“IMAGINE THERE’S NO HEAVEN,” John Lennon sang on one of his most famous and beloved of songs, “Imagine”. In that warbled tune, the iconic rocker went on to sing, “It’s easy if you try. No Hell below us. Above us only sky.”
Elsewhere in the song, the lyrics embellish on this theme. “Imagine there are no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for… And no religion too.”
There is no equivocation in these lyrics. They are quite clear and boldly stated.
So imagine my surprise when I heard this song being sung by a church choir in a small village in Catholic Ireland one morning while attending mass in memory of a deceased family member.
That was many years ago now. A few months back, however, I heard the same song being sung by a young Catholic secondary school student in a talent competition. The school principle, his assistant principle and most of the lad’s teachers had assembled for the show. A huge round of applause went up at the end and I could only wonder how such a song had been allowed into the competition in the first place.
To me, the sheer irony of it staggers the imagination.
The melody, of course, is what carries the tune. It is stately and quasi-sacred all on its own, and ultimately there are great sentiments about living in peace together and seeing the world’s people as one.
It greatly helps that the song was written by a much beloved figure. Lennon, of course, was assassinated by a madman who essentially idolized him so much that he wanted to be him. Apparently, this chap thought that ridding the world of the real John Lennon would leave him without any competition.
My point here though (beyond wondering how in the hell, so to speak, a set of lyrics like those in that particular song could get past the gatekeepers of the faith!) is, Are these suggestions wise and are they worthwhile imaginings for humanity?
I personally have no trouble imagining that the world could get on just fine if there were no countries or religions. Nothing to kill or die for sounds pretty ideal. The reason I have no problem with that is because I think that people shouldn’t need laws to keep them from engaging in antisocial forms of behavior, such as stealing from, or killing, others. Likewise, we shouldn’t need religious institutions to structure our spiritual responses to life by telling us that it’s “sinful” to steal from, or murder, another human being. Surely we know that in our hearts already.
In short, I believe that spirituality can exist quite apart from religious institutions and that no one really needs an “intermediary” between oneself and “God” or whatever “divine” or “transcendental” powers or forces that interact with humanity. Even if there is no God, nor divine power, a human being still has values and principles to which he or she should be true.
Know thyself, said the ancient sages, and to thy own self be true.
Personally, I think that imagining there is no heaven nor hell is perhaps not especially helpful to humanity. I believe that it is much better to consider that there is actually an otherworldly paradise that exists in some unseen “spiritual” dimension, including an infernal realm, one to which the spirit may go once it departs the fallen body, for if we don’t believe that, then that implies that we are conceding that there is nothing but sheer oblivion for us once we die.
The idea of a paradise and its opposite, a place where souls may go to burn away and purge the residues of their darker errors, seems to me to be closer to the reality of the afterlife than the nothingness of the atheist. I believe that mainly from reading the accounts of revered yogis, mystics and sages, and those who have had what are known as “Near-Death Experiences”.
While yogis are usually practitioners of some Eastern spiritual tradition, mystics, meditators and the people who have had an NDE can, and do, come from all walks of life and from every country on Earth, including those steeped in a predominantly Western spiritual tradition.
As one sows, so one reaps, the Judeo-Christian Bible informs us.
Karma, of course, is all about that. As we do to others, so it is done to us. What goes around, comes around.
The world is as it is though, probably because there is no such thing as “instant karma” – another one of Lennon’s more famous tunes – which means that since we don’t see the results of our actions immediately, we generally fail to make the connection.
Karma takes time to work itself out and that time delay essentially tricks people into thinking that they can get away with many a dark and devious activity, even murder.
In fairness, John Lennon was a towering musical giant who spoke out for peace at every opportunity. His anthem, “Give Peace A Chance”, is still a powerful mantra for millions, as well it should be.
In more than one interview, Lennon made it quite clear, however, that he was actively pro-peace because he himself had been such a violent hellion back in an earlier day. He admitted that he could strike out with an angry hand or fist, or speak sharply with a vicious, indeed caustic, tongue, as quite a few people learned along the way apparently.
Lennon was no saint. Far from it. But he did repent his violence and he did try to do something about it, mainly by channelling his anger into music and also by having the guts to speak up about it in public even if it did turn off some of his fans.
I am a gnat next to a Goliath like John Lennon, but I learned from the man. He and his fellow band mates in The Beatles inspired me like no others, and through them I found both ecstasy and solace in music. I did indeed learn that, “In the end, the love we take is equal to the love we make.”
We are not born hating people of another race or faith. That comes from learned behavior, from thinking as we are taught to think by our minders who sometimes, unfortunately, offer the kind of irresponsible and seriously unenlightened behavior that damages a young person. One must overcome such thinking by achieving spiritual growth in one’s own way as one comes of age.
The smart karma is in forcing no one to do anything against their will, unless it is done in an overtly loving manner. To do so in a covert manner is duplicitous. To brutally force people to do things without any love at all is just plain evil.
John Lennon died a violent death. Was that some kind of karmic revenge that he deserved?
I don’t think so. I think that an incident like that is a reflection of the state of our world as a collective. When I think about the mass shootings that go on in the world these days, I can only conclude that those unfortunate victims didn’t deserve to die. There’s no way that I believe that the victims in such a circumstance are getting some kind of comeuppance for past errors or transgressions.
Humanity has collectively allowed savagery of this nature to continue. We have allowed our leaders to become dependent on the manufacturers of guns and other weaponry for getting elected to powerful positions and for staying in those influential positions. We have also permitted people of a violent nature, or questionable background, to obtain weapons almost as easily as they can buy anything else.
We all share in the guilt of this, for we are reaping as a culture what we have sown as a society.
Humanity is clearly a conflicted species. John Lennon exhibited the dichotomous nature of the human condition in a larger than life way. He lived big and died a global icon and a legend.
Imagine though if we really could all live together in peace and channel our dark energies into music rather than violent behavior and endless war.
“War is over,” Lennon said, “if you want it.”
Most of us do. So let’s speak up.
Lennon also said, “You may say that 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.”
Actually, however, the world is already one.
The problem is that only those who are not deluded can see that.