-- Personal: Spirituality/Christianity --
This page archives comments by Bruce Cockburn on Christianity.
3 March 1978 - Commenting on the 60's, making a commitment to Christianity, and the Born Again movement
In response to question about the 60s counter-culture:
"Sure, I went through that scene," he says. "I was mostly doped out in the
'60s -that was the peak of my metaphysical nebulosity. Then I got involved
in the back-to-the-earth movement, and courted a certain kind of spiritual
"You know the type, the people who tend to speak of the spiritual world but
keep it vague, who say 'Oh, yeah, I believe in the Creator,' or the 'life
force' but are afraid to say 'God.' I also dabbled in a lot of spiritual
connections - a Buddhist influence, black magic, that sort of thing.
"Fortunately, I didn't connect. And then it reached the point, about three
years ago, when I finally had to make a Christian commitment. Maybe having a
kid makes you look at things in a different way."
Not of member of any church BC adds:
"Actually, most of my friends aren't Christians, which puts a subtle
pressure on me to 'tone down' my work."
BC tends to reject the Born Again movement because:
"The 'Born Again' movement has also been associated with right wing
tendencies, which I don't agree with. It's not the Harvey Coxes, the
socially involved people who are getting the attention. It's your average businessmen
who are not seeing beyond their little world. That's terribly unfortunate."
-- from "Bruce Cockburn: A spiritual believer adrift in a secular world", by Jonathan Takiff, Philadelphia Daily News, March 3, 1978.
[Interviewer Stephen Holden]
Discussing the beginnings of his spiritual journey
BC: "My parents don't believe in God at all," says the Ottawa-bom doctor's son.
"They only took us to church because my grandmother would have been upset if
they hadn't. We went to the United Church, which in Canada is a combination of
Methodist and Presbytenan. As soon as we were old enough to complain about
having to wear gray flannels on Sunday, we didn't have to go anymore. But
I've always been aware of another side of life one that's different from the
tangible things we're confronted with every day. I've always looked for
information about it through art and reading, through different philosophies
and spiritual disciplines. I had a shallow involvement with Buddhism for a
while. And I read Gurdjieff and even got into black magic. I'd be the last
one to claim that drugs held any answers for anybody, but my expenences with
psychedelics strongly reinforced the knowledge that there's more to life than
meets the eye. It all just led me closer and closer to Christianity and about
six years ago I made that commitment. Since then I've been calling myself a
[.....he continues later in the interview.....]
BC: I'm by nature conservative and inclined to try to live my life by the
biblical approach as much can. But there's a lot in the Bible I have trouble
accepting as the final word. And I don't trust human groups, I don't like the
way we humans behave when we're in large groups. So, although I think it's
great that the [bible] movement has brought people to Christ, to the extent
that it's a human social p[rogress?] I distrust it. There are too many
historical precedents for people doing awful things in the name of religion
when what's going on is really just a social movement.
-- from "Bruce Cockburn's Quiet Optimism", High Fidelity, 1981, by Stephen Holden.
2 November 1981 - Summary of Cockburn's religious message
Q: I know this is hard to do, but could you summarize your religious message for people that buy your albums with that kind of idea in mind.
BC: Yeah... I guess there's a couple aspects to that. One is, as I was saying before, journalistic report on a Christian life, an attempted Christian life. I suppose that's the aspect that's intended as being for the "already converted". For the other people, who aren't that interested in Christianity as such, I'd like them to see it intellectually as an option. I know from my own experiences that before I was a Christian it really wasn't... until very close to the time I came to accept it... the idea of involving myself in what I considered to be a bunch of superstition, it was so remote, I could never have predicted that I was going to end up that way. There's a lot of people out there like that, a lot of people who grew up in religious households where the principles of religion were... a lot of people rejected Christianity for that reason. Without browbeating anybody with it, I really feel that a lot of those people could see it as an acceptable option.
-- from "Bruce Cockburn Interview, Old Waldorf, San Francisco," transcribed by Charles Wolff, from a tape of an interview with Bruce Cockburn on November 2, 1981 at The Old Waldorf, San Francisco, CA.
2 November 1981 - Commenting on social awareness and Christianity
Q: A lot of your songs, you're really socially aware, writing
songs like being on the rim of the broken wheel. How does
that integrate into your Christianity?
BC: I think it's to a great extent a direct result of it. If
you listen to the early albums, there's sort of a rudimentary
awareness of that kind of thing, but a lot less developed.
Anybody with any brains that looks around at the world can
see that a lot's wrong with it, but I didn't feel as in
touch with people or as interested in peoples problems as I
subsequently became... coming to Christ had a really profound...
that's when I began to...
Q: When was that?
BC: Time, date, place? Around '74, I guess.
Q: How did it happen?
BC: By a very long and sort of circuitous series of experiences.
I was led to it but over such a long time that it's really
hard to say. If we had half an hour maybe I could tell you.
Nothing spectacular, either; it wasn't an overnight
suddenly, like a bolt from the blue. It was something that
I was drawn toward for a long time in a lot of different
ways. I went through Buddhism, black magic, all kinds of
different stuff on the way there.
Q: Is that where the images come in, the light and the dancing?
Like on the new album, And We Dance. Is that the
religious experience, or is that something else, some kind
of a love thing?
BC: Well, the imagery in general that I use tends to come from
what I live through. I've always been a little bit
spiritually oriented, but also I've always had a very strong
visual sense, and I tend to express things in terms of
visual images. I was doing that before there was a
specific direction to my religious inquiries.
-- from "Bruce Cockburn Interview, Old Waldorf, San Francisco," transcribed by Charles Wolff, from a tape of an interview with Bruce Cockburn on November 2, 1981 at The Old Waldorf, San Francisco, CA.
January 1982 - Commenting on the messages in his songs
"Just because you're a Christian, it doesn't mean you like to think any more
than anyone else," he said, referring to the contemplation often required to
discern the messages in his songs. "Some Christians don't think that much so
they don't know what I'm trying to say. Others realize I am saying
something. They just don't feel I'm saying it clearly enough."
-- from "The Thinking Christian Man and His Music: Bruce Cockburn Goes a Little
Deeper", by Lori E. Pike, Contemporary Christian Music, January 1982.
January/February 1985 - On how Cockburn became a Christian
Q: How did you come to be a Christian?
I was led to Christianity through a lot of oblique things. I read all of
the Bible, C. S. Lewis (especially the children's books), Charles Williams
and Thomas Merton. But when I became a Christian, I wasn't really sure what
it meant. I felt the reality of Christ, and I felt him to be very close at
hand. But I really didn't know what being a Christian meant. So I went to the
Bible and to church to find out. I spent a lot of time being a fundamentalist
because it was a safe place to start. Trying to take the Bible as literally
as possible seemed a good way to avoid errors and misinterpretations. Of
course, after a while it seemed there were a lot of inherent errors and
misinterpretations in that course of action.
I guess my Christian experience has been different from a lot of people's.
Every now and then, I force myself to watch one of those Christian TV shows
like the "PTL Club". Sincere guys come on saying, "I was a drunkard, and I
lost my my job. Then I found the Lord, and all of a sudden, my marriage was
saved; my job was saved; I don't drink any more; and I'm a millionaire".
I have no reason to doubt those folks' sincerity. I could go on that show and
say, "Well, I started out as an agnostic, went through Buddhism and black
magic. Then I became a Christian -- and my marriage fell apart". For me, my
faith is a whole other thing than those PTL guys' faith. And, although I have
to say this with a certain caution, I know that no matter how much I screw
up, God is still going to be there. A large part of my faith is trusting that
God won't let me screw up beyond a certain point.
-- from "Singing in a Dangerous Time," by Eunice Amarantides, TheOtherSide, p. 68., January/February 1985.
January/February 1985 - Commenting on the feeling of isolation and Christianity
[interviewed by Eunice Amarantides]
EA: "I know TheOtherSide gets many letters from people who feel very solitary
in their struggle to be Christian, especially in the pursuit of political
and social values that few other Christians seem to take seriously. Do you ever
feel isolated? And how do you deal with that?"
BC: "I do feel isolated sometimes, even when I'm around other Christians. In
fact, I usually feel more isolated when I'm around other Christians -- the
ones who call out, "Do you love Jesus?" or "Jesus loves you, brother!" I'm
not isolated from them as people, but I'm completely cut off from that kind
"When I get together with the one or two Christian friends I do have, we can
talk a big game sometimes. It's really fun and educational comparing notes
on experiences or understandings of Scripture. But when it comes down to
relating to God, that's a one-to-one thing for me. And even then, I tend to
be pretty lax about it. Fortunately, God's always there, all the same. And
God might give me a nudge every now and then. For that I'm really thankful.
I've never gotten too far without getting a nudge."
EA: "Do you feel it's a contradiction for a Christian to be alone? That in
order to be a Christian one must be a part of a community or communing with
BC: "Well, it's nice to get the reinforcement of a community. but then again,
what about all those solitary monks in the Middle Ages? Or the whole hermetic
tradition in Christianity? I think for some people, community may be just
right. But for those of us who don't benefit from community, who need a
little more room, it's just as potentially distracting from the truth as
being alone might be."
-- from "Singing in a Dangerous Time," by Eunice Amarantides, TheOtherSide, p. 68., January/February 1985.
23 May 1985 - Commenting on being a 'christian mystic'
After he began making records in 1970, his songs became less folky and his
imagery more overtly religious, earning him the tag of Christian mystic.
"I've seen statistics that one out of every five people in the United States
has had what are called ecstatic experiences, which can come from religion
or acid or body chemistry," Cockburn says. "I've certainly had those
experiences, and on several occasions they've been specifically Christian,
involving the person of Christ. If that makes me a mystic, I accept it."
-- from "Bruce Cockburn Launches a Hit-
Fired by Christian pacifism, the Canadian singer targets new, worldwide
success" by Steve Pond, Rolling Stone, May 23, 1985.
24 February 1988 - Commenting on the Christian right
entro to Gospel of Bondage:
"Here's another new one, this one is addressed to certain parties in this country, particularly but, they're in Canada too, in large numbers, it's just that they're not in as critical a position in Canada. These are people who seem to have, in their attempts to study the scriptures and find out what they're all about, seem to have come to the conclusion that
God wrote the Constitution of the United States. Some of them even go so far as to claim that the Jews are not the real Jews and that Americans are the real Jews. Wonder if they would of made the same claim if they lived in Germany in the '30's.
Course there's also that element that says that that never happened too.
People are amazing, aren't they? Some of them are very powerful, some of the people who think like that. They don't always say that that's how they think when they're that powerful. They want lots of people to believe in them, which somehow seems to me a little out of order for some one who's preaching belief in something larger than humanity. And of course they get shattered when they fall down, ya know, when you've seen them stumble ...as we have.
There's one guy who hasn't stumbled enough yet. He's the guy that's getting close to the Presidential office, the oval office, the oval orifice. [audience erupts!]
He's only the tip of the iceberg.
This is for all those people who think that some where in the Bible there's something about that doctrine of national security.
There are those of us who ..who also call ourselves Christians who get tired of having to say, "Yes, but I'm not one of those!"
-- from the Solo Tour, Luther Burbank Center, Santa Rosa, California, February 24,1988. Transcribed from a live recording and submitted to the project by Bobbi Wisby.
Circa 1990 - Commenting on the Christian right and politics
[Interview is Johnny Walker]
Johnny Walker: Tell me, one thing that strikes me is that a lot of ''Christians'', in North America are incredibly right wing.
BC: Yeah, that's a problem.
JW: I mean, they're virtually fascists.
BC: We do have that problem, yes.
JW: And you seem to represent an entirely opposite viewpoint.
BC: Yeah, I'm sort of more of the commie-anarchist Christian end of the
JW: How did American [Christianity] end up getting so far right, do you think?
BC: Well, I don't really know. I think one of the reasons is that there's a
tendency for people to confuse the tenets of the faith with the extreme
nationalism that they've been brought up with. People grow up in the United
States with, first of all, a very self-centred society, They don't really pay
much attention to what's going on in the rest of the world, except in so far
as it directly has touched them. In other words, like the wars they've won.
And they salute the flag every morning at school, and everybody knows the
national anthem by heart, and all that stuff. In Canada, it's not like that
at all. But I think that has tended to kind of set people up to make this
confusion and identify the state with God in some way, which I think is a
terrible mistake for people to make. But we do it, I guess.
-- from Radio Interview, BBC Radio 1, 1990, Interviewer Johnny Walker. Transcribed by David Newton.
Circa 1991 - Commenting upon becoming a Christian and on how people perceive Christians
BC: "If you choose to look at it (life) in this perspective you tend to think
of everything that happens as meaning something and as steering you
somewhere-and in some way it being God communicating with you. A lot of those
kinds of things happen, including trying to understand what the Christian
faith is supposed to be, to lead me around to a position that was much more
inclined to be involved with people and to be able to love people more
freely...My faith changes all the time, it's constantly undergoing changes of
the nature of which I'm never sure of, until afterwards. Then I can look back
and say from that period to that period I sort of went there. It's a kind on
ongoing journey and I don't know where it's going to take me next. I can't
really take much of a hand in it..."
MC: How do people respond to your more spiritual numbers?
BC: Before I was a Christian I'd watch those people (Christians) of
television making fools of themselves and feel complete alienation from them
at best and usually it involved a little bit of snickering. So I certainly
understand what people think Christianity is when they react badly to it. You
don't have to be a Christian to recognize a good song and once you see it as
that maybe you'll listen to the words and go 'hey, that makes me shiver a
MC: Does anyone ever ridicule you for your beliefs?
BC: Occasionally, but I get the same amount of flack from people who
think I'm not spiritual enough or I'm trying to sell them something bad.
People get hung up on stupid things and what are really just distractions.
-- from "Bruce Cockburn: The Soul of a Man," by Michael Case, Umbrella Magazine, circa 1991.
12 January 1992 - Commenting on his interpretation of the 'message of Christ'
"To me, the message of Christ is so evidently love and freedom, I just don't
understand how anyone can read into the message and get anything but that.
And it . . . (angers) me . . . when I see people hustling that other kind of
knee-jerk belief -- all rules and conformity and non-freedom -- exemplified
by some of the TV evangelists and David Dukes of the world, spouting off
this stuff that they claim is Christianity. I hate the idea that people might
actually think this is what it's all about. Their message is so anti-love."
"But around 1980, I moved to Toronto with the express purpose of absorbing
myself in human society to see what it was. One reason for that was if, as a
Christian, I was being asked to love my fellow human beings, I couldn't love
them very well if I didn't know anything about them."
-- from "A RISING NORTHERN STAR-Canadian Bruce Cockburn Wins More U.S. Converts'
by Brad Buchholz, Dallas Morning News, January 12, 1992.
3 April 1992 - Commenting on his Christian beliefs
Biographical accounts of Cockburn's life tend to use such words as
"fundamentalist" and "mystic" to describe his beliefs. But it seemed a good
idea to let the man himself explain what he believes, since, especially in
the U.S., such words are highly charged.
"They sure are," Cockburn said with a laugh before discussing his faith. "I
became a Christian in 1974, officially, to myself," he explained. "Before
that, I was kind of heading that way, but I didn't perceive it as a real
personal involvement requiring any kind of commitment until after a certain
point in the summer of '74, and then I started writing about it. The song
'All The Diamonds In The World'
was the song that sort of marked that turning point. Like anything else that's new,
just like Alcoholics Anonymous or any other kind of thing where you discover some
great new thing, you want to go out and tell everybody about it, whether they want
to hear it or not. I was suffering from that to a certain extent, not so much in the
songs, but in the way I would present myself to people in interviews or onstage to a degree.
"I was looking, I wasn't sure, because I was a new Christian, and I didn't
really grow up in the faith. I grew up with the symbols around me, but not
with any real personal understanding of it. So, I was trying to figure out
what it meant to be a Christian now that I'd made this move, and the first
thing you try to do is, you try to find what all the rules are, and then you
try to obey them. That makes you kind of a fundamentalist. I kind of thought
that because we all shared the same faith that these people (fundamentalists)
must have something going, too, that I didn't understand, maybe but I should
understand because it was Christian. And I tried to make apologies to myself
for the gross tactics of TV evangelists and all the rest of it.
"But in the end I was completely unsuccessful at being a fundamentalist
because what a fundamentalist really is is somebody that takes the Bible
literally, who takes the traditional teachings literally, and I couldn't do
that. I don't think that's what it's supposed to be at all, and I just grew
up as too much of a free thinker to be able to submerge myself in a belief
system without any question, and I also don't think that's what we're asked
to do as Christians at all, either. But some people do think that.
"Mystic, well, that's kind of a catch-all. It's the term people use when
they know you're talking about something spiritual, but they don't know what
you're talking about, so you must be a mystic. I never felt like much of a
mystic. Although T Bone Burnett [also a Christian, and producer of Nothing But a Burning Light]called me a mystic, too, to my face, and I just laughed.
I don't know what he means, but maybe there's something.
"Everybody sees things a little differently. Maybe I see things differently
than other people do, and that looks like mysticism. I certainly have a
sense of the presence of the spiritual in things. I value that sense quite a lot,
too. It's kind of a sense of interconnectedness that goes beyond anything
that you could easily put into words or define in any way, but that is
nonetheless very present and real and comforting, in a way, because it's so
much deeper and bigger than the things that humans normally do to each other
and all the rest of it."
Asked about the relationship between his religious convictions and his
Cockburn said, "It maybe has partly to do with coming of age
in the 60's, and it also connects in some ways to [Trappist monk and
theological writer] Thomas Merton and his ability to find similarity between
Zen and Christianity and my own spiritual inquiries before I became a
Christian, which included Buddhism, at least the sort of Buddhism that the
Beat generation fancied, and the occult and that sort of stuff.
"I'd been hanging around various spiritual scenes for a while, and it didn't
seem as simple to me as people were making it, and still doesn't, of course.
You can't look at any one thing and say that it's all right and all wrong,
because the divine revelations get handed to us through an all-too-human
filter every time, and that filter is, however brilliant the individual
person who happens to be the filter might be, still the product of a
culture, and the culture determines a lot of the language that's used and the symbols
that are used and all that, and in the end it comes down a lot more to
"Only God can judge someone's intent, but nevertheless, somewhere in there
there's room for a lot of tolerance for other people's actions based on the
assumption that there are good intentions behind them and that in the eyes
of God the details of the act may be far less important than that intent."
-- from "Bruce Cockburn-A Burning Light and All the Rest" by William Ruhlmann, Goldmine, April 3, 1992.
December 1993 - Commenting on the historical accuracy of the Chritmas story
Simon Mayo: We've got a special guest on the show today, apart from yourself. We're
doing this whole thing called the bishop and the actress, and the bishop in
question is the Bishop of Durham. Now, over here he's kind of known as a
doubting bishop, and he's very controversial. And he's been saying this week
in a lot of the papers the fact that the three wise men and the shepherds and
the star and all that stuff doesn't really matter, it's a bit of a myth. What
would you say to that?
BC: I would say that we have no way of knowing, really, whether it's a myth
or not. I think that's a matter of personal belief, and I don't think it
matters very much whether we believe it is true or not. I think as a myth it
suggests a larger truth, and as fact it suggests a larger truth, so really
it's that larger truth that matters.
SM: So whether it's a historical fact doesn't bother you.
BC: It doesn't bother me at all. I mean, I have no personal way of knowing
other than by faith, and my own faith tends to think that it's kind of maybe
true or maybe not. I don't really know. I like the idea of it being true, and
it kind of appeals to the romantic in me to think that it's true, and so I
don't really question it. But obviously I don't have any way to verify that
fact. So, in the absence of that, if somebody else wants to believe it's not
true, that's fine with me as long as they're paying attention to the
essentials that the story is pointing at.
SM: OK, so let's stick to the traditional Christmas card approach then for O
Little Town Of Bethlehem.
BC: How dare you call this the traditional Christmas card approach.
SM: I'm sorry, I'm sorry.
BC: That's quite alright. I'm moved to remark too that the Bishop of Durham
is in better shape than some of the bishops over here. Being notorious for
doubting is a lot better than being notorious for paying too much attention
to small boys.
SM: Good point, Bruce.
BC: Good point, yes.
-- from "Simon Mayo interviews Bruce Cockburn" (from Canada), BBC Radio 1, December 1993, Transcribed and submitted to the project by David Newton.
September 1994 - Article by Cockburn on putting Christianity into practice, politics, and his spiritual influences.
"My songwriting is an attempt to take what I've experienced and what I think
is true and distill it into something that is entertaining, then throw it out
to people and say, "Maybe you can use this, too." In some ways it makes me a
focal point for like-minded people - people who are trying to put their faith
in to practice in the same way I've tried to. They hear the stuff in the
songs and all of a sudden there's a kind of community.
To me, politics is an external expression of something that people carry
round in their hearts. The songs I wrote in the Eighties touched on issues
because they had touched me personally, not because I had an axe to grind or
an ideology. The songs in support of the aspirations of the Nicaraguan
people, for example, were written because I was there and the situation
touched me emotionally in a very personal way. There's no great difference
between the mechanics for songs like that and for love songs.
When I first came back from Central America, the media attention was quite
intense. All of a sudden I was some sort of authority, because I was somebody
outside the system who had stood up and said they had been there and seen
what was going on. One acquaintance of mine was in favour of the dictator of
Guatemala, who professed to be a born-again Christian and would deliver
sermons on Sunday mornings exhorting the youth of the nation to behave
themselves, practise chastity and what not. In the meantime, his troops were
out in the bush slaughtering and torturing people by the thousands and doing
unbelievable things. I had met several thousand of the victims of those
things and knew damn well they were going on.
But my acquaintance believed the hype that this was a good man supported by
Christian groups. I explained what the guy was really doing, and the best he
could come up with was: "Well, we have to stop Communism." Where is Christ in
that? What a pathetic little god those people believe in that think he needs
to be protected like that.
I started losing some of my hardcore fundamentalist fans around the Humans
album, which had a couple of cuss-words on it. I got some angry and
disappointed letters asking, 'How can a Christian say that?' I didn't know
whether to laugh or cry. There's no response to that.
My faith has undergone drastic transformations and reformations. I was
brought up as an agnostic, even though we were surrounded by the symbolism,
and when I first became a Christian in the Seventies I didn't really know
what it was I'd adopted. I've always been aware of the spiritual side to
life, and that awareness has sometimes been very tangible and vivid. But it's
one thing to have this direct experience of contact with something that
appears to be central to existence, but then there's all the uniforms people
wear and the customs they adopt. For me, part of the journey has been
deciding where I fit in. In the end, I've decided that I don't fit in at all.
The proper place for me is outside all the groups.
I still think of myself as a Christian. The only definition of a Christian -
I got this from C.S. Lewis - is somebody who accepts the reality of Christ.
What is that reality? Well, there we get into fights, don't we? I know my own
experience tells me there is somebody - and it's not a thing - at the centre
of Christianity. I assume it to be Christ, and assume that's my point of
contact with God, whom none of us have a very good definition for. I like to
talk about Love rather than God. What we think of as love is his expression
of involvement in the universe, and that is the glue that holds everything
together, from the subatomic particles up. It is also the hand that breaks us
apart, but that has to do with our failure to relate to it properly.
Doubts caused by the behaviour of the church can only be answered by personal
experience. Sometimes it takes an effort to remember the experiences you've
had and how vivid they were. A lot of shit gets in the way. It's bad enough
to have the church pushing you this way and that, but you've also got the
rest of society telling you your faith is the result of your own disordered
My spiritual influences include Lewis, Charles Williams, Thomas Merton, the
wife I had for a while. You listen to somebody you have that kind of
relationship with, and when they tell you the Bible isn't just a chronicle of
horrors, that it has some things of value in it, you go, "Oh, maybe that's
true." When I read it I'm reading something that isn't what I'm hearing from
most of the people who are spouting quotes from it.
But I've been influenced as much by Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs as
by any Christian writers. The things I've always related to about other
people's spiritual experience is the mystical side, because they're talking
about that direct contact.
-- from "Faith in Practice: Holding on to the Mystery of Love" by Bruce Cockburn (as told to Cole Morton), p. 15, Third Way, September 1994.
September-October 1994 - Although religion had been a part of BC's childhood, it was very cold and formal
"I went to Sunday school as a kid because it was a social convention," he
recalls. "My parents were agnostic and still are, yet they sent us to church
because they did not want the neighbors to think we were weird....So I grew
up surrounded by the imagery and hearing the stories, but not having it
charged with any meaning."
He explored Buddhism, and a slight brush with the occult, and then to
Christianity as a belief-system. It began with a reading of The Narnia
Chronicles (the C.S. Lewis fantasy tales) and culminated with a mystical
experience at his own church wedding:
"At the moment we were saying our vows, there was an overwhelming impression
that there was someone standing there that I could not see....It was Jesus.
All of a sudden it hit me, OOh, so we aren't talking just about books here,
we are talking about something very tangible."
He had a simplistic viewpoint at first:
"It was new to me and I was trying to explore what it was I had experienced,"
he admits. "I got as close as I will ever get to being a fundamentalist. But
it didnĻt take."
With the production of "In the Falling Dark" (1976) his exploration becomes questioning (of the dogma) and explorational:
.. "I discovered that dogma is the real spiritual enemy," he says. "It's an
ego thing, to fear what you cannot control. I began to move toward a
spirituality that was about freedom and openness and love."
-- from "Straight to the Heart, Bruce Cockburn's songs of subversion", by David Batstone, Sojourners Magazine, September-October 1994.
6 October 1995 - Commenting upon to use of the word "morality" in today's culture
"It's a word that's been cheapened by association with things like the Moral
Majority, or . . . if not cheapened, at least loaded with all kinds of
baggage that I don't particularly want to apply to it."
"If I try to understand what it means to be a Christian, I look at the two
instructions that were given in the Bible that are paramount, . . . and
those are to love God with all your heart and mind, and to love your neighbor as
yourself. That's it."
-- from "Singer Follows 'Morality' to Success, Cockburn's Convictions Bring Him to Verde Fest as Well", The Arizona Republic, by Salvatore Caputo, October 6, 1995.
Circa 1999 - Commenting that he looks at life as a spiritual journey
"That's what life is.The point is to learn to align yourself with what some
would call the will of God and what others would deem as the flow of the
universe. All your experiences are relevant to shaping what your life will
-- from "Walking the Line With Bruce Cockburn", Indie-Music.com, circa 1999, by Heidi Drockelman.
25 October 1999 - Commenting upon his current relationship with God
"Me doing most of the talking. God tends to communicate in little pokes and
whispers and occasionally, when I'm not listening, with what my girlfriend
calls 'sledgehammer guidance.' "
-- from "Music: Pilgrim soul: While many of his contemporaries revisit familiar territory, Bruce Cockburn keeps taking his muse to new places", by Nicholas Jennings, Maclean's, 25 October 1999.
Steve Lawson: Was there a parallel between the music and lyrics in that development?
BC: The earliest album that has a real noticeable amount of electric guitar on
it is Night Vision, which is also a dark kind of record and I hadn't thought
about it but I guess that's true, it does contribute to it, though
unconsciously - I must contribute to what I was doing. The choice wasn't
unconscious the connection was...
The tone of the albums really changes with Humans, which also coincides with
my divorce, and the end of a decade and a point in my life that was partly
triggered by the divorce and partly not where I spent a lot of time looking
at how my inner being related to the big picture, the cosmic picture, and it
was time to include other people in that search for an understanding of
relationship. To put it in simple terms, as a christian if you're gonna love
your fellow mankind you gotta know who they are, you can't love them in the
abstract. So it was time to kind of be among humans. It started with the
album Humans and the songs there come from those first travels in Japan, and
Italy - the first ventures outside of North America, and the greater
understanding of human interaction on mass which translates into politics,
and that carried through into Inner City Front, and all through the 80s.
- from "Bruce Cockburn Interview", Guitarist Magazine, November 1999, by Steve Lawson.
November/December 1999 - Commenting on becoming a Christian and following Jesus Christ
[Interviewer is Susan Adam Kauffman]
SAK:I've heard you say that when you became a Christian, life did not
necessarily turn pleasant. What happened when you began to follow Christ?
BC: Well, it didn't happen right away, but I became a Christian and a few years
later got divorced, and a lot of my assumptions were forcibly taken from me.
When I said that, I was responding to the notion you hear expressed in the
Christian media a lot. People testify that their life was falling apart and
then they found God and God miraculously put their life back together. Now
their wife's subservient, they have a job, and they don't drink anymore. If
that's a genuine experience, then more power to them. But it wasn't my
I felt that the glibness with which those kinds of stories are presented
and treated needed offsetting. My life became certainly no more comfortable and
probably less comfortable than it had been before. Because there are big
questions. A relationship with God isn't about superficial stuff like "I got
my job back..." People didn't become martyrs so they could stop drinking and
have a subservient wife. People became martyrs because they were in a
relationship they couldn't deny.
SAK:You've often talked about how you became a Christian. But why, if the
question were posed by a stranger on the street, would you say that you are
BC:The word Christian is a little problematic now, I think, because it's so
loaded. I'm not sure what I even mean by it anymore, never mind what anybody
else means. But I consider myself to be in an ongoing, developing
relationship with God. That relationship is central to my life, and I
believe it is the most important thing in life.
The true reason I became a Christian is because that's where I was led. I'm
sure there's a cultural factor to it--having grown up with that language and
imagery, it was the easiest road for me. God's led me down the road that
makes the most sense.
I'm skeptical of the idea that Christianity is more true than any other way
of getting to God. But it may be. I'm not ruling that out, either. I don't
think I would have found where I was going if I'd pursued my studies in the
tarot. But that played a part in getting me started. Everything is going
somewhere. When it's not going somewhere, maybe that's when it looks like
You can't judge other people, because you don't know where they are on
their road. You see it with cults. I'm quite willing to believe that certain cults
have a negative impact on people and, at times, society. But how do we know
that someone isn't exactly where they are supposed to be, learning whatever
it is that God wants them to learn at a particular time? If we don't believe
that, then we start to make the devil more powerful than God.
Obviously, we can't endorse people being involved in things that are
self-destructive or destructive of other people. But when you're talking
about a philosophical involvement or lifestyle choice, we're told not to
judge those things. There's a good reason for it.
-- from "Fire in an Open Hand: an Interview with Bruce Cockburn" by Susan Adams Kauffman, The Other Side, November/December 1999.
8 February 2000 - Commenting on discovering he was a Christian
"When I first discovered I was a Christian I was full of that imagery and
full of specifics of that. Having said that, it's not necessary to keep
repeating it. And the search itself, the relationship with God, doesn't
-- from "Bruce is Loose", Victoria Times Colonist, February 8, 2000, by Adrian Chamberlain. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.
10-17 February 2000 - Commenting on separating himself from right-wing fundamentalism
"I don't think anybody should be cannon fodder, which is what blind followers
of anything invite themselves to be. We are given our faculties for a
reason. We should use them. We all need to find the thing to identify with
that works for us, and having done that, we need to give it its due, whatever
it happens to be. We have to remember...when it's surrender that's called
for, it's not surrender of your brains. It's surrender of your ego. It's a
-- from "The Good Fight, Politics, religion and music are a fine mix for Bruce Cockburn", Vancouver Sun, February 10-17, 2000. Submitted by Audrey Pearson.
3 March 2001 - Commenting on his beginnings in the Christian faith
BC: "When I got married it was in the Anglican Church because the woman I married wanted to get married in a church. The Anglican one seemed coolest because it
was the most medieval. They didn't do the swinging censers but the whole
church itself -- this particular building happened to be a stone one in
Ottawa -- and just the vibe resonated for me deeply. So here we are in a
church and I'm not a believer. I'm there because that's where Kitty wanted to
be. And we're exchanging rings at the altar and all of a sudden there's
somebody else standing there. There's Kitty and me and the priests and then
this invisible presence that is so palpable that I was shocked. I'm going,
'Hey, wait a minute.' Well, you carry on with the ceremony, right? But when I
had time to think about it, I thought, 'That would be Jesus because we're in
a Christian church. Who else would it be?' "
Bill Cameron: Some people found his faith even more annoying than his politics. Some found it attractive. He thinks it balances out..
BC: "Certainly there were some listeners that expressed some consternation when
I first announced myself as a Christian. I guess the ones that really got
bothered by it stopped buying my records; and other people started buying
them for the same reason. There are a lot of people on the Christian scene
who are not satisfied with the limitations of the art that's offered. You get
this blandness, and people get fed up with the blandness. And I was, I guess,
a little breath of fresh air for some of those people."
-- from "The Witness", Saturday Night Online, March 3, 2001, by Bill Cameron.
Q: Give me a sense, if you can, of your spiritual development.
BC: Well, thatís a long story, too. Iím not good at sound-bite answers. I donít
remembering thinking about this when I was a little kid. But I remember in
high school being aware that there was more than the material in life and
that what was not material needed to be paid attention to. I didnít grow up
in a faith--you know, we went to church as kids because it was the socially
correct thing to do but my parents were not believers themselves and didnít
inflict any beliefs on us. So, it was a question of figuring out what to
identify this sense with.
So under the influence of the Beat writers I was reading in high school, I
looked at Buddhism, and when I say "looked at," it was not serious, deep
study, but it was more than a casual glance. I looked at the occult. I knew
some witches. In the sixties that was a big deal, there were a lot of
pot-smoking witches around, I flirted with that to a degree, and gradually ó
BC: I never got involved in trying to cast spells, but I read a lot of the books
and I knew people who did. I knew people who terrified themselves doing it,
too, and other people who were posers. Mostly posers, really, and searchers
like me, who were trying anything but the orthodoxy that was around us to see
where that would lead us in spiritual terms and some of it was a total
turnoff. Aleicester Crowley and that stuff was completely off-putting, but
some of it had great power and great light in it.
Reading the poems of Yeats, you know, itís full of that Rosicrucian stuff
that he was into, and that search has been part of art for a really long
time, so I guess it was natural, just through the appreciation of the art. I
eventually moved closer and closer to becoming a Christian. I became a
Christian in the early 1970s. I started calling myself that and identifying
with Jesus as a focal point for spiritual yearning, so that it was
appropriate to start calling myself a Christian. I still call myself a
Christian although my Christianity would probably make some Christians
Q: Where do I place you in the Christian Church?
BC: Well, somewhere at the Hindu-Jungian cosmic end (laughs) of Christianity.
I was brought up in the United Church, to the extent that I was brought up in
the church at all. But, when I became a Christian I started going to the
Anglican Church. I got married in the Anglican Church because the woman I
married wanted to get married in a church and the Anglican one seemed coolest
because it was the most medieval. At that time in my life I was fascinated by
all things medieval. They didnít do the swinging censers but the whole church
itself, the building--this particular building happened to be a stone one in
Ottawa--the vibe resonated for me deeply with this love Iíd had of all things
medieval. I used to dress kind of suggestively of that period, and I listened
to a lot of music from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It coloured the
music that I wrote in the early seventies and late sixties. When I got
married, here we are in a church and Iím not a believer. Iím there because
thatís where Kitty wanted to be and I thought it was cool. And weíre
exchanging rings on the altar and all of a sudden thereís somebody else
standing there. Thereís Kitty and me and the priests and then this invisible
presence that is so palpable that I was shocked. Iím going, ĎHey, wait a
minute. . . . You carry on with the ceremony, right? Youíre there doing this
thing. But when I had time to think about it I thought, "That would be Jesus
because weíre in a Christian church. Who else would it be?" So that was the
beginning of me taking the idea of a commitment to a faith really seriously.
That was as tangible as somebody standing there with their arms around you.
Q: Have you paid a price for being a Christian in the middle of a very secular
BC: Possibly, I donít really know. Certainly there were some listeners that
expressed some consternation when I first announced myself as a Christian.
But I guess the ones that really got bothered by it stopped buying my
records; and other people started buying them for the same reason.
There are a lot of people on the Christian scene who are not satisfied with
the limitations of the art thatís offered. Itís been a long time since the
Church supported artists like Heironymous Bosch. You get this blandness, and
people get fed up with the blandness, and I was, I guess, a little breath of
fresh air for some of those people. But then when I became less overtly
Christian in the songs and started dealing with the world more, some of them
got upset and dropped by the wayside. I remember getting an angry letter from
somebody because I put "shit" in a song. How could I be a Christian and use
that language? Well, sorry, but you have some thinking to do, honey. I get
tired of talking about Christianity per se, this is not directed at you but
Iíve been interviewed about it a lot, and in England, for instance, where I
first got introduced to an English audience through a Christian arts festival
called the Greenbelt Festival it has been an impediment to be thought of as a
Christian because I donít get on the radio. They think: Oh, yeah, thatís
that Christian artist. They donít listen to what I do.
BC: Yeah. So in England I didnít get listened to by anybody who wasnít sort of
around the Christian scene, or at least not very many. But thatís the only
place itís ever been a problem. Otherwise there was as much give as there was
take. And over the years the people who have continued to listen to me from
the beginning, IĎm really grateful for, because theyíve been on a funny
journey. Theyíve been through some weird changes and put up with it, at
least, and presumably more than that, in order to stay interested.
-- from "The Cockburn Transcripts", Saturday Night-Online, March 2001.
Circa January 2002
"There is that invisible motion that's central to existence. And it might even be true to say that is what God is."
-- from Red, White & Canadian Website, circa January, 2002.
15 January 2002 - As your worldview/perspective has expanded and changed over the years, how have your ideas about the nature of God changed?
Bruce Cockburn: Boy....I'm not quite sure how to measure the change but I do find there has been change in my understanding of what/who God is. It's a little hard to articulate. But I think, for me in the beginning there was a tendency to relate to the biblical God...with the beard in the sky, I think that rather than thinking of God as outside us and looking down on us, the presence of the divine is in all of us.
-- from Canoe Online Chat with Bruce Cockburn, 15 January 2002. Submitted by Suzanne D. Myers.
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This page is part of The Cockburn Project, a unique website that exists to document the work of Canadian singer-songwriter and musician Bruce Cockburn. The Project archives self-commentary by Cockburn on his songs and music, and supplements this core part of the website with news, tour dates, and other current information.