"We know a place where no planes go / We know a place where no ships go / No cars go, no cars go… Us kids know / No cars go"—from "No Cars Go"

It must be hard, even futile, for any indie-rock band to try to defend its underground cred once pop stardom has blown up its cover.

Such is life for Arcade Fire.

Once darlings of audiophiles and indie snobs exclusively, the Canadian septet is now a world phenomenon, thanks in part to, among other things, opening stints for U2, a TIME cover story, a No. 2 debut in Billboard's national sales chart, gushing endorsements from Coldplay's Chris Martin ("the greatest band in the history of music," no less), and endless praise from music's elite critics.

Nearly all of the above snowballed from one album, 2004's Funeral. The disc was one of the best reviewed of the year, but not for boasting indie rock's credentials—abstraction, minimalism, ambiguity and plain weirdness, to name a few—but for being the exact opposite: direct, majestic, inspiring, populist.

Of course, these qualities were shrouded in some of the genre's sinister glow, but not enough to cast a shadow on the album's accessibility—roughly half a million people across the globe are proud owners of the disc, an unheard-of feat in indie rock. More importantly, the music didn't stand in the way of the themes of life, death and redemption that infiltrated the album; it made them even much more urgent.

Given their cool factor, Arcade Fire's second outing, Neon Bible, should've been a tough sell. If the title alone is any indication, the album is "religious"—from logistics all the way down to content. Recorded in an old church, with artwork that resembles Scriptures (chapter-and-verse and all), and chock-full of spiritual messages, Neon Bible's faith-sensitive motivations can't be ignored.

In an interview with Paste magazine, front man Win Butler offered a telling statement about the nature of the album: "There are two kinds of fear," he said. "The Bible talks a lot about fear of God—fear in the face of something awesome. That kind of fear is the type of fear that makes someone want to change. But a fear of other people makes you want to stay the same, to protect what you have. It's a stagnant fear; and it's paralyzing."

Quite a declaration, one that runs vis-à-vis the topical scope of Neon Bible. Far from a gospel album, Bible never really endorses God, or any other thing for that matter. It won't tell you how or what to believe; it'll simply cast a reflection—you decide if change is needed. Bible does this through a series of reprimands—against organized religion, popular culture, the government, and opportunists in general. Let the chips fall where they may.

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This is never more evident in the visceral "Intervention," a heavy indictment of churchaholics, but also a wake-up call to place emphasis on what matters most: "Working for the church while your life falls apart / Singin' hallelujah with the fear in your heart / Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home / Hear the soldier groan: 'We'll go at it alone.'"

The title track isn't as gut-wrenching, but the group still uses it to rail against pat-answer religiosity, the one that's quick to proffer an absolute, black-and-white solution to every problem imaginable, with no margin of error: "Take the poison of your age / Don't lick your fingers when you turn the page / What I know is what you know is right / In the city it's the only light / It's the Neon Bible, the Neon Bible / Not much chance for survival / If the Neon Bible is right."

With tongue firmly planted in cheek, the epic "(Antichrist Television Blues)" uses a chilling mixture of theatre and parody to lampoon the intersection of faith and fortune. The song is essentially a prayer of a devout father asking God to allow his daughter to become a singing sensation—some sort of Christian American Idol (or maybe an explanation of Jessica Simpson's career). If God answers, the father promises to give him all the glory, so long as he can get a cut of his daughter's earnings:

"Lord, will you make her a star / So the world can see who you really are? … Lord, would you send me a sign / 'Cause I just gotta now if I'm wasting my time." (The remaining lyrics are too lengthy to quote, but each verse in this one-way prayer only gets better—and scarier—as it goes).

But not all of Neon Bible is about cultural jabs and attacks opposing the status quo. When not griping about society, the group, however inadvertently, knows how to point heavenward, past our own limitations into a realm unaffected by humanity. The excellent "No Cars Go" (excerpted above) ponders with innocent wonder a place where no earthly means can enter, where only the childlike at heart can see the kingdom of heaven.

The clearest indication of the band's spirituality comes from album closer "My Body Is a Cage," an elegy brimming with biblical references. The title is a paraphrase of Romans 7:24. The line "I'm living in an age that calls darkness light" is a modern interpretation of Isaiah 5:20; and "You're standing next to me…My mind holds the key" is similar to the tender image of Revelation 3:20, where Jesus stands at the door of the believer's heart and knocks.

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While these allusions are rewarding, there are enough seeds of doubt elsewhere to confuse even the least demanding parishioner. The cynicism doesn't mean Arcade Fire is necessarily out to down religion, though. In the same Paste interview, Butler said Neon Bible is ultimately about "addressing religion in a way that only someone who actually cares about it can. It's really harsh at times, but from the perspective of someone who thinks it has value."

Unless specified clearly, we are not implying whether this artist is or is not a Christian. The views expressed are simply the author's. For a more complete description of our Glimpses of God articles, click here