What music do humanists listen to?

Contrary to the view often expressed in the media, humanists, atheists and agnostics are as fond of music and the arts as the next person. I’m not sure quite when or how we ended up being equated with Cromwellian puritan killjoys, but it is assuredly not so. Having an appreciation of rationalism and scientific method does not necessarily preclude an appreciation of art, music and culture. Inspiration is as plentiful and the awe is as great from the natural world and human imagination as it is from religious wonder. Maybe it’s because atheists and pagans are supposedly busy indulging in immoral sexual acts and drugs, that embracing the totality of the arts as well would be unacceptably greedy. Anyway, I digress.

If you’ve ever wondered what it is that Humanists listen to, I invite you to take a look at the Humanist group over at last.fm. Last.fm is a social networking and music appreciation website. Members are invited to download a software application which tracks the music they listen to and provides charts and information for an online profile. You can also listen to customised radio stations based around artists and users. Users can create groups which are based on appreciation of artists or varied interests. These groups display charts of what the group members play and members can make recommendations and write messages. There’s even an option to look at the demographics. So far it seems the most popular artist for the Humanist group is the Beatles and the average age is 25. If you want to take a look at the group and listen to the Humanist radio station (open to non-members!) then take a look here.

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6 Responses to “What music do humanists listen to?”


  1. 1 Hugo April 22, 2008 at 12:53 am

    What do you think of that article you linked to with your first link?

    Creativity, a big emphasis on creating stuff, is a big part of the Christian faith culture, and is what remains of the idea of “humans created in God’s image” in more contemporary versions of Christianity. The divine spark would be our creativity.

    I’m sure humanists believe in creativity and art as much as the religious do.

    So… first, suppose Christianity does inspire more significant art than humanists? If that were the case, why would that be? A belief in the value of creating stuff, “to the glory of God”, can just as easily be emphasized in humanist culture. The human imagination… The themes may differ, I suppose? In the struggle/grapple with their faith, “agonised” Christians do find motivation for creativity. I’m sure existential angst in secular society could serve the same purpose? Or might it be “darker” art?

    Economics… yes, church economics are different from secular economics. As an organisation that should be focusing on a community rather than an individual, maybe there could be more money spent on such art. (In South Africa, the money doesn’t go to art, but rather to reaching out to the poor and making a difference in the shanty towns. There are churches doing great work in this regard.) Might it be that humanists are more individualistic in their spending habits and are less likely of contributing financially to the art world? *Ponder*

    And then of course, one could look at whether the assumption above is correct or not. Somehow try to study what the art output is of contemporary humanists per capita, versus religious communities. Tough one to do though, maybe could be more drawn to the religious institutions, and more likely to be religious, but could have been equally creative as humanists. So that really is pretty much impossible to determine/study. Studying artists that have converted? Also too much of a niche group and culture. The best option would be twin studies, where both members of the twins are/were artists, but one raised with religion and one without. How many such twins might there be for such a study? Too few, way too few.

    I think we need to start cloning artists and throwing the clones into different environments and upbringings to see how that affects creativity. Oh wait, that probably goes against humanist ethics as well. Pity. 😉

    It’s like the article is suggesting we keep around a particular class of “artists” to serve the needs of the secular world. “Let’s keep religion for the purpose of our entertainment and inspiration”? Heh…

    Anyway, Europe is pretty secular. You’re in the UK… considering your blog as a vehicle for advertising the humanist way of life, who do you want your main target audience to be, from an “evangelistic” perspective? Europeans? Or are you more concerned about Americans and the fundamentalism they’re struggling with?

    Excuse the long comment. 😉

  2. 2 Hugo April 22, 2008 at 5:59 pm

    Too much thinking out loud. I should stop doing that so often. In retrospect (thinking back to this comment while browsing the Tate Modern today), I took that article way too seriously. I shouldn’t pay that much attention to such things.

  3. 3 Clare April 22, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Hey, no problem! I enjoy comments. I just needed to get my work day out of the way before I could find time to reply. Now to answer your questions…

    1. To be honest, I think that article I linked to was tilting at windmills. It seemed to assume that secularists would ban and destroy all Christian music and art, which is not what anyone would advocate. Richard Dawkins himself has said on numerous occasions that he enjoys singing hymns. The author also assumes that no-one could create art without divine inspiration which is an issue I’ll return to.

    2. Is Christian art more inspired? I don’t think so. We can’t really comment by looking at historical artworks as they were created in a time where people were not allowed to publically renounce the church, and the subject matter was often restricted or dictated by rich patrons (such as the church). Instead, we’d have to look at modern art. I’m not an expert on art but Id’ say that plenty of modern artists have addressed themes outside of exalting God and the Church, and it seems to me that we don’t as often hear artists thanking God for their inspiration these days. That said, american pop stars seem to be always thanking God for their music. Maybe they are more inspired?

    3. What themes would humanist art address? I would imagine there’s no real limits on this one. If they want to take inspiration from the stories and rich imagery of the bible and the christian church, that seems fair enough to me. I think existential angst about the meaning of life and awe at the beauty and scale of the world must be universal among all humans regardless of faith.

    4. Do humanists or christians make more contribution to the art world? It’s hard to say. The modern art world is driven by rich individuals paying huge amounts at auctions. However, the Vatican in Italy has many artworks and the catholic church is famed for its richly decorated churches. That said, there plenty of museums, theatres, opera houses and performance companies funded by that good old secular institution: the state. For example, London’s major galleries and museums are all free to the public and funded by the british tax payer, and they house some of the most valuable collections in the UK.

    5. I don’t think we need to start cloning artists yet. I think we can just look at existing artists and musicians. There are plenty of people who convert to or from faith. Indeed, you could also look at people who convert from one faith to another…

    6. Who is the intended audience for this blog? I’m not sure I have one in mind. It’s just for anyone who might be interested in my thoughts and experiences as a humanist. Being in the UK, I will tend to talk about european issues and experiences, but I’m definitely interested in hearing feedback and news from elsewhere. I don’t think I’m really aiming to evangelise at anyone, I’m just interesting in exploring issues around being humanist and building a humanist community where there can be dialogue and creativity.

  4. 4 cath April 23, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Clare my friend I have tagged you. Feel free to ignore! 🙂

  5. 5 Hugo April 28, 2008 at 9:39 pm

    Amen to that. 😉 (On the debate about co-opting “religious” words, I’m definitely on the co-opting side.)

    I browsed the Tate Modern last week. Interesting stuff. I can’t see how religion (yay or nay) could have much effect on the kind of stuff one sees there. But that’s also weird art.

    So next one gets into a discussion on what art is more “valuable” to humanity, and what isn’t. 😉

  6. 6 Robert Zmackis June 27, 2011 at 3:01 pm

    Most music is geared to humanity. In fact, Music is the most human thing around. The early clubbing experience was dancing around fire-shouting non-sense-while on drugs. How much more humanist can you get than that? That’s probably humanistest!


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