‘Think about’ at 50: Why John Lennon’s ode to humanism nonetheless resonates

Fifty years in the past, did John Lennon inform us to not pray? Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Photos

Fifty years in the past, John Lennon launched one of the vital lovely, inspirational and catchy pop anthems of the twentieth century: “Think about.”

Light and but more and more stirring because the track progresses, “Think about” is unabashedly utopian and deeply ethical, calling on folks to stay, as one humanity, in peace. Additionally it is purposely and powerfully irreligious. From its opening lyric, “Think about there’s no heaven,” to the chorus, “And no faith too,” Lennon units out what’s, to many, a transparent atheistic message.

Whereas most pop songs are secular by default – in that they’re concerning the issues of this world, making no point out of the divine or religious – “Think about” is explicitly secularist. In Lennon’s telling, faith is an obstacle to human flourishing – one thing to be overcome, transcended.

As a scholar of secularism and a religious fan of the Beatles, I’ve all the time been fascinated by how “Think about,” maybe the primary and solely atheist anthem to be so enormously profitable, has come to be so broadly embraced in America. In any case, the U.S. is a rustic that has – at the very least till not too long ago – had a way more non secular inhabitants than different Western industrialized democracies.

Since being launched as a single on Oct. 11 1971, “Think about” has offered thousands and thousands, going No. 1 within the U.S. and U.Okay. charts. And its reputation has endured. Rolling Stone journal named “Think about” because the third best track of all time in 2003, and it repeatedly tops nationwide polls in Canada, Australia and the U.Okay.

Numerous recording artists have lined it, and it stays one of the vital carried out songs all through the world – the opening ceremony of this 12 months’s Olympics Video games in Tokyo featured it being sung by a bunch of worldwide artists, a testomony to its world enchantment.

However not everyone seems to be enamored of its message. Robert Barron, the auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles, responded to the latest Tokyo rendition by lambasting “Think about” as a “totalitarian anthem” and “an invite to ethical and political chaos.” His situation: the atheistic lyrics.

Quite a few makes an attempt have been made since “Think about” was launched to reconcile Lennon’s anthem with faith. Students, these of religion and fellow musicians have argued that the lyrics aren’t actually atheistic, simply anti-organized faith. Others have taken the sledgehammer method and simply modified the lyrics outright – CeeLo Inexperienced sang “And all faith’s true” in a televised rendition on New 12 months’s Eve 2011.

In interviews, Lennon was at instances ambiguous about his beliefs on faith and spirituality, however such ambiguity is at odds with the clear message of “Think about.” The track’s irreligious ethos is frank. The primary verse speaks of there being “no heaven,” “no hell” – “Above us, solely sky.” In such clear, distilled phrases, Lennon captures the very marrow of the secular orientation. To me, Lennon is saying that we stay in a purely bodily universe that operates alongside strictly pure legal guidelines – there may be nothing supernatural on the market, even past the celebrities.

He additionally expresses a definite “here-and-nowness” at odds with many religions. In asking listeners to “Think about all of the folks, livin’ for at the moment,” Lennon is, to cite the labor activist and atheist Joe Hill, suggesting there shall be “no pie within the sky if you die,” nor will a fiery everlasting torture await you.

Lennon’s lyrics additionally give solution to an implied existentialism. With no gods and no afterlife, solely humankind – inside ourselves and amongst one another – can resolve how you can stay and select what issues. We will select to stay with out violence, greed or starvation and – to cite “Think about” – exist as a “brotherhood of man … sharing all of the world.”

It’s right here that Lennon’s humanism – the idea that people, with out reliance upon something supernatural, have the capability to create a greater, extra humane world – involves the fore. Nihilism will not be the trail, neither is despondency, debauchery or destruction. Somewhat, Lennon’s “Think about” entails a humanistic need to see an finish to struggling.

The spirit of empathy and compassion all through the track is in step with what scholarship has discovered to be robust traits generally observable amongst secular women and men. Regardless of makes an attempt to tie Lennon and “Think about” to blood-lusting atheists like Stalin and Pol Pot, the overwhelming majority of godless folks search to stay moral lives.

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For instance, research have proven that with regards to issues like wanting to assist refugees, in search of to determine inexpensive well being care, preventing local weather change and being delicate to racism and homophobia, the godless stand out as significantly ethical.

Certainly, secular folks basically exhibit an orientation that’s markedly tolerant, democratic and universalistic – values Lennon holds up as beliefs in “Think about.”

Different research reveal that the democratic international locations which can be the least non secular – those which have gone furthest down the highway of “imagining no faith” – are essentially the most secure, humane, inexperienced and moral.

“Think about” was not the primary time Lennon sang his secular humanism. A 12 months earlier than, in 1970, he launched “I Discovered Out,” declaring his lack of perception in both Jesus or Krishna. Additionally in 1970, he put out the haunting, scorching “God.” Starting with a traditional psychological clarification of theism – that people assemble the idea of God as a method to deal with and measure their ache – “God” goes on to record all of the issues that Lennon most decidedly doesn’t consider in: the Bible, Jesus, Gita, Buddha, I-Ching, magic and so forth. Ultimately, all that he believes in is his personal verifiable private actuality. Arriving at such a spot was, for the bespectacled walrus from Liverpool, to be really “reborn.”

However neither “I Discovered Out” nor “God” achieved wherever close to the huge success that “Think about” did. No different atheist pop track has.

The Conversation

Phil Zuckerman doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or group that will profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.

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