Busted Halo
feature: entertainment & lifestyle
May 5th, 2011

Gaga and Judas

And why the Gaga haters hate her



The video for Lady Gaga’s song “Judas” has premiered, ending weeks of speculation stirred up by several religious spokespeople who denounced it before seeing it. The video is set in a motorcycle gang; Jesus is the leader, Judas a thuggish member and Gaga is torn by her attraction to both. As a quick first reaction, I find it moving, both artistically and spiritually. What has always fascinated and frustrated me is the disconnect between the Gaga haters and what I, and some of my friends, see in her work. Many of my religious young adult friends love Gaga; most of the rest don’t have any serious problem with her. They understand what she’s trying to do, even if it isn’t their taste. This is true across Catholics, mainline Protestants and evangelicals. So, what is it about Gaga that excites one devout person and intimidates another?

Some insist Gaga exploits Christian and especially Catholic symbols for shock value, rather than admitting they could be part of an honest attempt to wrestle with spiritual issues. I think some critics simply have trouble believing someone like Gaga could be sincere. Or perhaps it’s just the easiest way to dismiss her work. Don’t get me wrong. I cringed watching her dressed in a fetishized nun costume in the Alejandro video, which among her hits so far had the least redeeming value. But I do think she was sincerely trying to express something, to externalize her struggles through the imagery.

In the “Judas” video, Gaga (apparently as Mary Magdalene, though some story lines are blurred together in both the lyrics and the video) rides with Jesus in a motorcycle gang, while pining after bad boy Judas, a beer-guzzling thug who’s also in the gang. We see Gaga turning away from Judas in favor of Jesus again and again. At one point, she washes Jesus’ feet just before the most notable lines in the song:

I wanna love you,
But something’s pulling me away from you.
Jesus is my virtue,
Judas is the demon I cling to.

Lady Gaga’s creative director, Laurieann Gibson, described the creative process the team went through in completing the “Judas” video this way: “It was amazing because to have that conversation about salvation, peace and the search for the truth in a room of non-believers and believers, to me, that was saying God is active in a big way.”

This is not the stuff of pop music. It’s a cultural phenomenon. And that perhaps is where we get to the root of the problem some have with Gaga. Unlike any other current pop star at the global level, Gaga writes about, talks about and openly struggles with spiritual issues in almost every song she writes. Most shocking in our current culture, she mentions Jesus by name. In Judas, she says “Jesus is my virtue.” In “You and I,” about an old boyfriend she calls Nebraska, Gaga says, “There’s only three men I served my whole life / It’s my dad and Nebraska and Jesus Christ.”

So while some may like to dismiss her as disingenuous, it is exactly Gaga’s genuineness that is a threat. While an R&B artist singing crudely about sex is clearly defined in their role outside the spiritual conversation, Gaga dares to jump right into the middle of it. And while she’s there, with a bully pulpit speaking to millions, she dares to say things like, “I’m beautiful in my way, cause God makes no mistakes.” This is much more dangerous in some people’s minds than empty pop music. Gaga calls her fans little monsters, her way of saying we are all fallen, all flawed, and that it is the misfits of society who can teach the comfortable a thing or two about God’s love and compassion. And that’s what she’s doing.

The Author : Phil Fox Rose
Phil Fox Rose is content manager of Busted Halo. He's a writer, editor and content lead based in New York and writes the On the Way blog at patheos.com. He is coordinator for the New York City chapter of Contemplative Outreach, helping promote centering prayer, which has been his contemplative practice for nearly 20 years. Phil has also been a political party leader, videographer, tech journalist, punk roadie, software designer, sheepherder, stockbroker and downtempo radio DJ. A common thread is the process of learning about stuff, figuring it out and then sharing that understanding with others. Follow Phil on Facebook here. Or on Twitter here. philfoxrose.com.
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  • Barbara Wheeler

    Everyone, thank you for your comments and conversation about this piece! There have been some comments made to this post that have been removed because of personal attacks on others — Busted Halo welcomes conversation about topics and articles on the website, but we reserve the right to remove comments that hurt the conversation.

  • Daniel

    I like to think I watch movies and TV, listen to music, and consume pop culture from a Catholic perspective. It’s a worldview I try to take into everything I do. In this instance, I see very much the inner struggle Lady Gaga is undergoing. Most young adults similarly struggle at some point, wondering the relevance of God to their life, how the discipline and guidance of the Church can improve the quality of their existence, how to balance a loving God with the sufferings of our world. The difference with Lady Gaga is that she broadcasts her turmoil in lyrics that millions hear. I wish there weren’t illuminati and satanic symbols being paraded or such a hedonistic presentation of sexuality, and personally I don’t appreciate Lady Gaga’s music. But I do think we should be looking at her material critically, wondering what it says about our world and how it speaks to the heart of the human struggle to love God and grow in faithfulness. I’m not telling young people to look up to Lady Gaga, but since I know many of them listen to her whatever I say, it’s important for me to be informed so I can make coherent, meaningful conversation about her music that points toward what is ultimately meaningful and true — the unchanging, apostolic faith that continues to change my existence and the life of every created person, regardless of whether we acknowledge and realize the truth. Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta can be saved by Christ’s blood every bit as much as I can. I pray her conversion continue, just as mine and all of ours is ongoing.

  • Jacob

    I do not agree with this article. This video is a sacrilege, and is a mockery of the betrayal in my opinion. I feel this way because of the lyrics of the song, and the way they portray Jesus and Mary Magdalene is truly upsetting. She need A LOT of prayer. She is extremely lost.

  • Phil Fox Rose

    The kindest explanation for Tina’s thinking Gaga is Jewish is that she has a NY accent and some people think everyone in New York and LA is Jewish. :-/ For the record, to say that Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, who went to Convent of the Sacred Heart school, is “certainly” not Christian, when her songs and interviews are full of references to Jesus and to the role of faith in her life, is simply absurd. I mean, seriously, in her current hit she actually says she has served Jesus Christ her whole life. How many pop stars would even dream of saying such a thing? The only explanation is the one I give in my article: that since Gaga’s interpretation of the Christian message is threatening, people try to invalidate it by invalidating her, rather than by debating the theological points she raises. So they say she’s an Illuminati or a hermaphrodite. Or, apparently, a Jew. Monica, thanks for your thoughtful comment, though the previous one certainly didn’t deserve it.

  • Monica

    Wow, Phil. You really managed to get a reaction out of this post.

    Tina, I hate to be mean, but the idea that someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus makes them a Jew is outrageous, and common thinking. So let’s dispel it, shall we?

    First of all, no one Jewish would put Jesus in their songs, have crosses upside down or otherwise in their videos, or have occult signs. Idolism is not allowed in Judaism. No one knows where Moses is buried for the reason that the religion was scared his grave would become idolized. We are to worship G-d Himself and that is it.

    Secondly, part of the reason Jews don’t “believe” in Jesus is because our religion was established BC, remember? Judaism does believe Jesus existed and that he was a righteous man. We believe he was a more righteous son than others, but nonetheless, we are all equal children to G-d, according to Judaism.

    Third of all, please think twice before you call a pop singer who speaks your language in another way a Jew. It’s not polite.

  • Tina

    Gaga is Jewish, she certainly does not accept Jesus or Christianity. Her vids are full of occult signs.

  • Jasmine M

    Dee, I agree with you. So many people trade their morals for riches and fame. This woman is a brand. Brands make themselves attractive to their target buyers by incorporating what they want. In her case, it is sex, irreverence, and homosexual themes that they crave.

  • Dee

    Ugh- No, no and no. I used to like lady gaga until her songs got into religious issues- if she wants to talk about spiritual struggles why doesn’t she do it respectfully instead of how someone before me mentioned half naked? Satan laughs when l.g. performs, he’s delighted. any person who states in a different song, “I love that lavender blonde…I touch myself, can’t get enough… I touch myself and it’s all right” NO, IT’S NOT ALRIGHT. She is NOT a worthy “role model” for spiritual struggles because l.g pulls you AWAY from God, rather than towards Him. Someone who IS worthy as a role model for our little 16 year old girls is someone like Leah Darrow, NOT an “artist” who gets in stirrups on Saturday Night Live to mock something as precious as childbirth. Good grief.

  • Stephanie

    I think she’s just really confused…

  • CK

    The bottom line is that Lady Gaga is someone whom thousands of young people look up to. And while I can appreciate that she is honest about her spiritual struggles, the fact remains that she offers nothing more. She doesn’t provide any direction to her listeners – she doesn’t offer any message regarding the fact that Christianity is the only means of salvation.

    The marginalized of society, those who don’t actually know the message of the gospel aren’t getting anything meaningful from her music. We recognize the importance because we are already Christians, but to say her music is a vehicle for bringing others to Christ or helping them to recognize their own struggles is inaccurate. And if she’s not carrying the message to others through her music, then I can’t say it has any value beyond a good beat.

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