New Religious Humanists

Ben Folds, "Jesusland" (Epitaph; 2005).

Youth Group, "Skeleton Jar" (Epitaph; 2005).

Elliott Smith, "Amity" (Dreamworks; 1998).

Blackalicious, "The Craft" (Anti; 2005).

Soul-Junk, "Horse Posing as Unicorn" (Sounds Are Active; 2002).

Sufjan Stevens, "Seven Swans" (Sounds Familyre; 2004).

Bright Eyes, "Waste of Paint" (Saddle Creek; 2002).

Radiohead, "Street Spirit (Fade Out)" (Capitol; 1995).

Nick Cave, "Hiding All Away" (Anti; 2004).

Wonderful, "The God Above" (Mannheim; 2003).

Pedro the Lion, "Priests and Paramedics" (Jade Tree; 2003).

The Mountain Goats, "This Year" (4AD; 2005).

Moby, "God Moving Over the Face of the Waters" (Elektra; 1995).

Eels, "God's Silence" (Vagrant; 2005).

In Neal Schindler's Oct. 26 CD-R Go!, he wrote, "Skepticism is the simplest form of blasphemy, since religion usually demands unquestioning faith." As somebody who might be described, like an old Onion article put it, as "one of those Christian Christians" and a devout pop junkie, this struck me as odd, since as far as I know, there is no such thing as unquestioning faith. Doubt and faith are rarely found anywhere without each other, but they're especially cozy in pop songs. Whether you're an Evangelical youth group dropout like me, or maybe went to a Jesuit high school like Conor Oberst (and, well, me again), you might like your rock and roll with equal shots of belief and disbelief. So this mix is a foil to Schindler's "Blasphemy" mix. (We picked some of the same artists, for different reasons.)

Wherever they might stand theologically (up to and including as far as hell away from theology), most of these artists have God in their DNA. As Sufjan Stevens sings on "Seven Swans," "He will catch you/ If you run/He will chase you/'Cause he is the LORD!" Soul-Junk are straight up avant-Bible-thumpers, while the Mountain Goats' track (from The Sunset Tree, whose religious aspects have gone remarkably uncommented upon, with its references to the apostle Paul and the Passover Seder) culminates with a look ahead to the promised land: "There will be feasting and dancing/In Jerusalem next year." Nick Cave is looking around for God, or something, while the Bad Seeds bring down his prophetic wrath: "There is a war coming!" The spiritual proclivities of Pedro the Lion and Wonderful are well-known, but their respective tracks are sad and weary, crises of faith in the course of devotion.

Bright Eyes' Oberst pleads that he "has no faith/But it's all I want to be loved/And believe in my soul." Radiohead's Thom Yorke exhorts us to "immerse your soul in love" as he stares down the devil. Most of these songs are prime examples of what Flannery O'Connor called "Christ-haunted" art. For Ben Folds, Jesus walks through red-state neighborhoods unnoticed by his alleged followers. Elliott Smith notes that "God don't make no junk/But it's plain to see/He still made me." Blackalicous' Gift of Gab, more assuredly, claims the Almighty writes rhymes through him. Even when God isn't on-screen, he's standing right outside the shot; depending on whom you listen to, he's either there when the camera pans over or not. The mix ends with two instrumentals. Put 'em on your iPod and choose for yourself who gets the last word.

Joel Hartse is a graduate student and writer in Eureka, Calif.

comments powered by Disqus

Friends to Follow