I recently had cause to rewatch The Music Man, seeing as it was the Fourth of July and that timeless classic has always served to remind me of my youth spent in a rural farming community in southeastern South Dakota−a place not so far from Iowa, where every summer day might have been Independence Day for all the rippling of flags. Unlike River City, our town of 400 souls already had a marching band, and each September I’d don my band uniform−plumed hat and all−in preparation for another season of small-town revelries.
All this to say the disappointment was strong as the final credits rolled. Was this the same feel-good story I had fallen in love with? In place of a contented sigh, I had the distinct impression that “Professor” Harold Hill was not so much the huckster turned endearing suitor as I had remembered him to be, but instead a false teacher and prophet. We got trouble alright, but it don’t rhyme with ‘pool’.
Just as Mayor Shinn sought to verify the credentials of Prof. Hill, let’s determine if we should love or leave this smooth-talking anti-hero.
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.1 John 4:1, NIV
But before we begin, we need to understand that the New Testament term “antichrist” does not mean “opposed to Christ” as in a Rosemary’s Baby spawn of Satan sense, but “instead of Christ” as in replacing the Christ revealed in the Holy Word of God with a different idea of who Christ is (2 John 1:7-11). In this way, false teachers and prophets have the spirit of antichrist because they lead you after a different god than the true God.
So how can we identify the con man in our midst?
He teaches a false gospel.
Harold Hill: Oh, I now have a new revolutionary method called the “think system” where you don’t bother with notes.“The Music Man”, 1962
In Galatians 1:7-8, Paul says there are some who want to distort the gospel of Christ, and that anyone doing so is accursed. He is emphatic that even if he or an angel of heaven comes preaching a different gospel, we are not to follow.
He’s all about the Benjamins.
Salesman on train: How far you going, friend?“The Music Man”, 1962
Harold Hill: Wherever the people are as green as the money… friend.
The shepherds of the church are to receive financial compensation for the work they do in preaching and teaching the Word of God (1 Timothy 5:17), but teachers are not use ministry to exploit people for their own greed (2 Peter 2:3).
He’s a smooth talker.
Harold Hill: Ah, yes, my dear Mrs. Paroo. You must realize that only one out of every 78 adults has a ganglion that reaches the ligature clear down to the apex. This automatically turns your entire face into an amazing embouchure.“The Music Man”, 1962
We’re warned in Romans 16:17-20 to avoid those who use “smooth talk and flattery” to cause divisions “contrary to the doctrine you have been taught.” These people seek to serve their own appetites and not the Lord Jesus Christ. As Christians we need to hold fast to sound teaching instead of accumulating teachers who suit our own desires−a thing all too easy to do in the Information Age (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
He thinks compromise is no big deal.
Marian Paroo: No, please, not tonight. Maybe tomorrow.“The Music Man”, 1962
Harold Hill: Oh, my dear little librarian. You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make today worth remembering.
Marian Paroo: Oh, so would I.
Compromise is the first step in the degradation of our theology and ethics. Instead of giving into what the world wants, we need to remember what God has revealed in His Word and strive to love Him and obey His commands this day (1 John 2:15). Marian would be wise to heed the words written in Matthew and not think about tomorrow, but “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. (Matthew 6:31-14).
He openly promotes and engages in sin.
Harold Hill: I cheer, and I rave, for the virtue I’m too late to save, the sadder but wiser girl for me… I smile, I grin when the gal with a touch of sin walks in / I hope, and I pray for Hester to win just one more “A” / The sadder but wiser girl’s the girl for me / The sadder but wiser girl for me.“The Music Man”, 1962
In Jude 4 we learn about those who have crept into the church and perverted the grace of God into sensuality. This is in reference to the antinomians who believed they were not under obligation of the law but could use the grace of God as a license to sin, distorting the truth of the Pauline teaching that we are saved by faith alone. In balance, John 14:15 says “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
His miracles don’t jibe with his teaching.
Oh boy, that final scene−brass gleaming, everyone marching in unison, playing to perfection with Harold at the helm. How in the world did he pull it off? It was nothing short of miraculous! But seeing as we’ve already proved his teaching to be bunk, we shouldn’t be deceived by the signs and wonders (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).
Well you heard it here first, folks: Professor Harold Hill is an antichrist! Watch as he slithers his way into River City, creeping down Main Street, captivating the youth and charming the ladies with his forked and flickering tongue! Guard your sons. Lock up your daughters. No one in the great state of Io-way is safe from his advances.
In all seriousness, my biggest gripe with the film wasn’t that Hill was a slimy character, but that his sliminess was rewarded and condoned. There was no redemption. He was never repentant for the way he behaved, and the one character who was meant to be immune to his advances−the doe-eyed Marian Paroo−was not only taken in, but enabled him every step of the way, even going so far as to use her womanly wiles on a traveling salesman to cover up Hill’s crimes.
It seems Thomas Wolfe was right. You can’t go home again. And while I’ll forever feel that pang of nostalgia watching The Music Man, I don’t think I can ever see it in the dreamy soft-focus I once did.