Kanye West doesn’t have a degree in theology. He was never known for his humility, or as a great statesman or scholar. He’s not what most people would have called a saint or a “Holy Joe” – far from it. He is seen by most as nothing more than another egotistical rap artist. And that is exactly why his conversion and public preaching about God is so culturally significant.
Kanye is the same man who once made a song called “I Am A God”, and would refer to himself as “Yeezus”, in reference to Jesus Christ. In fact, his legendary arrogance and narcissism may be what he was best known for outside of his music. And yet today he appears to the public as a changed man, stating in a recent interview: “I’m at peace. I give it all up to God.”
So impactful has Kanye’s change of heart been to the masses, that his new album, Jesus Is King, debuted at number 1 on Billboard. Even despite our seemingly secular society, an explicitly religious gospel album has managed to top the charts and dominate the cultural conversation for weeks. It almost seems like it should be impossible. But against all odds, it happened.
Kanye West performs “Jesus Walks” on a plane for James Corden’s karaoke bit
He’s been changing the lyrics “I’m not here to turn atheists into believers” to “We’re here to turn atheists into believers”
— An0maly (@LegendaryEnergy) October 29, 2019
The world is definitely watching. This video, where Kanye and his choir finishes a powerful rendition of Jesus Walks by saying “I wanna talk to God, I ain’t afraid” has racked up tens of millions of views.
As if releasing a Christian album wasn’t controversial enough, Kanye has dropped bombshell after bombshell in recent interviews, doing everything from condemning abortion, to speaking out against pornography, and even asking people to practice abstinence and wait until marriage. The same man who married Kim Kardashian is now shouting tradition from the rooftops, and people who thought they knew him are in a state of shock. His wife and children were recently baptised in her ancestral homeland of Armenia, the oldest Christian country in the world.
At first glance it’s hard to understand why this is so important. Ultimately he’s just a guy who makes music, and his message in and of itself isn’t that unique. After all, everyone has heard these ideas before, and the same words coming from the mouth of a priest – or your grandmother – wouldn’t make us blink.
But sometimes what impacts us most is the unexpected. The incongruity of a man who was so flawed and worldly now saying such out-of-character things is a major cause for reflection. The fact that even someone like Kanye West can see the utility in these old values is a huge cultural milestone and an indicator of something big happening in the modern world.
It’s no secret that Christianity has diminished in the West in recent decades – most people walking around today haven’t set foot in a church in their adult lives. But ironically, we have deified celebrities, such as music artists and actors, as a replacement. People like Kanye are the gods of the 21st century, and people worship just as fervently as they ever did.
In modern culture, Hollywood is a pantheon that reigns above us, full of unattainably beautiful, radiant people, who hold more power than we could ever imagine. We aspire to be like them, and even refer to them with divine, celestial terms like “idol” and “star”. The word “fan” was originally an abbreviation of “fanatic”, which is fitting, as celebrities have their own cult followings. Thousands of devoted followers will pay exorbitant concert prices just to see and touch them, and collect relics in the form of signed autographs. Jennifer Aniston recently joined Instagram and caused their servers to crash because so many adoring fans flocked to follow her account at once by the millions. Pop culture fulfills the exact same role that religion once did in society, and Twitter is Gospel to the masses.
But for decades, Western celebrity culture has been in a state of absolute moral decay. Hollywood and the mainstream music industry are centred around greed, entitlement, sexual debauchery and drugs. Often the figures in our society that we aspire to be like are more lost and depressed than we are. The blind are leading the blind, and we wonder why young people feel such hopelessness and nihilism.
But Kanye’s new message isn’t about himself. It’s about something much, much bigger. For someone who is a youth culture icon and who has the ear of millions to say “Jesus Is King” and promote these time-tested values might have a significant effect on the society we live in, and I’m not sure that any of us know just how important this will be going forward.
How ironic is it that for all the bishops, intellectuals and scholars preaching over the years, Kanye West may be the man to start the process of winning back the soul of the Western world?