What Does It Mean That John Lennon’s “Imagine” Has Become a Global Anthem? December 8, 2015

What Does It Mean That John Lennon’s “Imagine” Has Become a Global Anthem?

Thirty-five years ago today, the author of the most inspiring Humanist anthem of our time was silenced at the young age of 40. Which has me asking myself: What really is the effect on us of our childhood heroes? How can we ever know? Despite the lazy afternoons in my treehouse reading Batman and Superman comics, my first hero wore not a cape, but a guitar. So I wonder, how would the world — or at least I — have been different without John Lennon?

Advertisement for “Imagine” from Billboard, September 18, 1971​​ (Image via Wikipedia)

For those of us who grew up in bedrooms adorned with posters of the brooding and witty gentle rebel, how were we changed? As children dancing to his exuberant rock ‘n’ roll, wistfully singing his ballads, deciphering his political and absurdist allusions… are we different for it? As teens singing the plea to “Give Peace a Chance” or that we “Come Together” (however we chose to interpret that), were the effects lasting? Do we do better as adults because of a radical Humanist song that permeates public consciousness, a portrayal of a world undivided by inequality, nationalism, or religion, that asks us to never lose hope, to be dreamers, and to imagine?

(Screenshot via YouTube)

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 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…

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​

Lennon and Carl Sagan are the two biggest tests of my willingness to apply the skepticism I preach to myself and my overly romanticized personal heroes. I freely admit to some denial about their flaws… but maybe that’s all we skeptics should ask of anyone: to acknowledge our biases.

We can only wonder where Lennon’s rocky journey would have taken him. Perhaps he would have disappointed us. Some maintain he was walking back his earlier beliefs. Maybe he would have started making schmaltzy music. Sued the other Beatles for something petty. Made beer commercials. Become a Bush supporter. Gone on tour with Ted Nugent. The silver lining when your hero dies young.

In any case, “Imagine” has endured for over a generation, growing in stature to arguably become our most beloved international Humanist anthem. Stevie Wonder sang it at the 1996 Olympics, Peter Gabriel sang it at the 2006 Olympics, a children’s choir sang it in the closing ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, Shakira sang it at the United Nations this year as UNICEF’s Goodwill Ambassador. What can it mean when a call to atheist socialism goes so mainstream?

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins described a surprising BBC Channel Four graphic that appeared in British newspapers after 9/11. It was an image of the New York City skyline with the Twin Towers still in place; in large letters above were the words “Imagine a world without religion.” Dawkins continued:

Imagine, with John Lennon, a world with no religion. Imagine no suicide bombers, no 9/11, no 7/7, no Crusades, no witch-hunts, no Gunpowder Plot, no Indian partition, no Israeli/Palestinian wars, no Serb/Croat/Muslim massacres, no persecution of Jews as ‘Christ-killers’, no Northern Ireland ‘troubles’, no ‘honour killings’, no shiny-suited bouffant-haired televangelists fleecing gullible people of their money… Imagine no Taliban to blow up ancient statues, no public beheadings of blasphemers, no flogging of female skin for the crime of showing an inch of it.

Well, George Zinn of Logan, Utah, for one thought that would be just terrible. In a 2012 letter to the editor calling for a boycott of “Imagine,” he fretted:

Whenever I hear the song “Imagine” by John Lennon, it bristles me

… if one will notice and read the words, they subtly proclaim anti-establishment, anti-Christian sentiments and preach humanism, agnosticism and self-promotion. I’m sure Lennon was sincere in his intent, but the overt message that the song portrays surpasses those beliefs I have been raised with and have cherished throughout my life.

We, as a God-fearing America, need to be more sensitive to the messages we promote and grasp if we are to ask for the protection of divine providence during some of the most challenging times in our nation’s history.

Do what you must to boycott the continuous airplay of this terrible song.

What about you?  Do you feel that you, or Humanist values overall, were influenced by Lennon, or do you consider him overrated? Are there lesser-known songs by other artists that deserve more prominence as anthems such as this one? Do share.

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