15 Secular Songs to Share With Your Kids

By Wendy Thomas Russell | February 21, 2013 | 4 comments

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.

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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)

 


4 comments

  1. Okay — my addition was already mentioned by Rich. Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” has to be the best of song and cinema ever. And “I Got a Name” by Jim Croce. Anything by him. Always makes me sad to think of how young he died. Fun list.

  2. Rich Wilson says:

    It’s hard to pick one version, so I’ll just go with the original “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1HRa4X07jdE

    And any discussion of secular songs has got to include “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs”

  3. Alan Magree says:

    “This Land Is Your Land” — Woody Guthrie it does have the word steeple in the lyrics.

  4. Melissa says:

    I love love love all of these songs! I never would have thought of them as “secular” vs. “religious”… they’re just beautiful and comforting.
    A few I’d add would be “Waiting on The World to Change” and “Say” by John Mayer, and “Smile” by Harry Conick Jr. Great musicians, great lyrics, thought-provoking… perfect additions to the collection in my opinion.

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Due out in March 2015, Relax, It's Just God: How and Why to Talk to Your Kids About Religion When You're Not Religious offers a well-researched look at a timely subject: secular parenting. With chapters on avoiding indoctrination, talking about death, vaccinating kids against intolerance, dealing with religious baggage, and getting along with religious relatives, the book offers a refreshingly compassionate approach to raising religiously literate, highly tolerant and critically thinking children capable of making up their own minds about what to believe. The book may be pre-ordered by visiting Brown Paper Press.
 

      Natural Wonderers is a new blog hosted by Wendy Thomas Russell and published by the Patheos faith network. An extension of Russell's previous blog — Relax, It's Just God — Natural Wonderers offers stories and advice on raising curious, compassionate children in secular families.
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