The New Mo-RAL Pa-NIC: Syncopation! (LSP #164)

The New Mo-RAL Pa-NIC: Syncopation! (LSP #164) November 2, 2020

Hi and welcome back! Gosh, if TRUE CHRISTIANS™ didn’t have enough to worry about, right? Now they’ve got something new to inspire them to wring their hands and clutch their pearls. Or rather, something old they keep resurrecting. Back in 2011, a Christian salesman tried his best, bless his cotton socks, to start a(nother) moral panic over syncopation. He thought that if you put your em-PHA-sis on the wrong syl-LA-ble, then you’re opening the door of your frontal moral lobe to Satan himself. But he wasn’t warning his tribe out of the goodness of his heart. Today, Lord Snow Presides over ridiculous Christian hucksters and the dishonest tactics they use to make sales.

two white dudes being very racist
An-ti-ci-PA-shun.. oh, my bad, wrong word. That guy on the right could really use some demons in his life. I don’t think he’s felt really exhilarated since the Nixon Administration.

(h/t BoingBoing)

Everyone, Meet Christian Berdahl.

Christian Berdahl is a middle-aged Christian musician who tries to blend moral panics and authoritarian posturing with the simpering old-school religious music that older evangelicals like best.

Berdahl sells the usual 180-degree-turnaround, three-act conversion testimony we see out of evangelicals. We may rest assured that his conversion in 1995 had nothing whatsoever to do with him falling madly in love with a religious girl in 1993.

After his conversion (and a swift marriage in 1996 to said girl), he quickly set about trying to become what my ex Biff used to call a professional Christian. To some degree, he seems to have achieved that dream.

Since 2000, he has run Shepherd’s Call with his wife, Coby, and her parents Joe and Vicki. He keeps his exact religious affiliations on the down-low, but a bit of sleuthing revealed that he’s a Seventh-Day Adventist.

Shepherd’s Call operates under the way-more-overtly Seventh-Day-Adventist business–er, ministry ASI. That stands for Adventist-Laymen’s Services and Industries. There, Berdahl sells various CDs and books related to the making and marketing of Christian music. He also peddles his own music.

The Timeless Tunes of Christian Berdahl.

If you just absolutely must hear him for yourself, here he is giving a church concert:

Layperson’s review ahoy:

I’m not impressed with his voice. He seems to have difficulty holding some notes and reaching others. I also don’t care for his tunesmithing, which seem saccharine-sweet as well as overly-manipulative. If ketchup had a sound, it’d be this album.

Apparently, his fans like what he offers, though, if his YouTube comments are anything to go by.

So obviously, Berdahl has a vested interest in getting evangelicals to buy the stuff he wants to sell them. And in 2011, he hit upon a formula he thought would work:

Scaring and shaming customers into purchasing his products.

Syn-Co-PA-Tion.

In 2011, Christian Berdahl popped up on a Christian talk show run by Willard Regester (who shares his faith) to explain the horrific moral dangers of syncopation.

OH NOES, not syncopation!

Wait, what?

What Is It?

In real termssyncopation just means the shifting of emphases to syllables/words that wouldn’t normally be stressed. Often, it’s emphasis on the short beat of a line of music.

That’s it. It’s completely innocent. You can find syncopation all over Christian music, even stuff that the most wild-eyed Satanic Panickers would say is totally fine. Here’s a 19th-century Catholic hymn called “Regina caeli” that uses it:

Oh my! We’d better watch out for all the teenagers who’ll get possessed listening to evil filth like this!

That said, there’s a large component of Christians who deeply fear music that’s a little too challenging or rowdy, especially veterans of the Satanic Panic. Syncopation stirs us and jars us a little — it’s like a joke told short of its punchline, or a “man bites dog” headline story.

Of course, that’s not actually why TRUE CHRISTIANS™ dampen their drawers over syncopation.

The real answer involves right-wing Christians’ usual racism.

The DEMON BEAT of AFRICA.

Years and years ago, during the Satanic Panic, evangelical Christians got very upset and worried over something they called the demon beat of AfricaPanickers thought that literal demons inspired rowdy, drum-heavy music — like the rock music currently capturing the hearts of teens everywhere in the 1970s and 1980s.

But this theory wasn’t new. I found a reference from 1921 talking about demonic jazz music — and specifically named syncopation as the real danger. The source also blamed Black people for bringing this demonic music to delicate white Christian ears:

Syncopation, this curious rhythmic accent on the short beat, is found in its most highly developed forms in the music of the folk who have been held for years in political subjection. It is, therefore, an expression in music of the desire for that freedom which has been denied to its interpreter. [. . .]

Jazz originally was the accompaniment of the voodoo dancer, stimulating the half-crazed barbarian to the vilest deeds. The weird chant, accompanied by the syncopated rhythm of the voodoo invokers, has also been employed by other barbaric people to stimulate brutality and sensuality. That it has a demoralizing effect upon the human brain has been demonstrated by many scientists.

Then, this source — a white woman writing for Ladies Home Journal — fretted that jazz music, with its evil syncopation, could encourage unwary white women to descend into “degeneracy.”

A Well-Marked Trail.

Not much changed over the next, oh, 60 years. Or the next 25ish after that. In 2011, white Christians still held to this idea that demons literally inhabited certain kinds of music, and thus any proper white Christians listening to it could become tainted, corrupted, and even hellbound.

I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that these certain kinds of music all seem to come from the Black community. In 1921, Christians feared jazz. In 2011, the big fear was hip-hop and rap.

That’s where this 2011 video comes in.

After demonstrating syncopation in a way that doesn’t even sound distinctive or illustrative, Christian Berdahl launches into a super-cringey explanation of how demons infest the Black music he hates:

All occult experts around the world agree syncopation is the source of occult power in pagan worship. [. . .] We’re in our homes, we’re in our cars, listening to [scare quotes] “Christian music” that has all these beats and syncopated things in it. And we’re going “oh this is great, this is wonderful!”

What it actually does, just like it does to to ancient voodoo worshipers and modern-day voodoo worshipers in their religious services, is it short-circuits the frontal moral lobe. [The what now??] It gets them to a place to where they can become possessed. It’s called the place of the crossroads, between the physical and the spiritual.

First and foremost, I don’t think this guy would know a voodoo ritual if its rooster bit him on his keister. Second, obviously, there’s no such thing as “the frontal moral lobe.” Maybe this guy should have stayed in school.

(Later in the video he catches this error and refers to this part of the brain “the prefrontal cortex.” Then he goes back to the other term.)

Bye Bye, Frontal Moral Lobe!

[Y]ears ago, a fella told me that [syncopated music] was “JUNGLE music”, and the very beat would lead to evil spirits. I replied, “I thought that evil was in the heart of man, and therefore man is inherently evil, not music.”

He changed the subject.

James Johnston, Quora

I love the super-earnest look TRUE CHRISTIANS™ get when they’re trying to convince someone of something utterly whackadoodle. They open their eyes super-wide, raise their eyebrows, and tilt their chins up a bit.

SO EARNEST
Reminds me of Michelle Duggar.

That’s what this guy does as he tells us all about how Black music can totally and literally destroy the brains of listeners:

If we’re listening the wrong stuff, whoosh! Bye-bye, frontal prefrontal cortex! It’s actually what it’s called, the front of the brain where your character is, where your will is, where you want to obey, where your reasoning powers are — that’s bye-bye. In fact, some of the music rips it out, spits — tears it in half, and stomps it on the ground!

Well, this diatribe aged particularly poorly, is all I’ll say.

Also, check out his Duper’s Delight smile at 3:58 as he begins to rabbit along about how “music itself has a motive.”

duper's delight smile
Translation: OMG this old dude is BUYING THIS! SQUEE!

A Sniveling Coward’s Route to Sales.

Christian music seems so bland and insipid — so uninspired, for lack of a better word. Damp-drawered, pearl-clutching culture warriors purge their media of anything that seems even vaguely exciting and interesting. Any new genre that achieves popularity must be warped and reworked to be acceptable to their tamed, pedestrian preferences. And obviously, genres that seem suspiciously Black must be tamed particularly stringently.

Now we come full circle:

Christian Berdahl happens to write and record bland, insipid music that he’d really like evangelicals to purchase in greater numbers.

Instead of achieving sales through making decent music that evangelicals might naturally wish to purchase, however, he’s decided to go another route — one reserved for sniveling cowards who realize perfectly well that they can’t make their case honestly.

He’s decided to slam competitors’ music so that his own emerges as the Last Music Option Standing, just as many apologists try to do to atheism and other religions so Christianity emerges as the Last Ideology Standing.

Once only one music option or ideology remains standing, consumers must purchase that one even if it’s clearly inferior to what they wanted, right? Right? They can’t purchase the superior product that the apologist/insipid musician knocked into the dirt, because that’d be just silly, right? Right?

Right?

Wrong.

I have to admit, I love Christian hucksters and their wacky self-promotional efforts. They’re so plainly obvious and so clearly pandering to scrabble for sales. They get so desperate to make a living in a crowded field that they turn off their frontal moral lobes and start spewing absolute gibberish in all directions. A sales pitch from one of these guys never fails to entertain.

As for Christian Berdahl himself, he seems to have slowly backed away from the music world — which was a good idea for him and the music world. I don’t think his frontal moral lobe could have handled it much longer.

Surveying his YouTube channel, it looks like Berdahl’s been concentrating these past few years on hyping up and selling himself as a TRUE CHRISTIAN™ success story. It’s the usual feel-good story of how Jesus-ing properly and hard enough fixed a dysfunctional family’s problems.

I don’t think anyone’s told Christian Berdahl that testimonies in general have been seriously declining in popularity, even when they tell Christians exactly what they want to hear — just like their music.

The Canon Remains.

This story reminds us of another truth: Wingnut ideas never leave wingnuts’ canon.

Wingnuts can only add to their canon. They can never remove elements from it. They possess no mechanisms for critically examining anything that’s gotten past their frontal moral lobes. Once it gets there, however it got there, it stays there forever — just like that ageless green covered bowl in the back of the fridge.

All those demon beat of Africa bullshitters never actually admitted they were wrong and that this moral panic was just a teensy lil bit racist. They’re still out there, infesting churches all over the country just like the demons they insist totally float along soundwaves waiting to snack on some innocent young Christian’s frontal moral lobe. And they still use these same exact techniques as we saw in this video to accomplish the same exact goals.

Now there’s a horror movie for the ages:

A zombie sales strategy that just can’t die, handled by hypocrites lying through their teeth while claiming to speak for a real live god. Yikes!

Today, Lord Snow Presides over the moral panickers trying to coax coin from Christians’ pockets in the most obvious ways possible — and still failing.

NEXT UP: The love narratives keeping middle-aged single evangelical women from finding real love. See you tomorrow!


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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow was a very sweet white cat. He actually knew quite a bit. Though he’s passed on, he now presides over a suggested topic for the day. Of course, please feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures!

About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.

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