July 1, 2020

A Reminder of Christian Idiocy from the 1980s

devil

Ready for a blast from the past? All the way back in 2005, Tim (Religion is Bullshit!) wrote a great post about Christian groups destroying heavy metal records during the 1980s ("Its number is six hundred and sixty six"). Besides his perspective of someone watching this lunacy happen from outside the United States, Tim's post reminded me that several of my friends' record collections fell victim to Christian parents during the 1980s. A great moral panic over Satanism combined with persistent fears of rock music and concerns about the "souls" of the youth led to bonfires where perfectly good metal records were melted. And it will surprise no one to learn that fundamentalist Christians were behind this nonsense.

I remember that organized groups of fundamentalist Christians would sometimes buy the records they found so objectionable so they could destroy them. I bet the artists who were putting out the records appreciated that because it meant more money for them. That was an important clue that this was more of a publicity stunt on the part of the Christians than anything else. Had they truly been concerned about the evil artists making these records, they probably would not have wanted to support them financially. Although I suppose it must be acknowledged that fear can make people do some irrational things (as can Christianity).

Speaking of publicity, these efforts often had the opposite effect that the Christians intended. For those of us who were into this music, the idea that a record was so evil it had to be burned simply meant that it was one we needed to hear. Some of us discovered new bands this way, although the Christians were usually so far behind that what they were burning was tame compared to what we were listening to. This was the same problem with their insistence that Satanic messages had been recorded on albums that could be revealed by playing the album backward. Most of the good music had plenty of Satanic messages that didn't require playing anything backward to hear.

At the time, the most baffling thing was that many of these Christians claimed to believe that these records were so "evil" that they could lead to demonic possession. Even though I had been a Christian just a year or two earlier, this struck me as a very strange idea. Was their god really going to sit idly by while some kid was possessed because he listened to a record? But yes, I think many really did believe this. I remember Christian parents playing their kids' records backward, freaking out, and calling the local fundamentalist pastors. This was what often seemed to lead to a good old-fashioned record burning (or worse).

All of this made its mark on me and not just because I was a teenage metalhead who hated to see perfectly good albums being destroyed. It made its mark because this was my first brush with moral panic fueled by Christian hysteria. I had seen the mobs with pitchforks and torches in the movies, but that hadn't prepared me for seeing something so similar in real life. The real-life version was much scarier and would soon get worse. I think that these experiences shaped my views of the danger posed by Christians with the power to inflict their will on others and the importance of keeping church and state separate.

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2005. It was revised and expanded in 2020.