Rush and Religion (Peart’s Poetry)

Last night, as continued my ongoing struggle to solve the mystery of the black screen after login on Windows Vista, I put on R30, the DVD of a concert the band Rush issued to celebrate their 30th birthday. I’ve liked Rush’s music since the first time I heard it, which was the album Grace Under Pressure, which relatives put on in the car when we visited them.

It was the combination of good music with lyrics that were worth listening to over and over again that made the impression. Particularly for a science fiction fan, many tracks on Grace Under Pressure are appealing. The lyrics of Rush songs are written mostly by the drummer, Neil Peart, and they regularly deserve to be classed as serious poetry. Striking inversions of common metaphors, such as the phrase “too many hands on my time”, are just one example.

When it comes to religion, there is much in their songs that is worth exploring and reflecting on. If I had to, I would guess that Peart had some encounter with Christianity when he was young that turned him off to it. In “The Weapon“, a track on the 1982 album Signals, we find hints of this:

He’s not afraid of your judgement
He knows of horrors worse than your Hell
He’s a little bit afraid of dying
But he’s a lot more afraid of your lying

I find particularly interesting the contrast between the lyrics of “Freewill”, which seem to rebel against the idea of determinism, and those of one of my all-time favorite Rush songs, “Roll the Bones” (from the album of the same name), which seem to have come to view randomness as something not entirely positive. The most powerful stanza is the second:

Why are we here?
Because we’re here

Roll the bones
Why does it happen?
Because it happens
Roll the bones

Faith is cold as ice —
Why are little ones born only to suffer
For the want of immunity
Or a bowl of rice?
Well, who would hold a price
On the heads of the innocent children
If there’s some immortal power
To control the dice?

We come into the world and take our chances
Fate is just the weight of circumstances
That’s the way that lady luck dances
Roll the bones

Although this could easily be dismissed by a religious believer as simply blasphemous rebellion against God, it is actually a profound line of thought that is deserving of serious theological consideration. Conservative religious believers claim the literal historical factuality of Biblical stories, in which God is constantly intervening to assist people – not merely parting seas and leading slaves to freedom, but making poisoned stew edible and sending a bear or a lion to kill someone that has offended or disobeyed him. Yet when we observe the world, we find, as Job did, that this simplistic way of viewing things does not fit our experience. Which, in the end is more blasphemous, to deny that there is a God of the sort that “holds the dice”, that determines what happens in human history, or to claim that there is such a God but that he does not do for people today the sorts of things they claim he once did?

Modern physics, and science in general, seem to be working towards striking a balance between randomness and determinism. It is at the interface between law and chance that freewill and free actions become possible.

Let me conclude with some of the most entertaining Rush lyrics, in my opinion. They are from the song “You Bet Your Life”:

THE ODDS GET EVEN — You name the game
THE ODDS GET EVEN — The stakes are the same

anarchist reactionary running-dog revisionist
hindu muslim catholic creation/evolutionist
rational romantic mystic cynical idealist
minimal expressionist post-modern neo-symbolist

armchair rocket scientist graffiti existentialist
deconstruction primitive performance photo-realist
be-bop or a one-drop or a hip-hop lite-pop-metallist
gold adult contemporary urban country capitalist

Even these have a point – no matter what your ideology, philosophy, religion, political allegiance, citizenship or creed, we all devote our lives to something. People stake their lives on there being a heaven, or there not being one. People stake their lives on the relative importance of combatting evolution versus feeding the poor and stake their lives and their money on it. All of our competing worldviews seek to provide a meaningful framework for our existence.

When we are all staking our lives on our ultimate convictions and values, is it any surprise that we find it so hard to evaluate them critically and discuss them dispassionately, never mind actually changing them?

Thanks, Rush, for the chance to think about serious subjects and have it accompanied by great music!

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  • athenenike

    I think there is a great deal in Rush that also calls to people who have read both the Bible and Eliot, and Rand… With the world the way it is, do you know how hard it is to believe?

  • Anonymous

    Peart’s Test for Echo seemed rather spiritual, while Snakes and Arrows relishes reason over the evils of faith.Still “Fear” kind of sums up a lot of what I feel about these evil authoritarians who try to control us.

  • Sidereal Man

    Thanks for the post, Doc, about Rush and Neil Peart. I’ve been a fan of their’s a long time.I’ve seldom found a lyricist as thoughtful, clever or prolific as Neil Peart. The man could probably write about anything and make it beautiful or exciting. Rush’s music just completes a stunning package for Peart’s lyrics.It’s a curious thing for me about his philosphy, that he seems to be agnostic or atheistic. I get the feeling he’s agnostic, because I wonder that he’s too scientific to pronounce a permanent judgement. But I’ll read anything he writes, anytime. I think he’s brilliant and compassionate and we need more like him.I’m on the other side of his fence about a supreme being, but anyone who has had his experience might come to the same conclusions he has. Wikipedia mentions part of it, “Soon after the culmination of Rush’s Test For Echo Tour on July 4, 1997, Peart’s daughter and only child, 19-year-old Selena Taylor, was killed in a single-car accident on the 401 highway near the town of Brighton, Ontario on August 10. His common-law wife of 22 years, Jaqueline Taylor, succumbed to cancer only 10 months later on June 20, 1998.”I’d love to talk with him in person at length. I’m fond enough of his lyrics that I now post snippents from them at http://actuality/, in the photos section.

  • Anonymous

    fascinating and enjoyable read. You must be having fits with Rush's newest song, 'B2B' I am saddened at their anti-Christian offensive. Why Neal can't let well enough one…?

  • James F. McGrath

    I have not yet had a chance to listen to their latest – but I took a look at the lyrics of BU2B and they simply sound like the statements of someone who was brought up to believe that the world made sense, and now finds that they cannot affirm that.In a sense, I think that the lyrics sound much more like Job than like his friends – challenging conventional religious wisdom rather than trying to affirm that a world that at times seems senseless makes sense.But I'll try to say more once I've had a chance to listen to the song!

  • Dave Douglas

    I wouldn't call it an "anti-Christian offensive." I believe he is still searching in spite of the fact he already found it — he just can't humble himself. It's always that simple — our humility, His glory!

  • Anonymous

    Interesting.. this article was written in 2007 and it is still getting comments. I have been a Rush fan since my teens (now in my late 40's). Been to many shows, and purchased every recording. Neil Peart is an incredible writer and his lyrics have inspired me and challenged me to learn more about the world. But as a Christian, I have to say that the religion bashing is starting to turn me off. It has always been in the music of Rush, but now it seems it is the key focus of most of the songs. The years are quickly passing and Peart's heart seems to become harder. I pray God still gives him the opportunity to see the truth of Christ love for humanity and the sacrifice that was made for every man. Whether he realizes it or not, he is influencing people. The bible is clear on that one and I don't think that I would want to face God after this life is over knowing that I had led people away from the truth. Neil's defination of truth: "Truth is after all a moving target,hairs to split and pieces that don't fit". I always thought that was a cool line and in the world it is many times true. But isn't that where faith comes in? Well, maybe not if you are "faithless". Anyway, I need things that encourage my faith, not tear it down. The older I get, the more this is true. I don't think that I am going to put the new recording in my collection. Please understand; this is from a guy that had an autographed photo of Neil Peart in his rec room. I will always appreciate the music and lyrics, but I think it is time for me to do some serious re-evaluation of what I am putting into my head.


    please, does anyone remember the Rush textbook that came out a few decades ago for colleges for English & his lyrics?? I'd really like to find this & also wonder why it wasn't in the movie!!!Please someone help!

  • Bob

    As 'anonymous' notes, I (a Rush fan over the past three decades, who has seen them more than 15 times live between the last three tours alone) on one hand am also getting tired of Neal's God-bashing, especially as I've heard comments from Geddy that he's on that track also…but on the other hand, the grace of God inside of me helps me to realize that the harder he pushes in this direction, the more likely he is to realize the emptiness of that view. Read Neal's book 'roadshow' (awesome!) for evidence – despite his great writing, the bashing he launches at some of the church signs that he encounters in his travels is painfully awkward and 'forced.' My role as a Christian is to share grace, not judge (although i would simply observe that 'faithless' is musically the low point of the first set in their current tour), and if God gives me an opportunity to spend time with Neal and the guys, i'm hopeful that our encounter helps them understand just a little bit more the amazing grace and mercy our our Creator, and how broader His perspective is than ours.

  • Rafael from Brasil

    I know this article is from ’07, but I only read it today. I think the same about Rush’s lyrics. I believe in Jesus as THE savior and that not only did He do all the things He did, but continues everyday to join us in our life. Rush makes me view and analyze life from a difference perspective I was BU2B. God loves us and that’s He came down to earth, to know what’s like to be us and to rightfully judge us.

  • sleevemeister

    BU2B is a blasphemous song from the new record. I’m a Rush fan, but this song has angered me.

    • smakar

      BU2B is a fictional song from the Clockwork Angels Universe. The whole album is a fictional story. No real relation to our reality. If anything it truly shows Neils lack of understanding religious principles. It shows he doesn’t believe in life after death.

      I like the music for the most part. I listen to the songs that I enjoy and I skip the ones I find offensive or don’t like.

      • ratchetman13

        We are told by others what to believe, how to act, how to think, how to live our lives. From Islam to Christianity and even Atheism attempts are made to impress ideas that are not ours upon us. I have attended Church for most of my life, but when I state that I struggle in my faith I am instantly condemned by my church members. Yet, I will not embrace atheism as there are motives associated with atheism also. I once dogmatically believed everything I was told in Church, but no longer. I also refuse to dogmatically believe what atheists, and teachers, politicians and adults tell me. It is always good to listen, but embracing what you are told is inadvisable without first delving deep into you have been told. I beg of you to make up your own minds. I have embraced a philosophy of free thinking. I refuse to be a puppet of a major organized religion or organization. I was never told in Church to question what I was being told. We are never told in school to question what we are taught. Its unfortunate and results in the indoctrination of individuals, yet they are no longer individuals but rather a part of the collective whole. People that maintain a measure of doubt change the world. Individuals of absolute certainty are truly not individuals, but rather a collective whole, just another part of the status quo. The key is to be ambitious, yet doubtful. Be motivated, but maintain some form of humility. Absolute certainty is the destroyer of excellence, and the destroyer of the aspects that set individuals apart. At its very essence, absolute certainty is the abandonment of individuality. To be devoid of doubt is to submit yourself to the beliefs of others. Absolute certainty effectively makes you a fool who is unable to decide for him or herself. To question and embrace some doubt and humility, is to give yourself a differentiating factor against those in society who choose to be assimilated into the beliefs and ideals that are not their own. Think different, act different, and most of all be doubtful. Doubt is not an impediment nor a disability, but rather a tool that will propel you to success, independent thinking and open mindedness. “All is for the best, believe in what we’re told. Blind men in the markets, buying what we’re sold. In a world of cut and thrust, I was always taught to trust. Believe in what we’re told, until our final breath. The joy and pain that we receive must be what we deserve, I was brought up to believe.”- BU2B by Rush, the song lyrics that inspired me to write this

        • StratMatt

          Great post!!!

          I want to recommend some eye-opening books to you: “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” by Nathaniel Branden and “Jesus, Interrupted” by Bart Ehrman. If you still want more, read “The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark” by Dennis MacDonald. I also recommend “Proof of Heaven” by Dr. Eben Alexander.

          Ultimately the experience (or personal proof) of God has to be a personal
          first-hand experience.

          “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” mentions how religion causes your self-esteem to be raped and undermined by external forces that seek to control and enslave your mind for profit by telling you that you have a fatal soul-disease that only they can cure.

          I was always mildly offended by the Rush song “Freewill”…
          Now it is my anthem.

          Some people (like my dad) go their whole lives believing the self-esteem and personal-power-destroying man-made lies because they need to use God’s approval as a pseudo-self-esteem since they do not approve of themselves because they have been BU2B that they are bad inside.

        • that one guy

          That’s just the thing, you state you “refuse to be a puppet of a major organized religion or organization” yet you clearly state that you have “embraced the philosophy of free-thinking.”; which technically is a branch of organizing of people in themselves. Then you go on to say that “People that maintain a measure of doubt change the world. Individuals of absolute certainty are truly not individuals”, so according to you there are no absolutes? are you “absolutely” sure about that? Just by that statement alone you’re equating everything into one lump some and relativity changes the world, but in the same token your saying that those of “absolute” certainty are not “individuals.” Which is it then? If according to your view there are no absolutes, you might as well equate a hug from a loving mother to smothering of a child in cold blood? If you claim to think for yourself, why are you so quick to make “absolute” statement that the Church is in the wrong, if you claim there are no absolutes and you’re open-minded. You claim to not embrace what you were told in the Church, when clearly by what you’re saying later on about “the joy and pain that we receive must be what we deserve, i was brought up to believe” is not the whole Christian doctrine at all. Actually what is referred to there is either Buddhism which considers all life suffering or even Mormonism/some of Catholicism/JWs/Adventists; which believes works especially pain/suffering/shedding of your own blood is the way to heaven. Christianity, the true doctrine of it, states that we don’t go to heaven by our own works nor suffering/shedding of our blood, it was already paid for by Jesus Christ. Also pain and suffering are not the aspects always on whether we deserve it or not. In fact, there are several reasons for it. Btw, as finite beings who are we to judge the creator’s reasons for allowing pain or suffering. Furthermore, everyone’s idea of pain and suffering is different. It can’t be lumped into one simple package. We were given freewill; either to choose to do good or to do evil. We also have the choice as to whether to allow pain and suffering to break us or to shape us. In fact, through the pain and suffering of working out, we shape our physical nature. Through the trials and sufferings we face, it shapes our spiritual nature if you will. It’s how we choose to deal with it that counts. Exercising your brain and researching your doubts is also encouraged in the Bible, there are several accounts in Proverbs where Wisdom is highly valued or the passage in 1 Thessolonians (forgive me for lack of memory) where it talks about “Test everything and hold onto the good.”
          Anyways, I wish you well in your journey of knowledge. I like to suggest some great and down to earth sources such as C.S. Lewis’ writings Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity,etc. , Dr. William Lane Craig’s writings, Alvin Plantinga’s writings, Gary Habernas, Dr. Bruce Metzger, John Lennox to name a few.

    • StratMatt

      You sound exactly like me a year ago.
      If you would like to learn the truths I have learned, I recommend that you read the books “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” by Nathaniel Branden and “Jesus, Interrupted” by Bart Ehrman. If you still want more, read “The
      Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark” by Dennis MacDonald. I also
      recommend “Proof of Heaven” by Dr. Eben Alexander.

      Ultimately the experience (or personal proof) of God has to be a personal
      first-hand experience.

      If you ask him to communicate with you and He does- then you have your proof of
      his existence.

      If He doesn’t respond, then you have proof for a different result… at a
      minimum it means that He doesn’t want to talk to you because you aren’t good
      enough, however, if you read “The Psychology of Self-Esteem” you will
      no longer allow your self-esteem to be raped and undermined by external forces
      that seek to control and enslave your mind for profit by telling you that you
      have a fatal soul-disease that only they can cure.

      I was always mildly offended by the Rush song “Freewill”- and also “BU2B”.

      Now it is my anthem.

      Don’t wait until you are 36 to liberate your mind.
      It makes you regret your whole wasted life and feel like a gullible fool.
      At least I have another 36 years left.
      Some people (like my dad) go their whole lives content with the self-esteem and personal-power destroying man-made lies because they need to use God’s approval as a pseudo-self-esteem since they do not approve of themselves because they have been BU2B that they are bad inside.

      God bless you.

  • tbone

    ..or so you were told or read in a book and just “believed” it. You Christians are all the same… just followers….

    • Doug

      Yeah…of Jesus Christ. Duh. That’s why we are called Christians. Your statement is brilliant. What do you follow? Nothing? I doubt it. It could be money, it could be sex, it could be drugs, it could be other people, or possibly even satan. For me, I choose to follow the only human being that ever lived, that was also fully God, and died to save my eternal soul. I suggest you do the same. Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess he is LORD…it’s just whether you want to do it in this life, or after you die. Take door number 1 on this one.

      • StratMatt

        Satan doesn’t exist.

  • Ovation