Written in 1978, premiered in September of the same year, but released on record for the first time in 1981 (on You Are What You Is), "The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" marks the beginning of the '80s as far as Frank Zappa's oeuvre is concerned. This song represents his first focused attack on organized religion, which in return will become the central theme of his lyrics throughout the 1980s.
First Zappa turns the Biblical title into mockery: "Well, I heard that some sheik/Has bought New Jersey last week/'N you suckers ain't gettin' nothin'." Afterwards, he addresses the question of the Church feeding on the money of believers: "Those Jesus Freaks/The shit they believe/Has got their minds all shut/An' they don't even care/When the church takes a cut." Since "The meek shall inherit nothing" (and nobody else for that matter), "do what you wanna," laugh at Billy Graham (a famous American televangelist), "just don't mess up/Your neighbor's thrill."
The strength of this song resides in its rhymes, of course, but also in its blend of gospel and country flavors. Live renditions were never as strong as the multi-tracked harmony vocals of the studio recording. The vocal group the Persuasions tapped directly into the source of the song's power when they interpreted it on their album Frankly a Cappella and on the CD/video Zappa's Universe.
"The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" was part of Zappa's live set from its premiere performance until the last tour in 1988. It was first paired with "Mudd Club" in March 1980, in a proto-sequence that would evolve into sides three and four of the two-LP set You Are What You Is. A first attempt at the definitive sequence of "You Are What You Is"/"Mudd Club"/"The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing" occurred in October 1980, but it became regular in September 1981, after the album's release. Its lyrics were modified for the pseudo-musical Thing-Fish. Because of its criticism over church abuses and its "live and let live" policy, this song remains Zappa's most powerful commentary on religion.