Photo Credit: Roy Kerwood (Lennon)
John Lennon once said, “[The Beatles] are bigger than Jesus now.” Soon after uttering that infamous proclamation, a firestorm of protests erupted across the American Bible Belt. Angry conservative Christians burned Beatle albums and memorabilia while disc jockeys boycotted their music. Lennon later apologized, noting that he was not saying that The Beatles were better than Jesus in any way. Nonetheless, the incident put the two influential men at odds.
Despite the “bigger than Jesus” controversy, John and Jesus shared similar messages. Both preached pacifism. Lennon was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War based on his views on peace. While we cannot be certain that Jesus would have been against the Vietnam War, it is clear throughout the Bible that he also imagined a “world of people living lives of peace.” Jesus and John seem to agree that the masses ought to hold influence in a democratic way. John Lennon’s song “Power to the People” is clearly within the same vein of thought as “the meek shall inherit the earth.” The major clash between their messages is John Lennon’s perspective towards organized religion. He maintained through controversy that he was not “anti-God, anti-Christ, or anti-religion.” John Lennon was cynical concerning religion, as he perceived it to be manipulative.
Given Lennon’s cynical view of religion, would he and Jesus still get along with one another? The answer is probably. While Lennon may have said things that seemed very anti-religion, he did not have much bad to say about Jesus as a person. It is evident in quotes like “Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me,” that Lennon’s skepticism focused on the exploitation of religion rather than any sort of issues with the teachings of Jesus. Personality wise they would not mesh perfectly but they could at least be civil towards one another. Young Lennon’s arrogance and pessimism could cause a humble Jesus some frustration, but by following his teachings about “turning the other cheek,” they could keep clashing down to a minimum. Lennon’s post-Beatles, Yoko-influenced humility could have made Jesus and him more compatible.
People view Christ and Lennon as martyrs in their own right. Keeping any arguments of divinity (regarding both men) out of the mix both seemed to die for their cause. Aside from debatably being killed for all of humankind’s sins, Jesus was a martyr for freedom of religion. He stood up for what he truly believed, in spite of the consequences. John Lennon faced death threats during the “bigger than Jesus” controversy for the same accusation that killed Jesus, blasphemy. Granted, Mark David Chapman did not kill John Lennon for his actions and beliefs and Paul McCartney was not a modern day Judas but John Lennon became a martyr nonetheless.
Both men leave huge legacies behind and enough time has not passed to tell whose story will live longer. How can we even measure how these men have influenced the world? With The Beatles, John Lennon sold over one billion albums worldwide while there are about two billion Christians in the world. Jesus had a one-thousand-nine-hundred-and-forty-year head start over John Lennon. It should prove interesting to see how long The Beatles’ music lasts. Theirs was an immediate success compared to Christianity’s gradual development. John Lennon’s message was mostly unadulterated while Jesus’ disciples filtered his message. Thousands have not fought wars in the name of John Lennon whereas Jesus has been the excuse for many military actions.
Conveying messages of peace and brotherhood, Lennon and Christ appear to share many similar aspirations for humankind, whether their methods and personalities would be compatible, their lasting influence is immeasurable. Each has become an enduring icon of world culture. Let us hope that John’s musical legacy outlives Jesus’ musical influence because I’ll take Abbey Road over the soundtrack to Passion of The Christ any day.