Secularist love to promote the idea that religion is responsible for most of the deaths and wars in our world. They confidently reference the Salem witch trials, where 20 people were tried and executed. The Crusades of the Middle Ages are also mentioned often as a means to support the claim (estimates range from 1-3 million dead); a series of wars fought by professional soldiers on both sides. Recently rapper Killer Mike was a guest on Real Time with Bill Maher and responded to the opinion of Bill O’ Reilly that rap music was responsible for violence. Mike demonstrates a complete lack of understanding regarding, history, religion, and his own worldview. He also seems to have a self created idea of what Hip-hop is and his contribution to it. What results is a very weak argument against religion and a disturbing solution to the problem of violence (religion).
Hip-Hop vs. Rap Culture
I agree and appreciate Killer Mike in regards to the history of Hip hop. He is correct that it started as a peace and entrepreneurial movement combining various skills and art (elements) together for a purpose. These would become the pillars of the culture now known as Hip-hop. He then however proceeds to deny that rap music in any way influences violence. I am a Hip-hop head. I am not as old as Mike, but I remember when Hip-hop shifted from story telling, to gangsta rap. For sure, stories were still told. The narrative however changed from, “Let’s keep a unified and positive movement going and let the world know about the injustice we are suffering under.”, to “murder and violence are actually virtuous and badges of honor. To not engage in violence and crime is to have no credibility.” This is a huge paradigm shift, and its one that Mike has perpetuated and profited from. The current mentality and message of most mainstream rap music is antithetical with the origins of Hip-hop. This is one main reason why I conclude that style is not enough to make one apart of a culture. Modern rap culture is in may ways influenced by Hip-hop to be sure, but it is not Hip-hop. Rap culture is a newer and perverse anti-type of Hip-hop culture.
One Bloody Century
Killer Mike claims that his music, and that of the Rap Culture (which he misleadingly labels and lumps together as Hip-hop) has nothing to do with creating or influencing violence. He instead blames the “three Abrahamic religions” and their “books” (I will not engage here in the massive injustice he does to the issue by lumping Christianity together with Islam and Judaism.).In fact, the first thing we ought to do as a society, as a solution to violence, is to do away with these religions and their books. Killer Mike then proceeds to mention that after religion is gone, the next focus should be on government oppression. I find this very interesting. Mike is making a claim that the main cause of violence in society (and I assume the world) is religion. However recent history tells a completely different story. Just the top ten evil world leaders of the past century (rated as such by kill counts) are responsible for an estimated 140 million deaths. This is more than all of recorded world history, including all wars, outbreaks and natural disasters up to the 20th century, combined. Let that sink in. Not one of these “leaders” were Islamic, Jewish or Christian, but rather, atheist, communist and socialist. In fact many of their victims were those who dissented due to their religious convictions and their refusal to throw away or deny the teachings of their holy “books”.
Something really disturbing about Mike’s plan is how similar it is to that of some of these evil leaders. Mao ZeDong, Communist ruler of China from 1949-1976, ordered the confiscation of church facilities and destruction of Bibles as well as the arrest and/or execution of thousands of Christians. There are historically three waves of intense persecution of Christians by ZeDong: 1. The Communist Party first comes to power in 1949 2. The Great Leap Forward 3. The Cultural Revolution. The banning of Christianity and punishment for those even suspected of the crime was a constant situation, but these three eras mark extreme and intentional, violent persecutions. Today in China, Christianity is flourishing even though it is still illegal, and many Christian leaders are saying that Christendom itself has shifted to the East, as the West becomes more and more settled in the thinking and policies of the Enlightenment. Killer Mike seems to have a similar idea in his solution. I hope he understands that not only is his theory of religion and violence in history seriously flawed, but also that the conclusion he builds based on his premise actually has been seen played out in history as persecution against the religious. These persecuted religious were at times, the main resistance to the tyranny. A clear example of this would be The Confessing Church, a church and seminary that operated illegally underground in Nazi Germany smuggling out Jews in an underground railroad system. These Christians spoke publicly against the Third Reich. They also plotted and attempted assassinations on Hitler himself. I could go on and on, but the point I believe is clear: Killer Mike’s plan is to remove a very important and active worldview that has resisted secularist oppression and tyranny in our modern era.
The Gospel of God as the End of Death
I would like to offer my opinion on how violence can be done away with in the world. As a Christian in the culture, I am told to serve and renew my communities. Serving means the giving of time, resources, body and words. Hip-hop and Rap Culture both have serious needs and shortcomings, as every human culture does. The “Book” I ascribe to and obey is the only source where actual diagnosis is given and where solutions are presented. Killer Mike seems to believe Hip-hop is special in regards to the needs it has. Though there are culturally unique challenges that must be addressed as unique, the underlying issue is the same with the whole of humanity. According to the Bible, the “book” which provides the explanatory framework for Christianity, humans are valuable because they are created in God’s image. Indeed, “Image Bearer” is the definition of “human being” in Scripture. We have been created and therefore belong to God as his possession. We are beautiful because he is beautiful. We create as imitators of our Creator. We long for justice and cringe when it is absent, because we are humans. All humans at some level understand and are attracted to justice as creations in the image of the One who loves justice and indeed its only source.
This good God, is also the active and reigning King of all the earth. This is where understanding who Jesus is and what exactly he did is crucial. Jesus died in order to defeat evil and death. This is the core of the ‘gospel’ (good news) message. Jesus resurrected, not only for the shock value of a grand finale miracle that would top all his previous ones. He resurrected as a declaration of his power in his victory over his enemies. Remember the scene in Troy when the two armies were facing each other? One side brings out a giant champion and the other side is waiting on Brad Pitt. When Brad, or rather Achilles, finally arrives it is clear that he is responsible for fighting the giant gent on the other side. Why do they do this? The Kings decide it is best to have their two best fight it out rather than have many of their men and resources destroyed in a battle. The rules are clear, the two champions fight to the death and the armies they represent will share their fate. What is true of the champion is true of their people. Well Brad wins, he usually does, and his victory is victory for his men, though they didn’t lift a finger. The huge dead man representing the other side means that the men he was representing, lost that day as well, of course not as bad as the dead guy. Watch the scene here.
This is the idea that the Apostle Paul is communicating in his New Testament Epistle to the Romans. In chapter 6 we learn that all who have faith in Jesus and have been baptized, are now to understand that they have a new identity with him, vs. 1-6. What is true of Jesus, is true of his people, who are all who have faith in him. In the beginning of this text, Paul says that the resurrection was the defeat of death, Romans 1:4. Death is an important character in the biblical narrative. God hates death. Like any King, he is severely insulted by the vandalism and destruction of his image. And not only that, but death is the champion for sin, which is bringing brokenness and injustice to all of God’s creation, including the ecology itself (see Romans 8). Romans 5 says just this, that sin “reigned in death”, vs.21. When Jesus resurrected from the grave, defeating death, he didn’t just defeat death, he defeated all that death was representing as champion of that kingdom. Sin, which was reigning in death, was defeated as well. Lets unpack this thought. If death, the great power of sin, terrorizing and destroying as sin’s champion, is defeated, what does that mean for all the powers and authorities under it? I’m referring to all those things not as strong and mighty as death. They are defeated as well, not only because their champion is dead, but because they, who are weaker, can in no way resist the power of Jesus and the Kingdom he has ushered into this world.
This means that no government, evil dictator, torture campaign, or army can hold power over the people of God. Many empires, rulers and authorities have tried to defeat the Kingdom of God and stop its advance, yet it expands over the earth. Death is no longer scary, the kingdom of sin is no more. Violence exists today and is a terrible thing. Evil is most heinous but Secularism still fails to give justice to how terrible it is. The Bible however does not excuse evil or explain it away. Its bad. There is no justifying or reasoning with it, it must be destroyed. Jesus Christ has defeated evil and therefore is the only way broken humans can be made whole. He is the only way sinners can be forgiven and transformed from wretches to restored image bearers. As horrible as death and violence are, these are temporary institutions, doomed to destruction and extinction.
In this current time, violence and evil seem to still be strong and full of vitality. However, what many perceive as strength, is actually panic and desperation. “Sin will be no more” is the end of the Biblical narrative. In Isaiah 2, the prophet is shown a mountain that is higher than any other peak on the earth. This mountain is the Mountain of the Lord and upon it sits a City shining bright as a beacon to the nations of the earth. This “City on a hill” is where all humanity is to live, and indeed we see that the nations and peoples are drawn by the light of the liberty and justice of God’s Law up the mountain and into the city. The peoples of the earth all say,
Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:3
This is the solution to violence and wickedness, the law of God. He has defined liberty and justice, life and flourishing. His Law preserves justice for the society that comes and lives on his holy mountain by the light of his word. The practical result of living according to his law is the end of violence, which is what Killer Mike, and indeed most of us, want:
And he shall judge between the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. Isaiah 2:4
God is the only one who can end violence in this world, and in sending his son to suffer the violence of evil, he has guaranteed his resolve and victory:
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. Psalm 46:9
Killer Mike claims to want to end violence by doing away with religion, when in truth, the end of violence and all evil is the goal and end of true religion.