Pow'r In The Blood  

Thursday, November 06, 2008

One thing that really struck me when reading a prior Nonbelieving Literati selection The Flight of Peter Fromm is the blood. Throughout Christianity, even back to its Jewish roots, there's the concept of the blood sacrifice as an absolution of sin. These days the idea of blood sacrifice is no longer socially acceptable, so the sacrifice has become more of a symbolic thing.

But, there are still many, many Christian hymns that are, to excuse my wording, blood-drenched. Take for example the hymn that I haven't been able to get out of my head for the past three weeks - Power in the Blood.

There is pow'r, pow'r,
wonder working pow'r
In the blood
of the Lamb;
There is pow'r, pow'r,
wonder working pow'r
In the precious
blood of the Lamb.

It just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? But when people sing it do they really think about the words? I mean, do they really imagine power coursing through blood? And what is this power? Well, the second verse gives a clue.

Would be free from
your passion and pride?
There's pow'r in the blood,
pow'r in the blood;
Come for a cleansing
to Calvary's tide?
There's wonderful
power in the blood.

Freedom from passion and pride and all you need to do is cleanse in Calvary's tide. Isn't that sort of saying that you should bathe in blood... metaphorically? Well, except if you'd never heard of Christianity before don't you think the lyrics would sound a little gruesome?

Okay, so maybe that one's not so bad. But then there's Are You Washed in the Blood?.

Are you washed in the blood,
In the soul cleansing blood of the Lamb?
Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?

That's pretty much talking about bathing in blood. Eww. Really? Does anyone sing that song anymore. It's not one I remember from Sunday school, but I do remember Cleansing Fountain

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

Just reading that makes me feel yucky.

So why are there so many hymns about blood still sung today? I think most people just don't think too much about the lyrics. But in reality there are millions of people every Sunday singing about bathing in blood. Doesn't that seem kind of sick?

I know, I know, it's just supposed to be a metaphor. But is the crucifixion a metaphor too? Isn't it gruesome as well? I mean, why would God plan to sacrifice his son or require any kind of sacrifice anyway? Wasn't that why Cain's sacrifice was refused, because it wasn't blood?

And why do we have to have a sacrifice? Couldn't God have just wiped away our sins on believing in him? And why do we have to believe in him anyway? Isn't that kind of ego maniacal to need your creations to worship you when you won't even acknowledge them?

But singing about blood every week, really? That's just gross.

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7 comments: to “ Pow'r In The Blood

  • Anonymous
    Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 9:10:00 AM CST  

    By Tim Minchin:

    I'm looking forward to Christmas
    It's sentimental I know
    But I just really like it

    I am hardly religious
    I’d rather break bread with Dawkins than Desmond Tutu
    To be honest

    And yes I have all of the usual objections to consumerism
    The commercialisation of ancient religions
    And the westernisation of a dead Palestinian
    Press-ganged into selling Playstations and beer
    But I still really like it

    I really like Christmas
    Though I'm not expecting
    A visit from Jesus

    I'll be seeing my dad
    My brother and sisters, my gran and my mum
    They'll be drinking white wine in the sun
    I'll be seeing my dad
    My sisters and brother, my gran and my mum
    They'll be drinking white wine in the sun

    I don't go for ancient wisdom
    I dont believe just cos ideas are tenacious
    It means they are worthy

    I'm ambivalent to churches
    Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords
    Though the lyrics are dodgy

    And yes I have all of the usual objections to miseducation
    Of children forced into a cult institution and taught to externalise blame
    And to feel ashamed and to judge things as plain right or wrong
    But I quite like the songs...

  • Unknown
    Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 1:22:00 PM CST  

    I really like the poem (although it'd work as a song too). Thanks for sharing it podblack. :)

  • Anonymous
    Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 5:32:00 PM CST  

    You might want to take a look at this one - it's almost amusing...


  • Anonymous
    Thursday, November 6, 2008 at 6:34:00 PM CST  

    Salvation Army people still sing "Power in the Blood" and "Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb" pretty often. They don't sing the third one as often, but it's still in their songbook (hymnal).

    When I was a kid, I thought the blood songs in general were odd and "Are You Washed" really grossed me out. I got used to the imagery, once I understood some more about it. I think what happens is that the words lose most of their meaning with repetition and it's easy to mentally gloss over the stark imagery they raise. Now, looking at them again as a nonbeliever, I agree with you that these texts are disgusting if one thinks about them at all.

  • The Ridger, FCD
    Saturday, November 8, 2008 at 10:15:00 AM CST  

    The symbolism of the Eucharist was pretty gross when it was first established. Jesus (assuming he existed etc) really pushed the disciples there. Now most people don't think about (PZ's adventure notwithstanding: how many of those Catholics really contemplate eating human flesh and drinking human blood?). Washing in blood and emerging white as snow - it's not just gross, it's magic.

    Check out "The Chemistry of The Blood" (http://books.google.com/books?id=YNWcKRinxnEC for some strange stuff about Jesus' sinless, incorruptible blood.

  • Anonymous
    Tuesday, November 11, 2008 at 9:00:00 PM CST  

    And why was Cain's offering refused? No one ever thought to explain.

  • Unknown
    Saturday, November 15, 2008 at 9:21:00 AM CST  

    Mike: Great article, thanks!

    Chappy: Certainly repetition helps them lose their original meaning. I don't know if I ever really thought of the lyrics as a kid. My church didn't sing any of these songs much, but we did sing others that were disturbing in other ways.

    Ridger: Thanks for the link!

    Sylvene: Exactly! We always kind of glossed over that detail and went on to the murder and curse. But why would an honest sacrifice be rejected just because it didn't have blood?


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