There is a unique type of song in a genre all its own, called secular hymns, that might work in wedding ceremonies for non-religious couples.
There’s a demand for these songs, because Generation Z and Millennials are more secular than their parents. They are less likely to affiliate with an established religion and attend worship services. Interestingly, though, most believe in God and pray, and only a relatively small percentage are flat out atheists.
Only one song available for atheists
For the atheists, there is but one single song available, which the great Steve Martin wrote with tongue in cheek, titled “Atheists Don’t Have No Hymns”:
Here’s an excerpt of the lyrics.
“Christians have their hymns and pages (hymns and pages)
Hava Nagila’s for the Jews. (for the jews)
Baptists have the rock of ages (rock of ages)
Atheists just sing the blues
Catholics, dress up for mass,
And listen to Gregorian chants.
Atheists, they take a pass,
Watch football in their underpants.”
Most secular couples prefer songs a little more serious for their wedding ceremonies, so that’s where a secular hymn comes in.
What is a secular hymn?
So what exactly is a secular hymn? A communication professor at Brigham Young University, Steve Thomsen, said these songs meet six criteria:
- They present themes that focus on redemption and deliverance.
- They have broad multi-generational appeal.
- They contain spiritual overtones.
- They use metaphorical language which refers to up or down and light and dark.
- Their meaning transcends initial purpose.
- They become backdrops for important life events (like weddings).
The top of the list
At the top of the list is Leonard Cohen’s 1984 hit song, “Hallelujah.” Interestingly, the song wasn’t an immediate hit. It took a cover of the song in 1991 by John Cale to bring it into prominence:
Tied with “Hallelujah” is the iconic, “What a Wonderful World:”
As hard as it is to top these two secular hymns, there are some other popular ones, such as John Lennon’s “Imagine:”
Think carefully about this one, though, as it seems to celebrate an idea with which most of your guests won’t relate:
“Imagine there’s no heaven.”
It’s your call, because it’s your wedding ceremony.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “I Can See Clearly Now,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Million Reasons,” and “Hey Jude” are popular secular hymns you probably know.
John Lennon didn’t like Paul McCartney’s secular hymn
Interestingly, Lennon’s writing partner, Paul McCartney, wrote his own immensely popular secular hymn, “Let it Be,” to the chagrin of John Lennon. First, take a listen to the song before we get to Lennon’s dissent:
Although Lennon shares songwriting credit, this song was all Paul McCartney’s work. John Lennon was anti-religious, as you may have gleaned listening to him sing “Imagine” above. He didn’t think “Let it Be” was right for the Beatles:
“That’s Paul. What can you say? Nothing to do with the Beatles. It could’ve been Wings. I don’t know what he’s thinking when he writes ‘Let It Be. I think it was inspired by [Simon & Garfunkel’s] ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters (sic).‘ That’s my feeling, although I have nothing to go on. I know he wanted to write a Bridge Over Troubled Waters.”
[For the record, “Let it Be” was written before “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.]
So what’s your story?
Atheist? Agnostic? Simply secular? Or are you religious?
For the secular, you have some darn good secular hymns you might want to tap into for your wedding celebration. For the religious, the list is as boundless as heaven itself. Here is one of the best:
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