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Alex Lifeson, famed guitarist for Rush, was recently featured in an interview in Classic Rock Magazine. The all-things-Rush website RushIsABand has a scan of the interview here. In the interview, by Paul Elliott, Mr. Lifeson is asked “Do you believe in God?” His answer to this question is already leading to Internet debate and now positions the band interestingly theologically.

I have been following, I mean ravenously following, this band for more than thirty years, and I don’t recall Mr. Lifeson ever being asked that question directly before.

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His bandmate Geddy Lee is on record as being an atheist, and his bandmate Neil Peart has been continually critical of religion over several decades of lyric-writing. My impression is that Mr. Peart prefers to remain agnostic, but others will know more about Peart arcana than I do. Mr. Lee has characterized himself as a Jewish atheist. (Two posts I’ve written (“Geddy Lee, Jewish Atheist” and “Geddy Lee Responds to My Question“) about Mr. Lee’s views about religion are among the most read and commented posts here at R&T.)

This means that Rush, one of the best selling rock bands of all time (behind only The Beatles and The Rolling Stones for consecutive platinum or gold records), is more or less now publicly a nonreligious-to-antireligious, agnostic-to-atheist, group.

In Mr. Lifeson’s interview, his response to “Do you believe in God?” is: “No. When I was younger I did. My mother is not super-religious but she has a belief. My father was the total opposite. He thought religion was a crock. In my early teens I started to question it all. I had friends who were Jesus freaks, others were just very spiritual, and we had these great long discussions about these things. But as I get older it just becomes a less and less sensible thing to think about.”

For those who care about rock and roll, or those who care about how people live their spiritual lives, there is potentially a lot to say about every sentence of his response. (And yes, Mr. Lifeson also discusses using Ecstasy and pot in the interview.)

I have a few brief observations: First, he notes that at one time he did believe in God, and I am interested to know about his deconversion story. Deconversion — decelerating or disaffiliating from religious/religious practice/religious belief — is a major feature of secular societies, and Mr. Lifeson’s story might map on to what we know about deconversion or might be something different.

Second, his parents had seemingly quite different religious sensibilities. Children of such parents are, according to many studies, more likely to drop out of religious practice/belief than children whose parents share similar religious identities/affiliations.

Third, he seems to have enjoyed theologizing when he was young (“these great long discussions about these things”).

Finally, and most important, it is the last sentence that is getting people critical or excited. However, what the last sentence means is far from evident. A thoughtful religious person in most of the recognized (and indeed many of the un- or under-recognized) religions today might well have grounds for agreeing with Mr. Lifeson: that it does not make sense to think a lot about religion, because — presumably — religion is not most of all about thinking. It is about other things (feeling, experiencing, recognizing, doing, etc.).

Or — with an important strand of contemporary scholarship — one might argue that religion itself is a construct whose coherence cannot finally hold. Religion, as a concept, was invented in certain cultures at certain times (scholars disagree on when and where for various religions, but its invention is increasingly being documented and argued in scholarship). So in that sense, it is not “sensible” to waste too much time thinking about it. It’s a human/cultural construct.

Finally, and this may be most apt for Mr. Lifeson’s personal perspective: what religion presents itself as about does not make much of a credible claim on day-to-day life. It has made itself, and often been made by secular society, literally in-credible, increasingly unbelievable. Hence the striking increase of “religious nones” in North America.

Theologically, all of this is important. A theological attitude should make us stay curious and engaged, rather than judgmental, incautious, and dismissive.  Theology (whether in academic or everyday contexts, professional or lay) which among other things means an account of the reality that has most bearing for life, ought to welcome Mr. Lifeson’s comments.

In my view, his comments should not be occasions to validate now-traditional claims to theological truth (by, for example, criticizing his concepts of God or religion), nor should they be taken as self-evident statements about “atheism,” itself a complex range of views and practices. His comments admit of too much ambiguity and exploration to be reduced to sides in a tug-of-war. This can be difficult to appreciate when someone with Mr. Lifeson’s stature and views speaks publicly about religion. But it can be even more difficult to appreciate when someone who seems like a “traditional” believer argues their views in public: when people who are perceivable as “religious” speak about their views/practices, there is a bias toward those beliefs/practices being an expression of that person’s existence, rather than an expression of the cultural logic of religiousness at issue in the hearing.

So Mr. Lifeson presents us with a lot to think about, after all. Is religion “a less and less sensible thing to think about”?

Tommy Beaudoin, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York

10 Comments »

  1. Looks like the great Atheismo has recruited another to His ranks.

    Comment by Anon — April 30, 2014 @ 5:28 pm

  2. If you have followed Rush through the years…. Then you can remember the ending of the song”Free Will”. “Each of us, A cell of awareness, Invalid and incomplete.Genetic blends,With uncertain ends, On a a fortune hunt that far too fleet”.Also… Neal answers the question on the “Roll the Bones” tour…Why are we here.”Because we’re here…Row the Boat”.On the Tour guide of that concert The first page has skulls and bones in a row, It’s Morse code…

    Comment by Garth — March 1, 2015 @ 10:29 pm

  3. Ignorance is bliss

    Comment by patick — March 4, 2015 @ 2:41 am

  4. Bummer as they have been such an inspiration to me: https://ovationeddie.wordpress.com/2015/02/14/a-spiritual-view-of-rush-2112/

    Comment by Eddie — March 23, 2015 @ 5:08 pm

  5. “Each of us,
    A cell of awareness
    IMPERFECT and incomplete.
    Genetic blends
    With uncertain ends,
    On a a fortune hunt that far too fleet”

    Comment by Asian Rusgh Fan — April 2, 2015 @ 2:07 pm

  6. Well I can’t blame him to a certain degree. But you have to search for truth if you want it. Lots of things in bible like really Paul’s contradictions of yeshua’a teachings. And all the religions in the world are lies. There is a reason for this

    Comment by Chris Talton — May 31, 2015 @ 10:01 pm

  7. A pity that such talented musicians cannot acknowledge the Source of their greatness. A characteristic of modern man – nihlistically turning a blind eye to our Creator.

    Comment by Colin — September 26, 2015 @ 12:41 pm

  8. Agnostic isn’t a third option to being Atheist or Theist. Gnosticism and Agnosticism deal with knowledge in general, while Theism and Atheism are specifically about belief (or lack thereof) in a universe intervening deity. Agnosticism is therefore not mutually exclusive to Theism and Atheism.

    One can be agnostic to any phenomena he, she or it has no knowledge of, so it’s not exclusively reserved for theological discussion. It seems to me that self-proclaimed ‘Agnostics’ (in theological discussions) abide by the title purely to avoid the negative stigma of Atheism, brutally imposed by faith-dominated society.

    Neil Peart might go with the term Agnostic for whatever reason. However, in truth if he has no active belief in an intervening deity (which is abundantly clear in his works and interviews), that makes him an Atheist, pure and simple.

    “Like a steely blade in a silken sheath, we don’t see what they’re made of,
    they shout about love, but when push comes to shove, they live for things they’re afraid of. And the knowledge that they fear, is a weapon to be used against them”.
    (The Weapon 1982)

    Sums up Neil’s views on the faithful perfectly.

    Comment by Wolf — October 18, 2015 @ 3:45 pm

  9. “You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
    If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice
    You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
    I will choose a path thats clear
    I will choose free will.”

    Seems pretty clear to me, religion is nothing but a sham and a man made device for control, particularly when it comes to a womans right to self determination. I’ll stick with “The path thats clear.”

    Comment by Starcat — January 20, 2016 @ 10:04 am

  10. Have the balls to think for yourselves. If you do not have such equipment, then I suggest you go sit in the corner and wait for the wolves to eat you alive. Religion is for sheep. Religion causes a great deal of problems in this world. And for you narrow thinkers out there, spirit and religion are complete opposites. Religion is control, spirituality is part soul and part cognition. Burning in hell for eternity? Sounds like a scare tactic to me. Man has done nothing but harm to all things. Our planet, our minds. And we are supposed to believe through word of mouth and scripture because they say it is so? Man? We are the most ignorant creature. Full of jealousy and hatred. To me, those are diseases because they lead to more distortion of the mind and of the truth……….

    Be free from the noise. Go sit in a field or the woods and close your eyes. Let nature run its coarse through your ears. Let the winds pass through your skin and hair. If any creator is such, it would want you to get deep within what is there because you are there. Religion dies when it has no one to control. The spirit is our vehicle to carry us home.

    Comment by Shane — October 11, 2016 @ 5:03 am

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