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Is country music more religious than rock?

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A quick listen to Boston's WKLB-FM gives a quick impression that God hangs out more often with the country crowd than the rockers elsewhere on the dial.

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It's not surprising. From its gospel roots, to stars like Dolly Parton who aren't shy about expressing their faith, to more recent hits like “That's Why I Pray” (see the video on YouTube) and “Cowboys and Angels” -- country music has long been a more “spiritual” genre. Chances are, you'll find many more songs on a typical country station that feature mentions of God than most other brands of music do.

There are even pieces like “If You're Going Through Hell” by Rodney Atkins, that aren't divinity school material, but yet express a simple, thoughtful, yet whimsical theology all the same. The refrain goes “If you're goin' through hell, keep on going. Don't slow down if you're scared, don't show it. You might get out before the devil even knows you're there.”

The rest of the song isn't that different from the trials and tribulations of Job in the Old Testament. In more high-falutin' terms, his experience is like going through a “dark night of the soul.” And we can all relate to that. In the end, of course, he takes a very positive approach, advising us to “face that fire, walk right through it.” Norman Vincent Peale, Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, and numerous others have said similar things, essentially encouraging us to persist in our efforts, look on the bright side, and know that God is there with us.

"That's Why I Pray," by the group Big & Rich, is another song commenting on all the unfortunate, bad things happening all around us--but, again, with a refrain that says "I believe in better days. That's why I pray," and a comment that the singer/songwriter not only desires forgiveness, but also wants to make a difference.

“Cowboys and Angels” is more of a love song than a theological piece. But again, another God-mention: “Maybe God just kinda likes cowboys and angels.” The easy, casual way that God-mentions are dropped into many of these songs speaks volumes about an everyday faith that doesn't just come out on Sundays.

The nice thing is, most of these songs don't try to hit listeners over the head with their beliefs. They're not created to be hard-line, high pressure, evangelizing or proselytizing tools. The way these messages are delivered, one gets the idea that you can take it or leave it, no questions asked.

Basically, it's a very practical, down-to-earth expression of God's presence in our lives, and the ways that we all journey together, growing in our faith. It's a process (yes, you can call it process theology!) best expressed by another country song from a few years back: “Life's a dance, you learn as you go, sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow. Don't worry about what you don't know, life's a dance, you learn as you go.”

Now, that piece by John Michael Montgomery doesn't actually mention God, but the thought behind the lyrics (and the symbolic illustration of a dance) isn't that far off from traditional church sermons. And need we mention the popular faith song “Lord of the Dance,” which tells of the triumph of Jesus over the cross? That one doesn't call out God or Jesus by name either, but it powerfully and successfully gets the message across, just the same.

Can anyone imagine songs like these playing on rock or contemporary hits stations? Not in a million years.

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