Bazan, the Bible, and What's Worth Holding Onto
When I was 14, I bought a CD by a band called Pedro the Lion at my local Christian bookstore. It was not like anything I’d heard before—especially coming out of a Christian bookstore. The Whole EP seemed to be telling the story of a drug addict’s struggle to trade his needles for faith. The storytelling via the raw and vulnerable vocal performance was almost uncomfortable at times. I was sold.
Pedro the Lion, and the David Bazan solo albums to follow, didn’t let up over the years. The songs described society’s ills and human frailty in gruesome detail (I was scandalized by referenced to references to cum on some early albums). And in the meantime, the writer of these songs transitioned from identifying as a person of Christian faith to a dedicated agnostic (who developed an increasingly scathing critique of Evangelicalism as time went on).
I recently met David when I was given a chance to moderate a Q&A with him at a screening of Strange Negotiations. The documentary centers on David’s journey away from faith, running parallel with a bout of alcohol addiction and fight to balance his roles of husband and father with a busy touring career. The screening was sold out.
It’s become really clear to me that a large amount of David’s fans find his openness and vulnerability around losing his faith to be one of the most compelling things about him. These (mostly male) fans have clearly viewed him as a sage, writing hymns for the apostate, which I get. It can be very therapeutic and helpful when a talented artist gives you a syntax for part of your own story, that you otherwise lacked. At the very least, it makes you feel less alone. That’s important.
But I can’t help but feel annoyed by the way that this “deconstructed faith narrative” about Bazan seems to eclipse the rest of his life and catalog. We all want faith heroes, or in David’s case, faith anti-heroes. But can’t we admire the man for his whole being, and the way his art explores many aspects of the human heart and this complicated world?
Maybe right now, we can’t.
There are a lot of bleeding young Evangelicals, and post-Evangelicals, out there right now. People are feeling gutted by the question of how much their religion overlaps with Trumpism. That question pulls hard on some strings that have unraveled everything for many young Christians. In the documentary, Bazan speculates there could be a thread of truth and beauty in the biblical narrative, that in theory, could shape a person’s life into something really good and worth holding onto. However, he said in person at the Q&A that he stands by the statement much less now, seemingly because of the ongoing commitment to Donald Trump by Christians in the U.S.
Personally, I still see the thread. Generally speaking predominantly white, Evangelical churches in the United States are very deeply broken. But there are other traditions—non white, non Evangelical, non U.S.—that exist and thrive and commit to core spiritual values, following that “thread” that evolves through the Bible. The narrative is one about a God who sides with the marginalized, who sends angry poets to speak judgement over idolaters and power-mongers, who chooses to struggle and suffer with us, and who is most defined by pure, sacrificial love.