Is Faith Gaining Ground In American Music? Interview With 'Rock Gets Religion' Author Mark Joseph

What do Alice Cooper, Chance the Rapper and Katy Perry have in common — besides selling millions of records?

Author Mark Joseph points to their faith and how it washes over their musical contributions. Joseph's new book, "Rock Gets Religion: The Battle for the Soul of the Devil's Music," connects the disparate talents in ways you might not expect.

It's there all the same, just like how God's influence can be seen across music genres in the most unlikely of places.

Perry's first album clung to the gospel before shaking her Christian parents' faith with songs like "I Kissed a Girl." Cooper, who embraced his Christianity in the '80s, still looks like the scary rocker your parents warned you about.

"Alice Cooper's pastor didn't say, 'You're a born again Christian now. Cut your hair and sing Amazing Grace,'" Joseph notes. "He said, 'be Alice Cooper but change the content of your lyrics so it reflects your faith.'"

Chance the Rapper's lyrics teem with talk of drugs and worse, but he calls himself a Christian rapper. And he's not alone.

"These are guys who are really struggling to express their faith," says Joseph, promoting his third book examining the intersection between God and music. "The Bible talks about working on your faith with fear and trembling."

"Rock Gets Religion" introduces us to names big and small whose art reflects their faith journeys. For some, the conflict between a secular music world and God became too much. Others navigated the thorny path between music fame and honoring God. No two stories are the same. The themes are unmistakably similar, Joseph says. That leaves some Christians unsure how much to embrace them.

"Are they perfect human beings? No. They do things you don't want your daughter's future husband to do," he says. That doesn't deny their spiritual nature nor the messages embedded in their lyrics.

"I prefer some of these artists to the ones we had in the '60s '70s and '80s. They didn’t wrestle with [their faith]. It was, 'how can I score tonight?'" he says.

Joseph, a prolific film producer ("Max Rose," "The Vessel") wrote his first book on the subject, 1999's "The Rock & Roll Rebellion," thinking it was a one-off project.

"The story kept evolving … I didn't anticipate things happening this fast," he says. Nor did those who run and report on the music industry, he adds.

"I think this has really caught the culture by surprise," he says.

For too long popular culture has tried to keep faith on the outside looking in. That's no longer possible in our digital age. Justin Bieber, who grew up in a religious home, became a superstar partly from his YouTube videos going viral. Before Bieber's ascent a Fox television show similarly bypassed the music overlords to find the next big superstars.

"Our rock and pop stars of the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s were selected by a handful of people," Joseph notes. Singers like Keith Green got rejected by the secular music realm and segued into Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) instead. "If you didn't get past the gatekeepers you didn't get on your and my radio," he says.

It's why the emergence of FOX's "American Idol" mattered. For many "AI" voters being a Christian singer wasn't a problem. In fact, they adored it.

"It upends the entire process," he says of the show's democratic leanings. That was never clearer during season 8's battle royale between Adam Lambert and Kris Allen. Lambert embraced David Bowie's glam rock stylings. Allen? He looked more traditional and spoke of his Christian faith. And he emerged victorious.

"Kris Allen would never have been picked by the gatekeepers," he says.

Mainstream music reporters haven't always been keen on addressing faith in pop music. That's changing, Joseph says.

"There are elements of the rock press that have become much more open minded," he says. "Maybe people of faith were becoming rock critics."

There are exceptions, though. Joseph notes how the band Cold War Kids earned adoring press before reporters sniffed out the group members had attended a Christian college.

"All hell breaks loose. The rock press turned on these guys," he says, but adds bands like the God-fearing members of U2 helped reverse that sentiment. "Overall, the trend is toward more openness."

Joseph applauds the influx of Christian talent into the mainstream pop and rock realms. He's equally concerned how many pop culture forces want to deny faith's presence in our lives.

"Some people have been on a crusade to make sure religion stays out of our media. I don't understand that," he says. This isn't anything new.

Consider the classic sitcom, "I Love Lucy." The show featured a Cuban American married to an Irish woman, yet they never expressed anything of a faith-based nature in all their adventures.

"It must have taken those executives a tremendous amount of effort to keep Catholicism out of the show," he says. "Maybe the sponsors didn't want it."

Social cues like that "caused a generation of artists to artificially pretend we're not a religious people, the author says. "Let's let our art reflect who we are … we shouldn't be afraid of expressions of faith."

Christian Toto is the editor of HollywoodInToto.com and host of The Hollywood in Toto Podcast.


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