THE teenage music phenomenon Justin Bieber is arguably the most popular Christian in the world. In interviews he talks about growing up in an evangelical church, about how he prays several times a day, about his belief in angels and his opposition to abortion.
Where you won’t hear Mr. Bieber talk about faith very often, however, is in his songs. That may in part be his choice, but it’s also a reflection of a split in popular music between the secular and the godly. Despite being a rare bright spot in an industry facing difficulties, music with explicit religious content has been largely segregated from non-religious pop music, both in terms of radio stations and audiences—so much so that it even has a name, contemporary Christian music.
This wasn’t always the case. For much of pop music history, religious themes had an uncontroversial place at the top of the charts, a presence most clearly felt in the late ’60s and early ’70s. But over the next decades, the politicization of faith, relying in part on the surge of youth into the country’s churches, turned religious themes into a forbidden zone for secular musicians.