Bob Dylan  And That Old-Time Religion

By Larry Fyffe

John Milton and John Bunyan be Puritans, and believe faith in God, not good works, is the key to salvation.

In the poetic lyrics below, blindness is a burden that the writer  just has to learn to live with:

... Thousands at his bidding speed
And post over land and ocean without rest
They also serve him best who only stand and wait
(John Milton: On His Blindness)

Likewise, so too, in regards to the burden of being locked up:

And stand by him, too, when bound in irons....
(John Bunyan: The Pilgrim's Progress, chapter VII)

In the song lyrics below, the Puritan creed is questioned; not only that, questioned is the choice left by the Almighty to stand beside Satan instead.

Which side are you on?

Well, it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody
(Bob Dylan: Gotta Serve Somebody)

Expressed rather sarcastically in the song lyrics beneath:

Temptation's not an easy thing, Adam given the devil reign
Because he sinned, I got no choice, it run in my vein
(Bob Dylan: Pressing On)

In the following lines, an experiment is undertaken –  men from a number of different religions, including Catholic and Protestant, are locked up together in a cage:

When I came back to note results ….not a specimen left alive. These Reasonable Animals had a disagreement on a theological detail and carried the matter to a Higher Court

(Mark Twain: Letters From Earth)

The above satire sourced for the following song lyrics that reference a performer known to have suffered due to the colour of his skin; not merely because of consuming some forbidden food or drink, or wearing certain kinds of makeup, or wearing particular types of clothes:

I live on a street named after a saint
Women in the churches wear powder and paint
Where the Jews and the Catholics, and the Muslims
all come to pray
I can tell a Proddie from a mile away
Goodbye Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Reed indeed
Give me that old-time religion, it's just what I need
(Bob Dylan: Goodbye Jimmy Reed)


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As presented in the Old Testament below, the Hebrews manage to keep hold of their faith in spite of their suffering:





“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me

Why art thou so far from helping me

And from the words of my roaring?”

(Psalm 22:1)




God warns His creations that He bluffs some of the time, but not all the time.


Jesus, as He hangs dying on the cross, loses faith in a loving Father figure.


An irony not lost on the following song lyrics in which God does come to Ishmael’s rescue at the last second:




Ah, God said, “Kill me a son”

Abe said, “You must be putting me on”

God said “No”; Abe say, “What?”

God say, “You can do what you want, Abe

But the next time you see me coming, you better run”

(Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited)



Nor is their a loving father in the song lyrics quoted beneath:




Oh Lazarus’, Lazarus’ father

When he heard his son was a-dying

Said, “Let the fool go down

Let the fool go down”

(Bob Dylan: Poor Lazarus ~ Dylan, traditional)


One comment

  1. Note that Brooks takes out Dylan’so crucial double- edged line “Adam given the devil’s reign”

    and replaces it with “don’t give in the devil’s reign” …

    Apparently Brooks suggests that ‘original sin’ must be fought against whereas Dylan’s line can be taken to mean that it’ not really man’s fault for giving in to sin since he’s been branded with ‘original sin’.

    Nor is there(not their) a loving father ….

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