We are fascinated with the Illuminati. If you have been following any celebrity of note, then you have to be familiar with the concept of the Illuminati. The secret society that controls the world from the shadows is supposedly filled with Black celebrities. Jay-Z, Beyonce, and even Lecrae, the Christian hip-hop artist, were named as members of this elite group of world takeover artists. Now, LeCrae as a member of the Illuminati is about as believable as Donald Trump as a crusader for social justice. Although it’s ridiculous and almost laughable, the question still remains, “What is our fascination with the Illuminati?”
History of the Illuminati Fascination
The Illuminati has always been a hip-hop staple since I could remember. There were always subtle references in songs. From the Goodie Mob’s “Cell Therapy” to LL Cool J’s reference in the “I Shot Ya” remix, hip-hop from the mid-90s to now has had an obsession with the Illuminati. Ras Kass, Outkast, Bun B, and many others have all mentioned the Illuminati in their lyrics. In Tupac’s prime, he released Don Killuminati, and the reference was not missed.
It’s gotten to be a staple for the YouTube crowd as well. Tons of videos analyze different artists and how their music and videos are laced with Illuminati symbolism. The symbolism is usually related to the all-seeing eye or Eye of Providence—the famous image on the dollar bill—as well as references to light or pyramids. Also, skulls, goats, snakes, the sun, fire, and eagles are seen as Illuminati symbols. Basically, everything is an illuminati symbol.
Doing a casual search on YouTube will also reveal celebrity exposé interviews with the likes of Professor Griff of Public Enemy fame and others speaking of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G. as Illuminati blood sacrifices. There is also a theory that the Illuminati-controlled hip-hop industry is influencing young men to turn homosexual.
Theories abound on how hip-hop is influenced by this supposed secret society. And hip-hop is chock full of references about the Illuminati’s influence over the entire world. But just who are the Illuminati? Where did this understanding of a secret society dominating the world even come from?
Who are the Illuminati?
The Illuminati was a group in the 18th century formed to oppose religious and cultic superstition. It’s ironic that this group that was formed to fight against superstition has now become the stuff of legend. Charles Theodore, a Bavarian ruler, used an edict to outlaw the group, along with a host of other secret societies. Subsequently, the group disbanded.
This didn’t stop people from believing that the group was still in operation. Soon after, they were accused of being responsible for the French Revolution. This was the first of many accusations that the formally disbanded Illuminati were supposedly masterminds behind, some of the greatest events in history. The Illuminati have been said to be responsible for events from Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo to the assassination of JFK. Even recently, they were said to have orchestrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The organization is said to have risen to this kind of power because of their connection to the big world banks. Through these connections, they have consolidated power in the media industry as well. This has given rise to theories that different music artists and Hollywood stars are also members of the secret society. In fact, the list of people who are said to be members of the Illuminati is a who’s who in terms of the Hollywood A-List; Kanye, Snoop Dogg, Lady Gaga, Emma Watson, Celine Dion, and Miley Cyrus have all been alleged to be on the Illuminati roster.
Why are we fascinated with the Illuminati?
So, the question remains, “Why are we so fascinated with the Illuminati?” There is a lot of energy and discussion about a secret society that no one knows for sure exists. The evidence regarding their existence is skimpy. The different signs and symbols used to rope celebrities into the Illuminati’s orbit are coincidental at best. What makes people suspect that a secret society is pulling the strings of everyone on the planet?
I think this goes back to the feeling of powerlessness many in underprivileged communities feel. Since things are so bad, then there must be a secret power doing this. This can’t just be normal life. There’s got to be an explanation for the evil we see in the world. There’s got to be a good reason for the injustice and oppression that makes its way to my neighborhood on a daily basis.
Said in another way, there can be no good reason for people to be losing their minds like they are now. Why is there so much Black-on-Black crime? Illuminati. Why is there so much pollution? Illuminati. Inflation? Illuminati. Unhealthy relationships? Illuminati. Pharmaceuticals with crazy, harmful, side effects? Illuminati. Every bad thing can be traced back to the Illuminati, and ultimately no one is responsible.
When it’s connected to celebrities, it’s kind of a different story. People want to know how someone like Jay-Z can rise to the top and make millions and they can’t. They want to explain away success. In their minds, for someone to be that successful, they had to sell their soul to the devil and join a secret society. Let’s push aside hard work, talent, and market trends. Let’s give credit to people we can’t even verify exist.
How Do We as Christians Respond to This Fascination?
It’s crazy that some people have actually accused Lecrae of being a member of the Illuminati because of his latest video. Yeah, the same Lecrae whose songs are laced with the fundamental truths of the Gospel. I don’t see how the Illuminati can use the story of the Creation, Fall, and redemption to their advantage. This is where Illuminati conspiracy theories become laughable.
The funny thing is in some way I agree with many of the Illuminati conspiracy theorists. There is someone pulling the strings. It’s just not the inheritors of an 18th-century secret society bent on world domination. When it comes to evil and oppression as a Christian, I believe there are invisible forces at work whose sole goal is to control people’s actions and direct them towards evil.
In the Bible, they are called demons and are led by Satan. In Ephesians 2, he is called the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who is now at work in the sons of disobedience. The devil is bent on world domination by causing people to disobey God. When they don’t bend to his will, then he is set on destroying them. That’s his modus operandi.
At the same time, I’m convinced that, ultimately, He’s not the one pulling the strings behind it all. That position goes to God himself. There’s an attribute we give to Him called sovereignty. This means no matter what is happening, God is in control. He is superintending over world events and personal decisions.
Who knows, there might be a secret society out there, but I’ll take my chances with a faithful, loving, and compassionate God who not only has my best interests, but the entire world’s best interests in mind.
ATTENTION GRABBER: On Twitter, rapper Nicki Minaj was ecstatic to have drawn the attention of President Obama with her supposed endorsement of GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. (Photo: Christopher Macsurak/Wikipedia)
Well, good news: Nicki Minaj supports President Obama after all. Whew! That’s a relief.
Last week, you may recall, the twitterverse was all abuzz after the colorful rapper set off speculation that she was supporting Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Her featured track on Lil Wayne’s latest mixtape caught the rapper sharing some puzzling lyrics that indicated she was casting her lots with the GOP. On Lil Wayne and Kanye West’s song “Mercy,” Minaj raps: “I’m a Republican voting for Mitt Romney/You lazy b***es is f***ing up the economy.”
Almost immediately, the world broke into an uproar attempting to decipher the eccentric rapper’s true intentions behind the cryptic verses. Rolling Stone magazine chimed in on the discussion when it raised the question of whether or not her words were a deliberate endorsement or just a provocative lyric.
But, this week, after President Obama was asked about the song and Minaj’s apparent endorsement of Romney, he told radio station WPYO-FM in Orlando, Florida, that he wasn’t so sure it was a Romney plug. “She likes to play different characters,” he said.
Minaj immediately jumped on the moment. In a tweet, she thanked Obama for understanding: “my creative humor and sarcasm,” then noted: “the smart ones always do …”
In the past the hip-hop star has been known to produce songs filled with controversial lyrics that many felt were for publicity and self-promotion. Rapper Talib Kweli agrees. In a tweet posted last week, he said, “I doubt Nicki seriously supports Romney. Her lyrics ain’t political. She just wants y’all to talk about her & she winning cuz it’s working!”
I particularly enjoyed another tweet from Kweli that helped tease out the irony in the apparent existential crises so many were experiencing after the Minaj mystery hit:
Taking Minaj seriously, Huffington Postcontributor Kia Makarechi observed that, “Minaj is hardly the first hip-hop figure to take a stance on the election.” In fact, Makarechi added that a week earlier Jay-Z had presented a video to concertgoers at his Made in America Festival that highlighted President Obama encouraging everyone to vote in the upcoming election.
One pop star that is definitely not a Romney supporter is Black Eyed Peas leader will.i.am. A couple weeks ago at the Republican National Convention, Gov. John Kasich quoted the band in his speech. Kasich said:
You know, I don’t know about you … but I’ve got a feeling. I’ve got a feeling –- and it’s not just because I like the Black Eyed Peas –- I’ve got a feeling we’re about to elect a new president of the United States of America!
Unhappy with the musical reference and his band’s indirect connection with the RNC, will.i.am tweeted, “Hey Gov Kasich #Igotafeeling that Ohio needed the auto bail out…#unitedamericanotdivided let’s educate our youth #reachforthestars.”
The following day, will.i.am continued to fight back in an emotionally charged television interview with Marlow Stern in North Carolina, to discuss his support for the President at the Democratic National Convention.
In different ways, both will.i.am and Nicki Minaj proved their influence in the culture, not to mention the way that pop music, hip-hop, and the opinions of its artists have become an important part of today’s politics.
HARRY BELFAFONTE: “They have turned their back on social responsibility,” opined the activist and actor about today’s black celebrities. (Photo: David Shankbone/Wikipedia)
Harry Belafonte is a legendary entertainer, known for his iconic performances in films like Carmen Jones, Buck and the Preacher, and Calypso. And who can forget his award-winning “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)”? However, in a long and distinguished career, Belafonte’s greatest accomplishments arguably may be his involvement with the civil rights movement.
During the ’50s and ’60s, Belafonte was one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s biggest supporters and endorsers. He fully believed in the message and movement that King worked so tirelessly to establish. Belafonte provided financial support for King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) as well as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council (SNCC), and he also participated in several rallies and protests alongside King. Still a civic-minded crusader today at age 85, he continues to live his life as an outspoken activist for social justice and equality.
Belafonte has never been one to shy away from social commentary or hold his tongue in conversation. He has been known for his honest comments and straightforward critiques about politics, show business, and society.
In an interview last week with the Hollywood Reporter, when asked whether or not he was happy with the images of minorities portrayed in Hollywood, he caused a stir by calling out two famous black celebrities by name. “I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities,” Belafonte began. “But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Zand Beyoncé, for example.”
JAY-Z AND BEYONCE: Is it fair to compare the altruism and social involvement of today’s stars to those of the civil rights era? (Photo: Ivan Nikolov/WENN/Newscom)
Belafonte believes that industry heavyweights like Jay-Z and Beyoncé have a social responsibility to be outspoken regarding issues of race, prejudice, and civil injustices, mainly because they have the social influence and public platform to do so. Janelle Harris at Essence echoed those sentiments. “There’s been an ugly dumbing down when it comes to acknowledging and addressing pertinent issues, even having empathy for and interest in what’s impacting our community. It’s an attitude of detachment,” she said.
She added: “I agree with Harry Belafonte. I think young people could be doing more. Twenty, thirty, forty-somethings. It’s not just the celebrities, though they’re certainly part of the vanguard for making philanthropy and activism cool, which is unfortunately necessary for some folks to get involved.”
Jay-Z and Beyoncé are definitely the closest thing the black community has to pop-culture royalty today. The hip-hop power couple topped Forbes list this year as the world’s highest-paid celebrity duo, raking in a staggering $78 million. But are they giving back?
Guardian columnist Tricia Rose wonders as much. She writes, “It is undeniable that today’s top black artists and celebrities have the greatest leverage, power, visibility and global influence of any period. It is also true that few speak openly, regularly and publicly on behalf of social justice. Most remain remarkably quiet about the conditions that the majority of black people face.”
Many celebrities often take on a non-controversial role or use their celebrity indirectly as a fundraising tool, rather than taking an overt stance to engage civically. Rose continues to say that her previous statement is not intended to, “discount their philanthropic efforts,” but to raise awareness. And Belafonte’s lament illuminates a fundamental shift in black popular culture.
“As black artists have gone mainstream, their traditional role has shifted. No longer the presumed cultural voice of the black collective social justice, it is now heavily embedded in mass cultural products controlled by the biggest conglomerates in the world,” says Rose.
FREEDOM FIGHTERS: Belafonte (center) with fellow actors Sidney Poitier (left) and Charlton Heston at the historic civil rights March on Washington, D.C., in 1963.
Rose notes that individuals like Belafonte willfully sacrificed their safety and lives by marching with civil rights protesters under threat of police violence. His commitment and contributions are rare among modern superstars.
She adds: “In the history of black culture popular music and art has played an extraordinary role in keeping the spirit alive under duress, challenging discrimination and writing the soundtrack to freedom movements.” Visionaries like Paul Robeson, Lorraine Hansberry, and Nina Simone are a few that Rose believes understood that responsibility and made a conscious effort to better society through both their art and fame.
As for Beyoncé, the singer’s representatives did respond to Belafonte’s charge by citing a litany of the singer’s charitable acts, including funding of inner-city outreaches in her hometown of Houston, as well as donations to hurricane relief efforts in the Gulf Coast and humanitarian campaigns following the Haiti earthquake.
In fairness to Beyoncé and Jay-Z, it is not for any of us to judge how they use their money, nor to pressure them into being more generous than they already are. What’s more, the issues in today’s society are quite different than they were during the civil rights era. So, it might be unfair to impose those kinds of expectations on today’s African American celebrities.
Still, it’s hard not to feel that we do need more influential people with Belafonte’s mindset to help us reenergize the black community. His contributions over the course of his career have changed the world for the better and have proven that entertainers can be important difference makers for change and justice.
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s lavish “Watch the Throne” tour is in effect and may soon be coming to an arena near you (if it hasn’t already). A review of the tour’s recent Madison Square Garden show prompted me to once again reflect on how overinflated and over-the-top our pop-culture heroes can be. Far be it from me to cast aspersions on anyone’s aspirations of grandeur. Like Whitney Houston and countless others, I do, in fact, believe the children are our future. Our children can grow up to do great things and be great people.
But friends, we need to know that there is a hidden cost to greatness, especially greatness as defined by our culture.
And I’m not just talking about the moral hazards along the way.
I’m sure every June there are many commencement speeches that draw from the lesson of Mark 8:36, where Jesus famously asks, “What does it a profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” It’s become cliché to warn our young people about the dangers of living life on the fast track to wealth and notoriety.
The fact is, some moral hazards are more obvious to certain people than others.
That’s why it’s easy to take Mark 8:36 and aim it at obvious targets, like Jay-Z and Kanye. The duo, of course, is touring in support of their popularly celebrated album collaboration Watch The Throne. On that record, the multiplatinum-selling, image-conscious, superstar rappers-turned-global-icons aim the spotlight at themselves, illustrating in great detail the extent to which they’ve made careers out of unabashedly reveling in their own celebrity. The title refers to their efforts to protect their perch at the top.
You can see this in one of their more controversial songs [EXPLICIT LYRIC WARNING], “No Church in the Wild,” where each emcee uses religious themes and imagery to justify his own moral code, which of course, includes copious amounts of cocaine, fast cars, and unashamed so-called “ethical non-monogamy.” (If the rumors are true about Will Smith having a similar marital stance, then the rampant rumors of his divorce would make sense.)
So, like I said, it’s an easy target.
As someone whose job it is to comment on pop culture with a biblical worldview, Watch the Throne is low-hanging fruit because any young person with her head on straight knows intuitively that most of this stuff is bad for you.
The Missing ‘If’
Moralistic therapeutic deism is a term coined by sociologist Christian Smith that summarizes the popular spiritual beliefs of teens and twentysomethings circa 2005, a set of beliefs that endure in today’s popular culture. The idea is that good people go to heaven, bad people go to hell, and that God generally exists to help me do good things and therefore have a good life.
It is because of the pervasiveness of moralistic therapeutic deism that Watch the Throne, specifically, and both Jay-Z and Kanye West, in general, are easy targets for cultural criticism. As much as people might be impressed with their business and marketing acumen, it’s generally understood that Jay-Z has a tremendous ego (why else would Beyoncé write a song about it?) and Kanye West, despite being incredibly talented, is also a huge douchebag.
You could chalk that up to bias against hip-hop culture, perhaps.
But no one would use these terms to describe a true American hero, someone whose contributions to our nation’s struggle for freedom and overall heritage are unquestioned and unassailable.
Someone like, for example, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose memorial was recently unveiled on the national mall in Washington, D.C. No one would ever think of him as an egotist.
That is, unless you happened to read the inscription on the statue.
The recent controversy, as covered by UrbanFaith’s own Christine A. Scheller, is over the words “I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness,” a paraphrase of a longer quote taken from a famous sermon entitled “The Drum Major Instinct.” According to Maya Angelou, the design process that led to those words being chosen ignored the subtle nuance of what Dr. King was trying to say, and instead cast Dr. King as an arrogant, self-promoting figure.
The key is in the missing “if.”
The famous sermon in question, which really ought to be read in its entirety, was the final sermon delivered by Dr. King at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The message, delivered on Feb. 4, 1968, explores Jesus’ response to his disciples John and James after their request for priority seating in Jesus’ kingdom. “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory,” the sons of Zebedee said. Reflecting on this moment, Dr. King implores his listeners not to judge James and John’s ambition too harshly. There’s some James and John in all of us, he says. “And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It’s a kind of drum major instinct — a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first.”
Dr. King goes on to conclude his sermon with a now ominous-sounding request that at his funeral people not fuss over the trivial stuff, but that they remember him for the right reasons:
Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize — that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards — that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody….
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter.
The sad irony of the recent controversy is that Dr. King forecasted the way his words would be eventually used to promote a vision of his life that was larger-than-life, and in this sermon he tried in vain to prevent it from happening. Four decades later, we should not be surprised that popular culture would retrofit the image of Dr. King in a manner befitting of itself, a culture that continues to be either indifferent toward or hostile to the Christ Jesus about whom King so passionately preached.
And therein lies the true hidden danger of being great in our world.
Once someone reaches a certain level of stratospheric influence and notoriety, either in their lifetime or posthumously, their legacy is constantly up for interpretation. People with selective memories and hidden agendas can appropriate their words and actions to suit their own objectives.
Approaching the Throne
I say all of this not to demonize Jay-Z and Kanye and lionize Dr. King, because even Dr. King had his own moral hazards.
The point is that as Christians, especially if we are church leaders, our life’s work isn’t ultimately judged on the specter of public opinion, but on whether or not we received Christ and how well we lived out his gospel. If our work is built on anything else, it will not last.
But if we build on the foundation of the gospel, we will receive a reward that no one will be able to take away. We won’t have to worry about others taking our words out of context, because the only words that will matter to us will be, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant.”
In his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon, Dr. King also said this:
Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it … it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.
So I say, please … watch the throne. Better yet, approach it boldly, so that you can receive grace in your time of need.
Because Dr. King was right about what Jesus said.
The true mark of greatness is not found on a statue but on our knees.
[Hook: Frank Ocean]
Human beings in a mob
What’s a mob to a king? What’s a king to a God?
What’s a God to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything?
Will he make it out alive? Alright, alright, no church in the wild
Lies on the lips of priests, Thanksgiving disguised as a feast…
…Is Pious pious cause God loves pious?
Socrates asked whose bias do y’all seek?…
…Jesus was a carpenter, Yeezy he laid beats
Hova flow the Holy Ghost, get the hell up out your seats, preach
…We formed a new religion
No sins as long as there’s permission
And deception is the only felony…
…It’s something that the pastor don’t preach
It’s something that a teacher can’t teach
When we die the money we can’t keep
But we probably spend it all cause the pain ain’t cheap, preach
In the hook, Frank Ocean proposes that if you deny the highest power, you may just become the highest but you might not make it out alive.
In the first verse Jay Z paints the picture of a history of religious contradictions and challenges the listeners to reconsider their definition of piety or righteousness, similarly to the way Socrates did in the Euthyphro. He charges listeners to free themselves by rejecting religious bias and to preach this new message.
In the 2nd verse Kanye introduces the details of this new religion, “no sins as long as there’s permission.” He suggests that this new message is new for both preachers and educators because even they do not realize that money isn’t everything and that “we probably spend it all cause the pain ain’t cheap.”
This song isn’t necessarily bashing God, but organized religion. It’s clearly coming from feelings of rejection and hypocrisy from religious institutions and each verse provides a different perspective on the theme.
What do you detest more: hypocrisy or death?
When you’ve searched for an example and didn’t find one, did you ever consider yourself?
Are you for as many things as you’re against?
When all you do is deny what you hate, you reject the real remedy, which is always God’s love. Hate is more evil than your intentions. Need proof? When’s the last time you found yourself doing the things you hate?
POST YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK THIS SONG IS SAYING!