Stealing Spock’s Brain, or Why I Despise the Music of Marty Haugen

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the second Vatican Council, and it seems more than time to assess–as honestly and objectively as possible–the teachings and results of this earth-shattering moment in church history and in the history of western civilization.

Clearly as Catholics, we believe this council and all of its teachings to be legitimate.  In the words produced in the documents of the council, there are stunning revelations of and into the nature of truth, goodness, and beauty.  Indeed, the documents need a constant, thoughtful, and prayerful study, over and over again.

But, as anyone under the age of 55 knows and understands, the implementation of the ideas of VII have been nothing short of hideous at times.  This is especially true in the American Catholic churches.

As chance would have it, my parish is currently debating what our next hymnal should be.  Whether or not Catholics should even have hymnals is a question in and of itself, of course, and I’m not attempting to enter into that debate here.  I’ll merely accept for the sake of this post that we’re going to have a new hymnal soon.

The one we’ve been using for over a decade–Ritual Song: A Hymnal and Service Book for Roman Catholics–is unlike anything I’ve experienced in my forty-four years on this earth.  Two songs in this book reveal much about it and its bizarreness.

I promised earlier in this post that I would be as “objective” as possible.  “Honest” might be a better word for it.  So, the big reveal: I’ve never once heard a song by either Marty Haugen or Dan Schutte that I think is anything less than purely tacky.  Several are downright evil.

Here’s a sample of lyrics from a Haugen tune that I’ve had to suffer through too many times to count in the last fourth of my life.  I can only hope every listen is worth a decade or so out of purgatory, but then I think that by allowing my kids to be exposed to such trash, I might actually be damning my own soul.  Yes, I jest to a certain extent, but only to a certain extent.  My wife and I have had many a conversation about damnation for allowing our children to be introduced to such muck.

Not in the dark of buildings confining/

Not in some heaven light years away,

But here in this place. . .

Now is the Kingdom.

Ok, let’s start with the tackiness factor.  Who would ever insert “light years” into a hymn?  Really, come on.  What happened the day your wrote this, Marty?  Did some women steal Spock’s brain?

Tackiness is bad, but heresy is worse.  We encounter the “Kingdom” now, here, in this place?  Really, Marty?  What, have we become convinced of our own good works?  Does Jesus’ opening of the Gates of Heaven no longer matter?  We can just skip that part and have a good ol’ time here?  Didn’t we Catholics used to think of earth and this existence as a Vale of Sorrows, one that we escaped only the by Grace of the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior on the Cross?

And, here’s one by Dan called “Here I am, Lord.”

I, the Lord of sea and sky,

I have heard My people cry.

Oh boy, did Dan just have the parish assume the voice of God, the One who told Moses to call Him only “I am that I am”?  That God, creator of heaven and earth, and of us?  But, now, we get to be God or gods?  How interesting, Dan.  Not just tacky and not just heretical, but really, really tacky, and horribly heretical.

If you’ve made it this far in this post, I’ll apologize somewhat for the rant.  But, frankly, I just don’t get it.  Our Church is glorious, and it shall prevail against the Gates of Hell.  But, here we are–inheritors of the longest lived institution in the history of the world, 2,500 years of western philosophy, and at least 2,000 years of music, art, and liturgy, –and the culmination of all of this is Dan Schutte and Marty Haugen?

Please don’t think me some kind of purist when it comes to music.  I’ve taught my children all about the greats of rock and jazz.  Without hesitation, my kids can name the greatest guitarists of the last fifty years (Alex Lifeson and Dave Gregory) and the greatest drummers of the last fifty years (Neil Peart and Nick D’Virgilio).  Indeed, they can name the members of Rush, Yes, Big Big Train, and others.  They know Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck.

But, church is church.  I don’t want progressive rock, jazz, or folk music in mass.  I don’t want sap in mass.  I don’t want tackiness in mass.  I don’t want heresy in mass.  I just want mass–in all of its glory, pursuing and witnessing the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.

I want something that calls forth reverence, not embarrassment and shame.

Next up, VII culture and architecture.



  • ian moore

    You have quite a small minded view of Haugen’s music!
    You say that you have never once heard a song by Marty Haugen that is ‘anything less than purely tacky. Several are downright evil.’
    I’ll just mention one and that’s from the ‘Song of Mark’. ‘I am waiting for this Jesus’ is beautiful, heartfelt and summarizes the mind of that broken woman incredibly well.
    It’s neither evil or tacky and maybe huge generalizations should be avoided when you’re trying to make a solid argument…

  • Hilary C. Boone

    As far as “Hear I am Lord” My Dad loved that hymn. i was the pastoral musician in our small church in Tennessee. We certainly were and have been all deceived by these Catholic theologically inept composers of our Catholic Hymns.

  • Guest

    My family is experiencing great angst over the music styles at our church. I am the daughter of a long-term traditional music choir director, and so this part of the mass was also a part of my household. A very important part! Our parish’s current “musician” is a keyboard performer by trade, and brings his own lounge-lizard style of music into church. The church bought a new organ for him, because “he was using his own” instead of the organ that was there… a normal, old-fashioned organ which was not in need of repair! No, he needed something that plays fake trumpet sounds (among other even less distinguishable instruments) and has canned beats he can acquire by pushing a button. It is NOT organ music he is playing. Now he has added a cymbal (cringe) and chimes (you know that chime sound that signifies something “magic” is happening in a Disney movie? It is now a part of our weekly mass!). He has some young people on tambourines and drums. This is ALL very distracting and unsettling to me and to my family. It seems to me that people who have so much influence DURING the mass should have some training to back up what they do!
    Beyond detesting his particular “style” we are singing all sorts of new-agey gobbledegook that just makes me feel…. well, as if I am not attending a Catholic church. We are considering switching parishes because of it. Not kidding. Our family feels that if your mass experience is constantly distracted by that which should be drawing you CLOSER to God and you can’t focus on GOD while you are there, it may be time to move to another Catholic church. Now, a question. Who is your favorite Catholic mass songwriter?



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