Do Atheists Enjoy Any Religious Music? May 19, 2009

Do Atheists Enjoy Any Religious Music?

Reader Stephan recently came across an old album of his by Ben Harper called Fight For Your Mind. When looking at the tracks on the CD, he noticed that one of the songs, “Power of the Gospel,” was one he still really liked:

I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that song from my old Harper years… I find it to be very powerful even now as an atheist. (Powerful in the sense that I still get chills whilst listening — yep, the same chills that the religious claim are the Holy Spirit racing through your body.)

Stephan raises a question I’m sure many of you have answers to:

Do you have any specifically religious or religiously-themed songs that you still enjoy?

Songs that just mention God/religion don’t count. We’re talking actual religious songs or songs out-and-out praising some god or another.

First two that came to my mind:

  • Jesus Walks — Kanye West
  • Half the soundtrack to the musical Godspell

If I took another minute, I’m sure I could find 328023 more items to add to that list.

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  • I still listen to old “contemporary christian” stuff that I listened to in the 70s. (It’s not very contemporary any more.) I really like Phil Keaggy and Keith Green (even though I have to turn off the critical side of my brain and block out some of the lyrics to enjoy the music now.) I also like Gospel and Christmas carols. Yeah, dating myself. Oh well.

  • It’s hard to listen to some of the artists knowing that they are so politically conservative now.

  • I like Spirit In The Sky. Does that qualify?

  • NeuroLover

    I can never get enough Christmas music and I love being in the Gospel Choir at my college… I just blissfully ignore the lyrics and enjoy the beautiful music 🙂

  • I’ve always thought Ave Maria is a beautiful song.

    “Be My Escape” by Relient K is obviously about God (especially since they’re a Christian rock band), but I pretend it’s some dude singing to his girlfriend instead. God, girlfriend, same difference.

  • Hallelujah Chorus – Handel

    Cwm Rhondda (Bread of Heaven)

    Requiem Mass – Mozart, also one by Verdi

    Battle Hymn of the Republic – Mormon Tabernacle Choir

    The Creed – Choir of the Russian Church of the Metropolis, Paris.

  • Polly

    I sometimes hum or whistle some of the more upbeat hymns I used to hear in church. They’re all in another language so that doesn’t really count, right?
    My wife loves it when she catches me doing that. Hey, it’s a nice tune and the pastor was a helluva piano player.

  • Well, Mozart’s symphonies, of course, and many other classical pieces are religious in theme, but I enjoy. But, I do also love Johnny Cash, though some of his really heavy handed religious stuff grates my nerves.

  • I once tuned into our NPR station to hear ‘Spem in alium’ by Thomas Tallis, a choral arrangment for 8 choirs written in 1570. It’s truly magnificent to hear even if its lyrics are about glorifying god and wallowing in sin.

  • Lifer

    I actually LOVE Jesus Christ Superstar, the Andrew Lloyd Webber original, though I’m not sure if that’s considered Christian? My dad always told me it was condemned by theists at the time but I never bothered investigating.

    I especially love every song sung by Judas.

  • Barrett

    Mike Farris – Salvation in Lights
    Bob Dylan – Saved
    Bob Dylan – Shot of Love
    Bob Dylan – Slow Train Coming

  • cuckoo

    walking in memphis
    That line
    “tell me are you a christian child”
    “maam I am tonight”

  • StealthLlama

    There’s another great track on that same Ben Harper album called “God Fearing Man” which is fantastic. It’s a very mellow song with a Middle Eastern vibe to it. I used to play it for my daughters at bedtime. Half the time they’d be asleep before it was over. 🙂

  • Amy

    I like the Sarah McLachlan/Barenaked Ladies performance of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”.

  • Well, a good chunk the classical repertoire (especially on the choral side) is religious — does that count? So put me down for liking a hell of a lot of religious music, that way.

    Among modern/popular artists, the only one I still like is Bruce Cockburn’s stuff from the 70s, 80s and 90s. He has the authenticity of being a writer and musician who expresses who he is through his music, and part of that is his (unorthodox) Christianity, as opposed to a “Christian artist” who never sings about anything except Jesus.

  • lamb

    I listen to a lot of country music and they tend to invoke God or Jesus, but the songs themselves are still great.

    Also, around Xmas I prefer carols about Jesus to the more secular songs. I probably have the world’s largest collection of covers of ‘O Holy Night.’ It doesn’t have anything to do with the words, only that the Jesus ones have a more soothing melody than the upbeat ones.

  • Warren Falk

    “The End of the Beginning” by David Phelps. The music makes the story seem powerful in the strangest way (strange because it is so ridiculous even for fiction).

    (also, “The Hallelujah Chorus” is quite a nice work of art)

  • Andy D

    I love gospel. I mostly ignore the lyrics, but the tight harmonies of a good gospel band is awe inspiring. John P Kee is an incredible director

  • Raghu Mani

    I have no issue with religious music at all. Here’s a rather incomplete list

    – Some of Bob Dylan’s gospel stuff is very good – not all of it – but there are songs like ‘Every Grain of Sand’ which rank among the best he ever did.
    – George Harrison’s Hare Krishna inspired music on the ‘All Things Must Pass’ album is great.
    – I love many reggae artists and Rastafarianism figures heavily in a lot of their lyrics.
    – Van Morrison regularly writes about God and faith. A lot of these songs are great.
    – R & B artists like Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke etc recorded a lot of gospel material – some of it is very enjoyable.

    That’s just a partial list. I could add a lot more rock/pop stuff to the list – not to mention a lot of the Indian music I listen to.

    In the end, for me at least, it isn’t really about what the lyrics say, it’s about how they say it and how the singer and musicians bring it across to the listener.


  • I grew up playing gospel music. I still play the guitar and sing gospel every now and then. Of course the songs don’t have the same meaning to me now. For a while, before I identified as an atheist, but was still an unbeliever, I went to a certain church every sunday, because they let me play the guitar for them.

    Some of my favorites:

    Leaning on the everlasting arms
    The Old Rugged Cross
    Victory in Jesus
    Unclouded Day
    Love Lifted Me
    I’ll Fly Away
    Well, they’re all good songs. I just don’t take the words seriously anymore.

  • John C

    I have a Christian radio station as a preset in my car. The music is pretty good, so I listen to it on occasion. I change the station when the DJs start proselytizing, though.

    Even though I don’t believe in god, I can still appreciate the sentiment of the song. They are normally about feeling comforted or feeling unconditional love. Maybe if the song were a retelling of bible stories or some type of sermon put to music, I would avoid it. However, most of the modern religious songs don’t fit that criteria.

  • andrew

    i love baroque classical, most of which is religiously inspired like handel or bach or mozart

    i like some creed stuff, but after a while it all starts to sound the same

  • Whitleylad


    In my Time of Dying and Gospel Plow from Bob Dylan. Some Gregorian Monk Chants. Jesus Christ Superstar, a lot of Christmas Carols, and some Leonard Cohen stuff like Suzanne, and the Sisters Of Mercy (although the nuns could actually be prostitutes in that one.)

  • Abbie

    I like Pedro the Lion, despite a lot of songs being all about God. It’s more personal than preachy, which I think is why I can tolerate it.

    Secrets of the Easy Yoke:

    I could hear the church bells ringing
    they pealed aloud your praise
    the members faces were smiling
    with their hands outstretched to shake
    it’s true they did not move me
    my heart was hard and tired
    their perfect fire annoyed me
    I could not find you anywhere

    Could someone please tell me the story
    of sinners ransomed from the fall
    i still have never seen you
    and some days I don’t love you at all

    the devoted were wearing bracelets
    to remind them why they came
    some concrete motivation
    when the abstract could not do the same
    but if all that’s left is duty
    I’m falling on my sword
    at least then I would not serve
    an unseen distant lord

    if this is only a test
    I hope that I’m passing
    cause i’m losing steam
    and I still want to trust you
    peace be still

  • Ric Alco


    On the instrumental side, I really enjoy John Tesh.

  • potatoheadbobby

    I absolutely LOVE he work of Neal Morse, especially “Testimony” — which is the tale of his conversion to Christianity. I don’t agree with the conclusions he draws, but I totally understand the emotions he’s describing and I believe the power that his conversion has had in his life.

    I also love the old-time gospel songs that were familiar from my childhood church experiences. Again, they feature good music, and beautiful, but mis-attributed emotions.

  • maddogdelta

    Just a short list:

    Much of Bach’s work is religious in nature, and I enjoy it.

    I yet to hear anything written by Mozart that I don’t like, so that means his Requiem, masses, and especially Exsultate Jubilate sung by Cecilia Bartoli (

    Beetoven’s masses … Although it should be pointed out that Beetoven’s crowning achievement was his secular 9th symphony..

    As far as newer stuff goes, contemporary christian, and most Christmas carols blow. Van Morrison, however is worth listening to.

  • SarahH

    “Be My Escape” by Relient K is obviously about God (especially since they’re a Christian rock band), but I pretend it’s some dude singing to his girlfriend instead. God, girlfriend, same difference.

    That’s true of many Christian rock songs, lol. There’s a great South Park episode where Cartman uses this to his advantage by taking love songs and adding “Jesus” in instead of “girl” to make them Christian hits.

    I actually LOVE Jesus Christ Superstar, the Andrew Lloyd Webber original, though I’m not sure if that’s considered Christian? My dad always told me it was condemned by theists at the time but I never bothered investigating.

    Yes, it was (and still is) considered heretical by many Christians, but I agree, the songs are great, especially the ones sung by Judas.

    I love Christmas carols, and there are a few beautiful Christian songs that I like – but the words in many ways hamper the enjoyment of the melodies/sound for me. Two good examples of this are “Every Season” by Nicole Nordeman and “Love Song for a Savior” by Jars of Clay.

  • Aj

    Yes, but not many.

    Tom Waits – Way Down in the Hole

    If you walk with Jesus
    He’s gonna save your soul
    You gotta keep the devil
    Way down in the hole

    Led Zeppeline – Immigrant Song

    The hammer of the gods
    Will drive our ships to new lands,
    To fight the horde, singing and crying:
    Valhalla, I am coming!

    Nine Inch Nails – Closer

    My whole existence is flawed
    You get me closer to god

  • reggae reggae reggae… Also check out Yabba You for amazing reggae with a christian spin…

    Are you feeling irie?


  • charfles

    Bach. St. Matthew Passion for example.

  • sc0tt

    Freethought Radio has an archived podcast with David Randolph, the atheist conductor of Handel’s Messiah. Mr. Randolph made some very intersting points about the meaning of music.

    PODCAST (second one in the list)

    But “Spirit in the Sky” just makes me cringe.

  • stephen

    Sure, like “Amazing Grace” performed by Canadian Brass, a New Orleans-style “When the Saints Go Marching In”, “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, etc. Just because it’s religious in nature doesn’t mean I’ve turned it off completely, it can still be catchy. Newer stuff, Jars of Clay have a few decent songs.

  • schism

    * Classical music, it goes without saying
    * Living Sacrifice, Zao, Demon Hunter, and Project 86 are/were Christian metal bands
    * Killswitch Engage isn’t exactly Christian, but most of their songs are obviously influenced by the religion
    * Live, as of The Distance to Here, has a lot of Buddhism-themed songs
    * Tori Amos and Tool both have…largely inexplicable religious and/or metaphysical references in a lot of their songs, though some/most are more metaphorical than anything
    * the lead singers of Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth are Luciferian, I think

  • Andrew C.

    All Things Must Pass is probably my favorite Beatle solo record. Even though there’s a lot of religious songs on it, it doesn’t come across as judgmental or pedantic.

    Probably not what you meant, but I really enjoy God by John Lennon and Dear God by XTC.

  • Charles Minus

    I like a couple of pieces by an old Lutheran composer named J. S. Bach.

    Look, there’s no such thing as religious music. That would be like asking if you like orange music. But there is music with religious words. Which includes some of the greatest music ever made. (It helps if you don’t understand the language so you don’t have to get sidetracked thinking about the dumbassed message)

  • Kastro

    Sufjan Steven’s “Seven Swans” uses a ton of Christian imagery, and bible stories in its lyrics, and it’s one of my absolute favorite albums ever.

    Actually, most of his albums have a strong Christian element, though I still don’t consider him a “Christian” musician (and neither does he), but Seven Swans is by far the most obvious example. Really excellent stuff.

  • K

    I’ve always found religious music to be sappy and dorky. Even Stryper always came off as rather puerile.
    And Xmas music! OY! That many grammatical errors just need to be corrected, not sung every single year! I cringe when I hear them, and I’ve heard them all too many times, over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over, no matter who sings them, no matter how they change it up a bit, I’m done. I’ve heard them to death.

  • There’s this indie group called Danielson who are extremely religious. They’re known to dress in nurse uniforms at their shows to represent the supposed spiritual healing that’s taking place.

    They’re very, very talented and have a good amount of secular followers.

    Here’s a music vid for “Did I Step On Your Trumpet”:

  • Silent Night, when done right (i.e. John Denver on the Muppet Christmas album), can still bring a tear to my eye. And I have a soft spot for classical hymns; not for their lyrics but musically I love the chord progressions and structure.

  • Alizarin

    Well, I’ve loved reggae music for over thirty years and still do.

  • Lexi

    I too like the Kanye West “Jesus Walks” song.

    I also like Amazing Grace.

  • Bill

    This is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. In my Christian days I really enjoyed Jars of Clay and Third Day. Now, while I still enjoy them, I don’t find that I have the same enthusiasm for them since I feel odd singing a long with a lot of the lyrics. I actually just saw Jars in concert this past Sunday evening and it was a really good show. Of course it helps that they’re not preachy in between songs like some other Christian bands.

    As an aside, it can provide for some awkward moments when both my wife and I are listening to religious music as she’s still a Christian. I want to make snide comments from time to time but instead restrain myself.

  • Stephan

    Great stuff everybody. I appreciate Hemant and you all for participating in my inquiry.
    Some good stuff that most of you posted.
    My mother is a Jesus Christ Superstar fanatic, so I have seen and heard it that sucker dozens of times, and yes, the Judas songs are great. I once even came close to trying out for that role in a local musical, just because I love belting out the opening Judas song, “Jesssuuuuuusssss!”

  • jodyray

    tons of xian metal: old zao and tourniquet…*sigh*

  • jb

    I really like Over the Rhine and Iona. Also, Third Day’s first album makes for good running music (or housecleaning, or whatever).

  • David D.G.

    As others here have said, classical music is often religiously based, but that seems not to matter for some reason. I like a lot of it.

    My late companion used to listen to Amy Grant’s stuff, and I discovered, to my chagrin, that I love a couple of her songs simply because the music is so good. If only the lyrics were left out!

    And I think that a lot of the modern arrangements of traditional Christmas music by groups like Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra are awesome. Heck, I even still feel fond of the traditional treatments the songs got on my parents’ old Firestone Christmas albums in the early 1960s.

    ~David D.G.

  • Sufjan Stevens is one of my favorite musicians, but also a very mystical Christian. He has one very overtly religious album, Seven Swans, which I loved when I was a Christian and still love today. It’s just incredibly beautiful, regardless of what the words mean. One of my favorite songs is “The Transfiguration”:

    So much awesome banjo! And his voice is just to die for.

  • cornhobble

    The album ‘Flyleaf’ by (surprise surprise) Flyleaf. Some of the songs on it have religious undertones, but I don’t really mind.

    Well, okay. Maybe that’s not *completely* true. One song — “Red Sam” — basically talks about her relationship with god and “how [he’s] the truth”, yadda yadda. And now that I’ve noticed the religious undertones I have trouble listening to the song because I get vaguely irritated and have to resist the urge to make snarky comments at my iPod. 😛

  • I like a lot of the things mentioned here so far, though most of the very contemporary things strike me as corny. But I’ll also say Matisyahu (no clue how thats spelled)is really fun to dance to. Also, I love singing spirituals, though I get more of the emotion from “escaping from oppression and slavery” than from any god, though the promise of a better heavenly life after the crap of this one features prominently as a theme. It’s heartbreaking, really, and I think it makes the music very emotional.

  • Oh i’ve actually got a lot of them.

    The Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash. It’s about Revelations I think.

    The Great Atomic Power. I forget who does the original but i enjoy a cool cover of it done by Southern Culture On The Skids. The original was written in the 40’s or 50’s. It’s about atomic energy being a gift from God. Seriously. Their MySpace page.

    Atomic Power. Also from the 40’s or 50’s and very similar to the other one. I also can’t remember who did the original but i like the version done by Prairie Home Invasion.

    Higher Power by The Sadies. Their MySpace page.

    Jesus & Tomatoes by Kate Campbell. This one is actually sorta funny. It’s about a woman that sees Jesus in a tomatoe and then people start coming to see it and she creates a church for it. I know it doesnt sound like it’s a religious song but i think other songs of hers are. Her site.

    Let The Sun Shine In. Again, dunno who did the original but i like a version done by The Clumsy Lovers. Their MySpace page.

    The Smell Of Petroleum by The Pogues. There’s a lot about the song i don’t understand but it does mention shamans, meeting God in a flying saucer, and the line “had a large double Jesus chased down with a shot of zen”.

    If I Should Fall From Grace With God by The Pogues. Self explanatory. But I dunno if it’s really meant to be religious or just a figure of speech. The Pogues MySpace page.

    And there’s one that i honestly can’t tell if it’s a religious song or if it’s making fun of it. It’s Easter Flesh by Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. There’s the lyrics to it. Let me know what you think.

    Oh and then i sorta dig this guy, Matisyahu. A Hasidic Jew doin’ reggae and hiphop. His MySpace page.

  • I looooe old time bluegrass. That’s almost *always* religious. The religious part just makes it sadder and more bittersweet, though.

  • Shawn

    Echoing many others: much of the orchestral and chamber music I like has a religious base, Bach in particular. Lots of metal bands have spiritual/religious subjects throughout the lyrics to varying degrees of intensity and tongue-in-cheek-ness.

    Personally, I appreciate beauty no matter what its inspiration, just like I can appreciate the awe of cathedral architecture (or pyramids, for that matter).

  • Brian C Posey

    Elvis doing Amazing Grace is the shits.

  • The band The Hold Steady. Their singer is Catholic and all their albums sorta tell stories that end with someone being redeemed. They have songs with titles like How A Resurrection Really Feels, Cattle & The Creeping Things (full of bible references, Crucifixion Cruise, Both Crosses and Lord I’m Discouraged. But they’re awesome. Their MySpace page.

  • James H

    The entire score from Jesus Christ Superstar. The song “Crucify Him” always gets to me.

  • Doreen

    I went to Catholic school for eight years, so of course I enjoy Gregorian chant. My friend introduced me to an industrial dance band called E Nomine (years after I got away from Catholicism). They use Gregorian chant very heavily.

    I also enjoy Christmas carols.

    Loreena McKennitt, a folk/pagan musician, has both Christian and Celtic/Norse pagan songs, which I really enjoy.

  • bill

    i enjoy the bands mewithoutYou and manchester orchestra, which have some overtly christian themed songs. also my favorite band brand new’s last album was called “the devil and god are raging inside me,” although i find the meaning in the album less about “god” than about a struggle for a sense of self and meaning in life. then again the way the songs are done by any of these bands you could apply the metaphors they use to many things.

    one of my favorite quotes is from a song by mewithoutyou called “nice and blue (pt. two),” a song about feeling emptiness from life without faith (although i personally see it as looking for meaning in life beyond material things):

    “then I saw a mountain and I saw a city
    steadily sinking but suspiciously calm;
    it wasn’t an end, it wasn’t a beginning
    but a ceaseless stumbling on.
    there, strapped like a watch on my wrist
    that’s finished with gold but can’t tell the time
    was all or what little pleasure exists
    seductively sold and uselessly mine”

  • Ashleigh

    Does some country count?

  • Claudia

    I like plenty of religious music. I particularly like some Gospel and also a few rock/heavy metal bands that are Christian themed. I don’t find the beauty of the music and voices diminished by the fact that they involve mythology. I’d enjoy music based on any other mythology equally (and I do, in the case of some Celtic music).

    One thing that is a little creepy about some Christian music, especially Christian pop, is the “special” relationship the singers express towards Christ. Often they don’t even mention him by name, but the songs take on the form of your standard love song, except that the target is Jesus. This goes equally for male and female singers, but it’s my impression (though I’m not sure about it) that the males go even further than the females, bringing up themes of “giving their bodies over” or “kneeling in front of you to give you everything” or “I’m yours, you can have all of me”. OK, so maybe my mind is in the gutter, but if those words were directed to a potential partner, I would assume at least some erotic undertones, which makes it very weird.

  • Ryan

    Ave Maria, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, and all sorts of other songs that are both beautiful and fun to sing.

  • REX

    I avoid gospel music like the plague because just like most rap, I think that it rots the brain with horrible propaganda.

    However, I love Christmas music. I think it stems from my childhood with Santa Claus and all of that, but as I get older, I realize that even though I no longer believe in god, the Christmas music takes me back to an unfettered way of thinking.

    With age, also comes an appreciation for history and the classical pieces from long ago will always be our history even if we evolve beyond their literal meaning.

  • I grew up in a church. The only part I ever liked was the music, whether it’s black spirituals collected by James Weldon Johnson, hymns, or Christmas carols. I sang, sang, sang whenever possible. Now the denomination I grew up in mostly sings Christian crap rock.

  • Matthew T.

    I actually love the group Shane & Shane. Despite their super Christiany worship songs, the music is fantastic. They are super creative acoustic guitarists as well.

    I also enjoy Pedro The Lion, Sleeping at Last, Thrice, Copeland, Spoken, Underoath, and August Burns Red. All of these bands have/had religious or Christian themed songs and the bands contain Christian or religious members.

  • Laura

    Sufjan, Sufjan, Sufjaaaaaaaaan. His “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” gives me chills.

  • Brian

    I’m one of those “classical only” people. I used to conduct a chorus. An awful lot of classical choral music is religious in nature. At various times in my life I’ve had problems with it, and would avoid or minimize the number of sacred works. It’s one of the reasons I went back toward instrumental music. However, I currently am comfortable enough with religious music to enjoy my Bach, Schütz, and Josquin without too many qualms.

  • @Aj: I don’t think many people would consider Closer a religious song. At the least you couldn’t convince me, and I think most religious would find it offensive, as was Reznor’s intent.

    I still like Ode to Joy and Let It Be.

    Do the songs from Life of Brian count?

  • Cypress Green

    Mozart’s Requiem
    Morning Has Broken
    Emanuel by Amy Grant
    Gethsemane by Michael Crawford
    Sarah Brighman singing any

    I HATE Amazing Grace! Bleck.

  • mvanstav

    Handel’s Messiah, of course, and a lot of Relient K. A lot of religious music is fun, as long as it isn’t too annoyingly preachy (which I’ll admit is a matter of opinion). I enjoy a lot of the songs which are about perseverance, love, and grace, and choose to ignore a lot of the baggage which the artist may have meant those words to have.
    Honestly, though, growing up worshipping Bach is what kept me open minded towards religious music. While technically he has sacred and secular works, everything the man wrote was for the glory of god, so it’s all religious on some level. And mind blowingly amazing.
    Oh and Christmas carols, for the nostalgia.

  • Anna

    having sung in various church choirs all my life, I have a definite soft spot for sacred music.

    I love palestrina cantati, bach’s music, but especially his lenten cantati, “christ lag in todesbanden” is an especial favorite.

    it’s been mentioned, but mozart’s requiem mass, randall thompson’s alleluia, and durufle’s ubi caritas arrangement makes me cry in public places.

    I’m also a huge fan of shape-note singing. there’s some secular, but most tends to be sacred.

    also, some of the aforementioned classic country great, bluegrass, etc. are wonderful as well.

    mind you, even when I was religious, I never could stand contemporary christian or country music.

    I’m sort of surprised this was even a question. I never even thought of sharing the artist’s beliefs being a prerequisite for appreciating the art. I don’t write off tibetan mandalas just because I’m not Buddhist. I have a deep love of the paintings of the northern renaissance, even though I’m not Catholic.

    It’s one thing if the material itself is offensive, but another if the artist holds beliefs that you don’t share.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    I listen to death and black metal, and a lot of it is religious (hey, you didn’t say Christian necessarily!) Specifically, I love Deathspell Omega, which is a very committed Satanic band from France. All of their work is a very complex Satanist theology, and basically I would call the music Satanic gospel (I know a lot of you assume that this is what all of heavy metal is, but it really isn’t — most of it is just content with being generally dark or evil, but Deathspell Omega has extraordinarily complex lyrical and theological content). The music is beautiful, though, and is some of the best black metal I have ever heard. It is powerful. And yes, I am an atheist, and no, I do not believe in the devil.

    I also love a lot of Norwegian black metal that is dedicated to older, pre-Christian Scandinavian religion, such as Enslaved, one of my favorite bands that sings a lot about Norse mythology and the old gods. It’s poetry. I love it.

  • River

    I love the melodies of old hymns, and I still enjoy singing them. “Be Thou My Vision,” especially. I also sing “Amazing Grace” in the memory of my great-grandmother — it was her favorite song.

    I have a wealth of Christian music from when I was a young fundie. Some of it still sounds good after the years, and most is crap. Of course, one could characterize that of music produced in general. My favorite genre was ska, and I still have a soft spot for it. My favorite band was (surprise, surprise) Five Iron Frenzy.

    As for now, I like Sufjan Stevens, Belle and Sebastian, Relient K, Project 86, and others. Guessing by a potential ambiguous recent single, I’m going to add Carolina Liar to the list.

  • Spurs Fan

    I really like Americana singer Mindi Smith’s relatively religious-themed music, even “Come to Jesus”. For some reason I foget about the lyrics most of the time.

    Anyone listening to old country or rap ( you will commonly find the all-out hedonistic song right next to the gospel-oriented one on the record in both genres) will find it difficult to avoid religious references or themes.

  • I have a persistently embarrassing soft spot for Christian post-hardcore “apocalyptic” themed music. Think: Zao, O Sleeper, This or the Apocalypse, August Burns Red, etc.

    It’s just too much fun to pass up — and when I commute, there are too many annoying people to not listen to loud music…

  • I enjoy songs covering a variety of topics: Fast cars, hot chicks, drugs and booze, excess, loneliness, death, necrophilia (thank you Alice Cooper), poker, sasquatches, broken families, cocaine (thank you JJ Cale for everything), winos and whores (Tom Waits), heroin (Leonard)…
    It would be rather hypocritical of me to deny myself Mahalia Jackson, or the Canadian Brass playing Amazing Grace because it touched upon God.

    /got me a chocolate Jesus…makes me feel so good inside

  • Beethoven – Missa Solemnis & Ninth Symphony
    Mozart – Requiem & Mass in C Minor
    Henryk Górecki – Beatus Vir & Third Symphony
    Arvo Part – (everything is writes is religious…)

  • Craig

    By Queen:
    The Prophet’s Song
    God Save the Queen
    All God’s People
    Mad The Swine

  • @ Craig RE: Queen

    I’ve always found Fat Bottom Girls a sort of religious experience.
    Uplifting, but best done in private.

  • Aj

    Rene Horn,

    @Aj: I don’t think many people would consider Closer a religious song. At the least you couldn’t convince me, and I think most religious would find it offensive, as was Reznor’s intent.

    Really? I always thought he was serious. There are plenty of religious people who feel sex is a form of prayer, a spiritual experience. I thought Reznor was talking about something akin to that. Christians not so much because of traditions and some of the Bible, especially the New Testament, seems to be against sex. Reznor makes it pretty clear he’s not a Christian in the same album.

  • King’s College Choir (United Kingdom) – “When in Royal David’s City” nearly brings tears to my eyes whenever I hear it. It is absolutely beautiful.

    Hate most contemporary music, but enjoy most of the old country / bluegrass gospel, esp Hank Williams, Sr. There’s something so human about a scoundrel like Hank Williams singing “I Saw the Light.”

  • And I almost forgot the Louvin Brothers:
    “Satan is Real”

    I inexplicably LOVE that song!

  • cassiek

    While I can’t stand most “contemporary christian” music, I do love (in no particular order):

    Jesus Christ Superstar

    Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

    Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

    and Amazing Grace – my late grandfather’s favorite hymn. I sang it at his funeral and it can still bring tears to my eyes.

  • Harknights

    Down to the river the pray – Alison Krauss
    Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat – Don Henley

    Change in my Life – John Pagano
    Jesus Christ Superstar

    Good stuff. Saying there aren’t good religious songs is like saying the Religious Right can’t have a good idea just because they are the religious right (I hope some day I am proven correct.) A good idea is a good idea and a good song is a good song.

  • One of my favorite rock bands is a group called BRMC (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club). They are an awesome group and I’ve seen them something like five times in concert.

    It’s hard to say if THEY are religious or not but there are references to Christianity littered throughout their lyrics, such as:

    White Palms: Jesus, when you coming back / Jesus never coming back / Jesus won’t take me back / Jesus never coming home / Jesus seemed to steal my soul / He’ll never let me go

    Gospel Song: I will walk with Jesus, till I cant go any more, / And I will stay with Jesus, till I can’t go another mile

  • Soulless

    Not really the closest thing I can get is Mike Oldfield’s – “Sunlight shining through cloud”. I especially like it on headphones due because of vocal layering within the song. It’s a kind of new age version of Amazing Grace but better in my opinion given that it entirely removes any mention of a deity from the song.

    I used to hate the music was was forced to endure during church service when I was Christian.

    If anyone would like to hear it. Just email me and I’ll send it to you. It’s very different.

  • Alexander

    The only useful the catholic church has ever done is gregorian chant.

  • AnonyMouse

    My favorites are the Christian inspirational songs, such as:

    Bridge Over Troubled Water (though the lyrics confuse me somewhat)
    There Can Be Miracles
    The Prodigal Son (I can’t sing this one through without crying… it’s absolutely beautiful.)

    Prolly others.

  • Max

    I love ‘All of the words’ by Kutless. It’s on the Scrubs sound track.

  • Amazing Grace is hands down one of the best songs written in the english language.

  • Julius

    I still like “Ride the Mighty High” by Mighty Clouds of Joy. A very powerful song, no wonder why believers feel chills.

  • Greyfox

    Era – Ameno is a really beautiful song.

  • flawedprefect

    Heh, we’re suddenly the Secular friends” so many evangelicals talk about having! lol!

    I got a few to add to this already long list:

    Soundtrack to “O Brother, Where Art Tho?”
    Ron Sexsmith (tho technically not specifically Christian): “God Loves Everyone”

    Some sufjan stephens (famous for “Chicago” – on sound track to Little Miss Sunshine, the soundtrack of when they are in the van)

    And I’ll even admit to liking a few songs my “Sixpence, None the Richer” tho not their obviously Christian ones.

  • I’ve got several hymns that I love playing on the piano. Some of my favourites are “Abide with Me”, “Nearer My god to Thee”, “Eternal Father Strong to Save”, “The Old Rugged Cross” etc.

    Some contemporary songs I enjoy are:
    “Three Wooden Crosses” (although I tend to take the piss out of it)
    “Spirit in the Sky”
    “I Believe” (by Diamon Rio)
    “When I Get Where I’m Going” (Brad Paisley)

    I don’t see anything wrong with liking religious music, I’ve also got “Havah Nagilah” on my iPod.

  • Very little. I think the most religious music I’ve actually enjoyed has been Evanescene (sp?) and that’s largely because Amy Lee could sing the phone book and it would still be amazing.

    It’s funny; a religuous friend pointed out to me the nature of that band and said she found it funny that I enjoyed it because I’m an atheist. I said, “So? You like Lord of the Rings, and Gandalf isn’t real.” That ended that quickly 🙂

    I like some classical music too, of course, regardless of any themes, religious or otherwise. I used to have “Dies Irae” on my mp3 player, which got really annoying just before taking a test I was stressed out about.

  • “Jesus is just alright with me” – Doobie Brothers.

    The entire ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ soundtrack (like my colleague flawedprefect above). Some of those old close-harmony spirituals are just gorgeous (Down By The River in particular).

    Can’t say I have much else in my library that’s explicitly religious, but that’s mostly due to “out” Christian bands like Creed and Evanescence and P.O.D. being a tad trite, musically, for my liking. There just seem to be some musical boundaries that most religious bands won’t dare to cross; certain safe, tried-and-tested avenues of expression that aren’t deviated from. Not a great deal of Christian-themed progressive rock or jazz-fusion bands out there (I’m aware that that seems a bit of a generalisation but it’s based on many casual observations over many years).

    Put it this way: my mind would be blown beyond repair if I learned that Frank Zappa was a devout Catholic or that David Gilmour was a young-earth creationist and that their faith influenced everything they wrote.

    Yes, I checked. Both heathens 😀

    )h – and the soundtrack to The Omen. Awesome.

  • Mark

    I’m a big classical fan too. Ave Maria has always been one of my favorite pieces. The Gounod version was my favorite.

  • MeagD

    I loved India Arie for years 🙂 But about 3 years ago I stopped listening to her album because it made me uncomfortable. I really love to sing along in the car but I didn’t feel right “praising the lord” aloud… Sad story, because she has wonderful melodies and a great voice!

  • magdalune

    I love certain contemporary Christian artists like Rachael Lampa, Kathy Troccoli, Cindy Morgan, and Mark Schultz. I usually like them because they have a different quality to their voice and/or music. I’ll never tire of them.

    I also love classical pieces, the musicals, and I fall to pieces during Christmas with all the Christmas music I listen to.

  • Nick

    Of course I do! I’m a particular fan of all medieval/renaissance musical works, and since we all know that the Church reigned supreme in that era, it would definitely be considered religious! Though I suppose that classical music in general has many religiously inspired works (Messiah comes to mind), so I guess that I should just say that I like classical music (it’s art, art should be revered for its beauty, not its message). Anything contemporary? Not a chance.

    As for Christmas, I absolutely hate any of those secular songs. I have no idea why you’d even want to listen to them…..

  • Cafeeine

    One of my all-time favorite songs is Jesus-themed, its called “Kalos irthes paraxene ston topo mou” (Welcome stranger to my land) by Active member. It’s in Greek.

    I also find myself liking amazing grace, the soundtrack to ‘O Brother where art thou’, and some byzantine hymns.

  • Kat

    I love Sinead O’Connor’s version of “I don’t know how to love him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar. Actually, I think her whole “Theology” CD is pretty good.

  • Dave

    Sure I do

    The Messiah by Handel, Monteverdi Vespers, My Sweet Lord by George Harrison, several hymns and carols.

    Great music is usually about much more than just the lyrics. It would be irrational to discard music just because the writer or performer was working under ‘divine inspiration.’

    However, I can’t stand a lot of ‘Christian Rock’ and similar genres, where there is no inspiration of an artistic muse involved, just apeing a popular genre and force fitting words to it.

  • Efogoto

    Always loved the recording of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing Rock of Ages. It’s fantastic. So is Sixteen Tons.

  • CybrgnX

    Most of the Xtian music can be done with out the words and I will like them more.

    Many years ago the ‘raisin’ guys did a Xmas special where they made the songs more up-beat without changing them that was excellent!! ‘O Brother where art thou’ I have the DVD and I liked the music.
    ‘Spirit in the sky’ is great-I like the rhythm. Amazin Grace is ONLY good on the bagpipes!!!(ya I’m odd). But I can say as an X-Xtian and a rabid athiest I still like a lot of various religious music by various religions.

  • Andrew C.

    I love Gram Parsons even though there’s a lot of religious stuff on his stuff with The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and solo.

    Just wanted to point out that Let It Be is not religious. Mother Mary is Paul’s mother. John thought it was religious and took the piss out of Paul for it. It’s a small part of why the interaction between them in Let It Be is so acrimonious.

    Bridge Over Troubled Water may be religious in nature, but it’s not necessarily Christian, as Paul Simon is Jewish.

  • I adore Christmas carols!

    Aside from that, I haven’t had too much exposure to traditional Christian music, but I did really love the Melanesian chants from the movie The Thin Red Line.

    Ditto for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, especially I’ll Fly Away.

  • I felt compelled to blog my own thoughts on the matter:

    An Atheist Who Loves Gospel Music:

  • bernerbits

    If we’re talking Christian music we like, I gotta plug my brother’s Christian band, Too Many Drummers. Their music is fresh and original, and their lyrics aren’t over-the-top theological. And my brother plays the thumb piano I got him for Christmas in one of their tracks!

    They also recently took first in a competition against other Christian bands and won a spot in a festival alongside some pretty (in Christian music at least) major names.

  • Acitta

    I love great American gospel music such as that of The Mighty Revelators or the great Mavis Staples. I can’t help but jump up and dance when Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky comes on the radio. I like Pakistani Qawwali music though it probably doesn’t appeal to most North Americans as much as gospel. It does have the advantage of not being in English, making it easier to ignore religious ideas expressed. There is a lot of great music with a religious bent. If atheists had atheist “gospel” music maybe we would make a lot more converts :-).

  • Hildegard von Bingen was a nun and her music is very beautiful. It’s listed as classical, but it’s basically chants.

  • Elsa

    I actually really like that Josh Groban song they used for the Olympics a few years back, “You Raise Me Up.” The part where the choir comes in is just a “YAYYY!” moment every time I hear it.

  • I can’t believe that no one’s mentioned Coltrane’s A Love Supreme yet–or am I the only jazz fan here? Most of the religious music I listen to is of the classical variety–everything from Bach’s Mass in B Minor to contemporary stuff by Arvo Part. (None of that pop crap, though!)

    Also, I’m a huge requiem junkie: Mozart, Verdi, Brahms, Faure…

  • debg

    Everything on the Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama album “There Will be a Light.” Awesome to sit and drink wine to.

  • Andrew C.

    Cognitive dissident – I like Coltrane and it might be blasphemy (heh) but I prefer Blue Train to A Love Supreme.

  • Andrew C – My favorites are his albums with Kenny Burrell and Johnny Hartman…along with the ubiquitous-for-a-reason Kind of Blue and Giant Steps…but Blue Train is right up there!

  • Gabriel

    I still like the old hymns. I can still sing a lot of them from memory. I don’t believe any of it anymore but I still like to sing them. It is really the only thing I miss about church.

  • I’d have to say Crash Test Dummies really does it for me. They’re a Canadian Christian band who made it big in the mid 1990’s. Anyone remember them?

    I also liked Alabama and their one Christmas album that came out in the early 1990’s, which is odd because I hate country music. Christmas music (especially the older Bing Crosby style) always gets me in a happy mood.

  • debg

    I’d have to say Crash Test Dummies really does it for me. They’re a Canadian Christian band who made it big in the mid 1990’s. Anyone remember them?

    Hell yeah, I remember them! I had no idea they were a Christian band, though. I was a kid, well, teenager, when Hmmmmmmm came out. And of course, who could forget the Superman Song? Jeez, I haven’t even thought of them in years. Whatever happened to them, anyway?

  • flawedprefect

    Re: CTD: You know, they named their album “God Shuffled his Feet”, even wrote a song for the “Dumb and Dumber” Soundtrack called “Peter Pumpkin Head” which was just the passion play… and the penny never dropped until now! Did that guy reach the brown note a few times or what.

  • AxeGrrl

    I have to disagree that the Crash Test Dummies were EVER a ‘Christian’ band (though, a cursory glance at their lyrics might suggest that). Here are a few remarks about the band and frontman Brad Roberts:

    “With obvious religious overtones, one might suspect Brad Roberts, the frontman of Crash Test Dummies, to be an avowed Christian or at least a “spiritual” believer. In subsequent interviews, Roberts denies any such notion.”

    “Brad Roberts, the band’s leader, songwriter, frontman, has always been a deep prober with a penchant for obtuse lyrics, dark storylines, and spiritual reflections. However, his artsy ruminations about God did not ever mean that the Christian religion was particularly resonant for him.That has not changed with this album of secular and sacred Christmas standards, and his unique oh-so-deep baritone voice often has a sneering tone that is, quite frankly, a poor fit on Christmas pieces that mean so much to so many people”

  • karunr

    A lot of classical music – both Western and Indian Carnatic is religous . I love listening to them and doesnt bother me.

  • AndrewR

    I’ll throw in another vote for Neal Morse. I have to ignore the lyrics (his last album was particularly preachy), but honestly his solo albums are better musically, IMO, than anything he did with Spock’s Beard (the band he left when he became born-again). He’s such an incredible composer/arranger, and a great musician all around.

    That said, the atheist in me is thrilled that he’s agreed to record another album with the progressive rock supergroup Transatlantic. New secular music from Neal Morse? Hells yeah.

  • Actually, I tend to dislike religious music a lot. I think most of them must have some common musical characteristic–perhaps their tonality–which I happen to dislike.

    However, I like pretty much every song in Jesus Christ Superstar and Fiddler on the Roof.

  • Andrew C.

    Cognitive Dissident – Kind of Blue and Giant Steps are great.

    flawedprefect – The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead was written by Andy Partridge from XTC. He also wrote Dear God. Partridge says the song is not about any figure specifically but takes elements from the lives of people who tried to do good and were later murdered. So it can be read as being about Jesus. Or JFK or John Lennon for that matter.

  • Brooks

    I like some of Relient K and Switchfoot although they’re like the most non-Christian Christian band ever, so I don’t know if they count. I also like some of Amy Grant’s stuff. I thought Tori Amos was a pantheist rather than a Christian? But I enjoy her music a lot, too. I also enjoy religious-themed Christmas music, my favorites being Hark The Herold Angels Sing, O Come All Ye Faithful, and Joy To The World.

  • Donna

    Bach B Minor Mass.

  • Evinfuilt

    Josh Groban, Russel Watson, that ilk. They sing just about anything put in front of their eyes. Its beautiful, I love their voices, the lyrics can still be touching even if its religious in nature.

    I also like Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. What can I say, ALW knows how to infuse fun and rock into a silly religious story.

  • Aj:

    Really? I always thought he was serious. There are plenty of religious people who feel sex is a form of prayer, a spiritual experience. I thought Reznor was talking about something akin to that. Christians not so much because of traditions and some of the Bible, especially the New Testament, seems to be against sex. Reznor makes it pretty clear he’s not a Christian in the same album.

    The other thing to note is that Reznor is an atheist.

  • Tim

    Sufjan Stevens and lots of Christmas carols. Bach, though without words it may not qualify.

  • Aj

    Rene Horn,

    The other thing to note is that Reznor is an atheist.

    That quote doesn’t make him an atheist, and its unsourced although considering his songs not out of character.

  • The Rebel Teapot

    I never knew “Jesus Walks” was all that religious — I did the lights for a Black History Month presentation and the song was in it and it was so damn catchy I didn’t even listen to the lyrics for ever.

    I really love Flyleaf, and Switchfoot, and Blindside, and Family Force 5’s songs also seem to have big religious overtones. But it’s not a problem; it’s like listening to songs about stories and stuff that are acknowledged as fiction.

    There are probably a bunch of other stealth-religious songs lying around in my collection and that of my parents.

  • Shel

    A lot of Baroque and classical music had religious themes. Doesn’t stop me from enjoying them. I acknowledge the role religion has played in the development of human history and culture, and the music I love is an example of that. But just because I enjoy the music doesn’t mean I have to swallow the dogma.

  • Amy

    My friend Charlie and I are both atheists, he listens to Matisyahu. I don’t necessarily enjoy the style..but I’ll listen to it in the car.

  • LawnBoy

    I used to be really into alternative Christian rock, and those are bands that tend to be musicians who are Christians, not bands that view their music as a ministry. So, not only was the music not crap, but the JPM count (Jesus/Minute) is pretty low.

    I still have a few of the better bands in my iTunes: Iona, Daniel Amos, Lost Dogs, Adam Again, Poor Old Lu, etc.

  • Wendy

    I like Johnny Cash’s “When The Man Comes Around”

  • I forgot to mention that I also love a lot of older religious music, particularly non-English language versions:

    Miserere Mei, Deus (Latin)

    Immaculate Mary (French)

    Laudate Mariam (French)

    Gregorian Chant (Latin)

  • Grant

    although i am now an atheist i still enjoy listening to some christian music. old hyms, some carols, even some of the “harder” stuff Christians make can be good. But ya, you totally have to ignore the lyrics on some songs 🙂

  • Jess

    Amazing Grace. Last heard it at my great grandmother’s funeral, which was after I became an Atheist, and it still gave me chills when sung by a choir.

  • TJ

    I like “who I am hates who I’ve been” by Relient K a christian rock band

  • VeliciaL

    I grew up in a southern baptist church, and I still have a soft spot for some of those old hymns from the Baptist Hymnal.

  • Wow… a lot a comments on this one.

    I tend to like *some* christmas songs, but more based on traditionally hearing them at that time of the year. By Dec 26th, I’m done.

    Instrumental songs that may have had a religious overtone are sometimes enjoyable, but it depends on how appreciative I am of the musical construction.

  • gail lightfoot

    Oh Holy Night
    The stars are brightly shining

    How can you not be stirred by that? I am a hard core nearly militant atheist. Today I would give anything never to hear passed instead of died. I fear for the world when so few use reason instead of faith to survive.

    When I was 10 years old I attended a Babtist church in Kodiak Alaska. I remember a song in the Hymn Book, It was Bridge over Troubled Waters. That was 1948. Maybe only the words are the same but from the first time I heard the Simon Garfunkal song, it reminded my of that hymn. So did he sing that song in church as a child and forget the source of his words and maybe even the music?

  • Esteve

    Brian Doerksen’s “Come, Now is the Time to Worship” and just about any song from Miss Angie’s first album are among my favorite songs ever. As an atheist, I don’t tune out the Christian message in them. In fact, I find the lyrics quite inspirational, which is one of the reasons I love those songs. I can take a general message from them without feeling like I’m being admonished to convert. Not sure how the artists themselves would feel about that, but I’m sure they are at least happy that their words are heard.

  • Thomas Jones

    I’m in love with reggae music. don’t care for the religious overtones, but the ryhtm is amazing!

  • Thor

    I really like Kirk Franklins Hosanna, the band and especially the drummer kicks ass – but the lyrics i don’t care for.

    Also, i enjoy a lot of reggae music.

  • Pamellion

    Sort of — I love Christmas, and though we don’t celebrate anything about Jesus (it’s all Santa and Family and Winter), we still listen to lots of traditional Christmas songs. And I love Jesus Christ Superstar, but when you think about it there really isn’t any magic in that movie — it’s more just the story of someone who happens to believe in god. So it’s interesting watching it as an atheist — it doesn’t take away from that at all. I mean I love myths and legends, so the story of Jesus as some guy who said some wise things is a good story. And I love other musicals like Godspell (we DVRed it recently and decided we loved the songs, even though they are pretty Bible-thumpy, but fast-forwarded through the sermons in-between), Fiddler on the Roof, etc. I can’t stand “I love Jesus” pop songs though — that stuff is usually just preachy and syrupy and annoying.

  • There is an interesting song by Echo Movement to ponder. “I Think God Smokes Weed” pokes fun at mankind’s imperfect, irregular and unexplainable behavior by suggesting a “creator” must have been high when he made us. Most relevant to this discussion, the band is openly atheist/agnostic and they use the song in a light-hearted way to open minds. Check them out.

  • A_Goldschmidt

     I actually like some religious music, such as Lucifer Principle and Mayhem, both Satanic.

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