Lennonism and the Pending Utopia



I wonder if I’m the only person out here in the provinces who was surprised and a bit puzzled by the showcasing of John Lennon’s atheist anthem “Imagine,” complete with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Liverpool Philharmonic Youth Choir, during the closing ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.


Not to mention the fact that that ghastly white death-mask-like portrait of Lennon in the center of the Olympic stadium was rather repulsive — and especially so when it broke up (decomposed?) at the end of the song.  That’s a separate issue.



Don’t get me wrong:  I’ve been a wildly enthusiastic Beatles fan for almost all of my life — although, sadly, despite active attendance at rock concerts featuring such Lennon-contemporary performers as the Byrds, Iron Butterfly, B. B. King, Cream, and the Rolling Stones, I never managed to see the Beatles in a live performance — and, of the four, John Lennon was far and away my favorite.  (I was in Cairo, Egypt, when I heard the shocking news of his death, and it felt as if Mark David Chapman had also murdered my childhood.)


But “Imagine” is a rather silly song, and, surely, to at least a substantial proportion of those who watched and even performed in the Olympics, a potentially offensive one:


Imagine there’s no heaven.

It’s easy if you try.

No hell below us,

Above us only sky.

Imagine all the people

Living for today.


Imagine there’s no countries.

It isn’t hard to do.

Nothing to kill or die for,

And no religion, too.

Imagine all the poeple

Living life in peace . . .


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 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.


I mean, really.  If religion would only disappear, we’d all live in peace, love, and brotherhood?  Check out the historical record of such officially atheistic regimes as Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China,  Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and Castro’s Cuba, or, for that matter, of Robespierre’s revolutionary France, and try telling us that with a straight face.  Hitler represents a more complex (and perhaps altogether incoherent) case, but certainly his dismissal of humankind as “a ridiculous cosmic bacterium” (ein lächerliches kosmisches Bakterium) doesn’t exactly scream orthodox Christianity, or even theism.

And does the abolition of private property seem even remotely likely to eliminate hunger?  Tell that to the average North Korean.  Try telling it to anybody who knows the history of economic performance — and of food production — in the Soviet Union or Marxist China or Communist Cuba.  (See this famous satellite photograph of the Korean Peninsula by night.)  Market capitalism has done more to eliminate poverty and starvation than (much as I admire their sentiments) thousands of rock concerts protesting world hunger will ever do.   If people want to put an end to hunger, one of the first things they should do (though not the last) is to get rid of the governments that have, over the past century, created or vastly worsened lethal famines in places like the Ukraine, Ethiopia, and the southern Sudan.

And it seems . . . well, rather dull.  Nothing worth dying for?  No great loyalties or affections?  Living only “for today”?  No long-term goals?  No aspirations or ambitions?  No dreams?  No great achievements against the odds?  (Did all those Olympic athletes there in the stadium merely wander aimlessly into the Games, unmotivated, untrained, unpracticed?)  “Above us only sky”?

Zzzzzzzz.  Spare me.

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  • Andrew Smith

    I watched “The Killing Fields” for the first time this last week. I thought it was a wonderful and moving, albeit brutal, portrayal of a distinctly awful moment in human history. Then I got to the last 3 minutes, and with the tearful reunion of the two protagonists, heard this song. It dropped the movie in my estimation. I only saw the first few minutes of the closing ceremonies, but I imagine I would have had a similar reaction to the above if I had seen the part you describe. This has always been a little soap box of mine. I get what Lennon was hoping for, an end to conflict, etc. But the way that he hoped to do it (as described here) just strikes me as banal naivety. Remove things that most inspire and give meaning to the lives or provide the basis for societal development, etc for the vast majority of people? I don’t get why it has been accepted as a cultural cornerstone of the last few decades… In the end, with “The Killing Fields” it just cheapened the whole experience of the two characters. That’s not to mention the irony that is apparent with how the song is used: in the film- removing religion? that’s what was happening in Cambodia, and at the Olympics- imagine no countries? how would that work?

  • Fred Kratz

    In the late 1980′s I had the pleasure of dating a woman from Oslo Norway for several years. We were both studying engineering at Montana State University. I was attracted to her kind, gentle and unassuming nature as well as her intellect. She moved back to Oslo after receiving her degree and we stayed in touch for several years after, even though we both were later married. During the time we dated, I got to know many other Norwegian students, most of whom were working on masters degrees. In all, there were about 25 or so. They were a great group of people and we often spent time out amongst, traveling to Yellowstone, or taking in the beauty of the mountains around Bozeman. Usually, campfire talk included politics or history (they were all interested in the wild west), current events or relating funny stories. Religion never came up, not once. None of them, as far as I knew, were Christian. The woman I was dating, and none of her family belonged to any church.

    So I think that when one listens to “Imagine”, it may be useful to keep in mind that there are people living happy, healthy, productive and benevolent lives without religion. The Scandinavian culture, it seems to me, is a pretty good example of what can be accomplished without strong religious participation or indoctrination.

    • danpeterson

      I don’t deny for a moment that secular people can be good people.

      I wonder sometimes, though, whether societies like that of Scandinavia — which I know somewhat, since I’m of Scandinavian extraction; have relatives still living in Norway; have visited Denmark (3-4 times), Sweden (twice), and Finland, and spent a fair amount of time in Norway on perhaps four or five separate occasions — aren’t, on the whole, living on borrowed moral capital.

      But we’ll see.

  • Fred Kratz

    While I agree that market capitalism has improved the lives of many first world nations, it has also given itself over to a financial model which leaves the bottom half of the world’s population sharing 1% of global wealth. The top 10%, according to the Tax Justice Network, owns 84%. The long term implications of such a structure contribute to not only political instability, but other societal breakdowns as well. There is a study which has been summarized here: http://taxjustice.blogspot.com/2012/07/inequality-you-dont-know-half-of-it.html

    • danpeterson

      The only hope for the world’s poor is market capitalism.

      The wealth of the United States didn’t cause the poverty of Somalia or North Korea. The poverty of Egypt and the Yemen isn’t the fault of free enterprise.

      Tanzania didn’t become poor because richer neighboring Kenya “stole” its wealth, but because it chose “ujamaa” or “African socialism,” whereas Kenya didn’t. That nighttime satellite photograph of the Korean Peninsula isn’t proof that Seoul pillaged Pyongyang. Pyongyang never really had anything worth stealing. South Korea generated its own wealth — so I suppose one could say that South Korea has, oh, 90% (or whatever) of the peninsula’s wealth, and leave that hanging as if it constituted some sort of indictment of the free market, but, plainly, it’s precisely the OPPOSITE of that.

      • http://www.ldsreligionandscience.wordpress.com Gary Carlson

        I disagree that capitalism is the only hope. I believe in a book that says “the people were all converted to the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another. And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free and partakers of the heavenly gift.”
        Communism fails because of lack of freedom. Capitalism fails because of lack of charity both toward men and toward our shared environment.

    • Fred Kratz

      I’m with you on free markets and capitalism, and I certainly understand your point regarding North Korea which is a large scale human tragedy under the most repressive and isolated regime on the planet. What the report to which I referred to in the comment explains, is that structural imbalances caused by the allocation of capital often does a great deal to increase the wealth of the first and third world elite, while leaving many third world nations bled of their wealth assets and mired in debt. And this debt and lack of “trickle down” has kept the vast, vast majority of humankind in abject poverty even though initially promises were made that “free trade” would lift all boats. This, unfortunately has not happened and is at the root of much of third world instability.

      This of course, is not a venue for such discussion and I was remiss in trying to make such a point here. I have enjoyed reading many of your posts, especially those made during your travels abroad.

  • http://strongreasons.wordpress.com Andrew Miller

    Lennonism sound an awful lot like Obama-ism.

    Just sayin’.

  • http://strongreasons.wordpress.com Andrew Miller

    That obviously should say “sounds” and not “sound.”

    I blame the keyboard.

  • http://www.jburdimages.com Jason

    Doesn’t the very idea of Utopia imply we are always always always looking for heaven…? Lennon’s song, as well as some other ‘utopias’ you mention, seems to be saying, “don’t believe in THAT utopia because we want to sell you ours instead.” It’s another tidbit that tells me we are divine seeds – we’re always trying to usurp and BE God right now. I can just hear Him saying, “Now now, I know I know. Why don’t you start with this and this and we’ll get to the other stuff soon enough. Patience kiddo. Have faith.” And I suppose it’s one of the reasons I love the 13th article of faith. “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” To me that means we look for light wherever it is to be found. But we have to discern it from the other stuff that is always in the mix.

    • danpeterson

      I think you’re exactly right. It’s a big theme in C. S. Lewis — for example, in his autobiography “Surprised by Joy.” We yearn for something of which we occasionally see fleeting glimpses, but it’s something that we can’t really have in this life, on this planet. However, the existence of that yearning (he uses the German word “Sehnsucht” for it) demonstrates that something must exist that CAN fulfill it, just as thirst would make no sense if liquids didn’t exist.

      • danpeterson

        I agree. I hope they’ll tell this part of his story in, for example, the film about him that they’ll show at the convention.

  • Wendell

    Gee whiz, let’s do the math. If you make money you end up with most of it. If you don’t understand market capitalism and you don’t make money you end up with little of it and it is the other fellows fault. Let’s review. Nations that develop wealth have it, those that reject the mechanism for making wealth lag far behind. What a shock.

  • christine

    wendell,…if you make money, try to pass it on to your heirs without being COMPLETELY taxed out of it. If you have money, try to invest it without losing out COMPLETELY to inflation, W: imagine for one second a world that works perfectly well RIGHT NOW, without being COMPLETELY destroyed by the next second,,….D.P. Yes it should not have been played at the Olympics but……imagine paradise , imagine ZION, imagine for one second, heaven, it is OK, after that second you can go back to being good old LDS (like I do ….all the time…. after I speak to God)