The radical secular war on religious music!

One right-wing blogger wonders why it doesn't exist. Could radical atheists possibly not be monsters?

By Alex Pareene

Published May 6, 2010 6:30PM (EDT)

You know how America's all-powerful "secular militants" succeeded in banning Christmas, electing hundreds of open atheists to various public offices, and getting "In God We Trust" off our money and "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance? Oh, wait, none of that happened, because there are incredibly few real-life "secular militants," they are among the least powerful people in America, and they exist mainly as boogeymen for right-wing persecution fantasies.

Kevin D. Williamson, who I thought was one of the smart ones at The Corner, imagines how people whom he literally knows nothing about but whom he assumes are intolerant god-hating radicals respond to religious music:

Especially galling is the ongoing attack on religious music, which is an attack from without -- restricting the performance of religious compositions -- and an attack from within -- rewriting the lyrics to "Amazing Grace," for instance, to get rid of all that downer "saved a wretch like me" business.

I was going to write that no one has ever tried to rewrite the fucking words to Amazing Grace, but it turns out that the people changing the awesome line about being a wretch are churches. Not "secular militants." I have never heard of this practice myself, because I'm a secular militant who's only familiar with the real lyrics to the song.

So! We start off with a weird untruth! Now, a dash of "oh my god, how old are you?"

Robert Conquest's first law of politics is: Everyone is conservative about what he knows best. You know who knows Americans' taste in music? Buskers -- and they are a deeply conservative bunch when it comes to music. The street performers on our cities' sidewalks and subway platforms know their market: In Greenwich Village, on any Saturday night in the summer, you can hear Bob Dylan's greatest hits being performed with more care and reverence than Dylan ever managed.

Maybe this happens on Greenwich Village summer Saturday nights in your time machine! On subway platforms I am a hundred times more likely to hear Hall and Oates than "Blowing in the Wind" and I think anyone playing guitars in "Greenwich Village" (Washington Square Park, I assume he means, unless he's going to those "folk clubs" the "beatniks" frequent) is probably playing Bob Marley.

It gets better! (Interjections mine.)

My day usually starts in Grand Central Terminal [do you... sleep there?] and, very often, that means it starts with "How Great Thou Art" which is constantly performed by subway musicians there. It has always struck me: In what is allegedly America's most godless city ["allegedly" is a handy way out of backing that up with even a single reference!], a very citadel of secularism, the song I most often hear performed by the (unfortunately treacly) duo working most days at the exit from the No. 4 train is "How Great Thou Art." You'd probably get into a fistfight with the ACLU if you tried to hang a sign reading "Merry Christmas" within 500 feet of those guys in December [!!!!!!], but they earn their living playing "How Great Thou Art," over and over. And nobody seems to mind. In fact, they seem to enjoy it.

Yes. Right. The ACLU will sue anyone who says "Merry Christmas" or hangs up a sign that says "Merry Christmas" anywhere, any time.

Kevin: have you ever seen Macy's -- a store in New York, not too far from Grand Central -- during the entire month of December? Have you seen the giant fucking Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center?

At your own train station, Kevin, every year, they hold the "Holiday Train Show." I know the word "holiday" is offensive to good Christians, who are enraged when someone doesn't acknowledge that the "holiday" in question is the one with Jesus, but there's no mistaking Grand Central's "Holiday Train Show" for a Hanukkah celebration: the miniature trains go to Santa's workshop at the North Pole. Every year.

Anyway! Now we learn some fun facts about "How Great Thou Art." It is a very Jesusy tune that became popular during Billy Graham's crusades.

In other words, it's a song meticulously designed to annoy militant secularists of the New York City-dwelling, subway-riding variety.

I know! Sometimes I just look around at everyone else riding on a crowded subway car and I think to myself "I can tell that all of these people are militant secularitsts. I can just tell. I bet they'd all get super mad if I started singing about God."

But they throw money at the guys playing it. In a public building -- arguably, America's most public building: Grand Central. I suspect this means that people without ideological commitments to erasing our Christian heritage are much more tolerant in their private lives than we have become, collectively, in public life. That, and it's a catchy tune.

Wait. What? The fact that he hears a fundamentalist religious hymn in a public space literally every day and no one complains means that "public life" is dominated by those with "ideological commitments to erasing our Christian heritage" (which includes some, but not all, subway-riding New Yorkers)?

And the only reason us godless militant secularist heathen New Yorkers who constantly are trying to destroy public displays of faith and making war on Christmas would "throw money" at Buskers playing a religious song in a public place is because we are secretly more tolerant than we act in public. Or... something?

Kevin: Everyone likes pretty music. For much of the history of Western Civilization, pretty music was religious. Educated elitist atheist New Yorkers are humans. Atheists like religious music, too. We are not monsters seeking to arrest you for wishing anyone Happy Easter. For Chrissake. (Secular cosmopolitan New Yorkers also go to symphonies and look at classical art in fancy museums, all without complaining to the ACLU that the painting or the Aria is about God.)

Freedom of speech -- what the ACLU fights to defend -- means you can sing whatever religious tune you like in a public space. It's worrying that an adult doesn't appear to understand that. It's also worrying that a man who is in New York City almost every day still has such a toxic, cartoonish, miserable impression of its millions of inhabitants. Why not get a job out in Real America, Kevin?

Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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