Though many ‘grownups’ at the time, I’m sure, saw through the shallow pop philosophy of Lennon’s ode to utopian humanism, it took me a long while. Even today, the song is still very poetic and lyrical to me---and just by changing a few words (as apparently some musicians like Cee Lo Green have done, to the dismay of their fans), the song could be re-written as a psalm, exhorting the faithful to be Christ-like and love their neighbors.
Except the word “love” would have to be inserted—imagine a Beatle writing a song and omitting that word! But that’s what happens, when even (or especially) intelligent and thoughtful writers like Lennon get swept up by the group-think of their tribe and culture (wait, that sounds like a religion!) and fail to continue seeking the truth. They abandon the fresh thinking that propelled them to fame and fortune. They come to confuse their popularity with wisdom. Although, I do believe, had Lennon lived long enough, he might have “changed his tune”—even when he was alive, he was quoted as saying that if he could, he’d vote for Reagan (maybe only for the tax savings Reagan promised--but Lennon wasn’t echoing his peers, that’s for sure).But the enduring theme of this song, providing consolation to its supporters and ammunition for its detractors, is the title and oft-repeated word, “imagine.” With that word, the song disparages the stereotyped limited intellectual capacity of the faithful who “imagine” an afterlife but can’t imagine it occurring here on earth in real time (“I wonder if you can”)---yet praises the dreamers who envision an earthly paradise created and maintained not by God but by ordinary humans.
Which is more fanciful—the existence of heaven and hell, or a utopia where humans live like saints, “sharing all the world”? We have no visible, universal, physical evidence of either –all we really have is the history of how these competing beliefs have affected human behavior and happiness. We can’t imagine a world without religion because it has never existed, except in the confines of Communist or other totalitarian systems (and how have those worked out?). Religion exists because people need it, because they crave meaning, structure and moral guidance—because they are not super-humans. Super-humans, of the kind imagined by secular humanists, have evolved beyond sin, self-interest, and arrogance. Super-humans never stumble and fail, and are all-knowing when it comes to how best to organize the lives of others. In short, they are supernatural gods and don’t exist, except in the imaginations of humanists who believe in the potential evolution of the human soul, absent any historical evidence of this possibility.This Christmas, I’m trying hard, in the wake of the election, to imagine that we may someday live in a nation in which children are universally understood to be gifts from God---welcomed into loving families and raised by committed two-parent (gay or straight!) families—families which do not think themselves entitled to happiness, but which know they must work for it, every day. If you don’t share my vision (and sorry, if you voted for Obama, you don’t), well, I’m not the only one—I hope someday you’ll join us.