Why Cee-Lo's Imagine Fail Matters

An atheist activist on Facebook asked why he should care at all about Cee-Lo changing the words to “Imagine” to sanitize its anti-religious sentiment last night. Me? I think it’s a great idea to seize on this story. What I’m discovering from this incident and from the one last month where Rick Perry made an “I’m a Christian and isn’t it outrageous gays are treated like people” ad is that atheists’ anti-religious privilege campaigns are best served when something else that non-atheists also care about is also bound up with the atheist concern.

“Oh, Rick Perry made a run-of-the-mill theocratic ad about how god should run the government? That’s just ‘smart politics’ appealing to Iowa Evangelical voters. And what was that, atheists? Something about “separation of church and state”? What quaint notions you have! Everyone knows that modern political campaigns have to be as faith-savvy as possible and that politicians need to prove they can pass religious tests and provide legislation that will satisfy religious interests if they are going to make it in today’s political climate! Even the Democrats are learning how to do this. Don’t worry your petty little heads over all this faith talk. It just means politicians have values and are accountable to values voters—-Wait—what?? Perry dehumanized gays in a theocratic ad? Now that’s terrible!! Let the huge viral backlash commence!” …aaand suddnely we have a great chance for atheistic/anti-theocratic arguments and memes to be propagated since the dangers of theocracy are visibly a demonstrable threat to something millions of non-atheist people care about—the rights and dignity of gay citizens.

Similarly with Cee-Lo Green changing “no religion too” to “all religion is true” on New Year’s Eve: “What’s that, some singer turns a secular event that’s supposed to be about civic unity into a chance to make his religious views a front and center concern, with little concern for how that alienates the religious who they’re supposed to also be relating to? YAWWWN, he’s just effervescently expressing his faith—whatevs, atheists, don’t be so intolerant… But wait!”he did this by messing with a beloved iconic song by an American folk hero??? Get the pitchforks! How dare he carelessly censor and disrespect an enduring work of art because he can’t put aside his own religious views for even a second???”

So I say that we atheist activists should turn up our detectors for stories which are not only about religious privilege’s intrinsic obnoxiousness or its affects on atheists, but which also demonstrate religious privilege’s negative affects on people and interests that mainstream culture actually gives a crap about.

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Brother Yam

    Isn’t “all religion’s true” a self-contradicting statement?

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      If you’re talking about literal doctrines, then yes, they cannot be all true. If you’re talking about “true” in some vaguer sense of “valid for living a life by”, then not necessarily.

    • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

      The Unitarian may retort, “It’s not a contradiction! It’s a mystery.”

  • laurentweppe

    Isn’t “all religion’s true” a self-contradicting statement?

    That’s actually the basis for at least one religion, and it was implied by the Vatican II concil… but wraped within tons of rhetorical circumvolutions: after all, this is the Catholic Church (nevertheless, catholic fundies hate Vatican II precisely because they see it as a heretical submission to modern secularism, and we should trust fundies on such matters: they’re experts in detecting and hating secularism).

    • laurentweppe

      And I failed in using both blockquotes AND the reply feature: bad commenter, bad.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      And, notably secularists are best at detecting fundamentalism

  • maureen.brian

    Just a little reminder. John Winston Lennon born Liverpool, that’s Liverpool England, 1940.

    Just because you admire him doesn’t mean you own him. Bloody imperialists!

  • Cyberguy

    The song Imagine is one of OURS! If atheists have a list of anthems, Imagine is near the top – if not number one.

    We do have power, and we should turn our (metaphorical) guns onto this low-life who butchered our song!

    • laurentweppe

      Hem… Daniel’s point was that imagine is not an atheistic anthem, but part of a culture which matters to more than just atheists, that in the end, the Imagine Fail matters because religious and theistic and agnostic people also give a shit about it.

  • John Morales

    What I’m discovering from this incident and from the one last month where Rick Perry made an “I’m a Christian and isn’t it outrageous gays are treated like people” ad is that atheists’ anti-religious privilege campaigns are best served when something else that non-atheists also care about is also bound up with the atheist concern.

    Hardly surprising, of course. :)

  • http://thetimchannel.wordpress.com The Tim Channel

    You have to “imagine” that all religion is true because if you open your eyes and look around you’ll see that it can’t be.

    Enjoy

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      Well, in that sense it fits the song since imagining no possessions and no countries is pretty pointless too!

    • Steve Schuler

      I think the lyrics in this song might best be thought of as poetic hyberbole and not as a literal exposition of the Hippie Dream. Even if you find that you still don’t like the song, it probably won’t be quite as painful.

  • J. J. Ramsey

    What’s that, some singer turns a secular event that’s supposed to be about civic unity into a chance to make his religious views a front and center concern

    Um, how did he do that? It’s not particularly clear that even the changed version of “Imagine” reflects Green’s views. Does he really think that there’s no Heaven? What made religion front and center is people’s reaction to the changed lyrics, and I doubt that Cee Lo was thinking, “Hey, if I make this tweak, I can get to evangelize my faith.” Heck, I doubt that he was thinking that much at all.

    The “pitchforks” reaction struck me as, well, silly and a bit nutty. I’m just not that bugged by a cover artist tweaking song lyrics, even those of an iconic song. Cover songs aren’t supposed to be clones, nor are they expected to be. Now if there’s some contract with Yoko Ono forbidding that particular sort of tweak, well, Green and Ono can duke it out. What bugs me is seeing one atheist call Green’s cover of “Imagine” a “lie” and another call it, without a trace of irony, “blasphemy and sacrilege.” Really, if one has to exaggerate in order to justify one’s outrage, then one has a piss-poor case for outrage.

    • Steve Schuler

      You are not alone in your response to the controversy.

  • Roger

    Have the holders of Lennon’s copyright found out about this? They will probably damage Green much more- financially and morally- than anyone else could.
    Surely the whole point of religious belief is that one religion’s true and all the others false and will get their followers sent to hell and tortured for ever.

  • http://spaninquis.wordpress.com/ Spanish Inquisitor

    No one has mentioned that See-low’s artistic rendition of a great song, it sucked. He butchered a sensitive song. I couldn’t listen/watch the whole thing, it was so bad.

  • Hank Fox

    To reverse-paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr.:

    “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative selfishness or in the darkness of destructive altruism.”

    Gah. Makes him sound like Ayn Rand.

  • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

    Ok, next year, let’s get some atheist to sing “God Bless America” and change it to “Secular America,” see how that goes over.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

      That would be the song “Godless America” actually.

    • http://marniemaclean.com Marnie

      Haha, I stand corrected.

  • ancientTechie

    This seems similar to the conversion of Woody Guthrie’s
    This land is your land into a patriotic anthem through the consistent omission of the song’s controversial verses in elementary school song books. If pro-religious singers can popularize a faith-supportive version of Imagine among fans who have never heard the original, John Lennon can eventually be reconstructed as an advocate for religion.

  • de-lis

    “So I say that we atheist activists should turn up our detectors for stories which are not only about religious privilege’s intrinsic obnoxiousness or its affects on atheists, but which also demonstrate religious privilege’s negative affects on people and interests that mainstream culture actually gives a crap about.”

    This is an incredibly smart tactic, one which I hope we are not too unwilling to use. There’s beating on your shields, and then there’s actually winning a victory (i.e., making progress getting exposure for anti–religious-privilege issues).

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