Bad is bad

I wish I had thought of it first, but more than that, I’m mostly just grateful for having discovered this line from Madeleine L’Engle on faith and art, from her book Walking on Water:

If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, no matter how pious the subject.

Henceforth, this shall be my reply to all joyful noisers who seek to excuse indisciplined music and sloppy performance with enthusiastic descriptions of how the offenders are really good Christians and just so full of the holy spirit. If it’s bad art, it’s bad religion, now matter how pious the subject.

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  1. Dean Adkins wrote:

    I love it!

  2. Jim2 wrote:

    Unfortunately, Madeleine L’engle proves the point that good art can be bad religion also.

  3. Darrel brandon wrote:

    Or, as Elton Trueblood put it, “Holy shoddy is still shoddy.”

  4. Stephen wrote:

    A Dove Award Winning Producer once told me “There’s a saying in Nashville: You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken ’shoddy’ “

  5. GC11 wrote:

    shouldn’t it be ….”no matter” rather than “now matter”?

  6. Doug Sword wrote:

    As I’ve said before, if you believe you are called to sing and have little or no talent, perhaps you have misunderstood God’s call.

  7. Daniel J. Mount wrote:

    My response to L’Engle:
    Prov. 14:12
    Prov. 16:25

  8. Felicia wrote:

    Mr. Mount, with all due respect, these scriptures have nothing at all to do with the subject at hand. Taken out of context you could use them to justify ANYTHING at all. Even bad music.

  9. Karalyn wrote:

    I agree, Felicia.

  10. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    The argument Doug puts forth implies that unskilled people have no business participating in art at all. This notion, if put into practice, would rule out congregational singing in 99% of our churches.

    Of course, I’ve heard a few who can’t carry a tune at all, and in those cases, maybe it would be better if they just listened.

    That being said, at the professional level, there must be standards of quality. Bad art has no business posing as professional or top tier art, and people who know better shouldn’t assign that status to bad art.

    However, if Billy Joe Bubba does his best and still sings comparatively poorly in front of his relatively small congregation during the course of a worship service, I don’t see how that equates to “bad religion.”

  11. RF wrote:

    Let’s not be ridiculous. Avery was not talking about the person in the local pew or the person in the local choir. He was talking about (and accurately so) about those who take money for their performances. Some acts are not in any way good art, regardless of how well-meaning they are.

  12. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Regardless of where he meant for his post to apply, there’s a fundamental point that bears mentioning.

    To say “bad art=bad religion” implies that if art doesn’t meet a certain standard of quality, God won’t accept it either.

    I’ll gladly give my own opinion regarding what is acceptable for me. I do this every time I review a CD. I believe we should encourage Christian music that equals (or hopefully surpasses) the best the world has to offer in terms of fundamental quality.

    I’m not willing to take the added step Doug is taking, however. I don’t see how you can say the quality of someone’s religion depends on the quality of art they are capable of producing.

    I would agree if Doug had said the quality of a person’s religion is enriched with they have the ability to APPRECIATE quality art, but it isn’t necessarily “bad” when they lack the ability to PRODUCE quality art.

    Many Christians don’t even attempt to produce any sort of art. Do they have “bad religion” as well?

  13. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    BTW, a phrase I could agree with is:
    “If it’s bad art, it’s bad art, no matter how pious the subject.”

    I totally agree with the post header…”bad is bad.”

  14. Grigs wrote:

    What Murray said…LOL.

  15. Angie M wrote:

    Re: DBM’s post #12. I agree with RF. Most people who participate in congregational singing wouldn’t describe what they’re doing as art–they’d describe it as worship, which is a different thing entirely. Regardless of whether or not you agree with the quote (and I’m still pondering this), it just doesn’t apply to congregational singing. After all, members of the congregation aren’t the ones to whom we refer as “artists.”

  16. Brian Fox wrote:

    You knocked that one out of the park. I like avery, but he missed it this time. I guess we’ll allow him an occasional slip.

  17. Jim E. Davis wrote:

    When bad art is in the gallery it isn’t always the artists fault. Blame the gallery owner, art dealer and customers who come in to buy it.

    As long as the record companies produce it, the radio stations play it and the people buy it….bad art will always exist.

  18. RF wrote:

    Maybe a better way to put it would be to say bad art is bad religion to some people. I can remember my father and his two nieces singing some song and they started sharp and ended flat. It drove my young ears crazy. There was no religion in it for me. As well meaning as the three were (and since I know them, I know), my father, a trained musician even admitted that they did little good on those days they sang.

  19. Rhonda Berry wrote:

    I did not take avery’s comments to mean anything but as a defense against the excuse that if a Christian has a heart for the Lord, the quality and ability do not matter.
    I personally think that many of these people aren’t as pious as they want others to believe. I have witnessed unsaved people walk out on local events featuring singers of this lower caliber. Those singers knew it too, it had happened to them before. Yet they continue in a public forum calling it ministry. To me that isn’t ministry-minded, that is selfish. If it is so bad that the message is missed because you can’t get past the atrocity of the sound, then you aren’t doing what you say you want to do.
    We should be striving to be better than what the world is bringing out, but right now there are many who aren’t even caring to reach the worldly level.
    Daniel, using Bible verses out of context isn’t a good thing either. The Bible says to “make a joyful noise unto the Lord” but it also says to play music skillfully (Psalm 33:3). Since the Lord does not contradict Himself, then what do you think He is saying about how we are supposed to approach this whole issue?

  20. RB wrote:

    I think Doug meant only to address those artists who try to make a living from their performances . . . however, he failed to make this distinction. So, I will address what he said, not what I think he meant. Essentially, I have to agree with DBM on this one. This time avery strikes out.

    The idea of “bad religion = bad art” is only true if art is your religion. Art has its place, but it makes very bad religion, hence “art = bad religion”. Let’s not put the cart before the horse. Without Jesus, we don’t have anything to celebrate or worship. Artistic weakness shouldn’t be allowed to be a stumbling block to religion.

  21. www wrote:

    Isn’t it interesting that four poorly constructed sentences garnered twenty poorly constructed responses? Just kidding folks. This is an interesting thread!

  22. Donny wrote:

    Church members singing from the pew is not meant to be art. People don’t pay to listen to congregational singing.

  23. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Point acknowledged way back in comment #12. The more fundamental point that really matters is that “bad religion” and “bad art” are two different things.

    The McKameys’ songs are some of the most biblically sound (”good religion”) you’ll hear, but they aren’t great singers (”bad art”). One really has nothing to do with the other.

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