Vampire Weekend begins their faith pondering with an infectious groove entitled “Unbelievers.” In this song Ezra Koenig seems to be wrestling with the message of condemnation he hears from Christianity (and maybe religion in general). He writes:
“We know the fire awaits unbelievers
All of the sinners the same
Girl you and I will die unbelievers
bound to the tracks of the train
I’m not excited, But should I be
Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me?”
The last line is quite the punch in the gut. Koenig perceives that the world of Christianity is actively planning his condemnation.
Now, a brief listen to this song could lead us to write it off as a simplistic rant against the nature, reality, and/or message of hell in the Bible; but if we dig a little deeper a different theme emerges. This song is rather a poignant lament of the weight of the law and a yearning for a message of grace from the church and God. This theme comes out loud and clear in one of my favorite lyrics from the entire album:
“If I’m born again I know that the world will disagree Want a little grace but who’s going to say a little grace for me?”
From what I can gather, Koenig seems to be lamenting the fact that even if he were to declare himself born again, he believes his behavior would disqualify him from the acceptance of the believers and salvation in general. Here Koenig is crying for grace, but whatever message he has received from believers is anything but. Simply put, for Koenig, being born again would only add to his sense of condemnation. Thus, he would rather die an unbeliever bound to the tracks of the train.
Upon hearing this song, I couldn’t help but be reminded of two powerful quotes from Paul Zahl’s work “Grace in Practice” concerning the lack of grace that comes from the church. He writes:
“This way of thinking has had a long life in Christian history. We hit people with the law (that is, with a proper diagnosis of their fallen condition), and they get softened up for grace. Grace is then offered and everything changes. But now, in the new sphere of the so-called ‘Christian life,’ they are hammered once again by the law. Once saved, in other words, people are on their own again, to work and prove.” (53)
Simply put, “Want a little grace but who’s going to say a little grace for me?” in most cases not the church. Zahl continues:
“A time of trouble leads them towards the grace of God. But right after they receive grace, they get punished with the law again. The church punishes them with the law. Here lies the problem, an unburied one.” (91)
This, I believe, is the problem that Vampire Weekend is lamenting in their song “Unbelievers.” Koenig desires grace, but the message he receives is condemnation through and through…