Rush Rocks (But Suffers from a Misguided Anthropology)

Time to address a major crisis: a total lack of Rush references on Mockingbird. This […]

Time to address a major crisis: a total lack of Rush references on Mockingbird. This oversight is especially shocking considering Mockingbird’s regard for all things sci-fi, quality cultural artifacts of the early 1980s, and rock-n-roll. On those criteria alone, Rush may just be the perfect band of all time. Not to mention the fact that they have an album called Grace Under Pressure (1984), which includes a song entitled “The Enemy Within”! This is fertile soil, people.

Sure, Rush concerts may boast the largest gatherings of pony-tailed goateed men (think Comic Book Guy) on the planet; and yes, Rush is from Canada, which is clearly not as awesome as America. But, hey, we simply cannot dismiss the work of a band whose career spans over four(!) decades.

So I want to talk about Rush’s song “Freewill,” from their classic Spirit of Radio (1980). Watch and listen, and get ready to live:

Neil Peart, the band’s chief lyricist, penned these lines for the chorus (you can read all the lyrics here):

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 that’s clear
I will choose freewill.

In other words, human beings have a choice. To make sense of the world, religion is the easy (and intellectually inferior) way out. Peart equates it with “phantom fears and kindness that can kill.” (If this reminds you of Ayn Rand’s thought, it’s because her writings were hugely influential for the band.) As an alternative, Peart offers “free will.”

The irony, however, is how un-free Peart sounds. One might ask, “Are you free to choose religion?” Obviously, he is as bound to his views as any religious zealot. His own needs and psychology drive him to reject religious faith for secular one in a quest to establish his identity.

Many Christians would reject Peart’s paean to godless free will. The irony, however, is that at the same time, they are just as enamored with the language of “choice” as he is. Speaking about “choosing” is as ubiquitous as it is seductive. How many times have you heard someone say, “She just needs to make good choices”? Or, “He was doing well until he started making bad choices”?

We love to believe we are free agents, surveying the landscape of moral choices, acting rationally to make good choices. But the fact is, we are a mix of motives, known and unknown, most of which are totally out of our control. That’s why Jesus says, in John 6.44, that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” Our natural un-free state is to always move away from God. Thus Jesus speaks of a need to be born again, not merely fixed up. The Christian message is one that seeks to kill people who falsely believe they are free, and raise them anew. And only then do we find, as the Morning Prayer collect for peace says, that service to God “is perfect freedom.”

PS–and if you haven’t been exposed to the Canadian glory that is Rush, you’re not alone. Check out the awesome Rashida Jones getting educated by Paul Rudd (moderate language alert):