“There is no justice in the desert / Because there no god in Hell.”
There aren’t many songs by Billy Joel that I can say I saw the world premier of; in fact, this is the only one! My wife and I attended his concert in Chicago in Dec. 2007 and, lo and behold, he announced that there was a new song that he and a new singer named Cass Dillon would be performing that night for the first time ever, and which would be released officially the following Monday. He joked (correctly) that it would probably be uploaded by someone onto YouTube before then.
As you might guess, the song talks about the Iraq war, but focuses on the experiences of soliders, whom Joel mentioned he received a number of letters from. The song touches on the topic of religion briefly at several points. Some people may not know that Joel at least was an atheist earlier on in his life, saying in an interview in a book called Rock Stars from 1982:
As an atheist you have to rationalise things. You decide first of all that will not ask Daddy – meaning God in all of his imagined forms – for a helping hand when you’re in a jam. Then you have to try and make some sort of sense out of your problems. And if you try and find you can’t, you have no choice but to be good and scared – but that’s okay! When animals are afraid, they don’t pray, and we’re just a higher order of primate. Mark Twain, a great atheist, said it best in The Mysterious Stranger, when he stated in not so many words, “Who are we to create a heaven and hell for ourselves, excluding animals and plants in the bargain, just because we have the power to rationalise?”
Death is death, and the ego can’t handle the consequences. We should all struggle to the last to hold on to life, and religion encourages people to give up on making this life work because the supposed next life will be fairer. Religion is the source of too many of the world’s worst problems.
More recent reports show he may have become at least somewhat spirtual or religious, saying in 1994:
I still feel very much like an atheist in the religious aspects of things…But there are spiritual planes that I’m aware of that I don’t know anything about and that I can’t explain.
When I saw him in concert, he played as interludes a number of Christian Christmas songs (which doesn’t necessarily indicate anything), and Celebrity Atheist cites reports of him saying “God bless you” to people in recent years (and not after sneezes). I believe he made one or two vague mentions of God during the concert. I remember thinking at the time that I wonder if he was using it as a figure of speech (à la “Oh my God”, etc.) or literally. The song does contain a brief Biblical reference to it: “Peace on earth / Goodwill to men”.
So it’s possible Joel may have become either religious or spiritual, or at the very least has become more circumspect about his disbelief or doubt in god. But if so, it would appear from his lyrics that he and I can agree on the fact that Iraq is not a God-sanctioned war, unlike what George W. and company either sold it as or actually believed. (At the beginning of the song, Joel also includes the presumably ironic/satrical lyrics “We came with the Crusaders / To save the Holy Land” and later on, “We came to fight the Infidel.”)
With troops still dying in Iraq and 30,000 more on their way to Afghanistan, it’s sad that this song is just as topical today as it was back then.