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by Sam Torode


Jesus and Mama

The intercessor par excellence in country music

Certain bedrock human impulses can be denied or ignored, but never rooted out. One is the drive to honor our heroes through works of art. The more radical Protestant Reformers fought this impulse tooth and nail, burning icons and smashing sculptures of Christ and the saints. Within a few generations, however, their followers were painting portraits and erecting statues to honor the beloved Reformers. Eventually, even iconoclasts become icons.

Another is the impulse to bless objects or substances and set them apart as sacred. The Baptists I grew up with were especially suspicious of this one. I knew one Baptist who, on his first visit to a Catholic church, spit in the holy water. He announc-ed to his horrified hosts, "That water's no more holy than my spit."

But even Baptists have their holy objects. Try burning an American flag in front of them. On a recent visit to a hardware store, I was struck by a sign instructing customers on how to properly care for the American flag: never let it touch the ground; fold it ceremonially; don't throw it in the trash. The instructions were very similar to those that Catholics or Orthodox give for the treatment of blessed icons and liturgical objects.

While low-church Protestants often attempt to suppress basic human longings, more sacramental Christians strive to redeem them. One of those longings we all feel is for a Mother. Not just an earthly mother, but something beyond—akin to the way God the Father is beyond our earthly father, yet reflected in him to a greater or lesser degree.

On the one hand, this longing for a cosmic Mother can lead to goddess worship. On the other, Catholics and Orthodox find its redemption and fulfillment in the Virgin Mary. Protestants try to suppress the longing altogether. But, though they banish this impulse from their churches, it springs up elsewhere.

Take, for example, country music.

If you want to hear the soul of American evangelical Protestantism, listen to country music. All of the country greats—Johnny ...

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