Jay-Z On God

I've been reading through Jay-Z's (Shawn Carter) recently released book titled Decoded, which I've quite enjoyed. Here's an excerpt from one of the sections of the book. While I do disagree with his conclusions, I think it is beneficial for many Christians, especially those who ignorantly and angrily bash him (see Youtube, here's an example of folks doing this on my page), to see. They seriously need to chill out. Anyway, here's what he says:

"My grandfather was a pastor—an Elder, they called them—in the Church of God in Christ, a Pentecostal denomination. He had the same name as my father, Abnis Reid, so they called my father AJ, for Abnis Junior. My grandmother Ruby was a deaconess in the same church. My father came from a strict, religious household, but sanctified churches are rooted in African traditions, so music, especially drumming—even if it’s only drumming by clapping your hands together—played a big part of the service. Worship is never a quiet thing in the Church of God in Christ congregation, people passing out, speaking in tongues, or tarrying for hours until they become possessed with the Holy Ghost and the church mothers, dressed in nurse’s uniforms, come and revive them.

My father’s parents were strict. Secular music like the Motown sound was forbidden in AJ’s house, but he snuck and listened anyway. The whole family had to be in church all the time, like four, five days a week. His three sisters couldn’t wear makeup or pants, and his two brothers spent most of the week in church, too. Church wasn’t a major part of my life growing up, as it had been for my father—soul in our house usually referred to the music. But when you grow up in a place like Bed-Stuy, church is everywhere. So is mosque. So are a thousand other ways of believing. Street corners were where all these different beliefs met—Pentecostals arguing scripture with Jehovah’s Witnesses, clean-cut brothers in bow ties and dark suits brushing past cats wearing fezzes and long beards, someone with a bullhorn or a mic and an amplifier booming out a sermon. We were all just living life, trying to get through, survive, thrive, whatever, but in the back of our minds, there was always a larger plan that we tried to make sense of. I was always fascinated by religion and curious about people’s different ideas. And like everyone, I’ve always wanted answers to the basic questions. Still, by the time I reached my teens, the only time I’d be anywhere near a church was when someone I knew died, and even then I wouldn’t necessarily go in.

But I wasn’t looking for church, anyway; I was looking for an explanation.

I think for some people life is always like those street corners in Brooklyn, with everyone arguing for the superiority of their own beliefs. I believe that religion is the thing that separates and controls people. I don’t believe in the fire-and-brimstone shit, the idea that God will punish people for eternity in a burning hell. I believe in one God. That’s the thing that makes the most sense to me. There’s wisdom in all kinds of religious traditions—I’ll take from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, whatever. The parts that make the most sense feel like they’re coming from the same voice, the same God. Most of all, I don’t think what I believe should matter to anyone else; I’m not trying to stop anyone from believing whatever they want. I believe in God, and that’s really enough for me.

I don’t spend a lot of time on records talking about spiritual ideas in an explicit way, although I think a lot of my music sneaks in those big questions—of good and evil, fate and destiny, suffering and inequality. I think about life mostly in pragmatic terms: I think about behavior andintention in the here and now. But I also think about Karma. It’s a complicated idea that I’ve tried to make sense of. At the heart of a lot of these competing ideas of the afterlife and heaven and hell and thug angels and all that is the idea that if the universe is just, things have to even out eventually, somehow. And sometimes that’s a scary thought. I’ve done things I know are wrong. There are times when I feel like I’ve suffered for those things, that I’ve paid back for my mistakes in spades. But then there are times when I look around me, at the life I have today, and think I’m getting away with murder. It’s something a lot of us who come from hard places go through, and maybe we feel a certain amount of survivor’s guilt for it. I never imagined I’d be where I am today. There’s a line in Fade to Black, the concert film we did for The Black Album, where I say, “I sometimes step back and see myself from the outside and say, who is that guy?” Over time I’ve worked to get more clarity about my past and present and to unify my outside shell and soul, but it’s ongoing. Inside, there’s still part of me that expects to wake up tomorrow in my bedroom in apartment 5C in Marcy, slide on my gear, run down the pissy stairway, and hit the block, one eye over my shoulder."

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