"Dear God" was inspired by a series of books of the same name that lead singer Andy Partridge saw as an exploitation of children.
The first verse and closing line are sung by 8-year-old Jasmine Veillette, the daughter of a friend of producer Todd Rundgren, although in the video a boy lip-syncs her vocals.
The lyrics are addressed to God, vividly describing the range of human (and squirrel) suffering, which the narrator following Judeo-Christian custom attributes to God. The song concludes every verse with the line, "I can't believe in you."
Despite its prayer-like quality, the lyrics strongly DOUBT the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God.
Told from the viewpoint of nonhuman animals on the planet
God, did you create all there is, or "Did you make mankind after we made you?" God, are you all-benevolent, or what about "the wars you bring, the babes you drown, those lost at sea and never found"?
The song also questions the value of the Bible as God's unquestionable word: "Us crazy humans wrote it... Still believin' that junk is true / Well, I know it ain't, and so do you." But fundamentalists will not stand for anyone questioning the Faith or trying to reason about "revealed" mystical wisdom.
It is ranked #62 on VH1's 100 Greatest One Hit Wonders of the 1980s despite never having charted on the Billboard Hot 100 and despite peaking at #37 on the Billboard Album Rock Chart. XTC had bigger hits on both charts and the later Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart.
The song has been covered by Tricky on the album "Vulnerable" and by Sarah McLachlan on her album "Rarities, B-Sides and Other Stuff."
Do fanatical Christians and Ultra-Orthodox Jews know why so many people -- and this apparently included the Buddha -- say belief in this kind of omnipotent, omniscient, all-responsible deity simply runs contrary to reality?
The Buddha was not an atheist, yet he showed the harm in holding the wrong view that everything, all responsibility, devolved to some ultimate God or that petitionary prayer or ritualistic rites were effective forms of purification.
If, for instance, being bathed/baptized in rivers, a popular Vedic-Brahminical ritual (subsequently adopted by Hinduism, which had not yet come into existence) were effective in removing unskillful karma, fish would be the purest of all.
If prayer, making vows, or delighting in such practices brought the petitioner five rare and desirable things -- long life, beauty, happiness, fame, an afterlife in heaven -- who would not have these things?
Instead, the Buddha prescribed a following a path of life [karma, character-building deeds, wholesome and profitable course of conduct] conducive to longevity, beauty, happiness, fame, and rebirth in superior worlds" (AN V.43). This will be useful to one here and now as well as in the future. And there will be a future, even if atheists doubt that.
The Buddha asked the same questions as the song "Dear God" in a fable with talking animals (Bhuridatta Jataka) thousands of years ago:
Why does 'God' not set his creatures right?
If his wide power no limit can restrain,
Why are his creatures all condemned to pain?
Why is his hand so rarely spread to bless?
Why does he not to all give happiness?
Why do fraud, lies, and ignorance prevail?
Why triumphs falsehood -- truth and justice fail?
I count your God one among those who harm,
Who made a world in which to shelter wrong."
But I want the Buddha to be an atheist
The difficulty atheists may have with Buddhism or Wisdom Quarterly's approach to the question is that we are nontheists, not atheists.
Nontheists realize that one cannot depend on God or gods to reach enlightenment and be saved from endless rebirth and suffering. That does not mean there are no higher order beings. There are. In a sense, there are "gods."
They, too, are bound by karma, caught up in the cycle of rebirth, imperfect, well born, at war in space (the "heavens"), creators of planets who terraform and cultivate life by genetic manipulation.
Our coverage of UFOs, space aliens, and "ancient astronauts" is to show that it was not "God" that made everything. But there are these other beings. They apparently called themselves gods and gave human technology and religion and demanded to be worshiped to the exclusion of other visitors, sometimes for good, often for bad.
All that goes wrong is not due to a devil like Mara or Satan, but that is not to say that there are no malevolent beings. Then as now, there are. Humans are capable of much more than we usually realize. A human can become enlightened and liberated, something not available outside of the worlds of some lesser devas and human beings.
The Buddha was therefore called the "Teacher of Gods and Men." And that will not delight biased, fanatical atheists and materialists. The truth about life is that it is much more complex than a false dilemma, the simple polar opposite sides offered between smarmy "science" and dull witted "faith."