” … And No Religion Too!” Really John Lennon?

It’s surely unwise to start an essay that you hope will sway people’s thinking by denigrating a song millions love, but I have to say it: I detest John Lennon’s iconic, Imagine. Not only do I find the melody insipid, but the lyric “And no religion too,” punctures my soul.

Oh yes, I have heard how many problems religion causes -–all the wars, and all the destruction.

And lately Bill Maher has weighed in on the question, saying:

“When I hear from people that religion doesn’t hurt anything, I say, ‘Really?’ Well besides wars, the Crusades, the Inquisitions, 9/11, the suppression of women, the suppression of homosexuals, fatwas, honor killings, suicide bombings, arranged marriages to minors, human sacrifice, burning witches, and systematic sex with children, I have a few quibbles.”

To Mr Maher and Mr Lennon, I respond as follows:

Of course religion has caused great harm. Different religious expressions have perpetrated all of the horrors, Mr. Maher, that you note!

The problem is not with religion itself but with the distortion of religious ideals. Those wars result from our inability to accept that well-meaning people can view religious questions and practices differently. We do not need to do away with religion. We need to do away with our compulsion to force OUR religion on others. We need to learn to not only tolerate, but to respect and affirm religious diversity.

No doubt there are many thorns in the rose garden of religion, and many have felt the sting of those thorns. But on balance, we are far better off with religion than without it.

Without religion humanity would never have perceived that life has purpose and meaning and that we are each called in our own way to treat others with dignity and respect and to use our talents to create a more just, caring and compassionate society.

Without religion no one would have ever felt the call of a good, caring God, to feed, the poor, clothe the naked and house the homeless. Of course many people today do not believe in God but still do wonderfully positive things. But would they have ever discovered the impulse to do those things had people long ago not done them because they felt God commanded them to?

I doubt it.

Religion is like fire, the automobile, the internet and many other things we can name. All of these can be horribly destructive, but I would not want to Imagine the world without them.