An Atheist’s Guide to Religion in Music

binkleyPalbert Einstein! That’s what you are. With every post you submit, I gain glorious new knowledge. Now you have imparted math on to me? Wowzers! That’s good work. I only hope that the world adopts your equation. Lives could be saved. If only one person uses it to justify buying a copy of Who’s Next, it will all have been worth it. Speaking of music. Here is my blog post.




There is not a lot of music out there that speaks specifically to the atheist. I am likely wrong about this and I have done no research to confirm or deny my claim but I need an intro statement to start off my discussion so I am going with that one.

Steve Martin wrote a song about this very matter. The song is called Atheists Don’t Have No Songs. In it he discusses the issue:

Romantics sing Claire de Lune
Born agains sing He Has Risen
But no one ever wrote a tune
for Godless existentialism.


There is lots of agnosticism and there is lots of religion in music, but there is no music for the atheist. Why is that? Atheists can be just a passionate as the next person. We too have loins that burn resulting in the overwhelming need to sing.

As an atheist who loves and listens to a fair bit of music I can’t escape God. The word God is dropped all over the place in song lyrics. It makes sense why. Aside from belief, the word God can be a very effective artistic device to represent intangibles like hope, love and wonder. Quick and easy. One word. Atheists can appreciate the intangible too, we just don’t have a single word as powerful as God. For that reason, I tend to embrace its use in music. It moves me. I react to it in a positive way. Maybe it’s a remnant of how entrenched religion is in me still (a lingering affect of the kool-aid), or maybe it is the idea of expressing some kind of bigness, but I just think it works so well.

So what do we do Atheists? How do we navigate the quagmire of God in music without getting all bent out of shape about perpetuating its myth. Easy. I say embrace it. It is just a word. A powerful word. It makes sense to have a lyric like God if only for its artistic efficacy. For all those angry Atheists who get upset at the mere mention of a deity, I say get over it (and possibly yourselves). People who put God in their lyrics aren’t necessarily pushing any religion. Sometimes they might just be telling a story. I could write a song that has the word juggle in it. That doesn’t mean I think everyone should take up juggling. To have an issue with the word might be more a reflection of the listener than the artist.

Still not sure Atheists? Well, let me be your atheistic Mr. Rogers and take you through the land of make believe. DING DING! Hop in the trolly car. We are off to see King Friday. Here are some songs that I love that mention God. Come with me. Let us see if we can’t fit them into our own godless biases.

Jesus etc. by Wilco

I am not sure I have fully wrapped my head around the meaning of this song. Lyrics about Jesus, skyscrapers, last cigarettes, and turning your orbit around. Here are the God lines.

Jesus don’t cry
You can rely on me honey
You can combine anything you want


Or, what about this one?

Our love is all of God’s money

That’s a great line. I used to think it was “Our love is all we gots honey”. Until pal and I saw the correct lyric on a T-shirt at a Jeff Tweedy concert. The currency of God is love. I might say the currency of life (or time) is love, but that wouldn’t have the same impact. To me the song is about a boyfriend talking to a girlfriend who is having some kind of trouble. It is a consolation song for someone going through hard times.

Don’t cry. You can rely on me honey. You can come by any time you want.

There are a million sad songs in the city. Wilco does a great job of making pretty songs out of that sadness.

Tall buildings shake.
Voices escape
singing sad sad songs.
Tuned to chords
Strung down your cheek
Bitter melodies
Turning your orbit around

When He Returns by Bob Dylan

0Religious motifs are all over Bob’s music. Whether it is his born again phase or not. Here, I think, is his pinnacle born again song.

Don’t you cry and don’t you die and don’t you burn

Yikes! I can’t reword this one. It is blatantly about the return of Christ. However, when you brake it down he is just talking about being good, not being so full of yourself, removing greed, cutting out the BS, finding the truth. You don’t need religion to agree with all that stuff.

Truth is an arrow and the gate is narrow

It is a terribly beautiful song. The last track on Slow Train Coming. A great way to end that album. I always find myself lost in this song to the point where when it is over and I am just sitting there in silence with my brain swimming not realizing the music has stopped. This song just makes me think.

How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?

How long can you hate yourself for the weakness you conceal?

I don’t have answers to those questions Bob. Do you?

Church by De La Soul
092412_delasoul_2Moving into some fun stuff now. Introduced by Spike Lee “church, it’s reality”. This is a song about healing urban youth laced over a funky churchy beat. Never has rapping about putting a book in your face and graduating the school year ever been so hardcore.

The pay off is much sweeter than the pay back

The song is about healing and gaining a self-actualized religious perspective via organized togetherness. Finding a healing reality via church.

The early bird catches the worm in this rotten apple. But dig more and you’ll find a seed.

Take God out of this picture and I can’t argue the benefits of getting together as a community. To get rid of one’s pride and be accepting of help from others when it is needed.

Your holding fear to close. Unfasten it.

Dear God by Monsters of Folk

imagesCAYTPVCBTo me the song is about someone searching for help. Looking for an answer that can’t be found. Wondering why is it so hard to see good (or God) in the world sometimes. And where the H E double hockey-sticks are You when the badness faces us.

Dear God I’m trying hard to reach you
Dear God I see your face in all I do
Sometimes your so hard to believe in
But God I know you have your reasons

For believers it might be looking for God. For non believers it might be looking for humanity. The voices in this song are all troubled. They are looking for religion but can’t reconcile that with the bad things that they do and the bad things that surround them.

What keeps you out, it keeps me in.

Take God out and it is really a song about self doubt. There are three voices in this song. I like to think that each person contributed their perspective on the hypocrisy of God’s love.

If your love is still around, why do we suffer?

Such Great Heights by The Postal Service or Iron and Wine

postal This is a sweet song. The Postal Service have a version and Iron and Wine Have a version. Both very different sounding. This song for me represents the idea of soul mates. I don’t believe in soul mates, but I am well aware of the feeling of being so in sync with somebody as if you were literally made for each other.

I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned
And I have to speculate that God himself did make us into corresponding shapes like puzzle pieces from the clay

To the non-believers, this can’t be. This is a common feeling tho’. I have this feeling. Why? Maybe it reflects the evolutionary need to find and be bound to a mate to procreate. When you fall in love, you feel like there is no better match for you than this person and you never want leave them. You are locked in and can now make and/or raise babies with this person. It may not sound as romantic as God (although I might argue it is). It is not built on a higher power, but the feelings are real and the feelings are pretty sweet.

And true it may feel like a stretch
But it’s thoughts like this that catch my weary head
when you’re away and I am missing you to death

I also think it reflects how over time we become tuned into our mate. For example, thinking the same things at the same time becomes more common as a relationship evolves. How ’bout changing the word God to Time? Maybe more accurate but does it work artistically? Like Arsenio Hall would say, “hmmnnnn”.


Well that is it. These are all great songs regardless of what they mean. Give ’em a listen. God be with you pal, if only in the artistic sense.


2 responses to “An Atheist’s Guide to Religion in Music

  1. I completely agree. My favourite band, Mumford and Sons, speak of God often in their lyrics. I think nothing of it. If they believe in the spirituality of the Christian God, good for them. I bear them no ill will. I don’t have the same belief system myself but hold nothing against those who do. I am a very spiritual person. I turn their “God” into my own version of a higher power, which is very personal to me and likely not what they believe but it allows me to feel the passion and devotion that they are feeling when they created their lyrics. Why begrudge someone’s belief systems? A powerful song is a powerful song. You can visualize whatever you need to in order to make a lyric work for you.

  2. Johanna Geuzebroek

    I find it interesting that I can be moved by music…sometimes to tears. Not always what stirs that emotion. For example on Easter Sunday I heard a choir sing the Alleluia chorus from Handel’s Messiah. We were invited to join in for the chorus. I could barely sing as I was all choked up. Was it the lyrics or the powerful music? Not sure.


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