Christ Illusion

Slayer's new album confronts America's religious hypocrisy

In recent years I have found that I do not recognize many names on the Billboard music charts. Perhaps this is a sign I am getting older and less connected with what is “hot” right now but—to borrow a line from This is Spinal Tap—I prefer to think that my musical tastes have gotten a bit more “selective.”

In either case, I was very surprised recently to see a familiar and controversial name at the top of the charts. The thrash metal band Slayer had sold enough units of their new disc, Christ Illusion (over 60,000 in the first week) to break into the top five. The cd, Slayer’s first in five years, was favorably reviewed in numerous national newspapers, including the New York Times. How did an underground extreme heavy metal band that prides itself on songs about satan become so respectable? The answer should be of interest to all spiritual seekers.

Jihad Jesus

The cover for Christ Illusion is, to say the least, shocking. A Christ figure, bruised and beaten, wearing a crown of thorns, stands in a vile pool of blood and death, with the decapitated heads of several people floating around him and war raging on all sides. One of the heads appears to be that of soon-to-be saint Mother Theresa. On the figure’s chest is a tattoo of a variation of the Sacred Heart and the word “Jihad” written above it. Not exactly my first choice for the photo on my annual Christmas card.

When I first glanced at the cover, my eyes were immediately drawn to the Christ figure’s arms—they’re cut off at the elbow, leaving him looking all the more pathetic and helpless. I immediately thought of the prayer by St. Theresa of Avilla—Lord Christ, You have no body on earth but ours, No hands but ours, No feet but ours… The point of this prayer is that Jesus is no longer with us in physical form, so it is up to his followers to continue his work; this has been the Christian mission for 2,000 years. Slayer’s graphic and grotesque cover art takes St. Theresa’s prayer, flips it around and kicks it a few times in the stomach.

Religious Hypocrisy

“Christians could easily ignore Slayer… or even speak out against them in public. This not only would be ill advised, it would miss the point.”

A cursory glance at the album lyrics reveals that Slayer is fed up with religious hypocrisy. Christianity has failed to continue Christ’s work on earth, and additionally, has used the faith to, in effect, rip his arms off again and again by justifying war and violence in His name. The track simply called “Cult” contains an accurate summation of Slayer’s religious perspective:

Is war and greed the master plan?

The bible’s where it all began.

It’s propaganda sells despair

And spreads the virus everywhere.

The word “Jihad” tattooed to the Christ figure’s chest on the cover illustration is very telling. The United States, a Christian nation, “under God and indivisible,” is conducting its own “Holy War” in the Middle East, allowing torture of prisoners of war and supporting foreign policies that are the antithesis of true Christian teaching. “Jihad” is also the name of a track on the album —it wastes no time getting to this point:

War of Holy principles

I’m seeking God’s help in your destruction

Slit the throat of the heathen man

And let his blood dilute the water

Common Chord

One does not normally look to Slayer for political commentary, but given the popularity of their new release, it seems that Slayer has struck a chord with many music fans. One review called Christ Illusion the most political record of the year after Neil Young’s most recent album, Living with War.

The members of Slayer have never been religious apologists, so their recent offering is pretty typical of what they’ve done for the past 20 years. They have no use for Christianity. The difference now is that tens of thousands of music fans are taking notice, and are angry enough about what they see in politics and organized religion to catapult the band and its acerbic social commentary to the top of the music charts.

What Should Chritians Do?

Christians could easily ignore Slayer—and many have for over two decades. Christians could also blacklist the band’s music and even speak out against it in public. This not only would be ill-advised,
it would miss
the point.

Instead, the question Christians should ask themselves is “Why are so many people interested in what this band is saying?” A bit of collective introspection on what Christians are supporting in the name of Jesus could be a better response. Is our country, as Slayer wants to suggest, supporting our own brand of “jihad” through this unjust war in Iraq and the global war on terror we’ve initiated? For all of the problems surrounding the pope’s latest speech, the gist of his message rings out loud and true: Violence has no rational place with faith. How ironic that our society needs a band that creates such aggressive music to teach us this.