Flirting with Christianity

Faith, it drives me away
But it turns me on
Like a strangers love

-Muse Who wouldn't want this man for a son?

With regard to a Jewish agnostic friend of ours, Matt Anderson once remarked that he is “flirting with Christianity.”

This friend of ours is a university professor, scholar, and gifted teacher who habitually spends long hours of his valuable time reading and trying to understand great Christian writers. He spends a greater amount of time, true, trying to understand the writings of Plato, but his passionate attention to Thomas Aquinas, Charles Williams, GK Chesterton, and, even, recently, the New Testament, is seemingly dissonant with his long-held distrust of and disbelief in the necessity of following the risen Jesus for living well.

In his conversations with us, he will often play the “devil’s advocate” with regard to our orthodox Christian beliefs, but he will just as convincingly and respectably play “God’s advocate” when the situation calls for it. He might solidly defend a high view of God, (his creative power, for instance, in Genesis) from our oftentimes dim, understated evangelical viewpoint, or he might repetitively force us to take Paul seriously when he says, in II Corinthians, that “knowledge will pass away.” (It is a strange occurance to be have an agnostic Jew defend Christian dogma to me, a lifelong evangelical, when it is being ignored or misunderstood.)

I think that this phrase, “flirting with Christianity,” is a clever and accurate description of our friend, and not only him, but of many people in the world, and of, perhaps, an archetypical attitude that humanity may  assume. It is an attitude of feigned indifference, of playful rejection followed immediately by playful solicitation, followed again by playful rejection. It is an attentive and examining attitude, while remaining a stand-offish one. It’s ceaseless demand is for “more time, more time.” More time to consider, more time to reflect, more time to research, all the while dabbling in the benefits to be enjoyed. With regard to people, flirtatious attitudes seek favors and company, but hope to avoid commitment and responsibility. With regard to worldviews, they seek to the interesting or insightful elements of a worldview, without the less-than-interesting implications or nasty behavioral modifications that must follow. But perhaps Christianity is less a worldview than a person, after all… regardless…
I’d like to do some exposition of the lyrics of my favorite rock band, Muse, to demonstrate that they, too, are flirting with Christianity. This exposition is entirely an eccentric interest of mine rooted in my love for the band’s music, but it should also serve as an instantiation of a more universal (and more useful) analysis of the mysterious movement of the soul towards grace, that is, the movement of the unregenerate, wayward son or daughter back to the loving and forgiving arms of the Father, whom Jesus revealed to us, and who eagerly desires that all men and women be reconciled to Him, now, and forever.

I have heard every song of this British rock band that has been released on an album or EP, plus a dozen or so other “b-sides” that have been recorded in studios and are available only through peer-to-peer file-sharing, and, off hand, I believe that the three songs which I shall analyze represent a comprehensive list of the songs whose lyrics explicitly deal with theism in general or Christianity in particular. (If there are others, I would be happy to be made aware of them.)

(Pertinent selections are reproduced with commentary. The full lyrics are listed at the end.)

The first song is not very subtle. It is entitled:

Thoughts of a dying atheist

Eerie whispers
Trapped beneath my pillow
You won’t let me sleep
Your memories


I know you’re in this room
I’m sure I heard you sigh
Floating in-between
Where our worlds collide

The songwriter has a sense of the presence of someone “in this room,” whose light breath may have been heard, or may have been only imagined. The presence of this someone is eeirie, however, and unsettling, rather than comforting or enjoyable. Now, God is ever present. The psalmist says, “Where can I flee from your spirit? If I ascend the mountains, you are there, if I go down to hell, you are there”. So this ever-present God’s ever-presence is either comforting or disconcerting. For those who love him, it is eternal life. For those who do not love him,  it is eeirie, intrusive, and ultimately horrible. God hides his presence from us as much as we cannot handle it, but at times he may “whisper” and woo the wayward soul, an experience to which the songwriter here alludes.

I know the moments near
And there’s nothing we can do
Look through a faithless eye
Are you afraid to die?

“Faith” here is suggestively associated with theism in general, and perhaps with Christianity in particular. The question is directly asked, “Look through a faithless eye / Are you afriad to die?”

It scares the hell out of me
And the end is all I can see
And it scares the hell out of me
And the end is all I can see

This is a simple song, both musically and lyrically, expressing the universal fear of death, the fear of the unknown other side, the fear of the finality and irreversability of death. Although the fear of death is by no means absent in people’s of faith, the title clues us in that this fear might be rooted in the songwriter’s atheism, which suggest that an alternate worldview, such as theism, might produce an alternate emotioanl response to the thought of dying.

The second song is called Fury.

Fury

Breathe in deep and cleanse away our sins
And we’ll pray that there’s no God
To punish us and make a fuss

This lyric expresses the childlike fear of being punished, and projects this fear of parental punishment on God, “the divine father in the sky,” along with a playfully ironic intention to pray to God out of hope that he doesn’t exist. The first line about “breathing in deep” is expressed without the slightest hint of irony or mockery. Coupled with the following lines, rather, it expresses an attraction to the possibility of breathing in deep and having sins cleansed away, along with an immediate withdrawal from the possibility. This movement towards and away is characteristically flirtatious.

The tongue-in-cheek “prayer” in the second line might be interpreted, then, as an attempt to mask the earnest (and vulnerable) desire in the first line to breath and be cleansed. There is a vulnerability in the first line that suprises even the songwriter, and must be immediately softened or hidden.

Also humorous and playful is the detracting depiction of the holy God’s righteous judgment of mankind as “making a fuss.” God is suggestively pictured as the over-reacting parent whose actions are easily mocked by their children… (“It’s no big deal, mom, sheesh…) which even in children betrays a desire for protection, dependency, and the willingness of the parent to “make a big deal” about the child and their behavior.
So much for song #2.

The most recent, and most interesting, song comes from Muse’s most recent album. It is the final, hidden track on their album Black Holes and Revelations. Since the whole song is pertinent, it is quoted entirely here below, and then again with commentary.

Glorious

Rose-tinted view
And satellites that compromise the truth
I wanted more
With the cuts and the bruises
Touch my face
A hopeless embrace

Faith, it drives me away
But it turns me on
Like a strangers love
It rockets through the universe
It fuels the lies, it feeds the curse
That we too could be
Glorious

I need to believe
But I still want more
With the cuts and the bruises
Don’t close the door
On what you adore

Faith, it drives me away
But it turns me on
Like a strangers love
It rockets through the universe
It fuels the lies, it feeds the curse
That we too could be
Glorious

(Begin commentary:

Glorious

Rose-tinted view

The theme of the song is “The lie that we, too, could be glorious, and the longing for it to be true” This is a lie propounded by no subject other than “Faith.” Though this lie is attractive and exciting, it is false. One might say it is “too good to be true.” Hence the first line alludes to the cliche of “rose-colored glasses,” which present the real world in an all-too-flattering light.

And satellites that compromise the truth

The satellite reference here could be to any number of objects… Satellites orbit planets or stars, so they may represent the people “orbiting” or associated with the greater body of faith, or they may represent specific doctrines of specific faiths. They are picture as “compromising the truth,” so they are false, though they be “rose-tinted.”

I wanted more

This lyric expresses the universal desire for something beyond, we know not what. It is a beautiful and simple expression of the the german concept of “ziegenzucht,” (pronounced ZAIN-zoocht), that is, the ineffable longing to do something more, to have something more, to be something more, with the ignorance of exactly what it is we want to do, have, or be.

With the cuts and the bruises

This line perhaps contributes to the picture of the songwriter as beaten up by desire, as one who has been through trials, been through difficulties, and yet whose deep desire remains.

Touch my face
A hopeless embrace

“Touch my face” brings to mind the tenderness and intimacy that is necessary before one person may actually contact the face of another. The following line relishes the closeness of this intimacy by referencing an “embrace,” but colors even the tender embrace with a dark element of “hopelessness.” This skillful contrast concisely embodies the them of the poem. It alludes to closeness, connection, and yet, ultimately, falsehood, and unfulfilled promises. It is similar to the desire of a lover to remain always with their new lover, coupled with a jaded and cynical belief that, “all good things must end,” and “nothing good will last.”

Faith, it drives me away
But it turns me on
Like a strangers love

This is the most explicit statement Muse has made with regard to their feeling about faith. I here assume “faith” for them means something like the Roman Catholic Christianity of the Church of England, the “faith” to which they, being British, are the closest, geographically and culturally. The songwriter says that faith drives him away, but it turns him on, like a strangers love. The analogy of the search for truth as a romantic relationship is explicit. It is, in fact, not as much an anology as a conflation. Flirtation is, therefore, perhaps, something more than an analogy as well.

The love of a stranger is a dramatic premise that has been exhaustively explored by story-tellers throughout history. There is some mystique, some danger and excitement, some romantic obscurity to the idea of seeing a stranger on a bus or train, meeting them, and enjoying the pleasures and benefits of their company without every knowing their identity. The film classic Casablanca uses this story as one of its subplots. Muse’s comparison between the simulteneous attraction/repulsion of faith is, again, poetically concise and blunt, while remaining vulnerable.

It rockets through the universe
It fuels the lies, it feeds the curse
That we too could be
Glorious

By now the theme has been fully revealed, namely, “The lie that we, too, could be glorious, and the longing for it to be true.” Faith, as well as the semi-sexual desire that is aroused by it, are not real, for the songwriter. They are tempting, but false, and therefore malicious. They “fuel the lie” and “feed the curse.” Though they promise that “we too could be glorious,” like the glory of the stars in the sky or the sun at mid-day, they do not fulfill. This is an elaboration of the attraction (O to be glorious!) and the repulsion, (But it is all a lie and a facade).

I need to believe
But I still want more

The desire to believe is stronger than a desire; it is a compulsion. The songwriter confesses that, at times, he “needs to believe.” But the compulsion is battled, again, by the internal assurance that there must be more. For him, nothing so small as faith, which, it is implied, obviously will not satisfy, should be settled for.

With the cuts and the bruises
Don’t close the door
On what you adore

Faith, it drives me away
But it turns me on
Like a strangers love
It rockets through the universe
It fuels the lies, it feeds the curse
That we too could be
Glorious

Muse is flirting with Christianity. Or perhaps more accurately, Matt Belamy is. No one can sit on the fence for too long, both because eventually intellectual integrity demands that we make a choice one way or the other, for or against a certain theory, and because, in the case of persons, the beloved will not forever wait to be pursued. If flirting with Christianity is more accurately described as flirting with the person of Christ, then Christ will not forever stand to be so playfully entertained. “Choose this day whom you shall serve.”

This exposition is testable, for if my theory is right, then future Muse lyrics will obviously represent one or the other of these two movement. We shall either see an explicit acceptance of some specific form of faith, most likely Christianity, whether the Church of England or some protestant sect, along with a corresponding explosion of explicitly God-adoring or self-re-examining lyrics; or we shall see an explicit rejection of Christianity with a corresponding increase of violent and fervent resistance.

No one who has fully understood and then rejected Christianity falls among the class of people who consider it “one of many paths to God,” or “one of the great world religions.” No, they, like Nietczhe, consider it the bain of human existence, the blackest plague to ever strike humanity, the most dangerous and malicious falsehood to ever exist. For following Christ, or not, is a whole body, whole soul affair. It is less like like buying new clothes or moving to a new state or making a new friend and more like marriage or birth or death. And he was either the Son of God or a very, very misguided prophet whose followers are, of all men, to be most pitied.

Which direction shall Muse and Matt Bellamy move? We shall see.

(End article, begin Lyrics)

Glorious

Rose-tinted view
And satellites that compromise the truth
I wanted more
With the cuts and the bruises
Touch my face
A hopeless embrace

Faith, it drives me away
But it turns me on
Like a strangers love
It rockets through the universe
It fuels the lies, it feeds the curse
That we too could be
Glorious

I need to believe
But I still want more
With the cuts and the bruises
Don’t close the door
On what you adore

Faith, it drives me away
But it turns me on
Like a strangers love
It rockets through the universe
It fuels the lies, it feeds the curse
That we too could be
Glorious

Thoughts of a Dying Athiest

Eerie whispers
Trapped beneath my pillow
You won’t let me sleep
Your memories

I know you’re in this room
I’m sure I heard you sigh
Floating in-between
Where our worlds collide

It scares the hell out of me
And the end is all I can see
And it scares the hell out of me
And the end is all I can see

I know the moments near
And there’s nothing we can do
Look through a faithless eye
Are you afraid to die?

It scares the hell out of me
And the end is all I can see
And it scares the hell out of me
And the end is all I can see

It scares the hell out of me
And the end is all I can see
And it scares the hell out of me
And the end is all I can see

Fury

You’re so happy now
Burning a candle at both ends
Your self-loving soothes
And softens the blows you’ve invented

Breathe in deep and cleanse away our sins
And we’ll pray that there’s no God
To punish us and make a fuss

Crack’s healing up
Future soul forgive this mess
You waste twenty years
And wind up alone, demented

Breathe in deep and cleanse away our sins
And we’ll pray that there’s no God
To punish us and make a fuss

Breathe in deep and cleanse away our sins
And we’ll pray that there’s no God
To punish us and make a fuss

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  • violet

    1. This exposition of ‘Glorious’ painted a new view of a truth I’ve long observed but still can’t quite articulate… it is concerned with the truth that in the unregenerate soul, there exist simultaneously the experiences of glory and misery (or pre-glory and pre-misery; I think, however, that when you have the two together, they cannot either one be wholly themselves). I am tenuously holding that this means all men get more of what they want in the long run… this consequence is a very comforting thought (Doesn’t make it true, but doesn’t make it untrue, either!).

    What was meant by the statement that for this particular Muser “Faith, as well as the semi-sexual desire that is aroused by it, are not real”; it seems as though it is the utter “reality” of the songwriter’s desire for the content of Faith to be true that causes all the ricocheting. He has ranked the object of his desire as illusory, inaccurate, and thus inferior on the scale of Believable Objects to the object of some other faculty (like rationality or experience or maybe just desire no. 3); but even AFTER this ranking of the object, the desire persists. Isn’t the restless state a direct result of the simultaneous desires to rest in God and to rest in something else? Isn’t the result a mixed experiencing of glory and misery that precludes a total immersion in either?

    2. The Germans do have a poignant word for soulish-seeking; but it is “Sehnsucht”, not “Ziegenzucht” (although the pronunciation is correct). Only bringing that up with the best of wishes – really enjoyed the article over all – but that part, as it now stands, has the words for “billygoat-breeding” in quotes…(!)

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com K.B. Enthusiasmos

    Violet,

    Thanks for the comment.

    First of all, thanks for correcting my German spelling… I’ve only heard the word pronounced, so when I tried to guess the spelling by guessing various phoenetic possibilities and confirming or disconfirming them by Google, this is what came up. That’s what I get for doing “internet research.”
    I think Mr. Bellamy does consider the desire to be false, but your question about that subtlety flushes out a tricky and important distinction.

    It reminds me of a conversation that used to come up frequently between my classmates and I during our time at university, which I will reproduce at length, since it is perfectly analogous.

    We asked, “Is there such thing as a wrong desire?” The conventional answer was a resounding: YES! “Isn’t desiring to steal, to hurt someone else, to sleep with someone to whom you are not married — are not these desires wrong?” “Ah,” someone would counteract, “But is it the desire that is wrong, or the object of desire? It seems that only the object of desire is wrong, two reasons. 1. Evil has no existence of its own, it is parasitic. Evil is always a perversion of the good. Theft is a perversion of generosity and justice, harming your fellow men is a perverted version of helping yourself, and fornication is a perverted version of the wonderful sexual activity by which we were all brought into the world. The desire is not for the bad, but for a misconceived and poorly executed good. It is for the good within the bad.”

    “OK, that’s weak,” would be the reply.

    “Well, even if you don’t buy number one, it doesn’t matter whether the object of desire is good or bad, beacuse desire itself is morally neutral. The objects can be good or bad, but desire is simply a fact of nature. Have you ever tried not to desire something? Has it worked? We can change our desires not directly, but indirectly. We cannot see something desirable and not desire it, but we may be able to look away. Once we see something AS desirable, we can’t stop desiring it. But we may be able, by reason or experience, to see it differently.”

    “OK, so desire for bad things isn’t bad?”

    “Not exactly. Desire simply is… and the object is good or bad.”

    What you are pointing out, violet, is that the same argument applies in the case of false objects of desire. I imagine Mr. Bellamy thinks to himself, “Well, I really want to be glorious… but there is no such thing as glory for us.. so the desire is false.” But this is a misunderstanding. Even if the object of the desire is false or does not exist, we must ask ourselves, with Peter Kreeft, “What then, is this desire for?”

    So much for “false desire.” Do you agree with the above explanation of why he might, inspite of your point, consider the desire itself to be illusory?

    Perhaps more interesting to you is the simulteneous experience of pre-misery and pre-glory… I wonder if this experince, as you have described, is synonomous for “the human condition,” because,  I believe God has wooed and regenerated my soul, and yet I feel within me both experiences, resonations of both notes, that is, the music of misery and glory. I am not immersed totally in both… but I am moving, as we all are, I am moving towards one or the other. What does this do to your tenuous, tenable position?

  • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Andrew McKnight Selby

    “Billygoat breeding” – that is very, very funny.

    But, with all seriousness, two thoughts:

    1) Augustine, first page of the Confessions, “The heart is restless until it rests in you.” He assumes that the restlessness of the heart occurs because we have desires, but nothing fulfills the desires. We only get satisfaction when the proper object of desire, God, is “obtained.” How that can be is the topic of another conversation…

    2) I think the Muse guy cannot reach the insight of #1, like so many in our culture, because he thinks that meaninglessness is true. That is, that inherent in our nature is a meaninglessness and brokenness that makes our thoughts, feelings, and desires utterly untrustworthy. Only an optimist like Plato or a Christian with the doctrine of the imago dei has a cosmology that allows for the accuracy or right movement of desires. In Sunday school it was told to me that we have a God-shaped hole in our hearts. Expressed well? No, but it might help our friend from Muse.

  • http://bourgeoisburglars.blogspot.com Burglar

    McKnight,

    You think Plato’s an optimist? Discussion for another day.

  • violet

    Yes, I think I understand now how Mr. Belamy sees the desire itself as illusory. He perhaps assumes that humans come with ‘false’ desires as part of their complete and final package… Mr. Selby pointed out that it is tempting to classify all desires – AND thoughts(!) – as untrustworthy because we do not yet see their fulfillment (or in the case of thoughts, maybe their appropriate value in terms of knowing truth).

    I guess I find most of my peers/colleagues here… lamenting past failures, as well as the impossibility of future success in attaining to what they desire.
    On the one hand, this honest confession of the insufficiency of many objects of desire, and even much intellectual wrestling, would be a really bad stopping place. From there the lament gets sadder… maybe annihilistic. But on the other hand – it is a necessary step towards Christ, as the original post maintained.

    So the tenuous position that ‘all men get more of what they want in the long run’is strengthened, so long as I can continue to believe that all men have a desire for “Faith” whose content is the real God in Christ. If so, and some when they stop messing around just flatly reject Christ, then they get what they want, too. Expressions such as “I’m open to anything” and “I can’t believe in a good God” seem sometimes to be polite or indirect ways of phrasing this rejection.

    The Kreeft suggestion is an awesome one…. Thanks.

  • http://anyeventuality.wordpress.com Nobody

    I think the first track of Muse’s newest album is an example of conflicted indulgement in Christianity’s promise of final justice, invoking the bits of Christianity that back up their righteous anger. Apparently a political dissent song, “Take a Bow” climaxes with a chorus repeating “and you will burn in hell for your sins”, though its joyfulness produces an dissonance of irony I think.

  • http://anyeventuality.wordpress.com Nobody

    P.S. Muse also flirts with the aesthetics of Christian music (incidental though they may be), at least in the song “Invincible” which features not only a hymn-like marching rhythm but also an organ!

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com K.B. Enthusiasmos

    Thanks for the comment, Nobody. Apt observation. It is an exceedingly great temptation, apparently, for those who purport reject Christianity whole-clothe, to borrow all the deliciously true or beautiful parts that might serve for the moment.

    While “hypocrisy” is a commonly applied judgement against Christians, and one that I accept whole heartedly, it should be observed that the same is true of those who judge. What did we used to say in school? “It takes one to know one”?

    So let’s turn, all of us, all hypocrites and fools, to one who can help us with our stupidity.

  • http://mereorthodoxy.com K.B. Enthusiasmos

    Nobody,

    I hadn’t noticed the churchlike instrumentation on “Invincible.” That is a fascinating clue that makes me wonder if the Muse members weren’t brought up in the Church of England or some such place… ‘twould account for a) the organ music, etc., b) the allusions to biblical imagery, c) the hostility towards Christianity!

  • http://anyeventuality.wordpress.com Nobody

    I doubt they went to church but I wouldn’t be surprised if one, two, or three of them attended Anglican school, where religious instruction is obligatory and attendance is required at assemblies (ie, “chapel”). There’s no opting out, as my Muslim friend attests, so exposure to Christianity of some sort is inevitable (and no doubt often resented).

    Since C of E is the state church there is no expectation for families of students to be church attendees, because every British resident is automatically a parishoner of their local Anglican church.

  • Hermonta Godwin

    I disagree with him on the provability of God and I think Romans 1 backs my position. But if he is correct, doesn’t that imply that anything close to the traditional doctrine of hell cannot be correct? How can eternal punishment make sense on the basis of simply betting the wrong way?