We never spend too much time thinking about the meaning of Christmas, we are too busy to eat and exchange presents with family and friends, but this year a lot of this was out of the picture because of the pandemic, and we may have had more time for reflection. Many found refuge in their faith, this is, after all, the birthday of Christ, but as a non-believer, this day never had that kind of meaning to me. Christmas is a very quiet day, a time to relax while still scratching my head at the sight of other people’s dedication to this so-called holy day.
I guess I will never understand how some people are able to suspend their rational thinking long enough to believe in imaginary old tales and believe in a 2000-year-old virgin birth. I am afraid (not really) to admit that I have always found more comfort and meaning in the writings of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, or Sam Harris, while the natural world has always been a fascination to me, but in a different way. Studying science does not lead to God, at least not in my case: where some see eerie perfection, I can only see the results of complex chemical pathways and complicated processes, as well as plenty of redundancy. The idea of an ordered and faultless nature falls apart as soon as you get closer to the details. Despite its incredible complexity, our immune system was still unprepared for the fight with one of the smallest entities that the living world can produce – although it is still debatable whether viruses belong to the living world. 30Kb of RNA stopped the world this year, this should be enough to remind people how fragile we are, and how science is important.
If there is a mystery in nature, it lies in its unbelievable complexity leading to imperfect efficiency. In order to adapt, biological pathways are added at the top of already existing pathways, and, as if he could never clean up his workplace, God looks like a handyman with no foresight, who never starts from scratch. Despite the awe in the eyes of the believers, everything appears to be flawed and poorly designed: 99.9 % of the species that have ever existed have died out, and a large part of our DNA is useless, populated by broken genes, relics of our long past. Our genome contains countless repetitive and pointless sequences and has been littered with foreign genes, some coming from viruses, and so much in evolution is discarded, borrowed, abandoned, or copied. There’s no direction, only chaos everywhere. Yes, these were my thoughts on Christmas day, a day when many celebrate a miracle.
Shouldn’t more people be aware of all this? Any person with a basic education in science should know this, and still, I don’t see many young artists expressing ideas like these, either through their art or in interviews. The Beatles declared being agnostic in 1965, and when John Lennon released his song ‘Imagine’ in 1971, he surely wanted to express something. But ‘Imagine is often highjacked these days, I heard it sung in a church once (go figure) Cee Lo Green tried to changed the lyrics when he performed it for New Year’s Eve in 2012, replacing ‘And no religion too,’ by ‘And all religion’s true,’ and putting God back in the middle of the song. Let’s face it, being a non-believer, rejecting the idea of God is not popular.
Everywhere I look, there’s some talk about God, and no questions asked. Mainstream music is deeply religious from Justin Bieber to ‘Yeezy’ Kanye West, the rap and R&B worlds are also fueled by Christianity and even Alice Cooper became a born again Christian. From Bono to Ringo, from Mumford & Sons to Belle & Sebastian to Kings of Leon to Sufjan Stevens, there’s too much contemplation and not enough inquiries.
Obviously, you can find artists who have either found inspiration in science or have bashed religions. Here are a few examples on this Christmas day:
Wu-Tang Clan’s GZA recorded ‘Dark Matter,’ based on a journey through spacetime, universe, and physics, marrying hip-hop and science, seeking inspiration among renowned scientists, and if the release of the album has been postponed, he also recorded a space-themed track, ‘The Spark’ for a NASA project in 2016.
For his second album, ‘In Our Nature,’ Jose Gonzales found inspiration in his reading of books like Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ and ethicist Peter Singer’s ‘Practical Ethics,’ writing lyrics like ‘Not much of what you say makes any sense/Cook up some myths then ask for obedience/Even though you mean well, well most of the time/You’ve aided delusion and created bias in our minds’
Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder once said to a concert crowd: ‘I would thank God, but I don’t believe in it.’ He also declared in a 1991 Rolling Stone interview: ‘When you’re out in the desert, you can’t believe the amount of stars. We’ve sent mechanisms out there, and they haven’t found anything. They’ve found different colors of sand, and rings, and gases, but nobody’s shown me anything that makes me feel secure in what happens afterward. All I really believe in is this moment, like right now.’ You can find him complaining about religions in ‘Mind Your Manners’: ‘I feel that I’m done believing/Now the truth is coming out.’
The Cure’s frontman, Robert Smith, couldn’t have been more direct in this 2012 interview: ‘I hate religion. I hate all religion. I think religion is at the heart of so much discontent and idiocy in the world. I think all faith is terror.’ Many interpret the song ‘This is a Lie’ as an ode to the lies of religions, ‘How each of us believes/I’ve never really known/In heaven unseen and hell unknown/This is a lie/How each of us believes/I’ve never really known/In heaven unseen and hell unknown.’
With ‘Glory Hallelujah, UK alt-rocker Frank Tuner has written one of the most atheistic songs: ‘There is no God, No heaven and no hell/There is no God, We’re all in this together’
Jenny Lewis wrote ‘Born Secular’ and ‘The Absence of God’ with her band Rilo Kiley and this introduction line, ‘The absence of God will bring you comfort, baby,’ whereas the younger generation can be represented by First Aid Kit and their atheist anthem ‘Hard Believer,’ with these straightforward lyrics: ‘Well, I see you’ve got your Bible/Your delusion imagery/Well, I don’t need your eternity/Or your meaning to feel free.’
To that, I could add the entire catalog of Bad Religion, some of Slayer, NOFX, Rush, Marilyn Manson, Green Day, Motorhead, Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), whereas this article managed to list 200 atheist songs! I am not alone.
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