“Believe Me” is a song written by musician Rhett McLaughlin as part of his solo project James and the Shame. The song tells about the path of Rhett’s personal religious and spiritual rethinking, about his distance from the church and a new worldview through dialogue with family members and believing Christians.
Throughout his youth, Rhett McLaughlin strove for the life of a true exemplary Christian. He grew up in a decent, godly family in North Carolina, and during his teenage years he worked as a missionary on college campuses in the southern states. However, by the age of 30, his attitude towards religion and God experienced a crisis. “I kept thinking, oh shit, what if I’m wrong?” , McLaughlin said, describing the process of working on his musical project.
About ten years ago, the musician, along with his longtime friend and business partner Link Neil, posted hundreds of episodes of his own production series called “Good Mythical Morning” on YouTube, talking about the most memorable school pranks committed by the duo and discussing the best, in their opinion , superheroes. While creating such light-hearted content for a growing audience, McLaughlin also tried to deal with his brewing crisis of faith along the way. At that time, he also had children of his own who attended church regularly, but he himself, deep down, according to him, was always a skeptic. And, studying books about the history and evolution of our planet, he came to the point that he stopped being a former Christian.
To date, 44-year-old McLaughlin identifies as a “budding agnostic.” He recounted this spiritual journey on his debut album Human Overboard. McLaughlin chose the pseudonym “James and the Shame” (‘Shame’ translates to ‘shame’, referring to some of Rhett’s past actions of which he is ashamed), and James is the musician’s middle name) to clearly separate the new musical project from his cheerfully frivolous video on YouTube. In 2020, the musician’s large amount of free time, caused by the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, prompted him to write lyrics as a kind of “healing exercise”. Since this process also helped McLaughlin very well with his introspection in the process of psychotherapy, McLaughlin decided that releasing songs could help his listeners as well.
Released on September 23 this year, the album is a complete rejection of the traditional Christian evangelical faith. Some songs are dedicated to McLaughlin’s wife, others to the ways in which he and his parents reconcile their spiritual differences. The first single “Believe Me” was released shortly before this – on July 15, and was dedicated directly to God. Its lyrics – very heartbreaking, but at the same time sustained in the stoic spirit of the American anthem – wonderfully combined with the sound of steel-stringed instruments.
Reviews for the song were rather harsh, though not entirely encouraging, according to McLaughlin’s social media posts. Some listeners accused McLaughlin of not understanding the grace of the gospel, saying that he was never a true Christian. Some of them even criticized his family, saying that since childhood, Rhett had not built a trusting relationship with Christ. But McLaughlin clarified that he has no religious trauma from his upbringing.
“I even had comments where people wrote that I rejected what was not even true Christianity in the beginning.”
His father, James (the first half of McLaughlin’s pseudonym is also partly taken after him), instilled in Rhett a love of country music. Born in Macon, Georgia and raised in North Carolina, he listened to folk tunes specially chosen for folk legends as a child. McLaughlin felt that country music was the right medium for what he wanted to express through his song. And, according to him, he stuck to this genre, despite the paradox of the sound of progressive lyrics with its somewhat nasal pronunciation.