Hard to Imagine
Robert Hart on John Lennon & the Popularity of Jesus
In the late 1960s I was embarrassed, being a fan of the Beatles (who of my generation wasn’t?—or rather, isn’t?), almost every time John Lennon got himself in the newspapers that my parents read. Drugs, including LSD (briefly, as it turned out), the divorce and a very avant-garde second wife, the album cover that disappeared almost as soon as it appeared, and most of all, this one, little, out-of-context quotation, which enraged Americans but was practically unnoticed in England and Europe, originally published in an interview for the London Evening Standard in 1966:
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.
Before judging Lennon harshly—especially those of you who have come across these words for the first time—note that Lennon also said, when asked about this, that he did not approve of that much popularity, and that he could as easily have said that television was more popular than Jesus as that the Beatles were. More importantly, he said repeatedly that he was talking only about his native country, England, and nowhere else.
Moreover, three years later he said, “I’m one of Christ’s biggest fans, and if I can turn the focus on the Beatles on to Christ’s message, then that’s what we’re here to do.” Sadly, Lennon’s understanding of that message may have amounted to little more than his own anti-war message of “peace and love.”
A Life Framed by Violence
That Lennon was naive, and honest to the point of genuine eccentricity, is also to be weighed among other factors, such as his having, in cognitive terms, an earliest memory of seeing German planes in the sky over Liverpool, and hearing the harsh whistle of falling bombs and ground-shaking explosions while his mother, in a state of panic, rushed him to the nearest bomb shelter. He had been abandoned by his father, and as a young boy was sent to be raised by an aunt even before the death of his mother.
Add to these factors an IQ known to have been above genius level and a lifetime of artistic endeavor, and it is clear that John Lennon was predestined not to be boring. This complicated man died, tragically murdered, on December 8, 1980, having said on the same day that he was, among other “Zen” things, a “Zen Christian.” He left us confused about his meaning, as always.
It was a sadly ironic death. Born during an air raid, having his earliest memory that of an air raid, and dying forty years later from gunshot wounds inflicted by an unprovoked madman, the self-appointed messenger of “peace and love” came into this world in violence and was taken from it in violence. Though his sins were not hidden, neither was his sincerity about what he thought to be the message of Christ, as he said plainly on various occasions.
The Element of Truth
Robert Hart is rector of St. Benedict's Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina (Anglican Catholic Church Original Province). He also contributes regularly to the blog The Continuum. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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