— Scroll down to watch the video for “Eternal Damnation, feat. Joe Moe” —
I’m not a Christian, but I love Christian music. I don’t just mean Bach & Handel. I’m a sucker for Christmas carols, Gospel, Protestant hymns, Gregorian chants. I find so much of it incredibly moving, both music and lyrics.
Even the Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) you hear all over the radio dial on long drives anywhere in the US. It’s always a cut above the pop and rock that it’s trying to convert you from.
There is a lot of anguish in CCM these days. The most common theme is about getting through hard times and loneliness with the knowledge and assurance of Jesus’ love and forgiveness. The songs are often addressed to Jesus/God Himself. It’s very powerful stuff.
And while some CCM invokes in ecstatic terms a life everlasting in Heaven, basking in God’s glory, eternal salvation, etc. there is not a lot of talk about Hell. I can see why. Hell has always been a hard sell for me. The afterlife in general, but particularly Hell. Why would a God of Love devise a place to punish and torture people for eternity?
So, I decided to write a Contemporary Christian song about going to Hell. I know it’s perverse. I’m not a Christian, I don’t believe in Hell. But the song takes Christian theology at its Word (as best as I can figure it). And Hell’s the place where people like me – who work on Sundays – are supposed to end up.
Now, I realize it’s easy for a secular agnostic like me to write a snarky song about Christian mythology. But I hope it doesn’t come across with smug reassurance. For while I’m dubious of the particulars of a Christian Hell, there is a larger philosophical question that Christianity is grappling with: Trying to reconcile the seeming unity of the universe with the multiplicity and antagonism of existence. Or why is there good and evil? And, to my mind, there is no satisfactory answer.
Christian archetypes are still very potent, demonstrated not only by the power of CCM, but also by the power of its counterpart, death metal. There are plenty of death metal songs that evoke Hell and Satan, and they are hair-raising and otherworldly. I can’t say where the energy for these archetypes comes from, but to deny them in the name of secularism feels like a cop out.
Given their power, the last thing I would want to do is make a song about going to Hell to glorify evil. So I endeavored to keep the music for my song very much in the light. I tried to be funny, but also make it uplifting. (I told you it was perverse.)
You may notice that my song is a bit more ornate than the usual CCM fare. I wanted it to be fancy and melismatic and beautiful, with fun churchy chords. And soaring strings and heroic French horns and a righteous choir!
To sing it, I knew it had to be Joe Moe. Joe is a beloved longtime collaborator. We go back nearly 40 years. We’ve written musicals, made records and lots of music together. He has a beautiful voice, and he’s a brilliant writer, artist and director. Also he has an equally perverse sense of humor.
Go in peace.