Was Lennon right about Christianity?

Edgar O. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - March 30, 2015 - 10:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Although there is barely any reference to Christianity in Beatles songs, that’s a reflection of the members’ interest/disinterest and an outcome of an unintended backlash.

When the moptops turned acidheads returned to London after the lynching at the Manila International Airport, John Lennon had to face another controversy that broke out five months earlier.

On March 4, 1966, London Evening Standard reporter/friend Maureen Cleave interviewed Lennon who frankly talked about a subject banned by business manager Brian Epstein for the group to talk about publicly — religion and the Vietnam War.

The irrepressible Lennon broke sacred ground. He told Cleave: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first — rock ‘n roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”

Nobody paid attention to the thought-provoking claim when it appeared in staid Britain as it seemed an insignificant sentence in a long-winding article. It was hardly noticed as Lennon was true and glib as possible.

Then American teen magazine Datebook reprinted the quote three weeks after the horrible experience in Manila on its July 29 issue cover story titled The Ten Adults You Dig/Hate The Most. The article contained a section on Lennon, which republished the Jesus quote out of its original context. The recoil on John and the Beatles started to happen.

Giving it an entirely controversial color if malicious tone, the statement was perceived as anti-Christianity which angered fundamentalists in the American Bible Belt. Boys and girls held spur-of-the moment rallies, stomping on Beatles records and Beatlemania memorabilia in some kind of late-occurring remorse, before burning them.

Radio stations banned Beatles songs and concert venues cancelled scheduled performances. Lennon received death threats, and the Ku Klux Klan protested a Beatle concert in Alabama. Even the conservative Vatican dipped its fingers into the unholy statement by denouncing Lennon publicly.

Epstein quickly flew to the US to try to quell the public relations debacle. On Aug. 11, Lennon told a news conference in Chicago, Illinois that he still thought the statement as true, wryly adding, “I apologize if that will make you happy.”

As a direct reaction, the Beatles collectively decided to stop touring. Used to hectic touring foreign countries, the next destination was no longer coming. Each Beatle had so much free time and creative energy to spare they were clueless how to get by. 

Quite naturally, they sought a little help from their co-Beatles, using the excess at what Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr did best, music-making, that led to their artistic peak, the creation of the Sergeant Pepper’s Hearts Club Band album that broke rock standards.

But when Epstein passed on, Lennon would reassert his sense of freedom again, most likely due to recreational drug use. He composed The Ballad of John and Yoko. A mock ballad, Lennon narrates in a diary-like approach the circumstances surrounding his marriage to Yoko Ono and how the media reported the event.

Constructed as “a newspaper of his life,” it’s a record that announces a recent important event about his life. That is why this song tells of Lennon and Yoko Ono emerging from a canvass bag eating chocolate cake during the press conference.

In a desperate act to release the song immediately after their return from honeymoon, Lennon telephoned McCartney and asked for his assistance to record the song. Harrison was on a holiday while Starr filmed The Magic Christian, his first solo movie.

Putting aside his antagonistic attitude towards Ono, McCartney willingly obliged. He prevented another public relations debacle for John by making him realize that its original title The Ballad of John and Yoko (Christ, They’re Gonna Crucify Me) unwittingly and unnecessarily called for public antagonism. Happily, Lennon consented.

Lennon did lead vocals plus lead and acoustic guitar while McCartney sang harmony vocals and played bass, drums, piano and maracas.

Once again the magic of Lennon and McCartney’s tandem worked. But still several US radio stations banned this song for the use “Christ” and “They’re gonna crucify me” in the lyrics, validating McCartney’s point.

Almost half a century after his statement, Lennon proved half-wrong: Rock ‘n roll is dead but Christianity expanded with Catholicism experiencing exceptional growth through Pope Francis’ lead.


  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with