Thursday, April 07, 2011

Community Ideas on Inspiring, Secular Music

Some time ago Don Wharton wrote a piece on John Lennon and how he got over god (

As part of my response to that piece I discussed Lennon's very secular song Image which I thought captures some of his movement away from religion. John Lennon talked to others about how he softened the narrative in Imagine to get a deep message across. He said:

"Imagine was an anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic song, but because it is sugar coated, it's accepted."

I mentioned that I'd be interested in hearing other people's favorite candidates for a family of broadly secular/humanist songs. These could atheist, but I take a song like Image to have a broader message than that and providing a richer mix of humanist values.

One response to my comment from arensb provided some of his favorite secular tunes:

"the most-played song my collection is X-Fusion's Anorexia Nervosa, followed by Colourbox's Hot Doggie, neither of which have anything to do with religion, and are therefore secular. "

In the atheist/anti-theistic track arensb added many more. These are reproduced below, since not everyone may have seen these, starting with:

"As far as atheist/antitheist music goes, Imagine is in my top ten, along with XTC's Dear God and Depeche Mode's Blasphemous Rumours ( , and John Butler's Hand of the Almighty (

X-Fusion's Dear God ( begins with Al Pacino's lovely rant from The Devil's Advocate (X-Fusion has a lot of antitheistic titles). And Pink Floyd's Sheep includes a parody of the 23d Psalm, with lines like "He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places / He converteth me to lamb cutlets".

Let Me Be Your Armor by Assemblage 23 ( is about antidepressants, but I find that it works equally well as a commentary on religion."

Thanks to arensb this is a great start and I wonder if others out there have things to suggest. I'd be glad to hear of favorites.

It may be different for others, but tend to think of secular-humanist songs by season. So in the winter time we have songs about the dark and cold. So we celebrate warmth and light etc. Parenthetically the way humorist Garrison Keillor put it:

Celebrate Yule instead or dance around in druid robes for the solstice. Go light a big log, go wassailing and falalaing until you fall down."

I don't dance in druid robes, but one song that takes on the season in a secular way (but also the psychological cold and darkness in religious hypocracy) is Jackson Browne's The Rebel Jesus ( After all, Xmas is somewhat of a secular holiday as we hear in Religious people's complaints in secular celebrations as well as it being philosophically a day dedicated to the idea of "peace on earth and good will towards men".
Xmas just happens to coincide with a historical religious holiday and in this it has an evolution something like what happened with Halloween. Celebrations evolve and parts of culture like music goes with them. It might be nice to have a WASH group of favorite songs for our Winter Light celebration in December.

Spring songs are full of the promise of hope in nature. Around this time of year one of Michael Jackson's last works come to mind. Earth Song ( is a bit of lament about what we have done to nature and while it include a religious reference it might be seen as a side-ways complaint about the lack of balanced respect for the natural world.

Other secular songs are protest songs like Imagine. They celebrate freedom and point out the problems of society from a humanist stance. Jackson Browne's "For America" is one cautionary story along this line. It has a reflective narrative for patriotic days like the 4th of July. Another type of song might be one used at secular weddings. I had a pretty neutral song, again from the Beatles, for mine -Here Comes the Sun which captures the idea of a new, sunny life to celebrate.

But I'm sure that the community has many other favorites that good generate a good repository of music to reflect on.


Hos said...

My favorite secular singer: Tim Minchin.

lucette said...

I like "I am not afraid ...of Yahweh"
I believe it is by the group "Sweet Honey in the Rock".

arensb said...

Actually, my name isn't Robert.

arensb said...

For Christmas, I can suggest Spinal Tap's Christmas With the Devil and South Park's Christmas Time in Hell. If nothing else, they're good relief from the soulless glurge played at the mall.

mkb said...

"When I'm Gone" by Phil Ochs

NineOfNine said...

iris dement - let the mystery be
talking heads - heaven
van halen - best of both worlds

i posted these (with lyrics) here (scroll down).

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Thanks to Hos for mentioning humorousist Tim Minchin. His
White Wine In The Sun is one of those Xmas songs that that discuss how how a secular person celebrates the season. You can see it at:

My apologies to arensb for getting his name wrong. I've corrected it on the post.

"When I'm gone" ( is a new one for me and I see that many artists have also covered it, for example,

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Thanks 9 (short for NineOfNine?)

I really like the message in all 3 of your picks.

My son in law just lost his father and his young sons are wrestling with the question of where he went. I think that Iris Dement's "Let the Mystery Be" might be something I can play them to get a no one knows perspective.

Gary Berg-Cross said...

I forgot to mention one of my favorite of a popular song is that expressly atheistic/humanistic is Vienna Teng's "An atheist Christmas Carol"

It's a quietly powerful about humanistic values in cold Winter Time. It has grace and speaks to the companionship and love that people provide in dark, wounded times. Various religious concepts are humanized just a bit.

Anonymous said...

How about XTC's Dear God?

Vincent said...

I rather like the Sammy Davis Jr. version of "It Ain't Necessarily So".
If you listen to FFRF's Freethought Radio you will hear a lot of classic old secular music.

Oh, and as long as you avoid the country music stations I think at least half of the "Christmas" music in December is just winter stuff - like "It's Cold Outside".

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Thanks Anon for XTC's "Dear God" which not only has POWERFUL LYRICS BUT reminds me mention how powerful some of the images are in the videos of these songs. In the "Dear God" imagery they have a clever use of the tree of life metaphor with humans of different ages clinging and falling off etc.
I also like the use of time going backwards to convey the idea that we invented the god concept. There's lots more here and one could have a whole analysis session on this video.

Don Wharton said...

Thanks to everyone for a rich and passionate discussion thread, deeply enjoyable. A special thanks to Andrew (arensb) for his contribution to it.

lucette said...

Thanks for y o u r blog Don Wharton. May I suggest that all contributors write under their real names rather than an alias?

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Some of these comments, Lucette's last one on using real names may get lost in a comment thread and thus not get read by the larger community. Maybe there is a way of posting these more generally.

Gary Berg-Cross said...

One whole category of secular music might be those that deal with science and related philosophy issues. I saw a posting ( on one such that used an evolutionary frame to attack the distortions of Organized religion. It's by Echoes of Eternity. They provided lyrics from one of their songs "Letalis Deus" from their most recent album, As Shadows Burn:

"From the void,
Nothingness becomes aware of itself
Consciousness is born
Self realization through creation
And so the universe is born

Lost inside the human maze
Through your mind, you create
Only way to the other side
Is to live and to die

Eons pass by,
Alone with all this power
Sure makes for a stagnant existence
The solution?
Divide into pieces
The immortal ones, long to be flesh

Organized religion
A distortion of the truth
Make your own decision
Ignorance will undo you

I, I am the game
I, I am the player
I'm the creator
I'm the destroyer"

Anonymous said...

Some may have specific reasons for posting Anon. They might not be out to their religious family, or might be politically active and prefer not to be out to their religious constituents. However, I think it is probably better to at least have a pseudonym so people recognize a consistent voice.

Kevin I. Slaughter said...

My observation is that if you put an ideological/religious qualifier in front of the genre of music you play, it's going to suck.

Yes, I'll still listen to it (occasionally) if that qualifier is one I use myself, but when people set out to make "secular rap" or "christian rock" they tend to make "shitty mockumusic".

YouTube search: "Chanukah Fever by Mama Doni" for a prime example. I can only imagine that the people who like this song are people who deeply hate music.

That said, sometimes I think XTC's "Dear God" and Lenon's "Imagine" are the only songs skeptic/atheist people have ever heard, because it's invariably the two that pop up in every conversation.

I hate the Beatles/Lennon, and find the "dear god" song to be annoying. Though the lyrics are unintelligible during performance,

I much prefer Pig Destroyer's "Heathen Temple" to either:

Beliefs must evolve or face extinction
Shed dogma like snakeskin
No need for confession
Or astral projection I survive on the primal instinct within
Even a loving
Is still a master
Even a loving
Is still a master
Spare me your fear
All these childish superstitions
I've spent decades
Trying to purge your swill
From my system
God is in the mirror
Not hiding in the skies
This heathen temple
Will stand tall
Till the day I die
Till the day I die
Till the day I die
This heathen temple will stand

I imagine "protest songs" as a category are included here because of organized atheism's close historical association with socialist agitation? Certainly there have been plenty of religiously themed protest songs, but groups with the word "workers" in the title tended to like to have a few tunes to go with their proletarian revolutionary newsletters! Plus, brain-dead simple rhyming schemes work better when you're drumming 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4 getting everyone to chant in unison...

Gary Berg-Cross said...

Some of us like works and we categorize them in a way that suits us. they may not be the way the creator conceptualized it. Beethoven set out to write the Eroica symphony with something in mind. It's pretty clear in the title, but not so much a simple category like protest music. Beethoven showed that a symphony could be used to convey beliefs including protest. The ideas associated with the Eroica are well known. They include the initial subject Napoleon, but also the general ideas of heroism, death, struggle, apotheosis, and revolution. All without simple rhyming, but definitely a tune we can hum.