Dear believers and dear beliebers (just in case the Justin Bieber hype has been confirmed as a religion while I was writing this article), I don’t want to do you any harm with this post and I will try my best not to be polemic or spiteful, don’t see this as an attempt to be a blasphemous heathen with evil intentions but rather as a collection of songs that deal with atheism in a way that is intelligent, respectful and furthers a healthy discussion.
Especially Indie music has some issue with Christian songs, pitchfork.com – also known for being a dick towards every album the blogger community likes – has been trashing quite a few bands for their more or less strong connections to the church, whether the band addresses that in their music or not.
So it seems to be very easy to sing about atheism and get applause and praise from us indie cindies. But here is the thing: as much as I like XTC’s “Dear God” it does not really serve as a means to discuss the topic, it’s more a quite clever yet aggressive means to keep out every counter argument (on many levels, the question why God lets kids die is not the best argument that he doesn’t exist/is not benevolent but to go into that would be too much right now).
I chose 5 songs that have an atheist subtext (sometimes more, sometimes less so) but also allow a discussion because I do believe that – as difficult as it is – only exchange can keep this always relevant topic on a humane level (and no one has to cry).
Maccabees – Wall of Arms
What I love about this song is the fact that it focuses not on the non-existing God and why he doesn’t exist or why he is not good, etc.pp. but the sources of love and strength that are actually there – friends and family.
Having faith in them because they are always there and believe in you is pretty much the core of this song but then there is also this crucial line “it’s only me that can forgive me” which seems inconspicuous enough but holds a lot: don’t put pressure on yourself by the – and this is actually a widely discussed philosophical problem – impossible ideal the bible puts upon you.
You are the one who has to live with what you are doing and no God will punish or reward you for it in the afterlife.
And this is no excuse to roam free like a berserk because friends, family and your conscience keep your morals straight most of the time (and for the rest: there is something like laws, you guys).
John Lennon – Imagine
Cee-Lo got a pretty good backlash when he changed the lyrics of this anthem of a generation. Although I was not that upset and get what Cee-Lo wanted to achieve, I do understand why people got mad about this.
Lennon created this as a utopian view on the world that clearly will never ever be (I don’t think I am too cynical to think so but maybe that’s just the cynic in me).
It doesn’t so much condemn faith in God but rather questions the pressure a God puts upon us. Heaven and Hell deter from the life right now and make it appear as an audition for something better (apparently something better where the annoying rants of us atheists are not a problem because we will safely burn in hell).
And religion is sadly enough not just a bunch of people sharing their believes but more often than not a bunch of people forcing them on others, thereby alienating each other.
Lennon is not insulting with this, he is just asking whether we will – at some point – be able to get rid of whatever disconnects us to share the same dream. It’s pretty cheesy from my ironically detached indie-standpoint, but it still keeps the waterworks coming (remember the “Quantum Leap” episode “The Home Leap”, where Bakula sings this to his brother who later would get killed in the Vietnam war? It’s sobbing time right there).
Sugarcubes – Deus
Only Bjork can turn a song about a God that doesn’t exist but is described in the lyrics so vividly that – in our mind – he does, into one of the greatest punchlines ever. It oddly enough reminds me of Russell’s teapot but maybe that’s just me.
David Bazan – pretty much all of his songs
Pedro and the Lion once were one of the very openly Christian bands that I loved a lot. And then something happened and frontman David Bazan parted with God. Now, what makes not only this song but all of them great, is the fact that he always was the questioning Christian (which you always should be, at least according to the modern Christians) and also is a questioning Agnostic (yeah, it’s not truly atheist but give me some slack). I rather hear a man dealing with his own faith and doubts instead of someone high and mighty condemning everyone who is too stupid to get atheism or theism.
At the end of the day, Faith is a personal matter and the fact that most religious institutions think otherwise, doesn’t make it less so and Bazan seems to make that clearer than most by writing those painfully honest and intimate songs.
I am not saying that everyone should keep their believes and opinions to themselves (hell no) but that we always should keep in mind that right next to all the theoretical discussions there are always the personal experiences and emotional attachments to this topic which are the main reason why it’s so hard and often exhausting to discuss it, especially when it’s between theists and atheists.
Cursive – Big Bang
Apparently, the band placed the people in the video in a room and then – without warning – played a loud noise, to film their reactions.
Now, to the song itself: we love connections, our own cognition works by connecting everything and even dismissing every other thing that doesn’t fit in-between. It’s how we roll and how we are able to work with all the thousands of impressions of every single day.
This subconscious way of thinking of course is no proof that God does not exist but at least think about the origins of theism, mythology and the spiritual world regarding it: it’s to make sense of the chaos that nature presented us with. Of course, it’s not really chaos but for most people it’s not relaxing to know that they could be hit by lightning just because they were standing at the wrong spot at the wrong time. Back at the Flintstones, no one could explain lightning, so they thought it was some sort of unseen spirit that was angry and that the person who got struck probably deserved it (by wearing a dashing steel top hat for example).
Obviously, evolution and science in general has challenged this thought of “everything happens for a reason” by saying “yes, within physics everything does happen for a reason but it has nothing to do with how we live our life and no, you are not destined for anything, the gods don’t favour anyone because they quite possibly don’t exist”.
It sounds horrible at first but believe me, if I don’t have to worry that I pissed of an ancient being but just had a bad day due to a string of coincidental occurrences that caused me some inconveniences, then I can live with it a lot better than trying to find a way (and the right religion) to please that ancient Sir (always a dude, ey?) who wants to make my life a living hell without telling me what I did wrong (if you think about it, in some way God is like a bitchy boyfriend).
This doesn’t mean that none of my actions have consequences (if I treat the waitress bad, chances are that she will do something bad with my food) but it means that I cannot be sure that bad behaviour always ends in retribution and vice versa (maybe I treat the waitress bad and she doesn’t do anything bad with my food because unlike me she’s a nice person, maybe I am very nice to her and she still spits in my soup because she is nasty). Just because not everything connects and makes sense doesn’t make it depressing and life less worth living.
And that’s it.