There is “No Church in the Wild,” say Kanye West and Jay Z. Kanye tells us that the world is harsh, that God doesn’t matter, and that we are on our own. Nothing sacred can help us, therefore, we are the only gods that matter. He opens by asking:
“[What’s a] human being to a mob?
What’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything?”
And the implied answer is nothing. God is nothing to the person who doesn’t believe in him. And so we are our own gods. After all, there’s only “lies on the lips of a priest” and it’s doubtful if a “thug’s prayers reach.” To drive the point home in what must be a rap first, Jay Z invokes Euthyphro.
Is Pius pious cause God loves pious?
Socrates asked whose bias do y’all seek?
Socrates asks Euthyphro: “Why do the gods love what is good? Is it because pious actions are inherently good? Or is it because the god’s love for pious actions makes them good? Jay Z’s point is that there is no clear answer. And the bias “y’all seek” is just individual preference. Hova echoes the opening hook – there is no church who can tell us truth, we are our own gods, and we decide our own morality.
This makes Jay Z’s next phrase unsurprising, where he envisages himself, and Kanye as two-members of a pseudo-trinity.
Jesus was a carpenter, Yeezy he laid beats
Hova flow the Holy Ghost, get the hell up out your seats.
The third member – their “god the father” – is explained in the bridge; as well as their new holy text: Desire and Love, respectively.
I live by you, desire
I stand by you, walk through the fire
Your love is my Scripture
Let me into your encryption.
So there you have it, what Kanye perceptively calls a new religion. What I think many non-believers would consider something close to the truth: “what matters is my preferences, and my partners, and my pleasure, and this new trinity is Truth.” Kanye explains one of the commandments of this new faith:
No sins as long as there’s permission
And some of its creeds:
Two tattoos: one read “No Apologies”
The other said love is cursed by Monogamy.”
Changing the subject slightly, in the last lines of the song, Kanye admits that we can’t keep our money but insists that we should probably spend it all because “the pain ain’t cheap.” Whether he is referring to the pain of love lost, or the expensive champagne he buys to forget his pain, he ends by exhorting his followers to preach this new gospel.
So, is Kanye right? Is it better to swallow the pain and get to live with Desire as our god, and Love as our scripture? Is it better for there to be no sin as long as there’s permission? Should “no apologies” be our new creed? Aren’t the sexual rules of organized religion a curse preventing true pleasure from flourishing? Isn’t God a killjoy?
Kanye needs more pleasure.
Kanye is not wrong to want pleasure. He is not wrong to elevate love the way he does. But he is wrong when he says God can’t provide it. To Kanye God is a killjoy, a linebacker preventing him from scoring. But this isn’t true. I wonder how different his life might have been if Kanye’s desire for meaning and pleasure met God’s incredible promise that He “makes known the path of life; that in his presence there is fullness of joy; and at his right hand pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11).
I wonder how different Kanye’s life would be if he realized that Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine – not merely to save a party, but to show the world the intense flavor of his salvation. The wine in Cana was the best wine, showing us that his joy is the best joy, and his pleasure is the best pleasure. The miracle in Cana tells us that relationship with Jesus offers us a feast with rich wine, and a celebration of marital love. Kanye doesn’t need less pleasure — he needs more. Simply, Kanye needs the gospel to combat his hedonism.
I think I need to ask myself this question often: “Can the Gospel and God that I preach do battle with Kanye? Does the gospel I preach make the pleasure of God more real, and seem more pleasurable than the pleasure Kanye lays out for us?”
If my answer is no, then Kanye is right, and there is no church in the wild.
If my answer is yes, then Kanye is wrong, and church is the wildest thing there is.