Marina and the Diamonds. Photo by Daniel Åhs Karlsson.

Marina and the Diamonds at Sommarkrysset, Sweden, in 2012. Photo by Daniel Åhs Karlsson, via Wikimedia Commons.

Steve Martin once declared that “atheists don’t have no songs.” So I set out to pull together a short list of atheist songs and, well, got a bit carried away. Beginning today, I’m counting down my top 20 atheist or nonreligious songs.

As with most “best of” lists the ranking is entirely subjective, and I’ve left out some of the obvious candidates—the songs that have become standard atheist cuts. (My apologies to Bad Religion, Shelley Segal, and every atheist obsessed with John Lennon’s “Imagine.”)

In order for a song to qualify for this list, it had to be either explicitly atheistic, express a skeptical or Humanistic viewpoint, or come from an artist who has identified as either atheist, agnostic, or nonreligious in some way.

Below are numbers 20 through 16 and the honorable mentions. The other installments: 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

20. Marina and the Diamonds, “Buy the Stars”

“We’re born alone and alone we die.”

26-year-old Welsh singer Marina Diamandis (aka Marina and the Diamonds) told StarPulse that she’s “not religious” and tweeted a few years ago that she is an atheist. Atheistic or irreligious themes appear in her music in flashes—in Electra Heart’s spare “Buy the Stars” and aching “Teen Idle,” or in the transcendent “I Am Not a Robot” (from her debut album The Family Jewels), which exemplifies her Humanistic perspective.

19. Grizzly Bear, “A Simple Answer”

“Those saints in lockstep / All crossed the wasteland / Forever gone.”

Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste told Splendid that he is “definitely not religious” and “grew up in the most unreligious family ever,” saying that he is “totally averse to religion” (before adding “no offense to religion”). This winding song, taken from Shields, is a typically reflective and rich Grizzly Bear track.

18. St. Vincent, “All My Stars Aligned”

“I read the signs / I got all my stars aligned… There are no signs / there are no stars aligned / no amulets, not a charm.”

Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent) hasn’t explicitly identified as an atheist, but she attended a Unitarian Church as a child and she sings “I prefer your love to Jesus” on her most recent album. (Her enchanting debut album Marry Me featured a song called “Jesus Saves, I Spend.”) She told Flavorwire, “I tend to draw on religious mythology because it’s so ubiquitous. I’m definitely interested [in religion] in an intellectual sense.” And she told The A.V. Club that while she grew up around many religions, “the family aspect was stronger than any particular dogma.” This song, taken from her debut, reflects a naturalistic view of fate.

17. Garbage, “As Heaven Is Wide”

“As far from God / as heaven is wide.”

Lead singer Shirley Manson declared she was an atheist as an adolescent, and told Rolling Stone in 1998 that she still doesn’t believe in God. This snarling song is taken from Garbage’s superb self-titled debut, which remains one of the defining albums of the 1990s.

16. eels, “Hey Man (Now You’re Really Living)”

“Well I just saw the sun rise over the hill / Never used to give me much of a thrill / But hey man, now you’re really living.”

Eels singer Mark Oliver Everett is the son of a prominent physicist, whom he described in his memoir as a “devout atheist.” (He also worked on a documentary about his father.) It seems his father passed those nontheistic views on. In an interview, Everett was asked if he is religious—he responded: “No. Not at all.” (He’s also described Sunday School attendees as “fools.”) This song is taken from eels’ best album, the triumphant Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, which includes among its sprawling 33 tracks an instrumental called “God’s Silence” and lyrics that convey a broad range of Humanistic views. To quote “From Which I Came/A Magic World,” Everett shows that “a little wonder goes a long, long way.”

The full list: 20-16 | 15-11 | 10-6 | 5-1

Honorable mentions:

Cursive, “Rise Up! Rise Up!

“So rise up, rise up! / There’s no one to worship / But plenty of life to lose… I wasted half of my life on thought that I’d live forever…  Live a full life / Because when it’s over, it’s done.”

Tom Waits, “God’s Away on Business

“Who are the ones that we kept in charge? …God’s away on business.”

of Montreal, “Gronlandic Edit

“I guess it would be nice to give my heart to a god / but which one do I choose?”

Wilco, “Theologians

“Theologians / they don’t know nothing about my soul.”

Frank Turner, “Glory Hallelujah

“There is no God / No heaven and no hell / There is no God / We’re all in this together.”

Ani DiFranco, “What if No One’s Watching

“What if no one’s watching / What if when we’re dead, we’re just dead / What if it’s just us down here / What if god ain’t looking down.”

Rilo Kiley,  “The Absence of God

“The absence of God will bring you comfort.”

15 Comments

  1. You missed some pretty obvious ones, such as XTC’s “Dear God”, The Sugarcubes’ “Deus” and going back a bit, just about anything off Jethro Tull’s “Aqualung”.

  2. John Lennon’s “Imagine” surely has to be number one!

    Also I’m a fan of The Living End’s “Raise the Alarm” and Shelley Segal’s “Saved”.

  3. Pretty much all of Keane’s songs refer to atheism without mincing words.
    “We are just monkeys who fell out of the trees…Pretend that you’re alone now and everything’s gone
    Just animal reflexes no one looking on
    Forget about religion, forget about shame.”

    • Self admitted animal. I see I am correct then in not thinking much more of the people who adopt the worldview. And with lyrics like that, no respect was expected.

  4. Mine are:

    “God” by John Lennon
    “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For a Sunbeam” by Nirvana (I know it was originally done by the Vaselines, but I prefer the Nirvana Unplugged version.)
    “Religious Vomit” by Dead Kennedys
    “Hard to Be” by David Bazan

  5. Any song not about religion or a god qualifies as an atheist song. Just as there is “christian radio” as they are positive message songs about a christian god. But there is no atheist radio as all other songs not about god or religion would be considered atheist songs.

    Therefore i don’t understand the reason for the categorical minutiae here…”atheist songs”. Other than as a construct to further make you all feel like part if a special social grouping….aka to stoke your own egos.

  6. I’ve listened to or already know these songs and also most of those recommended by others and I don’t think any if them are as to the point as Nazareth “I Will Not Be Led”. I will admit that many of the songs mentioned are more well crafted and more listenable but if you want to make your view known Nazareth says it without beating around any bushes and leaves nothing to interpretation.

    D

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