The notoriety of John Lennon saying that the Beatles were "bigger than Jesus" has been institutionalized in the pop culture canon, inspiring everything from documentaries to Simpsons jokes. But what if John Lennon was misquoted, and actually had much more nuanced views of Christianity? And what if we only found out about those views 28 years after his death?
While many Beatles biographies have pointed to Lennon’s immediate defense of the quote, he may never have fully explained himself and his views on Christianity quite as well as he did in 1969 in Montreal for the CBC. The interview is being broadcast for the first time on BBC4.
In it, we hear a very spiritual Lennon in touch with his own individualized views of Christianity. Contrary to what is often believed, it was Harrison and McCartney who were more interested in eastern religion. Lennon was an Englishman through and through, even as he dismissed the Church of England.
Here’s his explanation for the "bigger than Jesus" comment:
"It’s just an expression meaning the Beatles seem to me to have more influence over youth than Christ," he says. "Now I wasn’t saying that was a good idea, ‘cos 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."
and on the Beatles and Christianity:
"If the Beatles get on the side of Christ, which they always were, and let people know that, then maybe the churches won’t be full, but there’ll be a lot of Christians dancing in the dance halls. Whatever they celebrate, God and Christ, I don’t think it matters as long as they’re aware of Him and His message."
He also mentions how he lost faith in the Church when he was kicked out of his local parish at 14 for laughing. But his own view of Christianity is very interesting:
I haven’t got any sort of dream of a physical heaven where there’s lots of chocolate and pretty women in nightgowns, playing harps. I believe you can make heaven within your own mind. The kingdom of heaven is within you, Christ said, and I believe that."
The interview puts his comment in a new light. The Beatles were "bigger than Jesus" not because of anything wrong with Jesus, but that to Lennon, the institutionalized church wasn’t speaking to kids of the 60s as much as the Beatles were. As Beatleographer Paul Du Noyer noted, "These comments would have been a great boost for churches if they had come out at the time."