Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jon Foreman Hates the Religion Show

Jon Foreman, the lead singer of popular rock band Switchfoot, has released a few solo recordings over the past couple years.  His first solo full-length, Limbs and Branches, is a wonderful collection of folky pop melodies; full of acoustic guitars, Mexican-style horns, and lap-steel.  Most of the lyrics are inspired directly from biblical scripture.

Foreman has always been pretty open about his Christian faith, he’s just chosen not to use it as a marketing gimmick – a brand – to sell his music.  That’s why he would deny that Switchfoot is a “Christian band” – not because he isn’t a Christian, but because Switchfoot’s music isn’t only for Christians.  Many people have a hard time understanding the difference.

One song on Limbs and Branches, “Instead of a Show,” seems to be a scathing condemnation of the religious hypocrisy prevalent throughout much of Western Christianity – or perhaps I should say “Churchianity.”  That term (which I cannot take credit for) more accurately identifies the subject of Foreman’s criticism.  His problem obviously isn’t with Christian doctrine – the biblical narrative and teachings of Jesus – since Foreman is a believer himself.  Rather, his problem is with the religious hypocrites that comprise part of the Church institution.  The lyrics of the song are worth quoting at length:

I hate all your show and pretense
the hypocrisy of your praise
the hypocrisy of your festivals
I hate all your show

Away with your noisy worship
Away with your noisy hymns
I stop up my ears when you’re singing ‘em
I hate all your show

Instead let there be a flood of justice
An endless procession of righteous living
Instead let there be a flood of justice
Instead of a show

Your eyes are closed when you’re praying
You sing right along with the band
You shine up your shoes for services
But there’s blood on your hands

You turned your back on the homeless
and the ones that don’t fit in your plans
Quit playing religion games
There’s blood on your hands

Ouch.  Difficult lyrics to hear for many Christians, no doubt.  But, critics beware, this song cannot be dismissed as merely a spewing of bitterness from a cynical musician; as Foreman states in a video, the lyrics are straight out of the Bible!  Isaiah 1, to be exact.  In this passage, God is rebuking the religious hypocrisy of the Israelites:
I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me; I am weary of bearing them.  So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are covered with blood.  Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.  Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. (14-17, NASB)
The parallels are obvious.  The implications are profound.  According to the biblical narrative, the Judeo-Christian God has always hated religiosity, and moral hypocrisy.  He doesn’t want piety and ritual.  He desires relationship and justice instead.  Unfortunately, you would never know this from the actions and teachings of many religious Christians today.  Nor would you know it from the anti-Christian caricatures put forth by those who hate Christianity.  Thus, it is refreshing to be disabused of a misconception which is common in our culture – that Christianity is synonymous with religious hypocrisy.  The truth is that religiosity is synonymous with religious hypocrisy.  And Christians should know this better than anyone, since Jesus himself condemned the religious hypocrites of his time.  It is refreshing to be reminded of the true heart of the Christian doctrine; not from a bitter critic who hates the faith, but from a talented and sincere Christian believer such as Jon Foreman.

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