Hymns for Rationalists

These are some old notes that I've put together [April 2021]. I recall having written a good deal more but have been unable to trace the rest so far. The LSS link contains a lot of work I did some years ago.

Hymns of Modern Thought. An 1899 book with this title was in the Leicester Secular Society Library and in 2007 I put it onto the LSS website by using a scanner. There is still (April 2021) a link to it on their History page: LSS History.

It begins with an extract from F. J. Gould's (1900) History of Leicester Secular Society, which tells of an earlier 1881-1882 version and of a period when hymns were sung at Sunday meetings. I wrote that: Hymns have not been sung at Secular Hall within the memory of any current members, and many of the verses, although they avoid explicit theology, would not now be considered appropriate expressions of modern secular humanism. For instance the use of the term "soul" is quite prevalent, the psychology of love found in many of the hymns is distinctly sentimental and pre-Freudian, and the emphasis on duty and work-ethic is redolent of an imperialistic and authoritarian period.

Mimnermus in Church. The following hymn, #27, is the only explicitly humanist hymn in the collection (adapted from a poem). A slightly different version in the Oxford Book of English Verse gives it the title "Mimnermus in Church".

1, YOU promise heavens free from strife,
Pure truth, and perfect change of will;
But ah! sweet is this human life,
So sweet I fain would breathe it still;
Your chilly stars I can forego,
This warm, kind world is all I know.

2. You say there is no substance here,
One great reality above:
Back from that void I shrink in fear,
And, childlike, hide myself in love:
Show me what angels feel.
Till then I cling, a mortal weak, to men.

3. You bid me lift my mean desires
From faltering lips and throbbing veins,
To seraph souls, ideal choirs,
Unwearied voices, wordless strains:
My mind with fonder welcome owns
One dear, dead friend's remembered tones.

4. Forsooth the present we must give
To that which cannot pass away?
All beauteous things for which we live
By laws of time and space decay;
But oh, the very reason why
I clasp them is because they die.

William Johnson Cory (1823-1892)
Wikipedia Biography

These Things Shall be. Another Hymn, #76, in the Hymns of Modern Thought is one that I remember singing myself at School in the 1950s. At the time it seemed an optimistic and idealistic view of the future, but nowadays I'm less keen on people who have the zealous "light of science in their eyes" or who want to "plant man's lordship firm" on the environment, or on the prospect of a "big broherhood" where everyone thinks alike.

1. THESE things shall be! a loftier race
Than e'er the world hath known, shall rise
With flame of freedom in their souls,
And light of science in their eyes.

2. They shall be gentle, brave, and strong,
To spill no drop of blood, but dare
All that may plant man's lordship firm
On earth, and fire, and sea, and air.

3. Nation with nation, land with land,
Unharmed shall live as comrades free;
In every heart and brain shall throb
The pulse of one fraternity.

4. New arts shall bloom of loftier mould
And mightier music thrill the skies
And every life shall be a song,
When all the earth is paradise.

5. These things they are no dreams shall be
For happier men when we are gone;
Those golden days for them shall dawn,
Transcending aught we gaze upon.

John Addington Symonds (1840-1893)
Wikipedia Biography

A Secular Hymn. The hymn "Praise My Soul The King of Heaven" was recently on the BBC Radio 4 series "Soul Music" which is usually devoted to such classical music as Elgar's Cello Concerto or Barber's Adagio. The hymn was written by H. F. Lyte who also wrote "Abide with Me". It certainly has a nice tune associated with it. But why should christians have all the best tunes? I thought perhaps there ought to be a secular version, and came up with the following:

Praise we all the love of Reason
To its court thy problems bring
Fathomed, solved, restored, and answered
Evermore its praises sing.
Bacon, Kepler, Galileo
Euclid, Darwin, Faraday
Praise its everlasting zing.

Praise it for it's force and value
To our forbears in distress
Praise it still the same forever
Slow to find but sure to bless
Philosophic, Scientific
Mathematic, Systematic
Glorious in its usefulness.

Parentlike it tends and chides us
Well our foolishness it knows
By its ways it gently guides us
Rescues us from all our woes
Multipurpose, Fundamental
Cosmologic, Universal
Wider yet its bounty flows

Thinkers of true high achievement
They behold truth face to face
Wise ones lend their testament
Gathered in from every place
Brahmagupta, Omar Khayyam
Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein
Praise with us this source of grace

Praise we all the power of thought
To light the way and right the wrong
Every child with care be taught
A mind for learning all life long
Al-Kwarizmi, Alan Turing
Aristotle, Archimedes
Praise the heroes of our song.

G. P. Jelliss

Other names can be substituted of course if they fit the scansion. Suggestions for alternatives are invited, particularly females.
Emmy Noether (pronounced Nurta?)

All Things Bright and Beautiful. Might also be memtioneed.
New version: Evolution Made Us All