Thursday, February 04, 2010

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

This Sunday we’ll be examining some hymn lyrics. The background will be orthodox Christian doctrine: That man is faulty and requires salvation. The price chosen and dictated by Yahweh is execution/blood sacrifice of a perfect human. Jesus, sent from god, is that sinless human who represents the “spotless lamb” so often sacrificed by Hebrews in antiquity. His torture and death are intended as compensation to Yahweh, who otherwise would refuse to tolerate a flawed human being in his presence (in Heaven). So, Yahweh appeased himself by having humans offer up the bloody human sacrifice of Jesus to Him. And Yahweh is now willing to allow humans into His presence, so long as the humans believe this doctrine and agree they have failed to the point that only execution would be sufficient justice. The upshot is supposed to be that Jesus was brought back to life a few days later—as a sign that you, too, can come back from the dead and live forever with god, since Jesus did the dying for us all and paid the price for our “sin.”

The selected lyrics that follow represent the relevant parts of hymns that “celebrate” this doctrine and are commonly sung in pews across America. Next time you’re in a church, pick up a hymnal and give it a read if you want to see how Christians view their own beliefs.

“Amazing Grace”
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?”
Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?

An interesting point about this lyric is that I found a Web site online that changed the final line of that verse to “for sinners such as I?” They expressed the decision as so:
>Basically we think of ourselves as fairly nice people who became Christians and added meaning to our lives
>There are far more choir members singing songs of self-esteem than Reformers singing songs of total depravity. Since we’ve already rejected their “worm theology” we just ignore their warnings. We continue to preach a happy face doctrine of self esteem.

What I found particularly interesting about this was that they did not change any of the other lyrics in this hymn, which still holds that humans are so unacceptable, in god’s opinion, that only execution could possibly appease Yahweh as compensation for their present sinful state. So, I’m not a worm, I’m actually a basically good person that god will only accept if someone is executed in my stead. Here are more lyrics from the same hymn, that they don’t feel any need to alter, to demonstrate my point:

Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

So, they agree that whatever they’re “guilty” of requires someone to be executed, and that’s justice. But they’re “good people”—and were “good people,” even before they “became Christians.” Everyone clear on that?

“Not All The Blood Of Beasts”
Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace
Or wash away the stain.

But Christ, the heav’nly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away;
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.

Believing, we rejoice
To see the curse remove;
We bless the Lamb with cheerful voice,
And sing His bleeding love.

“Nothing but the Blood”
Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

And just in case you don’t know how happy a human sacrifice and an execution can be, here’s a little reminder:

“Calvary’s Stream Is Flowing”
From that dear cross where Jesus died,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing;
From bleeding hands and feet and side,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing.

With life and peace upon its tide,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing;
Sweet blessings down the ages glide,
Calv’ry’s stream is flowing.

What could be more of a cause for exuberance than the image of “sweet blessings” gliding down a streaming tide of blood flowing from a condemned man’s body as he dies in agony?

What could, indeed. Perhaps the image of diving into a pool of blood, fed by a stream of blood flowing from the mountain upon which a man was executed, to wash yourself clean as “snow”?

“It Cleanseth Me”
There is a stream that flows from Calvary,
A crimson tide so deep and wide.
It washes whiter than the purest snow;
It cleanseth me, I know.

No other fountain can for sin atone
But Jesus’ blood, O precious flood!
And whosoever will may plunge therein,
And be made free from sin.

But bear in mind that god only demanded this brutal compensation because of his great love and mercy—but you could never deserve it. After all, what you deserve, again, is death. That’s why you need to be willing to sacrifice anything and everything in your life and in this world, in order to show Yahweh how grateful you are for his loving mercifulness:

“When I Survey The Wondrous Cross”
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

“How Can I Look On Calvary’s Cross?”
How can I think of all He bore—
The shame, the thorns, the pain,
And unrepentant go my way
To pierce His heart again?
Forsaken in His darkest hour
By all, except His God,
Shall I deny my blessed Lord,
Who died to lift the rod?

Let me interrupt this one for a moment to clarify that is “the rod” you should be beaten with, instead. And how could we go on without noting Jesus wasn't forsaken by his god--the same god that dreamed up this whole execution/human sacrifice as his best-ever Plan of Salvation.

No, no! I cannot traitor be
To Jesus, King of Love,
Tho’ sinner steeped in guilt I am,
His mercy I will prove;
His blood on Calv’ry’s cross was shed,
To save e’en such as me;
O Jesus, now accept my all,
And draw me close to Thee.

And who could forget this timeless classic?

“The Old Rugged Cross”
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.

In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.

Yes, the beauty of an implement of torture and execution. So easy to appreciate.

Believe me, there’s more. Much, much, much more. This is only a small sampling. And on Sunday, even what I offer then will still only be a small sampling. But I will warn you, it’s going to be pretty well “more of the same” of what I’ve posted here. On Sunday, it won’t be so much any new horrors, as just hammering the same horrors over and over and over again. Because that's part of indoctrination: Repeat, repeat, repeat. And the point will be to make it abundantly clear that this is not about selecting a few objectionable hymns out of thousands, but that this is a common theme of hymns. This is orthodox Christian doctrine. And for those unfamiliar with fundamentalism, this is how they describe their beliefs within their church walls. This is how they view these concepts. And I can’t stress enough how “happy” many of these tunes are, as they go on about pain, human sacrifice, death and bathing in the blood of an executed, innocent man, to cleanse souls. And worst of all, they describe this to children as the most magnificent example of love and mercy in all of human history.

This is “the story” they defend.


  1. I grew up in the southern baptist church, so I recognize all of these hymns. I don't know if you came across this one in your search, but the hymn that I recall despising the most as a child was called "Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb?". The chorus:

    Are you washed (are you washed)
    In the blood (in the blood)
    In the soul-cleansing blood of the lamb?
    Are your garments spotless?
    Are they white as snow?
    Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?

    Yeah... Even as a kid I found the imagery distasteful, and a bit idiotic. I always thought about having a bucket of blood dumped on me, Carrie style... ugh.


  2. Wow! That's nasty stuff. If I was hearing a congregation singing them, it would make me very angry. That said, as a former Christian, I am fairly alien to it: my knowledge of religious music is mainly Catholic, it is either the classic masses in Latin or the ditzy but harmless (as in: devoid of blood and violence) tunes that we used to sing in RE classes. It would be interesting to analyse the fluffy, happy-clappy Christian songs too. To be honest, I think I prefer the bloody songs, which have at least the merit of being honest. The utter stupidity of the songs praising God and Christianity played a certain role in my deconversion: I did not want to belong to that group.

  3. It is really grotesque, isn't it? It's only when you're free of this death cult that you can appreciate how bizarre it is.

  4. The hymn "Sons of God" helped lead me to atheism. In fifth grade, I just listened to the words and thought about what they meant - and thought this is ridiculous.

    Sons of God
    Hear His holy word
    Gather 'round the table of the Lord
    Eat His body, drink his blood
    and we'll sing a song of love
    Allelieu, Allelieu Alleahuia

    The nun smacked me when I asked if this meant cannibalism was OK.

  5. Some of the folks that sing these little ditties are convinced that Video Games and Movies have too many violent images. I suppose that when you put it to music everything is just fine. After all without all this blood and guts, where would we get our family values?

    As an outsider I must have missed how this all makes you a better more loving person. Where are all the fuzzy good feelings?

  6. Emily:

    That song is on my "unabridged" Sunday topic list. I loved that song, actually. But I'm looking back at a lot of the songs I loved, and it's just unbelievable where my head was at. It's a cult. We had a hymnal at home, and my brother and I loved to open it up and sing the songs--at home.


    Yes, I think I mentioned fundamentalism in there and described hymnals in pews? I do understand it's more of a Protestant thing to get the whole congregation singing. In Protestant worship, there are children's classes and adult classes, and after about an hour or so of "classes" you go to the main hall for a combined service. These songs would be sung by _everyone_--including children learning to sing the songs. So, the kids have the children's hymns--which can be nearly as bad--and then they go in and hear all the members singing these tunes, and are also encouraged to participate.


    Wow. Never heard that one, but yeah, the "love" as you cannibalize someone. Just wow. I think it's the messed up "love" and "mercy" mix in this craziness that really disturbs me. That they associate this freakishness with the depth of positive human feeling and claim a market on morality and caring about humanity--while they denigrate the species and declare this horrific stuff "wonderful."


    It's like going back and re-reading Bible stories. Yes, just unbelievable to consider my perspective then vs. now.


    I post these things as much for "outsiders" as for anyone. In talking to many of the atheists I've met who were never indoctrinated, I have come to realize that their view of this process and the actual mindset can sometimes be off the mark. I'm doing the show with Russell, and his upbringing was very different. I asked him if he knew of any such "temple" hymns. He said he didn't know of anything like this. I want people to see this and know what happens in these churches and what children are exposed to--from the time they're old enough to drag to a church. I feel very lucky to have escaped, and I'll always wonder how impacted I might have been. I can't ever be sure how much of who I am is still affected by that. I don't want to sound too "victim," because I feel fine. But I think it would be pretty presumptuous of me to think I could know if I'd weeded all this out of my head or not. If it's ingrained in you as an infant--how do you ever tell what was put in your head from what is your nature? I've met many deconverts who feel the same way. Many write to ask "Will I ever stop feeling afraid?" And others write, "I feel like I won't ever be able to trust this thinking will be gone from my head."

    And this is part of how they prey on young people. They drill these fears and feelings into them, then later tell the kids these are "natural" impulses--that we all are afraid we'll go to hell if we're wrong, and we're all aware deep down there is a god. Yes--if you're told to fear hell and that there is a god from the moment you're born, and have everyone you're exposed to reiterating that to you a few times a week in services devoted to indoctrination! But ask a secularly raised atheist if he or she has these impulses, and you'll find it's much less common outside the group of children raised to believe it! That's what galls me--the way the children are negatively impacted by all of this ideology.

  7. I worked as a church musician for years, and I have such guilt over my hypocrisy (since even while I did it, I had this feeling in the back of my mind that this was total BS).

    It was a pretty liberal congregation, but when we got together with our "sister church" across town, the children would sing this:

    It reaches to the highest mountain,
    It flows to the lowest valley,
    The blood that gives me strength from day to day,
    It will never lose its power.

    That made me think of "The Shining" writ large. And sung by five-year-olds? Creeeeeeepy.

  8. "worked as a church musician for years, and I have such guilt over my hypocrisy (since even while I did it, I had this feeling in the back of my mind that this was total BS)."

    My selfish controversial(?) stance on that has been "whatever their faith their money is green"

  9. Pawel:

    One of the songs I have in Sunday's lineup has lyrics just for you. It's about how some believers may be filled with doubts and fears, but that's OK--you just keep believing. The idea is that even if you're not sure about it and think it might be BS, you just consider that a flaw in yourself, and work on it--you can fix it and make yourself believe if you just keep working on it!

    It sort of reminds me of the "you can fix gay" philosophy. And, again, I think of kids who have doubts being rallied around by adults telling them to just work harder to believe--and reminding them if they don't, fears and doubts will plague them all their lives. It's ill. But don't be too hard on yourself.

    I have a friend who is an ex-preacher who wrote a story where the main character is a preacher who advises a couple they cannot be married in the eyes of god. They have come to the church, and believe, and want to please god, and have a small toddler between them. The preacher is from a church that teaches that only divorce for the cause of adultery is recognized in the eyes of god--according to Jesus' own words in the New Testament. One of the couple is divorced, but not for adultery--so in the eyes of god, she's still married. The couple breaks up, and the child goes with the mother, and later the preacher has a crisis of faith and rethinks his part in the family that was destroyed due to his erroneous beliefs. When I hear people say these beliefs are harmless, as you can imagine, I can't keep quiet.

  10. I once had a shirt that said, "I am the wretch the song refers to."

    When I was religious, my favorite was "Jesus paid it all" :

    I hear the Savior say,
    “Thy strength indeed is small;
    Child of weakness, watch and pray,
    Find in Me thine all in all.”

    Jesus paid it all,
    All to Him I owe;
    Sin had left a crimson stain,
    He washed it white as snow.

    For nothing good have I
    Whereby Thy grace to claim,
    I’ll wash my garments white
    In the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

  11. @Tracie-I hope my first comment did not look dismissive or anything, that was certainly not my intention. I am aware of fundamentalist churches in America, but every time I see this reality I am shocked. I can't get used to it. You have to understand that I grew up in a religious society that was hiding its integrist feelings (because it was definitely there) underneath a heavy sugarcoat of "bons sentiments" and moral clichés. Listening to the priests, the nuns and the religion teachers that were preaching in the schools I have been to, you would have thought that Christianity was a religion of hippies, without the drugs. The hymns I sang at say my First Communion and Confirmation were in the same vein: all about flowers, doves, May mornings, and cheap symbolism. Growing as a teenager, the songs quickly became a subject of mockery.

    What amazes me is how open these American churches are about the oppressive nature of Christianity. It took me ages to see it, hidden underneath the sugarcoat.

  12. You know, I'd like to jump off of what DavidCT mentioned about video games and movies.

    I feel if you're young and you're playing Gears of War or Halo or some such, you're not really paying attention to the violence, so much as you are to the competitive nature of the game. In the case of movies, it seems like kids will be focusing on the special effects rather than the bloodshed.

    My point is, if violent video games and movies don't make kids violent, why would hymns? People take from these different forms of media what they want. Countless children don't see Halo as an authority telling them it's ok to pistol whip people. Why do we assume that people reading these hymns are taking their imagery to heart?

  13. All I can say is, you're lucky to have those lyrics. They have some beauty to them.

    I live in Brazil. In the Baptist Church and some other churches here they sing hymns that were very badly translated to Portuguese from originals in English. The translation job was done long ago by some half-witted moron, and many of them sound like Google translations: no rhyme, no metre, and very little sense (if you're generous). I pointed this out to some Baptists I know and they said that the important thing is not the message but the feeling. Yes: the feeling of having your brain scrambled shapeless in a meaningless void. I was reminded of Bernard Shaw's Henry Higgins: "You'll get much further with the Lord if you learn not to offend His ears."

    Why don't they write their own hymns in Portuguese, you'd ask? Well, you think the US has a problem with religion, but the 3rd world has a bigger problem: a disfigured religion **imported** from the US, playing with the suceptibilities, intellectual limitations and inferiority complex of 3rd world believers. It's a very sad state of affairs.

  14. Pelerin said:

    "My point is, if violent video games and movies don't make kids violent, why would hymns? People take from these different forms of media what they want. Countless children don't see Halo as an authority telling them it's ok to pistol whip people. Why do we assume that people reading these hymns are taking their imagery to heart?"

    Because most people, even children, realize Halo, what with all the aliens and plasma weapons, isn't real. Not true with hymns and scripture. Children brought up in the church are taught that God and Jesus are real, and Jesus really was nailed to a cross and slowly bled to death because of humanity's horrible, sinful nature. So, yeah, if kids weren't taught that the subject matter of hymns and scripture were real, if they were instead told that the scriptures and hymns were as 'real' as Halo, then I could agree with your point.

    Think "Onward, Christian Soldiers"...

  15. Hey! Thanks!!! I wasn't sure about all the words of those songs. Now I have them straight. I will copy and past them to print for the choir. Guess I would agree most of your comments that these songs are not for kids but rather for an adult choir who can understand their meaning. So my advice to all previous bloggers and also the author on this post. “Don’t pull out your hair over a song but wait till you grow up and come to better understand "meaning".

  16. @Pelerin-I would add to what Emily already said that it is the moral message promoted by these hymns (and I use the word "moral" ver loosely here) that causes problem: telling the people that they are worthless, miserable and need to be saved not out of any merit but because of God's arbitrary mercy for the suck ups who worship him is cowardly, dishonest and repulsive.

  17. +I have a problem with the people who say that these hymns and violent video games and movies are not dangerous b/c children don't pick up on the actual gore/dangerous activities portrayed in them - that they only take away the excitement or thrill of the competition or the feelings the hymn produces. The real danger in the video games is that it innures children to violence.

    In my mind this is not a good comparison. And if you are letting your children play these games or watch these movies, then you are just as bad as the people who are encouraging their children to subscribe to the biggest brainwashing scam in the world; organized religion.

    Children do not have the ability to make informed choices about religious beliefs or suitable entertainment. But, if they are given a steady diet of anything, they come to accept it as the norm and right.

    And for those of you out there who are going to tell me that you have not grown up to be serial killers and you played role-playing games and or violent games, good for you- you are not the norm. You are obviously more intelligent and able to think and reason on a higher level than many people. For most people though, the video games and religion serve the same purpose- brain rot and pap for the masses that need someone else to do their thinking for them.

    Perhaps I am writing in the wrong post and/or preaching to choir. This is my first visit to this site, and I am a 55 yr. old elementary school teacher who sees the results of both too many hours of video games and not enough reading instruction and too much fundamentalist religious induction.

    Both produce students who are unable to learn to be accountable for their own actions. One by hooking children's brains on thrill seeking, and the other by teaching children that all their bad habits and actions can ultimately be redeemed through their beliefs instead of through accountability for their own actions.

  18. I just returned from two weeks in Portugal, but I've been there several times. Even though you're not supposed to take photos inside churches, I always do; I just don't use a flash. They have the most grotesquely savage depictions of Jesus undergoing torture I've ever seen. They seem to revel in it - and I've seen dozens of churches in many cities with these bloody 3-D images. Really creepy.

  19. Even though I've been an atheist for a long time, when I read those hymn lyrics they don't mean a thing to me, i.e., they aren't horrifying like I think they should be. I sang them for SO many years that they became rote and meaningless - sort of musical wallpaper. I have to really step back and read them slowly, as if for the first time, to see how gruesome they are. What terrible brainwashing, that words like those can seem normal!

  20. Guillaume:

    Not at all. I appreciate the feedback.

    >What amazes me is how open these American churches are about the oppressive nature of Christianity. It took me ages to see it, hidden underneath the sugarcoat.

    Yes. It took me a long time to “see it” as well. Even after I got out of fundamentalist thought, I still did not understand how really bizarre it was—how nuts it seems to people “outside” that movement. Seeing non-fundamentalists respond to what I thought was “normal” stuff finally got me to consider it might not just be “how I was raised,” but might be seriously messed up. And when I began to consider it might be, and comparing it to what non-fundies understand, it really did begin to show itself up as “crazy.”


    >My point is, if violent video games and movies don't make kids violent, why would hymns? People take from these different forms of media what they want. Countless children don't see Halo as an authority telling them it's ok to pistol whip people.

    You answered your own question. Nobody tells kids Halo is an authority telling them to pistol whip people. But these kids ARE told this “blood” is real, by their parents, and the society they’re insulated by. And they’re told that they are such flawed people, by their parents and this culture, that an innocent person had to be executed to make up for their deficiencies as human beings. Parents telling kids they’re *that* bad is not healthy. As adults we may feel immune to that sort of criticism, but to say that a 4, 5 or 6 year old won’t be negatively impacted by his mother and father telling him god thinks he ought to be executed, and they agree—then insisting they’re only saying this out of their love for him. This is emotionally abusive.

    Emily nailed it. I don’t mind a kid reading religious myths—even the gory Greek and Roman mythologies. But for parents to impress upon a child it’s true and important for them to grasp, and means they’re awful people—is ill.


    I assume there is some jest in your post, because these lyrics are available in their full forms all over the place, for anyone who wants or needs them. But in case I misunderstand, and you’re serious/sarcastic in your post, I think the meaning is clear: We all deserve to be executed. In the children’s song “The B-I-B-L-E,” there are child friendly lyrics to let the kiddies know how depraved they are: “The B-L-O-O-D, that Jesus shed for me…” So, even a 4, 5, or 6 year old can understand he deserves hell fire if he dies unsaved, according to his church’s kiddie songs.


    >They have the most grotesquely savage depictions of Jesus undergoing torture I've ever seen. They seem to revel in it

    Yes, it’s the cheerfulness and celebratory nature of the execution. It’s a “good” think this was done. It demonstrates “love.” I’m so glad I was able to get out of that thinking. It’s sick.

    >I have to really step back and read them slowly, as if for the first time, to see how gruesome they are. What terrible brainwashing, that words like those can seem normal!

    Yes, that’s the insidious thing about it. I agree.

  21. Tracie,

    I heard that kind of talk all the time. My minister (who is such a wonderful person, and who I suspect doesn't believe herself!) would tell me to "preach until you believe," which is, apparently, a quote from John Wesley, the father of Methodism (makes me wonder what he REALLY thought...). And I actually did buy into that for a long time.

    It's interesting that you bring up homosexuality, because I also tried to "pray out the gay" when I was younger, and I had this tortured idea of doubt coming through in my homosexuality. Life is so much easier when you aren't trying to fix thing that aren't broken.

    Ing, thanks :-)

  22. I've been an atheist for about eight years, having been raised in a Christian fundamentalist home, and I still get a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when I sing The Old Rugged Cross, and it scares me what a hold Christian ideologies of personal worthlessness still have on me - it's got right down deep and shaped my responses even after I've been out of it for some time... it's not just brainwashing, it's REALLY effective brainwashing. Pawel has it right - music is a powerful moulder of beliefs, thoughts and feelings.

  23. "I heard that kind of talk all the time. My minister (who is such a wonderful person, and who I suspect doesn't believe herself!)"

    For all the ranting I do about it (some people seem to think I'm a horrible anti-christian ogre who hates religious people on principle), I have to point out that I think you're way off. Lots of good (morally) or smart people actually do believe in sincerely. I've found a lot of them haven't had it challenged so the belief is sort of in the same vein, if I make a marvelously insulting analogy, to good people who had never met a black person in the 1900s believing that segregation was a-ok (For example, one of the pop versions of the history which may be apocrypha but is useful for the story, is that Lincoln though anti-slavery, was very dismissive and nasty towards black people seeing them as inferior. His stance on this softened/changed after meeting and talking to Frederik Douglas according to some tellings/accounts). Many people can hold onto those ideas if never challenged (same way a gene can freeride and do diddlysquat for its host) and religious ideas are strong enough that many people refuse to have them challenged. Thus you have otherwise normal, acceptable people believing batsqueek nonsense.

    On the other side of the coin, you have people who are truly EPICALLY nasty folks...who sincerely belief. I'm not talking about your honor killings, I mean people like BTK killer or Pat Robertson. Robertson and his ilk milk people for millions. Many people mistake this to meaning they don't really believe they're just cynically exploiting people. No, I think they DO believe and are also exploiting people.

  24. Ing, I don't think that I'm way off at all. She took a long sabbatical from ministry and in our conversations really skirts, and sometimes steps over, the atheist/theist divide--doubting Christian theology, her belief in the bible, and actually admitting that the god concept as she preaches makes no sense. My comment was about a specific person who I know, and no one else.

  25. Yeah, but it was more of an off topic "how the hell people compartmentalize this"

  26. It;s just sad how they how constructed this around them. Im wonder what a pope must think of himself, im reality not what they are supposed to feel. Why would a god care so much as to mind f*** your sense of worth? well anyway, you are all thinking along the same lines. maybe some of you can drop by and call our show, check calander for show times, skype to call in all that. we arent AE but we try and be informative. ill be watch this weekend, hope to catch the rest of you watch ours should be 27th jan at 6pm eastern if you want to tune in.

  27. wow spelling errors lol sorry


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