The song’s haunting melody and chorus evoke utopia for many, making it a staple track for dark times, from protest movements to the pandemic to the current conflict in Europe. But “Imagine”, as beautiful as it sounds, has always bothered me with its openly anti-religious and unpatriotic recipe for “living life in peace”.
Now, like most people, I love the Beatles, and I really love the music that former Beatles members made solo. I read biographies of John Lennon. He was a creative genius and an eccentric, interesting person – and like many artists, a tortured soul. His death at the hands of an assassin was a tragic loss. I would have liked to see what other contributions he would have made to the world of music.
Maybe they would have been nicer than this one.
“Imagine there is no heaven, it’s easy if you try,” the song begins – not a happy thought for Christians and members of other religions who pin their hopes on believing in a life eternal after death. We don’t want to imagine a paradise. Why would we try?
“No hell below,” the next line suggests. Well, yes, I have to admit that would be nice, but if there is a paradise…
Later, the song suggests that we imagine “nothing to kill or die for”. Are some things not worth dying for? Many have died for our freedoms. I would hate to imagine where we would be if they hadn’t.
“And no religion too,” he dreams. Again, many of us think that religion is a good thing, just as “country” is for those of us who are proud of ours, and “possessions” for those of us who believe in the fundamental concept of private property.
“Imagine”, as beautiful as it is, contains disturbing images for anyone who cares about faith, patriotism and capitalism. And really, we don’t have to imagine this world. We have seen it. This is called socialism.
Yes, I know – religion has caused countless wars over the centuries, and much of our social and political division centers on religious differences. There are those who think that we would all be better off without any belief in God. And perhaps in a world without a country, what would otherwise be Ukraine and Russia could coexist harmoniously. For anyone feeling this, “Imagine” is for you. (If John Lennon had lived, I think, he would have been at home in the modern social justice movement.)
I’m just not one of those people. For several years, “Imagine” appeared as the unofficial new year anthem in New York just before or after the grand ball dropped, and watching tens of thousands of people gathered in Times Square sway like a trance as the song floated through the air always made me cringe. I remember thinking that if the world was going to end – I always have a feeling of foreboding on New Years Eve, like “this could be it” – “Imagine” was the perfect song to signify a final surrender to a world humanist without God.
Am I reading too much into a song that merely pleads for peace and unity? Perhaps. Maybe not. For many of us, “Imagine” is a siren song on the rocky cliffs of destruction. I love the song for its lilting melody and seductive imagery. I find myself humming. Imagine if everything was perfect. Would not it be nice ? But then I think of the words: No paradise. No country. Without religion. No good. And I get rid of it. Can’t we find a better anthem?
I appreciate Julian Lennon’s intentions to offer hope to Ukraine. He said the song “reflects the light at the end of the tunnel that we all hope for”. Good for him. And her father’s song is going nowhere. It has become the classic invocation of peace and harmony, while all opposition is only curious and old-fashioned.
But if the light at the end of the tunnel is that of these lyrics, I’m not sure I want to enter it. Imagine that.