John Lennon’s Utopian Vision

John Lennon

Friday

John Lennon was born 75 years ago today. In his most famous song, he engages in utopian imagining that, like all utopian works, is more about the present than the future. By this I mean that it challenges us to scrutinize current day arrangements and institutions and think of other possibilities.

The opening directive—“Imagine there’s no heaven”—is not necessarily unreligious or unchristian, even through religious groups have sometimes complained that it is. Religion that avoids responsibility for the present by gesturing towards an indefinite future is indeed a block to positive engagement with the world. Jesus was not guilty of this, calling for us to find God in our here-and-now selves.

Of course, making our dreams real is a job for grown-ups. Mario Cuomo’s famous dictum that “we campaign in poetry but govern in prose” is directed at those who become disillusioned when our efforts to build a “brotherhood of man” prove difficult. That’s why the greatest utopian works always have an element of self-satire, questioning the very act of dreaming even as they dream. Lennon’s “Imagine” does not have this dimension.

Nevertheless, it has provided solace for people around the world when the forces of war and violence were ascendent. It became a kind of protest anthem for American protesters during the Iraq War when much of the country was seized with war fever. As a spur to peacemaking efforts, it has proved to be valuable.

So dare to dream. But then prepare to work long and hard to make that dream a reality.

Imagine

By John Lennon

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 people
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

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