John Lennon’s song “Imagine” sounds like it promotes equality, world peace, and good vibes all around. But is that what it’s really saying?
Our world feels more broken and closed-off than ever before. Travel is restricted, storefronts are dark and empty, borders are fiercely protected, and we’re given the stink eye for coming anywhere within six feet of another human being. Living through a pandemic is strange and isolating, and we’re eager to find ways to continue to connect with each other.
At first listen, “Imagine” seems to tout tolerance, unity, and love with lines like, “Imagine all the people sharing all the world.” But upon closer inspection, I’ve found a plethora of issues with the deceptively peaceful lyrics.
Imagine there’s no heaven, no hell below us.
It’s challenging for me to find the beauty in this idea. Regardless of anyone’s belief or disbelief in an afterlife, imagining we are a people who are simply here one moment and gone the next, means that our lives and our experiences ultimately mean nothing. Living with this kind of perspective on life can only produce a thought process in which not only do our lives not matter, but neither do our choices — how we treat others and ourselves. This means goodwill, charity, and altruism don’t matter at all either. And in a society that takes the meaning out of goodness, only chaos can ensue.
Imagining we are a people who are simply here one moment and gone the next, means that our lives and our experiences ultimately mean nothing.
Not to mention, the idea of hell has, for centuries, been seen as the place where evildoers will finally be punished for their actions. But if we accept the nihilistic view these lyrics support, how can evil actions be punished if they mean nothing anyway? And why even bother doing “good deeds” if the standard of good is meaningless?
Imagine there’s no countries.
As the child of two immigrants (one Irish/British, the other Colombian), my heritage is extremely important to identity. My parents couldn't have had more different upbringings, as my grandparents’s cultures are totally foreign to each other. I value the array of traditions my parents have passed on to me — my dad taught me Cockney slang, and my mom taught me her mom’s favorite Colombian recipes. But with the reality of no countries whatsoever, thousands of cultural traditions, dishes, and customs would cease to exist — creating a world full of monotone beings without any differences to learn about and love. Somehow, this strikes me as ironically intolerant.
And no religion too.
Granted, supposedly “religious” people have made their fair share of mistakes. But imagining a world with no religion at all? This means we can also kiss the thousands of religious charities that help protect women and children around the globe goodbye — including the largest charity in the world, the Catholic Church.
Our modern justice system was modeled after the tenets of Judaism.
Imagine the lonely finding no community in houses of worship or nobody acknowledging the beauty of creation. The monks who created musical notation as we know it today (you know, the notation used to write this song) would’ve had no reason to invent it without their religion — leaving us without having experienced the artistry of classical music. And Mt. Sinai, one of the most respected hospital networks in the world that has saved countless lives, was founded by an Orthodox Jewish philanthropist. Our modern justice system was modeled after the tenets of Judaism. Not to mention, the Catholic Church sponsored some of the greatest artists of all time, such as Leonardo Da Vinci (who was also an incredible inventor and anatomist) and Michelangelo (the Sistine Chapel, anyone?).
We wouldn’t have meditation, or yoga, or the whole-body approach of holistic medicine, all of which descended from Eastern religions. Heck, we probably wouldn’t even have Greek, Roman, or Norse mythologies (goodbye, Thor movies). Differing religious beliefs aside, the sheer ignorance of this lyric is astounding — without the beauty, charity, and comfort religion has offered us, the world today would be unrecognizable and severely lacking.
Imagine all the people living for today.
Our postmodern world has announced that God is dead, and the religion of today is based in nihilism — the idea that nothing really matters: you don’t matter, I don’t matter, and we can make up “morality” as we go. In this lyric, we see the author attempting to put a positive spin on the rejection of meaning.
Nihilism is anything but good news for those struggling with finding self-value or looking for meaning in their lives.
But at its heart, nihilism is anything but good news for those struggling with finding self-value, looking for meaning in their lives, or fighting just to get through one more day. In a world in which suicide rates continue to climb, I feel this lyric is particularly damaging. Nihilism says there is no ultimate meaning, so there is no good or evil — so any justice or redemption we aim to see take place in the world around us is a meaningless, childish fantasy.
“Imagine” is a song that encourages a hopeless worldview that will ultimately prove to be detrimental, not only to individuals but also to the society they live in. It ignores the beauty of faith and diversity while masquerading its hatred of religion and culture as altruistic. And worst of all, it’s not even catchy.