Post Malone and the Emptiness of Secularism

Unquestionably one of the biggest pop stars today, Post Malone broke into the mainstream music world in 2016 with the song “Congratulations.” Since then, he has released three studio albums, numerous singles, created his own festival, and was named Billboard’s number one artist of 2019. Two sorts of songs have made Post the success that he is: irresistible rap-rock anthems that are all about living the celebrity lifestyle, and heartfelt ballads that deal with feelings of emptiness and meaningless. Post makes it clear that he has chosen a secular and hedonistic life for himself; but he also does not hide the fact that, despite what you see on the outside, on the inside he feels like he “needs to be saved, too.”

As far as I know, Post does not know what a “secular worldview” is. Yet, regardless of whether or not he could identify it, Post is living a self-gratifying life that is thoroughly secular. He flaunts his lifestyle in songs like “Rockstar,” “Saint-Tropez,” and “Go Flex.” Despite Post’s tendency to brag about his wealth and success, GQ Magazine observed that he is “surprisingly hard to hate.” This may be because many of his songs candidly express that he is dissatisfied with his own lifestyle and he knows he’s missing something. Many of his songs, such as “Feeling Whitney” and “Rich and Sad,” express feelings of loss and emptiness, showing that, despite his success, Post does not feel like he has “made it.”

Cars, Clothes, and a Hundred Big Faces—But Still Losing?
Post’s listeners often gush about the relatability of his lyrics. Even Christian listeners who disagree with his beliefs or life choices can find things which are true-to-life in Post’s songs. When he expresses his feelings, many people connect deeply, because they also experience emptiness and loneliness. For example, despite his glorification of the popstar lifestyle, he will occasionally drop the hint that it is all a mask to hide what is inside of him. In his song “Rich and Sad,” Post sings:

All this stuntin’ couldn’t satisfy my soul
Got a hundred big faces, but I’m still alone

Despite having “a hundred big faces” to show to everyone around, Post knows that for some reason, he feels alone. His soul is left empty, despite how much he has tried to fill it. When Post admits this emptiness, he is admitting that his secular worldview is not big enough to satisfy his longing for satisfaction.

Blaise Pascal once wrote, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man, which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.”¹ It is not just a God-shaped hole, but a God-shaped vacuum. Anything other than God we try to fill it with will be sucked right in, and we will find ourselves just as empty as before. Post expresses the emptiness of “having it all” in his song “Feeling Whitney”:

Cars and clothes, thought I was winning
You knew I was losing

Although he thought he was “winning” by amassing possessions for himself, Post admits that he was actually losing. It seems that he means winning or losing in all of life. He has everything that ever defined success, yet still feels like he is losing, like something is missing. Another song’s lyrics might help us understand what he means by “losing” in “Feeling Whitney.” In “Goodbyes,” he sings:

There’s no way I can save you
‘Cause I need to be saved, too

Post feels he needs to be saved from the emptiness within him. However, his worldview is not big enough to deal with his feelings of emptiness. The lyrics of “Goodbyes” show how dissatisfaction creeps in when secularism is unable to answer the question Why do I feel empty no matter what I do?

‘Cause I Need to be Saved, Too
Central to Christian theology is the idea that we need to be saved from our sin—and its outcome: death (Ephesians 2:8-9). Apart from a savior, we will receive the punishment that we deserve as sinful beings (John 5:24, Romans 6:23). It is not just the Bible that tells us that we need to be saved—something inside the human heart senses that we all need to be saved.

There’s something distinctly human about the need to be saved. While Post is not speaking about salvation in a Christian sense, even he knows that he needs to be “saved” (whatever he understands that to mean). Similarly, while many of Post’s listeners would not explicitly say that they need to be saved, they resonate deeply with the experience of needing a savior or help of some kind.

What brings us to a state of feeling the need for salvation? Uncertainty and emptiness. Uncertainty and emptiness tell us that we have missed something important, that we have an incorrect view of the world or that we don’t fit in the world that is. However, uncertainty and hope often keep close company. Uncertainty reveals our need for salvation, and the possibility of a Savior (someone who fills our emptiness) brings with it hope. For Post, or anyone else who finds themselves living an empty, secular life, the more seriously they question secularism, the more they can hope for something better.

From the lyrics of Post’s songs, we can see that he has serious questions about finding satisfaction or salvation through the secular worldview he lives out. That said, I am not implying that Post is currently on a path to finding Christ. While we can retain the hope that anyone might surrender their life to Christ, just because Post is asking some of the right questions does not mean he is finding any of the right answers. In fact, despite all of the soul-searching statements that Post makes in his songs, in the chorus of “Feeling Whitney” he implies that he has chosen his answer to all his questions: keep acting like everything is okay and you don’t have any problems.

To each their own and find peace in knowing
Ain’t always broken, but here’s to hoping
Show no emotion, against your coding
Just act as hard as you can
You don’t need a friend
Boy, you’re the man

Post seems to shrug off his own realization that he will never find what he is looking for through his lifestyle. Instead, he tells himself to “show no emotion” and “act as hard as you can.” Instead of seeking a deeper truth, Post has chosen to accept the emptiness of his secular worldview. He does not take his doubts about his secular worldview seriously enough. If he did, he might find that there is hope available. Whether or not he realizes it, Post’s honest questions and expression of his feelings point towards Christian answers. We know that the only place we can find hope is in salvation through Jesus Christ. Something inside of us cries out for salvation, because it is, in fact, what we need. What’s more, when we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, experience communion with him and his Church, and have the comfort of his hope, we may find the empty “God-shaped vacuum” within us filling up.

As Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Augustine also tried to find gratification in a hedonistic lifestyle, as he recounts in his Confessions. But he found that nothing satisfied him until he responded to the call to “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19, NIV). God does wipe out our sins and he does refresh us. Our minds may need to be satisfied with intellectual answers, but our hearts need to be satisfied with more than that. The Christian worldview is able to offer many intellectual answers, and the secular worldview has its responses to those answers. But when it comes to filling the emptiness felt inside each human, the secular worldview has no satisfying response to the love and hope found in Jesus.

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