Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster

Harry Potter, Adam, and the Speghetti Monster
"Sorry guys...you haven't seen a small metal ball with wings flapping around by chance, have you?""

Monday, December 19, 2011

Can Atheists have songs?

The title of this post comes from a wonderful song made by actor and comedian Steve Martin (and the Steep Canyon Rangers) called “Atheists don't have no songs”. It is sung a cappella by a male quintet whose very apt harmonizing is complemented by its many verses chocked full of intelligent, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. (I like anything that's tongue-in-cheek, in case you haven't figured that out). “Born-agains sing he is risen/ but no one's ever wrote a tune/ 'bout godless existentialism.” The song brings up a valid subject, can an atheist have hymns?

Well, the truth is I'm not entirely sure. According to Merriam-Webster: a hymn is
“1a : a song of praise to God b : a metrical composition adapted for singing in a religious service

2: a song of praise or joy 3: something resembling a hymn : paean”. We're pretty much excluded by the first definition (although there is room for dispute about 1b). I would say however that we are completely capable of having hymns as defined in 2 and the 3. While they may be right that there are no songs about atheism as such, I think there are quite a few songs of joy and praise which would be compatible with the outlook of an atheist. I'll share just a few of mine and my justification.

  1. Life is a Magic Thing, Johnny Clegg.

    This is a song I heard years ago when I first watched the movie Ferngully: The Last Rainforest. With its fast South African rhythms and instruments, trumpets, and background vocalizations and chorus, this is undeniably a song of great joy. It always makes me want to dance. The message of the song is very much in line with an atheist philosophy. Magic is not in some ancient book nor belief in some obscure spirit realm, but rather in the ecosystem, the galaxy, the experiences we share with our loved ones, nature---in short, our lives. It's in us.

  2. Colors of the Wind/Colores en el viento, Pocahontas

    “You think I'm an ignorant savage, and you've been so many places, I guess it must be so...but still I cannot see, if the savage one is me, how can there be so much that you don't know you don't know?” This song praises the beauty of nature in vivid, energetic, poetic terms. It talks about the connections between humanity and other part of nature, and the win-win situation that occurs when that interaction is harmonious. It also teaches the need for humility, by admitting what one does not know and at the same time is a powerful statement against racial prejudice--something which religion in many cases acerbated instead of mitigated.

  3. Homeward Bound, written by Marta Keen (sung by Royal T of YouTube)

    “Bind me not to the pasture, chain me not to the plow, set me free to find my calling, and I'll return to you some how”. To me, this song speaks to something that many atheists struggle with: conflicts with our community of origin. Belonging to a religion is seen as paramount to belonging to a particular culture and non-believers are often put in the position of giving up their communities or pretending to give up their world view. To me, this song symbolizes the right and the need that we have to seek our own identities, without having to give up the people we've known and loved for our entire lives.

  4. Imagine, by John Lennon

    I don't think I have to say anything about this one.

Just a few songs that would be in my atheist hymnal if I had one. At some point, I'll talk about some atheist liturgy I'm working on for my full moon celebrations.


  1. Yes, we can! Have songs, that is. Thanks for these links. Here is a mix I put together a couple years back: http://8tracks.com/editor_b/atheist-ballads

  2. Thank you so much for your mix. Absolutely beautiful. And thanks for the visit.