What’s It Like to be an Atheist Church Organist?

Hey! I got a question! Cool. Ok. That one was followed by “How do you stay sane?” Buddy, have you READ many of these blog posts? I can’t claim to be sane. 😂 I might even be certifiable. I’m functional, though, and a non-confrontational pacifist (most of the time) so I don’t get a lot of complaints.

The easy, short answer is “don’t pay attention, bring a book or a game whenever possible”. But that’s not what you’re asking, is it?

Well, the basic answer is that I’m hyper-aware that I HEAR things differently than most of the lovely choir members that I work with. This causes a near-constant bemusement, whenever I am in a church service or rehearsal. I will often hear a line in a sermon and look around me, stunned at the lack of reaction on people’s faces. Song lyrics annoy me, constantly. I stay in a constant state of “how do they not hear that?”

There IS one really annoying comment that I get regularly: “It’s so wonderful that god has given you this marvelous gift!” The response: Smile, nod, say thank you, don’t strangle them. Do you have any clue how annoying it is to have 13 years of childhood work + 8 years of intense college study described as a gift from their imaginary friend? Augh. (sigh)

As I was making a list of examples, I decided to just limit them to a few songs in a couple of categories. The same reactions to song lyrics also apply to sermons, etc.

SERVANT GOD

(This category pretty much overlaps with every other category, because we humans are always WANTING something)
Have you ever really listened to what the priests are actually saying? It often seems to me that the prayers are just another way of preaching to the congregation. In the Catholic Mass, the priest has all sorts of prayers and blessings over the wine and hosts that sound like he’s telling god what to do and how to feel: Remember, Lord/graciously accept/make holy/be pleased, etc. I wonder about these things nearly every service. Xtians sure do tell their imaginary friend what to do – all the time.

And then I’ll muse about how FAR you would have to shrink the creator god-concept to make this mindset logical. Throughout most of human history, there were multiple gods, people would pick one, set up a shrine in their house and give them gifts, hoping to receive some favors in return. A lot of the church service and songs feel like this to me. The xtian god seems to be a benevolent spirit that has nothing to do but focus its attention on its pet humans.

Talk to me! Play with me! Daddy LOOK AT ME! Feed me! Love me! Teach me! Protect me! Heal me!

I Am A Child of God by Naomi Ward Randall
Lead me, guide me, walk beside me,
Help me find the way.
Teach me all that I must do
To live with him someday.

SANTA GOD

The choir sang an anthem last weekend called “Order My Steps”. It’s a fun gospel thrash. The piano part is a blast to play. And I’m intensely aware that I’m providing the rhythm, the drive, the energy, the mood, that allows these choir members to happily sing while NOT actually thinking about WHAT they are singing.

Order My Steps by Glenn Burleigh https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhmOalbXVQ4
Please order my steps Lord
And I’ll do Your blessed will
The world is ever changing
But You are still the same
If You order my steps
I’ll praise Your name

Here’s where my brain goes, EVERY time I hear that: Order My Steps! Do it for me! Now! Just take control and make me holy, because I don’t want to put any work into this. IF you do this for me, I’ll tell everybody how cool you are. My own personal genie. My Santa Claus. ATTABOY!

Don’t they believe that this god created the universe? That this god knows everything, past and future? Personally, if I was actually talking to an entity who said “Let there be light” and touched off the Big Bang (!!) would I dare to speak at all? But the singers of this song think the creature who created the universe is just waiting around to help them find their car keys or . . . order their steps . . . in exchange for a “god is awesome!” to their fellow church members.

Yes, I do spend my church time in a constant fog of “what the hell”?

God Will Take Care Of You by Civilla Durfee Martin
All you may need he will provide,
God will take care of you;
Nothing you ask will be denied,
God will take care of you.

He Never Failed Me Yet by Robert Ray
No matter what the test
Trust and never doubt
Jesus will surely bring you out
He never failed me yet.

PUPPETEER GOD

Begging for god to just TAKE CONTROL. Take my mind, take my will. I can’t fix my own behavior, I need you to do it for me.

Jesus Take the Wheel by Carrie Underwood https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lydBPm2KRaU
Jesus, take the wheel
Take it from my hands
‘Cause I can’t do this on my own
I’m letting go
So give me one more chance
And save me from this road I’m on
Jesus, take the wheel

Have Thine Own Way, Lord by Jim Reeves
Have Thine own way Lord
Have Thine own way
Thou art the potter I am the clay
Mold me and make me after Thy will
While I am waiting yielded and still

Take My Life And Let It Be by Frances Ridley Havergal
Take my will and make it thine;
it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart it is thine own;
it shall be thy royal throne,

ARE YOU THERE, GOD?

Oh, there are SO many hymns begging to hear the voice of Jesus. So many begging to feel god’s presence. So many trying to insist “Our God Is Here!” And all I hear is “I can’t feel anything, is anybody there?” When everyone around you is insisting that they feel god’s presence, well . . .

Jesus, Be Near To Me by Tommy Walker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Klbru3XJaQg
Jesus, be near to me
Let me know You are near
How I need you
To reveal yourself to me

Lord, let me sense your love
How I need you
To reveal yourself to me

Let Me Feel Your Presence by Greg Morton
Lord, let me feel Your presence
I hunger for the comfort You bring
Lord, take hold of my hand
and lead me to Your breast as I sing

A Prayer for When You Can't 'Feel' God - Your Daily Prayer - May 1 - Your  Daily Prayer
So pervasive: it’s just ALMOST admitting there is nothing there.

BEAM ME UP GOD

There are SO many hymns singing about the trials and pain of life on earth and how wonderful heaven will be that I’m constantly amazed that there aren’t more mass suicides. Really. It’s called escapist theology. It’s rather sad.

I’m Going Home by Pepper Choplin https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpbx6wNnn1U
And though I know I’m bound to to die,
From grief and woe my soul shall fly,
And I don’t care to stay here long!

Right up yonder, Christians, away up yonder;
Oh, yes, my Lord, for I don’t care to stay here long.
(The original lyrics said: “I’m glad that I am born to die”.)

There are dozens of popular songs about heaven. Fundamentalists will tell you that this life is meaningless and that the only point is to live a holy life. Their entire focus is on where they will go after they die. I hear it in “I’m Going Home” and many, many others. What a waste.

LOVER GOD

There are plenty of hymns and anthems that just seem a little too, um, passionate. Remember that South Park Episode where Cartman starts a xtian rock band – just change the word “Baby” to “Jesus”? https://youtu.be/XUmHoqagXHI It pops into my head regularly.

I Come to the Garden Alone by Charles Austin Miles https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2eSfKqMRbA (Gotta love Mahalia Jackson!)
He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing;
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.
Refrain:
And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own,
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Breathe by Byron Cage
This is the air i breathe
This is the air i breathe
Your holy presence
Living in Me
I——-
Im desperate for you
And I———
Im lost without you

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy by Fernando Ortega and John Andrew Schreiner
I will arise and go to Jesus
He will embrace me in His arms
In the arms of my dear Savior
Oh, there are ten thousand charms

BLOOD GOD

Thankfully, the blood songs and war songs aren’t as popular anymore. I see red rivers. Ewww. And it makes absolutely no sense.

Nothing But the Blood of Jesus by Robert Lowry
What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O precious is the flow
that makes me white as snow;
no other fount I know;
nothing but the blood of Jesus.

WAR GOD

“Onward Christian Soldiers” and others. Crusades. Burning of heretics. Forced conversions. ‘Nuff said.

We still sing this one:
Battle Hymn of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

The verse is based in Revelation, where Jesus will come with a sword and destroy all unbelievers. Yay Jesus!

AND ONE FOR JUST PLAIN SILLY

I remember warming up on this particular hymn, and the singer turned to me and said, “What the &%@! is a mercy-drop?” I replied, “I have no &%@!ing idea”. And then we had to get our act together ’cause he had to sing it with a straight face.

There Shall Be Showers of Blessing by D. W. Whittle
Showers of blessing,
Showers of blessing we need:
Mercy-drops round us are falling,
But for the showers we plead.

So that’s pretty much what it feels like to be an atheist church organist. People assume that you’re a believer. The few who know you are atheist are quite convinced that just hearing this GREAT music will convert you. Holey-Moley, I would think that the lyrics alone would create more atheists.

All this atheist hears in any xtian church is selfishness, childishness, and arrogance. The constant message I hear is GIVE ME, WE’RE special, WE’RE going to heaven. One would think, if they truly wanted to follow Jesus, that the prayer would be “help me to give”. Nope.

Published by libbylawrence

Fundamentalist turned Atheist in the US Bible Belt. Sharing fun memes and musings with anyone who is interested.

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