Equal and Opposite Sins?

At college (Ricks College, which really dates me!), one of the oddest controversies I encountered dealt with students complaining that the DJs were playing a filthy, dirty song about sex at every dance.  Now, I have no complaints about people actually complaining about songs that are actually and explicitly about sex, but this one was a bizarre one:  “Life is a Highway” by Tom Cochrane (this also dates me, since most people are more familiar with the recent Rascal Flatts in the Pixar Cars movie).

A couple of my roommates were actually going on a rant about what a horrible, awful, terrible, bad, no good song this was and the college really should crack down on that.

I asked them why they thought it was such a terrible song; they refused to explain it to me, telling me I must be too naive to understand the real meaning behind the song.  The only hint they gave was that the phrase “all night long” should make it obvious.

Now, this, to me, is an overzealousness to find sin in others.  Sometimes we spend too much time looking for sin, for things to condemn, we start seeing that sin where it really isn’t – and that itself can be a sin.

However, while finding sex and drugs and whatnot else in places they really don’t exist (and frankly, there are enough songs that deserve condemnation, forcing such a reading on otherwise good songs is foolishness) is a problem on the more conservative end of the Mormon spectrum, I find the more liberal end has its own fair share of such looking for sins that aren’t really there.

The more liberal students I knew would often mock conservative students for such idiocy, but then turn around and insist on seeing racism and sexism in places it wasn’t apparent (dog whistles, subtle meanings, etc.).  That, to me, is just as foolish and, yes, sinful.

Some mock and ridicule people who like to focus on the positives of church culture and defend it against people who (seem to) see mostly things to condemn as claiming “all is well in Zion.”

But claiming “pretty much everything stinks in Zion” is just as wrongheaded.

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About Ivan Wolfe

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was over 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has six kids and four stepkids.

13 thoughts on “Equal and Opposite Sins?

  1. Ha! My husband won’t let us call it BYU-I, only Ricks.

    But, thank you for this post. This week I have just seen this very thing all over social media, at least for me. Everyone is mad about something unimportant. It’s making me crazy.

  2. I wonder if it is possible in the circumstances you mention to be as Christ-like as possible. Here is one possible road: don’t listen to the songs you think have dirty meanings and try not to be around songs you dislike but don’t spend your time condemning other people who may like those songs. Live and let live. At the same time, assume that most people are trying to be good and decent and that not everything is about racism and/or sexism. I wonder if life would be better if people tried to look at the positives in the people around them rather than the negatives.

  3. But Geoff – focusing on the positives would be like stating “all is well in Zion!” and the scriptures condemn that attitude! The scriptures therefore command us to seek out the negatives!

    [Note: not serious; that was sarcasm].

  4. Once upon a time, I had no idea what the song “Lola”, by The Kinks (if I’m not mistaken) was about. That is, until a fellow ward member slightly older than myself explained it to me at the church dance while it was playing.

  5. Well, I have lots of odd stories about songs at church dances – of course, one reason I stopped going to church dances (even the ones that are aimed at married couples like Valentine Day dances and the like) is that the DJs just don’t give a da[rn] about the music and its lyrics and play blatant and explicit songs (though not all the time, I get the idea they like to sneak one or two in to feel rebellious or whatever), and apparently the members don’t care. Rather than make a scene or whatnot, I just don’t go.

    However, music and church dances is only a example, not really the main point of the post.

  6. Aaagh – the soft (and not so soft) pornographic imagery that has been set forth to music, poetry and ordinary literature since the beginning of time. It’s reflected in off color jokes, rhymes, song and scripture (since we don’t feel Song of Solomon to be overly inspired). Yes, there needs to be temperance and objectivity in most things, with the possible exceptions of our testimonies of basic gospel beliefs.

  7. I’m really impressed with your roommates. Not even I, as sexually repressed as I was, would have thought of sex when hearing, “life is a highway, I wanna ride it all night long.” We should be glad LDS guys are so incredibly sensitive to sexual suggestion. This is great for baby-making.

  8. My wife and I were DJs for about 26 years and we played a tons of Church dances in California. We were extremely judicious about reviewing the words of all the new songs that came out to determine if they were acceptable to play at a dance. Since we took requests, the kids would try to sneak by a song or two we had already deemed inappropriate. If I would say to them, “sorry, can’t play that one.” And they would ask “why/” I’d say, third verse, second line…” And then they would invariably say, “Oh yeah.” That kind of stuff happened less frequently once they knew that I knew my stuff.

    The other aspect was the fact that some expressions changed over time. A Beach Boys song that says, “let be together all night long” meant until 11PM while these days that same phrase means exactly what you think it means and it doesn’t mean sit and talk.

    I also remember a song that had some phrase, “the body bliss” which I played at one Stake Dance. A parent came up to me and siad, “Do you know what that means?” And I said, “not really.” And the parent said, “I can’t believe you played that!” Even though I still don’t know what that means, I never played it again. Better to stay away from that sort of thing when there are a million song I can play.

    but I do agree with Ivan, there seems to be too much focus n the negative. I think that is a Bloggernacle problem, not a Church problem.

  9. i can’t seem to remember the exact words to search for to find the verse, but doesn’t the OT condemn those who watch/wait/look for sin in others? Any scriptorians know the word/verses I’m thinking of?

    Anyways, it’s a common human trait to look for flaws in others when you’re feeling bad about yourself. Somehow dwelling on pointing out and complaining about other people or conditions/situations makes you feel better about yourself, as in “At least I don’t do THAT!” or “That (bad) thing wouldn’t happen if _I_ were in charge!”

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