Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Imagine": Theme Song for the Morally Vague


Part of the reason I have not been able to write in several months is because I have been in the process of moving to Houston. Getting settled involves getting acquainted with the city and all it has to offer. To those not from Houston, you may be surprised to learn that Houston has robust artistic offerings, ranging from early music, the symphony and opera, and scores of smaller music and dance companies that perform almost nightly all over the city. Perhaps I’ll write more on that in another post.

The focus for this post is on a song I heard performed at the Houston Boychoir Christmas concert, John Lennon’s Imagine. (The song also enjoyed a recent primetime cover on Fox’s Glee.) I don’t want to cast aspersions on the boychoir, which presented a fine concert. And lest I be accused of picking on young boys, this song was performed by alumni of the Boychoir who were all adults. Besides the fact that the song has nothing to do with Christmas, its selection was disheartening for several reasons. I’ll focus on one: while the song appears to be the ultimate musical offering of peace and goodwill, it is nothing more than a catalog of daydreams separated from reality. 

Mind you, this concert took place in a church, and the first lyric of the song is, “Imagine there's no Heaven”. So much for respecting the host. But with respect to the lyric, why would I want to imagine such a thing? Of what benefit is that to me? Of course I understand that many grievous acts are committed against others with the expectation of a reward in heaven. But for the millions, or billions of those who place their hope in the reality of life after death, why would Lennon want to take that away? And what is the alternate life that John Lennon and Co. would propose? A paradise on earth until we die, and then eternal nothingness? What happens if that paradise on earth never materializes (and it never will)? What then? Drudgery on earth, and then eternal blackness?

The song continues with the line, “Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too.” Coming from an artist who would supposedly want us to live life full of zest and vigor, what a disheartening thought. If there is nothing to die for, then there is really nothing to live for, either. Christ certainly understood this when he told those that followed him that they would need to also carry their own cross. But this is gospel, not law; the cost of carrying a cross is far less than the cost of a life without Christ, at least for the Christian. Many wanted to follow Christ, but when they realized there might be consequences, they turned around. They believed John Lennon was right: there’s nothing worth dying for.

Of course, I am not ignoring the other half of the line, “nothing to kill” for. Obviously madmen have taken to immoral acts of murder in the false name of religion or philosophy. (John Lennon’s assassin is probably listed among them.) But what does a life in which there is nothing to die for look like? I can imagine this being a rather joyless existence. Is there nothing so important, so life-altering that might require us to die? Is there no comrade in arms, child, or god that might be served by our death? Soldiers, parents and martyrs through the years would disagree. Indeed, if Christianity is to be believed, God would disagree. Christians profess the crucifixion of Christ precisely because we were worth dying for in the eyes of God.

To look at one more line before making some broader assessments, consider this example of Lennon’s philosophy: “Imagine no possessions…No need for greed or hunger.” In truth, this is muddled thinking, but it passes as genius because it has such high aspirations. Lennon assumes that if there were no possessions, there would also be no “need for greed or hunger.” And what proof of that is there? Wherever this has been tried, shy of tiny communes, the result is exactly the opposite: because there is no private property, there is no incentive and vehicle through which humans can create goods and food. Instead of everyone sharing, the creative imperative so natural to man is squashed, and the result is guess what…greed and hunger. I consider it either remarkably na├»ve or possibly malicious to assume that because there are no possessions, there will also be no greed or hunger. In fact, the nations with the highest legal protections of property are the same nations with the highest rates of charity and the lowest rates of poverty.

For some, Imagine succeeds as a song in spite of the fact that it offers no coherent vision and no serious insight into the human condition. Somehow, if we can “join” Lennon and Co., we can create a better existence for all. From the Christian point-of-view, however, this is a denial of sin itself, which is what ultimately prevents us from creating the utopia Lennon so desires. While Lennon may be loath to admit it, it is Christianity that offers us real possibilities in the wake of sin. I would go so far as to argue that it is religion that keeps this world in some balance to begin with.

If I have been too harsh on this masterpiece of music, I certainly apologize. It simply strikes me as a song that gets all the credit in the world for being a work of genius, when, in fact, it says next to nothing. But for its aspirations alone, it is praised. The song really is an imagining of a world without human beings that are what they are. Why don't we instead work with the problems of man and aim to fix them? I suppose a song that offered that proposition would not be nearly as appreciated.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

this song has so much meaning. you just dont get it