John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’


This morning I idly wondered if anyone on the internet had picked apart the ideology behind John Lennon’s song Imagine? I googled ‘What’s wrong with John Lennon’s song Imagine‘ and to my surprise there was little there. Just someone who associated a lack of religious belief with the rise to power of men like Stalin and Pol Pot, and a Christian man who quoted bits of the bible at far too great a length for my taste. So I thought would spend the morning dissecting it.

I actually don’t hate Imagine in the way some people do. For me rap, opera, modern jazz and the Pet Shop Boys are all much worse. I disagree with Lennon’s sentiments but there are worse crimes than that when it comes to songwriting. Imagine has a nice tune when compared with, say, The Birdie Song, it has less asinine lyrics than Marc Bolan’s Hot Love (She’s faster than most and she lives on the coast) and the lyrics are not boring in the way that many pop lyrics are. With those qualifications in mind, let’s crack on.

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.

Nothing much to object to there. I’m an atheist, though less militant than I once was. I used to argue about the bizarreness of otherwise sensible, well-educated people believing in a Man who created the universe. I could see why people who lived several centuries ago, or people who live today in science-free zones might believe such things but westerners in 2006? After at least 11 years of a modern school education? That’s like finishing High School and still being unable to read.

My position has softened since then, mainly because some writers I like are Christians, albeit rather lukewarm ones. Perhaps Christianity for these writers is more like Morris Dancing: an enjoyable and harmless tradition. So while they would like to carry on a tradition that has endured for centuries and served their ancestors well, these writers probably wouldn’t wish to defend the literal truth of the bible. They are probably cultural Christians. And even if they are guilty of a little cognitive dissonance, that is still better than being like this annoying atheist twit.

I Also wonder if Christianity isn’t so intricately interwoven into western lives that trying to extricate it might unintentionally wreck the whole thing. (Jordan Peterson argues the same thing here). I look around at highly atheistic countries and ask myself how they are fairing. Sweden? Doing pretty well apart from its decision to replace the native population with Middle Eastern Muslims and Africans. Would a stronger Christian population have made the same stupid mistake? Hard to say.

How about secular Japan? Also doing pretty well though some people claim there is a spiritual void at the heart of Japanese society. Could it be a God-shaped void? Again, I don’t know.

I personally make a distinction between atheists and ‘the godless’. Atheists have generally thought the whole God thing through and decided that He probably doesn’t exist. Below is a picture of such a person:

Description=Richard Dawkins Photograph: Jeremy Young 05-12-2006

The Godless haven’t thought much about anything. Below are five such people:


How do I know these wazzocks aren’t Christians or thoughtful atheists? Oh, just a guess.

Sometimes I think such people would benefit from a belief in God. It might make their lives less nihilistic. I’m sure Richard Dawkins would respond to this by saying, ‘How very patronising of you. You personally don’t need God in your life but you think these poor inferior beings do. Don’t you find that just a little condescending?’ Yep, I do, but I also think it’s true. I can’t share Richard Dawkins’ view that what’s sauce for the goose is always sauce for the gander and that we are all pretty much equal. Some people are just thick and need a different kind of sauce. Richard Dawkins remains one of my favourite thinkers but I really wish he’d dump his liberal views.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for

I’m assuming that the first and third lines are connected and that the thing ‘to kill or die for’ is your country. I think Lennon may be right in thinking that countries can encourage an in-group out-group mentality. Even so, he would first have to show me that this negative outweighs the positive of different ethnic groups being able to determine how they live. Thus the Japanese can have their own educational, financial, social and judicial policies without forcing the Koreans and Chinese to follow suit. What’s wrong with that? Apart from that, abolishing countries wouldn’t put an end to killing. Most murder is within countries, not between them.

I believe the existence of countries often prevents animosity from arising. As a character in the Robert Frost poem ‘Mending Wall’ says, ‘Good fences make good neighbours’. A fence prevents next door’s dog from strolling around in your garden and pooing on the lawn, as well as keeping your unruly weeds from invading your neighbour’s garden. This makes for much better relations. Israel found this out when it built a wall between itself and its neighbours. The number of suicide attacks went down, thereby reducing reprisal killings by Israelis and the bulldozing of terrorists’ houses. This reduction in violence led to activists in the West losing interest in Israel world, thus giving both Israel and the rest of us a break from their constant whining.

Often countries are the only practical way to create good things that even John Lennon might have approved of. As Ed West wrote,

‘If there were no countries, there wouldn’t be many free museums, nor public transport systems or welfare states or socialised medicine or any of the other shared institutions that require social solidarity.

People are more willing to contribute to social programs if they are earmarked for their own people. Ed West again:

Nation-states are more likely to benefit those further down the hierarchy; borders help with economic and cultural protection and the trust that results from national identity leads to a greater willingness to pool resources…

Unlike those lower down the hierarchy, it is generally high-status people like John Lennon who are attracted to the internationalism espoused in Imagine.

And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

In a sense I agree with Lennon that religions, like countries, can be divisive and cause strife. But I also think that, like countries, religions help people bond together into communities. Though there is a danger that this community spirit can spill over into suspicion and hatred of other religious communities – just think of the Muslim community – there is also the opposite danger of individuals feeling atomised, isolated and lonely because they belong to nothing. You surely have to strike a balance, which is precisely what Imagine fails to do.

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

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

Yes, I can imagine no possessions and I wouldn’t like it. If I couldn’t possess the things I had worked and saved for, what would be the point in working and saving in the first place? Without private property everything falls apart. My guess is that even John Lennon owned stuff. I think he is advocating Communism and we know how well that worked out.

Imagine how pleased you would be if you came home to find a ‘brother’ from the ‘brotherhood’ sleeping in the bed that you had bought, you had made, and whose sheets you had washed and ironed. If that’s what sharing means then I’d rather not.

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 live as one

If John Lennon really believed all this he should have bought a large tract of land with some of his wealth. He could then have invited his atheistic, stateless, raceless, possessionless, internationalist friends to come and join him there. I think most of us can imagine how all this would have ended in the real world.


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