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An Islamist Bluegrass Homecoming

Exclusive commentary by Greg Lewis / WashingtonDispatch.com
December 17, 2003

I recently did something I don't normally do: I watched a program on the PBS network. The name of the program was "A Gospel Bluegrass Homecoming," and it was really something of a surprise to see this particular program show up on PBS, given the fact that the word "gospel" appears in the title. I had thought "gospel" would be was on the PBS list of forbidden words, much like "terrorist" is for Reuters. I confess that I fully expect PBS, in the interest of the fairness and balance they're so noted for — wait a minute, that's Fox News I'm thinking of . . . sorry — to air a counter-program entitled "An Islamist Bluegrass Homecoming."

And therein lies the rub, because what struck me most of all was the contrast between this Christian gospel bluegrass music I was listening to and what I imagined a similar Islamist music might be like. For starters, gospel bluegrass music is generally upbeat music. The artists singing and performing it are fulfilled in what they're doing. They're animated to the point where they almost seem to glow from within. There is the subdued joy of spiritual certainty in the slower, more somber pieces, and the faster, livelier ones are performed with an exuberance that simply cannot be manufactured.

Perhaps that's because of what they're singing about. The overriding message of gospel bluegrass music can be summed up in the phrase, "Come to Jesus." These artists are telling their audience about love and joy and grace and fearlessness. When they sing of death, they're not singing about the 72 virgins awaiting them as a reward for killing infidels by strapping homemade bombs to their chests and committing suicide while taking an unspecified number of non-believers with them. They're singing about a place where they'll "walk and talk and shout and sing, Just over in Heaven with Christ our King." They're singing about the knowing Christians can come to that an afterlife of peace awaits them "on God's golden shore," to cite a phrase describing the afterlife from one of the wonderful metaphors found in these songs. Indeed, the idea that "Jesus gave the light, I'm gonna let it shine" reverberates through all the music.

These are the same Christians, by the way, that the liberal left is so fearful of in America, the same Christians whose message the left is bent on suppressing, ostensibly in the name of separation of church and state. But one thing is clear: These Christians are not out to convert you or to judge you or to make you walk the line. On the contrary, they're out to spread the gospel through the gift of music which they have been given in such abundance. These are wonderfully accomplished — and I mean wonderfully accomplished — musicians and singers. They're so good it brings tears to your eyes. The beautiful and often eerily modal melodies and harmonies of such songs as the Nashville Bluegrass Band's "The Gospel Plow" and Marty Raybon's "Get Up In Jesus' Name" derive from music that has been passed down through centuries by precisely such artists as these. Even Ralph Stanley's plaintive "A Robin Built a Nest on Daddy's Grave" manages, through the bone-deep buzzsaw urgency of Stanley's delivery, to avoid cheap sentimentality. It's the real thing, I can tell you.

The David Letterman Show recently featured a mock commercial for a CD, "An Al Qaeda Christmas." The commercial showed Osama bin Laden and various other terrorists "singing" their version of several Christmas carols. The voices that had been dubbed in for them were droning, non-melodic, lifeless, and the message of the "lyrics" they sang was of their intent to commit acts of terrorism. It underscores a huge hole in the liberal left's positions against Christianity in the United States.

First, make no mistake that Christianity (and, by extension, often Judaism as well) is under attack by the left. Their assault on a religion whose message is peace, brotherly love, grace, and hope is perfectly in keeping with their own implicit and explicit support of terrorism and tyranny, based on the regimes which benefit from their policies of appeasement and willful ignorance. The fact that those on the left, in so many of their positions, implicitly condone murder and terrorism while mouthing words that espouse the cause of "peace" only underscores their dangerously schizophrenic mentality. When Howard Dean or Teddy Kennedy or Al Gore speak, their voices are lackluster and uninspired, and you know immediately that the words they're saying are somehow divorced from the real meaning of their message. It is, indeed, very much like hearing Osama bin Laden sing Christmas carols.

The fact is that it's impossible to imagine Islamists creating and performing music that has the wonderfully uplifting and positive message that Christian gospel bluegrass music has. It's very tough to sing about the joys of living in caves and murdering innocent men, women, and children, and make a thinking audience buy the idea that you're promoting a religion of peace, which is in effect precisely what Islamists and those on the left in America are trying to do. Americans are having their eyes opened concerning the left's real message. When liberals say they're against violence but in fact support terrorist governments, they increasingly risk being "outed" by sensible people. When they say they're for freedom of religion but then selectively deny Christians the right to publicly express their faith, while at the same time granting that right to Muslims, they're promulgating a message that just isn't playing in Peoria any more.

The substance of bluegrass gospel songs is Christianity, and it's a pretty fundamentalist version of same. But these singers and musicians are not railing against abortion or against Catholics or Methodists or Buddhists. They're not singing about social issues or other religions. They're telling their listeners about Jesus, and about Grace, and about forgiveness, and they're doing it in musically most original ways, even though they're working within a tradition that has roots many centuries deep.

In the end, you're either in favor of true Christian values and freedom of religion, or you're not. If, like the liberal Left, you're not, then bluegrass gospel music presents a definite threat. If you are, then you'd better quit standing up in front of the mike and broadcasting your thinly veiled leftist message of violence and hatred and intolerance. To do less would be un-Christian.

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