Christians SHOULD Pray for your Soul.

If you’re going to get offended by Christians, fine: choose something worth being offended about. “I’ll pray for your soul” isn’t one of them.

If you’re going to get offended by Christians, fine: choose something worth being offended about. “I’ll pray for your soul” isn’t one of them.

On the Fediverse, someone posted that they’d pointed out that they’d dared to suggest that in actuality, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25, and the Christians they were informing said “I’ll pray for your troubled soul.” This is a paraphrase.

To be honest, I’m offended at the entire exchange. There’s no way that the statement about Jesus’ birth was uttered in good faith, unless the speaker was an idiot. The response might not have been in good faith – I can certainly see Christians being offended at the suggestion, even though it’s pretty rational and grounded, and responding in kind…

But let’s be real. That response has a lot more chance to be in good faith than the initial jab about Jesus’ birthday. And it should be the default condition for Christians in any event.

Look: in my understanding, Jesus was probably born sometime in September, if you make a lot of assumptions about Luke’s account being true. If you don’t try to correlate Luke’s account to history (i.e., you assume it’s stuff that’s recorded and maybe representative but not necessarily true, like the story about George Washington and the cherry tree), then Jesus has about as much chance to be born in September as any other month: roughly 9%. We have no idea what day it would have been. We’re not even sure what year it was, although we can get pretty close to that one, because of the slaughter of the innocents.

So the “in reality” bit… okay, accepted. I know there’s a lot of momentum in Christian circles around Jesus’ birth being on December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, and that’s fine; it’s simply unrelatable in a concrete fashion to Jesus’ actual birth date, so what.

Humanity celebrates Christmas, for whatever it is to us, on December 25. It’s convenient that way, more convenient than Easter corresponding to a date on a calendar most of you don’t pay any attention to.

But … to say so? To a person in a conversation?

Was this a stranger being talked to? If so, what kind of cad do you have to be to “well, actually” with such a potential lightning rod? Maybe the speaker was being hit on in a bar, and this was a defense mechanism.

Cruiser looking to score: “Hey, baby, it’s a quarter to eight…”
Speaker: “In reality, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25.”
Cruiser: “Okay then, I’ll pray for your troubled soul,” moves on.

If the speaker knew their audience – or maybe even if the audience was (gasp!) family… then what could possibly be the positive outcome?

Was it a rational discussion about when Jesus was born, as one has around Christmastime?

Head of the family: “Yes, it’s time for the annual affirmation of Jesus’ actual date of birth being December 25, everyone gather around!”
Speaker: “Well, actually, Jesus wasn’t born on December 25.”
Family: “We will pray for your troubled soul.”

Somehow, I think not. A good-faith discussion would look at the available data and the source material and find no rational support outside of societal momentum for December 25. A good faith discussion wouldn’t have needed “in reality” in it. Using that is an attempt to shut down discussion, and that’s neither good faith nor a discussion.

So it had to have been a point made in bad faith (trying to get a rise from the person or people being talked to), and that’s ugly.

And the response: well, that might be ugly, too, a lot like the Southern “Bless your heart,” a sort of utility expression that goes from meaning simple pity to an aggressive “You’re going to die alone and unloved, except I’m too polite to say so out loud.”

But on its surface, it might have been a recognition that making the “in reality” statement was in bad faith, indicating that the speaker’s soul might indeed have been troubled and in need of prayer, such that it is.

And in Christian faith, prayer for others is sort of a thing that’s supposed to be the norm. They’re supposed to care about others, and let’s be real, for Christians, the soul is what matters. (Same for most people, really: there are a few people whose bodily condition history will recall – Typhoid Mary and Henrietta Lacks come to mind – but for most of us, it’s what we did and who we were, not our corporeal shells, that will be remembered, if we’re remembered as individuals at all.)

So I would hope that every Christian would pray for the souls of the people they encounter, especially if those souls show evidence of being awful in a given moment. I’m sure the speaker’s not a terrible person, just someone speaking out in arrogance and, possibly, pain or shame or whatever. And I’m not discounting that the response might have been in bad faith, too… but the initial utterance has a very low chance of being in good faith.

We should only speak in good faith. We can’t look at idiots like Trump and figure that out? Maybe we’re the stupids.

Rush and Religion

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.