Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Human Mind: As a Man Thinketh, So is He (Part 2)

(You can read Part 1 here.)
To continue exploring why we are quite literally what we think, I want to focus today on one of the many modes of thought communication, perhaps the most important one: music. A talk by Lex de Azevedo entitled "A Closer Look at Popular Music," (Ensign, March 1985) states:

Music is so powerful that it affects even our physical beings. A force so powerful that it can influence our hearts, our glands, and our muscles is a force to be reckoned with. The influence is significant enough that we should take care what kind of music we allow into our homes. Music also has great power on our emotions. Music has been called the universal language because it speaks directly to our emotions. And our emotions and feelings influence our actions. Music is the sugar coating that makes “bitter” lyrics palatable. We may become so infatuated with the rhythm, melody, or singer of a song that we transfer this emotion to the words, not caring what they really say. Even if the words are drug-oriented, erotic, violent, satanic, or just plain silly—when tied to a “hit” tune, they sneak past the screening mechanism of the brain to be stored in the subconscious, and to affect the listener accordingly. Many people who listen to popular music claim that they never listen to the lyrics and that the messages never affect them. Research, however, shows that our brains are marvelously perceptive; they pick up almost any message within sight or sound, whether we consciously know it or not. Those subconsciously received messages may have as much an effect on us as the messages we consciously seek out. While many songs are bad because they stress the trivial and selfish things of this world (such as fame, wealth, and cheap thrills), the most objectionable of all focus on illegal drugs, illicit sex, violence, and satanism.

Brother de Azevedo goes on to describe the ways in which certain types of destructive messages have been placed within much of popular music:

Music about Drugs. Beer-drinking songs have been around for centuries. But in the mid-sixties, a new kind of song appeared. Mystical lyrics with obscure words sang of the pleasures of a different kind of artificial stimulant. Songs about illegal drugs, from marijuana to LSD, began to appear on the pop charts. At first, society wouldn’t tolerate an open endorsement of illegal drugs, so double entendre and hidden code words were used to spread the gospel of drug usage to an ever-growing underground. Later, references to drugs became more open. Has the popular music of our time helped to lead the children of this generation to their widespread experimentation with drugs? It may be impossible to scientifically prove a cause-effect relationship, but I think common sense leads us inescapably to that conclusion.
Music about Sex. Over 70 percent of all popular songs are about love. At least, that’s what certain studies have shown. But actually, many of those songs are about lust, the counterfeit of love. Songs and poems of adultery and fornication are nothing new; every generation has had its fill of them. But in order to make their product more and more exciting—and sell more songs—record producers have gradually added additional perversions to their traditional preoccupation with illicit sex. Today, songs containing references to homosexuality, transvestism, sodomy, masturbation, sadomasochism, rape, prostitution, venereal disease, child abuse, and incest have all been added to the musical menu.
Sexual immorality and drug usage have always gone on in secret, but never before in our society have they been the openly admitted and accepted norm. Within the last ten to twenty years, we have experienced a revolution in the values our society deems acceptable. Today, almost all former sexual taboos are considered light humor in most television shows and movies. Without ever subjecting these vital issues to a rational debate, many people have allowed their attitude toward sin to change from hatred to endurance to pity to embracing. I am convinced that of the many factors which aided this revolution, music has been a major one.
Songs of Violence. A member of a group that has been called “America’s foremost sex-and-violence band” told a nationwide television audience: “Rock ’n roll has always been sexual. Rock ’n roll has always been violent. It has teeth. It will scratch your face off. That’s why I like it.” Rock music may have always been violent, but it has become increasingly so in recent years. At concerts of one rock band, for example, dark-hooded characters performed mock acts of violence onstage, imitating child abuse.
Satanic Songs. Moroni 7:17 [Moro. 7:17] tells us that anything that persuades us to do evil (such as the songs referred to in the previous sections) is ultimately “of the devil.” But, unfortunately, several groups have progressed beyond merely trying to persuade us to do evil. By their own boasting, many have become heavily involved in the occult, in witchcraft, in black magic, and in Satan worship itself. Such groups use their music and their lyrics to spread this mysticism and demonology to their listening public.

Brother de Azevedo also points out that:

Music is one of the Lord’s greatest tools in helping us build spirituality. But it is also one of the adversary’s deadliest weapons. Using it, he creates sugar-coated poison that can slowly destroy all our brightest dreams and leave us spiritually wounded. The irony is that we take this deadly spiritual poison voluntarily into our homes, schools, and churches. We share it with our loved ones. We pay millions of dollars a year for the privilege of exposing ourselves to it. Like foolish Trojans, we open the gates of our strongholds and let the enemy in. The prophets of the Lord understand this process and have given us this sharp admonition: “Come ye out from the wicked, and be ye separate, and touch not their unclean things.” (Alma 5:57.) I believe that much of today’s music can be counted among these “unclean things.” When we consider music’s impact on us, and how many thousands of hours we listen to it throughout our lives, it seems wise to choose for ourselves and our families music which builds up our spiritual reserves rather than that which continually wears them down. Music is such an important—and powerful—part of our lives that we should consider our listening habits thoughtfully and prayerfully. If we remember our eternal goals, we will seek out music that will help us, rather than hinder us.

Our beloved Prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, had much to say about music and its effect on us in a talk entitled, "Satan’s Thrust—Youth" (Ensign, December 1971:

It has been well said that “there comes a time when the general defilement of a society becomes so great that the rising generation is put under undue pressure and cannot be said to have a fair choice between the Way of Light and the Way of Darkness.” (Hugh Nibley, "An Approach to the Book of Mormon", 1957.) We live in a wicked world. Never in our memory have the forces of evil been arrayed in such deadly formation. The devil is well organized. Never in our day has he had so many emissaries working for him. Through his many agents, his satanic majesty has proclaimed his intentions to destroy one whole generation of our choice young people….“And the most diabolical deceit of this infamy is that it denies evil to be an absolute. Our religion is one of absolutes and cannot be rationalized into a relativistic philosophy of the ‘liberal Mormons.’ We cannot safely rationalize away righteousness. “What could be more misguided than fear that ‘if rock music were not endorsed by our leaders, we may lose many young people.’ (MIA music committee.) Even now we are losing them to the songs of Satan, drugs, sex, riot, and apostasy. We could be well reminded by a message from the Mormon Miracle pageant: ‘Moroni knew that you cannot compromise with evil. If you do, evil always wins.’ ” (Richard Nibley, excerpts from letter.) This great and momentous responsibility and challenge comes at a most difficult time. Never have the forces of evil been so insidious, widespread, and enticing. Everywhere there seems to be a cheapening, weakening, downgrading of all that is fine, good, and uplifting—all aimed at our youth while many of their parents are lulled away into a false security as they enjoy their comfortable complacency. All is not well in Zion.

President Benson goes on to explain how insidious these false messages are:

A state of confusion is an effective environment for Satan. There is much confusion today. He employs several methods to create it. One is the distortion of definitions. To describe a drug experience he uses the term ‘mind expanding’ rather than the more accurate description of ‘reality shrinking.’ “Freedom", a word of noble tradition, is a favorite confuser. Riots, bombings, arson, and killings are committed in the name of freedom. License and anarchy are products of these false freedoms. “Tolerance" is a word valuable in the service of Satan. [As I read this week, "tolerance" has become a euphemism for intolerance!] Ridicule works well in collaboration with confusion. To confuse youth in its searching years, the cynic defends his degeneracy by ridiculing his critics with confusing metaphors.... The philosophy of relativism attacks the eternal principles of truth. The relativist will say, ‘If one sees filthy implications in a popular song, it is because he has a dirty mind.’ The logic of this philosophy finds its fallacy in the word implications. No filth is implied in many of the lyrics. It is proclaimed. If there are any doubts as to the insidious evil of rock, you can judge by its fruits. Its ultimate achievement is that contemporary phenomenon, the mammoth rock music festival. [Can you say Live 8?] The Spirit of the Lord blesses that which edifies and leads men to Christ. Would his Spirit bless with its presence these festering festivals of human degradation cured in LSD, marijuana, and Speed [and many other more modern drugs!]? Would he be pleased by the vulgar display of unashamed nudity and immorality? The speech of the rock festival is often obscene. Its music, crushing the sensibilities in a din of primitive idolatry, is in glorification of the physical to the debasement of the spirit. In the long panorama of man’s history, these youthful rock music festivals are among Satan’s greatest successes. The legendary orgies of Greece and Rome cannot compare to the monumental obscenities found in these cesspools of drugs, immorality, rebellion, and pornophonic sound.

Elder Boyd K. Packer's talk entitled “Inspiring Music—Worthy Thoughts” (Ensign, January 1974) offers some very practical counsel on how to learn to control our thoughts by training our minds to stay on righteous paths (which will cause the brain to allow the lesser-used pathways to decay!):

Probably the greatest challenge to people of any age, particularly young people, and the most difficult thing you will face in mortal life is to learn to control your thoughts. As a man “thinketh in his heart, so is he.” (Prov. 23:7.) One who can control his thoughts has conquered himself. …I had been told a hundred times or more as I grew up that thoughts must be controlled. But no one told me how. I want to tell you young people about one way you can learn to control your thoughts, and it has to do with music. The mind is like a stage. Except when we are asleep the curtain is always up. There is always some act being performed on that stage. It may be a comedy, a tragedy, interesting or dull, good or bad; but always there is some act playing on the stage of the mind. Have you noticed that without any real intent on your part, in the middle of almost any performance, a shady little thought may creep in from the wings and attract your attention? These delinquent thoughts will try to upstage everybody. If you permit them to go on, all thoughts of any virtue will leave the stage. You will be left, because you consented to it, to the influence of unrighteous thoughts. If you yield to them, they will enact for you on the stage of your mind anything to the limits of your toleration. .. They can make it interesting all right, even convince you that it is innocent—for they are but thoughts. What do you do at a time like that, when the stage of your mind is commandeered by the imps of unclean thinking? If you can control your thoughts, you can overcome habits, even degrading personal habits. If you can learn to master them you will have a happy life. Choose from among the sacred music of the Church a favorite hymn, one with words that are uplifting and music that is reverent, one that makes you feel something akin to inspiration. …Now, use this hymn as the place for your thoughts to go. Make it your emergency channel. Whenever you find these shady actors have slipped from the sidelines of your thinking onto the stage of your mind, put on this record, as it were. As the music begins and as the words form in your thoughts, the unworthy ones will slip shamefully away. It will change the whole mood on the stage of your mind. Because it is uplifting and clean, the baser thoughts will disappear. For while virtue, by choice, will not associate with filth, evil cannot tolerate the presence of light. Once you learn to clear the stage of your mind from unworthy thoughts, keep it busy with learning worthwhile things. Change your environment so that you have things about you that will inspire good and uplifting thoughts. …Young people, you cannot afford to fill your mind with the unworthy hard music of our day. It is not harmless. It can welcome onto the stage of your mind unworthy thoughts and set the tempo to which they dance and to which you may act. You degrade yourself when you identify with all of those things which seem now to surround such extremes in music: the shabbiness, the irreverence, the immorality, and the addictions. Such music as that is not worthy of you. ...You are a son or a daughter of Almighty God. He has inspired a world full of wonderful things to learn and to do, uplifting music of many kinds that you may enjoy. …The Lord has said, “For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads.” (D&C 25:12.)

Among all the modes of communication in the world, music is certainly one of the most powerful, and as these talks have shown, one that we need to make certain is a force for good in our lives, and in our own minds. We are, in a very real way, a sum total of what we put into our minds, as that will affect what we do with our lives. As I continue on with this series, I want to explore the other powerful influences on our minds, from the movies we watch, the books and magazines we read, the conversations we hold with others or even ourselves (daydreams and fantasies), and our prayers and meditations. Hopefully, this exercise will strengthen our awareness of how important what we ingest into our mind is from an eternal perspective, as it literally shapes who we are.
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