In 1971, John Lennon composed one of his more popular songs, “Imagine,” where he asked listeners to imagine a world with no heaven, hell, or religion:
“Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too...”
I recently saw an internet meme that celebrated this song asking us to imagine all the supposed benefits of a world without religion. This is a common cant among the so-called New Atheists who, with much noise and little sense, rail against what they see as the evils of religion, its irrationality, and the stupidity of the deluded beliver. Against the evils of religion, the modern heathen asks us to imagine a world with no religion, no God, no heaven, and no hell. In doing so, they think themselves progressive, modern, and ahead of the times. Richard Dawkins, prince of the New Atheists, along with the death of God, proclaims that: “there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pointless indifference... We are machines for propagating DNA...” He and his followers imagine themselves to be much ahead of their time. In reality, they are at least a 100 years behind it.
In 1882, Fredreiche Nietsche, among the first prophets of the modern God-is-dead movement, asked his readers to imagine a world without God. He had his madmen proclaims God’s death:
"Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon?... Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. "How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?
Seeing the modern world slaying God, Nietsche proclaimed the advent of moral nihilism, the destruction of all meaning and value in life. Dawkins, in imagining a world without God, a world with no good or evil, where man was only a machine, did nothing new. He simply argued what others had done before him. Likewise today, there is no need for the modern man to imagine the death of God and no religion, others, besides Nietsche, have already imagined this world.
Dostoyevsky saw the growth of atheism in Russia and imagined where it would lead. Like Nietsche, he saw a world bereft of meaning and value, right and wrong. In The Brothers Karamazov, he proclaimed that “If there is no God, then all things are permitted.” What Dostoyevsky saw with fear, others worked for. Josef Stalin imagined a world with no religion. Yet he did more than simply imagine that world, he tried to create it. He persecuted the churches and purged his enemies. Stalin’s world without God was a world where all things were permitted—to him.
John Lennon was wrong. In a world without religion, there was plenty to kill for. Stalin found many reasons, as did Mao and Pol Pot. Men have scarce needed religion to supply a reason to kill; the lust for power, wealth, and even sex has always provided adequate reason.
Yet, Lennon was also partly right. He was wrong in claiming that a world with no religion would leave nothing to kill for, but he was right that in a world without religion there would be nothing to die for. If man is just, as Dawkins says, a machine for propogating DNA, then why die for a fellow machine. Nor can one die for freedom; no machine is free. This is why tyrants have either tried to control religion or to eradicate it. Stalin knew what he was doing. Likewise, if there is “no purpose, no evil, no good,” then how can one die for what is right? There is no right.
With no religion, there would be nothing to die for. As others have said, if a man has nothing worth dying for, he has nothing worth living for. Hence the atheist Camus saw that the only serious question was whether or not one should commit suicide. This is the world Lennon imagined; but he had no need to imagine it. Others imagined it first. Worse, others have tried, and still try, to make such a world happen.