Christmas music has been playing on the radio where I live for more than three weeks. The station we are most likely to tune into is a local Christian one. Not only the carols likely to be sung in church are played, but also some of the light-hearted wintery songs like "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "Winter Wonderland" performed by various artists on their Christmas albums.
One apparently harmless song has also received airplay: "Do they Know it's Christmas?" by BandAid, recorded in 1984. Originally a fundraiser for famine victims in Ethiopia, it continues to be popular at this time of year. The song even talks about God and prayer, so why would anyone object? The lyrics say, "Let's say a prayer/Pray for the other ones", but at the very end of that stanza we hear the callous words, "Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you."
I must have listened to this song dozens of times over the past thirty years, but I never caught that phrase until this year. What is this line supposed to mean? When we hear of the misfortunes of another person, our prayers should NOT go first to gratitude that it is not us. Instead we ought to be pleading with God for that other person's relief. It is all too common that as humans we turn this around.
Lyricists Bob Geldof and Midge Ure who were behind the effort to raise money for famine victims did not add to compassion when they included that line. There's no explanation in the rhyme scheme for the way they ended the second stanza. Yes, they came up with a song that sold over 3.7 million copies (statistic from 2012) and created a foundation called "Band Aid Charitable Trust." However, the song's message (not to mention the stereotypes about Africa as a whole being a place "Where nothing ever grows/No rain nor rivers flow") has done harm. It has reinforced the secular attitude that says "Thank God" flippantly when someone else suffers or even worse gives the impression that this is what Christians say and think in the face of suffering..