A Godless Dream

On Sunday, October 9, 2011, former Beatles member Paul McCartney married his girlfriend of four years Nancy Shevell.

What I found most interesting about this particular day was not McCartney’s wedding (his third now), but that it was intentionally held on what would have been John Lennon’s 71st birthday. For Lennon, who popularized the words “Imagine there’s no Heaven,” a wedding ceremony performed in a town hall (albeit a famous one), as opposed to a church, seems appropriate.

Lennon was shot to death in New York City in 1980. Those mourning the death of Lennon, or remembering his legacy, likely wish for both a Heaven and Hell. The former for the eternal life of the beloved musician and the latter for just retribution of the murderer. Ultimately if there is no afterlife, justice is not only evasive but actually impossible. Thus, it seems appropriate to consider the words of Lennon’s famous song “Imagine” in light of what would have been his 71st birthday.

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 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

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 that 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

There’s certainly nothing wrong with dreaming. And I, for one, truly like the melody of Lennon’s song. However, it is important to reflect on the meaning of his dream and of his lyrics.

If there is no Heaven nor Hell then there is no objective basis for meaningful justice. Thus, while Lennon’s shooter continues to be denied parole, he is still living – as comfortably as the Attica Correctional Facility will allow. Meaningful justice requires an omniscient mind so that no injustices go unnoticed, and the immortality of the soul since all misdeeds cannot be judged in this lifetime (ie. suicide bombers).

Lennon’s dream would make such justice impossible altogether.

Imagine if there were no Heaven above nor Hell below Auschwitz. Imagine no meaningful justice for the Cambodians who died under evil regime of Pol Pot. This sort of a dream would be no utopia at all.

Perhaps the best evaluation of Lennon’s proposed utopia comes from the Nobel Prize winning Russian novelist and historian Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.

“Imagine there’s no Heaven,” while it may be easy if you try — at least according to Solzhenitsyn — it will not go without consequence. I suppose this Nobel Laureate, imprisoned under Joseph Stalin, should be afforded some credibility in evaluating Lennon’s proposed atheistic utopia. For Solzhenitsyn, it took no imagination at all to realize the error of a godless society — if it were a dream, it must surely be a nightmare.

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Dan DeWitt (PhD, Southern Seminary) serves on faculty at Cedarville University as the founding director of the Center for Biblical Apologetics and Public Christianity. Dan and his wife April live in Cedarville, OH, with their four children: Isaiah, Micah, Josiah, and Addilynn Joy. Dan is an author of multiple books and posts regularly on his blog theolatte.com