Imagine no “Imagine”

27 03 2009

For years I’ve disliked John Lennon’s supposed masterpiece, “Imagine.”  Oh, the tune is lovely, especially in its simplicity.  The lyrics, though, just bother me.  Until recently I never really understood why I couldn’t connect with the song.

But in the last few weeks, the reasons for my disdain became clear and they should have been obvious to me a long time ago.  “Imagine” is supposed to describe a utopian reality, the world of a “dreamer” in which all is right and good.  The world that John describes, though, isn’t in my opinion a utopia at all.  In fact, it sounds rather frightening and dreary.

The lyrics are in italics.  My comments are in bold beneath them.

Imagine there’s no Heaven

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

It’s harder to imagine that there is a Heaven, not so much its existence, but what exactly it would be.  Real or not, Heaven gives many of us great hope for better, happier days to come.  I’d rather “imagine” Heaven than imagine an eternity of nothingness.

OK, I can imagine no Hell, I suppose (of course how does one imagine the non-existence of a thing?)  That seems pleasant enough.  This bit about sky being the only thing above us, again, seems fairly lonely.  I don’t see the pleasantness in that.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do

Odd words to come from a man who fought for years to live in a particular country, i.e. the United States.  If countries aren’t so important, Mr. Lennon, why did you want so badly to stay in this one?   A border is just an arbitrary line on a map, after all.  No thank you, I quite like my own country and others as well.  Countries, like languages, make and shape people into who they are.  One of the great things about our world is that there are so many different people from so many different places.  We eat different foods, worship in different ways, celebrate family differently and, by necessity, live in societies that are governed differently.  If you want to imagine no bad countries, I’m on board with that.

Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

It would be wonderful if there was nothing to kill or die for.  That one’s a bit hard to argue.  The positioning of that lyric before “an no religion too” is unfortunate.  There is no doubt that “religion” has been a major source in human history of all kinds of strife.  I would never suggest otherwise.  It has also provided BILLIONS of people with comfort in time of need.  I bet one local church in my area has fed more hungry people than John Lennon ever did.  For many, some type of “religion” has given us inner peace, a sense of something larger than ourselves, a purpose even.  And, no, I’m not going to divorce the words “religion” and “faith” or “religion” and “spirituality.”   Others can argue that if they like.

Ideally, the aim of faithful people is to better their lives and the lives of those around them.  If that is a goal, it certainly is an argument for the so-called “good” in “religion.”

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

This sounds good.  Let’s try to imagine that.  Like I said, “religion” should be about the business of making the world a better place, including promoting peace.  Sadly, human beings don’t like peace really and no silly pop song is going to cause them to want to get along with each other.

You may say that 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

No thanks. I’m not interested in the “world be(ing) as one.”  I would like us to love and respect each other.  How about we all try following the “Golden Rule” for awhile; see where that takes us.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can

Elvis Costello asked in “Other Side of Summer,” “Was it a millionaire who said imagine no possessions?”  Yes, Elvis, it was a millionaire who said that.   That millionaire was killed as he was returning home to one of the most exclusive residences in the mightiest city on earth.  Apparently “possessions” do not include: million-dollar plus apartments next to Central Park; millions in cash; royalties from the most successful songwriting partnership that has or will ever exist; investments in various companies, etc.  I really resent the preachiness — hypocrisy — of this line.

Besides, I quite like my possessions.  I don’t have too many fancy things, but I have a cozy home, family heirlooms, comfortable furniture, a brand-new bass guitar, a reliable vehicle and clothes.  I have loads of books and even more CDs.  I guess John thinks I should give up all so the world will be better place.
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

It can’t really wrap my head around these lines.  Sure, no hunger seems easy enough to understand.  I’m not sure, though, where need turns to want and want to greed.  I’m also not sure what that “brotherhood of man” would look like or how we’d “share the world.”  Sounds like just so much blather.  Possessions, as I suggested aren’t bad in and of themselves, and I’m not sure I want to imagine the fruits of my labor belonging equally to others.  What do I get in exchange for everything I’m to imagine no longer having?

You may say that 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

I could never join this cult.  ‘Cuz you’re really talking about destruction (of our entire way of life) and you can count me out.




5 responses

30 03 2009

I’ve always thought the song put forth a very immature philosophy. If you’re interested, William F Buckley, the conservative intillectual, wrote a piece ( on the song that has a similar structure and thought process to yours.

31 03 2009

Oh, my lord. Wow! I’m going to be accused of plagiarism. Yikes. I said nearly the exact same things as Mr. Buckley.

I promise you I never had an inkling that W. F. Buckley or anyone else deconstructed “Imagine” in the way that I attempted to in this post. I know of Buckley and read a few of his articles over the years, but never read anything he might have written about John Lennon or this song.

I imagined (hee hee) that my thoughts were quite original, but apparently I’m almost 30 years late in expressing them. Oh well.

Thanks for reading, JJ.

1 04 2009

I think it’s more an example of great minds thinking alike. From reading your bio on this site you obviously have a similar worldview with Buckley and like-minded Conservatives.

2 04 2009

I’m probably not as conservative as Buckley. I’m definitely right of center, though, on most issues. I wouldn’t call myself a “great mind” 🙂 either but I’ll take the compliment.

The idea that the world would be a better place if I didn’t have my “possessions” just seems shockingly stupid to me. I hate the song “Imagine.” I really do. I’m amazed at how many people see it as some kind of utopian anthem.

3 04 2009
Scott Thong

Thanks for the compliment. May I suggest another song I’ve given a treatment – Tears in Heaven – Atheist Despair Version.

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