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Satan Shows Up at the Grammys

Rather than merely shock with a new display of creepiness, the “Unholy” Grammys performance marked the place where we’ve already been for some time.

02/9/23

John Stonestreet

Heather Peterson

On Monday morning, news sites trumpeted that something historic had happened the night before, at an event most people care little to nothing about. German pop singer Kim Petras and English singer Sam Smith won a Grammy for the year’s “Best Pop Duo” for their song “Unholy.” The win was called “historic” because Kim Petras is a man who identifies and appears as a woman, making him the first “transgender” Grammy winner.

Setting aside for a moment how easy it is to be called “historic” these days—the term used to refer to someone who actually made history—“Unholy” is a song about “liberating” what the artists call “queer joy.” It’s not a song that is suitable for adults, much less for children. For example, despite the scandal that’s been swirling around a particularly awful Balenciaga ad campaign the past few months, Smith and Petras offer the company a strong endorsement in this truly unholy song. Even so, the song topped two of Billboard’s global charts back in October.

After accepting their Grammy on Sunday, Smith and Petras performed their song. Please, do not look up a video of this performance, which, in the words of Variety magazine, included “Satan, cages, and whips” along with flames. The whole thing made the long history of increasingly edgy MTV Video Music Award performances seem quaint by comparison.

At the same time, this “performance” should not be dismissed along with Lady Gaga’s meat dress, Ozzy Osbourne’s bat biting, or the many other loud-but-insignificant pop culture incidents that were nothing more than shock value. This one was a cultural marker. As one person tweeted, “I know we on the right probably use the word satanic too often but this performance from Sam Smith is literally a tribute to Satan.”

It would be more accurate to say that Christians use the word “satanic” too often in some cases but should use it far more often in others. Some of us might remember, for example, the backmasking phenomenon from youth groups in years past, when vinyl records played backwards were said to reveal satanic messages. If this were indeed a secret plot of the enemy, his messages were very hard to understand, and the whole thing was soon foiled by a cultural move to cassette tapes. (Not to mention, the lyrics of plenty of heavy metal songs back then were bad enough, and hard enough to understand, when played forward.)

The satanism of Sunday night may have been more style than substance too, but it was mainstream and not hidden in the back corner of a record store. More importantly, rather than merely shock with a new display of creepiness, the “Unholy” performance marked the place where we’ve already been for some time.

Simply put, Satan’s real work is not jumping out to yell “boo!” In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis presented the intent and activity of Satan as far more subtle and far more dangerous. Twisting the truth and perverting the motivations of something otherwise good is a far more effective way, portrayed Lewis, of leading the Patient away from faith.

In other words, though perhaps we should thank Smith and Petras for the blatant reveal that transgender ideology is indeed satanic, it was satanic long before the “satanic worship service” hosted at the Grammys. (By the way, CBS literally tweeted “we are ready to worship” before the performance). Transgender ideology is satanic in the sense that Satan’s best work is to make people question the goodness of God and the givenness of His design.

Jewish conservative commentator Ben Shapiro described perfectly the kind of satanism on display Sunday night, in a Twitter thread worth quoting at length:

For most of religious history, Satan was the great villain, an emblem of rebellion against the Good and the True, a symbol of resistance to the Holy.

When John Milton wrote Paradise Lost (1667), his Satan famously stated, “better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.” Satan was the villain of the piece, abandoning the Good and the True for a personal sense of power.

For transgressive poet Percy Shelley, however, Satan was the hero of Paradise Lost: “Milton’s Devil as a moral being is as far superior to his God as one who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceived to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture.”

Why did he believe this? Because he believed that the essence of “love” is “liberty,” that the goal of life is subjective “happiness,” and that “religion and morality, as they now stand, compose a practical code of misery and servitude.”

This is the message of our modern-day Satanists as well. Religion and morality are evils. Worship of “authenticity,” particularly in the sexual realm, is the highest possible good. Worship Satan by worshipping yourself.*

Satanism is, quite often, an alluring whisper to live a life led by passing impulses and temporal confusion. Satan has more effectively deceived both those in and out of the Church, through what Carl Trueman has described as “expressive individualism,” than he has through the sensational and overly creepy.

In a way, Smith and Petras simply told the truth about the Hell that has been created by our culture’s worst ideas. Tragically for those who have been deceived, it’s a real place of deep, painful confusion, and not just a staged setting for a performance at a “historic” but ultimately meaningless ceremony. The good news for all of us is that even those who bask in the vile glow and glamour of the Grammys are not out of the reach of the loving God who made them.

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Dr. Heather Peterson. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to colsoncenter.org.

*Tweets were edited following Colson Center standards.

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