Ever listen to the song Imagine by John Lennon? You probably have. It’s a famous song by one of the most iconic musicians of all time. So simple and yet so easy to listen to. Its message of world peace and unity has been trumpeted by celeb and common person alike as something for which we can only hope to achieve some day. Unfortunately the purpose of this entry is to show you that (in a somewhat roundabout way) the message of the song is a lie.
Last week I wrote a letter to the Boston Globe which was published. The gist of the letter was to explain that religions were different from each other and to claim otherwise, while a nice idea, was simply impossible. A letter next to mine made a similar point that it was perfectly reasonable for followers of a faith to believe in the certitude of their own beliefs. He then followed this logical statement with an absurd one: believing in your own faith doesn’t mean others have to be wrong. And then a week later a follow-up letter was written repeating and even endorsing this logical cartwheel of nonsense. Let me be clear. If you believe something different than me that is fine but do not come up with patronizing, anti-intellectual nonsense that our beliefs are somehow the same and “gee-golly wouldn’t it just be better if we got along?’ And this is why the song Imagine is so unhelpful.
It imagines a world without differences, and specifically religion. Nothing to die for and nothing to worry about in the future. Just live for today in unity and peace. Wouldn’t it be easier to just stop fighting and do whatever John Lennon tells us to do? It nice and pleasant and Utopian but also, completely devoid of reality. Wishing religion away isn’t going to eradicate it and it won’t make those who are intolerant and violent any less so. Saying that all religion is the same is a popular idea in our effectively secular, relativist, western culture recently. But saying it doesn’t make it close to being true.
I am a Christian. I believe some very specific things. One belief is that Jesus was the Son of God. Muslims don’t believe this. Jews don’t believe this. Hindus, Buddhists and certainly atheists don’t accept this. Saying this is so doesn’t make me intolerant or a bigot, it makes me logical. How much longer can smart, educated westerners keep pushing this idea that all religion is more or less the same? It’s not. More to the point, claiming this ridiculous “fact” does nothing to make the world more peaceful or solve any of the world’s problems (kind of like the song Imagine, thanks John Lennon, but no thanks.)
Religion is a complex multifaceted subject. It is not the cause of all violence, evil and death (see Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot circa 20th century) in the world and neither is it always a good thing. It deserves, as does any other subject, our honest and meaningful study. Imagining things about religion to make ourselves feel better that are, in fact, untrue is not helpful; it’s hallucination.
I respect where John Lennon and many others are coming from. We all want peace and justice and harmony. But manufacturing it from an intellectual black hole will not achieve anything. Being honest about what we believe, why we believe it and thriving to comes to terms with what that means for others will hopefully do so much more. There will always be extremists who want to kill, maim, destroy and manipulate. But hopefully as a society we can realize that these forces are no more indicative of true religion than the idea that all faiths are ultimately the same. Religion at its best can help drastically change society for the better. Let’s not imagine an impossible dream and do nothing but let’s do everything we can to make that dream we only could have imagined a reality. Like it or not, on this planet at least, religion will be involved.