John Lennon gets criticised for Imagine like it’s some trite little ditty. I don’t think so. The message of the song is as grounded as it is utopian. It is bluntly existentialist: there is no heaven! Lennon was asking us to imagine no heaven, no hell, no country, no possessions. For him these were abstractions, part of invented belief systems, often bizarre, often corrupt.
Given that people hold their abstractions dear then asking that they be given up is a big ask. Living without illusion can sail perilously close to nihilism. Indeed, Imagine is as much rooted in Lennon’s disillusionment as it is in his idealism.
Yet in the face of scepticism there still remains the real possibility that humans might learn to live better together. Actually they might get along better if they discarded the nonsense they believe about their own existence. That’s the spirit in which John Lennon wrote his song.
It’s a tough call though, the idea that you might live absent of belief and its associated fictions. Maybe it’s not possible given the way minds are constructed. But that there is an easy disposition toward belief doesn’t mean gorging on it is free of consequence. Believing stuff that is factually contradicted borders on mental illness. It is reasonable to believe the sun will rise tomorrow but questionable to think the sun god will make it so.
So, the philosophy that informs Imagine is far from trite and lays down a challenge. It demands we deal with the world based on its actuality, that we embrace its facts; and from that place we might for once be able to live peacefully with each other thus maximising potential rather than compromising it as is so often the case.
You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one.
Imagine is far from trite