World famous atheist sings “real” Christmas Carols

We hardly need a calendar to inform us that it is December.

World famous atheist sings “real” Christmas Carols

Supermarkets continually pump festive music into our ears as we try to source the best value products. Surprisingly, Richard Dawkins and I seem to have common ground on much of the music that is played at this time of year.

When he edited the 2011 Christmas issue of the New Statesman magazine, he wrote an open letter to the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. He began by wishing him “Merry Christmas”, adding that he would accept no substitutes.

Dawkins continued, “All that ‘Happy Holiday Season’ stuff, with ‘holiday’ cards and ‘holiday’ presents, is a tiresome import from the United States, where it has long been fostered more by rival religions than atheists . . . I recoil from such secular carols as ‘White Christmas,’ ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the loathsome ‘Jingle Bells,’ but I’m happy to sing real carols, and in the unlikely event that anyone wants me to read a lesson I’ll gladly oblige — only from the King James Version, of course.”[1]

Whilst I would not, at present, ask Richard Dawkins to read the lesson at my church’s Carol Service, I would warmly invite him to come and sing some “real carols” and listen to a message about the subject of the carols, the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is intriguing to consider why a world-famous atheist would love singing the great traditional carols. Is it because the tunes are recognisable, with  order and beauty? Or is it because he recognises there is a message of deep significance within them? Perhaps it is for both of these reasons. Although Dawkins currently chooses not to believe the message that the carols contain, he does seem to recognise that, unlike the ones he loathes, they have substance that brings many people real hope and joy.

Traditional carols were designed with simple melodies, so that anyone could follow them and sing along, regardless of their status or education. They present something of the Bible’s message in memorable words and tunes.

Consider, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”. The three verses of this carol are so packed with truth about the Lord Jesus Christ that I am in awe of the one who wrote a hymn with such unforgettable lyrics.

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King!

Peace on earth and mercy mild,

God and sinners reconciled.”

Joyful, all ye nations rise,

Join the triumph of the skies,

With th’angelic host proclaim:

“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King!”

The first verse reminds us that Jesus was born a King (Matthew 2:2) and through Him it would be possible for those on earth to have peace with God in heaven (Luke 2:14, Romans 5:1). Although, due to sin, mankind was at enmity with God (Romans 5:10), we, as individuals, can be reconciled to Him because of Jesus’ death on the cross. The message of reconciliation is not for one nation but for “all ye nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Christ by highest heav'n adored,

Christ the everlasting Lord!

Late in time behold Him come,

Offspring of a Virgin's womb.

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,

Hail the incarnate Deity,

Pleased as man with man to dwell,

Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King!”


The second verse brings before us that Jesus was unique. He was both man, born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14), and God (Isaiah 9:6). This truth is wonderfully encapsulated in the line, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see”, that itself echoes the words found in Matthew 1:23, “‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ which is translated ‘God with us’”.

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings,

Ris'n with healing in His wings.

Mild He lays His glory by,

Born that man no more may die,

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

Hark! The herald angels sing,

“Glory to the newborn King!”  

Reasons for the coming of Jesus into the world are provided in the final verse. His coming means that “man no more may die”. The writer of the carol did not mean that because of Jesus’ birth individuals would never experience physical death. Death speaks of separation. Although we are by nature separated from God we can, through trust in Jesus Christ, have eternal life. It’s a life that involves being reconciled to God, having friendship with Him, and that, as its title implies, lasts beyond the grave.

Many others may, like Richard Dawkins, enjoy singing the traditional Christmas carols. However, only those who have trusted in the one whose birth, life, death, and resurrection they are singing about can truly appreciate and enjoy the truth contained within them.

As we pass through another time of carol singing, I do hope that all who sing them will consider the great truths that are contained in them. By all means enjoy the marvellous melodies, but please don’t fail to contemplate the one to whose birth they point.