Billie Eilish on Abusing Power and Doing What You Want

Billie Eilish’s most recent single “Your Power” is a response to abuse of power and a reflection on being abused as a minor. Power and its abuses are at the core of many cultural struggles, as we’ve observed here and here. Eilish’s “Your Power” draws on her own experience to rightly condemn abuses of power, but her own theory of power cannot offer a good reason why using power abusively is wrong.

 

 

Billie Eilish’s Theory of Power
Eilish’s music and interviews show that she has a working theory of power. On “Your Power” she wistfully warns potential abusers against using their power wrongfully:

Try not to abuse your power
I know we didn’t choose to change
You might not wanna lose your power
But having it’s so strange

The first tenet of Eilish’s theory of power is that there are wrong ways to use power. This seems obvious and aligns with a Christian view of power and the belief that there are such things as objectively right and wrong actions. However, there is no obvious reason for Eilish to claim that power can be abused, because nowhere does she say that there is such a thing as right and wrong. In fact, she states the opposite: Eilish graces the cover of a recent edition of Vogue along with the quotation, “It’s all about what makes you feel good.” By that logic, personal agency and expression, not right and wrong, should dictate uses of power. The second tenet of Eilish’s theory of power, then, is that power is for what makes you feel good. These two tenets show up often in Eilish’s music, actions, and interviews, but are mutually exclusive. People cannot be free to use power to do whatever makes them feel good if doing so harms or abuses others.

The logical conclusion from Eilish’s theory of power is that the only reason not to abuse power is because of public shaming—that is, if the result of using your power doesn’t end up making you feel (or appear) good. This idea motivates cancel culture: when people do things deemed to be wrong, public opinion is leveraged against them to pressure them and others from “inappropriate” behavior. While a shame-based approach like cancel culture seems to be the logical outcome of Eilish’s theory of power, she sardonically calls out those who would avoid abusing power only because of public opinion. She sings,

And how could you?
Will you only feel bad when they find out?
If you could take it all back, would you?

Contrary to what might be expected, Eilish implies that public opinion is not the reason to avoid abusing power. Rather, the implication seems to be that there is something truly wrong about abusing power. But such an assumption is incompatible with her theory of power.

A Christian Theory of Power
A Christian theory of power assumes, as does Eilish, that power can be abused. The difference is that a Christian theory of power grounds the abuse of power in objective morality. Grounding the idea of wrongness in the existence of objective morality gives real weight to claiming that power can be abused. If life is really “all about what makes you feel good,” condemning anyone for abusing power loses validity.

Whatever power and agency each person enjoys comes from God, because all power ultimately belongs to God (Psalm 62:11). We are responsible to God, not just to ourselves, for how we use or abuse our power. By Eilish’s theory of power, what’s most important is what makes us feel good, and the way to combat the abuse of power is to assert your own power over those who abuse power. Rather than pitting power against power, a Christian theory of power offers a counter-cultural and counter-intuitive solution to abuses of power: love. Godliness is not meant to lead to power, but rather to the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness (Galatians 5:22). Love brings unity (Colossian 3:14). Paul does not ask that the early church have the power to overcome the forces that assail them, but rather that they overflow with love (1 Thessalonians 3:12). Through love, not power, Christ gave himself up on the cross to reconcile humankind to God.

This does not mean that Christians are meant to capitulate to abuses of power, allowing abusers to continue their abuse. Christians are called to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8), and Jesus displayed his power in his ministry through teaching and healing (Matthew 28:18). Paul calls the Gospel “the power of God” (Romans 1:16). It is not wrong for Christians to use power, but power itself is neither good or bad. It can be used both for good or evil. To use power for good is to use power in love. More power is not the answer to abuses of power; only power through love can answer abuses of power. As we see in Christ’s willing death on the cross, power through love is not always what we expect it to be.

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