John Lennon Revealed ‘Imagine’ Wasn’t Actually an Attack on Religion

  • John Lennon revealed two books helped inspire “Imagine.”
  • He did not see the song as a condemnation of all religion.
  • “Imagine” was a hit in the 1970s and in the 1980s.
The Beatles' John Lennon with a microphone around the time he made "Imagine"
The Beatles’ John Lennon around the time he made “Imagine” | George Stroud/Express/Getty Images

In John Lennon‘s 1971 hit “Imagine,” the former Beatle famously asked listeners to imagine a world with “no religion.” Subsequently, John elaborated on the meaning of that lyric. He also revealed what he thought when a church group wanted to change the lyrics of the song.

John Lennon revealed how Christian prayer and Yoko Ono inspired ‘Imagine’

According to the book All We Are Saying; The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, John discussed the origin of “Imagine” in a 1980 interview. “[Activist and comedian] Dick Gregory gave Yoko and me a little kind of prayer book,” John recalled. “It is in the Christian idiom, but you can apply it anywhere. It is the concept of positive prayer. If you want to get a car, get the car keys. Get it? ‘Imagine’ is saying that.” 

John also discussed Yoko’s influence on the track. “The song was originally inspired by Yoko’s book Grapefruit,” he admitted. “In it are a lot of pieces saying, Imagine this, imagine that. I was still selfish enough and unaware enough to sort of take her contribution without acknowledging it.”

Dick Gregoy at a march
Dick Gregory | Paul Warner/Getty Images

RELATED: ‘Imagine’ Wasn’t John Lennon’s Most Popular Song

John Lennon said ‘Imagine’ wasn’t actually an attack on religion

In one line of the song, John famously asks his fans to imagine a world with “no religion.” John elaborated on this lyric. “If you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion — not without religion but without this my-God-is-bigger-than-your-God thing — then it can be true,” he opined.

John revealed a church group once contacted him about the lyrics of the track. “The World Church called me once and asked, ‘Can we use the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ and just change it to ‘Imagine one religion?'” he recalled. “That showed they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.”

RELATED: Why Oasis’ Noel Gallagher Used the Riff From John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ in ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’

The way listeners in the United States and the United Kingdom reacted to the song

“Imagine” became a hit in the United States. It peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. For nine weeks, it stayed on the chart. “Imagine” appeared on John’s solo album of the same name. For one week, the album was No. 1 on the Billboard 200. It lasted on the chart for 47 weeks.

On the other hand, The Official Charts Company reports the song became a chart hit in the United Kingdom twice. In 1975, the song peaked at No. 1 for four weeks. It was on the chart for 42 weeks altogether. In 1988, it reached No. 45 and stayed on the chart for five weeks. Meanwhile, the album was No. 1 for two of its 101 weeks on the chart. 

Since then, “Imagine” became a standard. It’s been covered by Madonna, Lady Gaga, CeeLo Green, Avril Lavigne, and numerous other artists.

The song is one of the most famous hits of the 1970s even if some fans misunderstood its lyrics.

RELATED: John Lennon’s Son Said ‘Imagine’ Isn’t the Former Beatle’s Best Philosophical Song