Can an Atheist Love Religious Music? July 5, 2012

Can an Atheist Love Religious Music?

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  • asonge

    To take this in a slightly different direction, the Christian music industry out there that’s producing contemporary Christian music is doing a fairly horrible job. They’re often criticized for taking inspiration from “secular” music and instead of fully expressing the style of the music, aping it and bowdlerizing it into something ultra-sanitized and devoid of humanity. David Bazan (one of my favorite artists) moved out early from what he called “the ghetto of Christian culture”, even when he was a Christian because he wanted his music to be good for itself and not in the service to an ideal, choosing instead to be an “indie rock” artist who was a Christian rather than a “Christian indie rock artist”. I think this is where a lot of the hate towards some of Christian music comes from, that the products that the supporting industry produces is just not up to snuff compared to the more competitive artists in the market.

    That said, when it comes to music, sometimes the powers of the music are expressed in the acceptable context of the time period and sometimes it’s directly inspired by it. But when it comes to this kind of music, I don’t know if I have to be worried about good Christian music, particularly hymns and older music that the RCC commissioned, because I see them as human accomplishments, even though their meanings may be perverse. I remember reading some of the X-rated lyrics of some Sousa marches I was playing in high school and being bowled over at the raucous nature of the music and the harshness towards slaves. That said, the words for most of the songs have mostly disappeared due to their ugly nature, leaving only the notes behind (the notes being the genius part of the work). But in other situations (like, say, Amazing Grace), I’ve been disappointed to hear in a UU congregation, the politically correct change of “wretch” to “someone” or something more mild…it seems to me to castrate the meaning of the song, though the doctrine of original sin be perverse so they could believe the words of the song. To me, it’s all too easy to even recite the words and pull up some kind of meaning in them without actually believing in nonsense like original sin.

  • Of course! I love gospel music. The soundtrack to Oh Brother, Where Art Thou… I mean, how can anyone not love that?

    I’m mainly a metalhead though, and I can’t help but chuckle at the Christian death metal acts. But who cares? I even bust out the occasional Jars of Clay album.

  • I’ve been atheistic my whole life, but something about traditional sacred music–both performing it and seeing it performed–gives me a feeling that must be similar to the reverence that religious people feel when they pray.
    I absolutely love it. I’m not ashamed of that.

  • mk919973

    I love old church hymns “it is well” is a personal favorite.

  • Andrew Morgan

    I can’t imagine a life without the canon of religious Western art music.  To lose “just” Bach’s works alone — the cantatas, the B minor mass, St Matthew Passion, etc — or to cut them out of your life because of their content, would be tragic.

  • Its totally possible for an Atheist to like religious music.

    Every Christmas I go out of my way to head over to the Harmony Lunch, its about 20 minutes from my house and if you’re ever in Waterloo you owe to yourself to try the cheese burgers and chilli, ’cause Bruce has a functional jukebox with old 45s in it and every Christmas he loads it up with all the old favourites (only place I can hear Snoopy’s Christmas, my all time favourite Christmas song) and I always drop a quarter in to listen to Bing Crosby and David Bowie’s rendition of “The Little Drummer” boy.  Its just such a beautiful piece of music.I’m also partial to “Oh Holy Night” too, its got a nice cadence and rhythm to it that just makes it a joy to listen to.

  • WoodwindsRock

    Of course we can! Renaissance choral music is one of my favorite types of music nowadays. I’m not really into Christian rock, though (which I never was as an Christian either).

  • John

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say “love” but I can tolerate and appreciate
    classical music that is religious, but this new Praise and Worship is
    just melancholy, saccharin crap.

  • raytheist

    I thoroughly old tyme Southern Gospel — the four-part harmony old style of the pioneers of Southern Gospel radio from the 40s, 50s, 60s,and 70s.   Modern “contemporary” or “praise” music is crap. 

  • CassandraJK

    I absolutely agree. During most of the last 600 years the Church was the the major (and in some places the only) patron of the arts. “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” will always be one of my favorites. Bach, Haydn, Handel, and all of the Baroque composers are wonderful regardless for whom their music was written.

    As far as more modern songs, even though I was raised in a completely secular home, “Amazing Grace” will make me cry every time. It was my grandfather’s favorite hymn from his childhood and I sang it at his funeral.

  • Lightnin’ Lives

    Most definitely. There are some great classic bluegrass and gospel songs that have religious undertones. What I like to do is learn how to play those types of songs on my guitar and then rework the lyrics into secular anthems. Good times! I call it psuedo gospel music.

  • Lindatseed

    After I lost my religious beliefs, I used to feel a little guilty that I still liked some religious music. But music is music. Besides, I realized that if I can sing ‘Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer’ without really believing that reindeer can fly, I can listen to religious songs without believing the message they convey.

  • LesterBallard

    Prayer has no efficacy, but I love listening to Alison Krauss sing Down to the River to Pray. The Oh Brother soundtrack is great.

  • ortcutt

    When it comes to the religious music of the last millenium, it’s mainly secular ensembles who are performing it and recording it.  Is the Catholic Church recording albums of Perotin and Dufay?  Is the Lutheran Church recording Bach?  No.  It’s professional musicians doing the performing and musicologists in universities doing the scholarship.  The simple fact is that the secular world does a better job of preserving the cultural heritage of religion than religion does.  We’re better at their job than they are.

  • The church music of the Baroque period will always be my favourite. Some Bluegrass Gospel is pretty good, too.
    That garbage they call “Contemporary Christian”, well, it’s totally crap. Most of it’s a minor-key dirge that couldn’t uplift a helium balloon.

  • MyScienceCanBeatUpYourGod

    There has been all sorts of
    great music composed about fictional characters. I can enjoy a painting
    of Jesus the same way I enjoy a Spiderman comic. Fiction is an integral
    part of culture. It’s only a problem when fans get so crazed they insist
    its not fiction…

  • Joe Zamecki

    Reading the comments here, is there any way for an Atheist to NOT like religious music?? Is that humanly possible?  lol

    I’d like to throw my hat in. Religion taints. If the message is meant to promote religion, that’s all I need to hear. Music has been abused. There’s a line in the sand, so to speak, and no amount of catchy melody brings me across that line. I’m on this side. 

    A lot of music has been ruined, and can be discarded, imho. We can do better, and already are.  ;o)

  • Tyrrlin Flamestrike


    Music is music.  One can appreciate the melodic line, the rich harmony, the skill of the performers, the tone color of the instrumentation, etc etc etc, without subscribing to the beliefs within.  I have selections from “Godspell” in my iTunes because I like the music, not because I believe 

  • Andrew

    I am both a professional musician and an atheist. I sing at a church every week and am paid to do so. Much of the music I get to sing is quite beautiful, and I really enjoy singing it.

  • CelticWhisper

    Religious subject matter has been a turnoff to me for as long as I can remember, but the sound of the music is another story.  I had always had a weakness for the sound of choirs.  There’s something about that many voices singing in perfect unison that’s just…powerful.  Of course, knowing that most of what I was hearing was all about Lordy McJesusGod left a bad taste in my mouth and I could never completely comfortably enjoy it.  Being a gamer nerd, I remember being bowled over by the title screen music to the ’95 PC game “Phantasmagoria,” with its creepy, ominous Latin vocals, and again by Squaresoft’s late-90s RPG soundtracks (notwithstanding the back-alley-organ-transplant translation jobs they did on the lyrics).  Those were so few and far between, though, that I latched onto them as being the few things I could scrounge up to listen to, and quickly burned out on them.

    Like Mike D, I’m primarily a metalhead, and so you can imagine my elation when I discovered acts like Epica, Nightwish, Sirenia, Mortemia, and sweet, sweet, amazing Therion.  Epica and Therion in particular are great because both make splendid use of choirs (see any of Epica’s album title tracks, particularly DYU, Cry for the Moon, and The Last Crusade; see just about anything by Therion, but the Secret of the Runes album is a sure thing) and both deflate the importance of modern mainstream monotheism – Therion by featuring music about a staggering variety of mythoi of ages past and Epica by more of a direct lyrical assault on the wrongdoings of the institution of the church as it exists today.

  • Bob Becker

    This blog is a regular reading stop. Minimum of trollism, questions of some worth frequently posed, interestingly discussed. But gotta tell ya, H, “can an atheist love religious music” is probably the silliest damn question you’ve asked on this blog since I started reading it a long time ago.  Of course he or she can. The music stands or falls on its own merits as music and it matters not a tinker’s dam if it’s a requiem, a mass or a hymn.  Surely no rational person would argue that The Messiah is not worth listening to because there isn’t one. 

  • Patrick

    I’m a big fan of religious music in languages I don’t speak.  Like Krishna Das.  I know its worship music, but its good music.  And since I not only don’t understand the words, but also don’t know anyone, anywhere who actually worships with it (not counting the parents of Indian friends), the fact that its worship music registers about… about as much as if it were elven worship music from Tolkien.  Its fantasy music to me, in my context, rather than religious.

    I think I’ll go listen to some now, in fact.

  • Why not? Music has no belief or faith. Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 really moves me, but it’s the music, not the sentiment (in Latin…)

  • Emb

    give me a good gospel baptist hymn and I will even find the light!  well no I wont, but it does do wonder for the soul… ….. what ever that means to you.

  • dorothy30

    Edward Tarte is a favorite of mine – he loves the same type of music my mother used to play, and i know and love all the old hymns, including Holy Holy Holy, because of the nostalgia of singing them as a child. The lyrics are now meaningless, but the music is still lovely.
    Ottcutt, you nailed it. I studied voice, and oratorio (sort of a religious version of opera) is a requirement for a diploma or degree in vocal performance. I now sing in a semiprofessional community choir. We perform all the major choral works, and can’t escape religion. I have felt frustrated and guilty about this, but the music has merit so i just ignore the lyrics. Our upcoming concert season included Bruckner’s Mass in e minor and Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Our major audience is the arts community, not churches.

  • I love “The Little Drummer Boy” It is my favorite Christmas song. Below is a very classic version of it and I still love it.

  • LesterBallard

    Does “raytheist” mean you’re a Ray Comfort “fan”?

  • raerants

    I have a friend who is a more thoughtful, skeptical atheist than I am and his iTunes is filled with all sorts of Christian and Gospel music (among other things). He is a serious music lover, and the fact that the lyrics carry a religious message is immaterial to him.

    I’m more of a de facto atheist who’s only recently begun to look more studiously into the critical thinking behind skepticism. I was also raised in a mostly non-observant Jewish household. I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the way I discovered that many religious-oriented songs make me feel uncomfortable. If I am asked to sing along to popular ones (such as Silent Night), I tend to merely hum or “ah-ah-ah” over key passages. But that’s just me and my own particular quirks and hang-ups.

    I’m fine if it’s an instrumental version or if the piece is not in English or the words are otherwise incomprehensible to me. (I have no trouble singing Silent Night in German.) I also own CDs of Indian ragas.

  • DoctorDJ

    The for past 3 or 4 centuries The Church has been the only “paying” entity to support a musician. So it’s no surprise that some of the best musicians writing some of the best music have been writing liturgical music.
    You don’t have to “believe” it, just enjoy it.

  • I pretty much love this song, which is most likely the Harvard Humanists theme song…

  • Edward Tarte

    Hello, CassandraJK. I invite you, at YouTube, to search tarte jesu. I hope that you will enjoy my piano version of J.S. Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”.

  • EdwardTarte

    Bob Becker, while the overwhelming majority of commenters say the answer is yes, at least one apparently rational and thoughtful commenter (Joe Zamecki) says no. I hope that you viewed and enjoyed the video.

  • Peter Tibbles

    You bet they can. 

    I regularly list to Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s
    St Matthew Passion (and less often to the St John Passion), Brahms’ Requiem, Haydn’s
    Creation, anything by Hildegard, Josquin de Prez (although he really isn’t a great
    flag bearer for Christianity) , and on and on. 
    These are sublime pieces of music. 
    It probably helps that they aren’t in English so I can just appreciate
    the musicality without getting bogged down by the words.


  • Edward Tarte

    Dorothy30, because of what you say in your comment, I have two suggestions. I invite you, at YouTube, to search mr music Mendelssohn symphony 2, and also mr music Beethoven missa solemnis. Whatever music you enjoy, happy listening:)

  • Most modern religious music is schlock.  There are only a few simple themes (1. God is an awesome God, 2. I’m not worthy 3. I’m such a good Christian 4. Isn’t it great to be us special people), and it has very low production value.

    I like a lot of classical religious music.  Lauridsen’s arrangement of O Magnum Mysterium is pretty modern… and it’s a great song.

    There are certain ways to make music that is more appealing to people (that can very by culture), and it just happens that religion figured the trick out first and leveraged it.

  • Edward Tarte

    Hello, Rob U. I invite you, at YouTube, to search Tarte holy night.

  • Edward Tarte

    Hello, Andrew. Do you know Brahms’ “A German Requiem”? I invite you, at YouTube, to search mr music Brahms German requiem. Whatever music you enjoy, happy listening:)

  • Bob Becker

    On the video, you separate out the lyrics from the music, treating the former as, almost, a legal brief to be refuted on objective grounds. But song involves both lyrics and music merged into a single coherant whole, and I think ought to be judgrd as a coherant whole, as an artistic experience. When I first heard Judy Collins belt out “Amazing Grace” a capella more years ago than I like to recall, I was enthralled. Didn’t take the time then (or since) to analyze the words separate from the performance.

  • I don’t ‘love Christian music’ in the sense that it’s a genre I follow and keep up to date with – but I do love the music I used to listen to and used to connect deeply with as a Christian. I love the sound, and there’s definitely an emotional ‘imprint’ – like smelling something and being transported to a time or place in your imagination, listening to some Christian music I loved as a Christian makes me feel relaxed or happy. You could probably replace most of the words pertaining to God and it would still have the same effect. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    Eh. There are a couple Christian music songs that I like because the message is vague enough that I can apply it to something else mentally. 

  • Baby_Raptor

    I love Jars of Clay. 

    Worlds Apart has always been a personal favorite. 

  • Keulan

    I love a lot of classical music by Bach, Handel, and others, even though I know it’s religious. Here’s an example of a more recent song that I like (from one of my favorite video games, Civilization 4) that’s apparently religious. The lyrics are the Lord’s Prayer in Swahili.

    Chalk me up as another atheist who likes some religious music. I can’t stand Contemporary Christian music though. That stuff is just awful.

  • Baby_Raptor

    I know the feeling. I stopped being a Christian almost 10 years ago, but I still listen through my old DC Talk or Newsboys or Jars of Clay cds once in awhile. It just still speaks. 

  • Can a Christian love a tale from Greek mythology? Or religious music inspired by something other than Christianity?

    Anybody who refuses to even look for beauty in art inspired by something they don’t happen to find inspiring themselves, or happen to believe in, is a sorry soul.

  • May I humbly suggest an Athiest/Secular project (perhaps cataloged at this site) to rewrite alternative secular, non-supernatural, humanistic lyrics to all beloved church compositions we run across? Much like Jefferson’s revised bible project?

  • You might enjoy Anita Mui singing the Heart Sutra. Beautiful.

  • Ian Reide

    A while back, an atheist women I knew casually surprised me by inviting me to a church event where she was singing in a choir. Something I did not know about here was that she was heavily into singing. I debated with myself whether or not to go (not so much the ethics of me hanging in a church, but rather where I could struggle through the tediousness of a sermon before the music—in the days before ipods). I went, glad I did. The music sweet and touching.

  • Mike

    wow, flashbacks to my upbringing with that song. Bad memories. Still like Kyrie Elison and Ava Marie, partially because I don’t speak latin and can focus on the music. Some Gregorian chant every now and then is nice too.

  • Sindigo

    I know a couple of Atheists who sing in Christian choirs. Personally, I spent far too much time in church as a kid to ever listen to choral music again.

    That said, parts of Handel’s Messiah make me weep a little.

  • Liberated Liberal

    I have an affection for what is traditionally known as Christmas music.  I love good Christmas albums!

    My SO and I were making fabulous fun of a Christian radio station the other day.  We actually had to run inside and look up one of the songs, because it was so terrible; a platitude fest!  It was actually a big hit several years ago.  He now likes to repeat the lyrics to me several times a day :D.

  • Drowzee64

    I can appreciate the beauty of some of the more old fashioned sounding Christian music, but the religious content still puts me off greatly. I can pretend the song has nothing to do with Christianity if the lyrics are written in a language I don’t understand or if there are no lyrics at all.  I got pissed off when I was forced to sing such songs in my school’s choir, however. I was being forced to promote a message I didn’t (and still don’t) believe in.Contemporary Christian music is usually complete crap, plus it reminds me of the music from the megachurch I was forced to attend for several years. Squick.
    Some songs have a vague message that could or could not be interpreted as religious. Some songs have religious elements but the overall message is very good. I might like those.A few songs are really, really religious but I inexplicably love them anyways.

  • rafek

    I don’t really get videos that starts with “can atheist do this or that”. I love old gregorian or buddhist chants, don’t feel like I shouldn’t listen because it’s about god and what not. For me it’s not fairy tale’ish bs but great, mostly talented artists. 

  • rafek

    which means I agree with this video, musical value over others 🙂

  • My husband and I are atheists. I love singing in a group and am part of a great choir. Most of the time I can put the religious lyrics of  some of the pieces out of my mind. It may seem strange that a vocalist wouldn’t really care about lyrics, but the music has always been the important part for me. My metalhead/gamer/computer nerd husband (who also likes to sing) focuses so much on the lyrics that he can’t really even enjoy the occasional choir concert. The inevitable religious content ruins it for him. I’ll have to check out some of the artists you mentioned.

  • raytheist

    hahaha… no.   My name is Ray and I am atheist.   

  • Trickster Goddess

    Growing up I always found most of the hymns sung in our church sounded like tedious dirges. Then I visited my aunt who had moved to the US and she attended a predominantly African-American church and I discovered Black Gospel music and have loved it ever since. The music soothes and soars the spirit instead of being solemn and worshipful.

  • ThomasPaine1786

    I got chills listening to Mr. Tarte play “Holy Holy Holy.” I have been out of church for about 4 years now but the music can still stir quite the emotional reaction in me. I used to attribute that to the presence of the holy spirit. Now I realize it is just chemistry. But great art will always inspire awe in human beings. Thanks for reminding us.  

  • Tainda

    I love listening to Amazing Grace.  The words don’t mean anything to me but I love the melody.  I’m also a big fan of Xmas songs lol  No clue why but I am

  • Edward Tarte

    Hello, ThomasPaine1786. I inviteyou, at YouTube, to search Tarte holy city. I hope that you will enjoy that video.

  • eonL5

    I’ve been enjoying Epica a bit, too. A little … well… overly-epic, you might say (bombastic, maybe? or just derivative) but not bad. 

    As a lifelong atheist who loves to sing, though, I’ve been in a lot of choirs and choruses and sung a lot of religious music, ignoring the words and enjoying the musicality. But singing Mendelssohn’s Elijah a couple of years ago was… kinda shocking. I hadn’t known that story and though the tunes were cool, the words — in English — were rather hard to spit out. It’s much easier when the text is German or Latin. I’ll take Orff’s Carmina Burana any day! If you don’t know it, it’s kind of the antithesis of all that religious cr… uh, stuff. Oh, and for anybody familiar with the title piece from that, here’s some silliness spoofing off of it:

  • Scott Gibbons

    Hope this makes sense, as I am completely flattened with the flu at this moment 🙂

    I am an atheist (ex christian) and have studied music since my teens. I hold a degree in music. 

    In any lengthy and serious music education there is no way to avoid religious music. From a musicological point of view one studies and appreciates all music from the context of its cultural and historical setting.

    I also spent some years as a bassist in a christian rock band.

    Given my education and experience of music practice I can’t completely abandon religious music simply because I do not believe the message or support the institutions that brought it into being.

    My (very) eclectic music collection contains everything from Gregorian/Byzantine Chant, through Corelli & Bach, to various forms of 20th century Gospel. This is along side Classical, Romantic, Jazz, Blues, Rock, and even Death & Black Metal. 

    I always take the music itself on its technical merits and the enjoyment I get from the listening. Any message in the music is taken objectively in the context of the cultural and historical setting it came from.

    It is certainly possible for this atheist to enjoy religious music.

    Try listening to Aretha doing ‘Happy Day’ or ‘Old Landmark’ sometime. The Queen at her best. 🙂

  • walkamungus

    Hell yeah. I get chills during the Messiah, especially during “Unto Us a Child is Born.” The best Christmas song I can think of is Mahalia Jackson’s recording of “What Child is This.” I love spirituals, settings for the mass, bluegrass gospel, etc., etc., etc. I’d hate to have to give up George Strait’s “I Saw God Today” or Johnny Cash’s “Oh, Bury Me Not” or Don Rigsby & Midnight Call’s “The Voice of God.”

    I’ve been an atheist all my life.

  • Singing was always the most “spiritual” moment for me. Other than that I never felt much. When I would pray, I would feel some comfort, not unlike feeling comfort when you hug a teddy bear. But I would always feel reassured that my faith was real whenever we would sing. 

  • That’s deep.

  • We sang that song in my choir!
    I think a huge part of why some religious music is so good is because it’s meant to be sung as a group of people. That’s not something we experience often outside of a church and it’s an amazing feeling/sound.
    I enjoy solo singers and I like singing when I’m by myself, but there is nothing quite like a group of people coming together to sing.

  • Michael Brice


    I am atheist and I listen to a HUGE amount of religious music, Bob Marley (and his offspring), Toots and the Maytalls, Heptones, Culture, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Desmond Dekker, U-roy, Abyssinians etc…………………
    Roll a spliff, play dread music on de stereo an’ dance!

    p.s. Alison Krause also has a fabulous voice, and ‘Down to the River to Pray’ is an awesome song. Not too danceable tho’

  • Michael Brice

    I am atheist and I listen to a HUGE amount of religious music, Bob Marley (and his offspring), Toots and the Maytalls, Heptones, Culture, Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Desmond Dekker, U-roy, Abyssinians etc…………………Roll a …………, play dread music on de stereo an’ dance!
    p.s. Alison Krause also has a fabulous voice, and ‘Down to the River to Pray’ is an awesome song. Not too danceable tho’

    Seriously! did someone flag my post because of a ‘smoking’ reference?

  • noyourgod

    I am an atheist who has never really believed in a god, yet two of my favorite pieces of music are the soundtracks from Jesus Christ Superstar (original Broadway version, not the movie – the Broadway jesus had a much better voice) and Godspell.

    I also really enjoy the music from the original Star Trek movies.  And even some Lady Gaga stuff, along with the Beatles, and Pink Floyd.

     I don’t see anybody asking if I believed in The Force, though, nor wondering when I was going to start dressing in bizarre costumes, or wearing a moptop, or carrying around a floating pig.

    For better or worse, religion and other superstitions have been the muse of many artists over the years. 

    For those people who want their music to remain free of any influence that they might not like, might I suggest the following?


  • LesterBallard

    Okay. We sometimes call his followers “Raytheists”. Thought you were being ironic.

  • Scrampbelled

    Considering every major art form began as religious expression (or pornography), it’s nearly impossible to avoid religion in the reproduction of any art, prior to the 19th century.

    I view artistic expression as prayer, and then you can define “prayer” anyway you like: as heartfelt desire, gratitude, the recognition of things greater than yourself.

  • raytheist

    oohhhh… oops.  No.  I’m also a yarn dyer/knitting designer, so just to stir the pot among the opposition, I tell them I am the Chief Raytheist at the Church of the Holey Knitivity.  hehehe   Wasn’t aware the Banana Man’s followers also had the term given to them.  

  • snoozn

    Beautiful playing!

    My favorite hymn from childhood, which I still love, is Onward Christian Soldiers. I still love it, but I do find the lyrics a bit chilling, especially with the current rise of Christian militants. On the other hand, I cannot stand to listen to Ted Nugent anymore even though I liked “Cat Scratch Fever” (well, I guess that was his one and only hit…) when I was a kid. I think the difference is that Onward Christian Soldiers is an old hymn, so I don’t feel that by listening to it I’m expressing support of any particular loathsome person. But since Ted is still around I don’t want to have any association or to be seen as expressing any modicum of support for anything he does.

    So, sure, morals can affect a persons’ ability to love or enjoy something, but it’s a pretty gray area.

  • Marco Conti

    Of course. I listen to Mozart, Verdi and Schnittke Requiems all the time.  As well as gospel and some opera arias with religious themes. Not to mention Johnny Cash and his gospels.
    For that matter, I am big fan of orthodox iconography and the last time I visited the Sistine Chapel I had a kink in my neck for a week.If I had to eliminate all the religious themed art I would be left with a much poorer choice. But just because this art exists, it does not make gods or Jesus existence anymore true.

  • Ee3177

    Good Christian music is not limited to past centuries.  I revere ancient, medieval, early modern and victorian hymns, but there’s plenty impressive, interesting Christian music being written today that gets no play on Christian contemporary radio stations or in megachurches (or any churches at all).  These are some of my favorites, but there are a lot more:
    Sufjan Stevens:
    The Welcome Wagon:–HZ0tmo
    Danielson Famile:
    Half-Handed Cloud:

  • walkamungus

    Oh, and I had an opportunity recently to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse. Utterly fantastic. 

  • Sharon Crawford

    I am mad for Handel, Bach, that whole period. All of it religious. I play (and sing all the parts) of Messiah at christmas. Drives my hubby up a wall but not because it’s religious but because I sing it so badly.

  • Sharon Crawford

    Now you go too far! 😉
    I would cheerfully take every version of that “song” and sink all of them in the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. It scores a perfect 10 on the cheesy scale, which now needs revision to accommodate “Christmas Shoes.”
    I didn’t think it was possible to out-smarm Little Drummer Boy but the Creators of Horrible Dreck continue to surpass themselves.

  • Birdie1986

    O Holy Night is one of my favorite songs of all time.  I cannot help starting to weep when it says “Fall on your knees!  Oh, hear the Angel voices!”  Not sure why, but one of the reasons that I like to celebrate Christmas (and, no, I don’t feel the need to call it “Xmas”) is that it makes me think of the good idea of Christ (since, really, Christ most likely didn’t even exist, he’s just an amalgamation of a bunch of good and bad ideas to me, anyway) as the Prince of Peace and Angels really being the idea of goodness.  It makes me very emotional to think that if we all embraced the ideas of peace and goodness and practiced them, without anybody worrying about some supernatural guy bringing it to us and making us do it, the world would be an even more awesome place. 

  • Ee3177

    Kind of like taking the “icthus” and making it into a symbol for Darwinism?  I don’t understand the atheist approach of appropriating Christian symbols for the purpose of mockery.  Maybe you don’t intend mockery with the revamping of these hymns, but why don’t atheists try to write their own canon of sacred (er…special?) songs?


  • Ee3177

    [That was a sincere question, by the way – I’m not trying to be purely sarcastic]

  • Noelle

    Me too! Me too! I love it too!

    This has to be the least argumentative post I’ve seen on here. 🙂

    Edward, you play beautifully.  And now you’ve got me singing Holy Holy Holy.  I never could learn to play an instrument well, but when I kick the rust off the vocal cords, they work well enough.  I wait until the husband’s out of the house, so I don’t hear snide comments about my singing.  I don’t make fun of him while he’s working out something on the piano.  It takes some singing to warm up and sound right.  And I’m not trained, so it’s just singing my favorites until the screech gets worked out. 

    Don’t knock the lyrics.  So what, there is no God.  Who cares?  This is poetry.  It rhymes so nice.  It uses words like “wert” and “art” and “earth and sky and sea”.  This is an exhilarating and powerful song.  I love it.

    My favorites to sing around the house are Be Thou My Vision, My Hope is Built on Nothing Less, Joyful Joyful, and well pretty much any hymn I remember from my church-going days.  They will know we are Christians by our love? I’m aware those lyrics are best served ironic, but that old hippie song reminds me of the first time I watched my mother sing in the church choir.  She’s gone now, but I have her voice and singing it reminds me of her.

    And anything and everything by Jars of Clay. 

  • Michael S

    I don’t know, but I can love The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars music without yielding to delusions in the real world.

  • machintelligence

     I had always had a weakness for the sound of choirs.  There’s something about that many voices singing in perfect unison that’s just…powerful.  

    Well then, you should try Spem in Alium by Thomas Tallis. It is a 40 part motet, (each voice sings a separate part) with the singers grouped in 8 choirs. Designed to be sung in an octagonal hall, with the audience in the center, even surround sound does not do it justice. It was written in the late 1500’s, purportedly for a birthday celebration of Queen Elizabeth I. Calling it ethereal is an understatement.

  • Thanks for this, listening right now – excellent rendition, I’ll be bookmarking that one.


    I love bluegrass music, much of which tends to be religious, but that doesn’t stop me. The Wailin Jennys is one of my favorite groups and some of their songs have christian messages, but honestly they could be singing about sandwiches and I’d like their music just as much. I also love the movie Amazing Grace- I don’t think we need to limit ourselves because of our non-beliefs. Religion is a big part of culture, history, and art. Why deprive ourselves of something we like to prove a point? …sounds like something a fundie would do….

  • nash984954

    As most likely being an atheist from day one as early as I can remember, though for a while I conformed to going to church, since I had no choice, the Methodist orphanage made us all go, but it wasn’t as bad as the one before that one, A Pentecostal one that physically beat into me that ‘god is love’, yes, you heard right.
    I love Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Requiem done by The Academy of St Martin in the Fields with Sir Neville Mariner, Conductor. I got the CD through the online Musical Heritage Society. I first heard my favorite selection of it during the Mozart burial scene in the movie “Amadeus” and it’s called III Sequentia: Lacrimosa. I also like listening to Schiller’s Ode to Joy In Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, as well as selections by Handel, and also Gloria in Excelsis deo of The Messiah. Call me weird but I hate religion but love some of their religious music. And I can’t say anything too awful bad about those Xians who participated in supporting the Methodist orphanage I was in, who twice each year, every Methodist Church congregation in South Carolina passed around their collection plates for us.

  • Xray

    Mr Tarte,  Thanks for the video.  It brought back memories from early childhood listening to that hymn in the Methodist church (before they were United Methodists).  At that time I had no understanding of what the Trinity meant.  [Does anyone?]  I stopped attending by age 13, but still like the old hymns.  I just pay as little attention to the meaning as I did when I was 7.

    By the way there is some wonderful church music written by that good atheist Ralph Vaughan Williams.

  • Greg

    Nicely done, Edward.

    No, you’re not alone as an atheist who loves and likes to perform religious music. Atheist musician/songwriter/professor Greg Graffin has been known to cover the occasional spiritual. He seems to prefer the folksy type.

    I’ve heard him quote George Carlin on one of these occasions:

    “The best thing about church is the music.”

  • My mother was the Choirmaster at our church when I was a kid.  Even though I don’t believe in god, those religious tunes will remind me of her beautiful, powerful voice forever.   “Holy Holy Holy” was one she used to do as a solo during communion.
    Those old gospel tunes and bluegrass rock as well, tunes like “Rank Strangers” and “May the Circle Be Unbroken.”  My enjoyment of theses songs is in no way lessened by my lack of belief any more than my love of The Lord of The Rings book is dampened by my lack of faith in Nazgul!

  • Anonymous Coward

    Musical taste is independent of religious belief, although faith can certainly be an influential factor.  Fondness and love, which are kinds of friendship, are atheistic in nature because they transcend religion (in fact, religions are often a means of organizing and imposing standards based on some of these, and many other, virtues).  I really like this write-up about “friendship” being an “atheistic value:”

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