Paris #JeSuis Charlie protest crowd reacts to John Lennon's 'Imagine'



Well, an aggressively atheist song in a highly-charged atmosphere of religious tension. What could be more calming and appropriate…?


Those goddamn aggressive atheists, inviting us to… pushing peace down our throats!


It’s one of the problems with these discussions that when an atheist suggests that national, religious, class and other elements that both give us identity and divide us from other people are merely human, often unnecessary and maybe everyone would be happier without them, it’s seen as aggressive. Charlie Hebdo often spoke against people who used religion to destroy and divide, and they were brutally attacked for it. Of all times, now is an appropriate moment to consider what is holding us back from unity.


I feel awfully cynical about this, and I can’t decide if that’s legit or I’m just being a contrary old bastard.

Marching for peace when your government and your countrymen are pushing for war, that makes sense to me. You’ve got a message to convey, and you’re making sure that it’s heard. But marching against terrorism–in a Western democracy–just seems masturbatory. The government and the people are already firmly on your side, and the folks who aren’t are trying to freak you out, so to them this just confirms their strategy.

If this march was happening in the Middle East, it might be daring and radical, but not here. Not to me, anyway. I dunno.

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Heh. I am reminded of a recent thread in which someone asserted…

Now, how many MILLIONS of people died at as result of the publishing of “The Communist Manifesto?”

Guns can be dangerous.

An idea can be even more powerful than 1,000 guns.

…and my first thought was, “If we’re gonna play that game, I call the Bible.” I mean, the only thing more dangerous than a sociopath is a sociopath who believes they have extra lives.


I agree, but it’s like going to an old friend’s funeral: what’s the point, the guy is dead, right? And maybe you can’t stand his wife and his family, you know it will be a dreadful afternoon all around. Still, you will probably go, pay your respects, have a chat. It’s part of re-establishing the community after disruption, a way to say “something bad happened, but the community will go on and we’re here to prove it”. And then, a minute after it’s over, then you can go back to being your grumpy old self.

Strategically I agree with your POV, but I bet if I lived in France, I’d have gone myself.


The song asks gently to “imagine” a world where all people can live as one instead of dividing us all and creating conflict caused by religious AND secular dogmas. It isn’t in the least “aggressive”. Why does a non-violent concept posed in the form of a question pose such a threat?


Because making questions make you smarter, and being smarter is a threat to blind obedience. :wink:

For further reference see:


Ah-hah - So that’s where the music came from! Apparently, I live on your block. I thought it was wonderful that someone was playing songs like Imagine and Happy. Because that was the atmosphere of the march - hopeful and happy. The crowd obviously appreciated it and so did I. Merci!


“Imagine there’s no heaven” is, indeed, almost as aggressive as the statement “There is a god”, but it is nowhere near such radically agressive statements such as “God loves you”. Even worse yet are those incendiary statements that pit Christians and Muslims against each other, such as “Jesus wants you to love your neighbor” or “Allah loves best the one who benefits people the most.”

Hateful, divisive stuff indeed.

Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnier was an atheist. He was killed for drawing cartoons on religion.
When people gather in the streets of Paris to show support for the victims, saying “je suis Charlie”, how would it be appropriate to not sing an atheist song about peace?

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Well now, no-one is talking about hate. But look at the context. Without wishing to waste time breaking butterflies upon wheels, it struck me as ironic, to say the least, that here is a song which

  • preaches the virtues of atheism as a solution to the problems of the world at a moment when the emphasis was on religious tolerance. (“Hey Muslims”, says the song, “just give up your religion and everything will be, like, really cool)”
  • preaches against nationalism at a moment of “national assembly” and when the discourse of the government is that, far from there being “nothing to kill or die for”, the police who died last week, as well as those who killed the perpetrators, were defending the values of the nation and the republic, including, as it happens, secularism. Odd that. But I suppose the equivalent would be playing Lennon’s “Give peace a chance” in front of widows and orphans from Iraq and Afghanistan.
    But more generally, you need to have been an adult in 1971, when the song came out, to understand how radical and controversial it was at the time. Popular culture has absorbed it, as it absorbs everything, in this case into a happy-clappy “Kumbaya” song. But it was originally the product of an angry, disenchanted rebel.
    Irony is wasted on the young …

Hmm… it’s probably pretty comforting at a difficult time to be surrounded by other people showing solidarity to the idea that speech should be free and that we shouldn’t be afraid to speak or think or write or draw. I went to the small rally here in Chicago over the weekend and it made me feel bit better and less dejected about the human condition. I was a bit comforted.

We seem to be interpreting the context entirely differently.

  • preaches the virtues of atheism as a solution to the problems caused by radical religion at a moment when the emphasis was on acts of intolerance committed in the name of religion.

Sounds fair to me. This is not a time for religious tolerance. It is a time to put religion into its place (while taking care not to throw out the baby with the bath water, of course)

Nothing wrong with preaching against nationalism, and after all, it’s more than just the nation of France standing together on this. And of course, as you pointed out, we’re far from there being nothing to kill or die for. But just imagine there is no heaven, no prophet who needs defending against insulting drawings by vile infidels…

I still think the song fits perfectly.

Well, I have to admit, I was indeed born after “Imagine”. But perhaps you need to be born in secularized continental Europe after 1971 to understand that today it is neither more radical nor more controversial than your average church song that says “God loves you”. It is quite common in the context of religion to express the concept that “if everyone did things our way, the world would be a better place”; Lennon’s Imagine is no different in this respect.

I for one, see an almost painful amount of irony in suggesting that an atheist song would not be “appropriate” at a demonstration held to express solidarity with people who were killed because their criticism of a certain religion was not “appropriate”.

Well, OK, we’ll agree to differ. Irony is a very subjective thing after all.

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