Over the past year, hype surrounding Tool’s next album has grown significantly. It has been over ten years since the band put out any new material and many people are putting their ear close to the ground for a release date.
The music of Tool is not for the faint of heart. Many of their songs, musically and lyrically, are heavy, dark, and distorted, while dealing with some heavy, dark, and distorted subjects. The band, led by Maynard James Keenan, is made of some of the most creative and talented musicians I’ve personally ever heard. Furthermore, a few of their songs have profound truths to say about human existence, as dark as they can appear. Yet, one must be strongly convicted of and rooted in one’s Christian faith to digest the intense musical and lyrical platter of the mysterious progressive metal powerhouse.
At this point, so I am clear, I am not proposing Tool is a band Christians should listen to in heavy doses or hold in the highest regard, but there are elements of their music we can appreciate. I do limit myself on how much I listen to their music and even deliberately avoid some of their songs. Whether it’s Tool or any other musician, prayerful discernment must be taken with each song that enters our ears. If a song makes you spiritually uneasy, stop listening. Always guard yourself against media that may take control of your thoughts and desires and lead you away from your faith and who you have been called to be.
On the other hand, as Catholics we are called to engage and dialogue with the world, not flee from it in fear. Even though some music may not be pious, it doesn’t mean it should be rejected outright. Paul himself went to the Areopagus to engage the pagan philosophers.
One of Tool’s best songs is “Right in Two,” off of their album 10,000 Days. This song comes from a band who appears not too friendly or accepting of Christianity. Keenan, the lead singer, has said that he is not supportive of organized religion, especially fundamentalist Christianity. In his autobiography, A Perfect Union of Contrary Things, Keenan recalled a childhood memory of when his mother suffered an aneurysm and a church leader told him, “She wasn’t right with God” and “that’s why she got sick.” This is horrendously wrong, but, most regrettably and unfortunately, it was said. I guess it goes to show that no matter the facade or who people appear to be, you never know what they have been through. Much of the frustration and disagreement Keenan has held toward religion can be heard in Tool’s music.
However, God has uniquely created every human being and has put his truth in their hearts. Thus, man cannot help but articulate those truths, whether he has a relationship with his Creator or not. “Right in Two” awesomely and truthfully displays the Church’s teaching surrounding original sin (CCC 385). You can watch a lyric video of this song here.
The song comes from the perspective of two angels observing and discussing humanity, albeit condescendingly, as they look down at the world. The first line comes right out of the gate: “Angels on the sideline / Puzzled and amused / Why did Father give these humans free will? / Now they’re all confused.” Later in the song comes the line: “Angels on the sideline / Baffled and confused / Father blessed them all with reason / And this is what they choose…”
Two of the greatest gifts God has endowed His creatures are reason and free will: the ability to think for one’s self and the ability to choose for one’s self. The tradition of the Church describes this status of human creatures as being created in the imago dei, in the image and likeness of God. Importantly, God did not give us either gift so that we could kill, exploit, and dominate. He did not give us “thumbs so that we could beat our brother down.”
God gave us reason and a will so that we can come to know him and choose to love and serve him and others. If God forced us to love him and others it would make our actions nothing special. Our ability to know the good and choose it, always with the help of God’s grace, makes our decision to love and serve, despite the temptation to be self-centered, something supernatural and even meritorious. The line, “Father blessed them all with reason” implies that a human being’s rational nature is naturally oriented toward the good. Why else would the angels be baffled and confused?
The truth of the Church’s teaching on original sin proclaims that God gave his creatures everything to live a perfect existence in freedom and union with him. Admittedly, there was “plenty in this holy garden,” but our first parents squandered that freedom by using their gifts to pursue of their own glory, their own Eden. Hence, original sin constitutes a separation from God. What is the line repeated most throughout the song?
“Cut it all right in two. Cut it all right in two.”
Keenan points out in this song that sin is nothing more than division; division of God from man and division of man from his fellow human beings. Satan, the father of lies and deception, desires division, as he is the father of division, whereas God is the Father of Unity. Just look at the Ten Commandments, God’s plan for humanity. Each commandment leads human beings to be unitive and not divisive. God wants to help save us from sinful division and ultimately hell, which is eternal division from God.
Further, in lieu of humanity’s fallenness, God did not leave his creation to be eternally separated from Him. God, indeed, had a plan of salvation that unraveled through time. The center of God’s plan was the ultimate unity of God with humanity, the person of Jesus the Christ. In Jesus’ selfless sacrificial gift of himself on the cross and his Resurrection from the dead, humanity was given a new opportunity and a new trajectory. In this way, God took the darkness of the humanity’s fallen existence and turned it into an occasion for redeemed life.
Here, I think it’s essential to emphasize that Catholicism holds an undeniably positive understanding of human nature. Human beings are inherently good. Everything God created in the Garden was good, and human beings were the pinnacle of that creation. However, even though humans are inherently good, they have an inner inclination to relentlessly feed the ego, divisively and sinfully. The Church has come to understand this sinful inclination as concupiscence.
Yet, having an inclination toward evil and being evil in nature are two completely different realities. Humanity is not, as some people have commented about this song, a parasitic and cancerous race that exist solely to dominate creation. We’re not just, as the song suggests, “talking monkeys” whose existence means killing and stealing. Because of the Incarnation and Jesus’ sacrifice, humanity has been redeemed from such a nihilistic conclusion. Hence we hear in 1 Corinthians 15:55: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
A crucial line comes later when Keenan sings, “Repugnant is a creature who would squander the ability to lift an eye to heaven, conscious of his fleeting time here.” Each of us have been created, not for evil, but for greatness. We have been created to strive for the extraordinary, building and maintaining a great civilization of charity, faith, and brotherhood. However, this mission becomes a problem when it is all done in the name of ourselves and for ourselves, without reference or sight to our real purpose for existence: union with God in Heaven.
Just as Tool’s music is not for the faint of heart, our country, with its increasingly divisive and hostile atmosphere, is quickly becoming a place that is not for the faint of heart. The world itself can be seen as a strange, dark, and distorted place to live. Yet it’s a darkness that’s been rearing its head ever since the fall in the Garden. Today, wars and terror regimes rage on, with 22.5 million refugees worldwide fleeing burned villages and murdered families; abortion has claimed over 60 million innocent lives in the US; drug overdose and suicide rates are unfathomable; and all while gender identity and sexuality politics enable great societal division.
That being said, I agree with the angels. All of this is terribly baffling and confusing. All of this would easily lead them to think, “How they survive so misguided is a mystery.” This darkness and division is not what God intended when he blessed humanity with existence, reason, and free will; yet, with conviction, it is a darkness and division from which he has saved us.
As human beings created in the imago dei and saved by the sacrificial offering and Resurrection of Christ, and as Christians sent to proclaim the joy of the Gospel, are we using our gifts to build up the Kingdom proclaimed by Christ here on earth? Or are we using them to help tear it down? Do we take consolation in the fact that despite the fallenness our world, Christ has brought redemption and the possibility of eternal life?
Where has the evil one brought about division in our lives? And how have we cooperated in that division by giving in to our temptations to slight our brothers and take for ourselves? These are heavy, dark, and difficult questions. But it is only in asking them—and inviting Jesus Christ into our lives, with His unifying and healing grace—that we will build the earthly kingdom, and eventually be invited into the glory of a redeemed and unified heavenly life.