Words of Wisdom from the Walrus

January-February 2011

Back in October a memorial anniversary passed by. We wouldn’t be surprised if it passed unnoticed by the majority of NOR readers. It nearly passed us by unnoticed too — until we picked up the September/October issue of Touchstone magazine. As soon as we came upon Robert Hart’s article “Hard to Imagine,” it hit us: It was thirty years ago today — is that how the song goes? — that Mr. John Lennon was murdered by a crazed fan in New York City. (It was seventy years ago that Len­non was born — a double dip.) Before long we realized that we were knee-deep in teary-eyed reminiscences, starry-eyed hagio­graphies, and the occasional cranky condemnation of the man who, more than anyone, personified the “peace and love” generation.

But Fr. Hart has given us something different. His article focuses on one of the more curious, and controversial, moments in Lennon’s strange life — the time he claimed that his rock group, the Beatles, was bigger than Jesus. That was in 1966. At the time, his statement was received with bellowing outrage here in the U.S. Seen today through the refracting lens of history, it appears to be another sad example of the mania that can seize drug-addled minds. But according to Hart, there’s more to it than meets the eye.

What precisely did Lennon say? Given in the context of an interview in the London Evening Standard, the significant portion of the quote is: “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with 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.”

O.K., let’s take a deep breath, step back for a moment, and parse this out, line by line — with a little help from our friend, Fr. Hart, an Anglican priest (who has written for the NOR in the past).

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New Oxford Notes: January-February 2011

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Good heavens, you're making a mountain out of a molehill! John Lennon's genius was in music, not in social commentary. His music should be praised, because it was good. I'm sure his drug use didn't help him, but nobody was suggesting that he should be president of the United States. As for his "more popular than Jesus" comment, the Beatles were more popular than Jesus at the time, at least in Great Britain. What was strange at the time was how seriously the statement was taken. It's even stranger that the statement is still taken seriously. He was a musician for crying out loud! I can enjoy "A Day in the Life" without worrying about John Lennon's character defects. And when I go to confession this weekend, I'm going to be confessing my own character defects, not his. Posted by: johnquirk
January 21, 2011 03:01 PM EST
I agree. Great article! Posted by: tdonovan
January 21, 2011 03:32 PM EST
re johnquirk: John Lennon should have gone to confession!

Nowhere does it say that listening to the Beatles constitutes a sin. On the contrary, this article reads like an attempt to steer a middle course between adulation and damnation.

And hey, is it too much to ask for a "musical genius" to come up with intelligible lyrics? Or at least something not mundane. "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah." Is that best you got?

Posted by: Jack Straw
January 26, 2011 08:18 PM EST
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