I recently read “Random Samples: Demystifying the Magic Music of Rush,” because I’m a giant Rush nerd. It’s a good book, for what it is; it’s actually more of a personal memoir of the author (Jude Joseph Lovell) and his recollections of a few specific albums (particularly Grace Under Pressure and Counterparts, although other albums certainly get mentioned as well.) However, one of the things the author struggles with is his Roman Catholic faith and Rush’s distinctively atheist lyrics.
While there’s some conflict between Rush and faithfulness, there’s a fundamental compatibility that I think Mr. Lovell is not comprehending.
I know a good number of Christians; I live near a Southern Baptist seminary, I went to a Christian high school (despite being Jewish), and I’m good friends with a number of faithful, honest pastors in my area. As a musician, I form bonds with Christians in worship teams… and I dare say I could take my guitar to nearly any church in the area, crank out a few bars of “The Spirit of Radio” or “La Villa Strangiato” and the bands would join right in.
So clearly the music of Rush is strong enough, and appealing enough, that their core message containing a strong brand of agnosticism (at the very least) isn’t so incompatible that the Christians I know struggle with it.
Rush is definitely not a band of believers – and based on the lyrical content, isn’t really seeking something to believe in. They have a number of songs about religion, where the core message is at the very least passive rejection (“Freewill“) and in many cases is active rejection (“Roll the Bones,” “Faithless“).
With that, though, Rush also has a core lyrical strain of independent thought: when Geddy Lee sings about agnosticism (or atheism, if you will) he tends to say “I will choose free will,” and rarely is it phrased in such a way that they’re dictating what others believe.
Of course, there is some atheistic declaration: in “Roll the Bones,” the lyrics read:
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?`
In “Armor and Sword,” off of their “Snakes and Arrows” release, they also make the point that religion is dangerous:
We hold beliefs as a consolation A way to take us out of ourselves
… Along with later observations that such faith, portrayed as shining armor, becomes a keen and bloody sword, and that conflict with the unbelievers seems almost necessary (my interpretation of the lyrics: “
No-one gets to their heaven without a fight.“)
These lyrics, along with others, are difficult to misinterpret: they indicate a mistrust of religious faith itself, beyond a casual distrust of organized religion.
The implication is that information from others, that can’t be empirically verified by the individual, is untrustworthy at best and invalid and harmful at worst.
Personally, I don’t see that implication as being problematic. A person of faith is expected to question, in most religions; accepting on total faith is seen as silly. Most religions with which I am familiar have a basis for belief at their heart; none of them (again, that I am familiar with) say that acceptance must be without consideration of what is true and untrue.
So we have two concepts to consider: one is Rush’ stance that evidence must be examined, and the other is that most religions (that I’m familiar with) are more than happy to invite their adherents to consider their apologetics, their logical bases for validity.
I don’t find these stances incompatible whatsoever. They might clash in a given individual – a religious person might question their beliefs and find them wanting, and therefore “lose faith” because of it, I suppose. But that doesn’t mean that the conclusions are necessarily valid (or mandated) from either side.
Further, looking at the Vapor Trails album, you find the lyrics actually questioning dogmatic reason – even songs like “Sweet Miracle,” which denies the miraculous (“
I wasn't walking on water; I was standing on a reef when the tide came in“), acknowledges that there are things beyond explanation (in the song’s specific case, love, but even so, the perception of miracles is left to the individual.)
I don’t see how Rush, despite clearly leaning agnostically, is proclaiming any statements or questions that simply cannot or should not be asked by a religious adherent.
After all, consider “Roll the Bones'” verse, quoted above: a religious person can (and probably should) ask how their God or how their faith resolves such things (in Christianity, it’s the study of theodicy, for example). That’s how one learns more. That’s how one grows more in faith, by being willing to accept the risk that the answers might not be there right now. And if the faith lessens, well… that’s a natural consequence of being willing to think on your own; there’s a risk that you might not like the answers you have. Maybe that means you’ll stop searching; maybe it won’t.
And that’s how I see Rush as being compatible with listeners of faith.