Thursday, November 27, 2008

Important Note For Popes

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John Lennon did not say "We are bigger than Jesus." What he said was: "We are bigger than Jesus."

He saw dwindling congregations, clergy who spoke gobbledegook or who openly admitted that they didn't believe in God, and made the not very controversial suggestion that religion was declining. He cited the fact that a mere pop group had more influence on youngsters than Jesus did as evidence of this. It wasn't a boast, youthful or otherwise: it was an honest observation. He didn't rate the Beatles that highly. Just a band that made it very, very big.

I think that Paul McCartney went too far in saying that John was cajoling the church, saying "get out there, spread the Good News". True, some sources say that Lennon was converted to evangelical Christianity during the summer of 1977, but he'd given it up by Christmas. A few months later he tried Islam for a day or two.

He wasn't consistently anti-Christian - he made use of Gospel Choirs on some of his records - but he was surely too hostile to structures and organizations of any kind to ever really want the Church to do anything at all.


His remarks about the thick disciples ruining Christianity are, of course, naive: he seems to have been the kind of clever but uneducated person who uncritically accepted the contents of the last book he read.
("It's not that his mind is closed, but it's closed round whatever he believes at the time" as the offending article had it.) Cleverer people than him have been convinced by The Passover Plot; much cleverer people than him have created a figure called "Jesus" in their own image and convinced themselves that it's what lies behind the New Testament. Or else, just used "Jesus" as a place-holder for human goodness.

We are all Jesus. And we are all Hitler. Lennon wasn't the first person to use the world "Jesus" in that way, and he certainly wasn't the last.

He wasn't a Christian, but he was an honest seeker and it's a shame that the-Beatles-are-more-popular-than-Jesus is the only bit anyone remembers.

13 comments:

Mike Taylor said...

Since John's actual words are a matter of public record, we might as well lug them out here where everyone can see them:

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I'm right and I'll be proved right. We are more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary."

I'm as big a Beatles fan as the next man, and I would love to find a way to interpret that quote somehow other than as contemptuous, but so far I've not been able to do it. Without tying myself into knots, I can't persuade myself that John meant anything different from exactly what he said.

Keith Schooley said...

John's remark was contemptuous. It was also youthful and foolish and silly, and not really worth us tying ourselves in knots over. It's funny that the one line that everyone focuses on is the one that was demonstrably true at the time he said it. It also didn't matter. Christianity was never a popularity contest.

John was an arrogant man. I don't think there can be any serious doubt about that. You don't get to be the biggest band in the world, and hold that position for several years, without some arrogance. Some of us think he was too arrogant to recognize that he desperately needed a good collaborator, but that's beside the point. Arrogant people tend to make big, foolish pronouncements, and John made more than his share. That has nothing to do with his talent, his creativity, with what it actually was that the rest of us valued, and still value, about him.

Andrew Rilstone said...

"Experience has sown few seeds of doubt in him: not that his mind is closed, but it's closed round whatever he believes at the time. 'Christianity will go.' he said "It will vanish and shrink. I needn't argue about that. I'm right and I'll be proved right. We are more popular than Jesus now. I don't know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it which ruins it for me.' He is reading extensively about religion.

Mike Taylor said...

Just to be clear ... I have no argument at all with you, Keith, about Lennon's talent and creativity. I am a huge fan.

To me, the great tragedy of the Beatles is that nothing(*) either Lennon or McCartney did afterwards came close to attaining the magic that their work together routinely achieved. Which is particularly strange when you think that for maybe two thirds of the Beatles' recording career, their collaboration was nominal at best. Still, it seems that each of them was pushed to higher heights just be having the other one around. It's certainly hard to imagine Paul even having released material as inconsequential as, for example, 80% of the first _McCartney_ album if he'd had John looking over his shoulder.

Lennon's tragedy is that he didn't see that he needed a collaborator; McCartney's is that he realised he did need one, but never found one who could really make it work for him, despite trying out several candidates.

*sigh*

(*) When I say "nothing", obviously I am overlooking the occasional one-off, such as "Maybe I'm Amazed". But that's the point: such classics _were_ one-offs.

Gavin Burrows said...

Mike Taylor said:
To me, the great tragedy of the Beatles is that nothing(*) either Lennon or McCartney did afterwards came close to attaining the magic that their work together routinely achieved.

As Lennon himself said when they split up, the last few Beatles albums had essentially been solo tracks stitched together, with the other Beatles playing on them. (When they did, which wasn't always.)

And I'd argue that Plastic Ono Band is a better album than anything the Beatles put out!

dagonet said...

But then it could be worse. One could be a Dave Sim fan.
Have just gotten hold of the first half of Cerebus: who is the (intentionally)fake Regency Elf? Lighball Nimrod?

Andrew Rilstone said...

Lennon's tragedy is that he didn't see that he needed a collaborator...

Er...Yoko Ono?

Andrew Rilstone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew Rilstone said...

Let us suppose that we were debating the relative sizes of our fathers. The proposition "My Dad is bigger than your Dad" could be taken in two ways -- "My Dad is remarkably big" or "Your Dad is remarkably small." To work out which of the two applied, you would have to look at the context. If my Dad was a notorious short-arse, I might be saying "Your Dad is small. Absurdly, ridiculously small, why my Dad is bigger than your Dad!". On the other hand, if your Dad was well know to be a vertiable giant, then it would be more likely that I was saying "My Dad is gigantic; huge, vast, enormous: why my Dad is bigger than your Dad."

When John Lennon said "My pop group is bigger than your religion", the context was very clear -- he had just asserted that Christianity was shrinking and declining. Very clearly, he was issuing a taunt (that Christianity was very small) not making a boast (that the Beatles were very big.) This is what Paul McCartney said (on the "Anthology") that he took him to mean; and this is what the Beatle's press release and semi-apology stated that he meant at the time:

"What he said and meant was that in the last 50 years the Church in England and therefore Christ has suffered decline in interest. He did not mean to boast about the Beatles's fame. He meant to point out that the Beatles effect appeared to be a more immediate one upon certainly the younger generation."

James Kabala said...

The media are following their usual practice of hyping a non-story, as L'Osservatore Romano already said the same thing in 1966that it said in the recent editorial, even if they were then somewhat confused about who the Beatles were.

The August 14, 1966 New York Times reported:

"VATICAN ACCEPTS LENNON'S APOLOGY

ROME, Aug. 13 (UPI)--The Vatican City newspaper L'Osservatore Romano accepted John Lennon's apology Saturday for his remarks about Jesus."

Source: http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FB0C1FFD395F16738DDDAD0994D0405B868AF1D3&scp=1&sq=%22Vatican%20accepts%20Lennon's%22&st=cse

You have to pay to read the rest of the article, but some selections can be found for free in an article at http://www.beatlessweden.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=61

"The Vatican, while recognizing that the remarks were made 'off-handedly and not impiously,' also said that 'the protest the remark raised showed that some subjects must not be dealt with lightly and in a profane way, not even in the world of beatniks [sic].'"

Andrew Rilstone said...

And I'd argue that Plastic Ono Band is a better album than anything the Beatles put out!

Imagine that I'd just drawn a really stunningly clever analogy, showing that "Plastic Ono Band" is to "Rubber Soul" as "The Pact" is to "The Coming of Galactus." ("Mind Games" is "Captain Victory", obviously.)

Andrew Rilstone said...

Imagine that I'd just drawn a really stunningly clever analogy, showing that "Plastic Ono Band" is to "Rubber Soul" as "The Pact" is to "The Coming of Galactus."

It isn't hard to do.

Gavin Burrows said...

"Mind Games" is "Captain Victory", obviously.

Captain Victory is Double Fantasy, surely.

Could Sometime In New York City be Mr. A, or would you accuse me of "no consistency too"?