Still More Popular Than Jesus

“Christianity will go; it will vanish and shrink. We’re more popular than Jesus now – I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.”

This statement, made by the Beatles’ John Lennon to Maureen Cleave of London’s Evening Standard on this day in 1966, led to widespread protest when reprinted in the United States a few months later. American Christians staged public burnings of Beatles recordings and memorabilia, radio stations refused to play their music, concerts were cancelled, and the Vatican even jumped into the fray. Beatlemania fizzled and the band broke up. But if Lennon was sincere at his press conference later that summer, although his initial prediction about Christianity was faulty, his estimation of Jesus’ popularity relative to that of pop culture icons like himself was and is painfully accurate.

Let me be clear. Christ’s preeminence is undisputed. A BBC poll ranked Lennon the eighth greatest Briton of all time. Eighth. In England. In 2002. More and more people will say, “Lennon who?” as time progresses, especially among non-Western populations. And Christianity isn’t going anywhere. Still, I think these words from his press conference are insightful:

“I suppose if I had said television was more popular than Jesus, I would have gotten away with it, but I just happened to be talking to a friend and I used the words ‘Beatles’ as a remote thing…. I just said ‘they’ are having more influence on kids and things than anything else, including Jesus.”

Lennon clarified that he meant in England, so he was quite possibly correct. Today, more than two thirds of Britain’s young adults claim no religious affiliation. And forecasts based on attendance demographics are awful.

“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 [in the U.S.]. I’m not saying that we’re better or greater, or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God.”

Nobody wants to hear that the Western Church is in decline–not on March 4, 1966; not on March 4, 2009. But Lennon was right that the messages that are reaching kids are increasingly those of Britney, Lil Wayne, and Coldplay. Lennon was a talented, influential artist who made a largely absurd statement. But no amount of muscle flexing by the American church in 1966 or in 2009 can reverse the Western church’s current decline. The solution lies elsewhere.


~ by shad on March 4, 2009.

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