Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
The Beatles’ legendary founder John Lennon has become a celebrated “atheist” for penning the lyrics “imagine there’s no heaven” and claiming his band had become “more popular than Jesus.”
But history’s temptation to embrace the Beatles as champions of anti-Christianity is a bit overzealous and betrays the band members’ personal journeys of faith, claims international evangelist Ray Comfort, whose new film “Genius” and book “The Beatles, God & the Bible” are sure to challenge what many have come to believe about “the Fab Four.”
“I believe that history has given John Lennon a bad rap,” Comfort writes in “The Beatles, God & the Bible.” “Like all of us, he had his many sins, but he wasn’t the hard, satanically driven, proud, anti-Christian, God-hating person many make him out to be.”
Comfort told WND the key to understanding the Beatles’ faith is putting some of their controversial comments in the proper context
“It’s true that back in their heyday in 1964 or ’65, someone asked the Beatles if they believed in God and John Lennon said they were all atheists,” Comfort explained. “But as they began to mature in their thinking, they realized that God exists. As they matured, each one of the Beatles acknowledged the existence of God in their own particular way.”
In fact, in 1980, the year of his death, Lennon confessed, “I’m a most religious fellow. … I was brought up a Christian, and I only now understand some of the things that Christ was saying in those parables.”
As a young man, fellow Beatle George Harrison wrote, “I want to find God. I’m not interested in material things, this world, fame – I’m going for the real goal.”
Later in life, the band’s drummer, Ringo Starr said, “For me, God is in my life. I don’t hide from that.”
In the 1990s, Beatle Paul McCartney said, “I’m not religious, but I’m very spiritual,” and notably prayed for his wife when she was having trouble giving birth to their daughter.
He also said, “God wouldn’t have given us tears if He didn’t want us to cry.”
So did John Lennon actually become a Christian?
Comfort doesn’t go that far, but he does say that many have tried to press Lennon into an anti-Christian mold that just doesn’t fit. For example, Comfort said, making Lennon’s “Imagine” into some kind of “atheist anthem” is taking the singer’s words – and stated intent behind the song – out of context.
“That’s the general impression, and that’s the wrong impression,” Comfort said. “The song ‘Imagine’ actually substantiates the reality of the existence of heaven and hell. For example, if I said to you, ‘Imagine there’s no New York; it’s easy if you try,’ I’m acknowledging New York exists, but suggesting we pretend or ‘imagine’ that it doesn’t.
“It’s interesting that when Lennon was asked about the meaning behind ‘Imagine’ during a interview for Playboy magazine only a few months before he died, he said why he wrote ‘Imagine’ and what it’s about,” Comfort said. “Someone gave him a Christian prayer book, and Lennon says the song ‘Imagine’ is a prayer praying that Christian denominations would stop infighting all just live as one.”
In fact, Lennon told Playboy, “The concept of positive prayer … if you can imagine a world at peace, with no denominations of religion – not without religion, but without this ‘my God-is-bigger-than-your-God’ thing – then it can be true.”
“That’s why John Lennon wrote it,” Comfort told WND, “and yet there are atheists out there saying the song ‘Imagine’ is the ‘atheist anthem.’ But the composer of the song says, no, he wrote it as a prayer that Christian denominations would come together. Nobody seems to know that.
“Even the statement he said, ‘We’re more popular than Jesus,’ you have to look at in the context in which he said it,” Comfort explained. “He said it to a reporter in England who was a friend, and Lennon was comparing the Beatles’ fame to his only frame of reference, the church in England that at times was spiritually dead, with preachers preaching in monotone to mostly older congregations in cold, stone buildings surrounded by graveyards. And so he looked at Christianity as he knew it and Jesus Christ as a historical figure and looked at millions of teenagers throughout world going crazy for the Beatles, and he said, ‘We’re more popular that Jesus,’ that Christianity as he know it in England would shrink and vanish. He had no idea how big Christianity was in the United States.
“When you see it from that perspective,” Comfort said, “we can have a measure of sympathy for this man.”
Lennon said of the comment in a later interview in Chicago, “Originally I pointed out that fact in reference to England, that we meant more to kids than Jesus did, or religion at that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down. I was just saying it as a fact, and it’s true more for England than here. I’m not saying that we’re better or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing or whatever it is. I just said what I said, and it was wrong.”
Comfort acknowledges that whether the Beatle’s subsequent apology expressed sorrow for what he said or sorrow that it cost the band millions of fans in the U.S. is uncertain. And Lennon certainly didn’t possess a biblical view of heaven and hell, regardless of why he wrote “Imagine,” Comort said, but it’s time for Christians to stop blasting the Beatle as the 1964 incarnation of the Antichrist.
“I love John Lennon the genius, I despise his bitter tongue and I pity his confusion,” Comfort told WND. “And I really empathize with the guy over those two things, the statement, ‘We’re more popular than Jesus,’ which had to be looked at in context, and the song ‘Imagine,’ which isn’t anti-God at all – it says really the opposite when you find out why he wrote it.”
Bringing Lennon’s journey to life
Comfort’s work on the film “Genius” isn’t an endeavor to un-tarnish Lennon’s image, however, so much as an opportunity to talk with millions about the larger issues of heaven, hell and the place of Jesus in their lives.
“The movie looks at the life and death of John Lennon, his musical genius, forming the Beatles and their incredible popularity throughout the whole world. We look at his statements about being more popular than Jesus and why he wrote ‘Imagine,’ and then we look at his death and why the young guy killed him,” Comfort explained. “It’s not common knowledge, but Mark David Chapman murdered Lennon just to become famous.
“And so I went down on the street with a camera and presented moral scenarios that examine what crimes people might commit and why,” Comfort said. “The first one was if they found an apartment with a trap door to a bank and they could take $2 million and not be caught, would they take the money? When people said, ‘Yeah, I’d take the money,’ I took it one step further: A woman wants to get rid of her husband – she says he’s a rat – and all she wants you to do is drop a tablet of arsenic into his coffee and she’ll give you $10 million, and again, the scenario is you won’t get caught. We found a number of people who said they would murder for money with no problem of conscience, even if we brought the price down.
“It’s chilling because it reveals what people will do for money,” said Comfort. “There are ordinary people out there who would kill you. All they need is the right money and the belief that they won’t get caught.”
“And then we took a camera and asked people on the street, ‘John Lennon said to imagine there’s no heaven. Do you think there’s a heaven?’” Comfort continued. “It’s a very smooth segue into a gospel message.”
“We want to give out a million free DVDs, and we have an army of Christians chomping at the bit, and we want to give them out at a 1,000 universities across the U.S. That’s my plan,” Comfort told WND. “I just need [God] to supply all my needs, and then we’re onto it.”
Ken Mansfield, executive at Capitol Records and the first U.S. manager of the Beatles’ Apple Records, said, “‘Genius’ will open your eyes.”
Other reviewers have called it “fast-paced, thought-provoking and compelling.” It is being called “33 minutes that will rock your soul.”
The trailer for “Genius” can be seen below:
Ray Comfort is the founder/president/CEO of Living Waters Publications. From humble beginnings, the ministry has become internationally recognized, reaching the lost and equipping Christians with every necessary resource to fulfill the great commission. In addition to his main ministry, Ray is co-host (with Kirk Cameron) of the award-winning television program “The Way of the Master,” which airs in 70 countries around the world. He also co-hosts a daily radio program by the same name, airing on the Sirius Satellite Radio Network and hundreds of terrestrial stations. Ray is a bestselling author of more than 60 books. He and his wife, Sue, live in Southern California, where they have three grown children. See the complete collection of Ray Comfort books and videos here.