Now carrying the NPR imprimatur!

YoungAndChoirFor a few decades now, John Lennon’s “Imagine” has served as a secularist hymn. From the end of The Killing Fields to the post-9/11 America: A Tribute to Heroes broadcast, “Imagine” has been there to tell us that the world could be so much more pleasant if only everyone were inclusive enough to set aside what they believe about God, the afterlife and other trivial matters.

Neil Young played “Imagine” on America: A Tribute to Heroes, and now he’s written a song that could join it in the pantheon of believer-bashing hymns.

Young performed his new song during the Live 8 concert in Toronto on July 2. Weekend Edition Saturday played the song again because, well, let anchor Scott Simon explain it: “One week ago today, at the Live 8 concert in Ontario, Neil Young presented a new song, ‘When God Made Me.’ It was his first performance since suffering a brain aneurysm last spring, and after the events of this week, it seems worth another listen.”

“When God Made Me,” like “Imagine,” is set to a simple and haunting melody played on a piano. Young’s lyrics also are simple — concise but saying a lot, posing questions that also function as accusations. Here’s one stanza:

Was he planning only for believers
Or for those who just have faith?
Did he envision all the wars
That were fought in his name?
Did he say there was only one way
To be close to him?
When God made me
When God made me

If that isn’t enough moral authority for you, the Fisk University Jubilee Choir provided vocal backup and the legendary Spooner Oldham (who played on Bob Dylan’s Saved) offered a brief Hammond B3 solo.

The complete lyrics, and a glowing review of Young’s performance, are available at the Neil Young News blog. You can see a video of Young and the choir performing the song on AOL Music’s comprehensive Live 8 site (here’s the Toronto page, which also includes the lighthearted “If I Had a Million Dollars” by Barenaked Ladies).

You’ll likely hear “When God Made Me” many times in the coming decades, especially at elementary schools’ winter holiday festivals and weddings that favor vows custom-written by the bride and groom. Enjoy.

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  • holmegm

    Yes … you have to watch out for those fanatics who actually believe in God … like Mother Teresa.

  • ECJ

    Was He planning only for believers … Yes.
    Or for those who just have faith? … Yes. (But this is a false dichotomy.)
    Did He envision all the wars … Yes.
    That were fought in His name? … Yes.
    Did He say there was only one way …Yes
    To be close to Him? … Yes

    When God made me … as a vessel of wrath?
    When God made me … or as a vessel of glory?


  • Jordan

    I guess it depends on just what he was “planning,” right? I suppose the (Lutheran) single-predestinarian scheme would agree with your first two answers, ECJ, since those who are not saved fall outside the decree (strictly construed). “The eternal election of God, however, vel praedestinatio (or predestination), that is, God’s ordination to salvation, does not extend at once over the godly and the wicked, but only over the children of God, who were elected and ordained to eternal life before the foundation of the world was laid, as Paul says, Eph. 1, 4. 5: He hath chosen us in Him, having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ.” (Formula of Concord, XI, 5)

  • John H

    “We’re sorry, this feature is not supported in Firefox.”


    Great one. “AOL. Where support for Africa and proprietary formats go hand in hand.”

  • Steve Nicoloso

    Them’s fightin’ words, ECJ!!!! Have your army meet my army… ;-)

  • Dan Crawford

    Betcha Scott Simon put on his real serious and solemn voice when he introduced the piece. Scott does that a lot when he wants his audience to think and respond as seriously and as solemnly as he does. After years of listening to him and all those other bright NPR announcers, he still has the capacity to chap my ass.

  • Molly

    Oh, come on, Doug, lighten up. I heard this piece on NPR while driving to church and was not impressed with the song at all. And if you are feeling accused, then maybe there is truth in his lyrics for you?

  • David Buckna

    In the song “Imagine”, Lennon sings:

    “Imagine there’s no heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky”

    Lennon DID NOT say that heaven and hell do not exist! What Lennon was driving at echoes the saying that some believers “are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good!” (I think it was Johnny Cash or Billy Graham who first said this)

    Young sings:

    > Was he planning only for believers
    > Or for those who just have faith?
    > Did he envision all the wars
    > That were fought in his name?
    > Did he say there was only one way
    > To be close to him?
    > When God made me
    > When God made me

    Even though Jesus said “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life”…” I think Neil Young was very careful with his lyric… there’s no period after the word “way” in Young’s song:”Did he say there was only one way to be close to him?”

    For example, do charismatic Christians and Quakers worship God in the same _way_?

    David Buckna

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    For John H. or any other frustrated users of Firefox: If you’re on a Mac, Safari will work on AOL Music.

  • ECJ


    Fightin’ Words? Naaahh. Just a good sound view of the Doctrine of Election. Jordon was dead on target. In fact, I even grew up Lutheran but have since moved a little SW to Geneva. Besides, I resisted the opportunity to take yet one more (well-deserved) swipe at NPR. :)


  • Eric Swensson

    “do charismatic Christians and Quakers worship God in the same way?”

    If their name is John Wimber. Now if he could only come back and tell us what God thinks of Neil Young.

  • Peter Sean Bradley

    Did he give me the gift of love
    to say who I could choose?

    When God made me.
    When God made me.
    When God made me.

    Did he give me the gift of voice
    so some could silence me?
    Did he give me the gift of vision
    not knowing what I might see?
    Did he give me the gift of compassion
    to help my fellow man?

    OK, I’ll give. Why did God make me? According to Young, it seems to be so that I could exercise all of the gifts he gave me as I choose. So love who or what you want, be it hetero, homo, cross-species or substance abuse. Because obviously God gave us all the gift of love, voice, choice, etc., etc.

    Of course, religious believers would probably agree with the idea that “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.”

    Seriously, though, I had a friend who was a big Neil Young fan. He’d go to Young’s annual Bridge School benefit concerts. Based at the way that this friend would go out of his way to sneer at people with religious convictions, I know that he would totally endorse Young’s lyrics, inasmuch as it would fit in with his view of his own innate moral superiority compared to anyone with a religious faith.

  • Libertine

    It’s pompous discussions like these that fuel my preference for the paganism of the Greeks. At least their gods were interesting.

  • Brad

    The Christian God is also quite interesting (as is evident in the Bible)…he’s just not as permissive as the gods of the Greeks were (nor is he as human as they were).


  • Bubbles

    Unfortunately, the entertainment world has never noticed that Neil Young has No. Singing. Talent. At. All.

    Everytime I’ve had the misfortune of being exposed to his singing, he has been abjectly unable to find the key, much less stay on it. For pete’s sake, Kid Rock is a better singer than this useless, talentless, burned-out, old fart. Maybe they should do a duet; after all, look how good he made Sheryl Crow sound by comparison.

  • xray

    This over-reaction and over-analysis of song-lyrics makes me think of that great episode of WKRP when the station was facing censorship and Mr Carlson had to stand up to the Jerry Falwell character. (Anyone offended by the lyrics of Imagine or When God Made Me will feel better after listening to a doctrinally-pure antidote like God Bless the USA)

  • Jordan


    Who’s offended by the song lyrics? Are you offended by the discussion of them?

  • xray

    Jordan: You don’t see the sarcasm in the original post, the line-by-line answers to rhetorical questions, and the attacks. on. Neil. Young’s. talent? I am not offended at all, I am merely reminded of how silly conservatives look parsing song lyrics when they percieve that insidious liberal agenda.

  • Steve Nicoloso

    I’ve often said, “If you get your political views from popular music, then you’ve got a lot of bigger problems than merely getting your political views from popular music.”

    I actually like John Lennon, tho’ I hate, double-plus-hate, his most famous anthem… mostly because of its stupifying effect on gullible bourgeois teens and adults who imagine they still are teens. And, in the interests of full disclosure, I must admit to actually liking much of Neil Young’s music even tho’ he is, in terms of vocal and guitar abilities, a talentless hack, and (worse) an irritating, self-righteous a$$hole to boot. But back when I turned 14, I concluded that good music does not necessarily correlate with good politics… Pity that NPR (of which I am a devoted fan) and Scott Simon (to whom I really enjoy listening) don’t always seem to get this.


  • Stephen A.

    So, when liberals spend hours parsing every word conservatives say, then blowing it up in the media as being “offensive,” “extreme” and worthy of an apology, it’s legitimate.

    But when conservatives dare to expose a bigoted, anti-religious song that many people won’t otherwise think through and innocently take to heart, it’s an “overreaction.”

    Got it.

  • xray

    Stephen A: I wasn’t aware there was a blog I could go to for liberal fisking of conservatives fave music. Please link!

    Is Imagine or the Neil Young song “bigoted and anti-religious”? Both?

    Got it.

  • Terrence Berres

    Somehow it doesn’t seem there could be “over-reaction and over-analysis of song-lyrics” when the performance includes a chorus from a Fisk University.

  • xray

    Terrence: Good point, I missed that.

  • Peter Sean Bradley

    I’ll second Bubbles point about Neil Young’s AWOL singing talent. I’ve never understood the attraction he generates among a certain class of generally over-50 Boomers who are trying to recapture their glory days.

    But I guess to those who pride themselves on their non-judgmental approach to life having any opinion about Young’s approach to writing and singing is just “wrong”.

    Nonetheless, Young has made a career of claiming to possess a level of erudition and thoughtfulness, which is what this most recent song is all about – Young the lonely artist, once again holding a mirror up to society. Well, since he postures as a thinker, why is it unfair to point out that his lyrics are fatuous, and would be aesthetically satisfying only to those with the intellectual depth of linoleum?

    But I guess the message is that rock icons – particular gasbags from the ’60s – are immune from criticism.

    Perhaps there is another example from a short-lived sitcom to prove Young’s deep philosophical point? Maybe something from Gilligan’s Island where the Professor deconstructed the Hollywood Blacklist through the filter of of Hegelian dialectics?

  • ECJ


    …the line-by-line answers to rhetorical questions…

    The rhetorical questions in the song imply their own answers – answers that fit nicely with the post-modern view of religion. That is in fact why NPR gave it air time. But the implied answers in the song are based upon a deeply flawed understanding of God. This understanding denies the certainty of revelation, and ends up fashioning God after the image of man. Man is increased. God is decreased. All that stuff about Holiness and Sin gets dropped on the floor. It’s a comforting illusion – but an illusion none the less.

    I didn’t perceive an insidious Liberal agenda. I saw a song overtly presenting a Liberal theology. All I did was point that out.


  • xray

    ECJ: So asking questions about predestination, who is part of the elect and the nature of grace is liberal theology? I wasn’t aware conservatives had reached consensus on those issues.

  • Surfer Grrrl

    To Bubbles, Peter Sean Bradley, Steve Nicoloso and a few others above who feel that Neil Young’s music is “useless, talentless, burned-out, old fart” (sic):

    I think if you just examine last week’s Live 8 concert, maybe you’ll be able to better appreciate Young’s music & art.

    Remember that Young performed as the closing act in a day of over 150 bands. He performed a brand new song that was relevant to the moment. This is why his fellow musicians and organizers selected Young for the prestigious final slot.

    Live8 wanted to conclude the day with someone whose credentials and credibility are unchallenged – by fans and fellow musicians.

    Aside from Bob Dylan, there really is no one else of his generation still making meaningful music.

    Long May He Run!
    Surfer Grrrl

  • Gospel Gal

    Hmmm. I guess I’m trying to figure out if having the Fisk Jubilee Singers join somehow fits in with their history (singing spirituals, many of which question the way people lived out their faith), contradicts it (Fisk was founded by founded by ministers whose work was sponsored by the American Missionary Association) or is somehow related to the schools’ current affiliation with the UCC. Anyone have any thoughts about this? Terrence, xray, is that what you meant?

  • carson

    I agree with xray and David Buckna on Imagine and When God Made Me. In both cases the questions are rhetorical and the reactions are over reactions. Over reactions because nothing sinful is implied , Young seems to be wondering just cause he doesn’t believe like other people does that mean he does not a have a place on earth? Or that God will have to uncreate him.I think the parable of the talents, if one has a gift then why not use it? An answer St. Paul might give to his questions is “I wish they would go and emascalate themselves”. When he was speaking of people who don’t understand why they are on earth when they are more than fitting for Heaven.

    Ditch AOL and IE, if you’re a firefox user and want access to the live 8 stuff go to

    My favorite part thus far is U2 paired with Sir Paul for Sgt. Pepper which means Edge has George’s role. No I don’t want to argue about his beliefs.

  • ECJ


    “So asking questions about predestination, who is part of the elect and the nature of grace is liberal theology?”

    I would be shocked to discover that Neil Young could correctly define predestination let alone distinguish between its Calvinist and Semi-Pelagian conceptions. But who knows?

    In any case, I don’t think he was asking those questions, or any questions for that matter. The impled answer to every rhetorical question was ‘No.’ (That is why I answered every question with ‘Yes.’) The song is a denial of both explicit revelation, and Exclusive Truth.

    “Was He planning only for believers or for those who just have faith?”

    He divides belief from faith, thus implicitly asserting that faith is more important than the object of the faith. Have faith in what? Can you have faith in God and yet disbelieve? Yes, you can, if what you disbelieve is the exclusive doctrine rooted in Revelation which demands conformity. If God is silent and we are all just struggling in the dark to find Him, then each man can follow whatever faith he thinks up in his own mind. Who is to question him?

    “Did He envision all the wars that were fought in His name?.”

    Since having faith is what is important, and not any specific content for that faith, then why should anyone fight over it? In essense he argues that the exclusive religious belief is dangerous because it leads people to fight. Of course, the important question is whether this exclusive belief is true. But he has already answered that in the previous line.

    “Did He say there was only one way to be close to Him?”

    This is the penultimate question. Is it true that God has revealed Himself through only one religion? Was Jesus lying or deceived or mistaken when He said “If you do not believe that I Am, you will die in your sins.” Place the question in the context of the previous two lines, and you see how the song frames the question.

    This just scratches the surface. I could have just as easily focused on Providence. Or Sovereignty. I took the song and the artist seriously. And I think this is a reasonable and fair rendering of its meaning. It has nothing to do with grace and election. It presents a Theology of uncertainty – a god lost within the haze who knows nothing of holiness, and speaks with no clear voice.


  • tmatt

    Neil Young is one of the greatest rock song writers of the past few decades and, perhaps, the most under-rated hard rock guitarist ever. I have no comment to make at this time about his theology.

    However, you are right that he — in a folk or folk-rock context — should never approach a microphone without Crosby and Nash standing nearby.

  • tmatt

    Past few decades….

    Mercy. That’s a stupid comment. Like what other decades would I be talking about. I am tired of packing moving boxes.

    Did you know that, in one of my CD racks, Andy Summers ends up right next to Sting? What are the odds?

  • Jordan


    An artist’s lyrics are fair game I would think for criticism and/or praise. And I thought the conversation, at least the part I was involved in, was about the theological issues and possible implications raised by Young’s lyrics. It’s probably equally naive to think either that his lyrics have NO relevance to his view of God or that they are his fullest and last word on the subject. All in all, I think they’re generally legitimate, even if rhetorical, questions.

  • rix

    Whose God? The very word is a metaphor for the unknowable. If one were to assert that because we are both Christians, I believed in the same God as, oh, James Dobson, I’d answer, “Absolutely not.” I don’t believe his deity exists. But my God exists, & his does not. He is in error. & if you get your theology from rock stars, God bless you anyway.

  • Stephen A.

    It’s really amusing to see the left take out their “Smirking and Mocking” phrases when conservatives bring notice to a ludicrous lyric meant to be consumed by the public as serious thought.

    Apparently, the assumption underlying the defense of Mr. Young here is that music has NO influence on belief, cultural attitudes or even theology.

    That, of course, is the same bogus argument used against those who assert movies, TV, video games and Internet porn have a great deal of influence on society, which they in fact do.

    I say it again: I guess we’re all supposed to shut up and accept these cultural assaults. But whoever puts out a song, movie, book, or other media in which God is referred to in a more traditional way better duck into a corner to avoid the angry backlash.

    “How DARE they inject ‘religion’ into our culture! Those Ayatollahs! The horror of it all!” the hypocrites will cry.

    And by the way – the harlot singer Madonna in her “Like a Prayer” video managed to find a choir to back her vocals up, too. Big deal a choir was involved.

  • Jim Verkade

    I’m a Christian and a Neil Young fan. In that order. No, I do not believe in common grace.

    No, he doesn’t always hit every note. Guitar technique, songwriting ability, et C. leaves something to be desired. But please tell me why he takes every band he plays with to the next level? Why are his acoustic and electric performances orders of magnitude above any “christian” band I’ve heard?

    The alleged association of Fisk College and the WCC says it all. The song is not meant to evoke thought as much as feeling. Feel your wallet. Feel it grow thinner.

    Analysing the lyrics is an excercise in futility. One could apply Martin Luther’s axiom: “Scripture interprets Scripture” to Young’s other epigrams about God. And there are a few. But why waste your time? Holy scripture is inspired by God. Young’s lyrics are inspired by fever, drug orgies, broken relationships, and excess.

    BTW, “When God made Me” is not about God at all. It’s about “Me”, as in Neil. God is only a foil.

  • disraeli

    Lyrics or singing talent does not matter, most of the world keeps it mind in a stupidity mode.
    Thinking is not required when religion is introduced only emotion or feeling. Music brings out the part of the mind that the other disciplines fail to develop. Living in the human body only allows the being to experience this exist for what it is. One fleeting moment not explainable but to be experienced over and over in differ times. Some learn more each time they go around. We only get the moment. Use it for the best positive good you can.
    No proof exists beyond the moment.