Daniel Dennett Doesn’t Like UU Hymns

Here’s an interesting quote from uber-atheist Daniel Dennett:

I know and love the Unitarians, but I don’t like the words to their hymns. The words are so insipid I can’t stand them. I’d rather sing the good old ripsnortin’ words and then put a little flashing light over the pulpit that says “metaphor.”

Now, I know that UUs are hardly the first people to do this – religious music is filled with plagiarism. A lot of folk songs were turned into hymns. Pagans have reversed that in the past 20-30 years putting occasionally-imaginative lyrics to Christian songs. Some of them are actually decent.

But still, Dennett has a point.

The quote comes at the end of an interview he did about a research project on ministers who become atheists. It’s a tough situation – their lives and livelihoods are tied up in their churches and their denominations. If they suddenly say “I can’t honestly do this any more” their friends and families are likely to desert them. And they’re out of work, sometimes with no skills for anything else.

I’m reminded of a quote from Rev. Eric Posa: “if you’re a UU, you don’t have to change churches just because you stop believing in God. Or in my case, if you start believing in God.”

Good luck to the ministers who struggle to serve with integrity where they can no longer accept the creeds they’re expected to preach.

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  • Anonymous

    Words are often the least important parts of any song.
    Of course, to suggest that we all agree to what words mean and that they can mean the same for every one everywhere is an arrogance toward which we should lightly tread.
    Unitarian Universalist hymns are part of the ancient art of hymnody that has crafted sacred music for centuries. Mr Dennett is clueless – the words in our hymnals are far from insipid – many written by the best minds and poets of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    Humility is called for. Often the words are the least important part of a hymn – the tune, the mood created by the sound, is paramount.
    UUs have no creeds (officially), so we need to embrace the need for others to sing and practice radical acceptance and humility. Often, much more can be conveyed by sound, image and gesture than words.
    To always be focused on whether or not we agree with the words becomes a petty foolishness that ties one to the pedantry that turned the Protestant Reformation into a series of bloody wars. Rebuke this purity game.
    Just sing out loud with gusto, and allow the song to live beyond the words. Singing is an end in itself, tuning our nervous systems with one another, and aligning our spirits within. To sing is to pray twice. So sing, doggone-it, and don't worry about whether you agree with the words or not. That is missing the point. The song is a vehicle of transformation and healing inn and of itself.

    Rev Scott Sammler-Michael