“It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M. Just put your paws up, ’cause you were born this way, baby” – Lady Gaga
She’s on her way to becoming one of the biggest pop stars of all time. Her music is played on radio stations and in clubs across the globe. She’s one of the most recognizable icons of secular culture. And in her new #1 hit, “Born This Way,” Lady Gaga sings about… God???
Did you notice? Perhaps not. If you did, you may not have taken this aspect of her song seriously. What could someone we remember for wearing a meat dress have to say about God? Critics have interpreted the song to be about self-acceptance, and they say it goes no further than the territory covered by Cher, Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, or Katy Perry. But to say the song is simply about self-acceptance is to ignore its repeated religious references and allusions. Religion is a serious, controversial topic, and no artist would place such references casually. What is Lady Gaga doing?
Gaga is conscious of the artist’s ability to direct people’s attention where she wants it to go. Out of respect for the fans who launched her career, Gaga often brings their concerns into the national spotlight. Many of Gaga’s fans are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender young people, and they struggle to accept themselves in face bullying, discrimination, and hate from mainstream society. They struggle particularly against the predominant religious message they hear, which says that their sexual feelings or gender identity is an abomination before God.
While there are many religious communities that affirm queer sexuality, groups on the far right, including the Moral Majority and Focus on the Family, have defined a narrative for all religion through skillful use of the media. They thrive on controversy, utilizing conflict to gain attention to promote their message.
Rather than fight this branding of religious faith, the mainstream gay-rights movement has walked around religion, appealing to growing scientific consensus in its favor. Unknowingly, they reinforce the message that religious faith condemns queer sexuality. The religious right does not abandon science. Many of their leaders are, in fact, medical professionals, including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, a psychologist. But for whatever reason, the LGBT community largely leaves religion alone. The religious authority of the conservative movement continues unchallenged, and they retain their power over the religious message.
“Born This Way” marks an important shift in public discourse. Gaga, icon of the gay rights movement, has come out! She believes in God, and she believes God has made lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people the way they are. She exposes the conflict between faith and sexuality as false. She promotes a new religious narrative, taking away the power of the previous narrative to condemn and exclude. For those who know that exclusion firsthand, Gaga’s message is more than a nice message about acceptance – it’s liberating.
Each time “Born This Way” is played, it challenges an oppressive narrative that has dominated for decades. It will take time establish the new religious narrative, but Gaga has started what progressive religious communities have been unable to do – command public attention and get the message out. Let’s help her out! Let’s establish the new narrative, here and now. Join me in her refrain:
“I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way!”
If you haven’t heard “Born This Way,” check out the song’s debut at the Grammys here:
\”Born This Way\” at the Grammys
If you’re curious about Gaga’s religious views, she offers a glimpse in this 2010 interview with Larry King:
Lady Gaga on Larry King Live