It is very difficult, of course, to label a song an "atheist" song. For one, some Christians would probably claim that any music that does not promote religious beliefs and values, is, in fact, secular or atheist. That, to me, is a bit too inclusive. I am a Christian after all, and if the national media has taught me anything about my beliefs, it's that I like my labels to be a little more exclusive than that. (*Cue Jon Stewart holding hand to fake-earpiece bit*) "What's that? We're supposed to only be exclusivist when it comes to who is on our team, but broadly inclusive when it comes to who is outside? Oh." (*and scene*)
There's also the difficult issue of knowing what the musical artists actually believe...if an artist is an atheist, does that mean every song they make is also atheistic? Or does a song have to specifically promote or express atheistic ideas about life, god, purpose, the afterlife, etc? (I tend towards the latter view).
With that in mind, and with the caveat that this is not an exhaustive collection, but is rather a very subjective and personal list, I present the following list of five of my favorite atheistic songs (whatever that means).
Let me start with two songs that are NOT on the list: John Lennon's "Imagine" (sorry, never been much of a Beatles fan, or piano-ballad guy), and XTC's "Dear God" (too amateurish and sing-song-y). Also, angry heavy metal and hard rock bands just don't do it for me, so Tool and Nine Inch Nails are out. Which is too bad, because I think half of their discography is composed of angry rants against religion.
Frightened Rabbits - "Late March, Death March"
For a meditation on the inevitability of death, this song is extremely catchy. "There isn't a God, so I hold my breath" the singer notes, and instead "prays silence for the road ahead." This is actually the song that inspired this entire post...after listening to it and thoroughly enjoying it, I began to think about how many OTHER blatantly atheist songs I like.
Modest Mouse - "Ocean Breathes Salty"
"Your body may be gone, I'm gonna carry you in. In my head, in my heart, in my soul" the song begins. But when the inevitable question of the afterlife arises in the singers' mind, there is much less certainty: "And maybe we'll get lucky and we'll both live again. Well I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. Don't think so...for your sake I hope heaven and hell are really there, but I wouldn't hold my breath."
The Streets - Heaven for the Weather
Mike Skinner is aka "The Streets," and aka one of three British rappers (Dizzee Rascal, Tinie Tempah the others) to successfully make the Atlantic crossover. In this song, Skinner playfully raps through a fake conversion with Satan...after being tempted by Satan to "commit a bit of sin," he responds, "I simply, Lucifer, refuse to wind up on fire with low-life liars." Satan then informs him, "Then you're destined for the world without chores and sweating, the eternal hell of boredom in heaven."
The "eternal boredom in heaven" line caught my attention because is so closely echoes C.S. Lewis' argument for the existence of hell...which is, namely, that heaven would be extremely boring for anyone who did NOT worship and love God on earth.
Skinner continues on with the playful vibe, wondering "What is this evil? And who decides it? We're just normal people exploring our minds" before singing along in the chorus, "I want to go to heaven for the weather, but hell for the company."
Bright Eyes - Four Winds
Connor Oberst's lyrics are often very poetic and poignant. Most of his songs contain a hint of skepticism, but, in true artistic fashion, it is usually subtle and constrained. This song (which is, pun intended, catchy as hell) is a reflection on a search for religious meaning everywhere the four winds blow, and is one of his most obvious denunciations of religion: "The Bible's blind, the Torah's deaf, the Quran' mute...if you burned them all together you'd get close to the truth," Oberst sings.
John Mayer - New Deep
"Is there a God? Why is he waiting?" Mayer wonders, as he resolves to stop "trying to find every little meaning in my life." Instead of wondering about the mystery of the stars, Mayer decides instead that "Numb is the new deep." So I guess maybe this is more of an agnostic anthem than an atheist anthem. Whatever.