Curmudgeon sees John Lennon’s “Imagine” as a harmful song

April 14, 2022 • 11:45 am

John Lennon’s 1971 song “Imagine” has become a sort of anthem for humanists, and is without doubt Lennon’s most famous solo composition and performance. Its plea for harmony, secularism, and, I suppose, income redistribution, constitute the reasons for Gary Abernathy’s objection to the song, detailed in an essay in the Washington Post. Click on the screenshot to read:

The backstory is that Julian Lennon (John’s son and the inspiration for the Beatles’ song “Hey Jude”) said he’d never perform his father’s song. But he changed his mind when Putin attacked Ukraine. As NPR reported:

Julian Lennon, the son of the late Beatles star turned solo artist John Lennon, publicly performed his father’s hit song “Imagine” last week for the first time. He said he did so in support of Ukraine.

“As a human, and as an artist, I felt compelled to respond in the most significant way I could,” Lennon tweeted. “So today, for the first time ever, I publicly performed my Dad’s song, IMAGINE.”

In a video of the performance, Lennon and a guitarist sit in a room illuminated by candles. The camera slowly swings around them as Lennon sings the antiwar anthem.

“Why now, after all these years? — I had always said, that the only time I would ever consider singing ‘IMAGINE’ would be if it was the ‘End of the World’ …” Lennon said.

He suggested that the song represents “our collective desire for peace worldwide” and that it transports listeners to a place “where love and togetherness become our reality.”

Noting the millions of people who’ve fled the violence in Ukraine, Lennon called on world leaders to support refugees around the world and urged people to “advocate and donate from the heart.”

Here’s Lennon’s performance, which I like.

But as you can tell from the title of the op-ed, Abernathy doesn’t like it. I couldn’t figure out why from his title, but when you know that Abernathy is a pro-Trump Republican, it makes sense.

Here’s his bio from the Post:

Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Post, is a freelance writer based in the Cincinnati, Ohio, region. After spending 13 years as an editor at three Ohio newspapers from 1983 to 1996, Abernathy worked in Republican Party politics in Ohio and West Virginia, as well as for an Ohio congressman and two U.S. senators. He returned to journalism in 2011, serving until July 2018 as publisher and editor of the (Hillsboro, Ohio) Times-Gazette, one of the few newspapers to endorse Donald Trump for president in 2016. Abernathy has served as an on-air election analyst for the PBS NewsHour, along with other frequent television and radio appearances. He has won numerous industry awards for column writing, editing and reporting.

I’ve put the lyrics to “Imagine” below the fold so you can see the lyrics Abernathy objects to. Quotes from his op-ed are indented, italics are mine.

Here are the three things Abernathy doesn’t like about the song.

1.) “No religion.”

“Imagine there’s no heaven, it’s easy if you try,” the song opens — not a happy thought for Christians and members of other religions who put their hopes in the belief in an eternal afterlife. We don’t want to imagine no heaven. Why would we try?

“No hell below,” suggests the next line. Well, yes, I have to admit that would be nice, but if there’s a heaven …

If there’s a Heaven, then, says the Bible, there’s a hell. He continues

Yes, I know — religion has caused countless wars through the centuries, and so much of our social and political divide is centered on religious differences. There are those who think we’d all just be better off without any belief in God.

And maybe they’d be right. Those who say that in a world without God, people would find other reasons to kill each other, but we already have plenty of reasons. The way I see it, the fewer excuses we have to divide people into groups, the less xenophobia and hatred we’d have. And so I feel (though I can’t prove it), that Lennon is right here: without religion we’d have less reasons to hate and slaughter our fellow humans.

2.) “Nothing to kill or die for”.  To Abernathy this is manifestly unpatriotic, because we should be willing to kill or die for our country or for freedom.

“And no religion too,” it dreams. Again, many of us think religion is a good thing, just like “countries” are for those of us who are proud of ours. . . .

Later, the song suggests we imagine “nothing to kill or die for.” Aren’t some things worth dying for? Many have died for our freedoms. I’d hate to imagine where we’d be if they hadn’t.

“Countries” are for those of us who are proud of ours”? What the deuce is he talking about? Wouldn’t it be better if there hadn’t been “countries” in the the first place? They’re just another source of division and hatred. One feels that Abernathy is almost glad that countries exist so he could say he’d die for America and its freedoms. But what if he lived in Russia, or North Korea, or the Afghanistan of the Taliban? Nevertheless, he persists:

. . . And maybe in a world without countries, what would otherwise be Ukraine and Russia could coexist harmoniously. For anyone who feels that way, “Imagine” is for you. (Had John Lennon lived, I think, he would have been right at home in the modern social justice movement.)

Indeed! He’s undercutting his own point. And I don’t think Lennon is saying he’s not willing to kill or die to protect his family. He’s talking about the harmful effect of divisions in humanity—divisions that cause enmity.

3.) “Imagine no possessions/I wonder if you can/No need for greed or hunger/A brotherhood of man.”  This means only one thing to Abernathy: rampant socialism:

Again, many of us think religion is a good thing, just like “countries” are for those of us who are proud of ours, and “possessions” for those of us who believe in the bedrock concept of private property.

. . . “Imagine,” as beautiful as it is, contains troubling imagery for anyone who cares about faith, patriotism and capitalism. And really, we don’t have to imagine this world. We’ve seen it. It’s called socialism.

Well, you could also call it “democratic socialism”; the system seen in Scandinavia. And that doesn’t sound too bad!

There’s no doubt that Lennon didn’t personally accept the concept of “no possessions”, as he kept a lot of his wealth. I think he’s calling for income distribution, for with “no possessions” it would be hard to live at all. He wants equality, or so I think, because inequality of income or “stuff” is another source of hatred and division. The mere existence of “possessions” doesn’t cause division; it’s the unequal distribution of possessions that does.

In the end, Abernathy wonders if he’s just being an old man yelling at the clouds:

Am I reading too much into a song that just makes a simple plea for peace and unity? Maybe. Maybe not. For many of us, “Imagine” is a siren song to the rocky cliffs of destruction. I love the song for its lilting melody and seductive imagery. I find myself humming along. Imagine if everything were perfect. Wouldn’t that be nice? But then I think about the words: No heaven. No countries. No religion. No possessions. And I make myself snap out of it. Can’t we find a better anthem?

I appreciate Julian Lennon’s intentions in wanting to offer hope to Ukraine. He said the song “reflects the light at the end of the tunnel that we are all hoping for.” Good for him. And his father’s song isn’t going anywhere. It’s become the classic invocation of peace and harmony, while any opposition is just curmudgeonly and old-fashioned.

But if the light at the end of the tunnel is the one of these lyrics, I’m not sure I want to step into it. Imagine that.

Yes, he is an old man yelling at the clouds. He wants his religion, his wonderful America, and he seems to have no problem with inequality. No wonder his paper was pro-Trump!

Maybe readers could suggest a song that better embodies Abernathy’s principles. I suspect it would be a country song.

Click on “Continue reading” to see the lyrics to “Imagine”

Lyrics:

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us, only sky
Imagine all the people
Livin’ for today
Ah
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
Livin’ life in peace
You
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
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

98 thoughts on “Curmudgeon sees John Lennon’s “Imagine” as a harmful song

  1. Every time someone criticizes the WaPo for being “woke” (a word that has been so overused as to become devoid of meaning), I would suggest that they read columns by Abernathy, Henry Olsen, George Will or (most execrably) Hugh Hewitt or Marc Thiessen. Similarly, those who make the same accusations of the NYTimes should spend some time reading Ross Douthat, Brett Stevens, or David Brooks. And I have to say that, as a liberal Democrat, one of my favorite current columnist is Max Boot in the Post – neither a liberal nor a Democrat, but an astute observer of international affairs. And by the way, for purely musical reasons, I dislike “Imagine.”

    1. I read all of those columns and still think the NYT is woke. And it is. We’re talking about the overall behavior of the paper, not just its commitment to publish a few conservative columnists, which it more or less has to to be credible. What about its treatment of the Tom Cotton editorial, or its firing of James Bennet and Don Mcneil for no good reason. Your liking Max Boot doesn’t seem relevant to the point. How they treat staff, how they react to social media, and how they slant the news is relevant. And both the Post and the NYT do that. And no, woke isn’t devoid of meaning, except in its original sense.

  2. Well, you could also call it “democratic socialism”; the system seen in Scandinavia.

    Quibbling a bit, Scandinavia has social democracy (a capitalist, market economy, with redistributive taxation to fund a welfare state), not democratic socialism (state control of the major aspects of the economy, under democratic direction). [The word “socialism” is a lot stronger than “social”.]

    1. Exactly correct. According to Wiki, public sector employees are 29-30 % of the work-force in Denmark and Sweden; the corresponding values are 20% in Canada, 25% in Hungary, 26% in Egypt, 32% in Singapore, 35% in Saudi Arabia, 40.6 % in Russia, and 44.6% in Kuwait. The term “socialism” does not map very well onto this metric, and needs better definition, like yours.

    2. I would probably see that line in Imagine as a sort of buddhist line rather than a communist or socialist one. One that maybe some early Christian church organizations would agree with.

      1. Yeah, really, didn’t The Savior famously say that if someone wanted to get into the kingdom of heaven they had to give everything they had away, or words to that effect? Not that it’s an effective exclusive way to run an economy*, but he was pretty darn socialistic. And, like Lennon, I think he was being poetic to make a point (well, and of course, all the stories are apocryphal, anyway).

        *I guess it’s easier if you can conjure bread and wine and fish out of nothing.

        1. Yes something about it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of A needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.

        2. … didn’t The Savior famously say that if someone wanted to get into the kingdom of heaven they had to give everything they had away, or words to that effect?

          A 1st century CE Galilean redistributionist, that guy.

          1. Yep.
            Pretty crazy when you think about it; a pacifist ascetic telling people to practice pacificistic asceticism turned into the RCC.

        3. Well, the fellow was reported as saying that he’d be back in ten minutes or so. No need to hang on to your worldly possessions in that case! Still waiting.

          1. But if you could turn water into wine, just like that, would wine then command a price more than water? I suppose it would as long as you kept the process a secret and didn’t make too much all at once. Scarcity, you know.

    3. PS: I don’t think the song is “harmful”, but I do think it’s pie-in-the-sky utopian.

      Since E. O. Wilson has been mentioned here a lot recently, I’ll quote his response to this sort of thing: “Great idea; wrong species”.

  3. “Nothing to kill or die for”

    I think Abernathy misses the point here. The goal is to engineer a world in which killing and/or dying for causes is unnecessary.

    I also find it interesting to contemplate WaPo’s thinking in including this essay in their publication. I imagine it is motivated by a perceived need to include voices from both sides of the aisle. In this case, they’ve chosen one with virtually no chance of changing minds or doing damage. An accident? I don’t think so.

  4. I’ve always hated the song. It’s just sappy utopianism. While I’d be happy to see religion wither away, pacifism is morally bankrupt and communism has always led to mass starvation.

    1. Edit: This is Leslie MacMillan. Sorry, autocorrect and clumsy fingertips playing tricks.
      Right on, Dr. B.
      In 1971, almost all the people who listened to pop music were happy to imagine a world without religion, because that was our existing world anyway. So we saw the “no religion” line as there just to annoy our parents. None of us gave a crap about socialism. Pacifism was nice in theory to a still-virginal teenager who hoped to live long enough to rectify that situation but not very practical when the bad guys hadn’t beaten their swords into ploughshares. In Canada we didn’t worry about being drafted to Vietnam but the Six-Day War was still fresh in memory. I think to this day that’s where pacifism acquired its modern indelible stain of anti-Semitism.

    2. I don’t mind hearing this song now and again. But I always flinch when Lennon comes to the line ‘Imagine no possessions: it’s easy if you try.’ In my memory–and of course I may be mis-recalling here–the vinyl album ‘Imagine’ was the first Apple records release at the new and increased price of $4.98 (up from $3.98). So JL was acquiring more possessions even as he imagined ‘no possessions.’

      1. Let me make an objection to this kind of complaint. When Lennon says “imagine no possessions”, I think he’s imagining a political and social system in which gaining possessions is not a primary objective. Clearly, the world is not such that one person can decide to give up all possessions and expect to live a happy, carefree life. It makes sense for him to live in the world in which he finds himself. The ability for one person to change the world is limited, even for someone like Lennon.

        Of course, whether a world without possessions, or even limited possessions, is one we’d want to live in, is a totally different question. Personally, I strongly doubt it. It just doesn’t make sense given the human condition.

        1. “I think he’s imagining a political and social system in which gaining possessions is not a primary objective.”

          It’s called Star Trek.

          1. I have always been a Star Trek fan so this is something I’ve thought about. It has often been noted that, although the Federation had evidently solved most of the societal ills that concern us today, they give no details as to how it works. The crew of the Enterprise certainly had possessions and worked in some sort of meritocracy. Basically, they have all the good stuff and none of the bad stuff. Nice trick!

      2. “So JL was acquiring more possessions even as he imagined ‘no possessions.’”

        What, precisely, [ A ] did you expect, and [ B ] is your point?

  5. Imagine is an inspirational song. It is an appeal to the angels of our better nature. True, it is a call for a society that we will never see. Nevertheless, it may motivate some people, some of the time, to do something to make a better world that they would not do otherwise. For this reason, it should be sung and listened to frequently. It is an antidote to the extreme patriotism and nationalism that has caused the world so much misery.

    1. Indeed and that’s why it’s called Imagine instead of A Manifesto for Changing the World. As you say, it’s inspirational and in so makes us pause and think “yeah, those things in the world are kind of bad”. People generally think religion is good but this song might make them think about why it is bad.

      1. Imagine was the centerpiece of a WKRP In Cincinnatti episode. A loudmouthed preacher wanted the station to stop playing Imagin because the song supposedly advocated banning religion. The station owner pointed out that it only asked people to “imagine”, not “do”, and refused the ban (the actual situation was more nuanced than that, but the arthritis in my wrists is acting up).

      2. “… makes us pause and think”

        [ this is all in agreement – just playing a devil’s advocate badly ]

        Well, that’s exactly what Mr. Abernathy did, with some writing done too. He has, as it were, suffered for his art….

        I mean, is it really unexpected, what he wrote? The ideas as they arise hearing (… sigh…) hearing a song – Imagine – on the “radio”? It is quite …

        UNimaginative

        1. Yes and I agree. He paused, thought, and his thoughts were stupid. So we then countered those thoughts and so goes the world which is much better if no one ever thought about the song or expressed those thoughts.

    2. Yes, “an antidote to the extreme patriotism and nationalism that has caused the world so much misery.” If humanity is to survive, we must transcend the idea of the nation-state. If nothing else, the coming refugee/migration crisis caused by global warming will force us to rethink the idea. In these times, “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” no longer obtains.

      1. “we must transcend the idea of the nation-state” – that sounds like a nice sentiment, but what would it look like in practice? Should Ukrainians “transcend” the idea of the nation-state by shrugging and saying to themselves, “Well, looks like Putin is in charge now, no biggie”?

      2. I expect the armed forces of my country to turn back into the sea any “climate refugees” who arrive on our shores unless they have skills and attitudes useful to us. I want the humanity in my nation-state that taxes me to survive. I don’t care about the strangers in Africa. They don’t care about me.

        1. Is that how you feel about all refugees or just “climate refugees”? Do you think, for example, that the US and other countries should have slammed the door shut on Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany?

          1. I said climate refugees. My focus is on the future. Canada barred our ports against the MV St. Louis in 1939, being consistent with Canadian public opinion at the time, summed up as “One is too many.” My reading is that we failed to honour a historical obligation in international law to hear claims for asylum from people fleeing official state persecution. We ought not to do that ever again.

            We now admit and re-settle more bona fide vetted UN High Commission refugees per capita of our population than most countries, as part of admitting 1% of our existing population annually as immigrants, of which the economic category (not refugees) is the largest.. We do put many barriers in the way of random people attempting to make asylum claims at our border, the sort of people who walk out of the sea unannounced and uninvited in England and Italy having paid small fortunes to traffickers to be abandoned in rafts off-shore. Under our Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States, you can’t make an asylum claim at our only land border, for example, and we won’t issue tourist visas to people from countries with a track record of making unfounded asylum claims at our arrival airports. We know that most claims for asylum nowadays are not for political persecution (where we failed the passengers on the St. Louis) but from people with economic motivation who know they are not acceptable as invited immigrants.

            “Climate refugees” would be in this category, so really “climate bogus-asylum-claimants”, the kind whose arrival on our beaches we have no control over, (unlike Commission refugees, whom we get to pick over in their camps overseas and can deny them all if we wish.) Fortunately we have vast cold stormy oceans on both coasts. Arrival by sea in an open boat small enough to evade detection is too expensive and foolhardy for all but a rare intrepid few. People fleeing climate change as their only rationale would not be acceptable as immigrants to Canada under any category in current law. We would therefore slam the door to them, after making sure there weren’t any bona fide political asylum claimants in the bunch.

            Open borders as a policy has no traction among any polity in Canada. The consensus that immigration is a net good for Canada, despite muttering about aggressive religious intolerance by new arrivals, rests on the confidence that we, not the migrants, get to decide who lives here. “Imagine there’s no country” notwithstanding.

            1. In the UK too, ‘asylum’ is a status reserved for people who are fleeing persecution. This does not mean however, that people who are forced to leave their homelands for other reasons are fairly characterised as economic chancers who just want to avail themselves of our affluence. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, famine and so on displace large numbers of people who will often spill over international borders. This may well include people whose homes have become uninhabitable due to climate change. No doubt such movements of people are best dealt with in an orderly, controlled way but the world is often messy and chaotic so that is often not possible. As you point out, Canada is rather difficult to get to so perhaps has the luxury of picking and choosing who it lets in but it is an ugly, dystopian world you paint in which desperate people are simply ‘driven back into the sea’.

              1. Well, I agree that flying them to Rwanda is more humane, and better for Rwanda, than driving them back into the sea. And better for the environment than letting them settle in Britain where they and all their descendants forever shift from a low-CO2-emission footprint to a high-emission one.

              2. I gather from your previous comments here that you are not always 100% aligned with the statements and actions of the Canadian government. I can assure you that the same is true with respect to my views on the British government.

    3. Right on target. I don’t particularly like the song as far as pure aesthetic consideration goes, don’t particularly dislike it either, but geeze. Curmudgeons need to quit with the gratuitous strawmen.

    4. I was thinking “aspirational”, but either applies. There is no doubt at all that Lennon did not expect people to take it so literally. More like striving for perfection, while realizing that it is not actually attainable.

      Another song I have been listening to is “Heaven” by the Talking Heads. That song makes heaven sound really tedious and repetitive. Which it probably would be.

      1. “Heaven” is another great song, as is the entire album (“Fear of Music”).

        I always figured “Heaven” absorbed some of the ideas from Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning,” especially these lines beginning Section VI:

        “Is there no change of death in paradise?
        Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
        Hang always heavy in that perfect sky”

        Or as “Heaven” would have it:

        “When this kiss is over
        It will start again
        Will not be any different
        Will be exactly the same.”

  6. Oh, thank you, Mr. Abernathy, for that, thank you, you poor little guy. Too bad for you [ sniff, sniff].

    [ world’s smallest violin plays ]

    I did not know Julian’s backstory. It appears to me right and appropriate.

    BTW I like some Julian tunes. Hey, what can I say.

  7. Oh but without a hell, how will believers make their argumentum ad baculum to force others to do as they do?

    1. Shockingly? A song inspired by a Navy chaplain who pitched in to help pass ammunition up to his ship’s AA guns when the fleet was surprised by Japanese warplanes one fine Sunday morning in peacetime is shocking to you? Granted elements of the tale are apocryphal and it’s not a particularly good song but the sentiment caught the mood of the day that the sleeping giant had to wake up. I just don’t understand the editorial adverb. (Hint: almost all sentences are improved by purging adverbs. This is one.)

      1. Am reminded of:

        1. The last sentence of JFK’s inaugural address:

        “With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

        2. James: “Faith without works is dead.”

  8. I remember listening to a priest going on about exactly the same thing! He called it ‘tripe’ 🙂 Imagining a world with no religion did not make him happy. It must be like a world without addicts, for a drug lord. Then a woman came on to slam David Bowie. I didn’t know anything about his music, so I couldn’t tell why she didn’t like it. I do remember his Pilate.

    1. Ha ha, too bad there wasn’t audience participation because you could say something “and I hate Bach” for no reason at all.

      1. I remembered a bit more about it. It was Bowie’s nihilism (as she put it) that put her off. She thought that the music was bad for young minds. She’d had a thing for him as a young girl but had come to her senses later 🙂

  9. The no country thing is just saying that we would extend our notion of peace, compassion etc to a larger group. This is probably startling to the far right who are in constant fear of this QAnon “one world government” conspiracy. Funny enough we all thought that would be a good thing for many years. If people understood the nation state, it’s relative newness, and the fact that we can even coexist in one nation, they’d understand the aspirational nature of this statement. Instead they think small and say “you ain’t gonna take my country from me!”. Good grief. We are all doomed.

  10. I believe the “no possessions” line is more a call for communal ownership. The whole song is about removing divisions and building unity. This is in line with anarchist philosophies. While you would have some personal keepsakes, there would be no need for most forms of ownership. There’s no need for your own car or drill or whatever. There would be ones that belong to the community and are free for anyone to use as they need. It’s not about inequality so much as it’s against the ideas of ownership in the first place. But without ownership, there is also no inequality. Everyone is able to use the community resources equally.

    Of course, that might be a radical idea for many but think of it as an expanded family. If you’re living in a house with parents and children, maybe even a third generation, you share. There may be “dad’s chair” or whatever but you can sit there if you have a group of friends over. And you can go into the kitchen and cook. There isn’t a separate stove and fridge and pans for each person.

    1. And who buys the cars and the drills and everything else that the community ‘owns’? Presumably someone has to organise a subscription from everyone in the community. Let’s call it a ‘tax’ for short. Then someone has to work out how much ‘tax’ each member of the community has to pay. And there has to be a means of making sure that the people who organise and work out the ‘taxes’ are accountable to the rest of the community. And then what about iPads, piano accordions, power stations, sewage systems, etc? Where do you draw your line between communal assets and ‘keepsakes’; and decide how much the community pays for the former?

      Sounds not too far away from the democratic system we’re landed with. As Churchill said…(fill in for yourself)

      1. I think anarchist Jason is just planning to freeload off the people who bought cars and drills with their own money but are now relieved of their exclusive ownership so people like Jason can enjoy the benefits of other people’s labour without having to pay for them. And when Jason returns the car to “the community” with the gas tank empty and in need of an oil change and a brake job, he will expect “the community” of people less virtuous but more productive than himself to pay for those necessities. From each according to his abilities, you know.

  11. Can someone at WaPo call a wrecker in Cincinnati to come over and winch the stick from up Gary Abernathy’s supercilious ass?

    Jesus H.

  12. Must say I always found it a bit naive (and ‘imagine no possessions’ close to flirting with hypocrisy for a multimillionaire).
    I agree it has more of a Buddhist than a Communist flavour, as Diana pointed out above.
    It is a good inspirational song, but far from the best the Beatles and their aftermath as single musicians has produced.

    1. According to celebritynetworth.com,

      John Lennon was an English musician, singer, and songwriter who had a net worth of $200 million dollars at the time of his death in 1980. That’s the same as being worth $620 million in today’s dollars after adjusting for inflation.

      I was/am a big Beatles fan but, in my musically uneducated opinion, considered this song far too dull to listen to, long before I thought about the lyric. If you’re going to preach with music, make it sound wonderful or exciting as in, for example:

      Daiqing Tana – Ongmanibamai
      Trace Adkin – Poor Wayfaring Stranger
      Nina Simone – Sinnerman
      The Byrds – Jesus is Just All Right

  13. I hate to agree with a pro-Trumpist curmudgeon, but I admit I never liked “Imagine.” Consider the lines “Imagine no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for…”

    What the heck is Lennon on about? We don’t have to imagine a world with no countries; we know what it was like. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans lived in hunter-gatherer bands, with not a country in sight (in the modern sense of “country” as a nation-state with a formally organized government). Did those hunter-gatherers have “nothing to kill or die for”?

    On the contrary, as Steven Pinker and Jared Diamond describe in their books, hunter-gatherer bands waged almost constant wars against each other – wars over land, resources, women (abducted as brides), or tit-for-tat cycles of revenge. If anything, the modern world, with countries, is much more peaceful on a per capita basis than most traditional hunter-gatherer societies. I recommend Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature for details.

    1. He could be on about having one giant country for everyone, though I’m not sure that’d be any better. If you’re a liberal with liberal Western values, you’d better be concerned about living under the same government with the rest of the world, who tend to have rather different values than Western (European) countries and could instantly outvote you.

      We have seemingly insuperable divisions even between the rural and urban parts of the same state, but they’re almost trivial compared to the differences between America (or any other European country) and Afghanistan, Iran, etc. where women are veiled and homosexuals are executed in accordance with Sharia law. I guess you could Imagine that we’d all agree on the same values and live together in peace and harmony, but good luck with that. 🙂

  14. I enjoy the song musically, and like to sing it, and don’t find it inherently harmful, but I do think it’s naïve and in opposition to human nature, and people inspired to implement policies in opposition to human nature tend to do harm in the long term.

    I don’t want “no countries” any more than I want “no families”. (There is a push today in some circles for communal raising and ownership of children – the “African village” model.) If there were no countries, there would either be no government (i.e. a power vacuum which would lead to anarchy) or a one-world government. And if you think your state government is unresponsive to your particular concerns, just wait until you’re ruled by an elite on the other side of the globe. If you dislike paying taxes, wait until you’re ruled by the local warlord.

    The divisions between my family and your family, my city and your city, my state and your state, and my country and your country, let us have something of the best of both worlds. A set of rules that we can generally agree on, and a diversity of other places with other rules for people who want to live differently. I don’t want to try to force Muslims and Hindus and Christians and Atheists and Democrats and Republicans and cats and dogs to live together under the same house. To each their own, even if it means we have divisions.

    I don’t want “no possessions” or “all the people sharing all the world”. Many people don’t take care of things that aren’t theirs. Landlords know well how different home renters are compared to home owners. And renting is still exclusive use. How much worse would it be if your home was shared with all the world?

  15. Pretty sure the song was meant to inspire more caring behavior, not be a roadmap to some hippie commune political social structure.

    Abernathy of course completely misses the point of “nothing to kill or die for,” which is that in the future Lennon sang about, he would not need to kill or die for his freedom because there would be nobody trying to kill him to take it away.

  16. The Peter Serafinowicz Show had an interesting take on the truth behind “Imagine,” courtesy of “Ringo Starr”:

  17. I mean, John Lennon himself has been quoted as follows:
    “‘Imagine’, which says: ‘Imagine that there was no more religion, no more country, no more politics,’ is virtually the Communist Manifesto, even though I’m not particularly a Communist and I do not belong to any movement.”
    so the reactions of right-wingnuts to it might be understandable.

    Another (alleged) reaction to the song, which I much prefer, is this:
    https://m.youtube.com/watch%3Fv%3D06a19-S77F4&ved=2ahUKEwjKmKGiqpT3AhVbKEQIHa_IC68Q3yx6BAgLEAI&usg=AOvVaw2yehrLMr8qw5o1ZoO2dmka

  18. With the to-ing and fro-ing with this song it has to be said in context, Lennon was trying to ” Give Peace a Chance” which was released post “All You Need is Love”. “Imagine” seemed to be the peak of this era of writing for him.
    “Double Fantasy” seemed a more personal album.

  19. Too much emphasis is put on the “no religion” lyrics and related. Lennon was conveying, let’s avoid the conflicts engendered by multiple religions, not so much advocating atheism specifically. I recall this from interviews he did not long before his death. (And I don’t think he was ever clear on his own beliefs.) Makes Abernathy’s objections even more pathetic.

    1. Seems to me that, with the song “God” off his first solo album, Lennon clearly established he wasn’t any kind of religious believer.

      Now, admittedly, the last half of that song is riddled with category errors. But, what the hell, we’re talkin’ rock’n’roll here, not philosophy.

  20. Yes, he’s a curmudgeon. It’s just a song, not the DNC’s political platform.

    If you take the lyrics of many, many songs literally, they wither under the bright light of logic.

    As to an alternate version for Abernathy, off-hand I can’t think of too many songs that promote capitalism and godliness. As suggested, looking in the Country Music section might be the ticket.

    I did think of Elvis Costello’s “The Other Side of Summer,” as it contains the line “Was it a millionaire who said, ‘Imagine no possessions’,” an obvious swipe at Lennon. But the rest of the song is more like Armageddon, a sort of Eagles’ “Sunset Grill” mixed with Harlan Ellison.

    But, then I thought: why not Costello’s great paean to mercenaries, “Oliver’s Army”? Not a perfect counterpoint, but it definitely covers the “nothing to kill or die for” response.

      1. Agreed, a terrific song and cover. Rarely has a song with such positive spirit/vibes been performed so passionately, which is why it’s so effective.

        I recently read an article where NIck Lowe was giving advice to a budding songwriter. This person wanted to know how to deal with his girlfriend, who thought he was cheating on her because he had lusted after a beautiful woman in a song. The real issue, said Lowe, isn’t that the songwriter wanted to sleep with the other woman; the much more serious betrayal was that he wanted to write a poem about her, a much more intimate act than mere sex.

  21. And the last word goes to the great John Lennon himself, when accused of hypocrisy for saying “imagine no possessions”. “It’s just a f***ing song”.

    1. Exactly Andre. Some of the comments seem like arguing over the meaning of ancient scripture.
      How about the Beatles ‘All you need is love”? The hippies sure lost that argument.

  22. The real weight of this song comes out most clearly when we are reacting to something terrible that’s happened. As we absorb the horrors of the war in Ukraine, or a mass shooting, for example. Then especially this iconic song just feels like one of the things that helps us get by.

  23. I think a problem with Imagine is it has been over played, overexposed. Otherwise it is fine though I much prefer his other 1970s work. And Yoko. She gets a lot of heat for no reason – I’m a fan of hers.
    D.A.
    NYC

    1. “doesn’t really demonstrate his ability,”

      Au contraire – this could easily have been just banging on some chords by Any Dopey Pop Singer Guitar Guy – Nuno arranged it precisely and executed it precisely and musically.

      Yes, Nuno shreds as precisely too – and, importantly, sounds like Nuno only. Chops City.

      Amazing call on this, thanks – I can’t help but feel sorta proud of Nuno? [ sniff sniff ] I mean its 50% of John’s genes right next to him!!!!

      Also says a lot about Julian – really making me smile…

      … this video was just at #24 ….

      1. Yes, you’re right – his accompaniment was perfect for the song and not everything he plays has to be flashily shredtastic.

  24. I don’t argue religion anymore. My only question is: “Where is heaven?” The faith vs science debate is not relevant. Science is about all what there is, and faith is all about what there isn’t (they call it heaven). The faith we need to talk about is of the delusional belief that such a realm exists.
    Lennon’s song is poignant and applicable to what divides science and faith. It is the sane vs the insane. Calling the illusion/delusion a mental illness seems a bit strong, but believing the things the faithful do is not a sign of a sound mind.
    Ask the faithful my question and they will give you a blank stare and ask, “Doesn’t everyone believe in heaven?” They take it as a given.
    Imagine. There is no heaven. A lovely poem for humanity. GROG

  25. In my days as a fundamentalist Christian, I detested this song. The reasons were much in line with Abernathy’s points about “no religion, too” and “no hell below us”.

    As an atheist and secular humanist, I now love this song. I’ve had the privilege of singing it in public a couple of times.

  26. The original recording of Imagine is like that of What a Wonderful World in that it walks a very fine line between making the signature uplifting sound that most people recognize (me as well) and going awfully, badly wrong.

    Next time you hear either original, notice how easily it could have gone wrong.

    The present performance is really strong, I’d have to add.

  27. The worst version is later Joan Baez, where she injects “except your own” after “no religion too
    “. The Spanish InquisitIon and the Taliban would certainly agree, though I am sure she would insist that that was not what she meant.

  28. I am sorry but I have deeply conflicted feelings about the song.
    Sure, I think we would all be better off without religion. The problem is, the song doesn’t paint people like myself positively. The lines about imagining “no possessions” and “all the people sharing all the world” are unadulterated collectivism which, for anyone with basic familiarity with Ukraine’s history, should be extremely disturbing, as this the ideology that led to deaths of millions in 1932-1933 during the famine/genocide orchestrated by Moscow and so, the song is particularly ill suited when you are trying to show solidarity with victims of this history repeating itself. And by telling us to imagine no religion and no possessions in the same breath, the song validates the ugly and dishonest stereotype of “godless communists” trumpeted in the 1950s by Joe McCarthy. And lastly, imagine “nothing to kill or die for”? Sure that would be nice, but isn’t that a little like telling us to imagine no cancer? I do not like killing or dying for things but I won’t condemn the killing of Osama bin Laden as Noam Chomsky did.

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