“Atheists don’t have no songs”

Even the most die-hard anti-Christian is likely to concede that a lot of the music inspired by Christianity is excellent, although the words are often simply appalling. Growing up in the Methodist Church with its emphasis on singing, I used to love the hymns we sang in church and the Christmas carols.

As Steve Martin points out, atheists have no such songbooks. Here he and the Steep Canyon Rangers offer up one potential contribution.

Actually having our Sundays free in exchange for singing hymns in church looks like a pretty good deal for atheists.


  1. Sunny says

    I am thankful to be free of having to listen to the “speaking in tongues” aspect of Pentecostal Churches. Not to mention having to endure the three hour long services.

  2. godlesspanther says

    Yes, there are great hymns and there is the great old time singing, clapping, stomping gospel music. There is fantastic Christian art.

    But — is it reasonable to say that the good Christian stuff are just relics of days gone by?

    Because I see contemporary Christian art and music — it’s schlock. Garbage. Barfola.

  3. meanmike says

    @godlesspanther- Well said. I have always said of Christian rock that if it was any good it would be called rock.

  4. You Don't Know Jack says

    Sorry but that’s not a point I’m willing to concede. It’s mostly rubbish, familiar at best, painful at worst.

  5. Nathan & the Cynic says

    As a counterargument, I offer “St Matthew’s Passion” (Bach) and a wide assortment of other classical pieces.

  6. MikeyM says

    As Hank Hill told a Christian Rock musician, “You’re not making Christian music better; you’re making rock and roll worse.”

  7. Tim says

    Great tight harmonies in this song.

    Did Dave say “album”? Was he holding a record? (That was a pretty big CD cover!)

    Is Steve Martin putting out records again?


  8. says

    One doesn’t need to sing about the lack of a god to be an atheist song. There is more to us than lack of faith or science.

    We would rather sing about Reality. Not all songs have to be about good things (Gimme Shelter).

    Sometimes songs don’t have to be about anything in Particular (Hoppipola) or even have any sensible lyrics (Now We Are Free).

    Atheism is inspirational when you realise because it lets you be inspired by life and by death and everything inbetween.

  9. Jeff Sherry says

    Nice job of atheist gospel by Martin and Co. Good music is good music, making use of hooks and brain worms that appeals to people. The nice thing, we don’t have to be limited to gospels and religious music.

  10. O.G.N says

    It may not be a purely atheist hymn, but John Lennon’s Imagine does touch touch upon the subject.

    Imagine there’s no heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people living for today

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people living life in peace

  11. schmeer says

    For atheists there is also nearly all of heavy metal. Gospel does NOT appeal to me and I couldn’t stand most music that was played during my forced attendance at Catholic Mass.

  12. Ken Baker says

    I second that; Samual Barber’s “Agnus Dei”, a choral version of his familiar Adagio for Strings; Mozart’s “Mass in C Minor”; a bunch of stuff by Josquin des Prez or Henryck Gorecki.

    Also, consider the architecture of those beautiful cathedrals.

    By constrast, most modern church music sounds like the worst of ’70’s pop.

  13. left0ver1under says

    First, most pro-religious “music” is propaganda, whether written to promote religion or to insult and threaten others (e.g. “onward christian soldier”, “the little girl”).

    Second, music which is deliberately written about a topic is forced and tends to be terrible. Great songs occur naturally, out of inspiration and by experiences.

    I can and still listen to Blood, Sweat and Tears because it is great music by great musicians with a great singer, not contrived crap by self-serving hypocrites trying to forward an opinion.



    When atheists and agnostics have recorded songs about the falsity of religion, they are rarely propagandistic or having the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Rush’s “Show, Don’t Tell” doesn’t attack creationism directly, it says “Present the evidence and let me decide for myself”. And Matthew Sweet’s “Evangeline” is about a girl too willing to listen to her father and religion (i.e. “god” in both cases) instead of the man who likes her.


  14. Jared A says

    Leonard Cohen is Jewish/Buddhist, but lots of his music is pretty antireligious. Certainly “Hallelujah” is, at least when he or Tom Waits sings it. Rufus Wainwright’s version kind of inverts the meaning of that one.

  15. lordshipmayhem says

    Well, I don’t know about that “modern church music” thing. Gladly, the Cross-Eyed Bear” can be pretty catchy.

  16. N. Nescio says

    The Catholic church I attended had the benefit of being well-funded by a largely upper-class congregation. A benefit of this was the incredible pipe organ setup. I don’t think I would have such an appreciation of subharmonics were it not for that church’s organ and more than mildly creepy organist.

  17. stonyground says

    ELP’s Tarkus bashes religion generally. “The preacher said a prayer, save every single hair on his head, he’s dead”.

    Be-Bop-Deluxe got there before Genesis with Blazing Apostles. “Just keep up with the payments and we’ll make your misery whole”.

    Jethro Tull’s Wind Up “How do you dare to tell me that I’m my father’s son, when that was just an accident of birth? I’d rather look around me, compose a better song, ’cause that’s the honest measure of my worth”.

    Any ELP fans need to go to You Tube and search for Rachel Flowers, 17 year old blind girl with amazing keyboard skills.

  18. Paul J. says

    Not to forget Frank Turner, too -- notably two songs:

    One Foot Before the Other
    “(…) I’m not convinced of the existence of these things that don’t exist
    Yeah by Jewish boys with big ideas and scratches on their wrist
    By a loving or a vengeful God
    Or one who condescends
    Who’ll wash his hands down in the mire among the misery of men
    Or by ever turning circles hanging timeless in the sky
    Like a dream catcher distracting from the fact you’re gonna die (…)”


    Glory Hallelujah
    “(…) I know you’re scared of dying man, and I am too
    But just pretending it’s not happening isn’t gonna see us through
    If we accept that there’s an end game and we haven’t got much time
    Then in the here and now then we can try and do things right
    We’d be our own Salvation Army and together we’d believe
    In all the wondrous things that mere mortals can achieve (…)”


    Those two are very openly atheistic, but there is a general topic of “make the best of your life because it’s the only one you’ve got” and “people don’t go to heaven so it’s our job to remember them” that features in a number of songs.
    Also, he’s an amazing entertainer (in the best sense) and an all-around good guy. If you get the chance to watch him live and you like the music, you’ll certainly not regret it.

  19. Scott says

    Rush has a song called “Faithless”

    I’ve got my own moral compass to steer by
    A guiding star beats a spirit in the sky
    And all the preaching voices --
    Empty vessels ring so loud
    As they move among the crowd
    Fools and thieves are well disguised
    In the temple and market place

    Like a stone in the river
    Against the floods of spring
    I will quietly resist

    Like the willows in the wind
    Or the cliffs along the ocean
    I will quietly resist

    I don’t have faith in faith
    I don’t believe in belief
    You can call me faithless
    I still cling to hope
    And I believe in love
    And that’s faith enough for me

    I’ve got my own spirit level for balance
    To tell if my choice is leaning up or down
    And all the shouting voices
    Try to throw me off my course
    Some by sermon, some by force
    Fools and thieves are dangerous
    In the temple and market place

    Like a forest bows to winter
    Beneath the deep white silence
    I will quietly resist

    Like a flower in the desert
    That only blooms at night
    I will quietly resist

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