Mr. Shaun McAfee, O.P. is the author of Reform Yourself! and other books, is the founder and editor of EpicPew.com, and contributes to many online Catholic resources. He holds a Masters in Dogmatic Theology from Holy Apostles College and Seminary. Shaun has made his temporary profession as a Lay Dominican and temporarily lives in Italy.
I grew up loving classic rock. Still do. My dad seemed to own every album and he would routinely quiz us when a new song came on the radio: “name that band.” It made such an impression on me that in my Air Force days my friends nicknamed me “radio” because I could join any song within moments of switching the radio station—regardless of genre.
My music tastes changed as I sampled other bands from that era. Bands like Skid Row, Whitesnake, and Metallica are bands my father never listened to, so I counted on my friends to provide me with new music to listen to. Eventually, I became a pretty big heavy metal fan, and though those years have mostly passed as my musical interests have changed, every now and then I still revisit these songs in playlists, and I recently came back to Iron Maiden.
Something struck me, though, this time around, listening to the British metal band. Every single time I listen to Iron Maiden I remember a conversation I had with someone in college. I had Powerslave, perhaps the most popular album from the prolific artists, and a friend wanted to borrow it. I listened to it only a few times, so I asked him out of curiosity, “what are their songs usually about?”
He said, “They usually sing about prophecy, apocalyptic scenarios, and historical events. It’s weird how they make such good music on such odd subjects. It’s different from the rest of the heavy metal bands out there.”
I took note. And over the years, I’ve realized he’s mostly right. Like I said, I think of this conversation every time I listen to them. So, when I listened to the band for the first time in years, definitely for the first time since becoming Catholic, I heard the songs differently. Yes, all the notes where the same, but the lyrics I had heard countless times struck me, hard. None more so than 2 Minutes to Midnight.
This famous song, arguably their most popular, refers to the Doomsday Clock, a symbolic measurement of a hypothetical global catastrophe used by a global group of scientists since 1947. Being “two minutes to midnight” means we are exceedingly close to the destruction of the planet through nuclear war.
Proximity to nuclear war is no doubt the central theme of the song, but when I re-heard the lyrics recently, I heard more than warnings of war—I was listening to warnings about abortion.
Knowing I don’t have the most original thoughts in modern history, I decided to see if the internet had anything to say about it—surely someone thought of this before me.
Well I was right, many forums have brought up this potential allusion but it’s usually downvoted quickly into nothingness, or the debate is swiftly ended with a quick dismissal of the possibility of even hinting at abortion. I disagree. The lyrics are at least related to the topic, but I believe they are directly referring to abortion in certain places.
The song frequently refers to the destructions of war, but more often highlights mankind’s modern thirst for war, and how greedy leaders gain from this profound tragedy. Undoubtable, the song is referring to war, but there are absolute references to abortion, too. But first, one will take instant notice to sexual references. The song provides references to human reproduction with, “The killer's breed or the Demon's seed.” In addition to “Here's my gun for a barrel of fun," consistent with the theme of human reproduction.
A stretch? The abortion references aren’t much of a stretch even if these utterances were absent. In each chorus, the lyrics go: “2 minutes to midnight, the hands that threaten doom. 2 minutes to midnight, to kill the unborn in the womb.”
Notice this chorus! The lyrics do not read, “To kill the mother and her child” or other would-be reference to anti-war “baby killer’’ phraseology—these lyrics refer solely to the baby, and the line, “The body bags and little rags of children torn in two” confirms a parallel with war and the abortion industry as machines of death. Furthermore, the reference to "Napalm screams of human flames" is perhaps a reference to saline abortion, a procedure in which a fetus chemically burned alive in a saline solution, parallel to the chemical Napalm commonly used in conventional warfare of the period that these lyrics were written.
An obscure but crucial line in the song is, "For a prime time Belsen feast". Belsen was a Nazi death camp, in Belsen, Germany. As readers might know, the Nazis exterminated masses of humans in an industrialized fashion motived by their psudo-science of eugenics (Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, was a professed eugenicist). This reference is consistent with the industrialization of abortion to "kill the unborn in the womb," on an industrialized scale. Perhaps abortion, too, is viewed as the “better kind of gun” in the final lyrics of the song, since the Nazis were looking for a more efficient means of genocidal cleansing.
I don’t mean to rob the band of their rightful interpretation of their own lyrics—and nonexistent commentary—but listening to the song through a separate lens gave me a little more to think about as a Catholic. I find it so interesting that Iron Maiden included "to kill the unborn in the womb" as a sign of the closeness to midnight. Even if this wasn’t the artists intent, we can’t deny the truth about the subject: If we have no respect and defense for the most vulnerable of this world, we are certainly doomed.