A Christian writer takes aim at John's concept of God and the "blatantly nihilistic" message of "Imagine."
Editorial comment: Though I reject utopian thinking and don't care for "Imagine," I find this characterization of the song to be mistaken. Using the word "blatantly" suggests that the perceived nihilism of "Imagine" was intentional on John's part, i.e., John wanted the song to come off that way. He certainly didn't, though the naivete that's on display in the lyric continues to open him up to plenty of legitimate criticism.
As the 1960s became the 1970s, Lennon’s legion of admirers would follow him in his forays into Indian mysticism, transcendental meditation, and primal therapy. In 1970, now a post-hippie but still a seeker, Lennon sang of a personal god that was neither omniscient, transcendental, nor redemptive, but merely “a concept by which we measure our pain.” This clever bit of pop theology was instantly embraced by an exhausted and defeated flower-power generation searching for moral renewal at the dawn of the new decade.
But, appealing as this view of God was—and remains for a great many Lennon enthusiasts—it came with troubling implications. If God is merely a concept by which we measure our pain, then, ipso facto, where pain can be eliminated, God is no longer necessary. This perhaps explains the escapism and drug abuse of so many of the 60s generation, including Lennon, who himself battled heroin addiction throughout the early 1970s. Radicals, freaks, and lotus-eaters everywhere finally had a deity they could relate to. One who didn’t judge them, or tell them how to live their lives. You know, a god who just lets you be yourself and doesn’t harsh your mellow.
. . .
“Imagine” is in fact a blatantly nihilistic evocation of an atheist global utopia where the triple-scourge of possessions, greed, and hunger have all been abolished in the name of international brotherhood. Think of it as a North Korean propaganda film with a great piano riff and a nice string arrangement.