“Imagine”! Then again, don’t! In spite of what John Lennon Says and Sings2
Julian Lennon, now 59 years old, John Lennon’s son, promised long ago that he would honor his father by never singing the song, “Imagine.” He recently changed his mind. I’m not concerned with his reasons for this. My focus is the song itself. Haunting in its melody, so soothing in many ways, and yet profoundly misguided and incoherent, please don’t join Lennon and others in imagining the sort of world he proposes.
I’m sure you know it well. Here are the lyrics, verse by verse, with my comments interspersed.
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky
Imagine all the people
Livin' for today
Well, no, “Ah” isn’t exactly my response to Lennon’s suggestion. If there is “no heaven” or “hell,” as Lennon contends, this must mean there is no God, no ultimate, transcendent Deity whose will is the standard by which we determine what is good and what is evil. This will become immensely important below as we explore his lyrics a bit further. But for now, consider what the absence of heaven and hell would mean. It would mean that Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot and Vladimir Putin will have lived in ease and prosperity at the painful and lethal expense of millions of people and never be held accountable or brought to justice, either in this life or the next. After all, if there is no heaven or hell, there is no “next life.”
But before I leave this first verse, it is absolutely terrifying to think of “all the people, livin’ for today.” If there is no God, no ultimate heaven and no ultimate hell, the way people would likely choose to “live for today” would be entirely selfish, perverted, violent, sensual, self-indulgent, and with utter disregard for others and their well-being. You ask me, why? It is simply because if there is no fear of hell, if there is no final accountability for our actions, and if heaven is merely a dream, there is nothing to curb mankind’s depraved disposition to do entirely as he pleases. Utter chaos and the lack of any grounds for criminal justice would prevail.
I readily admit that we should all do our best to live for the present day. But we should always live in the present with a view to the future. The prospect of either heaven or hell has huge implications on how we choose to live in the present.
Let’s move on to the next verse.
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
Livin' life in peace
If there were no countries, where would there be any form of government? And in the absence of government, what would prevent the world from falling into perpetual war and conflict and aggression? Lennon asks us to “imagine” “all the people livin’ life in peace.” I’m sorry, but I can’t imagine this. It is utterly impossible. Without religion and its ethical standards, and without governments to provide laws that protect the innocent and punish the guilty, “peace” is a myth, an impossible dream. As bad as the world is now, and yes, it is bad, try to “imagine” what it would be like if there were no legal system implemented by a multitude of governments. Try to “imagine” the entire world “livin’ life” however they please, without restraint or punitive consequences for their actions. I prefer not to imagine any such world.
While we’re at it, I must again ask Lennon why he believes living in “peace” is better and morally superior to living in conflict or aggression or war. Where did he get his notion of “peace” as ethically superior to war? He has illegitimately borrowed it from Christianity, at the same time he dismisses the existence of the God of the Bible. But if the latter being doesn’t exist, on whose authority does he contend that “peace” is good and conflict is bad? For many, aggression and theft and victimization of others, with a view to gaining more wealth and land and power, is a “good” thing (think once again of Hitler and Stalin and Putin). And who’s to say it is a “bad” thing if there is no transcendent and absolute standard of moral truth by which to make such a judgment?
Next comes the chorus.
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
My only comment here is that it is precisely the world unified “as one” that will be the aim of the Beast of Revelation. The only “government” then will be under his/its control and the church of Jesus Christ will be the target of global persecution and oppression. Yes, one day there will be true unity, but it will be the experience of the Church of Jesus Christ in the New Heaven and New Earth. Lennon continues.
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
Well, of course it would be wonderful if there were no “greed” or “hunger” in the world. It would be wonderful if “a brotherhood of man” could exist. Earlier Lennon said that to imagine a world like this “isn’t hard to do.” I profoundly disagree. I find it quite impossible to imagine a world in which there are no “possessions,” as the existence of private property is biblical, and the ability to make use of one’s property and possessions to generate capital and goods and services for the benefit of others is essential to life on earth.
And where, may I ask, did Lennon ever get the idea that “greed” is bad or that the absence of “hunger” is a good thing? Remember, he has banished “religion” from the world. There is no “heaven” or “hell” in Lennon’s universe. So, there is no God. In the absence of God, and thus in the absence of any transcendent and morally objective standard that tells us what is right and wrong, what is good and evil, “greed” for some is wonderful (remember Gordon Gecko in the film, Wall Street?). If a person finds greed to work for them, bringing them happiness and fulfillment, where does Lennon or anyone else get the moral authority to denounce it as evil? In fact, in the absence of God, “evil” has no content. It is merely a word that describes one person’s preference vs. another person’s opinion.
If there is no hell, no final consequence for selfish, self-serving decisions, why not be greedy? It only makes sense that you would live entirely for your own welfare to the utter disregard of others. Why should any of us care for others if there is no moral standard that tells us altruism is a “good” thing? Lennon is making ethical judgments of what is good and bad in the complete absence of any transcendent moral standard by which he or anyone else can make such judgments.
The song then closes with a repetition of the chorus.
I’ve loved and enjoyed most Beatles’ songs since they exploded on the scene in the 60’s. But as enticing and purportedly idealistic as “Imagine” may appear to be, its recommendations for life on earth are incoherent, counter-productive, and ultimately destructive of all that is good and godly.