Sunday Sermon: Is “Dear God” really the best we can do?

I really like XTC (the band, that is — I’ve never tried the drug), and I’m an atheist. So logically, I should love their atheist anthem “Dear God,” right?

But I don’t love it. I don’t even like it. I can stand to listen to it (Andy Partridge writes good tunes), but I actively dislike the lyrics. Here’s why:

First of all, there’s the underlying assumption that God actually does exist, whether we believe in him or not. The same assumption behind the question “Do you believe in God?” The same assumption that gets some atheists’ backs up because they’ve already been put in a rhetorical box just by the way the question is framed.

Secondly, there’s the assumption that the God in question is the Judeo-Christian-Muslim one, as if it’s the only one worth talking about. You could argue, therefore, that “Dear God” isn’t an atheist anthem, merely an anti-Christian (or anti-Judeo-Christian-Muslim) one, but I don’t know of anyone who thinks of it like that.

But my main objection is that the lyrics are just so simplistic, superficial and, frankly, childish. They sound like the rantings of a 14-year-old who just discovered that the universe isn’t perfect. It’s the kind of argument that Christian apologists set up as a strawman, just because it’s so easy to knock down.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with the universe having some overly simplistic whining about religion. But the problem is, because XTC is a fairly famous band (and a good one), “Dear God” is easily the most famous song in the world (at least the English-speaking world) that carries an atheist or anti-religion message.

As such, it creates the impression that the fatuous, petulant whining found in the song is the best the atheist side can do when it comes to critiquing religion through song. Surely that’s not the case … is it?

Could any you, my legions of loyal readers (and by “legion” I of course mean “tiny handful”), come up with better examples? I’d love to hear about them.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by clover on September 15, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Losing My Religion by REM :
    Consider this
    The hint of the century
    Consider this
    The slip that brought me
    To my knees failed
    What if all these fantasies
    Come flailing around
    Now I’ve said too much

    And Alanis Morissette’s Forgiven:
    I sang Alleluia in the choir
    I confessed my darkest deeds to an envious man
    My brothers they never went blind for what they did
    But I may as well have
    In the name of the Father, the Skeptic and the Son
    I had one more stupid question

    We all had our reasons to be there
    We all had a thing or two to learn
    We all needed something to cling to
    So we did


  2. Posted by clover on September 15, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Oh, and Rush’s freewill:
    You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
    If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
    You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
    I will choose a path that’s clear
    I will choose freewill.


  3. Oh, y’know – the wildly more famous “Imagine”.


    • Posted by brachinus on September 15, 2009 at 8:31 pm

      Yeah, but songs that were in my church youth group’s songbook are disqualified. 😉

      Seriously, “Imagine” isn’t really an atheist song, more of a “let’s do good because it’s right, rather than because we’re afraid of God” song. It’s certainly compatible with atheism (and certainly disliked more by the religious than the non-religious), but it’s at least technically compatible with religion as well.


  4. […] the perspective of religion, a song like XTC’s “Dear God” isn’t really subversive, except to the extent that some religious person might look at the […]


  5. Posted by XTC lover on September 23, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    I thought Dear God was brilliant, especially for the era it came out in. (June 1987?) It was a welcome counterpoint to the 700 Clubers of the Reagan years.

    Also, it’s still listenable today without sounding dated. Forceful and strident, I listen to it when my atheism needs a musical boost.

    I wish I wrote it – biting, satirical, awesome!


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