The term “tragic excuse for a government” is probably making its way round the Internet accompanied by many a chuckle. The eloquence of death metal band Watain, when it was unceremoniously dumped from a concert line-up in Singapore – for reasons of, no surprise, “public order interest” and “religious and social harmony” – would have led to cheers from its fans.
The stab was even more pointed when Watain chose to prelude their exit with a meet-and-greet with their fans – no protest, no big ruckus. That alone would have proved beyond doubt that the government’s claim of public order concerns was little more than tragic paranoia.
Christian groups, on the other hand, would be cheering even louder than Watain fans. The National Council of Churches appears to believe that it has finally gotten the government to do its bidding, when it welcomed the government’s decision to cancel Watain’s concert, particularly since the band’s “sacrilegious attacks on the Christian faith through their songs” were “disruptive and hurtful to the cause of religious harmony”.
Everyone’s happy, and the only one left licking its broken ego like a wounded puppy is the Singapore government. Praise the Lord, and yeeaaaahhh! (insert empathetic headbanging)
Or is it really?
Let’s start with Watain. Apart from sliming the government, the band has also asked their fans to decide for themselves about their music. Indeed, with the swirling controversy around their appearance here, it would take a real hardcore fan not to at least question if accusations against them are valid. Watain’s band members have been known to exhibit neo-Nazi tendencies, although this can be attributed to the metal genre’s passion for courting controversy.
There is also the accusation of glamorising and promoting suicide and self-hurt through their lyrics. While there might still be some uncomfortable associations between droning nihilistic music and the desire for the depressed to end it all, more recent studies have shown that heavy metal music might actually help individuals cope with depression and anger. This was also a point supported by local anecdotal examples in the wake of the concert cancelation.
The most damning (excuse the pun) stab against metal music, then, is Satanic worship. And much as you might be inclined to think that this concern only affects the religious, it really matters more to Watain fans. Watain never denied this association, even embracing it. But this devil-may-care attitude, however, was not with Watain when it initially agreed to tone down the Satanic aspects of its Singapore performance. If anything, the band’s willingness to bend over backwards when the need arises points to a certain hypocrisy. Fans should question if they are controversial because they actually embrace the devilish alternative, or if they are more interested in making money out of theatrics.
Which then brings me to the Christian community in Singapore and their concerns about Satanism and religions harmony. If I were to be brutally honest, Watain was never Satanic. Their adoption of Satanic imagery point more to their loyalty for pagan adaptations to Christian teachings rather than the Dark Prince himself. And there is a good chance that they really did it to antagonise conservatives who read the Bible at face value before going witch-hunting.
But the faithful’s fear of anything remotely evil, unfortunately, led us to seek out heroes for protection. This hero is not Christ, nor is it good judgement based on logical deduction.
Enters the Singapore government. With sword of censorship gleaming and the banner of religious harmony aloft, the government would save us from moral depravity and smite those who seek to denigrate – nay, even remotely suggest to upset – our peaceful and prosperous lifestyle.
But such heroism comes with an invoice, and the churches have agreed to the debt. Once again, by sailing in to fight a presumed injustice, the government has made religious groups depend on its astute governance and iron fist. What could have been resolved – if it even needs resolving to begin with – with a level-headed study of the situation and a note of warning to fellow believers, now became the ambit of a government too eager to demonstrate its relentless savagery for slaying the politically-incorrect beasts at our door.
We have become overly indebted to the state to solve all our problems and petty conflicts when, in retrospect, there was no clear reason why we should grant it that much power. Moreover, the government has made it clear that it does not respond to petitions, so our desire to see state-religious alignment is sheer hubris. The state does as it’s own power pleases, regardless of which religion you are from.
To my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, the beast might indeed be a death metal band clad in leather, waving their middle fingers, claiming to be pseudo-Satanists and scream-singing some garbled mess of words that would supposedly encourage us to jump from our HBD blocks. But the beast could also be a lot nearer and more familiar than we think.
For instance, Revelations 13 identifying a beast bearing the number “666” led many Christians to seek out these numbers to identify the anti-Christ. As it turns out, the beast described was supposedly Emperor Nero, the Roman ruler around the time Revelations was written, who was synonymous with “taxation, confiscation of property and economic marginalisation”.
In other words, we need to be aware of the worldly issues that confront us as Christians, rather than shadow-box an imaginary enemy. After all, we are called to “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God”. Distinguishing the two takes discernment, which must be followed by a determination to deal with issues within our grasp. The mad impulse to call on the authorities to censor everything we feel uncomfortable with does little to help us discern.