Defending the Faith: John Lennon was wrong, but right at the same time

Published: Thursday, Aug. 16 2012 5:00 a.m. MDT

"Imagine there's no heaven," sings Lennon, but "above us only sky." Now, it happens that another well-known song also celebrates the blankness of the sky above us given the supposed absence of God. A scene in the musical "Les Misérables" features the cruel and thoroughly unscrupulous innkeeper Thenardier stealing through the dark sewers of Paris. Happily despoiling the corpses of the idealistic young students massacred earlier in the day, he, too, finds it liberating to imagine that there's no God:

It's a world where the dog eats the dog,

Where they kill for bones in the street.

And God in His Heaven,

He don't interfere,

'Cause he's dead as the stiffs at my feet.

I raise my eyes to see the heavens,

And only the moon looks down.

The harvest moon shines down!

What would a wholly godless society be like? We don't know. But many would surely regard an empty heaven as a blank check to do evil.

The 19th-century poet Eliza R. Snow recalled that, before she found Mormonism, "ofttimes a secret something whispered, 'You're a stranger here,' and I felt that I had wandered from a more exalted sphere." The ancient Saints, too, says the epistle to the Hebrews, felt themselves "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" (11:13).

Perhaps John Lennon sensed the same truth. Though rejecting heaven, he longed for peace and unity, for an end to greed and hunger. Despite his confused exhortation simply to "live for today" in this world, he was dissatisfied with the actual world in which he found himself. He yearned for more. And in that sense, he was more right than he knew.

Daniel C. Peterson is a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU, where he also serves as editor in chief of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. He is the founder of MormonScholarsTestify.org. He blogs daily at www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/.

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