Fri 24th Oct 2014 | Last updated: Thu 23rd Oct 2014 at 16:14pm

Facebook Logo Twitter Logo RSS Logo
Hot Topics

Comment & Blogs

John Lennon’s Imagine encapsulates so many modern objections to religion

When people stop believing in heaven they often create hell on earth

By on Monday, 13 August 2012

London Olympic Games - Day 16

Last night, watching the Olympic closing ceremony, like millions of others , I heard a digitally remastered John Lennon singing Imagine. The song was familiar, but the words took me by surprise.  These words encapsulate so many of the modern objections to religion and faith, that it seems a good idea to present a few counter-arguments.

To “live for today” is precisely what we all do, all of us, believers and not. Christians do not neglect present exigencies just because they believe there is a afterlife. Rather, the call of eternal life makes this world more, not less important. To claim that Christians do not care about today, so wrapped up are they in what is to come, is to confuse Christianity with millenarian cultists, which is what we are not.

Heaven and hell, by the way, are not places – they are states. Heaven is the state of seeing the Beatific vision; hell is the state of being utterly cut off from God. The idea of these being places either above or below us is persistent, and has its roots in Classical literature, but is certainly not taught by the Church.
Again, the nation-state may well engage in war with other states, but it is important to realise that the nation exists to defend and protect its citizens. Anarchy, in the classical meaning of the word, is envisioned as some sort of utopia, but in practice, where the state withers away, anarchy of the most non-benign type succeeds. Look at Somalia today. Look at Lebanon in the time of its civil war. Look at England under King Stephen. The withering away of the state does not lead to peace – but the complete opposite.

As for religion withering away and leading to peace – have a look at some of the avowedly atheist states of the twentieth century: Albania, the People’s Republic of China, and the Soviet Union. No rational person would ever choose to live in such a society.

What about “no possessions”, then? Property is theft? “No need for greed and hunger”? Is this really saying that all poverty and hunger is caused by people selfishly hoarding the world’s resources? Funnily enough it is at this point that John Lennon says something that Catholics may recognise. The Church teaches:

In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labour, and enjoy their fruits. The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

So, Lennon is onto something here, though he is wrong to see property as creating hunger, when ownership of property should in fact guarantee a minimum of prosperity – and in fact the greatest famines of the twentieth century were caused by collectivisation in the Soviet Union and China.

As for the brotherhood of man, that is a Christian idea, but as my old RE teacher told me, it is only possible under the Fatherhood of God. Generally speaking, when people imagine there is no heaven and no hell, and no God, they start doing the most beastly things to each other, and creating not Utopia, but Hell on earth.

  • Acleron

    1) Your conclusion is wrong. Secularism means that you can carry on believing what you want, it prevents you having any input into the direction society takes except through the ballot box. You get no special privileges just because you are religious.
    2) If you restricted your discussions to your own affairs then I wouldn’t bother, but the continual drip feed criticism of anything secular or atheistic requires answering. There are atheistic/scientific discussion areas. Although I have several times seen this type of comment here, on those sites, theists are free to debate and I have never seen anybody told they cannot post because they are religious. That’s not say they won’t be criticised, but that happens here and nobody complains.

  • sally wilton

    I dont know where you lived in the Middle east but I certainly would not want to be a girl in Egypt.  For a start you will have your clitoris cut out at the age of 13 without anaesthaetic.  then you are segregated until the day you marry when you will be the sex toy for a very inexperienced man and have a life of misery and drudgery for the rest of your life.  The problems caused purely by religion in Egypt are numerous and totally control the population.  if you are worried about your kids then that is your own fault.  I have 3 daughters and a son in the UK and have no worries about them at all, they all have self confidence, something no Muslim girl is allowed to have. 

  • scary goat

     You misrepresent facts.  No, in Egypt that will not happen to all girls.  It happens to some, but it is not the universal practice as you suggest.  I know plenty of Egyptian women. It is also untrue that muslim women have no self confidence. You seem fond of making sweeping generalisations.  Do you speak Arabic and mix with the people there? Thanks for the comment that if I worry about my children here it is my fault.  It’s nice to know what a bad parent I am. Of course it’s got nothing to do with the cultural problems rampant in our society here.  Most parents I know here (non-catholics as well as catholics) worry about their children in the current climate. 

  • JabbaPapa

    I have long ago learned the futility of trying to demonstrate the reality of Hitler’s deeply-felt atheism and hatred for religions to atheists who also hate religions, without necessarily applauding any sort of Final Solution for them.

    You can shove huge piles of evidence under their noses, and most likely they won’t even take the time for the quickest glance at it.

    It’s a LOT of work, and from past negative experience, my desire to provide any of it ever again is NIL, because they simply do not give a >s-word<.

    Such atheists seem to have a powerful irrational desire that Hitler must be defined as a "christian", notwithstanding the nature of his gross crimes against the very nature and basics of the religion itself.

    Amazingly enough, even when these people are violently skeptical about everything, including in their broad assumptions that no public speeches by any professional politicians can ever be trusted as representations of the truth, public propaganda speeches by the leader of the German National Socialist Party on the subject of religion are *always* considered to be shining paragons of truth and honesty on the public stage as to that particular politician’s personal and private convictions.

    Actions speak louder than words, except when apparently, your name is Adolf Hitler, and you’re making a speech on the topic of religious propaganda, in which case your words suddenly turn into shining gold in the eyes of “rationalist” “evidence-based” atheists everywhere !!!

    No matter how many Catholic priests you happen to have hauled off to the death camps, and no matter the death squad of SS that you have parked permanently at the Vatican’s doorstep, and no matter that you happen to be in the process of devising one master plan for the total eradication of Catholicism, and in the midst of executing another one for the eradication of Judaism !!!

    Step aside, Jesus Christ, Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi — here is the true exemplar of Christian Faith in all its glory, Adolf Hitler !!!

    The ridiculousness of these atheist claims is so frankly stunning in simplicity and ignorance that one simply holds one’s hands in the air in the face of such crass naïveté…

  • JabbaPapa

    Can you please explain, exactly, how you imagine that God has inherited any animal instincts and emotions ?

    Oh, and your “test” is cognitively fraudulent BTW.

  • JabbaPapa

    No, when YOU don’t understand some aspect of the Christian Faith, YOU immediately categorise it as such, because you are either too lazy to make the effort to make sense of it, too ignorant in the basics of philosophy to understand the philosophical background, or too indoctrinated against Christianity to be even capable of taking it seriously in the first place.

    Your own personal failures to understand do not OTOH require that the philosophies in question must therefore be wrongful ones.

  • JabbaPapa

    There are atheistic/scientific discussion areas.

    Atheism and science are of course two different things.

  • sally wilton

    Maybe god looks like a squid

  • sally wilton

    People dying for their country, even if their country is on the wrong side is the most ludicrous excuse.  Look at the mother of all wars between Iraq and Iran when hundreds of thousands of young men were told they were on the right side and that god would grant them a place in heaven as a martyr.  After 8 years and a million deaths the leaders of Iraq and Iran decided they were friends after all.  Neither side had gained anything from their original position.  Yet people fought for all that nonsense.  this is what John Lennon is trying to explain.  The futility of nationalism over man made borders. 

  • Acleron

    Yes, I was being strictly accurate about those sites.

  • karlf

    Because in the whole history of the world – a world of billions of people – NOTHING has ever been shown to be caused by supernatural forces.

  • karlf

    That was my point!
    What’s wrong with my test? You just don’t want to accept that you don’t have free will to choose who you think of??

  • karlf

    All the absurdities of your religion are dodged by using such ‘philosophy’. Use your reasoned approach to recognise this. I am not indoctrinated against Christianity (I like Church services) but I think that belief in fantasy is not the way forward.

    So you think that the average Christian of 2000 years ago had a good understanding of this philosophy – or did they believe that God looked like a man?

  • JabbaPapa

    Because in the whole history of the world – a world of billions of
    people – NOTHING has ever been shown to be caused by supernatural

    You carry on sounding out that Desperation Army drum beat then !!!

    Existence itself is a property of the supernatural.

    You falsely assume that the methodologies of scientific analysis are necessarily coherent with cosmogony.

  • JabbaPapa

    But a great number of your posts in here suggest that you do in fact irrationally conflate the two as being one, as if atheism were a necessary product of science.

    Not that you’ve ever demonstrated how this could be so, apart from trumpeting forth a few atheist doctrines to that effect.

  • karlf

    I repeat it because I think these people need to recognise it (including you). It is a fact, and hardly desperate.
    What exactly has ever been SHOWN to be the result of supernatural forces Jabba? I think the answer to that is NOTHING.

  • sally wilton

    I have not misrepresented any facts, I actually understate the true horrors of a religious country.  I am married to an Egyptian, yes I speak and am continuously learning arabic and can read and write it, I actually live in a Muslim enclave where I have been personally threatened by the Muslim Brotherhood for not wearing Muslim attire and my husband is currently in Sinai in the Military police because of the insane actions of fundamental muslims, which you may have read about in the news.  Every muslim girl in Egypt has had cliterdectomy, that is a fact, you need to check out the Newsnight report by Sue Llloyd Roberts that was made in the very place I live in. If you are worrying about your childrens morals then you have not educated them properly and you are believing for some reason that hyper control of kids is the answer to bring up children in a free, safe and fair society which they are very fortunate to live in. My 21 year old daughter is currently in Bali on her own, has a 2: 1 in Economics and about to start working for microsoft.  Why would I be fearing for her morals in the UK?  she can look after herself and she is doing things that would only be a dream for a girl in the Middle East.  How mad that you think that insane and barbaric world is actually better than the UK. 

  • JabbaPapa

    There’s a man called the Christ who explained the same thing, far more effectively, over 1900 years previously.

    And I don’t think he ever got any fat royalty cheques to reward his efforts either !!!

  • sally wilton

    why are you incapable of thinking for yourself?  Look at any of my comments and you will notice that all the opinions are my own  and from my own experience.  i don’t need to refer to long dead people to know what is right or wrong.  you are sad. 

  • JabbaPapa

    karlf :

    the absurdities of your religion are dodged by using such ‘philosophy’.
    Use your reasoned approach to recognise this. I am not indoctrinated
    against Christianity (I like Church services) but I think that belief in
    fantasy is not the way forward.

    So you think that the average Christian of 2000 years ago had a good
    understanding of this philosophy – or did they believe that God looked
    like a man?

    hmmmm — “I am not indoctrinated
    against Christianity … but I think that belief in
    fantasy is not the way forward” — so you’re not indoctrinated, but you use an atheist doctrine to try and prove this lack of indoctrination ?

    Nice one !!!

    FWIW I believe in no “fantasy” either.

    the absurdities of your religion are dodged by using such ‘philosophy’

    … which you have already admitted that you don’t even understand !!!

    Again : — much as I’d like to, if it were practically feasible, it simply is not possible to provide you with a combox crash course in the very basics of the discipline !!!

    It’s not even General Philosophy 101, it’s General Philosophy 201 or 301 at the very least !!! (or Literature/Theology Masters/Doctorate level, etc and so forth for related disciplines)

    I have tackled you in the past, and will undoubtedly tackle you in the future, concerning questions that I esteem to belong to the provision of standard General Knowledge — but there is no way that I could possibly blame you for not having that precise philosophical/theological/literary basis, given that you have never pretended to be a philosopher or theologian or other sort of expert in these matters !!!

    So you think that the average Christian of 2000 years ago had a good
    understanding of this philosophy – or did they believe that God looked
    like a man?

    I’ll shave 100 years off that 2000 if you don’t mind, 2000 years ago today the only Christians in existence were the Christ, His parents, family, possibly His rabbi etc — and the closer friends of His childhood/adolescence (about whom we know zilch). Hardly “average Christians”.

    But yes — the average Christian of 2000 years ago would certainly have been attracted to Christianity for essentially philosophical reasons.

    But you’re making a category error.

    You asked a *specific* question involving 2000 years’ worth of philosophical reasoning ; you’re comparing this with a situation not only entirely different, but devoid of those 2000 years’ worth of refinement and development.

    Might as well ask if your newborn self had a good understanding of your own current professional life.

  • JabbaPapa

    Cognition actually involves both the motor of free will — and the passive element of existing knowledge and perception, neither of which are self-determined by the intellect.

    Free Will is the self-determination of the intellect both in esse and in posse, and as such it transcends the matrix of material existence in the very same way as speech does.

  • Acleron

    1) Your ability to confuse yourself knows no bounds. I have never conflated the two, as opposed to others here who have tried to claim all science is catholic. It happens to be a fact that the percentage of atheists in science is higher than in the general population. 

    2) Name one doctrine I have espoused about atheism. And I’ll give you hint for getting this right, don’t confuse atheism with secularism as you are prone to do.

  • JabbaPapa

    Maybe karl is talking >b-word<.

  • Lazarus

    Well, I’ve just asked my dog and he doesn’t agree with you. (Or he might just be confused. He’s looking blank anyway.)

    1) On God’s thinking, it wouldn’t be influenced by hereditary instincts etc. But insofar as will and intellect in human beings isn’t determined by instincts, it is like God’s. (There is always the issue of the analogical use of language here: Thomist theologians would deny that language applied to creatures (us) is used univocally when applied to God. (ie we are always at best *like *God rather than being exactly the same as God).)

    2) Not sure what you’re trying to prove on the American. I’ve never suggested that (eg) true belief is a subject of will. (True beliefs track truth rather than goodness. That in itself is rather difficult to explain from a physicalist point of view such as yours.) But insofar as we are talking about an action (say, the action of focusing on a particular American) it is a matter of will. (So I’ve spent a fruitless few minutes trying to work out which American you’ve got in mind and, as a result, haven’t got one in mind at all. If you tell me which American to think about, I’m feeling cussed enough at the moment to think of a different one.)
    Of course the contents of our mind are not all subject to will: I can’t will what (eg) you put in your message. But insofar as I then go on to act based on those contents, it is an act of will.

    Not sure why you think this is relevant to our evolutionary history. What animal do you think you resemble in your use of combox debates? (There was a blogging gerbil in South Park, but I don’t think that programme is supposed to be a journal of record as far as natural history is concerned.)

  • karlf

    This exchange is the result of my questioning about the claim that we are made in the image of God. 2000 years ago I would think that, rather than these convoluted philosophical theories, people generally believed that God looked like a man. To shirk this plainly absurd position, the Church had to come up with an alternative explanation – hence all this guff about thinking like God, free will etc.
    But the human mind has evolved to survive and reproduce in the environment that it has evolved in. Our emotions and drives – hunger, lust, anger etc. are products of that evolution. To say that those people of 2000 years ago were meant to understand this and override these behavioural traits is truly absurd – but that is what you are suggesting, rather than people believed that God looked human. Can you not see how you need to apply your reasoning here?
    My point about the American was simply that a person will come to mind without you willing it to – you do not pick and choose which face turns up first in your mind – it is outside of your control. Just an example Lazarus.

  • karlf

    What’s your point here? That thought is supernatural?

  • sally wilton

    because you say so

  • JabbaPapa

    Think what you like mate — your personal opinions do not constitute “facts”.

    You do not understand the difference between Natural Philosophy (Science, and the Philosophy of Science) and General Philosophy.

    You’ve admitted your unfamiliarity with metaphysics.

    Come back and start again with a few extra years’ study under your belt !!!

  • sally wilton

    Religion is all about money.  it is a business and the ones in charge are really having a belly laugh at how you guys argue about it for them.  Do you give them money too? i am sure you do.  Work for them for free and give them money, what a scam. 

  • sally wilton

    dont need to add the excuse of the secular world.  surely the church is supposed to be higher than the secular world where people have to work for their money in real jobs and look after their families.  

  • JabbaPapa

    Aclerannoyingatheisttroll :

    Name one doctrine I have espoused about atheism.

    Ouh là lààà — ben, tu me donnes quand même l’embarras du choix !!!

    Mettons :”Foetuses are not people

    I have never conflated the two

    Tire sur l’autre, mon rayon de soleil, j’y ai attaché des clochettes !!!

    as opposed to others here who have tried to claim all science is catholic


    don’t confuse atheism with secularism as you are prone to do

    Arrête de prendre les autres pour des cons, et tu fourniras peut-être des convos moins connes à l’avenir.

  • sally wilton

    I have to say that maybe you know a handful of moderate muslims but I am talking of the vast majority of Muslims in the world. 80 million in Egypt alone, and they are fueled in their  hatred against jews by clerics on TV and in the mosques who are only thinking of the money they make and the short term popularity of their cult.  Ok you don’t care about that but you really cannot comment on the prevailing thinking of muslims world wide from just thinking you happen to know a handful of them. My own husband is an Egyptian muslim BTW and I have had to explain to him that Jews are not inherently evil as he was informed in school. the answer is clearly not more religion but less of it as they are polarising themselves all over the middle east.  I could speak to you at length about this topic as could my friends Barry Rubin and Tariq Heggy, both Middle East thinkers and writers that have a lifelong experience on the subject  i don’t live in cloud cuckoo land either, the whole of Egypt is exactly the same as where I live and an example of the similar thoughts of all the 1.3 billion muslims that seethe with hatred against both Jews and christians. 

  • JabbaPapa

    why are you incapable of thinking for yourself?

    Why are you incapable of realising that that’s exactly what I’m doing ?

  • sally wilton

    Do you know anything about the Israel Egypt situation btw?  You are sounding hugely arrogant about it so I am presuming you are an expert. 

  • sally wilton

    to move to your second part of the response about catholics.  In Egypt there are around 13 million copts or Orthodox Christians.  I used to feel hugely sorry for them in particular after they were mown down in Maspero last year.  Now my sympathy is at an all time low.  further to befriending several of them I find that their inacitivity and their prejudices against both Jews and Muslims are even greater than the Muslims they claim oppress them.  They have no interest in peace in the area, they are haters,  and rather laughably believe that they will be ‘saved’ by the new messiah that they firmly believe is coming to Egypt to fight the Muslim Brotherhood.  a more dumb lot of people would be hard to imagine.  But there we are, instead of looking at ways of moving forward they are like you lot looking to the past and the imaginary friend who is going to help them.  Sad idiots. 

  • sally wilton

    All I see all the ime is Jabba Papa quoting Jesus or Thomas aquinas or some other old fraud.  funnily enough they are people that did think for themselves and saw the way of scamming people.  Some people are just sheeple

  • Acleron

    And that is not a doctrine, it is a debating point that has been discussed at great length in these columns. It comes from an understanding of the nervous development of embryos and not because some guy in a uniform tells me what is true and not true. To blindly state that foetuses are people without considering the facts is not only doctrinaire but unreasonable. The legalisation of abortions is not even a generally held wish by atheists.

    Often doctrine specifically connotes a corpus of religious dogma as it is promulgated by a church, but not necessarily: doctrine is also used to refer to a principle of law, in the common law traditions, established through a history of past decisions, such as the doctrine of self-defense, or the principle of fair use, or the more narrowly applicable first-sale doctrine. In some organizations, doctrine is simply defined as “that which is taught”, in other words the basis for institutional teaching of its personnel internal ways of doing business. ‘

    When I requested you look things up in a dictionary, I’d stupidly assumed you would look at the definitions as well. Oh silly me!

  • karlf

    No, Jabba. Please tell me what events have been shown to have been caused by supernatural forces. Surely I don’t need a few years study for that??

  • Dom414

    Is the secular world all about money? Do you give them money? Do you defend them for free?

  • Dom414

    I’ve not been here long and wondered the same thing too!

    My first impression was that they are just trolling… but actually, I’m wondering are they are like sandwich-board atheist evangelists compelled to convince everybody to follow their beliefs?

  • Dom414

    Not sure where you are getting the pedestal you are putting the Church on from, but the Church is full of people who are under no illusion they are sinners, that we are all sinners, in fact.
    Are you without sin?
    Does that explain the stones you are throwing?

    As for the open contempt in the rest of your sentence, do you think only secular people work (if you mean by secular, atheist)?
    Do you think Catholic people don’t contribute to the secular world (as well their Church)?
    What do you contribute to your church? What does your church contribute for you?

  • sally wilton

    I am speaking here of priests and other people that gain from the church, not unpaid churchgoers that do work to give them money. 

  • JabbaPapa

    You’re not very good at following the natural flow of a conversation, are you.

  • JabbaPapa

    Are there none of your neighbourhood communities that you lack hatred for ?

  • JabbaPapa

     What a laughably naïve position !!!

  • JabbaPapa

    You really are just talking >b-word<, aren’t you.

    Oh and BTW — uour “sper-original” “sheeple” “gag” is as completely ignored as one would expect of any such moronic idiocy


  • karlf

    No, not when I feel that you steering the conversation to avoid answering my questions.

  • Lazarus

    2000 years ago I would think that, rather than these convoluted philosophical theories, people generally believed that God looked like a man.

    Implausible: that’s precisely why Judaism rejects images of God. (And when you add into that the Platonist and Stoic influences on Hellenistic Judaism and Christianity, it’s even more unlikely.)

    It’s also hard to square this simplistic idea of sanctification/divinization with anything that (eg) St Paul writes in the New Testament about becoming part of the Body of Christ. You’re assuming that 2000 years ago everyone had as simplistic an understanding of religion as Richard Dawkins: they didn’t.

  • Dom414

    Can’t speak for other parishes but my local priest gets £200 a month allowance (fyi: UK unemployment benefit is £71 a week), and has recently spent his yearly 2 week break on retreat. For all I know he could have spent the whole time in Vegas on champagne breakfasts but judging by parish accounts I’d be surprised. After costs, the parish managed to bank £4k last year, which was chiefly due to buying a new boiler that is more economical and doesn’t break down all the time. (which I’m sure you can appreciate a cold church in winter isn’t the best thing, especially for the elderly).
    I’m not sure where you get the impression the church is swimming in a sea of money, but these figures are fully published and scrutinised by the tax man just like everybody else’s are.

  • Lazarus

    You’re missing the point. I too know lots of Muslims who share a hatred of Jews: strongly secularized Muslims at that. You’re assuming from your (what I can only suppose) difficult relationship with your husband that you have insight into the aetiology of this hatred in religion rather than in Israel and its relationship with the Middle East. It’s a good example of the tendency of nu-Atheism to rely on emotions and personal experience rather than reason.

    On Barry Rubin and Tariq Heggy, whilst I suspect they would agree with your views on Islam, would they agree with your hatred of Christianity and Judaism? (Remember this is a Catholic site you’re attacking, not a Mosque.)