There's probably a lot of people out there who at least loosely identify as being "Christian" or maybe who just enjoy reading the Bible who can't stand most religious music made by "Christian" musicians. Why is it so hard to find not just good songs about faith, but also songs about doubt? Many of us want to believe in the Bible and Christianity, but sometimes have a hard time reconciling that faith with the feelings of doubt often caused by the bad things that happen in life and the real world.
If you like indie music or identify as being a Christian at all, you either have already heard of Sufjan Stevens or really, really need to check out his music right away, especially the Biblically themed album Seven Swans. Even though Sufjan Stevens is Christian and talks about Biblical topics like the Transfiguration and Abraham in his music, Stevens doesn't really qualify as an indie "Christian" music artist, as he also writes songs about relationships, the 50 States, and the secular world as a whole. When Sufjan Stevens does discuss religion or Biblical imagery in his music, he offers a realistic balance of feelings of both faith and doubt. In the following quote from a Dutch interview, musician Sufjan Stevens discusses how faith and doubt interact in "Casimir Pulaski Day," an apparently autobiographical song from Illinoise about the death of a childhood friend.
Sufjan Stevens' thoughtful commentary on the importance of reconciling faith with doubt inspired me to make a list of 10 songs about doubt and faith specifically written by non "Christian" music artists. None of the musicians included on this list of songs identify as Christian music artists in any way, but perhaps this is exactly why their songs about religious faith and doubt are so straightforward, honest and compelling. I have listed the songs chronologically ordered by release date.
Many of the songs about faith and doubt listed here explore religious doubt by looking at faith through the lens of a romantic human relationship.
"Let It Be" is one of the most loved Beatles's songs of all time because faith and doubt are so equally considered in the song lyrics. While the references to "Mother Mary" give the song a Catholic slant, "Let It Be" offers a broad spiritual and religious sentiment that is almost universally accessible to people of all religions and faiths.
Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" is actually just a cover version, as the song lyrics of "Hallelujah" were also written by folk singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen and released on his album Various Positions in 1984. Like "Suzanne," "Hallelujah" offers a spiritual perspective on a romantic relationship, and in this case even references the failed Biblical romances between David and Bathsheba as well as Samson and Delilah.
PJ Harvey's debut album Dry features a lot of religious, Biblical imagery, especially in "Hair," a song that also references Samson & Delilah. In "Water," PJ Harvey seems to be specifically addressing her doubts about baptism, mentioning both "Mary" and her son "walking on water." Her repeated plea, "PROVE IT TO ME," makes "Water" one of the most fitting songs about religious doubt listed here.
While Alanis Morissette's music might not be everyone's cup of tea, the Jagged Little Pill song "Forgiven" discusses her doubts about Christianity written specifically from a Catholic point of view, the religion she grew up with.
If you are looking for non "Christian" music artists who sometimes incorporate Christian or Biblical themes into their songs, you should check out Belle & Sebastian, especially songs like "Jonathan David" and "Write About Love." "If You Find Yourself Caught In Love" is a lighthearted song about keeping faith in yourself and in God even after a bad breakup.
Will Oldham of Bonnie "Prince" Billy covered Shannon Stephens' "I'll Be Glad" on his 2008 album Lie Down in the Light. The album cover is actually an artistic depiction of Genesis 32, Jacob wrestling with the Angel of the Lord. "I'll Be Glad" includes imagery of Israel being brought out of Egypt.
Regina Spektor's song "Laughing With" from her second album Far is about how it's easy to believe and have faith in God only during the tough times of life when we really need hope. Read an interpretation of Regina Spektor's "All the Rowboats."
Covering a topic also discussed in Sufjan Stevens' "Abraham," in "Dyin' Day," indie folk musician Anais Mitchell discusses the controversial Old Testament account of Abraham and Isaac, a Bible story that can strengthen feelings of doubt or faith, depending on who you're talking to. Anais Nin diplomatically takes both sides into account in "Dyin' Day" without offending anyone.
"Ya Hey" is my favorite Vampire Weekend song because the band does a good job of boldly exploring religious faith and doubt without bordering over into being offensive. The song title "Ya Hey" references God's holy unknown name sometimes translated as Yahweh. Vampire Weekend uses the Bible story of Moses and the burning bush from Exodus 3.
That's the list of primarily indie songs about religious faith and doubt that incorporate Biblical imagery and are written by non Christian music artists. Please leave a comment if you know of any other songs about doubt and faith so we can (1) learn about new good music and (2) expand and make a more complete list. If I'm being honest, I have to admit that there is definitely a part of me that wants to include Andrew Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar song "Gethsemane" to this list.
Meaning, exegesis, interpretation, analysis or whatever you want to call it. Notes after reading Genesis, the first book of the Bible.
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