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How the song “Imagine” by John Lennon Compares to Baha’i Beliefs

December 6, 2015, in Articles > Music, by

When it comes to uplifting songs, few can match the popularity of Imagine by former Beatle, the late John Lennon (1940-1980).

It was the singer-songwriter’s best-selling single, and it is included in a list of the 100 most-performed songs of the 20th century.1

I know many Baha’is who like to sing this song, although they may sometimes wonder about a few of the lyrics, so I thought that on this 35th anniversary of John Lennon’s passing on 8 December 1980 it would be interesting to have a look at Imagine to see how closely it agrees with our cherished Baha’i beliefs.

Let’s start with the first verse:

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…

That verse seems to imply that John Lennon thought the afterlife was a fiction and that it would be better if we lived for the moment rather than waiting for something better in the future.

It is my understanding that Baha’is can concur somewhat with his sentiments. We don’t believe in what could be called a traditional view of heaven or hell—as a place of eternal reward if you pass a spiritual test or eternal punishment if you fail.

As is said in a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi:

Heaven and hell are conditions within our own beings.

From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 14 November 1947, in Lights of Guidance, compiled by Helen Hornby, Baha’i Publishing Trust India, 1983, p.395, no. 1079. High Endeavours, Messages to Alaska, pp 49-50.

As I understand it, Baha’is see “heaven” in the after-life as a metaphor for spiritual proximity to the creator. The closer we are, the happier we will be. And we believe this will happen through the grace of God, and that our progress will be greatly assisted if, while on earth, we follow the guiding principles as expressed by Baha’u’llah in His laws.

As for hell, the view of it I have as a Baha’i is not a place of eternal torment in a pit of fire but rather a remorse-inducing remoteness from God.

So I think we as Baha’is don’t believe in the kind of heaven and hell that John Lennon did not believe in either.

What about “living for today”? Certainly as a Baha’i, I think we have to be people of action and not yearn for the golden years of the past or just sit and hope for a comfortable, prosperous future.

And who wouldn’t agree with another line from John Lennon: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”?2)

But living mindfully in the moment does not mean that we should forget the lessons of the past. In fact, wisdom can be described as the ability to recognise past patterns and learn from them—that is why it often comes with age. Nor should living for today lead us to neglect planning for the future.

So we reflect on the past to develop our characters, and plan for the future so we can contribute to the goal that Baha’u’llah set for humanity— building a united global society founded on justice and love.

Now for the next verse:

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…

When John Lennon asked us to imagine that there are no countries, he may well have been thinking about the harm that arises from strictly adhering to the concept of the absolute sovereignty of a nation—“our country right or wrong”.

It’s my understanding that Baha’is would say that national boundaries should not be there to separate ourselves from the rest of humanity. Rather they are there for the purposes of creating a functioning society in a certain area of the globe, and one that can contribute to the wider global society.

Should there be “nothing to kill or die for”? John Lennon wrote his song amidst the horrors of the Vietnam War so it is understandable that he came up with this line.

However, I am sure that he would have thought that there are some things worth risking death for—a parent trying to rescue a child, a person protecting the weak and defenceless from a murderous attack. Is there anything to kill for? Our answer would surely be not normally, although such an act could be seen as legitimate in the case of a police officer killing an attacker who was about to murder another.

What about wars? Baha’is do not participate as soldiers in wars, although are prepared to perform service as medics. We are working to prevent the killing and dying in wars by working for a united world and, in doing so, trying to create just, loving and peaceful neighbourhoods, cities, and countries.

Then comes the lyric “no religion too”, which at first glance might seem to oppose the Baha’i point of view.

The Baha’i Faith is an independent world religion, with its own Prophet-Founder, holy places, laws and sacred scriptures. So what would I say about the lyric “no religion too”.

My view is that when John Lennon was looking at the religions, he was referring to human-made collections of wrong interpretation, bad laws, and ill-advised behaviours, not the spiritual teachings of the divine messengers.

As a Baha’i, I think it useful to refer to the words of Abdu’l-Baha who said:

Any religion which is not a cause of love and unity is no religion.3

In contrast to that kind of “religion”, a divinely-inspired faith that is true to the aims and guidelines of its Prophet-Founder is the elixir of life, a guide to present and future happiness, to love, justice and prosperity.

A Baha’i I knew used to change this line in Imagine to “and one religion too”. By that he meant the one faith that Baha’is believe runs through the teachings of all the divine messages. As Baha’u’llah said:

This is the changeless Faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal in the future.4

Asked once about the substitution of the words “and one religion too”, John Lennon dismissed the suggestion. Had he been asked about a faith that united all the world religions, seeing them in their essence as part of one religion of God, his answer could possibly have been different.

The last part of that verse — “Imagine all the people living life in peace” — is certainly in tune with the thoughts of dedicated Baha’is who spend their lives working for a united, peaceful world.

The next verse is obviously closely aligned to the ideals of a Baha’i.

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

As Baha’is, we do not accept the sometimes expressed view that the aim of a peaceful global society is a dream or hopeless idea.

Many of us have seen a fractured world become far more of a global society in our own lifetimes, even if the peaceful nature of it has yet to be achieved. We are confident that we are on our way, despite the awful tests and trials that we seem destined to face in the future. There are two processes under way—the collapse of the old, destructive ways of humanity, and the growing up of the green shoots of the new, united world.

And yes, we do hope that others will join us and become Baha’is, but if they don’t see this as their way, we are more than happy to be friends and allies as we work together towards a just and peaceful world society. As John Lennon said “And the world will be as one.”

Baha’u’llah had said something similar:

The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens.5

The last verse is repetition of an earlier one, but the second to last has some ideas worth examining.

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…

When John Lennon was asking us to “imagine no possessions”, he couldn’t have been meaning that literally. I think he was asking us to take a different view of possessions, as things that should not be acquired through greed… “no need for greed”.

Baha’u’llah advises us similarly:

Why, then, exhibit such greed in amassing the treasures of the earth, when your days are numbered and your chance is well-nigh lost?6

As for “a brotherhood of man”, that concept, now usually expressed in a less gender-specific way such as the family of humanity, is a foundational belief of the Baha’i Faith: the oneness of humanity. We are all part of the one family, the one brotherhood and sisterhood—not separated by notions of race, class, gender or spiritual heritage, but united in our diversity.

John Lennon’s invitation to imagine all the people sharing the entire world is one that would be accepted by all Baha’is because we want to work with other well-meaning people, regardless of their spiritual beliefs, or lack of them, to advance the processes that will lead towards global peace.

We want all the peoples of the world to share in a just and equal way in all aspects of the material and spiritual riches of humanity.

When I hear the song Imagine, with its entrancing melody and wonderful lyrics, I think of it as being in harmony with the teachings of Baha’u’llah.

I try to remember to pray for the progress of the soul of the one who, taking note of the inspiration that came to him, sat down, wrote the song, and sent it out to the world.

  1. []
  2. []
  3. Paris Talks. UK Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1972, eleventh edition reprint. P. 130 []
  4. Proclamation of Baha’u’llah, US Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1978 reprint. P. 119 []
  5. Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah. US Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1990 pocket-size edition. P. 250. []
  6. Ibid, p. 127. []
Posted by

Michael Day

Michael Day is the author of a new book, “Point of Adoration. The story of the Shrine of Baha’u’llah 1873-1892.” He is also the author of "Journey to a Mountain", "Coronation on Carmel" and "Sacred Stairway", a trilogy that tells the story of the Shrine of the Bab. His photo book "Fragrance of Glory" is an account of the Ascension of Abdu’l-Baha. A former member of the New Zealand Baha’i community, Michael now lives in Australia. He was editor of the Baha’i World News Service in Haifa 2003-2006.
Michael Day

Discussion 21 Comments

Respectfully disagree. “imagine there’s no religion”? “no heaven”? Baha’is have used the song in devotional gatherings without thinking about the what it’s saying.

Jerry York

Jerry York (December 12, 2015 at 10:02 PM)

Hi Michael ~ thanks for this. It’s a topic which has probably occurred to more than a few Bahá’ís. Do you happen to have a reference for your statement, “Asked once about the substitution of the words ‘and one religion too’, John Lennon dismissed the suggestion”?


Andrew (December 12, 2015 at 10:50 PM)

Hi Andrew,
John Lennon was asked about that in an interview with David Sheff in 1980 and his answer was published in the book “All We Are Saying.” (starting on p. 212)

John said:

“The concept of positive prayer … 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 … the World Church called me once and asked, “Can we use the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ and just change it to ‘Imagine one religion’?” That showed [me] they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.

You can find it here where that interview and book is quoted.

I think you will also find interesting this quote from his last interview:

John said:
“But still, the concept of imagining no countries, imagining no religion – not imagining no God, although you’re entitled to do that, too, you know? Imagine no denominations. Imagining that we revere Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Krishna, Melanippe, equally – we don’t have to workship either one that we don’t have to, but imagine there’s no Catholic/Protestant. No Jew/Christian. That we allow all… we allow it all – freedom of religion for real, I mean. For real. Just imagine it? Would it be terrible?”

Michael Day

Michael Day (December 12, 2015 at 2:35 AM)

It’s an interesting interpretation. Obviously we can’t ask John what he actually meant by “no heaven” and “no religion”. There’s some evidence that he was at least spiritual towards the end of his life. I always thought the “no possessions” part was a remnant of hippie-counter-culture-communes and so forth (which John was at least nominally part of). Either way, it feels like too much of a leap to conclude that he must have meant X but not Y, and for that reason I can’t concur that it’s necessarily in line with Baha’i teachings (or appropriate in a Baha’i context), but I’m sure there are aspects we can agree with. Thanks for the post.


V.L.M (December 12, 2015 at 11:43 PM)

Hi V.L.M.
You are welcome. I am glad you found it interesting.
Regarding his spirituality, I think you will find the answer to Andrew’s comment interesting.
My views as expressed are an opinion, but I think we can look at the way he lived his life (e.g. he had possessions), the lyrics as a whole and his interviews and then make a reasonable assumption about how he viewed things.

Michael Day

Michael Day (December 12, 2015 at 2:51 AM)

Lennon stated: “‘Imagine’, which says: ‘Imagine that there was no more religion, no more country, no more politics,’ is virtually the Communist manifesto, even though I’m not particularly a Communist and I do not belong to any movement.”
Imagine (John Lennon song) – Wikipedia, the free …
Wikipedia › wiki › Imagine_(John_Lenn…

Happy Dobbs

Happy Dobbs (December 12, 2015 at 4:12 AM)

I think you should re-title this post as “how can I reinterpret the words of the song ‘Imagine’ as it being compatible with the baha’i teachings”. Many people have ideals, and while there is some overlap, we should just acknowledge that we don’t all have the same ideals instead of trying to distort other people’s discourse in order to try and make it fit our worldview.

Nabil Stendardo

Nabil Stendardo (December 12, 2015 at 1:28 PM)

Unfortunately John Lennon does not have any credibility as a true genuine lover of peace since he was an abusive man both physically and emotionally to his wives and children. He spoke about this quite openly. For me the lyrics of any music he wrote are very tainted by this well-documented fact. I would never compare his musings with the sacred writings of the Bahá’i Faith, whether they are in a catchy song or best seller song.

Susan Yazdanmehr

Susan Yazdanmehr (December 12, 2015 at 8:19 PM)

Long , long ago in the early 1970’s I belonged to an amateur singing group made up of Baha’is called ‘The Valley of Love.’ We performed in several cities doing musical and dance drama ‘firesides’, teaching the faith as we went. We sand ‘Imagine’ but I am afraid we changed the lyrics to ‘just one religion, TRUTH.’
I’m sure we would get into copyright trouble these days, but no one seemed to mind back then.

Margaret Grant

Margaret Grant (December 12, 2015 at 9:57 PM)

Interesting thoughts, Michael.
I appreciate your take on this.

Bruce Moore

Bruce Moore (December 12, 2015 at 10:03 PM)

You are welcome, Bruce. Thanks for your feedback.

Michael Day

Michael Day (December 12, 2015 at 11:58 PM)

That is interesting, Margaret. I hope you recorded your music and still sing today. I think John Lennon wouldn’t have minded the change in lyric because his interviews seemed to indicate that he thought along similar lines.

How advanced that thinking was may not be appreciated by people born after that time. But back then, and even up to the 1990s, the concept of globalisation was hardly ever talked about in the wider community, let along a global society in a united world founded on the principles of the oneness of humanity and unity in diversity.

Michael Day

Michael Day (December 12, 2015 at 12:06 AM)

Hi Nabil, thanks very much for showing interest in this article and for expressing your views.

When looking closely at the lyrics and the views he expressed elsewhere, I found the overlap was considerable and it reinforced in me that we are all affected by the spirit of the age, and some artists pick up on it at various levels.

Michael Day

Michael Day (December 12, 2015 at 12:26 AM)

Thanks very much, Susan, for taking an interest in this article and seeing how it matches up to your views.

You certainly raise a very interesting point, and I am very grateful to you for expressing it. Should we judge art by our perception of the moral character of the artist, or by the art work itself? Well, none of us is perfect, so it is my opinion that we look at the art.

I find it interesting that you say John commented on his own behaviour, which to me indicates an awareness, the first step in the long struggle all of us have in trying to remedy our faults.

The spirit of the age pervades the world and many artists, writers and thinkers are inspired to reflect that in ways that are often inspiring and uplifting. I see it as part of the one process. We are all the verses of one song (my words), the waves of one sea (Baha’i Writings).

Michael Day

Michael Day (December 12, 2015 at 12:36 AM)

Thanks for finding that quote, Happy Dobbs.

Michael Day

Michael Day (December 12, 2015 at 1:37 AM)

Hi Jerry,
Thanks for your interest in the story and it is fine to disagree.

I am sure some people are more interested in the music and general message of the song rather than the exact lyrics, but I have heard discussion about the words at various times.

Michael Day

Michael Day (December 12, 2015 at 1:40 AM)

I believe that spiritually John Lennon (may God glorify him in His kingdom) held the station of a Baha’i. The reason for my feeling this way, quite apart from his relentless peace activism, is his song “Number 9 Dream”, and his awareness of the number 9 throughout his life.

I read (somewhere online) that “Number 9 Dream” is based on an actual dream that Lennon had wherein an angel appeared to him and said the words that make up the chorus. Apparently Lennon didn’t know what the words meant but the dream was rapturous. Some analysts have said that the lyrics of the song fit his assassination, so the song, and the dream, was prophesying his death.

I edited the song in the free audio editor ‘Audacity’, cut the chorus line “Ah! Bowakawa, pousse pousse” and reversed it. To me it clearly says “Allah, Allah’u’Abha”, though not every Baha’i I play it for can hear that.

Daniels Forest

Daniels Forest (December 12, 2015 at 11:26 PM)

Good to hear your views, Daniels.

I think that the inspiration that comes to great artists is often a mystery to them and us.

I also think it is up to us as individuals to come to our own understanding of the art produced as a result of it, and I thank you for letting me know what yours is of that particular song.

What better way to express gratitude to the great artists — musicians, painters, poets , authors — than to say, on the anniversary of their passing (such as now for John), the exquisite prayers for the dead as found in the Baha’i prayer book, including the beautiful one by Abdu’l-Baha when He asks God “to glorify his station,shelter him under the pavilion of Thy supreme mercy, cause him to enter Thy glorious paradise,and perpetuate his existence in Thine exalted rose garden, that he may plunge into the sea of light in the world of mysteries.”

Michael Day

Michael Day (December 12, 2015 at 1:52 AM)

Allah’u’Abha friend!
Even though this topic is old, I find your response very interesting. I also felt the same about the song Revolution 9 on the Beatles White Album. What do you think? It is a very mysterious piece. To me the song is about the accumulation of events happening in the world since the turn of the 20th century. As John is chanting ‘Number 9’ throughout, I hear birth, death, war & peace. At the height of the song it seems as if everything in the world is happening at once.
I have no idea if John had some sort of connection with Baha’is. Perhaps he heard of it early in his life and always kept it in his heart…Who knows?

Elaina Smith

Elaina Smith (January 1, 2018 at 3:27 PM)

Great article!
Here is the translation to Portuguese:

Marco Oliveira

Marco Oliveira (January 1, 2016 at 6:56 PM)

Thank you for a very thought provoking article. Ultimately, nobody here is claiming that Lennon was a prophet so no need to overanalyze the lyrics. It’s clear from Lennon’s interview that by “no religion,” he meant no division of sects and no compulsion of belief. Obviously, he was not writing a hymn, but I find the thought inspiring now that I know what he meant whereas previously I was very skeptical of the song’s intentions.


T.J.H. (May 5, 2023 at 9:35 PM)

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