Not long ago, I suggested that nonreligious parents share religious music with their kids. I put together a Christian playlist and, later, a Hanukkah playlist. I also recommended some Cat Stevens songs about Islam, including one I love called “Ramadan Moon.”
Some readers voiced concern about the ways in which religious songs have been used to indoctrinate children. They argued that the potential downsides to sharing such music outweighed the benefits. But I still think that, as long as we do it right, these musical journeys can be excellent ways to develop religious literacy, learn tolerance for other cultures, and give nonreligious children a way — should the need arise — to connect with religious children without engaging in all the belief stuff.
But how exactly do we do it right? Well, the same way we approach any other religious knowledge.
First, we act as chaperones. We don’t just play religious music. We explain what the songs are about, define unknown terms and concepts, and talk about why each song may hold meaning to the religions whence they came.
And, second, we balance out the religious with the secular. In addition to sharing other people’s religious songs, we share our own secular songs — and then talk about where these songs came from and why they hold so much meaning to us.
Now, you might be thinking: What the hell is a “secular song?” Is it anti-God music, or just 95 percent of rock-n-roll?
The secular songs I’m talking about are songs that inspire or comfort us; that bring us closer to humanity; that touch on the purpose, meaning and joys of life — without religion.
We all have our favorite secular songs — and I spent a long time paring mine down — but here are the ones I’ve chosen for my daughter’s Secular Playlist. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do — and please don’t forget to weigh in with your own secular favorites in the comments!
[Full disclosure: I had to edit this list after I published it because I realized some of the songs actually had religious connotations. This was harder than I thought!]
1. What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong (Thanks, Dad!)
2. Ain’t it Enough by Old Crow Medicine Show (Thanks, Jenny!)
3. Imagine by John Lennon
4. Life’s a Happy Song, written by Bret McKenzie
5. In My Life by The Beatles
6. Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFarin
7. White Wine in the Sun by Tim Minchin (Thanks, Derek!)
8. Rainbow Connection by Kermit the Frog
9. My Favorite Things by Julie Andrews
10. Lean on Me by Bill Withers
11. That’s Life by Frank Sinatra
12: Rocky Mountain High by John Denver
13. I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor
14. Think for Yourself by the Beatles
15. You Are my Sunshine by virtually everyone on the planet (but my favs is Willie Nelson’s version)