Country Music: God vs. Jesus

Christianity is the default religion of Country Music.  But I was wondering if a survey of Country lyrics would illustrate something interesting about American Christianity.  For as I listen to Country, I often hear “God” used, whereas I don’t hear “Jesus” mentioned too often.  And when “God” is used, it is as if it is only as glue for patriotism, apple pie, and for being thoughtfully nice.  In other words, “God” is just the code word they use for being a good redneck.  On the other hand, if a Country singer uses “Jesus”, then they are pushing religion.  “God” seems so bland compared to “Jesus”.  So as I listened to Country the other day, I wondered if Country Music’s lyrics illustrate American Christianity well:  there is a lot of God (fittin’ in nice) and less of Jesus (damnation theology).

Most of my Americans acquaintances don’t know their theology or view others as damned for not believing but instead, they view their faith as “just tryin’ to be a good person.”



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

20 responses to “Country Music: God vs. Jesus

  1. My more cynical side would attribute the prevalence of “God” as opposed to “Jesus” to the fact that Country music is a mass marketed music form. Putting “Jesus” in there might offend some people, thus costing fans and sales, whereas “God” is a more catch all term that most Americans can identify with.

  2. rburke202

    I am curious what you would find if you did the same “study” of artists in the christian music genre.

  3. Richard

    The first song which came to my mind when I saw this topic was Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel.”

    Not to mention Bobby Bear’s (I think) classic: “Drop Kick Me Jesus, through the goal posts of life.” 🙂

  4. @ Will
    Yeah, I’d bet that is part of it too. If someone ain’t religious, “God” does not bother them — ’cause, heck, they say “goddamn” all the time and never mean it either. 🙂

    @ Rburke
    That would be a fascinating study.

    @ Richard
    Wow, you know your Country! Love the titles.

  5. I think it makes a difference what decade of country music you listen to.

    There used to be a lot more matter of fact inclusion of god, jesus in music generally

    Elvis Presley was the only performer to ever do a religious song on Ed Sullivan – his last performance was Peace in the Valley.

    Country from the 50s, 40 and earlier had a lot of songs about asking for help from the lord or general praising – I Saw the Light

    songs about redemption – especially by “sinners” like Hank Williams

    well into the 60’s with Patsy Cline – Closer Walk with Thee and Dear God

    Just songs they would do in concert and as filler tracks on records – secular and sacred weren’t so separate as full out sacred music was later.

    Although, the late 1980’s christian heavy metal was embarrassing…

  6. That is an interesting observation. I’m not much of a country fan, just an occasional listener, so it would be hard for me to support or refute it.

    I would suggest another theory, though, that while Jesus was the one who made eternal forgiveness possible, it is understood that God (the father) is still in control of everything. God’s the one to thank, or pray to, or whatever.

  7. @Random Ntrygg
    Fun facts — thanx.

    @Wise Fool
    I liked your final analysis — after all, he is the Dad.

  8. writing a confirmation curriculum and one of the initial homework questions is “Is there a difference between being an American and being a Christian?”

    this is to get at the heart of the assumption of “no” that is largely put forth in country music. the there is a difference, there had better be. but that line was blurred by Constantine… but i’m getting to detailed here.

    your comment of “there is a lot of God (fittin’ in nice) and less of Jesus (damnation theology).” is sorta accurate. God is nice as long as you’re ‘Merican, and the type of ‘Merican that they are singing about. If not, they’ll put a boot up your booty and send you on to see Jesus (the damnation guy). Very tribal. I don’t see a division here like you do, only a process much like a judiciary one.

  9. there is that saying from Nashville – the higher the hair, the closer to God.

  10. @ Zero1Ghost
    Let me try to translate what Zero1Ghost said:
    FIrst – it is important to understand he is a Christian pastor of the very liberal/progressive sort:

    Indeed Americans equate religion and America — unfortunately. But I think God and Jesus can play simultaneous, yet different roles in our lives, thus they would appear differently in songs.

    Is that close, Zero?

  11. Close, how about this: “Indeed Imperialists equate religion and America — unfortunately; and country music seems to be the music of choice for Imperialists. But I think God and Jesus can play simultaneous, yet different roles in our lives, thus they would appear differently in songs.”

  12. I had another thought this morning – I’d have to do some research to make it a full blown blog – but from my reading about Elvis Presley (yes, I am a looong time fan)

    But that there’s a thriving Christian music scene is partly down to Elvis.

    Before Elvis, national stage singers tended to come up through New York, LA and other northern entertainment major cities. Being nationally oriented, there were nods to religion, but not any commitment to it.

    But country music, was largely regional, southern. These artists wrote their own music or played regional folk, common music – which would have included a lot of hymns, gospel and committed to this music.

    Elvis was the first major national – international star – who came up through the south, rather than the tin pan alley traditional way – he turned entertainment on it’s head

    and he sang gospel with a fervor that you know he meant.

    Interestingly, it was his 1957 Christmas album that was the first to be censored from radio play – Santa Claus is back in town

    Got no sleigh with reindeer
    no sack on my back
    you gonna see me coming
    in a big black cadillac

    Elvis of the 68 albums released by RCA during his life, 2 were christmas albums and 3 were gospel – these were not seasonal pet projects for fans, but serious albums in the genre for listeners of the genre

    so I think that the reason country is more associated with religion than mainstream pop, is because the performers of country are more religious than the performers of mainstream and other genres of music

    and the performers of country, become stars through a regional system that expects their performers to be believers

    not unlike how a politicians’ religion has become more important than their experience, abilities and capacity

  13. DaCheese

    Funny, I always thought of Jesus as the compassionate one –“died for our sins”, and all that –while God (or Gawd) was the stern disciplinarian. Reading the first few sentences, I was already hatching a rationale based on the idea that the patriotic God talk was because of 9/11 and God being seen as the tough-guy part of the trinity…

  14. @ DaCheese,
    Yeah, I thought that too. But as I listened, “God” was code word for “Apple Pie” and “Jesus” seemed code word for OUR RELIGION and if you don’t accept Jesus, you go to hell.

  15. rautakyy

    Sabio Lantz, one might point out that there is actually a very wide variety of Country music, from the folk influenced Chris Kristofferson “They Killed Him” type where god gets to be mentioned to the more mass produced nationalistic type of country. (I do not like to give the emphasis of “patriotic” just to people who think there is nothing wrong in their country, hence here I use – nationalistic.)

    It would be interresting to have this same evaluation about blues music, because it also originates in the south and the issues of personal problems are very similar to those often presented in country music.

    Random Ntrygg, I think Elvis was also a sort of “rebel” that even though a popular star, he could still sing about social issues like “In the Ghetto”.

  16. @rautakyy
    Good points. Boy, it is obvious I touched on a subject I know little about — it is fun to get all this extra info!

  17. I’ve come to think about Elvis in a very new way – and I don’t think Elvis thought of himself as a rebel – he just wanted to belong, his dreams were very middle class.

    But he was a rebel because what was different about him – being colorblind and seeing only people – was amazingly radical and it continues to be.

    “If I Can Dream” and “In the Ghetto” were 2 songs that Parker didn’t want Elvis to do, because they were :”message” songs – and Parker knew that celebrity was best served by never taking a social stand and risking alienation of segments of the audience

    But Elvis did the songs anyway, because the message was something he believed in, he understood equality and overcoming economic and social barriers. He had done it, after all.

    Kris Kristofferson came from the 60’s folk scene and has become quasi-country, but he’s not really. He’s a rebel and philosopher in a way that mere country singers are not.

  18. Earnest

    @ Ntrygg: It looks like part of Elvis’ greatness is from his capacity to at least see what side of history he wanted to be on, and make deliberate moves musically to push that forward.

    I have also heard that the Beatles refused to play to segregated audiences, and demanded lines in venue contracts guaranteeing that before they would go on stage.

    I have to admit I have a guilty pleasure of listening to gospel on occasion. They often contain alarmingly primitive versions of the hellfire and damnation message, but the harmonization is so evocative for me I pretend I’m not affected subliminaly by the words I’m hearing. I recall that the happiest part of my teen years was spent in a summer camp with lots of gospel singing, so perhaps this influences my desire to listen again and again to this sort of musical empty calories.

    So far I have not felt a compulsion to take up arms against the heathen after listening to gospel!

  19. I couldnt agree with you more!!!

  20. rautakyy

    @Earnest, I have to confess, that I like to listen to British heavy rock band Venom and the US heavy rocker Danzig from time to time, and in earnest I have not noticed that the lyrics of their songs would have caused me worshiping the Devil in any way. I doubt their lyrics have affected my religious views any more than the medieval church chants I also like to listen to. It is the music that gives me the emotional responses I seek, not the words of the song. But I have to admit, that even if there were a band with great music that supported the natzis, I would propably draw the line there.

    To me gods and devils are imaginary entities and songs about them represent symbolical consepts of good and evil, but the nazis were and are a concrete evil that does exist. That said, I have no problems listening to the music composed by Richard Wagner, thoug he was supporter of the racial supremacy ideals that caused the nazis as a political movement. And though they sing about the ancient Germanic gods in his operas, I do not see myself ever to worship those either. Nor do I see that enjoying the music of Dimitry Shostakowich would turn me into admiring Stalin.

    Music is just music. But even if it is good music, if the words make one feel uneasy, there is no point in listening.

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