For this Christmas season, let’s revisit one of the most reprehensible songs ever written.

Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try,
No hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today.
Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do, nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace, you may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one, I hope some day you’ll join us and the world will be as one.”
You know this one; in fact, as you read the lyrics it’s easy to sing along. I can’t help myself, it’s such a pretty melody and oh so noble. John Lennon, with Yoko Ono, wrote Imagine in 1971, was killed by Mark Chapman in December of 1980, and eulogized by Jay Cocks in Time magazine that same month. “The outpouring of grief, wonder and shared devastation that followed Lennon’s death had the same breadth and intensity as the reaction to the killing of a world figure: some bold and popular politician, like John or Robert Kennedy, or a spiritual leader, like Martin Luther King Jr. But Lennon was a creature of poetic political metaphor, and his spiritual consciousness was directed inward, as a way of nurturing and widening his creative force. That was what made the impact, and the difference—the shock of his imagination, the penetrating and pervasive traces of his genius—and it was the loss of all that, in so abrupt and awful a way, that was mourned last week, all over the world.”
Even Monday Night Football’s Howard Cosell weighed in. “Yes, we have to say it. Remember this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous perhaps, of all of the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that newsflash, which, in duty bound, we have to take.”
In the face of all this, how do I dare to call one of his greatest songs “reprehensible?” Bear with me as I examine some of the lyrics and more important, the philosophy/beliefs and worldview behind the lyrics. My presuppositions about John Lennon are:
  • He is at least indifferent, and probably hostile to Christianity, and therefore the “heaven” and “religion” he wants you to imagine gone are based on the Bible;
  • He is a “utopian”–someone whose ideal of heaven is unity of hearts and minds on earth–and thus believes it is possible and desirable for human beings to be “as one.”
  • Explicit from his lyrics, national sovereignty (which requires borders, laws and all that they entail) and beliefs strong enough to “kill or die for” are bad things.

You may challenge my presuppositions about Lennon, but my evidence is in his writings and statements. The real challenge would be reconciling his lifestyle with his stated beliefs. Like most wealthy and famous celebrities, his lifestyle was one of extravagance and privacy/exclusivity. He earned the right to enjoy both, and his preaching does render him a hypocrite. No big deal to me, most people are. In fact, I won’t even dispute that he believed the sentiments he expressed in Imagine. If he didn’t he would certainly be a hypocrite, but if he did believe them he’s either a naive fool, or a closet totalitarian.

But why, you ask? Utopian visions have always required totalitarian measures, because people want what THEY want, and Utopia requires submission of the individual desires to the goals of oneness and equality of outcome. I read that George Orwell once debated a Soviet apologist, who excused Stalin’s tyranny with the lame cliche, “you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.” Orwell’s response was “where’s the omelet?” While the words of Lennon’s song are dreamy, the reality of attempts at utopia without Christ is in the cries of pain and despair of the broken “eggs” in gulags and reeducation camps, the agony of the peasantry in Mao’s “Great Leap Forward “, the destruction of the intellectual class by Pol Pot.

The “omelet” of an earthly utopia that did not require the breaking of human beings occurred only a few days after the ascension of Jesus Christ. The very things Lennon wanted to eliminate–Heaven and religion–created the first successful community of oneness. Acts 2: 41-47. So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.  And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, these lovers of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem were comprised of people “from every nation under heaven.” There was no compulsion necessary, everyone shared and everyone cared. Why? Heaven and religion. They all looked forward to eternity–their actions sprung from hearts attuned to and cognizant of heaven awaiting. The religion was later called Christianity. There is much more to be said. Soon it will be Christmas 2017. John Lennon died December 8, 1980, and still the birth of the Savior of the world was celebrated that year and every year, and always will be. Imagine is not immortal, nor was it’s composer, but the religion he wanted gone is immortal.


Author: iamcurmudgeon

When I began this blog, I was a 70 year old man, with a young mind and a body trying to recover from a stroke, and my purpose for this whole blog thing is to provoke thinking, to ridicule reflex reaction, and provide a legacy to my children.

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