Saturday, February 27, 2010

Atheist Manifesto

Music and Religion Part 1:
John Lennon and 'God'

The success of the recent wave of atheistic books by writers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens suggests that a vast number of non-believers are mighty tired of having religion stuffed down their throats.

Though the United States remains a Christian nation, it’s estimated that 12% of the American electorate - or 15 million voters - identify themselves as nonbelievers.  As a potential lobby group atheists thus outnumber Latinos (9%), Gays (4%), Jews (2%), and also match the number of African Americans (13%).

I wonder how John Lennon would have reacted to this development. It's more than forty years since he predicted, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink,” igniting uproar among American fundamentalists which led to the burning of Beatles records and death threats which influenced the group’s decision to stop touring.

Throughout the Beatle years Lennon took a keen interest in religion. His fascination with Tibetan Buddhism and esoteric texts inspired fab classics such as Tomorrow Never Knows and - combined with his prodigious intake of LSD and canonization by fans - led to some bewildering episodes such as the famous occasion in 1968 when he called an emergency Apple board meeting to announce to his inner circle that he was Jesus Christ.

Luckily by the end of the sixties Lennon had kicked acid and got his philosophical act together. His new-found clarity inspired him to demolish sacred cows such as religion, celebrity and societal control on his remarkable first solo LP,  John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band.

Far and away the best album recorded by any ex-Beatle, it's a complete artistic statement, a self-defining existentialist manifesto which strips away all attachment to leaders, heroes and to god as a coping mechanism.

The centerpiece of the album is the cataclysmic masterpiece God in which Lennon emphatically refutes mysticism and superstition. Partly inspired by the shocking experience of Primal Scream therapy which confronted Lennon with the pain of his own childhood and fame, it shows the star in the process of dissolving what Arthur Janov terms the “God-trip or father figure trip.”

The song's opening declaration, “God is a concept by which we measure our pain,” describes Lennon's personal revelation and recalls Marx’s assertion that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature.” It’s followed by a stunning disavowal of personal, political and religious icons: “I don't believe in Jesus, Buddha, Kennedy, Zimmerman...”

God had a huge impact on me when I first heard it at the tender age of 14. Indeed, the roots of my own journey toward secular humanism lie in this amazing song. Its presentation of the deity as a concept rather than an entity immediately made sense and contextualized the religious doubts I had been experiencing as a teenager.

Interestingly, just as Lennon was coming out as an atheist, George Harrison was doing the exact opposite, topping the charts worldwide with his devotional ditty My Sweet Lord and donating a fortune to the “elementary penguin” Hare Krishnas.

Though Harrison’s Hinduism was generous and compassionate, he saw the actual world as an illusion and believed in reincarnation as a fact. His literal belief in such matters recalls James Lett’s assertion in his Anthropology of Religion: A Handbook (1977), that “Irrationality is...the defining element in religion.”

I can testify to this since in my daily life I’m constantly meeting individuals - many of them well-educated - who maintain a belief in paranormal phenomena even though such propositions have been convincingly falsified by more than a century of intensive research which is thoroughly documented and freely available to inquiring minds.

Paranormal propositions such as the Judeo-Christian assertion that “God” exists are nonfalsifiable therefore propositionally meaningless. Others - such as the Judeo-Christian proposition that the earth is 6,000 years old or that half a million Israelites wandered the desert for 40 years without leaving any archaeological trace - are falsifiable and indeed have been disproved by objective study.

But believers don’t want to know.  In order to maintain their trust in an inherited set of illogical wish-fulfillment fantasies, they must ignore the mountain of contradictory evidence which stands before them.

To my considerable bemusement, grown men and women believe implicitly in the talking snake, the burning bush and the virgin birth. They pray to an imaginary friend and refuse point blank to accept that creation stories, angels and resurrections are mythological symbols with their roots in the collective unconscious.

The fact that the Bible's anthology of myths and ethnocentrism offers nothing which could not have been written by a patriarchal collective of superstitious Iron Age tribal elders doesn't bother them in the least.

It’s interesting and rather disappointing that, a mere seven years after the release of his atheist manifesto, John Lennon had relapsed into a superstitious mindset.

In 1977 Lennon briefly flirted with born-again Christianity through a series of contacts with televangelist Oral Roberts, who claimed to have had a vision of a 900-foot-tall Jesus telling him to build a research center. He also announced during a TV fundraising drive that unless he raised $8 million, God would "call him home.” Scandals persisted through the 1980s as fraudulent healing practices were exposed in Roberts’ medical centers.

During 'the Dakota years' preceding his assassination in 1980, Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono developed a credulous attachment to witches, astrology and numerology which helped them hire domestic staff - including the assistant who stole Lennon's personal diaries - yet failed to predict the murderous insanity of born-again Christian Mark David Chapman.

Such irrationality demonstrates how the rich and talented are as susceptible to kooky nonsense as anyone, but also that we must constantly be on our guard against self-deception and delusional thinking. Our sanity - even our lives - might depend on it.

Listen: John Ono Lennon: 'God'


Brian Dron said...

Excellent article, and couldn't agree more about the utter fallibility of religion. Anyone who's life is still driven by "faith" or "belief" ought to read Richard Dawkins book - The God Delusion, to get over it. Why don't you add the red "A" for united aetheists to your blog site -

It's time for aetheists to unite!

Ken said...

I should never have put you two together.

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Brian... couldn't agree more! Rationalists unite!

Ken...too late! It's all your fault!

Samuel said...

Jesus died and was resurrected for the sins of us all, including John Lennon who was a drug user, profaner and adulterer.

The Bible is the inerrant word of God. And our Lord Jesus is the son of a virgin and son of God who performed miracles which I know by my faith.

Ask yourself: Why have people in all cultures believed in God? Because if there is no God where do you get your morality?  Don't forget that Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot were atheists, and committed the biggest mass murders in history.

Look at all the times science has gotten things wrong. The complexity of the universe indicates the existence of a designer. and the elements of this unique setup are perfect for life when they might easily have been wrong. What are the chances? Look at the bacterial flagellum, an example of irreducible complexity and evidence for intelligent design of our universe and which proves the falseness of evolution.

Even one of the greatest scientists in history Albert Einstein believed in God.

I am a Christian because I believe that Christianity is true. and because I love God. "We love Him because He first loved us" (I John 4:19).

"I will proclaim the Name of the Lord, how glorious is our God! He is the Rock, His work is perfect, everything He does is just and fair, He is a faithful God who does no wrong, how just and upright He is!"

Shiffi Le Soy said...

Er, ok Samuel. Whatever you say.

Please check my blog entry 'The Omnipotent Sky Wizard' for my response to your points.