These oddly-named congregations were founded by practising Catholics who (recognisable by their chunky platform-soled black leather boots, among other things) have come out at the same time as fans of heavy metal. Because of their seeming conflict with Christian traditions, their religious communities have rejected and excluded them. In response, these devout metal heads have simply taken the initiative and started their own congregations. It is because of this phenomenon, which has gripped the UK for some months, that now these metal fans can finally express their beliefs freely without the traditional burdens of the Christian church. Blasphemy? The debate over alternative metal religious communities is heated. Certainly not all Christians would find the mass for The Order of the Black Sheep appealing - the ceremony lasts just a few minutes and is conducted with video clips and electronic music.
AN IMPOSSIBLE MARRIAGE?
«It is unbelievably important that what concerns youth and what motivates their lives stays connected with their belief in God»
At first glance, the love of black metal seems incompatible with Christian beliefs. You don't need to be familiar with the Bible to reach this conclusion - loving thy neighbour doesn't really seem to correspond with black metal themes like anarchy, destruction and the Devil. 'That's absolutely not true!,' says Father Culat. According to him, you can play or enjoy heavy metal without being an atheist. He's a living example of this: the vicar of the Avignon diocese is a devoted metal head in his free time. In 2007, he published a book called The Age of Metal (L’âge du metal). In it he discusses how, of the young disciples he polled (the average age was 24 years old), 15.22% described themselves as religious and 12.32% identify as Christians. However, only 10.69% profess to practice their beliefs. Why is that? 'In the church, and no less in the domain of metal music and culture, there is a certain number of people for whom both of these things are mutually exclusive. Either Christ or metal heads - you have to choose!' For Father Culat, aka 'Padre Bob' (as he calls himself on various internet forums), the 'sectarianism' of Christian churches is quite puzzling and not in keeping with the basic values of the faith. Quite the contrary, in fact - the Padre reminds us that, according to Saint Paul, 'there is no respect of persons before God;' that 'before God, all people are equal' (Romans 2: 11).
SHEEP IN SATAN'S CLOTHING?
The fact that metal heads are not welcome in various religious institutions is first and foremost down to the way they dress: conservative Christians don't exactly rejoice over their 'satanic style'. Even worse, it's disruptive and is often associated with a deviant and eccentric attitude that lies outside of the norm; Padre Bob laments that 'these Christians are forgetting a very important lesson from the Bible: 'the Lord seeth not as man seeth. Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh at the heart' (1 Samuel 16: 7). It's very unfortunate that there are Christians who exclude others from their community based on their unusual style of dress,' he sighs.
«the real challenge for the churches is bringing the spiritual experience into the foreground»
From the perspective of the rebellious vicar, the challenges that the church must overcome are great: 'It is unbelievably important that what concerns youth and what motivates their lives stays connected with their belief in God. Christian communities must develop respect for different expressions of culture - and above all they must have the will to understand them.'
MISTRUST OF DOGMA AND THE LONGING FOR SPIRITUALITY
According to Father Culat, the religious approach of many metal fans can be summed up as a mistrust of dogma and the longing for spirituality: 'the real challenge for the churches is bringing the spiritual experience into the foreground. If the tenets are completely removed from an authentic spiritual life and from true generosity, that lessens Christianity. Then it becomes basically nothing more than pure ideology, like many others on the market of philosophical, political or religious ideas.' The black metal fans' gumption in founding their own church congregations is more than just an amusing anecdote. Their attempt to battle the extreme rigidity of the Christian churches is an impressive example of the challenges they will face in the future.
Photos: One courtesy of the Facebook page for ©Heavy Metal for the 2011 Census; Video and confession courtesy of the official site of ©The Order of the Black Sheep; Church photo courtesy of the official site of ©The Glorious Undead.