Two weeks ago, Virginian musician Oliver Anthony lived in relative anonymity. Now, he’s a national sensation.
Anthony’s song “Rich Men North of Richmond,” (warning: language) an acoustic lament over the state of middle-class America, has received millions of views on YouTube and Twitter and become the Number One song on iTunes, closely followed by his songs, “Ain’t Gotta Dollar” and “I’ve Got to Get Sober” at numbers two and three, respectively.
In the song, Anthony decries the difficulty of affording life’s basics in modern America. He grieves that he works hard, “So I can sit out here and waste my life away, drag back home and drown my troubles away.”
He criticizes “rich men north of Richmond” – individuals in Washington, D.C. – who “just wanna have total control … [want to] know what you think [and] know what you do.” He denounces the welfare state and bemoans the suicide epidemic among young men.
Since it went viral, “Rich Men North of Richmond” has received both acclaim and criticism.
One man commented on Anthony’s song, “I’m a 39-year-old Iraq vet and construction worker, struggling like a dog to take care of two kids and keep a farm going when I’m not working 11-hour days. This hit so hard today I had to stop my old Peterbilt and tear up. Preach brother.”
“I haven’t heard a bone chilling original song in what seems like decades. You speak for millions of us,” another said.
On the other hand, one pastor criticized the song for taking the Lord’s name in vain, and its use of several curse words – a fair criticism to be sure.
Anthony has reportedly struggled with mental health issues and excessive drinking, according to one man who has been in touch with the rising star. But then, the source reports, Anthony knelt in prayer and “promised God to get sober if he helped him follow his dream.”
That was around 30 days ago. Today, “Rich Men North of Richmond” is the number one song in America.
Just days after his song took off, Anthony held an impromptu concert at a local farmers market. Before beginning his performance, Anthony said that there was a message he wanted to deliver.
He proceeded to read from one of the Imprecatory Psalms, proclaiming,
The wicked plots against the righteous
and gnashes his teeth at him,
but the Lord laughs at the wicked,
for he sees that his day is coming.
The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose way is upright;
their sword shall enter their own heart,
and their bows shall be broken.
Better is the little that the righteous has
than the abundance of many wicked.
For the arms of the wicked shall be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous (Psalm 37:12-17, ESV).
In a political system filled with corruption, strife and greed, this psalm reminds us of God’s justice.
Without endorsing all the song’s lyrics, what can Christians learn from “Rich Men North of Richmond”?
Oliver’s song clearly resonates with many in middle America. It accurately describes the frustration felt by many, especially white, working-class men. Conservative commentator Rod Dreher said that the song represents “an articulation of white working-class pain and frustration that has startled the cultural guardians by going megaviral.”
The continued rise of “deaths of despair” – deaths attributable to suicides, drug overdoses and alcohol-related diseases – evidence the struggles many in middle America are facing. A record 110,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2022.
“Between 1999 and 2017, more than six hundred thousand extra deaths – deaths in excess of the demographically predicted number – occurred just among people aged forty-five to fifty-four,” Atul Gawande notes in the New Yorker, adding:
Among [white] men [without a college education], median wages have not only flattened; they have declined since 1979…
In the past four decades, Americans without bachelor’s degrees – the majority of the working-age population – have seen themselves become ever less valued in our economy. Their effort and experience provide smaller rewards than before, and they encounter longer periods between employment. It should come as no surprise that fewer continue to seek employment, and that more succumb to despair.
This phenomenon has been echoed in books like J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy.
So, “Rich Men North of Richmond” has accurately diagnosed some of the problems facing middle-class America. But what is the prescription?
The solution can only come from a Christian worldview. If men (and women) did the following three things: go to church, get married and have children, many would rediscover hope and a purposeful life.
As Brad Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, notes, “The evidence shows that the bonds of marriage and parenthood generally reduce the risk of suicide.”
Additionally, Wilcox cites a study from Harvard that regular religious attendance “was associated with an approximately 5-fold lower rate of suicide” among a very large sample of American nurses.
Much of the solution – though not the only solution – to resolve the despair that many Americans feel is rooted in activities promoted by Christianity.
Christianity teaches that marriage is good, family is good and worshiping God is good.
The average American may not be able to fix problematic policies enacted by rich men north of Richmond. However, to increase their own wellbeing and happiness, they can do what human beings have always done.
Go to church. Get married. Start a family.
To speak with a family help specialist or request resources, please call us at 1-800-A-FAMILY (232-6459).
Focus on the Family exists to help families, and that includes help navigating the issues of homosexuality and transgenderism. Focus offers a free, one-time counseling consultation with a licensed or pastoral counselor. To request a consultation, call 1-855-771-HELP (4357) or fill out our Counseling Consultation Request Form.
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Photo from YouTube.