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.
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.”
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?”
“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.”