11 Religiously Skeptical Gems | Playlist
There are numerous songs written about religion that aren’t gospel/ contemporary Christian songs. Here are 11 religiously skeptical gems by secular artists.
Religion is very important to a number of folks, even as secular as society is as a whole. For many, a relationship with God supersedes everything else, including loved ones. That said, not everyone likes religion. Some dislike the institution, yet still maintain a relationship with God – the whole spiritual but not religious thing. Some oppose religion and don’t believe in God either. Everyone has their own opinions about religion, spirituality, and God.
Interestingly, there have been a number of songs written about religion, many of which aren’t gospel or contemporary Christian music songs. Rock, pop, and R&B artists have all tackled their spiritual walks or lack thereof. An ever-growing catalogue of religiously skeptical music is building. Some of these songs denounce religion, but some merely question the stock society puts into it, as well as the negative and adverse effects. This list analyzes 11 religiously skeptical gems.
Album: What Do You Think About the Car?, 2017
Religious skepticism plays a large role on “Bethlehem,” evidenced by the lyrical references. The connotation is negative here, something McKenna addressed in an interview with Teen Vogue. That negative stuff he refers to are Christians who are “holier than thou,” yet sinful in their own right. On the chorus, he sings:
“Because I’m in Bethlehem / I got a seat in heaven/ And though I’m heaven sent / I can do as I want and you don’t have the right to choose.”
“Bethlehem” is another example of the genius of Declan McKenna. His messaging is pitch perfect here, even if it will upset some.
Album: Rainbow, 2017
On “Hymn,” Kesha recorded a “hymn for the hymn-less.” As illustrated above, “Hymn” fits right into the uplifting, empowering, and all-inclusive nature of Rainbow. The chorus is among the selling points.
“This is a hymn for the hymn-less, kids with no religion / Yeah, we keep on sinning, yeah, we keep on singing / Flying down the highway, backseat of the Hyundai / Pull it to the front, let it run, we don’t valet / Sorry if you’re star struck, blame it on the stardust / I know that I’m perfect, even though I’m f*cked up / Hymn for the hymn-less, don’t need forgiveness / ‘Cause if there’s a heaven, don’t care if we get in.”
Kesha doesn’t explicitly denounce church or God in the least. But, she makes it clear that this song is for a group of the underrepresented.
Album: Science Fiction, 2017
Brand New made a comeback in 2017, self-releasing their new album, Science Fiction. It worked out well for them, as the band scored its first no. 1 album. You know what else they scored? A spot on this religiously skeptical song list! Perhaps “Could Never Be Heaven” isn’t a bold denouncement of religion or God like other songs, but there’s clear skepticism. Most of it due to clever mentions of God, but they aren’t necessarily petitions or praise contextually.
“I have no heart, I have no brain / Lord I have no courage / Can you get me home again?”
There’s more. On the second verse, frontman Jesse Lacey sings, “I was drowning in the lake, damned…/ The deeper I sank, the less I died…” Telling, but the big one comes later:
“The whale is well-rehearsed / Swimming in circles in the church / A cardinalfish says, ‘God is dead’ / The whale sales, ‘Get out of my head / Get out of my head / Get out of my head.’”
Album: Excommunication, 2016
“Sunday mornings make me nervous / They don’t feel like they used to feel / My religion feels wrong, but I can’t tell my mom / I’m afraid that my words would kill.”
Cutting to the chase, Tyler Glenn, frontman of Neon Trees, was pretty pissed off on his debut solo album, Excommunication. The album focused on his break with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, aka the Mormon Church. The main reason for this break was Glenn’s homosexuality. Disappointed by being unaccepted by the church as a gay man, naturally, he left. One of the biggest instances of his newfound skepticism towards religion comes at the end of Excommunication, “Devil.”
“I think I still believe in Jesus / He’s a friend when I choose to pray / But my demons get me high, ‘til I’m burning all the time / Yeah, they never wash my sins away.”
One never gets the impression that Glenn is an atheist now – there’s still something there. But, he has clearly lost faith.
“I swear I still believe in something / But I couldn’t pray the gay away.”
Album: I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, 2016
“I’ve got a God-shaped hole that’s infected / And I’m petrified of being alone now / It’s pathetic, I know.”
It’s no secret that The 1975 frontman Matthew Healy isn’t a believer. Healy appeared 12th on one of my final evergreen articles penned for StarPulse, 15 Musicians Who Oppose Religion. Healy is both an atheist and a humanist. In this particular article, the focus was the song “Antichrist,” which appeared on the band’s EP, Facedown. After publication, The 1975 would release another skeptical gem, “If I Believe You.” “If I Believe You” features gospel music cues, yet questions putting faith and stock in God. In my review of the album, also penned for StarPulse, I called “If I Believe You” a “humanist’s skeptical petition to God/a higher power.”
“And if I believe you / Will that make it stop? / If I told you I need you / Is that what you want? / And I’m broken and bleeding / And begging for help / And I’m asking you Jesus, show yourself.”
Album: Hozier, 2014
There is really no need to beat a dead horse in the water. If anyone believed that Hozier was singing about God on “Take Me to Church,” they weren’t paying close attention. This is not a praise joint – Hozier wasn’t trying to get his praise on by any means! That said, “Take Me to Church” isn’t necessarily a middle finger to the church. Still, we all know that sex seems rarely fits into the order of service traditionally.
“My church offers no absolutes / She tells me ‘worship in the bedroom’ / The only heaven I’ll be sent to / Is when I’m alone with you / I was born sick, but I love it / Command me to be well.”
Plenty has been written about “Take Me to Church.” The Pop Song Professor spends an entire video and article on one of the best songs of 2014. The Reflector clearly states the song ‘conveys deeper meaning.’
Album: 13, 2013
Black Sabbath are no strangers to religious skepticism within their music. The Satanist rumors have been going around for years. They only reignited the skepticism on their 2013 comeback album, 13, which featured five skeptical songs. These were touched upon in a StarPulse article, The Prevalence of Atheism/Religious Skepticism in Rock Music in 2013.
The chief amongst sinners is “God is Dead?” which toys with the idea of the God’s existence or not, thanks to the question mark.
“The blood runs free / The rain turns red / Give me the wine / You keep the bread / The voices echo in my head / Is God alive or is God dead? / Is God dead?”
Album: Modern Vampires of the City, 2013
“We know the fire awaits unbelievers / All of the sinners the same / Girl you and I will die unbelievers bound to the tracks of the train.”
Like Black Sabbath, Vampire Weeknd also graced my article entitled The Prevalence of Atheism/Religious Skepticism in Rock Music in 2013. The band’s 2013 album, Modern Vampires of the City, featured several songs that referenced religion. Obviously, “Unbelievers” sticks out like a sore thumb among the bunch.
“If I’m born again, I know that the world will disagree / Want a little grace, but who’s going to say a little grace for me?”
Throughout its course, Ezra Koenig seems to question his place in the world and arguably, beyond what he can see. It’s deep and while Christians may denounce his doubts or the questions he raises, isn’t there some validity?
“I’m not excited but should I be? / Is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me? / I know I love you and you love the sea / But what holy water contains a little drop, little drop for me?”
Album: Channel Orange, 2012
Alternative R&B singer/songwriter Frank Ocean is clearly skeptical of religion on “Bad Religion,” one of the gems from his Grammy-winning Channel Orange. Basically, the song finds Ocean confiding in his taxi driver. His driver urges him to pray, which Frank just isn’t feeling.
“If it brings me to my knees / It’s a bad religion / This unrequited love / To me it’s nothing but a one-man cult / And cyanide in my Styrofoam cup / I can never make him love me / Never make him love me.”
Deep for a number of reasons. One is the mere fact that Ocean references Jim Jones and his revolutionary suicide. Another is that he equates most, if not all religion as cultish.
Album: As Above So Below, 2011
Anthony David is in quite a predicament. He’s a southern black man who’s an atheist. The secular humanist appeared in my StarPulse evergreen, 15 Musicians Who Oppose Religion. For the nonbeliever, there’s one song that stands out in his catalogue: “God Said.”
“So, you can’t put the blame on me I’m doing what God said / What God said, what God said.”
Clearly, David shows he doesn’t put stock into God himself. Furthermore, he seems to question how well it’s working out for those who do.
“He can help me win the fight with his power / Yes, he speaks through me and it’s always positive / ‘Cause I can just ask for forgiveness and it’s over.”
Album: Absolution, 2003
“And I know the moment’s near / And there’s nothing we can do / Look through a faithless eye / Are you afraid to die?”
Matthew Bellamy. Definite atheist. Like the aforementioned Anthony David, Bellamy made a previous list of 15 Musicians Who Oppose Religion, which was published on StarPulse. The song referenced there was “Megalomania.” However, perhaps “Thoughts of a Dying Atheist” would’ve been more suitable. As his character nears death, he’s scared because he believes in nothing and faces the end.
“It scares the hell out of me / And the end is all I can see.”