Atheism, 'Imagine', and Cee Lo Green
by Alison Smith
January 2, 2012
I am not an atheist. By the company I keep, by my interests, and by the content of the articles I write, most people think I am. I feel a pull to write this article on Cee Lo Green's alteration of the lyrics of 'Imagine' on New Year's in New York City because I am in a rather unique situation by comparison to my friends who have commented on the matter — I am not an atheist, nor am I religious.
On New Year's, Cee Lo Green (singer of the hit song 'Fuck You,' funnily enough) sang John Lennon's 'Imagine,' with one minor alteration — he changed the line "And no religion, too" to "And all religion's true."
There's been a hell of an outcry. People are sincerely pissed off — and even Cee Lo himself joined the fray when he took to Twitter and posted responses to dissent. Those Tweets have since been removed, but there are screencaps of the debacle floating around. He responds in anger again and again, brags about his success, and makes veiled threats — even offering to fly one person first class to LA to settle the matter.
Others, however, spoke out in support of the alteration — but the odd thing is that most of them appear to be Christian.
I grow weary of this strange world.
John Lennon was a great songwriter. He was a fascinating person. He was a great man if you view him only on a grand scale. Looking closer, he was something of an asshole. He had more kindness, let's say, for strangers than for those close to him. Having never known the man, I cannot fault him for his traits. But the people who are angry because of John Lennon personally make little sense. Read John's biography and get back to me. He was just a person — a flawed, probably deeply unhappy, person.
People who are faulting Cee Lo for having worn furs and jewelry while singing this song, too, make little sense. I wonder if they have ever seen where Lennon lived; or seen a picture of John in a fur coat (Did no one watch 'Let it Be'?), because guys — they both wore fur coats. You can't tell what difference an individual makes to charity or what they care about by what they are wearing or where they live. If you go by the ideals expressed in 'Imagine,' then yes, Cee Lo's choice in outfit was kind of funny. But the fact is, John wasn't living by those ideals either, and neither do we. That is why 'Imagine' is a song about ideals and not realities. It isn't only the suffering who are worthy to cover 'Imagine'. It is anyone who hopes the world can be better; be stronger — be unified.
John was not a great philosopher. He did not understand much about political campaigns, or, really, the peace movement. "We are working for peace" is a meaningless statement. His hope to remind people that war is violence and misery was lost on many because we already know that. We know that war isn't full of bombs exploding happy kittens and rainbows. We, however, view it as an ugly necessity to purge the world of tyrants, and give all who have slaved under them hope.
To remove the necessity for war, one must remove the things that cause war. And while it is a lovely ideal, I'm afraid 'Imagine' didn't include the blueprints for carrying it out.
I understand Cee Lo's alteration of the lyrics. If you believe in any form of god whatsoever, then singing "And no religion, too" is a difficult task. Do you betray your god for a song? Do you mutter that part under your breath? Perhaps you should pick a different song, but then, you agree with so many of the other sentiments — kindness, sharing, peace.
But John's point was that you cannot have peace while backing a god. You cannot have peace when the rich rule over the poor.
And singing the alteration in NYC is especially wrong, because if "all religion's true," then the people who flew planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11 were not nutcases. They were on the right track. Backing religion also backs the fanatics. The gods, should they all exist simultaneously, are not sitting around on a cloud singing 'Kumbaya.' How many of the gods we worship are like Highlander? There can be only One...
The gods tend to damn those who believe in anyone else. And so long as we live in a society where people can blame their misdeeds on the instructions of a higher power, we're going to see horrors springing from the heavens over and over again.
There are, then, two choices: Either everyone must believe in the same god, or everyone must believe in no gods. And uniting the world under one religion? That is the hope of fanatics. That is what causes events like 9/11. That is an idea for which wars are fought.
That is not peace. That is not 'Imagine'.
For myself, I do not claim to know the answers. I would not see religion enter politics, and I would not see it banned. I would not force the world to believe one way or another, and I have no interest in talking people out of beliefs that give them hope. And that is where the melancholy that is 'Imagine' lies — it remains an ideal, because there is no blueprint, and there is no answer. And we must all, instead, sit back and dream.
by Alison Smith
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