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BY DONALD DEMARCO
A friend of mine complained
recently about how the Catholic school where he teaches celebrated “Remembrance
He was particularly distressed by
the inclusion of a John Lennon song, entitled “Imagine,” as a way of honoring
those brave soldiers who fought and died for the freedom we now enjoy. The
lyrics were the reason for his distress, together with a sense that his school
is adrift in a kind of New Age wishy-washiness.
First, Lennon invites us to
“imagine there’s no heaven ... No hell ... Imagine all the people living for
today.” Needless to say, people who live only for the day would have no
interest whatsoever in remembering those who lived yesterday. Nor would they
have the disposition to grasp the pertinence of George Santayana’s celebrated
phrase, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat its
A staged denunciation of the very concept of Catholic tradition at a
Catholic institution should be a horrifying spectacle for anyone possessing
even the most meager Catholic sensibility. One great justification for the
Catholic religion is precisely to rescue people from the prison house of the
People who live only for today,
who are oblivious to their debt to the past and their obligations to contribute
to a better tomorrow are narcissistic, ungrateful and visionless. They are
hardly friends of humanity, let alone good Catholics. The notion of heaven is
not intended to distract us from the importance of the moment, but to enlarge
and transcend what we experience and link it to a lasting future.
Do high-school students get a
better education if they are told that universities do not exist? Do minor
league ball players enjoy their game all the more once they know that they will
never make it to the major leagues? Do couples in love consummate their
affection for each other only when they have no hope for marriage?
We are inescapably creatures of
hope. We exist on the horizon of time. We can know both our grandparents and
our grandchildren. We are historians and prophets. Any attempt to restrict our
consciousness and our concerns to the moment does violence to our nature. Poor
John Lennon had trouble imagining who he was, namely a human being who is part
of a family that has both a past and a future. We cannot imagine anything
better unless we can see what is before our eyes. Imagination builds on a
foundation; it does not replace it.
Next, Lennon invites us to imagine there are
“no countries.” Nationalism is presumed to be the cause of war. Then, we are
asked to imagine there is “no religion.” Religion is presumed to be a cause of
conflict and therefore a barrier to “living life in peace.” Finally,
“possessions” must be done away with so that the problems of “greed” and
“hunger” can be abolished.
The road to peace for John
Lennon, so elusive to mankind for so long, is discovered quite simply through a
process of elimination. Just eliminate heaven and hell (and all morality
implied by this distinction), as well as politics, religion and all personal
possessions, and we have, not sheer human bankruptcy, but “peace.” Such an
emaciated, impoverished, barren peace, however, is hardly worth singing about.
I really think that Lennon’s paean to peace is an invitation to death — requiescat in pace. Lennon is really an
architect of the culture of death.
In the last stanza of “Imagine,”
Lennon presents himself as a “dreamer” who should be taken seriously if the
world is to “live as one.” But talking about his “hope” that some day his dream
will come true contradicts everything he urged in the previous 20 lines about
living exclusively for today.
The notion of “dream” is very
broad, and its meaning ranges from “vision” to “illusion.” Martin Luther King
Jr.’s “dream” may be regarded as a “vision.” He understood how much work is
necessary in order to realize a
particular dream. Lennon’s “dream” is an illusion. It is an illusion because he
thinks that peace can flower in a vacuum.
To realize a dream that is a
vision takes hard work. It requires choosing good over evil, truth over
falsehood, and finding a common ground so that diverse nations can enjoy mutual
respect and live in peace. It is a challenge, an adventure and a struggle because
it deals with very real existential forces. Our anti-Catholic minstrels who
gaily denounce everything that common sense affirms would have been far wiser
to recite the following words of the poet Edwin Markham:
Ah, great it is to believe the dream
As we stand in youth by the starry stream;
But a greater thing is to fight life through,
And say at the end, ‘The dream is true.’
Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus
at Ontario’s St. Jerome’s University
and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles
College & Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.