Summary

Having a thing for country music, even Christian country, doesn't make me a religious hillbilly—it makes me a fan of unintentional comedy

Reading Time: 6 minutes

My music collection features hundreds of country songs, many of which are deeply religious. Does that make me a closet Christian?

Most assuredly not! So what prevents me from deleting them from my Walkman? Simple answer: their often unintentional comical content.

A few days ago, a friend who dropped by bearing a six-pack of San Miguel did a double-take when he heard a track playing in the background.

It was the late George Davis singing “Jesus appeared in a barroom“, a song that begins:

One Saturday night in the barroom, a gospel singer walked in,
And bravely she read from the Bible, and begged them to turn from their sin.

‘Oh, come unto Jesus,’ she pleaded. ‘He’ll be your staff and your rod.

Then one of the drinkers who stood there said, ‘Well, I don’t believe in your God. I don’t rightly know how you prove them, that pack o’ lies that you said,

But if there’s a God up in heaven, I dare Him to strike me down dead.

Dave said that, while he knew I favored cowboy gear, tasseled and embroidered shirts, pointy boots with Cuban heels and bolo ties — the whole kit and caboodle except a horse which I could never get into my 31st-floor apartment — he never regarded me as a Christ-loving hillbilly. “Hold it right there,” I replied, and asked him to listen closely to the words.

He did. And couldn’t stop laughing over the sheer cheesiness of Davis’s song. When he got his breath back, Dave said he thought it was satiric, but I disagreed. Everything I’ve read about “The Singing Miner” from Kentucky indicates that he was A True Believer. I told him that genuine religious satire was to be found in some of the material produced by The Austin Lounge Lizards, notably “Jesus Loves Me but He Can’t Stand You” and “One True God.

But my favorite—a sharp dig at Christian fundies—is Todd Snider’s “Conservative Christian, Right Wing, Republican, Straight, White, American Males.”

Given the current state of the US, where liberal values are under attack as never before in modern history, Snider’s song is particularly relevant, as was an earlier song titled “When the President Talks to God” by Connor Oberst, directed at then-president George W Bush. It ends thus:

When the President talks to God
Does he ever think that maybe he’s not?
That that voice is just inside his head
When he kneels next to the Presidential bed
Does he ever smell his own bullshit
When the President talks to God? I doubt it. I doubt it.

A while back this question was posted on Quora: “Are there any atheist country songs?” One reply, from Annie Klembara, reads, in part:

I don’t think there are atheistic songs in any genre. Sure, you’ll find some anti-theistic songs in heavy metal, but I don’t think you truly understand atheism. We don’t gather together to share or celebrate our disbelief. How would a lack of belief in something even fit into a song?

First of all, it’d probably piss off a lot of faithful country fans, and would probably create career suicide for the singer. Nobody, even atheists, would buy it.

Image via YouTube

Klembara clearly had never heard of Tim Minchin, above, an Australian comedian, actor, writer, musician and songwriter known for excoriating Christianity in songs like “Ten Foot Cock and A Few Hundred Virgins.

In it, he questions why devout followers would want to save their virginity for Heaven. It’s a takedown of religious anti-sex views by drawing parallels between steeples and penises.

Writing for The Guardian in 2011 about his tour of America, Minchin said that people were concerned that his “penchant for jaunty-but-vehement criticism of religion will at best result in empty auditoriums, and at worst get me shot” in a “country packed wall-to-wall with Christian fundies.”

There is no doubt that many Americans have what seems to be a near-erotic relationship with the two-millennia-dead Middle-Eastern Jewish magician-preacher we call Jesus. But there are frickin’ loads of people in America, and even if the percentage of the population that is not religious is only 10% (it’s a much greater number, surely), then there are still 33 million potential ticket-buyers.

Then there Dan Barker’s “Nothing Fails Like Prayer“:

How many centuries will it take us before we realize there are no magic forces in nature, no watchful eyes in the skies? A single plow is much more effective than a hundred prayers a day. The hands that help are better far than lips that pray.

Dan Barker is an American atheist activist and musician who served as an evangelical Christian preacher and composer for 19 years but left Christianity in 1984. He and his wife Annie Laurie Gaylor are the current co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. He has written numerous articles for Freethought Today, and is the author of several books including Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist.

Back in 2011, it was reported that a song called “Dear God” by XTC, written by Andy Partridge and released in 1986, sent Christians into paroxysms of fury – and led to the suspension of a Canadian teacher who played it to his 6th and 7th graders. You can see why here:

I won’t believe in heaven and hell
No saints, no sinners, no devil as well
The pearly gates, no thorny crown
You’re always letting us humans down
The wars you bring, the babes you drown
Those lost at sea and never found
And it’s the same the whole world round
The hurt I see helps to compound
The Father, Son, and holy ghost
Is just somebody’s unholy hoax
And if you’re up there you’ll perceive
That my heart’s here upon my sleeve
If there’s one thing I don’t believe in, It’s you, Dear God

Jerry DeMarco, writing for The Englewood Daily Voice, reported that the teacher, John Orme of Ontario, asked the kids in his poetry class to examine and elaborate on the lyrics.

DeMarco was appalled by the teacher’s action:

The fact that atheists have taken up the teacher’s cause — claiming that he merely gave the pupils “the tools of critical thinking” — makes the entire incident all the more distasteful.

Seeing as how we don’t burst kids’ bubbles about Santa and the Easter Bunny, maybe it’s time to add God to the list, whether you believe or not. I mean, there’s a time and a place for everything — and to my way of thinking, 6th or 7th grade isn’t it when it comes to Christopher Hitchens-styled skepticism of faith.

It was enough to convince some record store owners not to stock the album which, “of course, only made the British band’s tune even more popular here in the States.”

And Wiki says:

The song’s anti-religious message inspired some violent incidents. In Florida, a Panama City radio station received a bomb threat for playing the song, and in New York, a Binghamton High School student forced his school to play the song over its public-address system while holding a faculty member at knife-point. Some British shops refused to carry the single. Partridge also received a plethora of hate mail, although all of it was from the US.

One long-enduring song that’s been annoying the hell out of some Christians for more than 50 years is John Lennon’s famous 1971 “Imagine“. In 2017 The Imaginative Conservative ran a piece calling it “a nightmare” and decrying the fact that it was played in Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Ronald W. Stelzer, pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Centereach, New York, wrote:

‘Imagine there’s no heaven; it’s easy if you try. No hell below us; above us only sky.’ Also no religion, no countries, no possessions, etc. Ah yes, an atheist’s and communist’s paradise on earth. And just as Karl Marx assured us, the end result, if we someday join in the dream, ‘the world will live as one.’

But we don’t need our imagination to see what Lennon’s dream would bring. We just have to observe the history of the twentieth century, and look to Bolshevik Russia and the Stalinist Soviet Union; to Mao’s China and to other lesser imitators and imaginers to see the result: hundreds of millions of fellow citizens slaughtered, starved and imprisoned.

John Lennon and his ideological, mindless groupies are asking us to imagine what our country would be like if we could jettison the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, not to mention the Bible, which repeatedly says, ‘The fool has said in his heart, there is no God.’

And for good measure he added:

We ought to come up with a better way to bring in the new year than by indulging in intoxicants and vain imaginings … not to mention by inviting the wrath and judgment of the Almighty upon our country.

Many believe that my love of country music puts me on par with brain-dead rednecks, but I would argue that the genre is nowhere nearly as stupid as Christian rock. Country is often much more than about beer, trucks and guns. It contains a hell of a lot of contemporary social commentary, although some — especially trans people and cross-dressers — may not see the humor in Rodney Carrington’s “Dancing with a Man“.

I think I’m dancing with a man. She’s got callouses on her hands. She’s got a voice deeper than mine. She gets a stiffy when we grind. I think I’m dancing with a man.

Me? I think is hilarious.

Long before that was Loretta Lynn’s 1965 song “The Pill“, which is No 4 on a list called “24 songs you won’t believe were banned from the radio.” It says:

In 1960, the birth control ‘pill’ was approved for public use, and by 1963, 2.3 million American women were happily taking it. But when Loretta Lynn released her song endorsing the pill and applauding it as a victory for women’s rights, it didn’t go over so well with some radio executives. Singing about women being able to finally join the workforce, or go out on the town in whatever clothes they wanted was deemed too progressive and threatening for radio audiences. Despite its ban from the airwaves, ‘The Pill’ became an important part of women’s history

Conclusion: I’d rather stick my head up a dead bear’s bum than get rid of my country collection.

Veteran journalist and free speech activist Barry Duke was, for 24 years, editor of The Freethinker magazine, the second oldest continually active freethought publication in the world, established by G.W....