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  • David Hines

Three hymns for atheists

September 15, 2020

I am a Christian atheist, and I know a couple of dozen other atheists who also go to church. In many cases it’s because they like singing, or like playing the organ. To make it easier for them (and myself), I’ve written a number of hymns with the emphasis on God reduced and the emphasis on compassion and hope retained. As a lay preacher at the Methodist Church and then at the Unitarian Church I found that many hymns had theology that nobody believes in any more but there are still themes of celebration and encouragement that people came to church to share.

The tunes are borrowed from church sources but are all out of copyright.

A song of grief

“Let’s remember Iraq and Syria” is a modern song of grief.

A Methodist version of the words makes it a memorial of Christ’s suffering, so the mood of the music is something I can still appreciate. It is still a painful world for many of us.

Let’s remember Iraq and Syria,

torn apart by brutal war,

thousands grieving, thousands leaving,

sisters and brothers we can’t ignore.

Pause to think of tiny nations

swept aside by superpowers,

lacking voices, jobs and choices

in this wealthy world of ours.

Can you feel the planet warming,

stop and sense the rising seas,

watch and see the icebergs shrinking?

See Earth dying by degrees?

Who can calm our human family,

Sunnis, Shi’a, Christians, Jews?

All our gods have shrugged their shoulders,

leaving this experiment to me and you.

Brothers, sisters, let’s stop feuding,

nature be our friend once more.

Help us find a common mind;

help us hold an open door.

Lyrics ©David Hines 2015

Tune Methodist Hymn Book 765 Sicilian Mariners

A song about priorities

The first verse of “Rejoice in the spirit always,” is an evangelical chorus based on a verse from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians. In tweaking these words for atheists, I noticed that the following verses from Paul’s letter are also suitable for singing, and they are also appropriate for atheists.

They are full of good advice about coping with anxiety, and achieving your goals, and can easily be updated to remove the theological ideas that Paul wrapped them in.

Verse 3 also appealed to atheist leader Chris Hitchens who could hardly find a single positive thing to say about Christianity, but he still selected these words from the Bible for his father’s funeral.

Rejoice in the spirit always, and again I say rejoice

Rejoice in the spirit always, and again I say rejoice.

Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice (2 times)

May you be known for gentleness, leave bitterness behind

and a breath of peace will rest on you and guard your heart and mind.

Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice (2 times)

Whatever is kind, whatever is just, whatever is open and true,

whatever leads on to excellence, keep all these things in view.

Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice (2 times)

Remember the beauty you have seen, and every happy choice.

And trust in the wisdom you have won, and again I say rejoice.

Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice (2 times)

Tune and first verse adapted from Scripture in Song 81, author unknown. Other verses © David Hines, 2017

The universe is our doggie bag

I wrote “Doggie bag” following a visit to an Auckland synagogue where the leader explained that the creation story in Genesis 1 was not meant to suggest that the universe was created in six days. He said it was a suggestion that we should celebrate the universe every seven days.

For many atheists, the scientific picture of the universe is very much worth celebrating, even though we don’t believe it was especially designed for us. I call it “Doggie bag” because it matches a story of a man who visited a restaurant once a week with his dog, to give himself a night off cooking. The dog waited patiently at the restaurant door each time, thinking this was a cool place that made gourmet meals especially for her. This theme of entitlement appears several places in the song. Like "you're the best planet we have seen" as if we had any choice about it.

I used it at Pitt St Methodist church at a service designed to welcome atheists, and three of them from the Secular Education Network came and watched from the balcony. One liked the doggie bag idea. They stayed for a discussion with a few members of the congregation. The same atheists also came and helped serve the lunch at a session for local homeless people. We wore "friendly atheist t-shirts that I designed for the occasion.

Let’s celebrate how time began, bursting to life in one Big Bang, the birthday of the whole shebang. Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Like Masterchef, our galaxy

bakes little planets endlessly,

with doggie bags for you and me.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Beautiful Earth, in blue and green,

you’re the best planet we have seen.

Here we can breathe and dance and dream.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Running in Darwin’s relay race,

one creature dies; two take its place.

New species bloom in each free space.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

When I was born, one awesome day,

love welcomed me along my way,

fired me with hope and DNA.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Last night I heard a small voice say:

Creatures of Earth, come out and play.

Rise and enjoy your holiday.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

Words © David Hines, 2012

Tune: Vulpius, 16th Century


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