Music: Moral or Amoral?

A discussion surfaces in praise and worship circles now and then; it used to be a much hotter debate than it seems to be right now. Some say music is inherently moral or immoral, some say it’s a-moral; as in – neither, that it depends on how music is utilized.

While I don’t intend to dig up an old hatchet or start a new skirmish, it may help you to know my perspective on this one. The paragraphs that follow should sufficiently describe my view. I don’t make a big deal of it, there are better people than I am who have good reason to disagree. But here it is.

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Music is powerful, there’s no denying it.
Music has the ability to influence and motivate.
Music can soothe and comfort – or do just the opposite.
It is comprised (once Bach tempered the scale) of thirteen tones per octave, arranged in time, colored and textured by instruments, voices and rhythms.

Lyrics are powerful, there’s no denying it. The pen is more powerful than the sword, some have said.
Words have the ability to influence and motivate.
The pen can soothe and comfort or do just the opposite.
Text is comprised of twenty-six letters (in the English language, anyway) arranged in words and sentences, situated on a surface where it can be read, colored and influenced by phrases, inferences, varied definitions, and remembrances or associations.

Combine the two and you have the potential for one of the most powerful tools in the world for good or for evil; a song.

I’ve watched and studied this carefully for several decades and have concluded that notes, scales and chords have the same moral character as the alphabet, dictionary and thesaurus. While I hold to that, I at the same time acknowledge that we have thousands if not millions of learned responses and associations to deal with in society. Influences in our world teach us from our earliest cognitive moments how to respond to certain sounds or certain expressions. The more years, experiences and education we have behind us the more complex our positions become. This too can be cause for rejoicing or reason for concern.

Music’s potential is reason for applied skill (Ps. 33.3, 40.3) and care (Eph 5.15-16) but thus far in life (I’m a half-century into things) I’ve not found good cause to classify the elements of music or the written text as inherently moral or immoral. It is, however, and will continue to be “very powerful stuff” in the hands of all who use it. Some for great good and God’s glory. Some for personal gain. Some for immeasurable harm. Many simply waste it. But that’s another post.

One thing is certain; God has high expectations for how we use it each day, on a personal level and in our public worship.

Phil-


2 Replies to “Music: Moral or Amoral?”

  1. Grits n' Grace

    Hi Phil,

    I love this topic. It can go off in so many tangents. I think you’ve summarized your thoughts well and, unless I’ve misunderstood, I agree with you. Morality can only be attached to humans. It can not be attached to a “thing”. For example, a hammer in and of itself is amoral. It’s neither good or bad. It’s just a hammer. However, the intended use of the hammer can be moral or immoral. If the hammer is used to build a house for a single mother of two, the use of the hammer is moral. If the hammer is used to break into a house with the intent to steal, the use of the hammer is immoral.

    Music is a tool, too. If a song is written with lyrics that glorify God, expresses love for a spouse or love of country, the intent of the song is a moral one. If a song glorifies rape, anarchy or promotes abuse, the intent of the song is immoral.

    Hammers and music are not accountable to God, humans are. We can not know the true intentions of another’s heart. But, God knows.

    This is a great topic and should generate some discussion.

    Blessings,
    David.

  2. Phil

    Hi David,
    Yes, we agree, thanks for stopping by! I enjoy your insights.

    What I find most disconcerting is that we’re so prone to think in either-or terms, drawing absolutes where Scripture doesn’t.
    With music and the arts there’s the obvious good and the blatant evil, of course, but we also have to contend with tools poorly applied, sometimes resulting in poor music from great hearts, selfish use of really good material, and a host of other variables.

    Life and ministry is so much more than either-or (and I didn’t intend for that to rhyme). 😀 We forget that it’s possible for pure motives and selfish desires to co-exist at the same instant within the human heart. I can lead a group of people in spirited singing, sincere reading of the Word and fervent prayer, focusing everyone’s attention on God while secretly hoping today’s guest speaker notices my ability and invites me to lead worship for his team’s next ministry cruise!

    I’m a strong believer in the benefits of critical thinking and firm, thought-out views, but when we have a need to put people or ideas on one side or the other of man-drawn lines (+ or – , left or right, up or down, Calvin or Luther, new methods or old, traditional or contemporary, always or never, yada yada yada) we convince ourselves we have life figured out. We stop thinking, stop learning. Our enemy begins to grin just a little bit, knowing he can tempt us to react, perhaps violently, and sends a differing view across our path. First thing you know we’ve pulled the trigger on an ally in the Lord’s army! That’s why I hesitated at even posting my perspective. If we can sharpen one another (Pr. 17.17) great. If we can spur each other on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10.24) better still. But Scripture tells us Jesus is coming back (perhaps very soon); we’ve more important things to do than sit in our pup tents and argue.

    Phil —

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