It has taken me a long time to learn to listen to and appreciate Rush’s Snakes and Arrows album. I’m a fan going back to Moving Pictures when I first heard Rush as a 15 year old musical neophyte at El Camino Real High School in the San Fernando Valley.
Rush opened up new vistas to me. I’d heard Kansas and liked them because my brother did and he was a big Journey fan. I tried to like Journey, but never gelled. I heard Yes for the first time around the age of 15, too and was hooked as well. But it was Rush who provided a soundtrack for my life. From the opening strains of Tom Sawyer, I knew that the music I wanted to listen to had to have all of these elements: technical and virtuoso prowess combined with thoughtful lyrics combined with some serious axe shredding. Yes, I’ll take those, please.
And I’ve remained a fan for all these years. I’ve seen them 11 times and I only stopped seeing them here in my 40’s because, well–it costs a lot to see a concert and honestly, concerts are loud and concerts are filled with throngs of people who aren’t always at their best. So, yeah-I’ve gone old somehow.
But that doesn’t change the fact that I love this band. Still, Snakes and Arrows was a tough one for me. Far Cry, the opening track, reeled me in early and I loved it. The three instrumental pieces, Hope, The Main Monkey Business and Malignant Narcissism too reeled me in. I’ve had them on the ipod since the album’s release four years ago. But the album as a whole troubled me and I have recently become untroubled. Here’s the scoop…
What has become apparent over a couple of albums, really going all the way back to Power Windows in the 1980’s, is that Neil Peart’s lyrics have heavy doses of atheist or at very least agnostic precepts to them. I’m not opposed to atheists or agnostics–two of my closest friends belong one in each group. But I am not an atheist. I’m a Christian and while I don’t really lead with religious-speak and try to wear my cross on my sleeve, as it were-the fact is I believe in salvation through Christ and at very least, it seems apparent that my favorite band in all of the world does not.
And that’s OK for a number of reasons. I’m not here to judge them nor would I think they should care about my opinion. Let’s get beyond that. But it has taken me years to get where Dennis Prager urges people to be in his conversations with them which is the stronger my faith, the more tolerant I can be of other faiths or no faith.
Yes, it’s true that being a Christian calls for evangelizing. The Bible is pretty specific about spreading its good news and Jesus’ command to His disciples when he appears again to them after His resurrection is to go and make disciples of all nations. I get that. But it’s OK not to pursue this strategy militantly in my mind. That is, it’s OK for me to point out my faith, to live my faith and even to call attention to it. It’s not entirely necessary that I convince someone who has thought about it and continues to be a non-believer to convert. Prayer and continued friendship can, at times, work wonders in that area. Hard pressing-calling people out, telling them that because they’re non-believers, various terrible things will come of them–is not my cup of tea. Nor do I care to have doctrinal battles with various species of Christians. It’s enough to know one God in three persons and to know that our salvation comes from Christ. I know this anecdotally because I have brought people to church, non-believers, by simply being with them over time and slowly, as our friendship grew, having them “come and see.”
OK-so what’s that got to do with Rush? Well, what I find in some atheists is exactly the quality in them that they say they despise in “Bible thumpers,” that is-militant evangelism. I know more atheists who preach their beliefs more loudly than I do Christians who do so-no joke. And only recently have I been brave enough to make the challenge: “Hey, I get that you don’t think there’s a God. I’m cool with that. It’s your business. But unless you want me to start citing chapter and verse about the nature of infidelity to God and refusal to accept Christ, perhaps you should simply be quiet…”
In many of Rush’s lyrics, there are glimpses of this: “Though his mind is not for rent, to any god or government…” “We hold beliefs as a consolation…” “I don’t believe in destiny or the guiding hand of fate. I don’t believe in forever or love as a mystical state. I don’t believe in stars or the planets, or angels watching from above…” There are overall themes and outright characterizations of atheism even while there are in some contexts a mention of heaven and how heaven works. Armor and Sword from the Snakes and Arrows album, is such a song.
“No one gets to their heaven without a fight…” This lyric is part of the chorus of Armor and Sword from Snakes and Arrows and in listening to the song today, which I have come to love for its beautiful melody, rhythmic chord structures and powerful nuanced rock prowess, I noticed it and began pondering whether or not I agree. Does no one get to heaven without a fight?
Before I answer that question, allow me to take you to the point. In pondering this song, what I came to was that Prager was correct. I can’t come to agreement with someone who says my faith is a lie. I can’t come to acceptance of that worldview. But what I can do is come to acceptance that some won’t share my worldview and in my defense of it, all I need do is defend it. That’s all. I don’t have to fight-argue, audibly dissent or prove my worth. All I need do is keep my faith in tact while constantly allowing the barrage of other faiths and none at all. After all, if I can’t withstand a challenge to my beliefs, how do I know I believe them?
So, in some ways this song by a band of what I assume are atheists-albeit seemingly very kind, gentle and friendly ones–and as I’ve said, I have many friends in that camp–has helped me gain a foothold into my own faith. It’s too simplistic for me to say that perhaps God used that strange concoction of atheistic lyrics to help build my faith–but I wouldn’t negate that altogether.
As to the lyric itself–does no one get to heaven without a fight? Well I don’t know yet. I certainly think that many people get to heaven not fighting, but surrendering and it is that surrender, the beautiful acquiescence that assures it. By the same token, the theme of resistance in pursuit of pure motives is another theme in Rush’s music, one I do very much identify with, and this song carries that particular cri de coeur out of the fantastic sci-fi realms of early works like 2112 from 1976 and even Distant Early Warning from 1984 into a more earthy and progressive 21st century vessel.
If you haven’t listened to the album, I strongly suggest it. Musically, it ranks up there with the band’s best work. Alex Lifeson’s acoustic solo piece, Hope, is such a joyful and satisfying thing and the thundering opening of Far Cry will have you recalling (if you do recall such things) the glory days of the band’s Hemispheres and Farewell to Kings albums, that they alone are worth the itunes download.