A ‘critical’ failure of imagination

Posted: January 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

NEW YORK – Those who blasted Cee Lo Green for changing a single line of John Lennon’s “Imagine” in a New Year’s Eve performance may have missed the irony of their own outcry.

Lennon asked listeners to imagine, “no religion, too.” Green simply asked listeners to imagine, “all religions true.”

If you criticize Green for changing it, you’re making Lennon’s line sacred, aren’t you? Which is exactly what Lennon suggested you imagine NOT doing. So it’s quite ironic to criticize someone for altering a line when the very words being replaced suggest you consider nothing sacred.

I don’t need to go on, but the syntax is hardly altered at all by Green’s substitution of a few words. To “imagine … all religions true,” is not all that different from “no religion,” is it? If it’s useful, a religion, after all, is useful in communicating ideas as far as they reflect people’s lives.

A religion may or may not help us to understand the complexity of human life but when we actually live, Lennon seems to suggest, we’ll have something much greater than a “framework” or “story” that constitutes a religion. “All religions true,” says the same thing … but remember that the singer wondered only if the listener could imagine such a thing.

In fact, by altering that particular line, Cee Lo Green seems to me to have been as true as possible to Lennon’s intent. And that’s something to ponder.


I would hate so sound pragmatic when discussing matters of faith … that would be counterintuitive. For the sake of clarity, however, a “faith” … take Christianity just as an example … can actually be broken down into quite a number of “belief systems.” They’re usually called “churches” or “sects” but we can pretty much call them individual religions because they differ quite a bit.

One of the oddest may be Unitarian Universalism … which almost seems to imply “all religions true” … because there is no doctrine. But even that’s a doctrine, isn’t it? It does have some core foundation but part of that core foundation is that individual churches may not be based on the core foundation. I’m only half intending the humor.

One of those founding “core” principles is that an emphasis is placed on the teachings of Christ but rejection of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. It might seem to some that the founding Unitarians simply rejected ideas such as “immaculate conception,” etc., because they couldn’t get their human minds around them. Never mind.

It’s not so difficult to get an idea of the Trinity without getting beyond our human capacities, however, so I’m not sure where the problem lies. One way to look at it is this: There’s a God … his Son ascended, thus becoming divine … and I would suggest that the “Holy Ghost,” represents what is divine in human beings … which is … faith. If a person’s going to have faith, I think, the person must first have imagination.

I think John Lennon was trying to expand our consciousness by challenging us to imagine living without the misunderstandings, the divisions, the intolerance and the preconceptions that have accompanied the “ordering” of the world through religious systems. That if one could only get beyond the idea of religion itself one could truly embrace life.

Embracing life does involve understanding and acceptance, however … and for some people that includes understanding religion.

For example, I heard a young poet read something about facing a future without a Paul Simon (the singer/songwriter) to explain matters such as these. The poet wondered if he would ever understand the Trinity … unless Paul Simon were to make it clear.

I’m thinking that if the idea or “doctrine” were ever made too clear, the doctrine would lose all relevance. Faith isn’t something easily come by or easily understood.

For Heaven’s sake, Paul Simon has influenced legions of musicians … at least as long as there will be an English language there will also be “Paul Simon.” And that is also a way of looking at the Trinity. If Paul Simon himself doesn’t stop and explain, in the form of a song, the idea of the Holy Ghost to you, chances are someone will at least give it a stab. The person might not bear the name, “Paul Simon,” but have been influenced by the same. Which also expresses a simple way of looking at the Trinity.

If that’s useful to you and helps you truly embrace life then that … religion … is true. I happen to think that there’s something just a bit beyond the grasp of even all religions to express and so, like Lennon, leave a little room for cream, so to speak, but Cee Lo Green was pretty much saying the same thing … just in the opposite way.

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