Religion

Atheist Music Review: “After Life Goes By”

I’m not the kind of person who actively seeks out atheist music to listen to. In fact, I don’t usually enjoy listening to songs where I have to listen carefully to the wordplay. If a song is good musically, then I like it, including 70’s era Jesus rock music (“Spirit of the Sky” comes to mind). Granted, most of the music I listen to is secular but not necessarily pointedly atheist. I don’t like the idea of listening to a song just because it’s atheist. (In fact, years ago, I fooled myself into seeing the movie adaptation of The Golden Compass just to support atheist movies, but I learned my lesson on that.)

Occasionally, though, I’ll find a song that is both catchy, has fun lyrics, and is from an atheist perspective. That’s such a rarity that I’m writing this post in honor of one of my favorite folksy tunes, “After Life Goes By” by Lou and Peter Berryman. I first heard them on the FFRF podcast a few years ago. Unfortunately, this is one of the only songs that I can’t find on Youtube, but if you listen to the podcast, you can catch a live performance, and it’s even better than the one on their album (available on iTunes).

The lyrics and my thoughts are below:

“After Life Goes By”

Every indication is my spiritual foundation
is on permanent vacation on the whole.
Though death be drawing nearer, nothing’s getting any clearer,
when I look into the mirror for my soul.
Though up to now I’ve been a cynic and sarcastic to the core,
my gray hairs make me hopeful that there may be something more.
But when my heart starts evoking further scenes beyond my croaking
My old brain just thinks I’m joking like before.

(chorus)

I believe there’s nothing after life goes by.
I believe it’s over when we die die die!
Others may be thankful their beliefs are strong,
but every night I’m praying that I’m wrong wrong wrong!

The chorus is the part of the song that gets stuck in my head. Something about the cheerfulness of a song where you sing “die die die!” to accordion folk music. I love how the words just spring off my tongue–it’s almost Shakespearean.

When I first started listening to this song, I had a lot of thoughts about the whole “praying that I’m wrong wrong wrong” part. But I think I get it. Sometimes I feel pretty secure in my non-belief, but sometimes I think, it would be nice to believe in an afterlife. I remember listening to Julia Sweeney’s one-woman show, Letting Go of God, and she mentioned that when she became an atheist, she went through a second mourning period for all the loved ones she had lost, because she realized that she probably wouldn’t be seeing them again one day. So in that sense, I wouldn’t mind being wrong wrong wrong, as it were.

The trouble with my praying is I find it so dismaying
that no one may hear me saying what I say.
I should be a believer in a heavenly receiver,
but I’m not sure of that either, by the way.
And the problem of believing is you can’t decide you do,
not like how you decide you wanna paint your kitchen blue.
Because whenever I try kneeling, flinging questions toward the ceiling,
I get echoes back revealing not a clue.

(chorus)

I sing this part in my head a lot too, especially the line about “flinging questions at the ceiling.” I was raised Christian, and I was unquestionably a Christian until I was in high school (when I became a deist, which I refer to now as the “gateway drug of atheism”), but I never felt anything when I would pray. It really wasn’t that hard for me to transition to atheism, so I don’t miss praying to a god, although sometimes I wish belief was as easy as “deciding that you do.”

Now some have a fixation on their next reincarnation
and believe we’re in rotation here on Earth.
That right after we expire, we’re reborn a tubeless tire,
yet I hear myself inquire, what’s it worth?
For this idea that you return without your body or your mind
and return without a memory of the life you left behind
has my poor cerebrum churning, since the gaps within my learning
leave exactly what’s returning undefined.

(chorus)

Back in my more spiritual, less skeptical days, I believed in hypnosis as a valid form of therapy to extract memories from past lives. And I heard somewhere that any fears that you have are the ways that your previous lives died. I’m afraid of bugs, so the thought of a swarm of a bugs killing previous-me was pretty creepy. On a related note, here’s an article from LiveScience, “Belief in Reincarnation Tied to Memory Errors” (but as with all science journalism, take it with a grain of salt, because I haven’t analyzed the source material).

Now some do think that later, we’ll be meeting our creator,
that ol’ prestidigitator in the sky.
But if you talk to others, we’ll be meeting with our mothers
and our dear departed brothers by-and-by.
If there be any truth to that, I had a dog I can’t replace,
and when I call old Hildy, she’ll come licking at my face.
Oh it really will be super to rejoin that faithful trooper
so I’ll bring my pooper-scooper just in case!

(chorus)

Dum-de-dum-de-dum-dum-dum DIE DIE DIE! That’s pretty much what goes through my head all day after listening to this song. I have to be careful that I don’t sing the lyrics in front of my more religious friends though.

If you have your own favorite atheist music, leave it in the comments!

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Mary

Mary

Mary Brock is a scientist who works on drugs you've hopefully never heard of. She enjoys cooking to Blue Grass music, messing with her cats, and hosting the Boston Skeptics' Book Club. She was born in the South but loves living in New England (despite the lack of chocolate chip pizza). Mary does not use Twitter and don't even try to follow her, because she is always looking over her shoulder.

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2 Comments

  1. May 27, 2015 at 1:59 pm —

    Letting Go of God was the first play my boyfriend Keith and I saw together. It’s still one of our favorites, and we’ve seen the movie version many times. Julia’s journey was much closer to Keith’s than mine because he was raised Episcopalian. I was raised an agnostic, so atheism was only a baby step for me. But we loved the play equally.

    Even though religion is a foreign idea to me, I sometimes think it would be nice if it were true, as well. Heaven is a reassuring fantasy. But it would be nice if Santa Claus were real, too.

    Oh, and I was once a believer in pseudoscience also. I even wrote a school paper on “Chariots of the Gods.” Perhaps your journey toward skepticism was similar to mine. After I became an atheist, I gradually began seeing things through a skeptical lens. I have, however, seen plenty of atheists who weren’t truly critical thinkers.

    Anyway, I’ll have to check out the podcast so I can hear the song. I’m partial to songs with great lyrics. I love that last line!

    • May 27, 2015 at 9:26 pm —

      I heard the version of the play that she performed on The Moth and it was very compelling! The part about mourning her loved ones a second time really stuck with me too. Every time I lose a loved one, I think to myself, why can’t I just be a believer, and this would be so much easier because I could tell myself that they’re in a better place and I’ll see them again? It sucks to be atheist sometimes.

      I haven’t listened to much of their music, but what I have heard from Lou and Peter Berryman is very good and their lyrics are fantastic! They tour around the country sometimes too.

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