Music that uses religious imagery as a critique
August 12, 2021 3:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for songs that reference or use religious imagery/concepts while pushing back against toxic Christianity or ideas associated with it.


How Did You Love? - Shinedown
No one gets out alive, every day is do or die
The one thing you leave behind
Is how did you love, how did you love?
It's not what you believe, those prayers will make you bleed
But while you're on your knees
How did you love, how did you love, how did you love?
The Village - Wrabel
Feel the rumors follow you
From Monday all the way to Friday dinner
You got one day of shelter
Then it's Sunday hell to pay, you young lost sinner
Well, I've been there, sitting in that same chair
Whispering that same prayer half a million times
It's a lie, though buried in disciples
One page of the Bible isn't worth a life
Make It Stop (September's Children) - Rise Against
What God would damn a heart?
And what God drove us apart?
What God could?
From a nation under God
I feel its love like a cattle prod
(This one is a little more distant on the "imagery" part but it's much more explicit as a call-out so it works for me.)

The entirety of Parson James's Sinner Like You and Temple

What Lil Nas X is doing with MONTERO is also along the lines of what I'm looking for, though it's not really the lyrics themselves that are doing the work of calling out/pushing back.

Does not need to be explicitly LGBTQ+ positive but that's a plus and the place I'm coming from. Fine with music that comes from "inside the house" e.g. Christian bands calling out harmful aspects of Christianity, but mostly leaning towards the secular perspective.
posted by brook horse to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe Lucy Dacus' "VBS"?

Her album from this year, Home Video, has a lot of this.
posted by edencosmic at 3:36 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Dan Bern, God Said No and also Jerusalem
Danny Schmidt, This Too Shall Pass
I feel like most of Leonard Cohen's output does this. Jewish songwriters in general are good for engaging with religious imagery in a non-toxic or thoughtful way.
posted by shadygrove at 3:46 PM on August 12, 2021

"This Morning I Am Born Again," Ray Wylie Hubbard (words by Woody Guthrie):

This morning I was born again and a light shines on my land
I no longer look for heaven in your deathly distant land
I do not want your pearly gates don’t want your streets of gold
This morning I was born again and a light shines on my soul
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:52 PM on August 12, 2021

This is from the classical world but Christian Zeal and Activity by John Adams which has plenty of room for interpretation for how to relate to the preacher whose voice is looped over the music.
posted by damayanti at 3:52 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Hymn 43 by Jethro Tull? Not sure about the imagery angle.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 3:54 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Tori Amos' God?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:39 PM on August 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Perhaps The Principles of Lust by Enigma and of course One Of Us by Joan Osborne.
posted by Rash at 4:55 PM on August 12, 2021

This is the pretty much the concept for the entire album, "Circus Maximus," by Momus.
posted by perhapses at 4:56 PM on August 12, 2021

Overstand by Thievery Corporation:

Let me make it clear
I don't care for religion
But you're still my brother
No matter your decision
The blond haired, blue-eyed
God is overrated
I am not attracted to the
Picture that you're painting
I know I am young
And I have much to learn
But faith without reason
Makes me concerned

posted by soylent00FF00 at 4:57 PM on August 12, 2021

This far in and Hozier's Take Me to Church hasn't come up?
posted by phoenixy at 5:13 PM on August 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hozier does this in his self-titled album - most famously in the song Take Me to Church. (IIRC the music video was about violence against a gay couple, but that’s not a specific theme of the lyrics.)

Vampire Weekend also comes to mind, particularly the songs “Unbelievers”, “Ya Hey”, “Worship You”, and maybe “Everlasting Arms”.
posted by chaiyai at 5:14 PM on August 12, 2021 [3 favorites]

Maaaaybe Eulogy and/or 10,000 Days by Tool
posted by bookworm4125 at 5:46 PM on August 12, 2021

A large portion of David Bazan's (and his band Pedro the Lion) catalog would fit this description; he started off as a fairly religious (but earnest and seemingly not shitty christian) and then eventually became an agnostic/atheist. Interview here. His whole catalog references evangelical christianity to some degree or another.
posted by furnace.heart at 6:00 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

I will second Tori Amos' "God" and most of her first three albums (and the rest of her catalog, honestly, but a bit less and less and she progressed in her career).
posted by edencosmic at 6:16 PM on August 12, 2021

Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)
posted by pompomtom at 7:36 PM on August 12, 2021

Bad Religion's "Don't Pray on Me"

Now I don't know what stopped Jesus Christ
From turning every hungry stone into bread
And I don't remember hearing how Moses reacted
When the innocent first born sons lay dead

Well I guess God was a lot more demonstrative back
When he flamboyantly parted the sea
Now everybody's prayin', don't pray on me

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:38 PM on August 12, 2021

Tori Amos - Icicle:
Greeting the monster in our Easter dresses
Father says bow your head like the good book says
Well I think the good book is missing some pages...
And when my hand touches myself
I can finally rest my head
And when they say take of his body
I think I'll take from mine instead
Strongly nthing Hozier's Take Me To Church as well.
posted by ourobouros at 8:27 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

Frank Turner-Glory Hallelujah

XTC-Dear God

Steve Earle-Jerusalem (Not to be confused with Dan Bern’s “Jerusalem” recommended above, which I also love but is wildly different in tone and content).
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:37 PM on August 12, 2021 [2 favorites]

The whole album “The Body, The Blood, The Machine” by the Thermals would probably fit the bill. Here’s lyrics from the opening track, “Here’s Your Future:”

God reached his hand down from the sky
He flooded the land and he set it afire
He said "Fear me again, know I'm your father
Remember that no-one can breathe underwater"
So bend your knees and bow your heads
Save your babies, here's your future
Yeah, here's your future…
God said "Here's your future, it's gonna rain."
So we're packing our things, we're building a boat
We're gonna create a new master race
Cause we're so pure, oh lord, we're so pure!
So here's your future

posted by bluloo at 8:45 PM on August 12, 2021

came for the xtc...

timbuk3, standard white jesus.
posted by j_curiouser at 8:49 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

-The Pogues, "Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash"
-Crass, "Christ the album"
-many things by Sinead O'Connor
-virtually anything recorded by Diamanda Galas
-many things by Songs:Ohia or Palace Brothers
-the work of Robyn Nice
-the work of Lingua Ignota

These are off the top of my head, but as someone who loves music and for whom 'Catholic damage' is an appreciated musical theme, I enjoy these

Oh, Fatima Mansions

Hmm, disproportionate amount of Irish artists, why could that be?
posted by SystematicAbuse at 10:31 PM on August 12, 2021

But if you just want to go straight to the vein, "Fuck you God" by the Leaving Trains has always had my vote
posted by SystematicAbuse at 10:32 PM on August 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

PIL "Religion" (I & II!)
Born Against "Mary and Child"
post-1980s work of Julian Cope ("Jehovakill")
Current 93
posted by SystematicAbuse at 10:41 PM on August 12, 2021

Chvrches - Lies

Always, we can sing, we can make time
Old songs, flood and flame, you could be mine
But you got to show me, both knees, skin and bone
Clothe me, throw me, move me

'Til I can sell you lies
You can't get enough
Make a true believer of
Anyone, anyone, anyone
posted by keep it under cover at 12:05 AM on August 13, 2021

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis & Mary Lambert - Same Love

The right-wing conservatives think its a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man-made, rewiring of a pre-disposition.
Playing God
Ahh nah, here we go
America the brave
Still fears what we don't know
And God loves all his children it's somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written 3,500 hundred years ago


When I was in church, they taught me something else
If you preach hate at the service
Those words aren't anointed
And that Holy Water, that you soak in is then poisoned

And the 'Not crying on Sundays' part is a more subtle reference.
posted by snusmumrik at 12:26 AM on August 13, 2021

Dave Hause - The Father, The Son and the Homosexual / Single Parent

It's right there in the title and throughout the song.
posted by snusmumrik at 12:46 AM on August 13, 2021

Chumbawamba - Walking into Battle with the Lord
posted by Blue Genie at 4:48 AM on August 13, 2021

Robbie Fulks, God Isn't Real.
posted by dobbs at 5:24 AM on August 13, 2021

Ray Wylie Hubbard -Conversation with the Devil

INXS - Dancing on the Jetty
Billy Bragg - King James Version

Seconding Vampire Weekend, basically after their first album, half their songs are religious metaphors. Josh Ritter too. That song is awesome and he uses religious metaphors pretty regularly.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:23 AM on August 13, 2021

Might be slightly off, but The Hand that Feeds by Nine Inch Nails kind of does.
posted by Snowishberlin at 9:47 AM on August 13, 2021

In approximate order from subtle to blunt:

Lyle Lovett - Church
The Sundays - God Made Me
Indigo Girls - Hey Jesus and Closer to Fine
Kacey Musgraves - Follow Your Arrow (also Biscuits might barely qualify)
Andy Prieboy - Tomorrow, Wendy (though I think the Concrete Blonde cover is superior)
Brandy Clark - Pray to Jesus
Pet Shop Boys - It's a Sin
Voltaire - God Thinks

And yes, lots of early Tori Amos, which are rarely subtle: "God," "Father Lucifer," Icicle," "Past the Mission," motherfucking "Crucify," "Muhammad My Friend," "Mrs. Jesus," arguably "Playboy Mommy."

from inside the house:

Amy Grant - What About the Love (written by Janis "At Seventeen" Ian)
posted by Spathe Cadet at 10:44 AM on August 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Shellac's "Prayer to God" - WARNING, this is quite a bit more abrasive/in-your-face than most other songs linked here.

The narrator is a man who's earnestly asking God to kill his ex-wife and her new lover. The surface reading is extremely morbid comedy, this evil man failing to grasp how ludicrously inappropriate it is to ask God for such a thing, how badly he's misinterpreting (the popular image of) how Christians should behave. The deeper critique is that he absolutely is a product of the toxic patriarchal side of Christianity; that although he's saying the quiet part out loud, he's not out of character at all, and in fact the murder he's demanding is exactly the response the Old Testament God prescribes when a woman leaves her husband!
posted by equalpants at 3:55 AM on August 14, 2021 [1 favorite]

"The Christians and the Pagans" by Dar Williams
posted by sibilatorix at 9:49 AM on August 14, 2021

Indigo Girls "Philosophy of Loss"
(Emily Saliers' dad is an ordained Methodist minister and seminary professor)
posted by hydropsyche at 4:05 AM on August 16, 2021

« Older Do I need a business account?   |   How to record a PPT presentation on Zoom and post... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.