SINCE MOST OF AMERICA seems to wake up most days looking for something to be outraged by, I try to keep my indignation in check. Still, the news that members of North America’s Hymn Society had chosen “Holy, Holy, Holy!” as the greatest hymn of all time—beating “Amazing Grace” in an early round by a 70-30 margin—struck me as an affront to all that is good and, well, holy. Sure, who doesn’t like singing a resonant Anglican ode to the tenets of trinitarian theology? But up against “Amazing Grace”? C’mon, now.
I’m actually a little used to this kind of hymnal-based resentment, because some years ago denominations began actually removing one of my great favorites, “Once to Every Man and Nation.” As the head of the Episcopalian hymnal committee put it, James Russell Lowell’s great poem, written at the height of the crisis over slavery, was unorthodox because “its basic premise denies the fact that God repeatedly forgives his people and gives them more than one opportunity to amend their lives.”