Beatles singer, songwriter, John Lennon
John Lennon, famous for singing, “Imagine there’s no heaven,” is now said to have been “on the side of Christ,” according to his own words recently unearthed from a long-lost radio interview.
“I’m one of Christ’s biggest fans,” the Beatles’ songwriter is heard to say in a 1969 interview with Ken Seymour of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “And if I can turn the focus on the Beatles on to Christ’s message, then that’s what we’re here to do.”
The interview with startling words from a man long-considered to be hostile to Christianity was bought three years ago by National Museums Liverpool, a museum complex headquartered in Liverpool, England, the city of Lennon’s birth. According to the London Telegraph, the museum is playing an extract of the interview at its World Museum Liverpool venue.
Lennon drew international headlines for proclaiming in a March 4, 1966, interview in the London Evening Standard, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I do not know what will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity. We’re more popular than Jesus now.”
In America, Lennon’s words sparked a fury of backlash from Christians, some of whom protested by burning Beatles records or blacklisting the group’s songs from radio stations. Ripples of the quote could be heard in a 1994 song by Christian singer Charlie Peacock, who sang, referring to Christianity’s expectation of Christ’s Second Coming, “The multitudes are waiting, waiting on pins and needles, for the one more famous than the Beatles.”
In the newly released interview, however, Lennon says his famous popularity quote was misunderstood. “It’s just an expression meaning the Beatles seem to me to have more influence over youth than Christ,” he said. “Now I wasn’t saying that was a good idea, ‘cos I’m one of Christ’s biggest fans.”
According to the Telegraph, Lennon’s words in the 1969 interview blame “hypocrites” for being too “uptight” in their reaction to his popularity boast.
In the newly released interview Lennon said, “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.”
Two years after the interview, Lennon again released a song, “Imagine,” that drew the ire of churchgoers. The song contains the lyrics, “Imagine there’s no heaven; it’s easy if you try. … Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too.”
Now, the recovered 1969 interview may shed some light on Lennon’s thoughts behind the famous song.
“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,” he said. “I believe you can make heaven within your own mind. The kingdom of heaven is within you, Christ said, and I believe that.”
Lennon gave interviewer Ken Seymour some background on his aversion to institutional religion, telling the story of a vicar who banned him from church when he was 14 for “having the giggles.”
“I wasn’t convinced of the vicar’s sincerity anyway,” Lennon said. “But I knew it was the house of God. So I went along for that and the atmosphere always made me feel emotional and religious or whatever you call it.
“Being thrown out of the church for laughing was the end of the church for me.”
His frustration with the church apparently continued, when, just a few months before the interview he married artist Yoko Ono after divorcing his first wife.
“I would have liked to have been married in a church,” he said in the interview, “but they wouldn’t marry divorcees. … That’s pure hypocrisy.”
Lennon repeated the word “hypocrisy” several times in the interview, including it in his reason for avoiding church as a place of prayer. “Community praying is probably very powerful. … I’m just against the hypocrisy and the hat-wearing and the socializing and the tea parties,” he said.