Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig performing at the 2008 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago.

Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig performing at the 2008 Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago. Photo by Darerick, via Wikimedia Commons.

Though Steve Martin said that “atheists don’t have no songs,” there are plenty of great songs with nontheistic themes. Below is the second installment of my list of the 20 best atheist or nonreligious anthems.

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 in some way as nonreligious.

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

15. Iron & Wine, “Upward Over the Mountain”

Sample lyric: “Mother, I lost it / All of the fear of the Lord I was given.”

Samuel Beam, who records and performs under the name Iron & Wine, grew up in the Bible belt but is “no longer a Christian.” When asked about his “loss of religious faith” Beam told The Telegraph, “That was a confusing time for me, but I don’t miss being misled.” However, he doesn’t identify as an atheist; as he said in an interview with The High Hat, “I was raised in a Christian home, but now I’m agnostic.” This soft, swaying song is taken from his wonderful 2002 album The Creek Drank the Cradle.

14. Vampire Weekend, “Unbelievers”

“We know the fire awaits unbelievers / All of the sinners the same / Girl you and I will die unbelievers / bound to the tracks of the train.”

Off of their latest release Modern Vampires of the City, Vampire Weekend’s “Unbelievers” is a sunny, strummy tune perfect for summer. While frontman Ezra Koenig has denied that the song is an atheist anthem, telling Pitchfork that it is in fact about “millennial unease,” it’s still a great song that will resonate with many atheists. Nontheistic themes emerge elsewhere on the excellent Modern Vampires of the City, such as on “Everlasting Arms”: “Could I have been made to serve a master / When I’m never gonna understand, never understand.”

13. Nada Surf, “Whose Authority”

“On whose authority / I have none over me.”

Nada Surf is one of the most consistent bands around, having reliably released one great album after another for nearly a decade. In an interview with The Line of Best Fit, drummer Ira Elliot discussed this song—taken from 2008’s Lucky—saying, “The three of us [in Nada Surf are] atheists so we don’t believe in a God but I kind of think it would be nice to have to answer to somebody… Maybe that would make things easier… I think there’s an attraction and repulsion to this idea at the same time.”

12. Spiritualized, “The Straight and Narrow”

“And if Jesus is the straight path that saves / Then I’m condemned to live my whole life on the curb.”

Taken from their 2001 album Let It Come Down, this lush, soaring song is just one of many Spiritualized tracks that touch on religious or atheistic themes. Their 1997 album Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space contains an instrumental track entitled “No God Only Religion,” and their song “Walking With Jesus” opens with the line, “I walked with Jesus and He would say ‘Oh you poor child, you ain’t coming with me, no way.” In an interview with The A.V. Club, lead singer and songwriter Jason Pierce was asked about the closest he’s ever come to a religious experience. He laughed and replied, “I don’t know if I have. I think religion is about belief… You can believe anything. That’s what religion is. I don’t believe I’ve ever had that.”

11. The Antlers, “The Universe is Going to Catch You”

“And we’re not going to wait / If you continue to tell us… ‘The universe is going to catch you’… Come back inside / To this house / To your home… Nobody’s out there”

While vocalist Peter Silberman hasn’t explicitly called himself an atheist, he said that In the Attic of the Universe, which includes the magnificent “The Universe is Going to Catch You,” was recorded during a difficult time in his life when he took solace in “finding some kind of comfort in the enormity of space.” As a result, the album became about his “fascination with the universe.” Describing it as a “religious misdirection,” he explained: “I think it’s normal for people to seek religious connection when their life is f-cked up and they can’t find a real solution. I think that’s what I was doing, but with something that wasn’t a formalized religion.”

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

6 Comments

  1. Steve Martin’s song ” Atheists Don’t Have No Songs,” was intended to be foolish nonsense, not a statement of universal truth. Atheists are individuals with a great range of musical and other tastes among them. The songs they may choose to like are as unlimited as the songs religious believers may choose to like. Any list attempting to specify “the best songs for atheists” simply reflects the author’s peculiar musical tastes and will have little relevance to the millions of atheists of varying tastes the world over.

    P. S. I am an atheist and even like some songs despite the word “god” in them. Although when singing with a group, I enjoy reversing the word and singing “dog.” instead. Such as “Dog Bless America.”

  2. “Are there any unbelievers out there tonight? (crowd cheers). Listen close I’ve got some bad news for you.”

    - Ezra Koenig

    To die an unbeliever means to be born a believer. Listen close.

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