The Atheists Who Sing Hymns

Many atheists will tell you that, even though they don’t go to church anymore, they still miss the music. In New York, a group of atheists and agnostics (and a few straggling theists) are part of a group called the Renaissance Street Singers that offer public performances of religious music for the sole reason that they just love the pieces:

The Renaissance Street Singers have been performing sacred music in public spaces for 40 years. On city sidewalks, in train stations, in public parks — anywhere they can find an audience. But these singers insist that their mission is not a religious one. The group consists mostly of self-described atheists who nonetheless share a deep reverence for the hymns, psalms and motets of the 16th century.

“It’s simple, un-gussied music,” says John Hetland, founder and director of the Renaissance Street Singers. “It’s not anything showy. It’s just beautiful music.”

“I like to say that for an atheist and a Jew, I spend a lot time singing about Jesus,” says Nancy Mandel, who’s been singing with the group since the mid-’70s. “If I don’t believe the actual things that are being said in the words, it’s the act of singing together itself which is the most important meaningful thing — without which the rest of this couldn’t happen.”

You can check out their singing schedule here.

(via National Public Radio)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://skepticalimerick.blogspot.com/ Rich Stage

    I had a lovely conversation with JT about religious music. I learned about the tritone, and how much religion set music theory by banning it. Imagine how much more beautiful the music might have been if the composers had not been constrained by the church!

    • WallofSleep

      Ronnie James Dio (r.i.p.) had a hilarious opinion about that and how it relates to why the church hates rock ‘n roll/heavy metal. Sadly, I can’t find a clip of that.

    • Warren Senders

      Of course, in India, many of the most beautiful songs on religious themes are replete with amazingly complex intervals.

  • David Smalley

    ” it’s the act of singing together itself which is the most important meaningful thing” – Then why can’t it be about something else? I understand a love for the music, and maybe even singing in private, but to do this in public further perpetuates a “Christian culture” mindset, lending to the Christian=Positive brainwashing that we’re working so hard to overturn; and I just don’t understand why atheists would do this. Perhaps it lends to the concept that there is no belief necessary to enjoy the songs, thereby diluting the meanings. That’s my only hope, can someone make sense of this? I feel it’s counterproductive to the secular movement as we attempt to gain our identity.

    • John Small Berries

      Just out of curiosity, would you make the same complaint about a group of atheists publicly performing Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen? Or does acceptability depend on which nonexistent mythological figures are being sung about?

      • David Smalley

        When followers of Der Ring des Nibelungen attempt to take rights away from others in our culture based on their fiction, I’ll have an issue with promoting their hate speech disguised as love songs.

        • regexp

          Or your hate speech disguised as a comment on a blog?

      • Spuddie

        Wagner is tough to do a capella!

        The guy was a big fan of the ginormous orchestra backing his works.

    • WallofSleep

      “I feel it’s counterproductive to the secular movement as we attempt to gain our identity.”

      I disagree. I think it shows that we atheists do not burst into flames at the merest mention of the christian god, and that we can even sing religious songs without projectile vomiting or having our heads spin.

      • David Smalley

        Do the passer-bys know these people are atheists?

        • WallofSleep

          Probably not. Does it really matter?

          • David Smalley

            Of course it does. You said “it shows that we atheists do not burst into flames.” Does it really show that, if no one knows? 99.9% of the people walking by think these are Chrsitians singing praise songs. That shows nothing about atheists, but only perpetuates the Christian message to people who didn’t ask for it.

            • WallofSleep

              Well then, we disagree. Personally, I see no harm in this.

            • Warren Senders

              A “Christian message” in medieval English, archaic Italian, French, or Flemish…sung in complex polyphony of a sort that most people never get to hear in their lifetimes. It’s a historical recreation, not an act of proselytizing.

            • Warren Senders

              You really should listen to what they’re doing. Would you have a problem with a group of scholars of Ancient Greek music attempting to render a Hymn to Dionysius?

      • sk3ptik0n

        I tend to projectile vomit at the sound of most top 40.

        • Tainda

          Me too! That and country music

    • Emily Fleming

      Speaking as an atheist who sings in a choir (not an official church choir, though we do sing in a local church that rents us the space because they have good facilities and the acoustics are good), the bulk of pre-twentieth-century choral music (and twentieth-century, for that matter, if we’re not counting non-choral music that’s been arranged for choral purposes) is religious in nature, and frankly really gorgeous. I read fantasy novels and once dressed up as a Harry Potter character despite not thinking wizards are real, and as someone who likes architecture, I enjoy visiting old cathedrals. Christian art isn’t any less enjoyable for being fantastic, and besides, I find a lot of humour in singing songs billed as being joyful and glad while actually being on a theme of “boy, it’ll be fantastic when I’m dead.”

      • Emily Fleming

        (Similarly, I use Christmas as an excuse to hang out with my loved ones and give them things I’ve made or found for them. Not that I need an excuse, but my sister doesn’t live nearby enough to hang out with on a regular basis, and there’s a reason most Northern-hemisphere cultures have a feast day midwinter. Something about being merry in the midst of darkness is wonderful, regardless of the excuse, just as gorgeous music is wonderful, regardless of the excuse.)

    • regexp

      How ’bout Atheists singing Irish Folk songs? Or cheesy pop music from the 80s? Klingon hymns maybe? A reasonable person wouldn’t get bent out of shape over someone else’s choices in music. I can think of worse music to sing publicly. Like Cher.

    • Warren Senders

      These people are singing 16th century songs, not contemporary gospel or Xtian rock. There is no conceivable way their performance could be interpreted as evangelical in any way.

    • 3lemenope

      Then why can’t it be about something else?

      …cause I wanna sing this?

    • badgerchild

      I have an identity. I am an atheist. I don’t need to be part of a movement to have an identity, just as I don’t need to be part of a choir to be a contralto. Participating in a cultural event as a cultural act does not necessarily imply endorsement of the meaning, just as others have pointed out. Every three-year-old is familiar with this concept. It’s called “make believe”. We do it for fun. When we are done playing, we go back to our normal lives.

    • Art_Vandelay

      As I was reading your comment, I was nodding while at the same time knowing it would be met with resistance. While I think this is kind of innocuous, I sort of agree with you. If there’s one thing that I think atheists should bond together with, it’s to reject the foundation that religions are built on…the idea that “faith” is somehow a moral virtue. To promote anything having to do with religion is to promote the idea that accepting things without evidence is character-building. Without it, the whole thing goes to shit. Unfortunately, that very idea is the driving force behind all of crimes perpetrated against humanity in the name of religion. Sure, for most it doesn’t lead directly to these acts but embracing that idea creates an environment whereby the charlatans and thugs are protected. So whether it’s direct proselytyzing, indoctrinating children, or just walking around with a lower case “t” on your necklace…no people of faith are completely innocent when it comes to allowing this disease on humanity to breed. If you’re a person that’s emancipated yourself from that, I don’t get why you’d publicly promote it. Can’t they just sing Ava Maria in the shower?

      • Guest

        How in the hell is singing a few old hymns going to do any harm? I think
        you should put down that copy of The God Delusion and go have a cold
        shower…

        • Art_Vandelay

          Sorry…I’m not in the business of catering to other people’s illiteracy. Ask me a question that I haven’t already addressed with 200 words, and I’ll be happy to reply accordingly.

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      The UU’s have done a fairly good job on this. Their hymnal has most of the same standard hymns and harmonizations from the old Xian hymns, but they’ve rewritten the words, usually into something generally uplifting about community or love or something. Plus, their choirs do music from all kinds of traditions, and also whatever non-religious stuff they like. So for people who need to sing (and some of us do, it’s our stress relief valve) and are bothered by all the religious content, try a UU choir. (Some of them are very good, too. My Mom switched to a UU for their excellent choir, then decided she liked UU better than being a Presbyterian and stayed for the rest.)

    • Noelle

      I don’t want a secular identity. I want to sing my head off while I’m washing the dishes, driving my car, etc.

  • WallofSleep

    No True Atheist sings hymnals.

    Sorry, someone was gonna say it sooner or later.

    • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ Christian Kemp

      While I agree with you. I think we can still respect the music for what it is, and that is powerful well written pieces of music.

    • eric

      Hymnals? Well yes, singing until a physical book comes out of your mouth would be kinda hard. :) I think you mean hymns.

      • badgerchild

        We all actively resisted doing this, Eric. Sorry you missed your saving throw. :)

    • Michaela Samuels

      Psh. Hymns are not the only songs I sing that contain lyrics I personally disagree with. What about Christmas carols? Could you say no true disbeliever in Santa can sing about Rudolf? Belief is far more than physically uttering words.

  • badgerchild

    I’m a classical music major. I’d be seriously out of pocket if I was unwilling to perform religious music. In fact, many of the formal ragas were visualized as Hindu gods and goddesses… Oh, wrong religion? My bad.

    • Warren Senders

      Not precisely true that the ragas were visualized as specific deities, but there are many ragas which share names with various members of the Hindu pantheon. Shankara and Durga. Raga Bhairav is sometimes referred to as “adi-raag,” meaning “first raga” — a reference to its putative origin myth; it is sometimes described as having sprung full-blown from the head of Lord Shiva when he was engaged in heavy meditation. Interestingly enough, the popular song texts in Raga Bhairav are more likely to be Krishna-bhakt lyrics. Raga Shankara’s song lyrics are far more likely to extol Shiva.

      While many songs refer to various avataras of Vishnu (as Ram, Krishna, etc.) very few refer to the archetypal form of the deity; I can only think of one or two. Plenty of Muslims sing HIndu texts in the world of Hindustani music, and vice versa. And quite a few atheists, too.

      • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

        mmmm…. he said “Durga.”

  • Surazeus Simon Seamount

    Here is a familiar carol with new lyrics for atheists and scientists to sing:

    O Come All You Curious
    © Surazeus 2013 April 23

    O come all you curious,
    seekers of true knowledge,
    O come to investigate and observe.
    Search and investigate to learn the laws of nature.
    O search and investigate,
    O state and hypothesize,
    O test and experiment,
    Laws of Nature.

    O speak, schools of scientists,
    share what you discovered.
    Reveal laws of nature that show how things work.
    Show how our universe evolved from the Big Bang.
    O search and investigate,
    O state and hypothesize,
    O test and experiment,
    Laws of Nature.

    E equals M C squared,
    energy and mass defined.
    O Einstein! Your formula explains cosmic truth.
    Word of the scientist describes our universe.
    O search and investigate,
    O state and hypothesize,
    O test and experiment,
    Laws of Nature.

    • Emily Fleming

      Heh, that’s awesome! (And quick, too – you’re good at filking!) But it needs another verse that’s a disclaimer about how all of the above fits the universe as far as we know, pending additional research, and we reserve the right to change our minds if new evidence comes to light. ;)

      • Surazeus Simon Seamount

        Thanks! Though I wrote that last April because the very topic of this article was on my mind at that time, how scientific-oriented people could use hymns of their own.

        Also I am writing an epic poem about the lives of philosophers and scientists I call Scientia Hermetis, or Hermead, as a sort of bible that presents philosophers and scientists instead of patriarchs and kings and prophets as cultural heroes. I have already published the first volume.

        • badgerchild

          I commend your creditable effort, but I admit that new lyrics written to old tunes strike me as awkward and forced. It would help if the lyrics flowed naturally with the tune, I suppose. Perhaps that’s why we don’t see more of these.

          Maybe I’m doing a “perfect is the enemy of the good”, but “Hymns of their own” just does not seem to me to mean “subversively repurposed”.

          • Jim Jones

            > I admit that new lyrics written to old tunes strike me as awkward and forced.

            And yet, “How great thou art”. Although an objective view is that this lyric is very weird until you realize that the true meaning is “How great WE art”.

    • Jim Jones

      Good poetry is a lot harder than most people expect.

  • Christy Stahnke

    I used to sing a song about Jesus to my son when I was rocking him to sleep as a baby. It just happened to be a song in the right register of voice for a soothing nighttime lullaby. I learned it in Sunday school as a kid and it is permanently fused into my brain cells. I couldn’t expunge it without professional help. Doesn’t mean I believe in God. If I don’t measure up to other atheist standards…well I wasn’t trying to in the first place. Why does it matter so much what other atheists do? I have my own personal character and so does everyone else. The more I read about the atheist movement, the more I want to stay away from it.

    • WallofSleep

      There really is no monolithic atheist movement. There are various atheist orgs with a variety of different aims and methods. I’m sure you could find one you’re comfortable with if you look hard enough. Or you could just keep doing your own thing, no big.

  • Surazeus Simon Seamount

    Another new set of lyrics for a traditional xmas carol tune.

    Twinkling Stars (Silent Night, Holy Night)
    © Surazeus 2013 March 26

    Twinkling stars, shining moon,
    weaving light through our souls.
    Round in spirals molecules spin,
    flashing infinite spirit of mind.
    Dream with celestial light.
    Breathe with terrestrial air.

    Beaming sun, swirling wind,
    scientists gaze at everything,
    seeking laws of nature and time.
    Astronomers dream the Big Bang.
    Kosmos the universe is born,
    spiraling in stars and worlds.

    Surging waves, flickering flames,
    humankind loves sunlight,
    gathering flowers and fruit for feast
    we share at round table with our friends.
    Newton, gives us an apple.
    Einstein describes energy.

  • A3Kr0n

    OMG! Flashback to Sunday where I sang in the youth choir for the first service, and the adult choir for the second service!

    • WallofSleep

      Heh. My brother, also an atheist, went to private christian schools for the majority of his young life, and was part of the choir in h.s. This afforded him the opportunity to go to many, many more countries in his youth than I have ever been to in my entire adult life. He does regret having gone to private, christian schools, but he doesn’t regret that part.

  • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

    I miss singing in the choir (I am a solid though far from spectacular alto, and I can read music well and sing on key, so choir directors like me too). It’s the one thing I most miss about church. I will admit, though, that singing Christian songs in public would make me feel a bit hypocritical. I can’t even sing along to “Spirit in the Sky” and the Rutter Requiem in the car anymore without feeling a little self-conscious about it.

    • WallofSleep

      “I can’t even sing along to “Spirit in the Sky”…”

      Well, that should be true for everyone regardless of their views on religion. :P

      • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

        Gasp! I *like* “Spirit in the Sky”!

        • WallofSleep

          Heh, I was only teasing.

      • Paula M Smolik

        I never got how that song, that sounds native American, can be sung about Jesus by a Jewish guy. ???

    • JET

      I can’t sing, but I mess around on the piano a bit. My favorite piece to play is Ave Maria. The music is beautiful. I don’t care about the words and only learned them in Latin anyway!

    • Anna

      Or you could just sing them ironically!

    • badgerchild

      I suggest you practice am attitude of, look of, and perhaps the actual pronunciation of, “I don’t give a damn”. Why should we deny ourselves good music just because it’s been vandalized by Christianity?

      • http://atheistlutheran.blogspot.com/ MargueriteF

        But it hasn’t been “vandalized by Christianity.” It’s Christian music. It doesn’t bother me to sing carols at Christmas, perhaps because I sang those songs with my mom and sister as a little kid, but I converted to Lutheranism as an adult, and the hymns I learned in church are all inextricably tied up with Christianity in my head. Not saying it’s wrong for ANY atheist to sing them; it just makes me feel hypocritical, personally.

        • Sam Chapman

          Around the house or in the car (I’m not allowed to sing in public d/t a court order to maintain the peace), I sing hymns to my dogs. I just replace Jesus with Minga, or Nanook, or Mary Alice Jean (not an easy one.) I enjoy it but the dogs suffer.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      One of the advantages of singing opera is that I can remove myself. I may not be religious but the character I am playing is so it’s not me imploring Neptune for mercy but the character I’m playing. Problem solved. When putting on recitals I tend to avoid religious texts though.

    • http://boldquestions.wordpress.com/ Ubi Dubium

      I loved singing in the choir, so much that I still sing with a community chorus. It’s lots of fun, but the pieces are picked for their artistic merit instead of their religious content. We just had a potluck too!

    • Paula M Smolik

      Rutter, OOOOOOH Rutter, You’re making me cry. Stop it.
      “For the Beauty of the Earth”
      “The Lord Bless You and Keep You”

  • rhodent

    I personally don’t get into old hymns, but much of Arvo Pärt’s music is religious in nature, and IMO it’s some of the most beautiful music there is.

    • Dorothy

      i love both

  • Dorothy

    glad to see from the previous comments that i’m in good company. What i miss most about church is the old traditional hymns (I’m over 50). I now sing in a semi-professional community choir, and our upcoming concert season includes Mozart’s Mass in C minor, and Tanyev’s John of Damascus. It’s beautiful music, and i just ignore the lyrics, most aren’t in English anyway

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      This is off-topic (sorry to everyone else while I geek out here) but I’m pleased that Taneyev’s music is suddenly being performed in the US. Bard did his opera Oresteia this summer. I’m pleased as well as surprised that he seems to have finally been “discovered” after all this time.

      • Dorothy

        i’m glad you, too, enjoy Tanyev. But i am in Canada ;) The director of my choir is a Russian immigrant (now Canadian citizen) so we have done a number of works in Russian. He writes out the pronounciation phonetically for us to learn. We always need tenors, guess you are too far away….

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          I had an entire class on Russian diction and five weeks of one of my Song Lit classes was devoted to Russian art song literature (from Glinka to Sviridov). I am too far away and only sing chorus for union scale.

  • Mitch

    I know the feeling. Just this past Sunday I sat through a service given by Al Sharpton because the choir conductor (a friend of mine) was looking for more choir singers.

    • badgerchild

      I sang a solo with the choir in my mother’s Fundamentalist church because the preacher was trying so hard to make me feel welcome, he had heard I sang, and the regular soloist was out with a cold. He knew I was an atheist. It was a rousing, satisfying performance and I enjoyed it very much. After the service, he asked me how I felt about church now. I told him I was honored to have been included despite being an atheist, and that it was “a fun experience”. He actually pouted, lol.

      Honestly, I view this sort of thing in much the same light as I do when I travel abroad and I’m asked to be included in an unfamiliar custom. I’ve been invited to participate with multiple Argentine co-workers in a round or twelve of mate. I’ve donned a black robe and headscarf in the hot 50-degree sun to tour the grand mosque in Abu Dhabi. I ate haggis in Aberdeen and even liked it. It doesn’t mean I crave Argentine spit, want to hang out in mosques, or prefer lamb guts to my usual cuisine.

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        I was at a Baptist church on Sunday. the music was so mind-numbingly insipid that I was rather appalled that people seemed to be enjoying it. It’s hard to imagine the kind of simple-minded person that would find an entire chorus of word-salad (no verbs to be found!) to be moving. The older tradition is another story. An atheist singer friend of mine often says that the only reason he can think of to believe in god is the music of J.S.Bach. he has a point. Even that isn’t enough for either of us, though.

  • Anna

    I haven’t had much exposure to hymns, but I love Christmas carols. I’ve been obsessed with them since I was little and couldn’t care less about the lyrics. The way I look at it, people don’t have to believe in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman to sing about those characters, so why should the baby Jesus be any different?

    • 3lemenope

      “Here We Come A-Wassailing” has taken up permanent residence in my head, and is one of my go-to whistling tunes when I absent-mindedly whistle (along with the leitmotif of “Peter and the Wolf”, for no apparent reason).

    • Tainda

      I love them too! What Child is This is one of my favorites

      • badgerchild

        And you can even enjoy it with its original, secular lyrics if you like, as the Elizabethan love song “Greensleeves”.

    • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

      And I love to go caroling. At least half of the repertoire has little to nothing to do with the baby Jesus. But Silent Night is a great one to sing, especially in four part harmony.

  • the moother

    I’m sorry to be a party-pooper, but I feel sorry for these people. What would you think if a whole load of Germans went marching around Nuremberg for a feeling of unity and camaraderie? Or a whole load of descendents of slaves chaining themselves together and singing just to remind them of the good ‘ol days?

    Pining for the fjords?

    • Nancy Shrew

      To be fair, negro spirituals have outlasted slavery (e.g. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”), so.

      • Spuddie

        And laid the groundwork for all modern American music.

        • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

          As well as music all over the world.

    • http://iamchristianiamanatheist.blogspot.kr/ Christian Kemp

      I hear what you are saying, but then surely we can say the same thing about multiple great artists that have had to write music praising god as that was their only outlet. Its not necessarily that they were theists its just that they had not option.

      I enjoy hymns for the fact that they are powerful pieces of music. And while I do not agree with the words, the music is amazing.

    • badgerchild

      One word. Well, one name. Johann Sebastian Bach. (Poor oppressed Bach. ;))

    • guest

      Should we burn all the religious paintings as well, then?

      • the moother

        How did you get from an ad hoc reenactment of times past to destruction of property?

  • ImRike

    I had a good atheist friend who joined a church community just to be able to sing in the choir.
    Myself, I was raised catholic in Germany, and to this day some of my favorite music are Gregorian Chants.

  • Dave

    Happiness is the only good. The time to be happy is now. The place to be happy is here. The way to be happy is to make others happy. Robert G Ingersoll.
    If it makes you and others happy may the force be with you.

  • Latraviata

    my late husband (ex catholic and atheist) has sung in a church choir for years that solely consisted of renegade (atheist) catholics! They sang like angels, a very good choir.

  • WoodwindsRock

    Actually, I’m pretty sure I could say that I appreciate and enjoy Renaissance choral polyphonic music more than most Christians.

    Although I can also say it’s really the only Christian music I listen to.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    mahalia jackson.

    nuff said.

  • eric

    I think of music the same way I think of novels or plays. I don’t have to believe in wizards to enjoy Tolkein. If I were to play Hamlet, I wouldn’t have to believe in ghosts. Analogously, to sing Handel’s Messiah does not require me to believe in the lord god omnipotent.

    • badgerchild

      Exactly. Well put. If the objector felt the same way about, say, architecture, they would have to refuse to enter buildings with religious purposes, which would make a trip to Rome, Benares, or the Egyptian pyramids extremely short and boring.

    • rg57

      Exactly wrong. Nobody is trying to make everyone believe in Sauron or Hamlet. But they do want everyone believe in Jesus. Let’s not pretend there isn’t a difference.

  • Sqrat

    Josef Stalin used to enjoy singing old Orthodox hymns with his cronies. He was a former choirboy with an excellent singing voice. He was also a former seminarian, but would subsequently write that he became an atheist during his first year in the seminary.

    • badgerchild

      Aha. I had my suspicions about my college choirmaster, the bloody dictator. This explains much. :D

  • KMR

    Oh I’m glad I’m not the only one! Hymns are lovely. My favorite is “It is well with my soul” simply because of the story behind the writing of it and the depth of the words. Poetry and well done music are beautiful regardless of the subject matter.

  • http://thebigreason.com/ Mark Eagleton

    I’m in a traditional bluegrass band, and we do lots of gospel songs. Whenever that is questioned in regard to my atheism (usually by non bluegrass people), I bring up all of the kick ass murder ballads we do despite the fact that we don’t condone murder either.

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    Although it seems like the only choral music available is religious, there is actually a great deal of secular choral music from all periods. It’s just not as well known since the primary outlet for choral singing is church. Groups that want to sing but feel uncomfortable singing religious texts should seek out madrigals and other secular choral music if they so choose.

    • Guest

      Have you got any suggestions?

      • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

        This isn’t really my area of expertise (I’m neither an early music specialist nor a choral conductor) but here are a few ideas to get you started.

        Palestrina wrote madrigals in addition to the sacred motets. (In general if it’s called a madrigal it’s secular.)

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxLhGlVIQ_0

        Gesualdo is a personal favorite from this period. His music is chormatic in a way that music would not be again for a couple hundred years.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dVPu71D8VI

        A lot of Monteverdi’s choral music is accompanied especially what he wrote after about 1600, but here’s an a capella choral piece. There are many more.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9vW3pByvj4

  • Art_Vandelay

    “I get freaked out by churches…Some of the hymns that they sing have nice chords, but the lyrics are dodgy.”

  • CanadianNihilist

    I always hated the music at church.

  • sware73

    I must have been in the wrong church growing up (story of my
    life). My most prominent memories of
    religious songs are of people singing awful lyrics horribly off key. That said I had to throw in this little
    diddy. :-)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wogta8alHiU

    “the he is always lower case”

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      This really is just damn fine music, and would be just as good even if it were a religious song. But I do laugh my arse off at the lyrics and presentation.

  • Paula M Smolik

    This is exactly my problem. I miss the music SO MUCH! I loved singing even the Latin. I was last an Episcopalian and I miss all the liturgy. I wish I could go back to a different church and pretend.

  • Michaela Samuels

    I have separated myself from my Christian roots, but I admit I still love some of the hymns. They are like lullabies in a sense. I don’t endorse breaking tree boughs dropping babies out of their cradles or encourage my children to put posies in their pockets to avoid the black plague, but I sing those songs, too.

  • Guest

    I feel like this about Christmas carols. I will go to church at Christmas, just to hear the music. Free concert and sometimes you get a mince pie and mulled wine as well.
    I love ‘amazing grace’, ‘battle hymn of the republic’, ‘when johnny comes marching home’ and ‘all things bright and beautiful’ even though I don’t believe their masseages.

  • Guest

    The music is absolutely lovely, but I do wonder if there are secular pieces of music that are equally lovely that atheists could sing as well/instead. Are there any atheist barbershop singers?

  • rg57

    How silly. Hymns are basically evangelization with autotune. Will the next Billy Graham be an atheist, because of the art?

    Would it be so difficult to change the words? Apparently.

  • spinetingler

    A large subset of Sacred harp singers (both in the US and abroad) are atheists and agnostics who simply enjoy the style. AFAIK there is no secular alternative to the Sacred Harp/shape note style.

  • Two Bob

    Stories, music and poetry affect people’s emotions. It has nothing to do with religion per se. I am atheist but I adore Abide with me. Probably because I adore the town Brixham…


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