Can beats be evil? Normally, when I am confronted with a ridiculous argument, I take a step back and really consider if I want to put my time and energy into refuting it. Sometimes I take it on, sometimes I let it be; usually depending on if the challenger is capable of a logical discussion. But, as a Christian, a musician, and a thinker, I believe it is extremely important to really dig deep and analyze questions like this (as silly as it may seem).
First, let me get this out of the way. As a student and an avid reader of the Bible, I can definitively conclude there is no scripture that forbids or even discourages rhythm or drums. So, the accusation that drums, beats, or rhythms are somehow evil came about by some other means than the scriptures explicitly. In a moment we will explore where this idea came from, but, before that, it is necessary that we really seek out the scriptures on what it says about drums and rhythm.
To argue that rhythm is evil in any sense is actually counter to the commands and actions in the scriptures. Rhythms are used all over the Bible for positive and correct practices. It is used for prophecy (1 Samuel 10:5,6), praise of God (Psalm 150:4), worship (Psalm 68:25), and joyful celebration (Isaiah 24:8). So, the direct source of this ideology against rhythm is not found in the Bible; it must be from another source.
Generally, while reading the Bible, you will not come across the word drum. I have found numerous references to cymbals in use with the house of David including 2 Samuel 6:5, Psalms 150:5, and other passages where they are used all the way up to Ezra (3:10) and Nehemiah (12:27). Cymbals are an important part of the modern drum kit. I have found references to small wooden finger instruments called castanets. These could be considered a type of percussion at the very least. But, the real clincher is the numerous references to the tambourine.
Yes, the tambourine is a type of drum; a frame drum. The word tambourine (timbrel/tabor) is translated from the Hebrew Tof. Most scholars agree that this instrument would have mostly been named after its sound and would not have had the bells and chimes associated with a modern tambourine. By all means, this is equal to that of the modern drum. This instrument transcends into the past farther than the era of the Davidic kingdom. Miriam used a timbrel to praise God and celebrate the salvation of the Israelites from the Egyptians at the crossing of the Red Sea.
So, saying there is any Biblical evidence that supports drums or rhythms having any spiritually negative qualities is simply incorrect. Instead, this ideology comes from a combination of skewed logic and cultural divide.
To demonstrate the skewed logic of this fallacy, we must first answer an important question. What is a rhythm or a beat anyway? Stay with me on this one. Rhythm or beat is simply the variation of length between sounds. Just two simple sounds can create a rhythm; a drum is not necessary. It is an almost completely essential utility in music and appears everywhere in nature (including the human heart). So can two sounds in sequence be evil? Taking it a step further, how can sound be evil at all? Sound is actually just an interpretation in your brain. Your ears pick up vibrations in a medium and translate it as a sound. This is much like color. Colors are your brains interpretation of various frequencies of light waves. Can light waves be evil? Can vibrations be evil? Does the devil own certain patterns of vibration and God own others? Does the devil have his own colors? You can believe that if you choose, but it is not Christian or Biblical by any scale.
One common argument states that drum beats are evil because of their pagan roots. This is an argument that ascribes the evil of idol worship to the instruments and music used during the rituals of idol worship. I wont argue that pagans did or didnt use drum beats for all sorts of evil rituals. It doesnt even matter if they did. I will, however, show you how this logic is flawed. I am sure that in the past pagans also used knifes in evil sacrifices. Does that mean that using a knife is evil? What about the Hebrews? When they used knives to sacrifice before the Lord were they actually doing evil? Of course not; and so, using drums is not evil if not used for an evil purpose. Let us suppose that the pagans instituted some sort of rhythm during their pagan rituals. Now suppose that one day, while walking to church, I walk in the same rhythm with my feet on the cement. Have I just unwittingly done evil? Of course not; and so, using rhythms is not evil if not used for an evil purpose.
In the same way Moses was commanded by God to create a staff of bronze in the form of a snake to save the Hebrews from the fiery snakes in Numbers chapter 21. When the Hebrews looked upon the snake, they were saved. Isnt the snake the very symbol of the devil? If there were ever anything to be considered evil by association it would be the snake. Yet God uses the symbol of a snake for salvation. This point is this, evil rests in the hearts of men, not in the form of objects or tools. This logic can even be reversed. There are many things created by Christians or representing Christianity that can be used for evil. An example would be throwing a Bible at someone in anger or sharpening the edge of a cross to commit murder.
To drive this point home I will name a few other things with pagan roots that are commonly used and not considered evil. The entire western calendar is rooted in paganism. Does your church or pastor refer to days of the week as Thursday (from the pagan god Thor) and Friday (from the pagan goddess Frigga)? He does? Does that mean he is doing something evil? Does he use the word May (from the pagan goddess Maia)? Lets take this a step further. English itself derived from Germanic, which was first spoken by pagans. Does it bother you that you are speaking a pagan language? What if the language you are using to worship the one true God was originally used to worship false idols? Do you wish to learn Hebrew to avoid being pagan? If daily speaking the name of a pagan god is not evil neither is using the type of instrument or rhythm a pagan once used. So, the argument that states the origin was pagan no more proves that drums, beats, rhythms, rock and roll, hip hop, or anything else pertaining to music are evil as it proves that the current calendar, the English language, church buildings, church steeples, neck ties, or whatever else are evil.
But dont drums appeal to the flesh? I have seen this argument in numerous blogs and websites, but they arent worth citing. Lets look at the argument. First, I would like to note some things that appeal to the flesh but are also not considered unholy, pagan, or evil. The first is an apple, specifically Golden Delicious because those are my favorite. These appeal to my flesh very, very much. In fact, I want one right now. Also, I love the ocean. I like to swim and surf in it. It feels good and therefore appeals to my flesh. Another to consider is laughing. Laughing with my friends appeals to my flesh. This has also been done by pagans. Does this make it unholy? Nope. Now, what about eating an apple or laughing in the church? What about being baptized in the ocean? Are those inappropriate? Nope, but I believe they are all glorifying God and appealing to the flesh at the same time. Blows your mind doesnt it? Saying something is evil or inappropriate because it appeals to the flesh is both unbiblical and subjective. Who determines what is appealing to the flesh and what do you really mean by it?
The silliest argument I have heard for sounds being evil has more to do with science fiction than with faith. It was said that someone held an experiment by playing rock music to plants and measuring how the music affected their growth. Well, as the story was told to me, the plants subjected to the demonic rock music withered and died. Please note: I am not saying that some rock music is not demonic, it positively could be. I simply dont believe that it kills plants. Even if it did kill plants I wouldnt suspect it was due to spiritual implications in the music. Luckily, Mythbusters handled this argument for me in episode 23 of the 2004 season. Six greenhouses were set up, two with positive speech, two with negative speech, one with classical music, one with death metal, and a seventh with no sound at all. In the end, the plants listening to death metal actually did the best. This could be because the vibrations of the music kept pests at bay; I guess it could also be because the plants were demonically possessed. The point is that evil music (and yes I believe this music was evil due to lyrical content) did not kill the plants and therefore this goofy argument fails.
So where do these arguments come from? I can only theorize. Many times unfamiliar things are perceived as evil or dangerous simply because our knowledge about them is limited. Take spiders for example. Many spiders are very beneficial. They can seriously diminish the amount of disease spreading mosquitoes and other pests, but most people fear them simply due to limited knowledge that generally, some spiders are capable of biting and/or are venomous. So, many spiders that would actually be beneficial are feared. Spiders are even portrayed as evil on many movies or on Halloween. Left-handed people are another great example. What we consider common genetics today was once considered evil. In English the word sinister commonly means evil. This comes from the Latin word Sinestra which means left. At one time in history, left-handed people were considered evil simply because of the fact. It may be this lack of understanding at work here as well. People unfamiliar with a culture other than their own become defensive. Since they cannot explain their distaste they simply appeal to authority, which in this case is their faith. Is it possible that religious people call something unholy simply because they do not understand it? Equally, they call things evil because they dont like it or uncomfortable with it. I personally believe that both are spiritually dangerous. What is the cure? A firm understanding of the scriptures and a logical approach to interpreting the world around you are the best ways to avoid these inconsequential debates.
For the LORD gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones. Then you will understand what is right and just and fairevery good path. For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you. Proverbs 2:6-11