Sunday, May 27, 2007

Prayer for the Conversion of Peart

Prayer to Saint Albert the Great

God of Truth

you endowed our brother Albert
with the gift of combining human wisdom with divine faith.
May the pursuit of all human knowledge
lead to a greater knowledge and love of you.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.


+ I've picked this prayer for the conversion of Neil Peart because St. Albert's life and works stand in stark contrast to Peart's imagined view of the "Dark Ages", because St. Albert was a relentless pursuer of the truth, and as patron of St. Thomas Aquinas, in life brought the talents of others to the service of that truth. +

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Horse's Mouth Cited By The Ass's Mouth

From the Richard Dawkins website, credited to the liner notes on Snakes & Arrows:

"I was also thinking, like Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, about how children are usually imprinted with a particular faith, along with their other early blessings and scars. People who actively choose their faith are vanishingly few; most simply receive it, with their mother's milk, language, and customs. Thinking also of people being shaped by early abuse of one kind or another, I felt a connection with friends who had adopted rescue dogs as puppies, and given them unlimited love, care, and security. If those puppies had been 'damaged' by their earlier treatment--made nervous, timid, or worse--they would always remain that way, no matter how smooth the rest of their life might be. It seemed the same for children."

So, Peart is essentially saying that his lack of faith was imprinted on him along with other early blessings and scars. It is equally valid to say that "People who actively reject faith are vanishingly few; most simply receive it..."

It is also interesting that Peart equates "imprinting a child with a particular faith" as abuse. I can sense the drumbeat of the Canadian collectivists with their departments of Child Services, rounding up children from the homes of the religious, to be raised in communal schools in a faith-free environment.

Perhaps in addition to Dawkins, Peart has been reading Mein Kampf?

From the Horse's Mouth

"Peart's words, meanwhile, came from some of the usual, rarefied sources – Richard Dawkins and evolutionary psychology are current inspirations – but also in large part from his experiences touring the back roads of America and Europe by motorcycle during Rush's 30th-anniversary tour in 2004.

It was on his rides through various Bible Belts, chronicled in print in Roadshow, that Peart realized he could no longer "stay neutral" on the topic of religion, he says. Snakes & Arrows addresses some of his conclusions in tunes like "Armor and Sword" and "The Way the Wind Blows," which ponder the perversion of faith into oppression and war, and the telling "Faithless," which rejects adherence to higher powers in favour of a humanist allegiance to one's own "moral compass."

"It came from travelling through all these back roads and small towns and seeing these church signs everywhere," says Peart. "Some of them are amusing, like: `If you give the devil a ride, pretty soon he'll want to drive.' That's fantastic. But other ones were just so presumptuous with these big crosses and scripture. What makes you think that's okay? I tried to imagine going by one with the crescent and star saying, `There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.' Or one with the Star of David saying, `That carpenter wasn't our messiah.' It makes me laugh, in a way, but in another, this is so f--ked up.

"It's so arrogant and that's what I can't get over. So I was trying to weigh all that .... I didn't want to make enemies gratuitously, but I decided I had to say something because if I didn't I was just allowing that to happen. It's worth speaking out despite the vilification and stuff that might come back at you. If you're not speaking for reason, you're speaking for unreason."

The full text of this article is at the Toronto Star:

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Poor Neil Peart

The Way the Wind Blows is a phenomenally moving song. The music is inspired and pathetic (in the good sense of pathos). But, here again, we have Peart displaying an irrational side. The chorus to the song is vintage Peart - imagery tied to the struggle of man, revelation of deep inner feelings. But the verses could have been lifted straight out of a Nancy Pelosi speech. It is as if Peart has become a mouthpiece for the American Democratic Party.

I'll get back to this in a moment.

Beginning from the beginning:

"Now it's come to this
It's like we're back in the Dark Ages
From the Middle East to the Middle West
It's a world of superstition"

[The Way the Wind Blows, Snakes & Arrows, 2007]

There are several interesting things about this verse. First, there is the negative connotation to Dark Ages, a repetition of that old Renaissance fable about the preceding era being ignorant and uncultured. That the common man thinks the Dark Ages something execrable is no surprise. For Neil Peart to think this is disappointing. Peart breathes the air of the Dark Ages daily, apparently unaware of the great and lasting achievements in a thousand years that he can flippantly dismiss without further thought.

Further, I have to again point out the silliness of a New Age, Tarot-Card reading animist using the term superstition in a derogatory way. Peart simply has no high ground at all. He accepts that someone flipping over pieces of paper can foretell the future or read into a man's soul, but he rejects as "superstitious" the sublime rationality of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Finally, there is the comparison of "Middle East" to "Middle West". This is inevitable in Peart's view of tolerance as the ultimate good. You can see foreshadowings of this in Peart's "Territories" from the Power Windows album (1985). Peart cannot mention a bad thing about some other people or culture without accusing his own people or culture of the same thing. It is impossible for Peart to look at Islamic Jihadists in the Middle East without inventing Crusaders in the Middle West. This is a common disease that affects all liberals. In order to balance their tolerant view of reality, they cannot put any culture in a position to judge any other. They themselves, of course, are fit judges, but that is because they see themselves as sitting above culture, in an intellectual elite fit to rule.

Pressing on...

"Now it's come to this
Wide eyed armies of the faithful
From the Middle East to the Middle West
Pray, and pass the ammunition"

"So many people think that way
You gotta watch what you say
To them and them, and others too
Who don't seem to see things the way you do"


Now where did this come from? Poor Neil Peart! He has to watch what he says, or some horrible fanatic Christian will do violence upon him! This is simply absurd. Peart certainly only has to watch what he says if he's afraid of offending someone, which he clearly isn't, or he wouldn't have written this song. Peart is inventing a persecution where none exists. Certainly if he were to say "Mohammed ate pork and was really a Jew", he might have to worry about a Fatwa being issued for his beheading, but it strains all credulity to him to equate a Judeo-Christian response to that of the violent jihadists. Peart is living in a bubble of rich liberal secularism. If he, for example, had to suffer under the restrictive policies of a modern corporation, he would know quite well that if anyone has to watch what they say, it is the "true believer." Peart and his secular humanist buddies have codified an anemic version of reality in which no-one is allowed to say anything offensive (except to Christians). Every day governments pass more laws censoring the free speech of individuals in the name of tolerance and diversity. If Peart was writing Witch Hunt today (Moving Pictures, 1981), he would find the witch hunters in the ranks of his compatriots. That is, he would, if he were honest.

Now, after this last verse, there is a sudden and shocking change, both musically and lyrically:

"We can only grow the way the wind blows
On a bare and weathered shore
We can only bow to the here and now
In our elemental war

"We can only grow the way the wind blows
We can only bow to the here and now
Or be broken down blow by blow"


Jumping from verse to refrain, Peart lapses back into beautiful imagery and heartfelt pathos. But he also jumps from petulant ranting to resignation. A generous intepretation would say that Peart has devised this dichotomy so that the verse and chorus speak to each other - that the chorus is an answer to the verse. The verse accuses and demands action. The chorus replies and begs understanding: "it's not my fault!"

Another interpretation would be that Peart is using the chorus to explain why all the horrible middle easterners and middle westerners are the way they are. It's not their fault - they were conditioned.

Of these two interpretations, I think the former is most likely. But is it reasonable? While the imagery is beautiful, the fact of the song's existance seems to belie the point he is trying to make. If we can only grow the way the wind blows, why isn't Peart growing along in the direction of Dark Ages and Superstition? Why isn't Peart one of the horrible wide-eyed faithful?

In the end, I think Peart just forced a nice image onto a political tirade. Musically and emotionally, it works. But there's no rational connection.

More later.

Moral Compass - Continued Again

I was wrong. The lyrics for this song are played out. However, for reference purposes, one has to refer to George Cardinal Pell's excellent article in the journal First Things, a few quotes of which are cited below:

"Morality matters to all of us. This central fact of human experience is often missed by those who put forward some modern, liberal version of conscience. When approached for moral advice, the reply “just go with your conscience” has the effect of further isolating people, driving them back into themselves just when they have courageously stretched out to find answers. The replacement of Newman’s view of conscience with the liberal version has been a disaster in key areas of human life.

"One place to measure that disaster is in technical thought about moral and religious practice. No one—at least, no Christian—believes conscience simply asserts the first thing that comes into our heads. Conscience looks for real answers to our questions, and where can it look except to the truth? But then the value of conscience surely lies not in conscience itself but in the truth to which conscience looks for answers. It is the truth that is primary, and it is from the truth that conscience takes its value—for the bare fact that something is my private belief has no moral significance whatsoever.

"So why would anyone try to oppose conscience to objective truth? Part of the answer lies in a distorted attitude towards the virtue of tolerance. “Tolerance” is often something of a weasel word. Of course, all human beings should tolerate the foibles and weaknesses of their fellows. But by “tolerance” many now mean “never judging.” And this is a much more debatable proposition. In fact, believers in tolerance themselves usually acknowledge unspoken limits. Tolerance rarely means refraining from judging racists, or sexists, or pedophiles, or political cheats—naturally enough: these are morally wrong and should be judged so. But the contemporary love of tolerance is severely limited. In effect, the only things we must be tolerant of are people’s sexual choices, or perhaps their choices about such life issues as abortion or euthanasia."

The full text of the article (well worth reading), can be found at:

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Moral Compass - Continued

Now I'm sure that Peart reflected, when using the term "moral compass", that a compass works by magnetism. It is a device whose only purpose is to visually orient a consciousness to the location of an unseen force. In the case of the compass, a magnetic material is free of physical forces and finds its most stable position oriented toward the magnetic poles of the planet.

This is a curious analogy for Peart to make. Does he imply that his sense of morality is, like the compass, aligned to forces external to himself. It seems so, though Peart's lines leave some ambiguity:

"I've got my own moral compass to steer by
A guiding star beats a spirit in the sky"

[Faithless, Snakes & Arrows, 2007]

It seems clear that he uses "beats" in the sense of "wins over" or "trumps", rather than beats as in rhythm. So in this couplet, Peart seems to be saying that his moral compass is aligned toward "a guiding star" rather than a "spirit in the sky," the latter being a derogatory reference to a deist or pagan concept of an impersonal god.

This is a slightly mixed navigational metaphor; one would normally presume that the Polestar and the Magnetic Pole were two different entities, where Peart seems to use them as one. But we'll allow him poetic license and trudge on. I think it's safe to presume, knowing Peart's enthusiasm for rationalism, that by "guiding star", he means philosophic principles. Note that it is possible to be less generous, and presume that Peart is referring to astrology. It would have been unthinkable to do so just a few years ago, but he seems to have fallen into Tarot-reading, and it is not beyond the pale to construe that Peart (in his "scientific guise") believes that the subtle gravitational influences in the position of stars somehow affect the psychology and behavior of humans. If the latter is the case, I'm sure that Peart would find it disconcerting to see the evidence that the position of chairs in the room in which one is born have more gravitational influence than the position of stars. Nevertheless, we should give him the benefit of the doubt and use the more generous interpretation.

The key aspect of this couplet is that Peart is derogatory toward the "spirit in the sky", but recognizes that there is an objective entity outside of himself that his "moral compass" responds to. This is critical, for it is a distinct challenge to the philosphic relativism that permeates much of his work. Still, without reference to this external entity, Peart is left with the problem that a subjective moral compass is neither moral nor a compass. The aforementioned Cho Seung-Hui is evidence that conscience cannot be used as a standard for social behavior. When one casts aside all objective (extrinsic) morality, one is left unable to make any value judgments whatsoever. Which would be anathema to Peart, who is one rolling lump of value judgments. It is positive that he recognizes something objective and external.

Later in "Faithless" we see another metaphor:

"I've got my own spirit level for balance
To tell if my choice is leading up or down"

[Faithless, Snakes & Arrows, 2007]

Again, we see a reference to an external, objective standard in "up or down." But now the term "spirit" is used in a positive sense, something like "incorporeal." This seems trivial, but it is a key theme in Peartism. "Spirit" is OK if it is pagan or gnostic, but it is worthy of mockery if it becomes personalized. It becomes easier to picture Peart as a Manichee.

Proceeding with this same verse, Peart continues:

"And all the shouting voices
Try to throw me off course
Some by sermons, some by force"

Aside from the need to rhyme, I'm not sure why Peart would indicate that someone is forcing him to go in a direction counter to that indicated by his "spirit level." But in any case, whether by argument or force, apparently EVERY SHOUTING VOICE is running counter to the objective, external force that Peart's internal meter is responding to. This seems curious. It is almost as if Peart were arguing that any effort to communicate between human beings with regard to the moral choices another human is making is, by the nature of communication, rendered contrary to the correct, external, objective moral direction. Otherwise, only SOME shouting voices would be trying to steer him off course, while other shouting voices would be aligned with that correct direction. Unless one allows for the idea that Peart is not referring to an external, objective moral direction at all, but instead to some sort of self-defined axis. Now we reach the height of absurdity, for if Peart is saying that his "spirit level" is a meter that aligns to himself, then it's only use would be to tell him when he was arbitrarily veering from an arbitrary course.

We must allow another possibility, and that is that Peart is only referring to shouting voices that are encouraging a direction contrary to the external, objective moral direction. In such a case, it is perfectly all right for people to communicate moral judgments, provided they share the reference to the external, objective moral direction.

In summary, Peart's very question of morality raises the dilemma for his relativist "tolerate everything" secular humanist view. He cannot even converse about the issue, or support his argument, without the use of metaphors that demand external, objective moral directions. And yet he provides no answer as to what constitutes the objective authority of those moral directions, and he makes every effort to distance himself from any objective authority, decrying in the absolute sense the voices of authority who make their one appearance in his song.

I wish we were done here so that we could move on to the fertile ground of "The Way The Wind Blows", but alas, there is more gold to be panned from this stream...

Moral Compass

Where to begin? Well, let's pluck the lowest hanging fruit first...

"I've got my own moral compass to steer by
A guiding star beats a spirit in the sky
And all the preaching voices -
Empty vessels ring so loud
As they move among the crowd
Fools and theives are well disguised
In the temple and marketplace"

[Faithless, Snakes & Arrows, 2007]

Interesting. With "empty vessels ring so loud" Peart makes reference (perhaps unknowingly) to 1 Corinthians 13:1

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal" (Douay-Rheims)

"If I speak in the tongues of mean and of angels, and have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (RSV)

This would be a stretch if it were not for a subsequent citation of 1 Corinthians 13:13:

"But I still cling to hope
And I believe in love
And that's faith enough for me"


I'm sure you can see the irony of Peart (a drummer) subconsciously using "empty vessels" to chide evangelists, particularly in a song that includes the lyrics "I will quietly resist".

But enough about that. The really interesting thing about "Faithless" is Peart's claims on behalf of his moral compass. With this assertion, more specifically known as "Primacy of Conscience", Peart claims that his own internal guidance is sufficient, and that outside influence is not necessary.

I suppose I could just stop this post with the name "Cho Seung-hui" and leave it at that. Moral compasses are highly over-rated. But perhaps a reference to George Cardinal Pell's thoughts on Primacy of Conscience are in order? And perhaps a discussion of Peart's analogic use of a compass is needed. More later.


Welcome to Summa Contra Peart. I am something of a former disciple of Peart's who has gone astray. A certain amount of intellectual karma is necessary to escape the gravitational pull of post-Descartes rationalism. I somehow attained a higher orbit, and now wish that my old mentor would arise from his atheistic myopia. The creation of this site was prompted by Peart's latest work on "Snakes & Arrows," which is, by the way, a musically brilliant CD. Enjoy!