Even before Oprah signed off for the last time (well, besides her OWN channel, O magazine, etc.), she had been replaced…by Lady Gaga. This, according to Forbes Magazine’s annual list of 100 most powerful celebrities. Fittingly, Lady Gaga just released her newest album, “Born This Way” (BTW) which is also the title of the album’s most popular song.* Both Oprah and Lady Gaga have seen fit to use their influence to proclaim a message to the world, presumably acting upon the wise words of Spiderman’s Uncle Ben, “With great power comes great responsibility” (or was that Voltaire…or Jesus?).
Christians, like everyone else, consume heaping helpings of culture on a daily basis. The question we need to ask is, “Are we wise consumers of culture?” I believe this is a critical aspect of discipleship. We need to be able to recognize where God’s Story is being told- whether consciously or unconsciously- and where alternative stories are being promoted. Author Sam van Eman (his book is in our church library) calls this contrast “Gospel vs. SimGospel” (something that is similar to the Gospel, but with a twist). I want to explore where we see these stories/gospels mixed in with Lady Gaga’s music and message.
First of all, I think there are a couple ways we see God’s Story shining through Lady Gaga. We should expect to see glimpses of our Creator in every person since we have been created “in God’s image.” I think we see some of God’s wonderful creativity in Lady Gaga’s art, from her music to her fashion to the ways she conveys her image to the world. BTW may not be the most musically creative song she has written, but the video reveals her penchant for thinking outside the box and communicating creatively. We also see Jesus’ concern for the outcast and rejected in Gaga’s message, specifically in BTW. Jesus was criticized for eating and otherwise hobnobbing with the “untouchables” and “others” of his day. I am grateful for Lady Gaga and others who are using their voice to expose the sins of bullying and hatred and to encourage those who have been victimized.
Make no mistake, Gaga- who freely invokes God and spirituality in her songs, and hypothesizes divine inspiration for her BTW chorus- is doing theology and evangelism. But is this a message Christians should embrace as our own? Ultimately, I think BTW presents a shallow (twisted?) version of Jesus’ Gospel. Though the song and video are ripe with images and ideas to discuss, I’d like to focus only on the central concept of the song from the chorus: “I’m beautiful in my way ’cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track; baby, I was born this way!”
1) The chorus assumes that if we were born a certain way, then it is good, since “God makes no mistakes.” Yet, people are born with genetic diseases, predispositions to alcoholism or other addictions, and deformities. We wouldn’t say to an alcoholic, “You were born that way, so just embrace it and follow your lust for alcohol!” Knowing someone was born a certain way might help us to have compassion and withhold judgment, but it does not mean that the born-into condition is good or “the right track.” If we look at the biblical Story, these types of conditions are not results of God’s “mistakes,” but rather of the depths to which sin and curse have woven their way into the fabric of God’s good creation.
2) Similarly, while I won’t get into any doctrine of “Original Sin,” the Bible seems to suggest that we at least have a “predisposition” to sin. Let’s put it this way: parents don’t have to teach their children to be bad. The biblical Story urges us to beware that what comes naturally is not necessarily what is good from a moral standpoint.
3) This is a shallow understanding of human development. The idea that at 25 years-old (Gaga’s age), one’s whole identity has been shaped by one’s birth should make us scratch our heads. This implication neglects the impact of family, education, religious upbringing, and all other environmental factors on identity and character formation. Basically, it is radical individualism (no one impacts me but me) and biological determinism (my genes made me do it) to an unsound extreme.
4) The Gospel is about new birth and transformation. It has been rightly said, “God loves us where we are, but he loves us too much to leave us there.” Through the grace of Jesus and the life of discipleship, we are called to become who we were created to be, not remain/recover the way we were born. When Jesus talks about “becoming like a child,” he is referring to an attitude toward God that brings nothing to the negotiating table but a sense of need and dependence. He is not saying that we should neglect character formation or desire for an increasingly mature faith.
Lady Gaga’s intention, I believe, is good. She desires to free people from the burdens of shame, of feeling unloved, and being insecure. In this, she shares in some of Jesus’ concerns and compassions. But instead of treating these symptoms by throwing off any standards or accountability, he offers us forgiveness. Instead of offering us the abundant company of those on the wide road, he calls us to the narrow road of Spirit-empowered transformation. Instead of calling us to love ourselves, he invites us to find our security in the perfect and unchanging love of God. I believe this Gospel is what truly leads to lives and communities of joy, love, hope, and peace.
*After much internal debate, I’ve decided to link the music video/script with a warning: I rate the video “R” for sexuality, one of the song’s predominant themes. If I am going to talk about a song, I feel that it is right to let that song speak for itself. I don’t believe you need me to be your cultural censor. You may decide not to watch, which might be best for some. If you do watch, please do so thoughtfully, as the video is packed with theological ideas and images: http://lybio.net/lady-gaga-born-this-way-extended-video/pop-music/
Lady Gaga’s wikipedia bio (note the irony that she does not use the name she was born with…obviously): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Gaga#1986.E2.80.932004:_Early_life
Some reviews of Lady Gaga’s newest release (Christian and non-Christian, positive and critical):
Interview on “The View”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rF3bR2RG7KM