Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas and the Battle for Everything



A few days before Christmas, I engaged in an interesting debate with an atheist regarding my previous blog post: http://woodsydude-gkcrocks.blogspot.com/2013/12/the-29-most-hilarious-atheist.html, a post which sought to lampoon various atheistic billboards. I am pleased to say that the discussion was very fruitful and did not devolve into name calling, which is a credit to the individual with whom I was debating. At any rate, the discussion left me thinking about the consequences of each of our respective world views. He began the discussion by arguing that evolution, random mutation, and natural selection provide a sufficient basis for atheism. He concluded a series of arguments by saying (this took place much later in the discussion); "It seems very little exists outside of our minds. It is difficult to say what, if anything." I began the discussion by pointing out that while evolution is effective in describing a process, it is severely wanting when it comes to accounting for the origin of that process. As to his final assertion that essentially reality exists in the mind, I made the case that in practice such a world view would be functionally impossible. Indeed, if there were no universals, progress would be unsustainable, and everyone would be wandering around in their own reality, like a bunch of patients in a mental institution.


My reason for bringing all of this up is not to to ridicule my opponent's position (for I truly appreciated his willingness to carry his logic to its appropriate end) but to highlight where both forms of logic lead. When most individuals think of Christians and atheists, they tend to categorize the former as one who is willing to "take a leap of faith", and the latter as one who is not. However, this is (I think) an oversimplification of both sides, as if one just believed for no reason at all, and the other decided to not believe because intellectually he could do naught else. In each of these instances a metaphysical "leap" is necessary. That is to say, when confronted with the world that is presented to us, we must determine what we believe. Is there any meaning to life, or is life arbitrary and without purpose?


From the theist's standpoint, he looks at everything that surrounds him- from science to aesthetics to religion and morality- and concludes that while he may not understand everything, he must leap towards the idea that there is some larger Reality binding everything together. In fact, he would argue that in some sense it would require more faith to believe that all of life, the good with the bad, has come to us via a series of cosmic accidents so numerous that the number is utterly unfathomable. By contrast, from the atheist's perspective, the world itself is, in a certain sense, evidence against the world. So in the face of the physical evidence, he is inclined to "leap" to the metaphysical conclusion that everything can be attributed to nothing.


One finds justification for leaping forward towards a greater Reality, while the other looks at reality and finds justification for leaping backwards towards nothingness. Mind you, the latter's leap is a far more irrational than the former. For why would you conclude that there is no God based on the fact that the world is both intelligible and incredibly conducive to the development of life (however you wish to regard that life)? In this sense then the rationality of the atheist actually works to destroy rationality. After all, what value has "reason" if in using it you discover that there is no reason at all?

So what does this all have to do with the Babe in Bethlehem? It may sound like hyperbole to say it, but I do think that this debate should be entitled the "Battle for Everything", with Bethlehem serving as the front line. Indeed, it is no wonder that at the moment of Jesus' birth, the forces of the "Nothing" (led by King Herod in this instance) were trying to hunt down and kill the Lord of "Everything".


When it comes to the existence of God, what is most lacking from a theistic perspective is the absence of any concrete evidence. If the divine remains in the abstract, or just an idea, then God is still consigned (from our point of view) to the realm of the theoretical. If God is not concrete, then who is to say that even we are? This is the danger and horror of modern Cartesian thought. In such a philosophy, the only thing that is certain is one's own thought, a premise that itself becomes progressively shaky, as anyone knows who has ever spent too much time alone (think I Am Legend and Cast Away). On the other hand, if there are things that are real and independent of our thoughts, then perhaps there is an objective truth, perhaps there is a world independent of ourselves. According to the Christian Faith, Jesus came into this world to save it... and I believe that to be true. However, I do not simply hold this because my heart tells me it is true- I believe it because the Incarnation is the only thing that actually makes my faith rational and concrete. Truth be told, it is the only thing that makes rationality rational and concrete.

If there is no objective world in front of me, and everything is a product of my imagination, then you, we, me, all of us, are potentially in a state of delusion, and that includes every scientist arranging their phylum and kingdoms like deck chairs on the bow of the Titanic. So to call Jesus my Savior is correct, but it may perhaps be even more correct to call him my Sanity. For if the he was born in Bethlehem, then I have a right to believe that I do have objective dignity and value. And if he is truly the Son of God, then I can be confident in saying that the Holocaust was wrong, and that goodness is in truth really Good. Heck, I even have a basis for saying that science is truly scientific. In a universe without the kind of meaning I just described, the only rational thing would be a bullet in the brain.


Back in the mid 1980s there was a movie out called The Never Ending Story (based on a book by the same title). It was by no means a perfect film, but I do remember something about it which I thought particularly insightful. The story was about a boy who, in an attempt to avoid bullying, hides in his school's attic with a mysterious book he "borrowed" from a bookstore. Alone in the attic, he becomes completely engrossed in the book. What makes the story so unique is the fact that in some mysterious way the boy becomes drawn into the story he's reading and is called upon by the characters in the narrative to help preserve their enchanted land. However,  the boy naturally struggles to believe that he has a role in the outcome. But as is his doubts persist, the villain of the story gains strength and threatens to destroy everything. The name of this "creature" is called the "Nothing". As I watched this story as a child, I truly became terrified by this beast, though I had no idea what it could possibly be. All I knew is that it would destroy the beautiful realm in which the story took place. As the film reached its climax, you discover that the Nothing is precisely that. It is not so much a monster as it is a kind of insatiable mouth which devours everything in the narrative; from the characters, to the fair country, to the very universe in which the story resides. And so the boy has to decide whether or not he will believe that the story is real, or subject it to annihilation.


It is interesting that atheists often call Christians (and other people of faith), believers of childish fairytales. Presumably they believe that these childish stories are based on unreality (whatever that is). Sadly, it never seems to occur to them that there may be a real purpose to these narratives other than mere escapism. What doesn't dawn on them is that these kinds of stories are generally imaginative ways to point out to children that life has a metanarrative, that is to say, life has a direction and a point, which is not reducible to a series of random accidents. Yet perhaps that is the point in the end, for in spite of the fact that the world is obviously imbued with any number of marvels and miracles, all these individuals seem to see is chaos and chance, and in spite of being confronted daily with the magnificent complexity and intelligence of nature,  they cannot see any Intelligence in it at all. Thus, we are left with an atheistic paradox, one that makes the Christian "leap of faith" seem pedestrian by comparison. Indeed, when it comes to drawing assertions about the "why" and the "how" of the world around us, the atheist comes to this stunning conclusion: seeing means not believing.      
             
"The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed. It is a reasonable assertion to deny the stones in the street; it will be religious dogma to assert them. It is a rational thesis that we are all in a dream. It will be a mystical sanity to say that we are all awake. Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending not only the incredible virtues and sanities of this life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look on the impossible grass and skies with a stranger courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed."   

                               - G.K. Chesterton: Heretics 1905



Friday, December 20, 2013

The 29 Most Hilarious Atheist Billboards… And What They Should Really Say



It's the most wonderful time of the year... Although as a Christian I appreciate all of the joyful things that take place during this time of year, I have to say that I also kind of enjoy the atheist billboards that seem to adorn the season as well. What would December be without the great martyrs of atheism trying to make colors like red and green forbidden, or those magnificent "secret Santas" who work behind the scenes to make sure that trees are prohibited from the public square, or better still those altruists who stand firm against those propaganda-laden songs which attempt to remind us of charity and good will towards others. Nevertheless, these modern day Puritan party poopers, have their own form of propaganda, and one of their favorite proselytizing tricks is attempting to create disciples via the medium of gigantic billboards. And while it is true that not all of the billboards and advertisements that are featured below are Christmas related, it has become part of my Advent tradition to see what coal our modern day Scrooges have accrued throughout the year. To be honest, the general overtone of the following billboard messages should inspire sympathy more than anything. It as if these individuals are starring in the Grinch movie and are completely unaware of that fact. Their messages come in two forms. They either try to convince you by employing pure cynicism (i.e. you don't believe this idiotic stuff, do you?), or they do so by attempting to co-opt various Christian virtues, while attributing them to atheism instead (i.e. I am full of love without religion). Frankly, the whole thing smacks of desperation, and is particularly sad during a time of year where religion hangs in the air like a party that's just waiting to happen. Meanwhile in the face of all this merry-making, these modern day Humbugs declare with all of their pride and cynicism; "I would rather be boiled in my own pudding than go to your party!" And yet we must respond, not with a similar contempt or derision, but with the jollity and humor of uncle Scrooge's kind nephew who declares; "We will keep inviting you every year to our celebration until you agree to come!"             



1. The Atheist Story of Creation



…But if man created God, then who created Man?




2. The Happy Atheist



"…And also I'm going to cut your family up into little pieces and store them in my freezer. Or was that not obvious by the maniacal look in my eyes?"




3. The Atheist Baby


"Yes, please do not indoctrinate me, and also please don't put words in my mouth either, because that pretty much amounts to the same thing". Oh no, it's too late! Look at those brain-washed baby eyes.




4. The Ironic Atheist


…or read.




5. Atheist Family Values


Wait a second... I thought science freed me from having to put my faith in something?




6.  The Worst Argument For Atheism 


Whatever these people believe, I want to believe the exact opposite.




7. When Atheists Contemplate


Penny for your thoughts, sir… Oh my, I do believe I have overestimated their net worth.




8. The Santa Atheist



…So said the man who looks nothing like any version of Santa Claus I've ever seen (thank God).




9. Atheist Airlines



Come fly Bah Humbug airlines, where we feel the need to wear Santa hats, smile broadly, and announce that we don't believe in God for no apparent reason!




10. Happy Winter Solstice


"We were simply going to leave this as a question, but since we are such champions of letting people 'think for themselves,' we decided to answer it for you."




11. Is Reality a Person?


"…Because unlike a Christian, I would never try to personify something that was intangible."




12. Senior Atheists


"Now Kay, why are we posing for this photograph again? Don't worry, Harlan, just smile and look happy like the young man told us."




13. The Charitable Work of Atheists


So true! And I want to thank all of the atheists out there for the indisputable fact that they are the primary force behind all the charitable works in the world today.... Oh, they're not? Who is then? Primarily religious organizations? OK, never mind then.




14. Hospitality and Atheism



"… And also I like reading, wearing goddess T-shirts, and entertaining guests. Would you like to try some of this fried stuff I made??? It's shake n' bake and I helped!"




15. Atheist Couples



"…But not too old for the latest hipster convention, or the most recent edition of Awkward Family Photos."




16. Pride and Atheism


"OK, I'm not quite proud yet. But I'm tryin' real hard. It's not easy to believe in nothing, but if you stop your brain from thinkin' and make it fuzzy like so, you too can have just as constipated a look on your face."




17. Atheists and Reason


So taught the Catholic Church more than a thousand years before this blind dude.




18. The Workers Paradise



Signed - Karl Marx, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and Stephen Uhl.




19. Truth and Atheists


 …What is truth?




20. Romance and Atheism


So said the guy whose marriage proposal sounded something like this; "Hey woman, what you say we get hitched in Vegas this weekend?"




21. Awkward Atheist Family Photos


"…If you're wondering why this photograph should convince you in any way of the merits of atheism, we at the Coalition of Human Reason are working on that answer. We promise to get back to you when we find it."




22. Atheist false gods 

   

"…. Actually, there is one god that I cling to, or rather "hug". I know as an atheist I am not supposed to have imaginary friends, but the trees, they call to me, and I to them. And yes, sometimes we sit together for hours without saying a word and then I spontaneously hug them. Is that so wrong? Go atheism!"




23. The Atheist Non-Sequitur



...Said the girl out of nowhere, apropos of nothing.




24. The Atheist Formula for Success


…Oh, in case you were wondering, that's supposed to be a good thing.




25. Atheist Religion


"Religion not required... Except for this one time when I decided to quote one of the most popular religious/moral sayings ever to be uttered in the history of the world."




26. The Holy Book of Atheism


"If you would like to read more from the Book of Jenn, you can find it on Amazon.com or the Self-Worship section of your local Barnes and Noble. In this masterpiece of modern literature you will discover such brilliant insights as "prayer won't help", and "you can accomplish stuff when you do things". Most importantly though, Jenn reveals the secret to true happiness: 'Without God, everyone is good. And without a standard, you can't possibly fall below it.' Brilliant! Thank you Jenn for proving to me that atheists are not as naive as Christians!"




27. Atheism is Love


"…. You believe me don't you? Please Please believe me! Hey look, I can prove it. See, I made the shape of a heart with my fingers."




28.  An Atheist Celebrates Christmas  


"...So yeah, we decided to put Chinese food in there because we thought that if we didn't it would look too much like a Christian billboard, and that would kind of defeat the point, wouldn't you say?"



29. An Atheist Celebrates Christmas Part 2



Wait, so then why am I writing to Santa? Oh, that's right, not to be logically consistent, but rather to make a point...


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Advent in Hell… and a Way Out



This is Hell: people fighting over useless crap because the useless crap is 40% off the original price. The great irony of this particular type of hellish instinct is not that it can be simply ascribed to a kind of mindless contempt for Christmas. To the contrary, it is a worship of Christmas. Every day is Christmas in Hell- which perhaps explains why my greatest nightmare is to one day hear Christmas songs played in town over a loud speaker during the dog days of summer. In this sense then you may call me an atheist, for I do not believe in the God of instant gratification.


The problem consists primarily in the fact that the Christmas Hell believes in has no Advent, and therefore no expectation of a child. It is a barren wilderness of wires, buyers, and hysteria; an ostentatious revelry without any discernible reason for celebration; a mass of bodiless hands ceaselessly grabbing and pulling at one another, with the lone requirement, not that they are obtaining something valuable, but simply that they are taking it from someone else. Such will be the destruction of the spirit of Christmas. Hell knows this, for this is the prescription for the destruction of all things. Use it until its useless. Which is why Jesus once likened Hell to the local garbage facility, the place of "wasted" things, a tidal wave of refuse.


On the other hand, Advent from a believers perspective (or as it was originally intended), is a season of anticipation. Just as one awaits with longing for the birth of a child, so we too have great expectations about what the future holds. But since the future has not yet arrived, we are incredibly careful never to be too presumptuous about the results. Just as there is a kind of muted hope and longing in the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel, so a spirit of prayerful silence is always apropos during this season. However, the silence about which I speak is a contemplative one, a pregnant pause if you will, not one that is dead, empty or depressing.



Recognizing the need for a little jubilation during this season of quiet exuberance, the Church offers several opportunities to celebrate the coming of Christ (in ecclesial language it is called a foretaste). For example, there is the Feast of St. Nicholas, which allows for a little mini-Christmas during Advent in which parents sometimes leave treats/presents for their children in empty shoes in front of the bedroom door (a practice which recalls events from the life of the real Saint Nicklaus). There is also the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, wherein the Church celebrates the conception of Mary in her mother's womb without the stain of original sin. This feast really does provide a foretaste of Christ's coming, for in a singular way this miracle tells you that God is about to do something extraordinary. Then there's Gaudate Sunday, which is the third week of Advent and proscribes that the congregation engage in an ecstatic burst of early Christmas cheer, shedding for a day the more somber penitential colors for something a little more bright and cheerful. Even so, as Christmas rapidly approaches, believers are asked to pause once again in order to prepare for the final push. During this period the worshippers are asked to recite the "O" antiphons, which are the liturgical and spiritual equivalent of labor pains. These take place during the final days before Christmas, beginning December 17th and concluding on the 23rd- "O Wisdom from on high, O Adonai, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Radiant Dawn, O Desire of Nations, O Emmanuel…. Come Lord Come!


These birth pangs, coupled with this joyous season of preparation, are the perfect recipe for the Christmas season, nay, they are perfect recipe and disposition for joy in all seasons of life. The spirit in which one prepares for the coming of Christmas is the true Tao of living, the perfect rhythm of joy and gratitude. The virtues that are imparted during this marvelous season of Advent are the virtues of Heaven (and incidentally the "vices" of Hell): patience, longing, humility, gratitude, and anticipation. All who nurture such dispositions will never want for the wonders of God, and will soon discover that it was for this that we were made. Children understand this more easily than we, in part, because we have the power to make them wait for their glorious gifts. But we as adults must nevertheless rediscover this child-like spirit by being obedient, not to our biological parents, but rather to our theological ones. Indeed, we must follow the season in the spirit that Our Mother the Church has instituted it (with approval from the Father of course). If we will only follow this instinct, we will not only discover the joy of Christmas' past, but so also the joy of Christmas present and future. For instead of being exhausted by the imminent approach of Christmas and wishing to put an end to it, we will rejoice and exult in the realization that the jubilation and celebration has only just begun.                    




Saturday, November 30, 2013

The 13 Best Theological Band Names



How is it that many of the following bands on this list- who are anything but religious- seem more Catholic in their imagination than many Christians who likewise select religious band names? To put it another way, why is it that artists who seem least inclined to religion can come up with names that are remarkably theological, while those with far more of a taste for it come up with impotent names like "One Thousand Foot Crutch" or "Blessed Union of Souls"? It is an interesting question and it demands a response. In part, I think the answer has something to do with the overall genericization of the Christian message, the sacramental gutting, if you will, of the deeply rooted theological language of the historical Faith. In place of this language, one receives a far more vague and bland contemporary vocabulary. However, what many of the bands below demonstrate is that while Christians have been spending their time tossing out these traditional concepts, non-believing artists have been recouping them. In fact, many of these musicians not only have chosen band names that are theological, but have done likewise with album titles and songs. But beware- as you will see below, when you are careless with the things of God, you may not be pleased with how they are used by the one who sees it only as a fashionable accessory.



1. Genesis


When the founding band members were attempting to come up with a name for the group, they initially tossed out the name "Gabriel's Angels" (an obvious allusion to the lead singer's name). Ultimately they chose to go in a different direction, but apparently they still wanted a band name with Biblical implications. Thus, they settled on the name "Genesis" because they liked the fact that the name suggested the beginning of something important. And indeed they were right, for they (and a few other bands) were at the forefront of what came to be called 70s "Prog-Rock".


2. Exodus


If you are going to begin a list of theological band names with Genesis, then it is only logical that #2 should be "Exodus". Nothing like the former, founding thrash metal band member Kirk Hammett (now in the Metallica) came across this name when he saw a novel of the same title. Generally associated with the "Exodus" of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the word nevertheless carries with it all of the gigantic implications of the Biblical event itself; "a journey", "a departure"; "an escape"; "a mass exit"; the image of two voluminous walls of water making a pathway to freedom. Clearly such a word makes one think of the Hebrew Scriptures, but it also apparently possesses a literary force all its own (as the novel above suggests). This may help explain why a band which has very little in common with religion would choose to give themselves this name, while simultaneously making music for the past thirty years that has very little to do with anything religious.


3. Lamb of God


Initially this band went by the delightful name "Burn the Priest". However, not wanting to be regarded as a Satanic group (I can't imagine why anyone would think that), they changed their name to "Lamb of God". Continuing with the prior Exodus theme, we find here a further reference to the Passover of the Israelites, which included a ritual meal wherein those present would consume the flesh of the lamb, and place it's blood on the "lintels" of their doorposts. This meal, they believed, would preserve and protect them from the so called "Angel of Death" (which I'm pretty sure is another thrash metal band), who was given leave to kill every firstborn of the Egyptians. The only ones who were spared were those shielded by the "blood of the lamb". Moreover, this lamb, according to Christian theology, was a figure and a foreshadowing of the "true Lamb of God", the one who, as St. John the Baptist put it, "takes away the sins of the world."


4. Testament  and Ministry


In the thrash (or death) metal scene, if you what to see how dark and sinister a band is you may want to do so by looking at their relationship with Slayer. I call it six-degrees of Slayer, and it is seems appropriate that the closer in "degrees" one gets, the higher the flames and more pungent the sulphur. Once again with the band Testament, we do have a band that is tied to Slayer (one of the lead guitarists ultimately joined); a band who, by the way, really does love to show their street credibility with its proliferation of Pentagrams. Alongside Testament, I have to place the band Ministry, because I always used to confused the two. Back when these bands were in their heyday (you know, when MTV was still playing music), these two were regulars on the "Headbangers' Ball". Ministry's big "mainstream" hit was called Psalm 69 (one of the more depressing Psalms, as you might suspect). I think I found the song catchy, or at least as catchy as a song can be where every word sounds like Scooby-Doo yelling "Roh roh roh roh roh roh", insert riff, repeat, "roh roh roh roh roh roh". However, perhaps I conflated the two because they are in many ways complimentary band names. After all, you cannot have a "ministry" without a message or "testament". But whatever the reason, the names always stood out as powerful names to me, even if they were "only" religious names.



5. Black Sabbath



This band that was originally called Earth, but they soon changed it as a consequence of Ozzy Osbourne's deep appreciation for a horror film of the same title. Black Sabbath really was the beginning of a darker turn for rock'n roll. They managed to take blues music, which generally tends to a have a more whimsical side to it, and make it the blues from hell. Simply listen to the riff from the song the "War Pigs" and tell me that that isn't the "angel of death" dressed up in the cloak of the blues. There are many interesting back stories which explain why their music sounds so dark and unique (one being the fact that Toni Iommi lost part of his index finger to a saw), but for me it begins and ends with Ozzy Osbourne's haunting vocals. Often referred to simply as "Sabbath", they, like the previous bands, sought to borrow another Biblical theme, namely the day that God made for rest. Now while the idea of "rest" might not sound so menacing at first, words do tend to have a power all their own. Of course it could be argued that the only reason the name garnered such appeal is because the band decided to preface it with the word "black" (very creative). Nevertheless, as previously noted, when people refer to the band they seem to feel it is sufficient to simply call them Sabbath. Hence, while the name "Black Sabbath" may provide the band a more sinister veneer, the fans themselves actually prefer the shortened version, which is not sinister at all.


6. Our Lady Peace


Categorized as a "post-grunge/alternative" band, this group began with the name "As If" (clearly they were not yet post-Wayne's World). Soon after forming, they changed their name to "Our Lady Peace", from a poem of the same name written by American poet Mark Van Doren. There is really no other reason behind the name other than the general attractiveness of the title itself. While many non-Catholics may see Marian devotion as odd (and some Catholics as well), oftentimes people who have no "dog in the race" will come along and recognize how beautiful and powerful some of these devotional titles really are (Billy Corgan made a solo album called Mary, Star of the Sea). This  perpetuates the odd phenomena whereby the baptized fail to see the beauty and/or power in their faith, while those who stand on the outside recognize it right away. A further example of this occurred right after Vatican II, when some priests in San Francisco, ready to do away with the old ways, apparently threw way their gilded fiddleback vestments into the garbage bins there in the city. And while they did not see the beauty in those vestments, some members of the Grateful Dead apparently did, for they fished them out and immediately proceeded to make them a part of their musical wardrobe.


7. Judas Priest


As provocative as this name sounds, the name apparently comes from an old expression that seeks to substitute the name "Judas Priest" for "Jesus Christ". In other words, instead of using the name of the Lord disrespectfully, one substitutes this name euphemistically, for such a name cannot be anymore profaned that it already is. Nevertheless, one can all but assume that when this heavy metal outfit was deciding on a band name they weren't really so much concerned with respecting the name of God. And if you are in truth going for a dark despairing angle as a band, you could hardly come up with a better way to describe the project. Few names can match the power (at least in the negative sense) of what those two words mean together. Apart from Satan and Jezebel, what other negative associations could pack more of a verbal punch? Clearly the office of the priesthood is arresting in itself, but then add to that the ultimate betrayal of the office, and there you have before you a recipe for wickedness.


8. The Church


Known primarily for their top 40 hit "Under the Milky Way", this 1980s New Wave band turned "prog-rock", initially set out to call themselves "The Church of Man". However, for the purposes of pithiness, they shortened it to "The Church". The true artist does not censor himself, even when his instincts take him in a direction he might not otherwise go. And thus even while the band found further commercial success more than a little elusive, the name of their band, and the power behind the words themselves (viz. the Church), continue to live in my imagination. Obviously the institution itself brings with it a lot of imagery, but perhaps more than anything else what comes to mind is the achingly beautiful architecture that tends to accompany those words, from the greatest cathedral to the most humble little chapel. However, if you really wanted to stretch concept of Church you might even envision the musicians themselves as the hierarchy, and the people in the audience as ecstatic, spirit-filled followers.


9. The Jesus and Mary Chain    


It is unclear precisely where this 1980s alternative band got their name, but the most likely scenario involves was simply from hearing the phrase in connection with…surprise… a religious necklace with an image of Jesus and Mary on it. I must confess when I was younger and first saw this dark brooding band, I immediately assumed that there was something more sinister their choice, and frankly, why shouldn't I, considering it was obvious that they didn't choose it in order to honor God? The reasoning of these bands is, I think, much less intentional that all that. What they are looking for is a title that sounds cool, ironic, mysterious, dark, poetic, or all of the above. And once again it never ceases to amaze me that even if these bands can be criticized and condemned for using God's name(s) for commercial reasons alone, there is still the fascinating mystery as to why these "non-relgious" bands want religious names. Conversely, the equally fascinating question is why so called religious bands are generally terrible at doing the same. Is it because God gave most of his talent to individuals that wound up misusing it? Or is it because we can only appreciate religious things when they are re-introduced by people that are not religious at all? In other words, if a "religious" band (disclaimer: I hate that term because it usually presumes a very narrow category of what it means to make music with any depth), were to use these names, would they be equally appealing? And if not, why? Some may say that the key ingredient here is "cynicism", and that may be true, but if the names were not meaningful or powerful in and of themselves, then aforementioned cynicism, would be like a joke that no one understood. Consequently, even if the intent of these bands is pure sarcasm, the sarcasm would lack any punch, if they weren't really rebelling against anything that had its own.


10. Creed


(Speaking of punch, the above photo is a rendering of the events at the Council of Nicea, wherein Jolly Old St. Nicklaus purportedly punched the heretic Arius). Anyhow, the band Creed got their start in the early 90s, though they only became successful in the mid to late part of the decade. In many ways the band Creed represents "grunge" in the final throes of death. There had already been countless imitators of the Eddie Vedder vocal stylings, and for obvious reasons some lumped Creed into this category. However, there was one thing that this band had that set it apart from all those other bands (as well as the rest on this list). Lead singer, Scott Stapp, like many in the grunge scene complained of suffering, but he also seemed to believe that there might be some point to this struggle (God forbid). Thus, while the musical style may not have been wholly original, the fact that the music went beyond self-pity and despair was somewhat novel. While not expressly a religious band they were certainly willing to at least explore those themes in a way that many young people appreciated deeply. As a consequence, many Christian fans sought to idealize them in a fashion that was perhaps disproportionate with their original intention. Couple that with the fact that their name has religious implications, and then you have the perfect storm (Creed comes from the Greek word "Credo" which means "I believe"). Thus, for those interested in music exploring more than pain and posturing, this band seemed like the perfect remedy. Unfortunately, as this list suggests, there is such a dearth of those who actually do this well it is understandable that they would be elevated to heights of Christian rock royalty. Nevertheless, this lionization may be part of the problem in the first place. When heavy metal bands use religious themes in titles for their band, songs, albums, they do it as an ironic edifice. There is no further deep thinking involved. They pick it because they think it sounds cool. The danger for so-called Christian artists is that they fail to see their faith from an outsider's perspective; that is, they fail to see it with a poet's eye. They're stuck in a kind of formulaic and anemic repetition, which is to say that they imitate the musical fashions of the day and slap over it predictable and maudlin lyrics. When in doubt, subtlety is the poet's friend. But if they really want to explore interesting and deeply theological themes, they have to come at it from the perspective of one who is in exile, or at least from the perspective of Job. Life is a battle, so when you force unimaginative platitudes into a song, or if you try to make yourself sound tough and sad, it just comes off as disingenuous. The reason that Creed worked while it did was because Stapp was coming from an outsider's perspective struggling to get in. And when you see something from a distance, you really might just see it for the time. Perhaps it is best summed up in this Christian riddle; "I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinner… Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom before you…" (Luke 5:32; Matthew 21:31)


 11. Nirvana


Nirvana got their name when front man Kurt Cobain decided that in spite of the fact that his original demo was called "fecal matter", he did not want his band name to be crass or ugly. To the contrary, he wanted it sound beautiful and utterly sublime. Thus, he and fellow bandmates settled on the term "Nirvana". Used mostly in Buddhism (though some Hindus use it as well) to refer to a blissful state that exists beyond the realm of the senses, it is not quite what Christians regard as heaven. In Buddhism the goal is not to be in communion with God in a perfect and intimate bond for all of eternity, but rather to extinguish the flame of desire, annihilate the self (there is no "I" in I), and thus fall back into that unconscious, undisturbed, and utterly blissful state of non-being. Why must we go to the trouble of extinguishing all attachment to self and the world? Because, as Billy Corgan once said; "The world is a vampire..." Just as the band Creed represented angst that was in search of meaning, so conversely Nirvana (and grunge) quite often represented pessimism about the world, coupled with a pessimism about the next life-"I don't want heaven, I just want the light/flame to be permanently extinguished." In the Christian faith, the "light shines in the darkness, but the darkness fails to overcome it. In Buddhism the light is the darkness; "All in all is all we are… All in all is all we are… All in all is all we are…" In the end I suppose it is more than a little appropriate that while Cobain was trying to come up with a "heavenly" band name, what he settled on was anything but, preferring a pessimistic paradise where "nothing" is literally sacred, and where everything else (which is everything) is evil.            
   

12. Avenged Sevenfold


Taken from the story of Cain and Abel, the name of this particular American rock band was selected when founding band members opened the Bible in an attempt to find a provocative title from the Old Testament (sound familiar?). The term "avenged seven-fold" comes from the the punishment that God promises to mete out to anyone who attempts to bring any harm to Cain. Beyond looking for a name that is aesthetically provocative (or one that seems to cast pallor on any religious sensibility), perhaps many of these bands also find something more than a little attractive about the virility and power of God in the Old Testament. The drama and violence of the Old Testament is undeniable. Add to that the spectacle of the various theophanies, and what you have is raw theatre. Thus, in some ways it is not a surprise that they are drawn to these epic stories, who themselves seek to combine virility (at least they used to) with a kind ruthless barbarism. Unfortunately, I fear that they admire the cruelty of barbarism, without trying to understand God's larger program of elevating the Israelites, and by extension man, from that crude state.


13. Sepultura           


This Brazilian heavy metal band was founded in the 1980s. The name itself is a Portuguese translation of the English word "sepulcher". The word itself simply means grave, tomb, or sarcophagus (which is somewhat amusing because one of the founding members left the band and started another band with that name). However, the word itself was/is generally associated with Jesus' tomb (viz. the Holy Sepulcher). And of course how could you possibly conceive of nihilistic music without also talking about death, death, and more death... coupled with a lead vocalist who sounds a little bit like he is swallowing dirt as he is singing. Ironically, in this case the death that is associated with the original meaning is a hopeful death, a death that actually puts the "pulcher" in sepulcher. It is perhaps one of the strangest truths in all the world that most of the bands who do really have interesting theological names, at best, have nothing to do with religion, or at worst have everything to do with the wrong kind of it. It is also a strange truth that bands who do have every reason to boast good theological names, go with the weakest. Need I mention Stryper (it is a religious acronym and a reference to the "suffering servant" of Isaiah), Blessed Union of Souls, Thousand Foot Crutch, P.O.D., Casting Crowns andThree Days of Grace? I suppose the last two examples are alright, but the others? Meh; they just aren't evocative of anything theologically rich, at least in how they are formulated.


Honorable Mentions: The Sisters of Mercy; Nazareth; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Jars of Clay (this is a reference to St. Paul's assertion that Christians have an immortal treasure which is placed in "jars of clay/earthen vessels"); Sodom; Faith No More; Mercyful Fate, and Sacred Rite.