September 4, 2017

Kesha “Praying” To An Unknown God

Will the Universe help those who have been abused?

By In Music
// by Tyler Zach //


Kesha, the world-famous pop star with a “$” sign in her name, has now dropped the dollar sign and started “praying.” That’s enough to get our attention.

Has Kesha become a Christian? One might think so after listening to the song lyrics and watching her music video filled with Christian imagery. The setting for the music video takes place at an outsider art project known as Salvation Mountain. She dances around in bright dresses and an angel costume with “God is Love” in the background. In one scene Kesha can be found kneeling before a red neon cross, praying. 

You can watch the music video for Praying here

Never At Peace

But the music video also has a dark side. Kesha is chased by men with realistic-looking pig masks on their heads. This most likely is a visual representation of the last four years of her life. In a letter to Lenny, Kesha explained:

“There were so many days, months even, when I didn’t want to get out of bed. I spent all day wanting to go to sleep, and then when I did fall asleep, I had horrible night terrors where I would physically cry and scream through the dark. I was never at peace, night or day. But I dragged myself out of bed and took my emotions to the studio and made art out of them.”

Soon after Kesha went into rehab for depression and an eating disorder, she battled through a lengthy lawsuit with her manager Dr. Luke who she claims abused her emotionally and sexually. The song Praying is obviously about him:

Verse 1

Well, you almost had me fooled
Told me that I was nothing without you
Oh, but after everything you’ve done
I can thank you for how strong I have become

Pre-Chorus

‘Cause you brought the flames and you put me through hell
I had to learn how to fight for myself
And we both know all the truth I could tell
I’ll just say this is “I wish you farewell”

Praying For The Enemy

What is rather surprising at this point is that Kesha refrains from the typical, vindictive, blaming, vengeful attitude that you’d expect one to have in her situation and instead sings blessing over Dr. Luke. 

Bridge

Oh, sometimes I pray for you at night
Someday, maybe you’ll see the light
Oh, some say, in life, you’re gonna get what you give
But some things only God can forgive

Chorus

I hope you’re somewhere prayin’, prayin’
I hope your soul is changin’, changin’
I hope you find your peace
Falling on your knees, prayin’

Along with the powerful melody, Kesha’s sincere lyrics here are emotionally moving. Here is a woman who has been harmed by someone and yet is praying for them and crying out for them to change.

Kesha wants to spread this message to help others find healing. She said,

“I have realized through this long journey of ups and downs that if I’m lucky enough to have a voice that people listen to, then I should use it for good and for truth. I’ve battled intense anxiety and depression, a relentless eating disorder, and all the other basic bullshit that comes with being human. I know I’m not alone in that battle. Finding the strength to come forward about these things is not easy, but I want to help others who are going through tough times.”

Praise for Praying

Her message is working. One sexual assault survivor came out and said:

“Kesha’s new song, ‘Praying,’ has struck something in me that no amount of therapy, antidepressants or good friends could help me get through… I’ve finally found something that has given me the validation I haven’t found anywhere else. I felt understood, empowered and deeply moved by the [lyrics]… In a little over three minutes, my perspective changed on an event that has so deeply impacted my life.” 

Kesha’s new album is being widely praised by Christians. If you put Kesha’s lyrics in the context of an overarching Christian worldview, her message of forgiveness works very well. That’s why a recent Relevant Magazine article gave Praying a raving review. Kesha also expresses her religious doubts as a result of her depression – which is liberating for some to hear because doubt is not something that is tolerated by some churches. They find the brutal honesty in the spoken word introduction in Kesha’s music video refreshing:

Am I dead? Or is this one of those dreams? Those horrible dreams that seem like they last forever? If I am alive, why? If there is a God or whatever, something, somewhere, why have I been abandoned by everyone and everything I’ve ever known? I’ve ever loved? Stranded. What is the lesson? What is the point? God, give me a sign, or I have to give up. I can’t do this anymore. Please just let me die. Being alive hurts too much.

The outsider art project “Salvation Mountain” where Kesha filmed her music video.

Is Kesha a Christian?

At this point, while I don’t want to diminish the affirmation I have for Kesha spreading a positive message to millions of people, I also want to gently point out that she’s not a Christian as her music video might lead some to believe. As Hemant Mehta, editor of Friendly Atheist, points out, “while the video includes all sorts of Christian imagery, the message throughout the song is that Kesha isn’t relying on the traditional Christian God for any change.” 

What Kesha doesn’t make clear about her religious beliefs in Praying she does make clear in her letter to Lenny:

“For me, God is not a bearded man sitting in the clouds or a judgmental, homophobic tyrant waiting to send everyone to eternal damnation. God is nature and space and energy and the universe. My own interpretation of spirituality isn’t important, because we all have our own. What matters is that I have something greater than me as an individual that helps bring me peace. This is one of the reasons why I love swimming way, way out into the middle of the ocean and just letting the sea carry my body. It is my greatest form of surrender to the universe, a full-body prayer — or meditation. This song is about me finding peace in the fact that I can’t control everything — because trying to control everyone was killing me. It’s about learning to let go and realize that the universe is in control of my fate, not me.”

Kesha has a new age or pantheistic religion which has implications for her message of forgiveness. Pantheism (pan-all and theism-god) is the view that god is in everything, including the coffee you are drinking and the chair you are sitting on. This is a foundational belief for Hindus, Buddhists, and new age believers. 

The Problem of New Age Theology for Abuse Victims

There is a huge limitation to new age theology and its pantheistic roots when you apply it to those who have been abused or treated unfairly – namely, the problem of evil. C.S. Lewis addressed this problem in his book, Mere Christianity:

“If you do not take the distinction between good and bad very seriously, then it is easy to say that anything you find in this world is a part of God.  But, of course, if you think some things really bad, and God really good, then you cannot talk like that.  You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to His will.  Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, ‘If you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realize that this also is God.’  The Christian replies, ‘Don’t talk damned nonsense.’”

What Lewis is getting at here, and why you start to see some “Aslan-style” righteous anger emerge, is that the pantheistic worldview is not helpful for victims of abuse. If there is no separation between good and evil it means that God is “in” our abusers. Moreover, because evil is not viewed as a real substance or power but rather an illusion, you can’t tell a victim that a real crime was done to them with real evil intent.

There are real problems here for Kesha and the people she is trying to comfort if you try and practically apply the new age worldview a little further:

  • If a person continues to hurt another person over and over again should we still treat it as an illusion? 
  • Is there a point at which you would have to stop blaming harmful acts on ignorance and start calling them malicious?
  • If people do everything out of ignorance does that free a guilty person from having to take responsibility for their actions or be judged if they don’t?
  • If evil is an illusion, why does the pain feel so real?
  • Are all the second-person lies that you hear in your head (e.g. “It’s YOUR fault…”) an illusion or could it be real spiritual warfare? 

Jesus vs. the Universe

I think Christianity has a more helpful theology for those who have been harmed or abused. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus encounters a demon-possessed man who has been tormented night and day. We read that he can’t stop crying out and cutting himself. Jesus identifies the source of the problem (evil spirits), asks them for a name (Legion), and physically casts them out into the herd of pigs.

Though I know I’m using a dramatic possession story here, the point is that Jesus did not counsel this man by asking him to view his torment and tormentor as an illusion. That wouldn’t have healed him. Rather, Jesus treated evil as real and used his power to overcome the man’s oppressor. As a result, he was restored to full physical and emotional health. Jesus identified the oppressor, named the oppressor, and overpowered the oppressor on the man’s behalf. That’s what anyone who has been abused truly needs. They need to have their oppressor and experience validated as real and they need to know where to find hope. For the Christian, it’s in a real person, Jesus Christ, rather than the unpredictable cosmic force of the Universe which Kesha says controls her fate. 

Praying for Kesha

Kesha is almost there. I’m amazed at the transformation that has happened in her life. She’s no longer the woman singing about getting drunk with a sassy attitude, but has come out with an album that is more mature, raw, and authentic. I want to affirm the courage she had to come out publicly with the news about her abuse so that she can help others pursue healing as well. 

I will be praying that Kesha sees Jesus as infinitely better than the “Universe” when it comes to handling pain and suffering. 

The Recap

  • Kesha’s outward honesty with her doubts, anxiety, and depression is something that Christians should learn from.
  • When we as Christians listen to Kesha’s message of praying for your enemy, and put it in the context of a Christian worldview, it is powerful and effective.
  • Kesha’s own new age worldview creates real problems when it comes to dealing with evil and suffering. Jesus provides a better way. 

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