Imagine

I have always rather liked the melody of John Lennon’s Imagine. I cannot say, however, that I especially like the lyrics, expressing as they do every idiot left wing idea imaginable. It turns out that I am far from the only one who finds the lyrics objectionable. Mark Davies, the Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury in Birmingham, England expressed his objections to the song in his Christmas sermon.

John Lennon’s famous song “Imagine,” which pines for a Marxist utopia devoid of property and religion, lyrically promotes the “ill-founded belief” that “religion is the cause of wars,” when the devastatingly brutal wars of the 20th century were “largely inspired by secularist” and “openly anti-Christian ideologies,” says Catholic Bishop Mark Davies in his scheduled Christmas Day sermon.

Bishop Davies oversees the Catholic Diocese of Shrewsbury in Birmingham, England.  This 2014 Christmas marks the 100th anniversary of a Christmas “truce” during World War I when British and German soldiers, after an appeal by then-Pope Benedict XV, ceased fighting for a day and actually exchanged greetings and gifts and played soccer on the battlefield.

“Why did this happen?” says Bishop Davies in his homily, as reported in the Catholic Herald. “What could have drawn enemies from their entrenched positions to greet each other as friends?”

“[I]t was surely a light which first shone with the birth of a child born in Bethlehem, a Savior given to all humanity who turns our minds to thoughts of peace,” says the bishop.

“The events of Christmas 1914 give the lie to the lazily repeated assertion that ‘religion is the cause of wars,” says Bishop Davies.  “John Lennon would give voice to this ill-founded belief in the lyrics of his song ‘Imagine.’”

“This becomes a heart-chilling vision in which Lennon imagines a world with no hope of heaven and no fear of hell,” says the bishop, “And he adds, ‘no religion too.’ Only then, he suggests will ‘all the people’ be ‘living life in peace.’”

The bishop continued, “Yet the fact is, the wars of the century past, bringing with them atrocities and destruction on a scale never seen before, were largely inspired by secularist and, indeed, openly anti-Christian ideologies. In reality, it is human sin which lies at the root cause of war.”

The idea that religion is the cause of war has been heavily promoted by the so-called New Atheists to justify their anti-theist positions. It is a simplistic idea and easy to believe. It is not true, however. Religion is often the pretext for war. It is not so often the sole cause of war. A quick survey of the many wars throughout history shows relatively few wars are really over religious differences. The Peloponnesian War, the Hundred Years War, the American Civil War, World Wars I and II and many, many others had little to do with religion, even if the combatants believed that God was on their side. Even wars that are fought over religion, such as the Wars of Religion during the Protestant Reformation, on closer examination reveal other motivations, political or opportunistic, are at work. The German Princes who supported Luther were genuinely opposed to the abuses of the Catholic Church, but they were also inspired by German nationalism and a desire to maintain their own power against the imperial pretensions of the Hapsburgs. The Islamic hordes who burst out of the Arabian Peninsula may have been religious fanatics, but they were also attracted by the prospect of booty.

But, I think there is more to object to John Lennon’s song than just the anti-religion themes. Consider the lyrics.

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,

Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you will 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 will join us
And the world will live as one

John Lennon may have been a dreamer, but he doesn’t seem to have been much of a thinker. He wanted everybody to live in harmony together, yet he sings against the institutions that help people to live together in peace.

What if there were no countries? Would all the people live together in harmony? In Stone Age cultures people do not live in countries, or nation states or formal government. They effectively live in a state of anarchy recognizing no loyalty higher than that of the clan or tribe. People living in such primitive culture tend not to live peaceful lives.Their lives are far more violent than that of people living in more advanced societies. How could it be otherwise? When there is no higher authority to settle disputes between tribes, they often must fight feuds. When there are no police, courts or jails, the only way to assure justice is the threat of revenge by kinsmen. When people began to organize into cities and kingdoms, their rulers found it expedient to discourage private violence by adopting law codes and having the state administer punishment for crimes. When the nations of Europe began to coalesce into centralized nation states in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, one major concern of kings was to eliminate the private wars that was the nobility’s prerogative in the Medieval Period. The kings fought wars against each other but their subjects had to be at peace. The result was larger, but fewer wars. In the last few decades, we have begun to develop ways of mediating between nations and a somewhat crude form of international governance which has made war between the major powers almost unthinkable. Perhaps this idea should be taken to its logical outcome and a world government instituted to keep the peace, but I think that the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages of such a system. The point is, that the development of nations and countries has actually made life more peaceful for most people throughout history. A world of people living in anarchy would not be harmonious.

What about possessions? If we had no possessions would there be no hunger or greed? I don’t see how it would be possible to avoid starvation. Food is, after all, a possession and if there were no possessions there would be no food. And why would anyone take the trouble to grow more food than he needed to feed himself and his family if there were no way to pay him? Why would anyone want to do anything? Maybe John Lennon meant that everything would be held in common. Would this lead to harmony?

Aristotle understood more than 2300 years ago that private property is essential for maintaining peace and prosperity. As he put it, people are naturally self-interested and so more interested in caring for and improving what they perceive as belonging to them, while neglecting the affairs they see as others’ responsibility. Private property creates a more harmonious society since things held in common tend will be fought over. Everyone would naturally take as much as they need from the commune while contributing as little as they could get away with. No matter what system would be set up to distribute the common goods, someone would be sure to feel they are not getting their fair share. There is peace when property ownership is clearly defined with clear laws protecting property rights and commerce. Most of the rich countries of the world have such laws and are relatively peaceful and stable. Most of the poor countries lack such laws and are unstable and turbulent.

I am afraid that John Lennon’s dream would not lead to a world of everyone living together in harmony. It would lead to a Hobbesian nightmare of all warring against all and lives nasty, brutish and short. Maybe we should imagine less and think more.

 

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