Originally printed in Huffington Post, January 1, 2012
It is the 40th anniversary of John Lennon’s death by shooting by gun in New York City. I wrote the following in a flood of upset and grief and a sense of loyalty to the truth — at least to my own and what I interpreted as John Lennon’s.
At a moment in time when religion seems to have gotten more and more press and power in America, the lyrics to my own ode if you will, are more radical than the way I usually speak or even write. That has to change, at least in my own life, since I’ve decided that telling the truth and seeking the truth — as much as I can manage — is my own best way forward.
As such, right before Chanukah and Christmas and the New Year and more, I wish us celebrations as true as possible to the essence of who we are and the essence of those helping to make the world a more loving and honest place.
It’s the beginning of 2012 and I know I’m not alone in being upset at the change of lyrics of John Lennon’s majestic hymn of love called “Imagine”. On the Channel 4, WNBC New Year’s Eve extravaganza a few minutes before midnight, Cee Lo Green sang — instead of “No religion too” — “all religions true”, and it’s so not okay it’s not funny.
The song “Imagine” is a global hit of all time, and for many of us a symbol of a wish for peace and unity. Specifically it signifies the hope for a lack of the kind of boundaries that blind and separate human beings from each other. It is the poetry of wishing we might not be bound by nationality, by ethnicity or by religion, and in these sentiments the song is very specific.
We need to be thinking about what we mean, and considering when our meanings are filled with conflict. It may just be time to raise our consciousness so we can be accountable when we ask one special God to bless one special country, and when we believe that one way of believing is the only way. In any case, however, the answer to that set of questions or quests is not merely to blur the meanings that are there for us to untangle.
John Lennon was a radical human whose music changed the hearts and minds of many and got him into trouble with our government as well. He was a fervent anti-Vietnam protestor, and with his famous nude protests with Yoko he galvanized the support and passions of many. This is not about idealizing him or anyone else but for his political point of view he was in no way an apologist.
“No religion too” means that, and some of us might do well to consider the thinking of many, including the late mythologist Joseph Campbell, who felt that even the current religions were too dangerous for such a small globe since they spell exclusivity. Nice touch, you might say, to add a note about putting them all together for the commercializing of “Imagine” but not only does it seem indecent robbery, but also impractical philosophizing that takes meaning away from our current set of crises.
Of the afflictions haunting our globe, religion is but one, and by this I mean particularly the use of religion to insist on predicting who shall live and who shall die in the next world, for which far too many people yearn for there to be earnest efforts for peace that are lasting. It is more important than ever for us to pay attention to the facts of the matter, meaning that many of our most popular religions call for the extermination of all those who don’t believe. That is in their texts, in their preaching and one cannot do away with that notion by changing the words of a song that set out to address them.
New Year’s Eve is known for Auld Lange Syne, tonight for “New York, New York” as sung by Frank Sinatra and in general for reminiscences. However it is also famous for being the start of New Years resolutions although we know that for the most part they don’t work because they are promises to be good in terms of behavior that rarely reflect deep consideration or meditation.
New Year’s Eve has seemed a mixed bag because it has in the public eye included an emphasis on fun which for many is forced, but also because it misses the potential uplifting nature of a heaviness of spirit that includes emotions about a year that is dying in addition to the birth of a new time. If we decide to include this depth in our beginning of a new year, it can easily come to mind that we would do well to reflect on the rabid emphasis on winning for its own sake — one that can be fatal to our capacity for resilience, esteem that goes beyond vanity, as well as for empathy.
We have little time to make crucial choices as to the future of human and planetary resources, little time if we choose to listen to the scientists who are daring to warn us of dangers and also offering to help us find solutions. To be sane is to acknowledge the truths that may be inconvenient, and at the same time I realize that many whose lives are based on religions that find Armageddon something to rush after, may find it almost impossible to question the tenets of those belief systems.
In the meantime, can we not add fog to the fog, please. John Lennon would not have stood for it, but then he would have been doing the singing of his own song if it were to be sung at all, had he have lived. As it is, he has lived on for so many of us that his lyrics are embedded in our memories. What’s more they should matter, for their authenticity and our loyalty to how they were meant to be. In case of any doubt and also as a refresher so we can hear their bold statements as clearly as possible, we might do well to revisit them, asap.