pardon me, the link to the Wiki article is Here.