I attended my first concert at 14. It was at a Christian teen conference, I was a devout evangelical Christian, and the band was Audio Adrenaline. I got to meet them after the show. One of them had actually been a camp counselor at my church camp and had very briefly had a thing with a girl from my church. They were very accessible, friendly, great guys. I eventually saw them twice more (including as openers for Christian music superstars DC Talk) and met them again at least one of those times. They too eventually became one of the biggest bands in Christian music.
That first show was one of the single greatest experiences of my life to that point. They blew me away. Their big closers were these two knowingly over the top metal songs, “DC-10” and “My God”. I found the songs funny at the time, partly because I knew they were brazen and offensive and partly because I appreciated the goofy irony and self-parody. But I also took the underlying messages seriously and wholeheartedly believed in the unironic religious chauvinism underlying the jokes in “My God” and the hellfire fear-baiting in “DC 10”. Most of Audio Adrenaline’s songs weren’t these sorts of over-the-top novelties. I get the impression they wrote these early on, as young guys just playing around, and treated the songs as crowd pleasing, adrenaline pumping jokes best suited for the stage, as they went on to make more accessible pop songs.
But they’re still a fascinating look at Evangelical Christianity for me.
First check out “My God” for yourself:
Now, listening back, “My God” is still hilarious to me (maybe even more so now) but the way it’s hilarious as partially changed. Now I listen marveling and gawking in fascination as much as in appreciation. I’m much more laughing at them than with them at this point. The self-parody, both intentional and unintentional, is all I can really hear. The silliness and arrogance of so much Evangelical Christianity is simultaneously unintentionally embodied and intentionally skewered here that one realizes no atheist satirist could pull this kind of parody off as well as sincere evangelical Christians could all by themselves in their only half-joking sincerity. They don’t realize how equally ludicrous their own god story is compared to those of other religions? Do they have any idea how sacred cows fit into the larger and more intricate tapestry of Hindu theology? Do they really not know Muhammed and Buddha aren’t supposed to be gods? Are they winking at such prevalent and believable Christian ignorance or engaging in it? They don’t realize how flimsy their basis for bluster and bragging about the superiority of their own religious myths over others is or how that flimsiness just compounds how silly they sound when they posture like this? They sort of get it. Their tone is clearly and intentionally ridiculous. But I don’t think they actually really get it because their message is fundamentally something they wholeheartedly believe in and which I came away completely reinforced in, as an impressionable 14 year old, when the concert was over.
“DC-10” on the other hand proves less imaginative and harder for me to laugh at now. It’s really just an attempt to exploit people’s (perfectly understandable) love of macabre humor as a lighthearted way to repackage manipulative hell threats. I’ve grown leery of the many perverse ways Christians try to exploit people’s enjoyment of dark things as a way to be cool and edgy and relevant. Macabre humor can be great. Horror is a worthwhile genre of art across multiple mediums. But using horror to try awaken and exploit primal fears for purposes of religious manipulation? And trying to package this as lighthearted by using some macabre silliness when doing so? That’s a problem.
Loading up Christians with anxieties about other people going to hell in some cases really warps them in a way that exploits their good intentions and makes them interpersonally harmful and hypocritical. I resent the damage that such a mindset did to my relationships with numerous people who I saw as outside the fold growing up. I can think of at least three atheists just off the top of my head who I casually and blithely belittled without even realizing what I was saying at the time. I can think of numerous nominal Christians I treated as outright non-believers, in my arrogance. I can think of countless relationships with friends where I reduced them to conversion projects. The irrational fear for people’s souls can make a perfectly fine interest in influencing people to see your point of view (something anyone intellectually engaged will and should regularly engage in) into something willfully and shamelessly manipulative.So, as nostalgic as I am for my youth and so many Audio Adrenaline songs that can emotionally transport me back there if I only click play, my gratitude to them has soured.
For more of my thoughts on Christian art see On The Uses And Abuses Of Religion In Art: The Lines Between Expression, Tolerance, Respect, Fear, and Torture.
For my advice on Christians who want to evangelize anyway but without becoming counter-productively harmful in the process, see my Top 10 Tips For Christian Evangelism (From An Atheist). Tips for atheists who want to dissuade people from religious belief are here.
For more of my criticism of Christians’ fascinations with the violent parts of their religion, see my post on Christianity’s Love of the Dark Side.
For many more episodes from my days as a believer, the story of my deconversion, and my journey post-faith, see the links at my permanent link about my deconversion.
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