Growing up I listened to a lot of music. And, like a lot of teenagers, I didn’t pay much attention to the words, they were just another instrument in the whole melody of the song. As I got older, I started paying attention to the words and was often shocked at what I had been humming.
Like many people my age, one of my favorite songs was John Lennon’s “Imagine.” A beautiful melody, in a thoughtful and meditative tone. But oh the words! When I finally got around to paying attention to them, I stopped listening to the song. For in it, Lennon imagines, with approval, a world without God, religion, or country. In effect no piety, no loyalties. He also dismissed the idea of heaven, hell, and more than implies that religion, faith and God are the source of violence, greed and disunity. Here are some of the lyrics:
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, you may say
I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions ….etc.
The song become quite the ballad of the secular humanists, and though peaceful and serene in its cadences, was a real slap in the face to faith, religion, Church, Country, piety, patriotism and the free market economy. The song reached beyond secular humanism, more than implicitly endorsing atheistic Communism, or at least Socialism in its dream of “no possessions.”
In effect the song says to faith and to all holding the other traditional values above, “Your day is over, you have caused evil, and we are moving toward a utopian paradise without you. You are not invited for you are the problem.”
Yes, there it was: Imagine, perhaps the most secular and radical song ever written, dripping with contempt, deconstructionist, revolutionary, and reductionist, a Magna Carta for secular humanism, and Communism.
And yet, it would seem John Lennon either disavowed the song, or never meant it in the first place. In an interview given shortly before his death, perhaps his last, he says some remarkable things that indicate a very different John Lennon than the song portrays.
I do not read, and will not even mention, the magazine in which the interview originally appeared (in 1980). But am quoting a secondary source which references that final interview. It is an interview that seems largely forgotten, since Lennon’s murder wholly changed the conversation and froze his image in place as the “60s radical.” It would seem he was far from that when he died. I am only here quoting a small part of the article, which you can read in its entirety here: Stop Imagining
Here are the pertinent excerpts:
In his definitive song, “Imagine”….[Lennon] famously dreams of a world with “no possessions.” The mature Lennon explicitly disavowed such naïve sentiments: I worked for money and I wanted to be rich….What I used to be is guilty about money. … Because I thought money was equated with sin. I don’t know. I think I got over it, because I either have to put up or shut up, you know. If I’m going to be a monk with nothing, do it. Otherwise, if I am going to try and make money, make it. Money itself isn’t the root of all evil.
The man who famously called for imagining a world with “No religion” also jettisoned his anti-theism. “People got the image I was anti-Christ or anti-religion,” he said. “I’m not at all. I’m a most religious fellow. I’m religious in the sense of admitting there is more to it than meets the eye. I’m certainly not an atheist.”
Even more shocking to the idea of Lennon as a secular leftist, or a deep thinker, the man rejected evolution. “Nor do I think we came from monkeys, by the way,” he insisted. “That’s another piece of garbage. What the hell’s it based on? We couldn’t’ve come from anything—fish, maybe, but not monkeys. I don’t believe in the evolution of fish to monkeys to men. Why aren’t monkeys changing into men now? It’s absolute garbage.”
……His final interviews make clear he was above all concerned with his family. “I’m not here for you,”he said, speaking to his fans. “I’m here for me and [Yoko] and the baby.” He revered the institution of marriage, explaining how much it meant to get the state approving his union with Ono. “[R]ituals are important, no matter what we thought as kids. … So nowadays it’s hip not to be married. But I’m not interested in being hip.” 
So there it is, the revolutionary, it would seem, either reconsidered, or never fully embraced the radicalism of the song “Imagine.” Elsewhere in the article he is quoted as saying, “It’s easier to shout ‘Revolution’ and ‘Power to the people’ than it is to look at yourself and try to find out what’s real inside you and what isn’t, when you’re pulling the wool over your own eyes. That’s the hardest one.”
I do not hold John Lennon up as anything other than he was, a singer and composer, and quite a good one at that. I personally cannot stand it when we elevate movie stars, and entertainers to the status of cultural and political experts. But given the fact that others do, it is worth noting that one of the icons of the secular humanist movement and the radical left, made something of a journey back to traditional values, family, faith, and personal accountability.
I do not sanction everything Lennon says in the article, I only note the journey he made and claim the hope that Lennon did not die the radical atheist some thought him to be. I pray too others will and are making the journey he apparently did.