I have two thoughts on Cee Lo's controversial version of John Lennon's Imagine, where he replaced the phrase "And no religion too" with "And all religion's true" on the New Year's Eve broadcast:
1) Cee Lo, in his public performance of Imagine, has every right to make the performance his by changing notes and lyrics, PROVIDED that he was within the copyright law permissions of the song's performance. Changing lyrics without permission of a copyrighted song is a violation. Only Cee Lo and whoever currently owns the song (Yoko?) know whether or not this is the case. I'm assuming that with a well known piece like Imagine, that he had permission, since people were certain to notice the change. Regardless, fans of John Lennon need not be up in arms over changing the "sacredness" of the words. That's artistic license. Bono and U2 do this all the time with their own songs and lyrics (so they certainly have the legal right, even if their fans don't always like the changes). Cee Lo certainly wasn't trying to pass his version off as the "real lyrics". Perhaps it was naive of him to think that he could change something like Imagne without people really reacting (which I have to say, is unlike the Bible, where people get away with changing the "lyrics" all the time!)
2) Having defended his right (to a point) to change the lyrics, I think it is an interesting question as to whether or not one agrees with Cee Lo's understanding that arises from the change.
In his blog post "Cee Lo, Tebow and American Fundamentalisms", Tripp Hudgins writes: "Given the religious strife in the world, expressing a love for humanity through all the world's religion was generous and very appropriate for a New Year celebration."
Cee Lo himself says that it was a stab at advocating universal acceptance:
"I will say that it's all about love....It was all done out of love and out of peace and unity and tolerance and acceptance and all those many wonderful things that seem cliche and a little bit cheesy."
I agree with the point of both Hudgins and Cee Lo's statements. But clearly this is NOT what everyone heard in the words: "And all religion's true."
Some likely think that this means that every religion is equal. And since some religions say that only their religion is true, it’s clear that, one way or another, that there’s something not true here...
I’m also concerned with the reality that many people have been abused by words from religions. That's not true.
People also, in the name of religion, condemn others. That's not true either.
I'll give Cee Lo the benefit of the doubt that he was trying to be inclusive. And I do believe that there is truth to be found in most religions. But the statement that “All religion’s true” just isn’t.
John Lennon’s lyrics work best because the song imagines the end of all the things that people use to justify hurt, superiority, and injustice. These include the pursuit of heaven, country, religion and possessions at the expense of others. The song imagines what it would be like if we didn’t use these things as weapons of division. Instead, the vision of heaven, the love of country, the wisdom in religion, and the use of one's possessions is intended to bring us into community and closer together. The hope of the song, when we finish imagining, is to see the possibility of connectedness and mutual respect from within our differences.
Call me a dreamer!