I readily admit to blasting pop and hip-hop radio in the car, and until recently I begrudgingly confessed to listening to a “family” station as well. This station played a lot of folk-rock and piano-driven pop that was not on other channels, but their play lists became increasingly Christian of late and I eventually realized they no longer play songs I like. The songs all sound the same now – a mix of bland melodies and tame rock ditties – and the lyrics are obtrusively Christian. Although the station played the odd Christian song before and DJs sometimes touted faith-based messages between tracks, I’d been willing to simply flip channels and tune back in a few minutes later when that happened. I’m sure I even drove along rocking out to a Christian song once or twice because I simply liked the refrain and didn’t notice the subtly religious lyrics. With the station’s new direction, however, the music just isn’t catchy enough to keep me coming back.
The fact that I ever listened to a radio station with remotely religious undertones is out of character for me, but I can’t help wondering if I would have kept tuning in had it been only the lyrics that changed and not the music. I mean, don’t people listen to “Ave Maria” or Klezmer music all the time and simply bask in the harmonies? Doesn’t truly great music transcend language and religion, anyway?
The more I think about it, I realize music is not the only art form with these transcendent qualities. People of diverse religions appreciate Mayan artifacts, Catholic pietàs and Islamic mosques alike. In somewhat rarer cases, this even applies to literature. In fact, I have numerous agnostic friends who adore Flannery O’Connor, an author whose writing is steeped in her own Roman-Catholic faith. Themes of faith are omnipresent in O’Connor’s writing, but her stories and characters are so vivid that these religious overtones can either be analyzed in an academic manner or ignored. The fact that religious novels and short stories – art forms rooted in language and theme – can appeal to people of multiple faiths is really quite astounding. However, if my experience with FM radio can teach us anything it’s that faith-based art better be damn good if it’s going to appeal to diverse audiences. If not, people won’t hesitate to touch that dial.