Lies Hip Hop Told Me: Born This Way
Lady GaGa is not hip-hop. This we know. But she does draw attention from the same media outlets and is discussed in the same breath as many of hip-hop’s brightest stars.
As a result, the emerging generation of hip-hop fans is familiar with her and her work. They are especially familiar with her ultra-promoted 2011 single, “Born This Way.”
While not a hip-hop song itself, “Born This Way” preaches a message that, apart from its approval of homosexual identity, sounds like it could have come out of the mouth of [insert favorite rapper’s name here]. Its message is that you are perfect just the way you are and that you can and should do as Salt-N-Pepa said and “express yourself.” Or, if you prefer Digital Underground, simply “dowhatchalike.”
“Born This Way” was an immensely successful single, becoming the fastest-selling song in the history of iTunes. This is due to a variety of factors, but one factor is the lyrical content of the song itself. People want to celebrate the message that “Born This Way” delivers. It is a message that is becoming increasingly popular but a message that is, nonetheless, a harmful lie.
That is not to say that “Born This Way” does not include some truth. It does, and so do many of the songs like it. It indirectly affirms that God created all human beings and that, by virtue of being created by God, all human beings are innately valuable and should be treated as such.
This is the testimony of Scripture; it is on the basis of this innate value that God hates murder. God himself explains, “Whoever sheds human blood, by human beings shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made humankind” (Genesis 9:6).
It is also because God has created all human beings in his image that he hates slander. James writes, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness” (James 3:9). James’ point is that slander is pure foolishness in light of the fact that all people are made by God in his own image.
The “Born this Way” philosophy is right to affirm that all people are valuable just the way they are because all people are made by God in his image.
However, the “Born This Way” philosophy goes farther than affirming that people are valuable because God made them. It teaches me to believe that whoever I am and whatever I desire, this is because I was “Born This Way.” As Lady GaGa sings, “God makes no mistakes.” The implication is that the way an individual is right now is precisely the way that God wants that individual to be. There are at least three reasons why this is patently false.
The first reason it is clearly false is philosophical in nature. To claim that the way a thing “is” is evidence of the way that thing is supposed to be is to commit what many philosophers call the “is-ought fallacy.” If I desire to show that the way a thing “is” is the way that thing “ought” to be I must do more than simply show that the thing “is” a certain way.
To illustrate, my white-supremacist neighbor Billy Bob can make a historical case that the United States of America has always been run by white men. You will probably accept Billy Bob’s premise that this is how things are but that does not require that you accept Billy Bob’s conclusion that things should be this way or that things must stay this way, even though our nation was “Born This Way.” You immediately recognize that Billy Bob is confusing what is with what ought to be, when one does not prove the other.
To observe that something “is” a certain way does not necessitate that it “ought” to be that way. Lady GaGa may be right. Perhaps we were “Born This Way.” But that does not in any way prove that we should stay this way.
The second reason that the “Born This Way” philosophy is obviously false is experiential in nature. The truth is, in our day-to-day experience, no one actually believes that everyone should stay just the way they are or be just who they want to be, simply because they were born that way.
Of course, many people (like Lady GaGa) believe that they themselves should stay just the way they are or be just who they want to be. But those same people are often opposed to who other people are and who other people want to be.
For instance, Lady GaGa is not happy with those whom she deems “homophobic,” especially in hip-hop culture. She wants them to change the way they feel and change the way they choose to express themselves.
This is rather hypocritical from the woman who sings, “He made you perfect, babe…God makes no mistakes.” It seems that her convictions only apply to those who live in ways she approves of but not to those who live in ways of which she does not approve. Somehow, she does not believe they are allowed to play the “Oh, there ain’t no other way/baby, I was born this way” card she plays on her single.
I do not say this to pick on Lady GaGa. None of us believe that everyone should remain just as they are simply because they were born that way (she just happens to be one who claims otherwise).
For instance, virtually every heterosexual male in existence is born with a desire to be intimate with a significant percentage of the female population. Yet everyone recognizes that even though many men were “Born This Way” they are responsible for developing self-control and resisting those urges in order to maintain healthy relationships with the women in their lives.
Likewise, some are born with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism. Yet no one believes they should yield to the destructive addiction simply because they were “Born This Way.” Even those who celebrate the “Born This Way” philosophy do not actually believe that the way an individual is right now is the way that God wants that individual to be forever, except when it serves their own interests to do so.
The third and most important reason this philosophy is patently false is theological in nature. The Scriptures explicitly teach that the world as it is is not as it ought to be. This is not mentioned in passing. Rather, it accounts for the entire storyline of the Bible.
The first two chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1 and 2, show us how the world once was when God created people to live in perfect harmony with him, each other and all of creation. This paradise was lost in Genesis 3 due to the choice of the first two humans to worship creation (themselves) instead of Creator.
The last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21 and 22, show that there will come a time when this paradise will be restored and people will live in perfect harmony with God, each other, and all of creation for eternity. The rest of the Bible, from Genesis 3 to Revelation 20, tells the story of a world that is not what it ought to be and of human beings who are broken and in need of redemption because “there is no one righteous, not even one … there is no one who seeks God … there is no one who does good” (Romans 3:10-12).
God declares that we are born “by nature deserving of wrath” because of our inherent disposition to worship ourselves and live how we please instead of worshiping the God who made us and live how he pleases (Ephesians 2:3).
It is for this reason that Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God [the restored paradise of right relationship with God, others and creation] without being born again” (John 3:3). Far from endorsing the philosophy that the way we are born is the way God wants us to be, Jesus explains that our only hope for knowing God is to be reborn in a new way. This rebirth cannot be manufactured from within but can only be brought about by the Holy Spirit as our faith is placed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Paul details the process by which we are transformed from the way we are naturally born apart from Christ to the way we are supernaturally reborn in Christ.
“At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another [we were “Born This Way”]. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7, emphasis mine).
We must be reborn this way because it is the only way to break free from the inherent disposition we are born with which leads us away from the true God and toward his judgment. When we are reborn in this way at least four things change.
1. We receive new life by being united to God through Jesus’ life of righteousness lived in our place and Jesus’ death of judgment died in our place. “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live…but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ” (Ephesians 2:1, 4-5).
2. We receive new faith that allows us to respond to God where we previously were unwilling and unable to do so. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah [has been born] of God” (1 John 5:1).
3. We receive a new heart with new desires. Whereas the heart we are born with desires to serve self and its desires above all else this new heart desires to serve God and its desires above all else. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
4. We receive new power to do new deeds. Instead of living as slaves to the sinful desires and flawed personality traits we are first born with we receive the Holy Spirit who empowers us to actually live according to our new desires. “Those who are born of God will not continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God” (1 John 3:9).
The “Born This Way” philosophy is right to encourage us to value and respect all human beings, because of the innate value we possess as people made by God in his image. It is wrong, however, in its assumption that we should celebrate who we are simply because that is who we are. This has the potential to be exceedingly harmful because it fails to take into account who God desires us to be and, therefore, keeps us living for only ourselves and estranged from our loving Creator.
Rather than looking inward to determine what is good and right (which is self-worship), we ought to look outward to Jesus (which is right worship). It is Jesus who perfectly displays the image of God and freely offers to redeem our brokenness and give us new life, new faith, a new heart with new desires, and new power to do new deeds. Why would we ever settle for who we are when, through Jesus, we can be like him?