Lauren and Mikaela--identical twins living on opposite coasts--blog about the story of life and their adventures in faith.


The Doctrine of the Grateful Dead

Let me guess. You’ve never heard of the Doctrine of Ethos? Before you resort to Google, let me explain. This is not some new declaration Peggy Post put together because of the complete lack of ethics in today’s society, nor is it some new environmental propaganda. In fact, it hearkens back to ancient times, but I didn’t know about it until just a few months ago.

From a young age I have believed that there is a difference between good music and bad music. This difference has less to do with whether the song is performed with perfect pitch or is screeched than whether the song honors God. As I have grown older, my understanding and opinion on this controversial but important topic has grown as well. Therefore, there are certain kinds of music that I will not listen to, because I believe that they are not God-honoring.

And then I discovered the Doctrine of Ethos.
It was formulated before electric guitars and rock music were even a twinkle in the Beatles’ eyes—the Doctrine of Ethos is over 2,000 years old, and it is life-changing.

The Doctrine of Ethos is the Greek belief that music could be either moral or immoral and that it has a powerful affect on behavior. Aristotle’s writings on this subject reveal that“Music…imitates the passions or states of the soul, such as gentleness, anger courage, temperance, and their opposites. Music that imitates a certain passion arouses that same passion in the listener. Habitual listening to music that rouses ignoble passions distorts a person’s character. In short, the wrong kind of music makes the wrong kind of person, and the right kind tends to make the right kind of person.[i]

Plato took the idea even further and insisted that music must be included in education in order to produce a balanced person. He even recommended that men who were being trained in leadership must avoid songs of weakness and indolence, for such music would tend to influence them in that direction.

I found this idea fascinating. How could the pagan Plato and Aristotle realize that some music is inherently wrong in the days when all they had was the lute and aulos? How could they come to this conclusion when Americans today so diametrically disagree? It boggles my mind, but modern science only supports their doctrine, as demonstrated by many of the popular “Mozart Effect” and “Hard rock makes killer mice” studies. Plato and Aristotle were onto something.
As fascinating as it is, I also have to realize that our sin nature and sinful choices lead to wrong behavior, and simply listening to good music can in no way get a person to heaven! However, does music affect behavior in positive and negative ways? Absolutely!
(My violin teacher agreed with me, proclaimed the beauty of classical music, and in the same breath told me of a “Grateful Dead” concert he just went to. I’m still working on him! :-)

While Plato and Aristotle were certainly not “all-wise” and were in many ways immoral, they make a powerful point, and one that is supported by God Himself. Scripture speaks of fallen music: “Your pomp is brought down to Sheol, and the sound of your stringed instruments….How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son off the morning! (Is. 14:11b-12)” Or what about Ecclesiastes 7:5? “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise than for a man to hear the song of fools.” Psalm 40:3, on the other hand, says, “He has put a new song in my mouth—praise to our God; many will see it and fear, and will trust in the Lord.”

The Greeks’ insightful understanding of music led them to coin the saying, “Let me make the songs of a nation and I care not who makes its laws.” We have mistakenly dismissed music as entertainment, but the Greeks knew that music was communicating its own doctrine. We give music power over our emotions, but we disagree with the Greeks that it is only a small step from there for music to affect our behavior. We label music “amoral” but still God holds us accountable for the music to which we listen.

It only takes a glance at the top ten list of songs to know exactly the state of our nation.

[i] Grout, Donald Jay. A History of Western Music. p. 6


  1. Great post, Lauren! Though I didn't know the name of this theory, I have believed in this concept for a long time. I am not sure how anyone could deny the great influence of music, whether for good or for evil.
    At a youth seminar here in Uganda we had young people ask whether or not they should listen to secular music. There are also some secular artists here who sing gospel music. Basically, we told them they need to be aware of the spirit in which the song was created and sung. If the singer is not a Christian, from where do they get their inspiration? And, if it is from an "evil" source, that can translate into the song.
    Anyway, thanks for sharing this! : )

  2. Good post, Lauren!
    I feel a little weird admitting this, but I still am sorting through the whole music issue. I have a hard time with it since nothing has a hard and fast LINE that I shouldn't cross, y'know? But I am really seeking to praise and honor the Lord, and I know He will guide me. I have recently finished a 3-week "fast" from secular music, but I find that it doesn't make as much of a difference in my life as I would think, since so much of the Christian music is all about ME anyway.
    Do you have a "line" drawn for yourself, or how do you decide what is "good" and what isn't?
    A couple years ago I was toying with a conclusion I came to on my own, therefore I don't know if it is terribly sound, but here is the gist of it:
    that God doesn't listen to music as we know it, but the heart behind the music. I came to this conclusion thinking about how many sweet Christians singing hymns in church with praise in their hearts...have terrible singing voices. And how many singers with amazing, lovely voices sing horrible songs (and then turn around and do a "sacred" album)?
    God must have a different way of judging music than we do, because I just don't think God would plug His ears to the song of the sincere but not-so-gifted Christian, and listen raptly to the atheist singer as they blaspheme Him with the gorgeous voice He gave them.

    And then there's classical music, which I love, but there were so many evil composers, like Tchaikovsky, who was a homosexual. I can't stand to listen to his music--it disturbs me, probably because he was disturbed!

    I love the "hard rock makes killer mice" can't argue with that! Rock music kills your brain! :)

    This is getting rather long-ish...I'm sorry I do this on your blog, but really it's a compliment; you make me think about what I believe. :)
    "iron sharpening iron..."
    love in Jesus,
    Kelsey :o)

  3. Thanks for courageously sharing on this important topic, Lauren! I want to learn more about Plato and "the doctrine of ethos." The morality of music is something our culture so wants to deny, but the powerful effects of the music we listen to cannot be escaped! If you have not already listened to it, I would highly recommend Mr. Andrew Pudewa's audio presentation, "The Profound Effects of Music on Life." It's really good!

  4. Kelsey-Thanks so much for your comment! Don't feel funny admitting you're still sorting through everything--that is great because it shows you are growing! In fact, I know that I am not at a final state of maturity on this issue, so I'll just share from my heart what God has been teaching me.
    Music is a difficult thing for many people to discern black and white areas in, and so many people then wrongly turn music into a grey area. There are certain things that I listen for in a song when trying to analyze it. Most Christians, of course, listen to and analyze the words, and this is good. However, I *try* to go beyond that and look at what the music actually communicates. Songs with heavy syncopation all throughout, drumbeat that overpowers the melody and harmony, and breathy singing style all signal me to turn away--that I could be edified better by listening to other music. This is because of the physical ramifications wrong music has on the body, as well as the spiritual. The melody appeals to the spirit of a person, the harmony to the soul, and the rhythm to the body. If any of these are out of balance, it will produce imbalance in the listener! I hesitate to tell you "Don't listen to THIS music" because I think it should be a decision that you should come to based on the facts and what God says. Eight questions for acceptable music that have helped me are: "Does this music help me hear the Word of God clearly? Does it tend to give me a greater vision of the glory of God? Does it tend to lead me to a repentant view of my sin and depravity or does it lead to rebellion? Does it encourage disciplined, Godly living? Does it help me make a distinction between myself and the world? Is it the kind of music that encourages genuine spiritual renewal? Is it the kind of music that makes me want to just sing it in a "clique" with my friends or does it make me want to carry the Gospel into the world? Would I expect to find this music in heaven?"
    I encourage you to get some resources that can explain it so much better than me! (-: Striving for Excellence by Dr. and Mrs. Ronald Cannon is very in-depth and intricate, but also good. Majesty Music also sells some great books and DVDs.
    I would agree that God does not care about how beautiful our voices sound when we are singing praise to Him, and that a beautiful song that rejects Him is despicable to Him. However, the sincere, but sincerely wrong song of a gifted Christian is no more pleasing to his ears, I believe. Sadly, much of contemporary Christian music is worse than secular music (although I applaud your fast--that is a great idea!).
    As for classical music...I myself am still working with that one. (-; I do believe that God can use a non-Christian to fulfill His purposes and glorify Himself, as we see again and again in Scripture (Prov. 21:1, Rom. 9:17), so therefore I do not personally have a conviction against playing or listening to *any* song by a non-Christian. However, I would agree that there are some instances in which that line must be drawn. that must be the record for the longest comment...hopefully all of that makes sense! (=
    God bless, Kelsey!

  5. Ruthie--That's great that you're sharing this stuff with the Ugandan young people! I think that culture definitely needs to hear some of these Biblical principles of music evaluation, and it sounds like you're doing a great job!
    Jenny--thanks for your encouragement! It's great to hear from you! This is definitely a message that needs to be spread. I haven't listened to the "Profound Effects of Music on Life"--I'll have to try to get ahold of that!
    God bless!

  6. Thanks Lauren!
    I have read many books on CCM etc, including Majesty Music's, in the past. But that was when I was not ready to give up my addiction to "My Music." My parents are very wise and have always instructed me about music. I wouldn't want anyone to think my parents were at fault here...I am the foolish one, who had to learn through my own mistakes. They left the church (now a mega-church) they helped start because of the music. It is a very hot topic in our family. So hot, in fact, that I don't like to bring it up because the discussion would likely end in tears. I'm so grateful for my parents, who are endlessly patient and who love God and want His best.

    I know I need to have standards in this area, because music is SO important to me, and influences me greatly. I am asking God to help me to figure out where the line should be drawn, now, before I have a family of my own, because I don't want to be wishy-washy and not have convictions on it, or I'm likely to just listen to whatever. And whatever parents allow in moderation, kids pursue in excess.

    Those questions you gave are great..especially the last two. I'm going to write those down.

    God is really working in me to purge out the bits of the world that have crept in through entertainment. I know that "a friend of the world is the enemy of God," and that sobers me. God is making me willing to do whatever it takes, to be usable in His Hands. Whatever I lose is nothing compared to gaining Christ, and knowing His power in my life.

    Sorry, I kind of seem to inspire long responses. In case you hadn't realized it, I'm the same Kelsey who asked Jasmine B. a question and got her "longest post ever" in reply. :) I'm starting to be afraid to ask questions. :) But that is just my pride.
    God is still working on me, and I can't cover that up with a fake "I've got it all figured out" attitude.
    Thanks for your loving response--you are an encouragement.
    God bless you, Lauren!

    Kelsey :o)

  7. Kelsey--Don't think for a second that I don't enjoy reading your comments! I absolutely don't mind long comments, and I love your honesty and sincere desire to please the Lord. That encourages me! Your family has quite the story with music--I can't imagine starting a church and seeing it go a different direction as far as music!
    Anyways, I'm glad a few things I said were helpful, and I'll definitely keep praying for wisdom for both of us!

  8. Not just music... Have you ever heard of Dr. Emoto's Rice Experiment? If you haven't, Google it.

    Dr. Emoto had two bowls of that were separated.

    To one he spoke kind words.

    To the other, harsh words.

    Can you guess the results?

  9. Lauren, I am currently struggling with trying to have a true and lasting relationship with God and giving up listening to the Grateful Dead. For 20 years I followed the Dead and have significant friendships with followers. For instance, there is a show tonight that I am being encouraged to go to that the band plays the Dead and my best friend is going to. Everyone just says "You deserve this. You work hard. You need a break..." I am drawn to this culture but know in my heart that it is a dead end (no pun intended). When I go into this environment now, I see and discern a undercurrent or immoral feel to the atmosphere. The culture tells you it is a "spiritual" experience. I have been carried away by the music and it creates a feeling of escape and euphoria but it's not focused on God it is focused on the carnal. Some of the songs lead you to believe it is about God and the universe but the culture condones drugs and promiscuity. The music and culture seems to be an oxymoron. It has lead me down the path of drug use and sexual immorality and encourages this behavior in me. So, I think I am right in bowing out tonight even though this disappoints my best friend. Thanks for this site for me to express my feelings. I hope I have added some insight to your study. I have much life experience with this subject. God bless. Ms. Spencer

  10. Dear Ms. Spencer,
    Thank you for sharing your story. I will be praying for you and encourage you to fill your mind with the transforming power of God's Word as you seek Him. This is something I am still working on and learning about! These articles about meditation on Scripture and how that changes our daily walk with Christ may be of help to you:
    Love in Christ,


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