More Popular Than Jesus??

It’s now been just over 50 years ago that on Sunday, February 9, 1964 The Beatles made their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show and “Beatlemania” effectually (if not yet officially) took over American pop culture. Less than two months later, on April 4, 1964 the takeover did indeed become official as The Beatles firmly held the top five positions on the Billboard Hot 100 music chart. In the wake of the hysteria that followed them wherever they went, The Beatles themselves managed to maintain a pretty good image in the eyes of the American public. If not loved by one and all, they were at least considered harmless. That is, until July 29, 1966 when popular teen magazine Datebook published part of an interview with John Lennon that had appeared in the London Evening Standard nearly five months earlier.

“Christianity will go,” Lennon said. ”It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I’ll be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity”

Now, if you were around to be angered in the summer of ’66 when you first heard this, I’d venture a great big guess that it makes (at least some of) you angry all over again.

And if you were one of the angry ones then, you certainly weren’t the only one. Maureen Cleave, who’d conducted the original interview with Lennon, tried to explain that “John was certainly not comparing the Beatles with Christ. He was simply observing that so weak was the state of Christianity that the Beatles were, to many people, better known. He was deploring, rather than approving, this,” Her words did nothing to stop or even slow down the furor that followed.

There were calls for public burnings of Beatles’ records and (much to the chagrin and dismay of modern collectors) varied paraphernalia such as lunch boxes, toys, and wigs. Those venerable defenders of all that’s right and good, the Klu Klux Klan burned crosses with Beatles’ albums nailed to them while strangely claiming that not only were the Beatles blasphemous, but that they were not really ‘white’ either.. People were threatened with excommunication from their churches if they attended Beatles’ concerts. Some folks making claim to Christianity took the opportunity to let their lights shine by issuing public death threats to Lennon and the other Beatles.

Attempting appeasement, Lennon made these statements.

“I’m not anti-Christ or anti-religion or anti-God”. I’m not saying 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 was wrong, or was taken wrong, and now it’s all this.”

He continued his explanation. “If I’d have said television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it”, Lennon said. “In reference to England, 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.”

Now, lest you suspect otherwise, none of this is to defend John Lennon. He was, in many ways, indefensible and by many counts somewhat of a moral degenerate. His religious leanings were erratic; at times seeming very atheistic, and at others to be (at very best) agnostic. There’s another, much more important reason for dredging an almost forty-eight year old controversy up again.

Question #1: How much do you react to the truth? Truth is always easy to hear when it’s a boost to our ego; when it makes us feel better; when it’s what we want to hear. Problem is, truth doesn’t always come in a gift-box wrapped up all nice and pretty, and ready to be eagerly opened.

Take the relationship between Paul and the Galatian brethren. Those folks loved the apostle Paul. In fact they loved him so much that at one point it seems they were willing to pluck out their own eyes and give them to Paul! (Galatians 4:15) However, in the very next verse, Paul felt the need to ask if he’d become their enemy just because he told them the truth (Galatians 4:16).

It’s (way too) easy to become angry or confrontational when confronted with a truth we’d just as soon ignore or deny. Think about that as you consider Question #2.

Which is: How much of Lennon’s remark was (is) true? Is it the truth, that with some people, some things have been and still are “more popular than Jesus”? It’s probably best to read on before you give your final answer.

Courtesy of Merriam-Webster Online, here are a few related words to “popular”. (preferred, selected, desirable, liked, prominent, important, significant) There’s more, but these will do.

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. by (Mark 10:17-22 ESV).

The rich young ruler loved the truth until Jesus told him the one thing he lacked. And, in the end, his riches were more “popular” with him than was Jesus.

“If I’d have said television is more popular than Jesus, I might have got away with it”.

I don’t know if John Lennon would’ve gotten away with that or not, but can any of us really make the (effective) argument that with some, TV is not more “popular” than Jesus? I don’t think so. Do I really have to add anything here but the words, “Super Bowl” to make this point?

So, if Jesus were to look you square in the eye and say to you, “You lack one thing”…

Go, sell your TV…and spend more time at church services, spend more time in prayer, spend more time telling your children about me; and come, follow me.

Go, get out of bed…ten minutes earlier and get to Bible classes on time; and come, follow me.

Go get new friends…that won’t slow you down from doing what you know is right; and come, follow me.

Go, get new study habits…stop what you’ve been doing and read your Bible more; prepare for your Bible class; work to become a teacher; and come, follow me.

How do we respond to the truth? How much do we appreciate truth? Somehow, someway, somewhere along the way, we’ve got to understand that if our priority is not to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33) then just maybe there issomething in our lives more “popular” (preferred, selected, desirable, liked, prominent, important, significant) than Jesus. Time with our friends, sleeping in, watching TV, our computers, our cell phones, our jobs, and the list could (and does) go on.

Lennon was for sure wrong about one thing. He was wrong and will be proved wrong. Christianity will not die. It will be here long after rock 'n' roll is but a footnote in humankind's history. The kingdom of our Lord will stand forever. (Luke 1:332 Peter 1:11).

For those of us who are stakeholders in that kingdom, becoming angry at truth isn’t the solution: Unless we direct that anger at ourselves and we allow it to help move us in the direction our Lord would have us go.

~Teddy Horton