Set Fire to the Rain by Adele. Some Nights by Fun. Somebody I Used to Know by Gotye. Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke. Same Love by Macklemore.
We all know what these songs have in common: they are overplayed on the radio. And I am sure that we all have the same reaction when they come on: we roll our eyes and look to change the station. However, there is one song on this list I change, not only because it’s too overplayed, but also because I find it to be a disservice to a very important discussion.
Macklemore’s Same Love came out as part of his album (with Ryan Lewis) The Heist in July of 2012, but was not played extensively on the radio until the DOMA ruling a few months ago. Since that time, I hear it almost every day as I drive to and from work. The song itself is quite delightful, really, in that it actually talks about something important, its rhymes have nothing to do with twerking or swag, it moves at a nice pace and it causes someone to think. All hallmarks of a modern day cantata (well, at least I think those are the qualifications). Further, the song raises some really good questions, provides many in the homosexual community with words for their deepest desires and presents his side of things from the perspective of a person with something at stake in the argument (his uncle is gay). And, honestly, when I listened to it for the first few (hundred) times, I really liked it.
My infatuation with the song began to wane recently and here’s why: Macklemore falls prey to what I will call “Pop Philosophy.” In his attempt to put together an argument, through a highly creative matrix, he strings together several “Straw Man” arguments, ignoring crucial nuance and meaning. In doing so, he pushes the relationship between homosexuals (and those with homosexual sympathies) and non-homosexuals (and those with anti-homosexual sympathies) apart. And this is my real problem with the song. Here are a few examples of what I mean:
1) “The right-wing conservatives think it’s a decision and you can be cured with some treatment and religion; man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition, playing God.”
Mark Yarhouse, a professor and researcher in the School of Psychology at Regent University, in his new book Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministry, noted in one of his lectures about the book that research is split on whether homosexuality is a pre-disposition or is a “learned” behavior. Further, there are those who support homosexuality who believe it is a ‘learned’ behavior, while there are those who do not support homosexuality who find it to be a pre-disposition (though they believe it can be overcome). So, it is not only ‘right-wing’ conservatives who believe this. Further, the moniker ‘right-wing’ conservatives is a mischaracterization of a people group. Just because someone may be a ‘right-wing’ conservative, does not automatically make him or her a proponent of the ‘learned behavior’ camp.
2) “But we paraphrase a book written 3500 years ago.”
I will not touch the dating issue, only because it is always subject to intense controversy. However, I will note that most in the scholarly community believe Scripture is at most 3000 years old. While this may seem a little “nitpicky,” these are the little comments that drive a bigger wedge between the two sides. So, I guess I touched it. Onward.
The bigger problem is his idea that he believes that the words are paraphrased. I took two semesters of Greek while in school for my MDiv (thus making me an expert in Greek), and I translated 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Most scholars believe the verses read: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality…” The two Greek words that make up the term “homosexuality” refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts. It’s not a paraphrase. It’s not a conservative exegesis. See, my problem is that there are different and better ways to attack conservative interpretations, but claiming it all to be “paraphrasing” is not it the best way, or even a fair way.
3)”Rather than fighting for humans that have had their rights stolen.”
“It’s human rights for everybody, there is no difference.”
This isn’t the time or place to discuss whether or not homosexuals should have the right to get married. And, actually, it falls way outside my critique. So, I want to talk about rights from a different perspective.
The language of rights is the dominant framework for ethical discourse in contemporary Western societies, and yet because of the way we play with words, repurposing them to fit our own contexts, we have a tendency to dilute the langue of rights until we cannot help but speak in cliché. It seems interesting (and, honestly, hypocritical) to me that the same ‘rights’ language used for combating slavery and human trafficking – language that is actually essential to any attack on those who commit those human rights violations – is used by politicians and lay people to wriggle out of tight situations. Or, even worse, as a scapegoat for thinking critically about what ‘rights’ actually are and what they are purposed for. And, further, to borrow from Marx perhaps, if people continue down the spiral of constantly defining and redefining ‘rights’ in ways that become politically powerful and persuasive, rights become little more than a bourgeois device to keep those in power in power. My point here is this: the constant redefinition of rights results in the abolition of rights. The annihilation of rights.
Surprisingly, however, while rights may be headed in this direction, it is not always a bad thing, and I am ok with that. For, if we allow rights to stand for something that societies agree on together, then everyone can have their rights in whatever way they are able to negotiate them with the community at large. The problem I have with Macklemore is this: he completely ignores any type of definition of rights – no matter how obscured and difficult it can be. Instead he opts for a general definition of rights, one that only further obscures what rights really mean.
“…the process of reconciliation results not from generalizations, the watering down of people’s arguments or by a witty and creative rap song.”
Where are we now? My critique of Macklemore is really rooted in my desire for reconciliation. My desire to see people’s united. And, I know, like many of you, the process of reconciliation results not from generalizations, the watering down of people’s arguments or by a witty and creative rap song. Reconciliation occurs when people are committed first and foremost to each other and our plight on this earth. It occurs when we are willing to walk, however slowly, through the craggy and slippery slopes of people’s arguments. We must do better, both sides, in being true and honest in our presentations of others arguments. We must be willing to traverse space and time and genuinely see things from another’s perspective. Really, what caused me to like Macklemore’s song was that it seemed like it was a way through to the “other side.” Unfortunately, the more I listened, the less it satisfied and the further away I felt. We need better writers, singers, and philosophers not content with “Pop Philosophy.” Instead, we need artist committed to reconciliation and nothing more – and that’s where the real “Pop” is.
 I chose this designation not because I think it is without flaws, but because I think the other options (i.e. Pop Politics, Pop Theology, etc.) had more flaws. What, I believe, Macklemore is trying to do is present an argument and make a case for homosexuality. Thus, I assume it has a philosophical bent and should be called a “philosophical treatise.”
 It’s important to note that while Mark Yarhouse is a Christian, he stands firmly in between those on both sides of argument. He takes flack from everyone, and is the most “neutral” perspective I could find.