Lady Gaga just released her newest single, Judas, on Friday. Because of its obvious ties to the infamous story from the Bible, Christian groups have been attacking the song.
First, I want to talk a little bit about the way Christian groups (especially the Vatican) tend to attack artists in popular culture, usually in a transparently defensive manner, for exploring religious themes in their artistry. This is nothing new; Madonna was constantly being challenged by Christian groups, and the Catholic Church in particular, for daring to explore spirituality in her music. And for as long as I've been aware of this trend, even peripherally, I have been really perplexed by it.
Religion is arguably the most controversial and personal subject known to humankind. With it being the starting point of so much societal conflict, broaching the topic of religion in conversation is touchy. What do people say you should avoid talking about at social events? Religion and politics. Why politics? Well, probably because a lot of the potential for conflict within that subject of discussion is rooted in personal religious belief. And we avoid talking about religion at dinner parties because holy shit that is just a bad, bad idea.
Which doesn't mean people don't do it anyway. But rarely does it end well.
I remember when I was twelve I had this one friend who was a self-proclaimed atheist. My parents raised me from a very liberal standpoint, but they did bring me to church, where I learned Christian morals and teachings. My friend and I were both operating from our own parents' respective examples, but I can remember us standing underneath our favourite tree in this forest between our houses and fighting over religion until we were both screaming at each other and making no sense whatsoever. Being asked why you believe something, especially when you have no answer except the honest because my parents do, can be really fucking trying. You're trying to defend your beliefs, your specific point of view, and it feels personal because you can't provide irrefutable proof that your ideas of how the world works are the correct ones. You only have your own experience to go off of, and that is exceptionally personal. It's the definition of personal.
If that conflict between my friend and I has taught me anything it's that it's best to avoid the subject in conversation altogether because it generally only leads to disagreement. No one's going to win that argument because there's no way to win it.
Having said that, I think it's important that every person feel free to explore spirituality in a genuine way. When Madonna released the music video for Like A Prayer, it was so controversial that religious groups actually tried to ban it, to censor Madonna's artistry. But that's not even the most concerning part of that whole mess. They weren't just trying to censor or ban her music video; they were trying to silence and suppress her exploration of spirituality. And that, to me, is far more important and dangerous.
Lady Gaga is absolutely exploring religion and spirituality in Judas. I think it would be ridiculous, though, to assume she's trying to be controversial and blasphemous with this song, just as it would be stupid to assume that about Like A Prayer. Go watch Like A Prayer right now, and I dare you not to feel amazed by it even now, decades later. Gaga's got a very clear goal in mind. Is this a song that should be taken at face value and dismissed as an attack on the Christian religion, or should we actually dig a little deeper and try to confront notions of what's acceptable and what's taboo within not only pop culture but also society as a whole.
I think ultimately Judas is a song about love breaking down; whether that love is between human beings, or between a individual and the church, is probably up for interpretation. I think there's a lot more going on in this song than many people are willing to give it credit for.
For a long time, there was a Christian movement to ban Harry Potter books for their supposed depiction of witchcraft. When I was sixteen, I went to a youth service where this priest gave a sermon on the dangers of Harry Potter. Her claim was that the distinction between good and evil was not clear enough in the books, and that right there showed she had obviously never fucking read them. I remember rolling my eyes and sighing heavily the whole way through, completely flabbergasted and irritated that this woman could claim that Harry Potter was such a terrible influence on Christians while obviously never having read the books herself. Because if she had read them, she would have seen for herself just how spiritual they actually are. That series is, without a doubt, JK Rowling's attempt to make sense of death, exploring the concept of life after death and ultimately arriving at the beautiful message that love literally conquers all. And if that's not the inherent, most important message in Christianity, then I don't know what is. I's clearly why the Vatican, which previously stated that the Harry Potter book were supportive of the Occult, recanted their original stance. You just can't read Deathly Hallows and not notice the allusions to another very popular story about life, death and resurrection.
It just goes to show that it's never wise to criticize something without giving it the genuine thought and reflection it deserves. You could wind up looking like a fucking moronic, wishy-washy, uninformed and unread source on any subject, but most especially spirituality and pop culture.
Anyway, I'll be interested in seeing what Gaga does with the music video. Not so interested in witnessing the inevitable idiotic response from religious groups, though.