Was Lennon Right? On “Imagin[ing] There’s No Heaven” and “Living For Today”
By Ken K. Gourdin
Songwriter and musician John Lennon once penned the lines, “Imagine there’s no heaven …” and “Imagine all the people living for today …” The atheist Lennon was both right and wrong. I will examine, briefly, the different sides of this coin below.
Yes, there is no escaping the fact that our “today” can be full of heartache, and pain, and uncertainty, and seemingly-insoluble problems, and seemingly-insurmountable challenges. On the other hand, whether we allow ourselves to be consumed by these difficult circumstances is entirely up to us. Lennon was right in that if we allow any such trying circumstances, or fears of the future, or regrets of the past to rob us of the opportunity of being fully present in the current moment, we may miss out on something good (however small).
There is so much about our circumstances that we did not choose and cannot control: the only thing we can control is our reaction to them. However much we may wish for a change in our current trying circumstances, there often is little (if anything) we can do in the short term to change them. Thus, Lennon was right that the overwhelming majority of the time, we have no choice but to “live” if not for, then at least “in . . . today.” But, as a book title chosen by author Hyrum W. Smith put it, “Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.”
Furthermore, the example of others who have refused to be mere victims of the exceedingly dire circumstances in which they found themselves, such as Viktor Frankl and Corrie Ten Boom, also are instructive. The idea of making lemons out of lemonade is an exceedingly tired cliché, and it doesn’t do justice to the direness of the circumstances of a Frankl or a Ten Boom. Perhaps a better analogy would be to say that they made diamonds out of manure. They projected profound dignity even in the face of crushing (and seemingly unrelenting) inhumanity.
On the other hand, the Marxist (or at least “Marxistic”) Lennon was wrong to suggest that religion is a net negative rather than a net positive for humanity. Yes, millions of people have been slaughtered (and various other egregious wrongs have been committed) in the name of a perversion of a variety of the world’s religions. Yes, most anyone who professes a belief in a religion but whose actions fail to match his professed ideals (which, to a greater or lesser extent includes all religious adherents, and indeed, includes anyone who holds himself to any standard of moral behavior, whether he attributes that standard to religion or not) is a hypocrite. But the God I believe in is capable of saving even hypocrites.
Faith is among the things (indeed, sometimes it is the only thing) that gives people in dire, desperate circumstances, from which there seems to be (and often is) no earthy escape, hope. The Book of Mormon prophet Moroni put it well in Ether, Chapter 12, Verse 4:
Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.
And as philosopher and religious leader President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints put it in a recent sermon, while God appreciates our gratitude in whatever circumstance we might find ourselves, true gratitude transcends circumstance. He said, “Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be.”1
As for past regrets and future hopes, President Uchtdorf’s fellow First Presidency member (and President of the Church of Jesus Christ), Thomas S. Monson (who was then Second Counselor in the First Presidency) once said, “The past is behind—learn from it; the future is ahead—prepare for it; the present is here—live in it.”2 And in a similar vein, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Church’s Quorum of the Twelve once said:
I plead with you not to dwell on days now gone, nor to yearn vainly for yesterdays, however good those yesterdays may have been. The past is to be learned from but not lived in. We look back to claim the embers from glowing experiences but not the ashes. And when we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead, we remember that faith is always pointed toward the future.3
|1.||President Dieter F. Uchtdorf (May 2014) “Grateful in Any Circumstances,” Ensign, accessed on line at https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/04/grateful-in-any-circumstances?lang=eng on May 26, 2014.|
|2.||President Thomas S. Monson (May 1989) “Go For It!” Ensign, accessed on line at https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1989/04/go-for-it?lang=eng on May 29, 2014.|
|3.||Elder Jeffrey R. Holland (January 13, 2009) “Remember Lot’s Wife” Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Speeches of the Year (2009), accessed on line at http://www.speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1819 on May 29, 2014 (emphasis in original).|
Update, 2 June 2014: Dan Peterson opines about the bad rap religion often gets from secularists here (last visited today):