Can an Atheist love religious music? Well, looking through my iTunes collection, there are 29 songs with the words “Jesus” in them, although one of those is “Jesus Penis” by The DC3, and another one is “The Jesus Stag Night Club” by Babybird. Searching for “God” gives me over 100 songs, but two of them (“God” by John Lennon and “Dear God” by XTC) are kind of about atheism, so they probably don’t count. Searching for “heaven” also gives me over 100 songs, but “Heaven’s In The Back Seat Of My Cadillac” isn’t a very spiritual song either.
Nevertheless, despite the anomalies listed above, I do actually listen to a lot of religious music. Not just abstract references to God, like “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys, but full-on and completely sincere songs about God and Jesus and Buddha and countless other religions and religious leaders. Songs by songwriters like Pete Townshend, Brian Wilson, Johnny Cash and George Harrison, all deeply religious people. Many of my favourite songs are religious in theme. “Caravan of Love” by The Housemartins and “The Valley” (based on the 23rd Psalm) by Jane Siberry are two examples.
I’m sure there are some atheists who would draw the line at listening to any religious music, but I could never do that. If I only listened to music that reflected my own world view, I would listen to barely any music. I’ve never been to war, so how could I listen to “I Was Only Nineteen” by Redgum, or “Two Little Boys” by Rolf Harris? I’m not gay, so how could I listen to anything by Elton John? I’m not a woman, so how could I listen to anything written by a woman? What if I only listened to music written by middle-aged, childless white-guys in de-facto relationships? That would cut down my iTunes collection to almost zero!
But why stop there? Maybe I should only listen to music written in English. So I would need to get rid of all my French and German and Greek and Spanish and Indian music. I would need to remove any music sung in Latin or Hebrew or Ancient Egyptian (Akhnaten by Philip Glass). So much of my music collection isn’t in English! I have no idea what half of these non-English songs are about, I just like the music. I suppose there are some people who can only listen to songs that have some kind of meaning to them, but I’m not one of those people. To me, it’s just about the music, the music, the bloody music! But why stop there? Maybe I shouldn’t look at art that has religious themes… there goes the bloody Renaissance! And what about literature? No more Shakespeare for me. And forget about reading fantasy. If it doesn’t exist, it’s not real and I can’t read it… sorry, Frodo!
It would seem obvious then that the music and art you experience shouldn’t be limited to those that directly relate to your own life and your own perspective. Instead you should open yourself up to the experiences of many different people and many different view-points. Of course, when you start down that path, where do you stop? Should you read The Diary Of Anne Frank along side Mein Kampf? Should you listen to Gangsta Rap even though it denigrates women? We accept Lolita as great literature even though it describes pedophilia, but would you listen to a song about pedophilia? Mmm.. .maybe this “art vs content” idea is more difficult than I first thought.
What do you think? Where do you draw the line? When does the content of a song or book or work of art become more important than the aesthetics?
John James has written 203 posts.
JJ is a blogger who is bored with traditional opinion blogging. He is a co-founder and editor at KiKi & Tea. He also represents the grumpy middle-aged man demographic on KiKi & Tea. He is a writer by trade and a frustrated rock star / crime fighter by night, and blogs about music at newmusicrevue.com.
Follow on twitter: @JohnJamesOZ