Posted August 31, 2016 in Monthly News


The song central to Debra’s post this month, “Show Me the Way,” by Dennis DeYoung and Styx, illustrates humanity’s desire for meaning. As is usually the case for the Beyond Mastery Newsletter, Debra wrote her article first, so that I could write something that would fit the theme she selected. When I read her article, another song, John Lennon’s “Imagine,” was the first thing that occurred to me. It covers the same subject from from a slightly different perspective. Where Dennis DeYoung is praying to be shown the way, John Lennon encourages us to imagine it. Dennis DeYoung seeks spiritual guidance, whereas John Lennon asks us to imagine that such guidance is unnecessary:

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… Aha-ah…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… You…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Here’s John Lennon asking us to “imagine”:

Although the themes are similar, the songs have different perspectives. “Imagine” seems more optimistic to me. I checked the dates the songs were released. “Imagine” was released in 1971. “Show Me the Way” was released in 1991.

What happened in the 20 years between that would have darkened the vision of human ability to create a new humanity? The US involvement in the Vietnam War was coming to an end (our last year there was 1975), and, in general, the 1980s were fairly peaceful. The States and Europe were relatively prosperous during the ’80’s, and most people were fairly hopeful that “things” were getting better.

So why is “Imagine” more hopeful than “Show Me the Way”? Probably the most obvious answer to that question is that “Show Me the Way” is essentially a prayer, a request for Divine Guidance. “Imagine” puts the responsibility for creating a “brotherhood of man” directly on the listeners. “Show Me the Way” is asking for Divine help. “Imagine” is saying that it is up to us, not only as individuals and but also as the human collective. If you are among those who struggles for awareness of Divine guidance, you are familiar with what in “Show Me the Way” is expressed as “this empty place inside.” John Lennon seems to recognize that he is asking for something few will be able to achieve: “I hope someday you’ll join us….”

In the mid-nineteenth century, Matthew Arnold wrote and published “Dover Beach,” a poem directly addressing the loss of faith that sounds very much like a precursor of “Show Me the Way”:

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The long, withdrawing roar is perhaps the perfect symbol for the general loss of faith that has occurred over the last 100 years or so as science slowly replaced religious beliefs. In traditional religions, individuals can ask God to provide help. With science, individuals have to figure things out for themselves.

Although Lennon’s “Imagine” does not fit well with traditional religious beliefs, it does fit reasonably well with what is usually called spirituality. Native Americans and other indigenous people rightly complain that many in the “New Age” movement appropriated traditional beliefs and practices without fully understanding or respecting them, which robs them of meaning if not intent. Humans have a great deal of difficulty being spiritual without being religious.

In art and architecture, form typically follows function. Medieval castles, for example, had thick stone walls and were classically surrounded by moats. That form followed the function of offering protection for the king or queen and others who lived inside. In some ways, religious forms were created to provide structure for the spiritual impulse. People used the form of religion for their connection to spirit.

The principal problem with the medieval arrangement was that it gave kings and other royalty great power over their “vassals.” The same is essentially true for most religions. The priests have power over their parishioners. For those who believe, the way to Heaven is through the church and the priesthood. Although the power of the priestly class has diminished in Western culture, it remains a major influencing factor in governmental affairs. By the time Styx recorded “Show Me the Way,” we had learned that our childhood heroes and legends had feet of clay, so we’re no longer surprised when those claiming to be among the “righteous” turn out to be liars and cheats.

What “Dover Beach,” “Imagine,” and “Show Me the Way” have in common is the acknowledgement that it isn’t easy to be human, and especially humans who desire a sense of meaning beyond what religions typically teach, even though we are left without joy, love, light, certitude, peace, and help for pain. Today’s media provide ample evidence of ignorant armies clashing by night. We can, of course, choose what we believe to be the best alternative of the options available, and remember that we can always be dreamers.

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