Ask Richard: Songwriter Famous for Christian Music is Secretly an Atheist June 21, 2010

Ask Richard: Songwriter Famous for Christian Music is Secretly an Atheist

Dear Richard,

I’m an atheist, and although I’ve only been reading The Friendly Atheist for a couple of months, I suspect my situation is unique: I’m actually famous, literally, for the Christian music I used to write and perform.

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, the son of a conservative, Christian pastor. I began writing Christian songs as a child. As a teenager, my music was already being performed on Christian TV programs. After attending a well-known Christian university in the Midwest, I headed for Nashville, where I wrote songs for (and recorded or performed with) many of Christian music’s biggest stars: Sandi Patti, Amy Grant, and many others. I’ve won Dove Awards (Christian music’s highest award) and even a Grammy Award, all for Christian music. Church congregations around the world sing my music. Music that was written by an atheist.

Even as a child I’d questioned religion, but I was always admonished to ward off those “evil thoughts.” Finally, while in Nashville, I allowed myself to embrace my inner atheist (privately) all the while writing and recording Christian music. Eventually I tired of that double life, however. So, I moved to the east coast. Although I continue to have success as a songwriter, I no longer write Christian music. It was never more than a gig; I did it for the money. I now write songs for major country and pop artists.

My dilemma is this: because I recorded a couple of Christian albums, years ago, both certified gold, I have a following; people recognize me and assume I’m still a Christian. I have a Facebook fan page, where I can let fans know what I’m up to. But so many of them are devout Christians who post messages like, “Continue to do the Lord’s work!” and “We thank the Lord for your ministry!” But I don’t have a goddamned ministry! If they merely write “God bless you” or something, that’s fine. But I’ve been deleting the more sanctimonious messages, because I just can’t stand them.

While most of my fans are aware of my pop and country work, they don’t realize I’ve abandoned my Christian writing, all together. And sooner or later, they’re likely to figure out I’m singling out the religious posts on my Facebook page for deletion.

Although I’ve done well financially, I’m not independently wealthy. So, it’s important I maintain my fan base and keep them informed about new projects. I may even record a new solo project, something they’ve been asking me to do, but of course it won’t be religious music. Who knows what’ll happen once they realize that.

So, I’m trapped: If I “come out” as an atheist, I’ll lose fans in droves. But by not doing so, I’m “condemning” myself to the “torture” of fans who assume I’m still a Christian. It’s not that I can’t hold conversations with Christians. Of course I can. What’s driving me nuts is the fact that so much of their conversation is God-centric. They can’t simply say, “Hello.” Instead, they greet you with, “Praise the Lord” and such. (Ugh.)

I’ve seen you advise others, so eloquently, about not being in a rush to reveal their atheism to friends and family. Or that if they do so, they must be prepared for the consequences. My problem is that I’m, pardon the expression, “damned if I do and damned if I don’t.” How do I come to terms with this?

The Autographing Atheist

Dear Autograph,

At first glance, some people might think that the main issue here is an ethical one, centering around your writing Christian music while being an atheist. I don’t think so. It would be a shame for that to distract from what I think is the more important issue, so let me briefly attempt to put the ethical one to rest.

Years ago, you got tired of having to pretend, so you stopped writing that kind of music. You stopped feeding people’s misconceptions of you, and increasing a situation where you might be considered a hypocrite. Good idea. My good friend, ethics expert Jim Lichtman agrees with me: If there was any ethical concern about being disingenuous, it was resolved when you stopped writing the songs, and you do not owe it to anyone to reveal your private, personal views and beliefs. Not then, and not now.

For centuries, artists and composers have been producing both secular and sacred art and music. For many of them, it is impossible for us to know how devoutly and sincerely they believed in the religion they were glorifying. Certainly many did, but it is likely that some did not. For some perhaps, it was never more than a gig; they did it for the money. They had to paint landscapes or saints; they had to write quartets or hymns. They had to eat.

But that makes no difference. Regardless of their private thoughts and innermost feelings, by their talent and their hard work they produced great things. Their creations give both believers and skeptics experiences of awe, astonishment, inspiration, insight, and sheer pleasure.

I think that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder, and artists and composers make mirrors. When we see and hear their works, we are moved by seeing the reflection of our own humanity, which is deeper, richer and more beautiful than we usually appreciate in our daily lives, our mundane routines.

You wrote wonderful Christian music, and Christians still love it today. They feel joyful, inspired, and perhaps moved to be kind and generous. That is them doing that. Their reaction to your creation is their creation. They are seeing their beauty in your superbly crafted mirrors.

Now to what I think is the important issue, your tolerance.

I think you should take a long look at your revulsion at the gushier Christians who admire and thank you in their religious terms. Where does your disgust come from, to the point that you call it “torture,” even if you put it in quotations? Some of them are gushy, some are more reserved, but it’s the language they speak. You spoke it very well in your Christian songs.

I talked about the ethical issue above just in case you feel some inappropriate guilt about your past as an atheist Christian songwriter. There’s no need for self-reproach if that is what is feeding your aversion to these Christians. Years ago when you started to feel conflicted, you stopped writing those songs and you moved on. You resolved the conflict.

I suggest that when Christians compliment you on your Facebook page, don’t delete their more religious remarks. You don’t have to refute their beliefs or reinforce them. Take a couple of deep, slow breaths, and thank them just as you do the less overtly religious ones. Allow everyone to admire any work you have done for whatever reason they have, in whatever terms they use.

Many artists reinvent themselves during their careers. A few do it several times. Their talent either outlasts the fashion of their original genre, or they outgrow that genre. They need to explore new avenues. When they change, some of their old fans will continue to only like the earlier works, some will follow the artist into the new art form, and some new fans will embrace the artist for the first time. Sometimes artists will express frustration that they are most admired for work that they don’t consider their best or their most important. Artists and art lovers don’t necessarily have the same agenda.

I think you should gradually tell your fans in simple terms that as an artist you must try many things. Express your gratitude for their support of your earlier work, and invite them to follow you as your art evolves. If some prefer your earlier songs, that’s okay, no hard feelings.

Autograph, your great talent is about helping people see the beauty of their own humanity reflected in your mirrors. It doesn’t matter what the genre is that you want to develop now. That’s like the style of the mirror’s frame. People will choose various frame styles to fit their lifestyles. Let them. Just keep helping us see ourselves in ways we might otherwise miss.


P.S. Hemant pointed out an interesting fact:

Dan Barker of FFRF actually spent much of his career writing Christian music. He even wrote two musicals for children called Mary Had a Little Lamb and It’s Fleece Was White as Snow which still get performed and which still generate royalties for him today (as far as I know)! He writes about it in his book Godless.

You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. All will eventually be answered, but not all can be published. There is a very large number of letters; please be patient.

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  • As an ex-Pentecostal minister, now a long-time atheist but still enjoying Southern Gospel, I am quite sure that a large part of the performing artists in various forms of gospel (CCM, Southern Gospel, Black Gospel) are doing it for the money/income. Some are gay but closeted, some are not believers, some are liberal at home but conservative in public.

    Dealing with adoring gushing fans can be difficult. I learned to deal with it in my own field by separating the (hyper-religious) language from the heart-felt sentiments. They’re just saying “Thanks for what you are doing,” and they’re using the only vocabulary they are familiar with. In almost every case, you are safe to just give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they are merely wishing you well. And then you can respond, “Thanks for taking the time to let me know you appreciate my work.”

    good luck with it!

  • I was going to point out the Dan Barker thing, but Hemant beat me to it! I just finished reading Godless and enjoyed it very much.

    Hopefully you can learn to appreciate the religious comments as much as the less religious ones. I know it’s hard once you don’t believe in god to hear things like “god bless” and the like without cringing or feeling like it’s disingenuous, and you’re getting that tenfold being a famous Christian.

    Good luck!


    PS: I’m sorry but I’m sooooo curious about who this person is! My sister has a large collection of Christian music, so I’m wondering if I’ve ever enjoyed any of the Autographing Atheist’s work!

  • AA,

    Being a bundle of contradictions, regardless of scope, is what makes us fundamentally human. It is okay to be human. A job is merely a job and for most of us, it reflects nothing more about who we are than simply our desire to continue to eat and keep a roof over our heads.

    Those that are a big part of your life, those people that know you the best, won’t judge you for it. Those that do are lacking something in their own lives that helps them cope with the realities of the world, plain and simple.

    Don’t ostracize yourself from fans of your previous work. I assume you worked just as hard on that music as you have since that point. Just because you don’t identify with the material doesn’t render your work invalid. My advice is to take the messages of appreciation as what they are, fans thanking you for making a piece of work they enjoy. The religious nature of the comments are inevitable given the work, but it doesn’t mean it is applicable to who you are as a person, so don’t let it!

    All the best, AA.

  • Steve

    For many years I’ve enjoyed attending Christmas Eve services as an opportunity to sing with others the beautiful Christmas carols I learned as a child. Although I am an atheist and the songs many not mean anything for me religiously, I enjoy the experience and the sound of many voices singing together. I also marvel at the cathedrals I’ve visited as examples of architectural wonder. I wish this song writer all the best.

  • Carlie

    Ray Boltz was a very famous Christian recording artist who has since come out as gay. Not quite the same, but looking into his story might help as well as looking at Dan Barker’s.

  • You could tap into the great as of yet untapped “atheist country music” market.

    See this example but you might go the way of the Dixie Chicks (when they dared to criticize “W”) and lose your base.

    Pragmatically, I would agree with the advice to try to get your mind in a place where the religious gushing doesn’t bother you. Just view it as the only way they know how to communicate. View it as a complement.

  • Richard and Hemant, do you think it’s a good idea that we have an unspoken rule not to guess at someone’s identity? In cases such as this I think we could do more harm than good by guessing. As a performer and songwriter myself I know how it’s nearly impossible to be anonymous. A few minutes on Google can turn up just about anything.

    In relation to the post, King’s X were marketed as a christian band early in their career. They never said so themselves, but their label pushed it. When lead singer/bassist Dug Pinnick came out as both gay and agnostic, they were slammed and abandoned by christian fans. They still have a large following who don’t care, I think partly because they are great (imo) and because the christianity wasn’t very overt. Hopefully as the questioner works more in secular music, there will be more secular fans on facebook. There is also the option of starting a facebook page for the non-christian music.

  • I think he has to decide whether living true to his beliefs, or lack thereof, is more important than maintaining a fan base. Can he generate income elsewhere? Personally, I am not sure if I could live like that.

  • Actually, I understand where this guy is coming from. Last winter I was asked if my son and I would act in a locally produced half hour movie celebrating the “real meaning ” of Christmas here. This was a quite openly religious presentation but I was very honest about my atheism with the person intially asking. This person said “That’s why they call it acting.”

    My son, a budding young actor loved the idea and I have to say we had a ball even with the religious scenes. It took a week and was one of the best weeks of his life. As a father-son bonding experience, it would be hard to beat. The problem arose when no-one else at the highly Christian company knew about my atheism and there never seemed quite the right time to bring it up. Now, I suspect if they found out they would take it poorly.

    I feel like a hypocrite for having others believe that I am what I am not. I never meant to deceive but that’s seems to be where it ended. I strongly believe that honesty is best in nearly all circumstances, but my son now has an in at this company (he’s making a commercial there tomorrow) and really want’s to pursue some career in acting. Behind my back my heavily fundamentalist family has stated what a hypocrite I am and have threatened to “out” me. Not that I crave their acceptance in this but they do have a point. In not being honest, I am a hypocrite. What’s an atheist to do?

  • Lars

    What’s the difference between these people and the number of Jews writing Christmas carols?

  • littlejohn

    Elvis made millions recording gospel music. What’s the problem? I gather you don’t know how to do anything else. I doubt that you situation is even unusual.

  • They guy who wrote “God Bless America” was an atheist (according to Dan Barker)

  • fritzy

    Richard gave some excellent advice once again. I can understand some of your distress, Autographing, at the more religious “gushing” as I am on the receiving end of this from time to time (I work in healthcare, so I get a lot of “I just thank god for angels like you” quite a bit).

    As Richard pointed out, I think a lot of the atheists problem (if I may generalize) with hearing this is the fear of seeming disingenuous by accepting these compliments and expressions of gratitude–I know that has been my issue with this. But this isn’t about you and I, it’s about the person thanking you. They are being geniune, and that’s what matters. A simple “you’re welcome,” and “thank you for your appreciation” is a geniune reply. I realize that they are thanking me the best they know how–with genuine, heart-felt compassion and that makes me feel good, even if religious sentiments are silly to me.

  • Sarah

    Darn, Lars beat me to it. Neil Diamond and Barbara Streisand don’t seem too put out about their Christmas albums. And if being (or loving) Neil Diamond is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

  • Claudia

    I think clearly the issue is not an ethical one, but an emotional one. If your fanbase is mostly composed of the kind of Christian who, well, listens to mostly Christian music, I think that worrying that you’d be blacklisted if found to be an atheist is entirely rational. Unlike the Jews making Christmas songs, modern Christian music is not popular with everyone, and those who love it the most are the ones least likely to show “Christian love” to an unbeliever.

    I wonder if your issue with erasing overtly religious comments isn’t more a matter of guilt. Their enthusiastic religiosity reminds you that they feel their comments are welcome, because you have never informed them that you don’t share their feelings. If you are a decent person, you feel badly about partially deceiving people who admire you so much and hence reminders of that are “torture”. You are indeed between a rock and a hard place. All I can think of is that you should suck it up and stop erasing the comments (unless they’re otherwise distasteful, like being anti-gay or anti-Muslim) and try to cultivate an audience in the wider world, so that your “base” is less and less dependent on the religious.

    Oh and BTW, I think you may have given off way too many personal details. There’s a very finite number of songwriters who have won a Grammy plus several Doves and grew up in the Northwest and were child stars etc. Google never forgets.

  • If you believe that people have been kept in ignorance (Yay Intelligent Design!) or have persecuted others (as in organizing against Gay marriage) with your songs acting as a moral support then you have a duty to speakout.

    Man up
    (or Girl up as the case may be).

  • ATL-Apostate

    Holy crap! As a former christ=o=holic, I probably listened to this man’s music. It’s driving me crazy not knowing who it is, but I’ll refrain from guessing.

    Keep doing the *lord’s* work…
    wink wink, nod nod.

  • Aj

    1) It’s not desirable and it’s probably personally degrading, but I don’t think anyone could blame someone for earning a living, even if it is in a very minor way encouraging religion.

    2) A script could probably hide comments from certain people, without deleting them from the page.

    3) I wouldn’t be surprised if the fan base doesn’t follow when the music turns in a non-religious direction.

    4) People who wouldn’t buy music from an atheist? Misleading those people wouldn’t be a problem for me, fuck them.

    5) Even if it’s been obscured, there may still be enough information in the email to suggest who this person is. Unless some of the information is a diversion.

  • Ann

    I am an atheist marketer and entrepreneur.

    From market research I’ve found that the christian market is a huge segment that is VERY easy to market to (gee, I wonder why?). So what did I do? I built a business around catering the marketing messages and products to the target. Its the SAME process as my other businesses catering products and services to mothers, survivalists, and even video game nerds.

    I have no qualms about being an atheist with a business targeting christians, the same as I have no problem with not having kids, with a business targeting mothers.

    You might call me a hypocrite, but so long as nothing is illegal or infringing on anyone’s rights, there is no problem with this. Its called business, lots of people do this, in lots of different segments.

  • Citizen Z

    So, I’m trapped: If I “come out” as an atheist, I’ll lose fans in droves. But by not doing so, I’m “condemning” myself to the “torture” of fans who assume I’m still a Christian.

    The first part of the trap is tough, I’m not sure there’s a way to come out as an atheist and still keep those fans. But is there really nothing you can do to prevent the “torture” of those who assume you’re Christian?

    Consider this thought experiment: Imagine you had never written any Christian songs, ever, yet you had many fans writing the exact same things on your wall. What would be your reaction? I would think you would be bemused, perhaps a bit perplexed, but would you feel it was torture? Or consider that situation, but with Buddhists leaving Buddhist sayings all over your FB wall. “I’m sure you’ll be reincarnated as a higher form of life!” “Keep spreading an attitude of loving kindness and working towards enlightenment!” I can only speak for myself in that I wouldn’t find it torture so much as just… odd.

    Now if I might make a suggestion, perhaps your negative reaction has to do with some understandable personal history? Maybe the torture comes from feeling constrained from being open to others about your beliefs, that the torture doesn’t come from hearing god-talk, but the fact that you are being mistaken from something you’re not, and being unable to tell people who you really are? That’s a pretty big reason atheists want to come “out”, isn’t it?

    Both the Stoics and Buddhists have teachings describing how you cannot always control your situation, but you can often control your own reaction to your situation. I think this is a prime example. You can’t control how others would react to your coming out, but you can control whether or not their assumption that you’re Christian irritate you. It may always be annoying to some extent, but you may find the trade-off worth it. Or you may find the trade-off is isn’t worth it. If you know precisely why it bothers you, you can deal with it.

    (Personally, I’d argue in favor of not being in a rush to come out. Would the hypothetical musician receiving Buddhist facebook messages be obliged to discuss his own religious views?)

  • Lyric

    Consider the number of atheist classical composers who wrote religious-genre music. Rimsky-Korsakov was atheist and wrote a number of things for the orthodox church. It’s business.

    My spouse is a musician (and atheist) who does studio recording for one of the big Christian/gospel studios. I’d guess a sizable percentage of musicians working the Christian studios are non-Christian too, once you count the players from former Soviet-block countries (typically non-religious) and the players from Asian countries who practice non-Christian religions.

  • Jen

    I was going to mention Dan Barker as well! Also, I think Handle (of the Messiah fame) was an atheist.

    Autograph, I hope you deliberately obscured details (or Richard did) and I also hope you are secretly Jennifer Knapp, which would be awesome. Anyway, I would just ignore the Christians posting on your facebook, and remember that, even if your life details come out, many of them will still listen to your older stuff on the theory that God can work through terrible atheist people. Also, if sounds like your non-Christian work could pay some of the bills, so does it really matter if those life details come out? And, not to be a jerk, but you could always get a real job.


    Anyway, if you really think people are going to quit you in droves, save your money in the meantime, build up an emergency fund if you do not have one, pay down debt, and see if you can parlay your skills into some other sort of job- say, I have no idea, back-up singing, jingle-writing, music producing, whatever. My guess is that, even with all those people posting stuff on your facebook, not that many people really care that much. I bet a non-Christian but not explicitly atheist CD would not turn off that many people, even those writing Jesusy things.

  • I am an atheist marketer and entrepreneur.

    From market research I’ve found that the christian market is a huge segment that is VERY easy to market to (gee, I wonder why?). So what did I do? I built a business around catering the marketing messages and products to the target. Its the SAME process as my other businesses catering products and services to mothers, survivalists, and even video game nerds.

    I have no qualms about being an atheist with a business targeting christians, the same as I have no problem with not having kids, with a business targeting mothers.

    You might call me a hypocrite, but so long as nothing is illegal or infringing on anyone’s rights, there is no problem with this. Its called business, lots of people do this, in lots of different segments.

    This nails it: there’s no ethical issue here either. A songwriter is a performer, and entertainer, and is selling a product that people may choose to buy, or not.

    I know for a fact that some authors of “Christian fiction” are absolute, die-hard atheists. I know two such people personally and have for some years. There’s no ethical issue because they are simply presenting themselves as writers who are writing in a particular genre. If they were running around pretending to be Christian, that would be unethical. But they are not. One does not have to be a Christian (apparently) to write a “Christian novel.” Makes sense, since one does not have to be a criminal to write a crime novel. All art is, on some level, a fiction.

    The song “White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin, a Jewish dude. No ethical issue there, since he didn’t pretend to be otherwise.

  • Sellers_as_Quilty

    Even if he chose to continue writing “Christian songs” (and profit from them), this would not be unethical so long as he didn’t pretend to be Christian himself.

  • bunnyslipperz

    In my early years as a Christian, my ex-husband and I worked in Christian music, promoting concerts, a video music show (on public access tv heh) and my ex-husband was briefly in a Christian band.

    Christian musicians are held in the same catagory as ministers. They are expected to promote the gospel and to live to the standards of ministers and pastors.

    I’m going to go in a completely different direction then what everyone else has said. I say live true to yourself, both personally and professionally. Can you really live day to day knowing you are expected to endorse something you no longer hold in your heart as true? Can you go up on the stage knowing your audience wants to hear praise the lord music from you and expecting you to 110% feel it in your heart and mind? In essence can you lie to them just to keep them buying your music and tickets? They are expecting you to minister to them, can you do it?

    If your fans should find out your beliefs are no longer the same as theirs, you are going to lose them anyway. It is scary to start over in something new, but you know people find new professions every single day. I’m starting over after being a housewife for 12 years at the age of 40, its scary and its not easy, but you have to pick yourself up, ask yourself what it is that YOU want out of life and go out and get it.

    Heh, I could tell many stories of “Christian” musicians that I worked with, some were snobby and rude and certainly were different on the stage then they were off it. I guess what I’m trying to say is, a person needs to live their life being true to themselves, at the end of the day its your own face in the reflection of the mirror, you have to live with yourself. Live the life you want to live, not anyone else’s.

  • prospera

    And if being (or loving) Neil Diamond is wrong, I don’t want to be right.


  • Edman

    You could always go the David Bazan route, and write about your conflict openly. He was pretty well known as a Christian artist during his time as Pedro The Lion, and has since released a solo album called “Curse Your Branches” which openly deals with his loss of faith.

  • Neon Genesis

    I never understood the appeal of speaking in religious language in daily conversations, even as a Christian. Like it always felt cheesy to me to tell people religious sayings like “God bless you” or whatever they say. It just felt unnatural to me to speak in formal language in every day conversation. You don’t see screaming fangirls of pop music speaking in formal language when they scream at the top of their lungs at the Jonas Brothers. I never even told anyone I was praying for them when I was a Christian. I just didn’t see the point in telling them that when I could have prayed for them without letting them know either way. It doesn’t bother me now as an atheist either expect I still find it cheesy.

  • Richard and Hemant, do you think it’s a good idea that we have an unspoken rule not to guess at someone’s identity?

    I think it would be appreciated if you didn’t try. If the person wants to out themselves, they always have that opportunity, but I would think AA used a pseudonym in his letter for a reason.

  • SickoftheUS

    I disagree with almost everyone posting here, and I’m surprised at the lack of principle being endorsed by all of the usually very principled atheists.

    “It’s just business” and “just trying to make a buck” (along with “just following orders”) are ancient refrains usually used to condone a lack of ethics in one’s occupational activities. I see these over and over in these comments.

    Yes, finding good work that pays well is hard, more so than ever perhaps. And it must be very tempting to not risk raking in the royalties from previous Grammy-level work with a fan following that’s still ardent. So let’s be frank: those are tires-meet-the-asphalt considerations that are real factors for this performer, even if they aren’t enunciated as such.

    I don’t buy Richard Wade’s sloughing off excuse to the ancient masters’ religious work. In those days, largely, if you wanted to eat AT ALL well while being an artist, you did religious stuff. In today’s secular society, a talented performer has a much wider range of options – many of which would align better with one’s current, real values.

    Neither do the more recent examples of Elvis or Irving Berlin, etc., seem relevant to this performer’s case. Christian music’s fans, as the performer knowingly fears, have a much higher ideological degree of identification with their performers. Elvis and Berlin did NOT do religious music.

    There should be nothing surprising about this to us readers of this blog, because we see examples of this extreme kind of religious identification in almost every item posted here. So why are you giving this performer such a huge amount of slack? Because the economy’s bad and easy money is your dream, too?

    My advice to the performer: be true to yourself and your principles. Thank your fans for their devotion and express hope that they will listen to your new music. But stop, this instant, hanging onto your old comfy blanket because it’s hard to change and be honest with others. That’s tough shit. It’s a struggle we all have to face. It’s a struggle that many of us (though, disappointingly, less than I had thought after reading the comments here) take on repeatedly in our professional lives.

    Work and earning money is hard. It’s tempting to take the easy way out. But fight anyway.

  • llewelly

    Dear Autograph: Announce on your facebook page that you have discovered most of your fans are actually atheists who only pretend to be Christians because they love your music so much. Follow-up with a bland cookie-cutter article saying this is perfectly okay and nothing for anyone to be concerned about, just a mildly interesting quirk of human behavior, yadda yadda yadda. Then watch the fun as your fans peer suspiciously at each other. Keep posting regular articles about secret atheists. Enjoy the confusion they feel as nothing terrible happens to them. Eventually they will adjust to the idea that they are surrounded by secret atheists. Then you will be able to safely come out.

  • Neon Genesis

    I’m a gay atheist that’s still in the closet and I have to pretend to be a Christian because I’m afraid of being kicked out of the house by my parents as I don’t have a job to be financially independent. I don’t pretend to be a Christian for devious purposes and I don’t pretend to promote hatred to hide myself. I do plan on coming out of the closet eventually whenever I’m finally able to live on my own without depending on my parents for my financial support. Honesty may be the best policy in general but making sure you have a place to live and a way to put food on the table is important, too. It’s not your fault that we live in a world where many Christians are bigots towards atheists so I don’t think it’s hypocritical to pretend to be someone else if your survival depends on it. I would wait to come out of the closet until you’re able to survive on your own without depending on your Christian fanbase as the primary source of your income. Just come out whenever you feel ready to come out and are able to still support yourself and you don’t have to feel guilty about it because it’s not your fault that so many Christians hate atheists.

  • Carlie

    I think a lot of the discomfort may be that the author realizes that what he/she is doing is actively misleading people and encouraging them to believe something that he/she doesn’t believe is true, which is usually called “lying”. Especially for the Christian market, there is a definite expectation and belief that those artists/writers do everything out of sincerity and a love for God; treating them simply as a market to be given “what they want” is disingenuous at best.

    I think the author needs to be encouraged in the same way that pastors who write in with the same problem are – start figuring out a way to survive in a more secular way fast. There is life beyond the Christian bubble. The cynical “just keep doing it, it’s only marketing” explanation won’t help you sleep at night.

  • Citizen Z

    Elvis and Berlin did NOT do religious music.

    Elvis did gospel music. He also did non-religious music, but so does AA.

    It seems like a lot of people here are under the misimpression that AA still does Christian music, but that isn’t the case.

  • Monika

    I agree with most of the others, what you did in the past, writing christian music as an atheist, is of no matter. While you might feel a bit bad about it, you stopped now and that’s it.
    On the other hand… most of your fans still think you’re a christian and speak the language of christianity. I feel your pain AA, this type of language makes me shudder too. I would be tempted to delete those messages on the facebook wall as well.
    I think Carlie said it best: “There is life beyond the christian bubble!” You will eventually need to burst out of that bubble. Your hardcore christian fans will most likely drop away, but the moderate ones and the atheists will stay!

    @llewelly: You’re evil! I like that in a person!

  • plutosdad

    It seems plenty of performers have public personas that are quite different than their personal life, so you can choose to view your past music and work as a persona you put on. I see nothing wrong not rocking the boat. You don’t owe those people anything, they are merely customers, not friends or loved ones, and your CDs are just products to be bought or sold.

    Of course at the end of the day bookstores and record companies are businesses and not going to stop selling your CDs if you come out. They still sell Dan Barker’s music after all. (And coming out could be good, there might be a big publicity boost. Maybe you could time it with the release of a new CD).

    Coming out *could* be bad. I remember when Amy Grant tried to cross over and everyone I knew would say “she’s not even a christian anymore” Christians are pretty unforgiving, and just as gossipy and can’t wait to tear down their celebrities just like normal people. But people would still buy her CDs saying “this is good, from when she was a REAL christian” so she just had to put up with the annoyance of former fans but not necessarily with a decline in income. You’d have to ask her I guess if you know her, I don’t.

    Here is my shameless name dropping opportunity: I used to have a record contract with Frontline Records. Though since I have no royalties anymore I have no problem coming out 🙂 That experience was enough for me to realize Christians are no better than anyone else, and if it’s not in writing in a contract then a person’s word means nothing. Of course that’s how I know they are not going to put being angry that someone’s not a christian ahead of making money on their music.

  • prospera

    There is so much either/or talk that we start to believe there is actually a dividing line. In fact, there is not.

    The truth is, you are still the same person you were when you were writing the Christian songs. If you are an artist who is honest and genuine, people relate to your songs because they come from your heart as a fellow human being. I’m willing to bet that it was not the “Christian” label of your songs that your fans loved as much as the human-ness in the words they could relate to.

    You don’t necessarily have to write from the opposite side of that phantom line even if you no longer write Christian songs.

    As far as your atheism, it’s none of their business.

  • Heidi

    … You won a Grammy?? AWESOME!!! Congratulations!

    I don’t see any conflict at all. You were no longer comfortable writing Christian music, so now you aren’t. Good for you. You didn’t win a Grammy because you were a Christian. You won it because you’re a talented musician.

    If somebody asks when your next Christian album is coming out, just say something like “oh, I’ve said all I had to say in that genre, and I’ve decided to go in a new direction.” Get a solid footing in your new styles (if you haven’t already), and if the time ever comes that you feel comfortable speaking out, do it then.


    Elvis and Berlin did NOT do religious music.

    Erm, Elvis did SO do religious music. Elvis Ultimate Gospel

  • SickoftheUS

    Heidi wrote:

    Erm, Elvis did SO do religious music. Elvis Ultimate Gospel

    Nobody confused Mr. Swivel Hips for a religious personality, and in that sense he didn’t do religious music, like most “Christian music” fans expect of their performers. Elvis was a southern boy who sometimes performed the music he was brought up in. The fact that he later performed regularly in Vegas and that his drug use wasn’t much of a secret, for example, also demonstrate that he didn’t create a false persona for his fans in that regard.

    To what degree are Grammys awarded on popularity of music? If this performer knows that his music would have been less popular by outing himself as an atheist, then he may be also struggling with the meaningfulness of his Grammy.

  • muggle

    Stop beating yourself up — and stop deleting fans because that’s just not nice. (Unless, of course, they’re getting downright nasty and threatening towards you or other fans.)

    First of all, when you did the Christian music, if I’m understanding it right, you had some questions but were, basically, Christian. No hypocrisy whatsoever. Then when you moved away from believing to disbelief, you wrote secular music instead. Again, no hypocrisy.

    Now, however, you have this dilemma about your old songs. Why I told you to stop beating yourself up over it is that you were true to yourself at all times and your music expressed who you were at the time. Nothing, absolutely nothing, to feel guilty about.

    Now, I don’t know who you are and it’s likely I wouldn’t recognize your name as I’ve never followed Christian music so that doesn’t matter. What does matter is this: you obviously have some talent. I may or may not like your music if I heard it. Again, doesn’t matter. You have some talent or you wouldn’t have enjoyed the success you have.

    What I’m saying here is have confidence in your talent. You may — or may not — lose some of your fan base. Most likely, you’ll lose some, keep some and gain some new. So it’s a wash.

    Be honest now but politely so. Put yourself in their shoes and see how they could feel disappointed and betrayed and tell them the truth but tactfully. And don’t delete the religious comments unless they grow hateful. That just looks angry and impatient and fuels the stupid “angry at God” arguments.

    I have trouble being this graceful myself but find some way of tactfully thanking them but saying I wrote this music at a stage in my life when I believed those things. I have now come to doubt many of the things I held true but music is universal and the songs hold an emotional feeling that all humans can relate to even if they don’t believe or agree with the lyrics.

    In other words, let them down gently. Wouldn’t you want to be in their shoes? But, in any case, move on and branch out. Heck there’s whole genres of music that cater to disbelief. Up to you if you want to go that strongly or not but continue to make music and express yourself honestly. We all change and grow over a lifetime. This isn’t probably the only change you will make.

    I remember hearing that Paul McCartney regretted writing “Live and Let Die” (one of his best songs if you ask me) because his views had changed. He survived it; you can too.

    So move on, be you, continue to express yourself musically appreciate the fans who stay, understand those who don’t and treasure new fans you will inevitably pick up.

    One final note: I’m a huge fan of Tommy James and Shondells. Have been since I was a kid (which dates me). Back then, we didn’t split rock music up into all these stupid genres. Rock was rock. But given some of his lyrics: “all of His children, every nation” “to save us, he gave us” to just hit on a couple, it’s likely he’d be labelled Christian rock today. Can’t be certain but a good chance of it. Don’t care, still love the music and still sing it happily at the top of my lungs.

    Heck, Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken” even and that’s a deeply religious song. I won’t buy his music for his declaration of wanting to convert all kids to Islam and not sure of what I’m funding if I do but, man, I’ll still sing along to that song if I hear it playing. I bought an album of ’60’s hits recently and my daughter was asolutely cracking up at her head-strong out-spoken Atheist mother belting out “Put Your Hand in the Hand” along with the CD.

  • muggle

    SickoftheUS, are you saying that Christians can’t swivel their hips, do drugs or play in Vegas? If so, are you kidding? I bet you ask almost anyone was Elvis Christian, they’d say yes.

    Disclaimer: I can’t stand Elvis anyway so it doesn’t matter much to me either way.

  • May I suggest that you redact which artists the person wrote for? That could substantially narrow the field. I suspect that with the other elements mentioned (Facebook, the move to the East Coast after time in Nashville, etc.) this would likely be enough to identify the individual.

  • SickoftheUS

    muggle wrote:

    …are you saying that Christians can’t swivel their hips, do drugs or play in Vegas? If so, are you kidding? I bet you ask almost anyone was Elvis Christian, they’d say yes.

    Christian icons, like Christian music performers, generally can’t flaunt the rules and keep their status. Elvis may have been a Christian, and people may have believed that, but that wasn’t integral to his success or public persona. He wasn’t a “Christian” performer.

    Can a televangelist confess to being an atheist and keep his popularity?

  • Gauldar

    Some bands use the guise to get their foot in the door, but once they get famous, they gladly shed it.

  • Evilspud

    I’d be careful, there’s already a smattering of christians who believe the satanic church controls the industry. It’s completely irrelevant to the matter at hand, but that won’t stop people raised to believe non-christian themes are satanic.

    Tread lightly Auto, whatever happens, rumors will be circulated, by christians who are as hypocritical by judging you as they think you are for leaving the faith you found a muse in.

  • Aj


    Some bands use the guise to get their foot in the door, but once they get famous, they gladly shed it.

    Amy Lee says she didn’t want to be marketed as a Christian band. Chevelle also said that it was a accident they were on a Christian label. These bands weren’t overtly Christian. I don’t think the bands were famous on Christian labels. It also shows that the Christian labels don’t give a shit what they’re marketing as Christian.

    Overtly Christian themed bands and marketed bands tend to be highly derivative, it seems as if they’re happy to rudimentary copy contemporary music style and slap on unimaginative lyrics sourced from their church. It’s hard to tell whether they’re just trying to sell music to the gullible, or they’re just not very talented musicians trying to proselytise. I don’t get Christian music, I wouldn’t buy half-assed music that’s got a pro-science or pro-skepticism message. Nina Persson, Free Dominguez, and Johnny Cash write songs with Christian themes but they aren’t marketed as such, and they seem to put a lot more thought and effort into them.

  • As a long-time fan and promoter of “CCM”, and having been involved in various extents of that ministry, I sympathize with your plight, as there is so much commercialized pestestalizing of simply talented musicians to the point where if you even hint that you have struggles, doubts or problems, you’re ostracized at worst, overly criticized at best… but that’s to be expected when you were fed the illusion of “making it” with a group of very imperfect and hypocritical people (of which I’ll attempt to include myself and try to sound humble about it). The “Christian” world sets people up for failure the moment they find out you have entertainment value…

    Granted, it doesn’t help that calling a blue kettle black doesn’t make it so… I don’t think it would be far-fetched to guess that if you were to interview all self-promoted Christians everywhere, and compare their stories and lives with the Bible’s description of what a Christian is (or how he/she becomes one), you’d find that probably a good 90% must be illiterate because they haven’t a clue what the Bible even teaches on the subject… oh sure, they know John 3:16 and a few worship choruses, but who doesn’t? Hitler claimed to be a Christian, and even wrote some inspirational devotionals, but a closer examination of his writings (not to mention his resume) suggest he too grew disillusioned with what he thought to be authentic Christianity, and the rest is twisted history.

    My point is that I’ve seen a lot of Christians go into certifiable depression because of overly critical people who think they’re Christians just because their parents dunked them in water as a baby, and they vote Republican, and they might even go to church every Sunday, but have little practical understanding of what the Bible even teaches about things Jesus majored in like grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness… considering how little they practice it in a way that shows.

    And the remaining 10% (in which I believe I fit)? We’re just as bad as the other 90% because while we may know our Bibles, we’re still selfish, stubborn and stunted in our growth… and it doesn’t help, of course, that familiarity breeds contempt. Speaking for myself and others in that 10% that actually care about you even though you’re deliberately anonymous (and have no desire to make you feel worse than you already do), I appreciate your honesty, and (if He exists) I hope that God puts people in your life that will provide some encouragement (regardless of if you ever write another “Christian” song in your life) by people who understand and acknowledge that it’s actually okay as a believer to have periods of doubts, nagging questions, and even brief losses of faith (no matter what their origin)… as long as you stay open minded to ALL the options, and not just one particular alternate route that worries you what people will think. If the God of the Bible (that is criticized mercilessly by those that have plenty of room to talk as they’ve done everything right and have a corner on truth that just happens to agree in principles and experiences with 10,000 other deconversionists… I’m sorry, I’m just tired of not seeing much originality in modern arguments) is actually true, He’s far more patient (than any of His followers) and He’s okay with your questions. I just hope the day will come when people in the church will quit giving celebrity status to others for having talents, and just treat everybody as if they recognize that everyone has gifts that should be valued, which is actually what the Bible teaches. I also hope to win the lottery without playing… so guess we’re stuck with idiots that give a horrible reputation to a God who still cares about the rest of you reading this response (and wondering why I had to interrupt the flow) whether you believe He exists (or has the right to do what you call monstrosities as if He has to ask permission from the skeptics to continue to practice as a holy and just God).

    Bottom line, find someone of faith that you absolutely trust and tell them where you’re at… gauge their response. If you can’t find anybody, drop me an anonymous email to dougengle76 at gmail and I’ll be happy to converse with you about other ways the “church” continues to fail people (but why it’s still okay since it’s not about them anyway), and try to work with you thru your trials and perhaps find some badly needed closure to all of this.

    In Christ’s love,
    Doug Engle

    P.S. To those of you that see nothing but bunny-trailing, I’m sorry… it’s 5:30 am here and I haven’t been to bed, I just wanted to contribute and hope I didn’t piss too many of you off by my disconnected half-asleep rhetoric.

  • By the way, in my first paragraph, I used the term pestestalizing where I meant to say pedestalizing (which is also not a word but it more accurately conveys what I was trying to communicate). I hate self-inflicted typos, even at 5:30 am.

    Also, to those of you that suspect I might be fun to debate with sometime (and probably intellectually annihilate the first few rounds because it takes me awhile to warm up before I say anything worth considering), you’re welcome to add me to Facebook, and we’ll give it a go sometime… I love learning new perspectives from people that disagree with me, and attempting to challenge them with unique not-run-of-the-mill arguments (although I’m well versed in the ones that are so popular for dissection on the freethinker forums, like Pascal and etc. But it’s a love for constantly evolving knowledge that makes some of us tick… digitally, isn’t it? (Sorry, this last paragraph has nothing to do with the original article, I just wanted to throw it in for kicks… and I’m overdue for a good challenge).

  • alehm

    I would encourage the artist to break away from the Christian scene if he is an athiest.

    The main rule is music I hear is to be true to yourself. Many would argue you are selling out to the christian crowd. However my aunt, who is an artist (nonmusician), said when she was younger she would never change her art for anyone now that she is older she would gladly do whatever people would pay for. So maybe it’s not about selling out but providing a service for what people want.

    Anyway, I would wager any successful Christian artist coming out as an athiest would get front page on and Yahoo. Can’t buy that publicity.

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