John Lennon: “We’re more popular than Jesus”

The following article was published in the London Evening Standard newspaper on 4 March 1966. A fascinating portrait of John Lennon's home life, it was written by Maureen Cleave, a close friend to The Beatles.

The piece was headlined "How does a Beatle live? John Lennon lives like this". It grew notorious in later months when Lennon's comments about Christianity - "We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity" - were republished around the world.

It was this time three years ago that The Beatles first grew famous. Ever since then, observers have anxiously tried to gauge whether their fame was on the wax or on the wane; they foretold the fall of the old Beatles, they searched diligently for the new Beatles (which was as pointless as looking for the new Big Ben).

At last they have given up; The Beatles' fame is beyond question. It has nothing to do with whether they are rude or polite, married or unmarried, 25 or 45; whether they appear on Top Of The Pops or do not appear on Top of the Pops. They are well above any position even a Rolling Stone might jostle for. They are famous in the way the Queen is famous. When John Lennon's Rolls-Royce, with its black wheels and its black windows, goes past, people say: 'It's the Queen,' or 'It's The Beatles.' With her they share the security of a stable life at the top. They all tick over in the public esteem - she in Buckingham Palace, they in the Weybridge-Esher area. Only Paul remains in London.

The Weybridge community consists of the three married Beatles; they live there among the wooded hills and the stockbrokers. They have not worked since Christmas and their existence is secluded and curiously timeless. 'What day is it?' John Lennon asks with interest when you ring up with news from outside. The fans are still at the gates but The Beatles see only each other. They are better friends than ever before.

Ringo and his wife, Maureen, may drop in on John and Cyn; John may drop in on Ringo; George and Pattie may drop in on John and Cyn and they might all go round to Ringo's, by car of course. Outdoors is for holidays.

They watch films, they play rowdy games of Buccaneer; they watch television till it goes off, often playing records at the same time. They while away the small hours of the morning making mad tapes. Bedtimes and mealtimes have no meaning as such. 'We've never had time before to do anything but just be Beatles,' John Lennon said.

He is much the same as he was before. He still peers down his nose, arrogant as an eagle, although contact lenses have righted the short sight that originally caused the expression. He looks more like Henry VIII than ever now that his face has filled out - he is just as imperious, just as unpredictable, indolent, disorganised, childish, vague, charming and quick-witted. He is still easy-going, still tough as hell. 'You never asked after Fred Lennon,' he said, disappointed. (Fred is his father; he emerged after they got famous.) 'He was here a few weeks ago. It was only the second time in my life I'd seen him - I showed him the door.' He went on cheerfully: 'I wasn't having him in the house.'

His enthusiasm is undiminished and he insists on its being shared. George has put him on to this Indian music. 'You're not listening, are you?' he shouts after 20 minutes of the record. 'It's amazing this - so cool' Don't the Indians appear cool to you? Are you listening? This music is thousands of years old; it makes me laugh, the British going over there and telling them what to do. Quite amazing.' And he switched on the television set.

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 will be proved right. We're more popular than Jesus now; I don't know which will go first - rock 'n' roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me.' He is reading extensively about religion.

He shops in lightning swoops on Asprey's these days and there is some fine wine in his cellar, but he is still quite unselfconscious. He is far too lazy to keep up appearances, even if he had worked out what the appearances should be - which he has not.

He is now 25. He lives in a large, heavily panelled, heavily carpeted, mock Tudor house set on a hill with his wife Cynthia and his son Julian. There is a cat called after his aunt Mimi, and a purple dining room. Julian is three; he may be sent to the Lycde in London. 'Seems the only place for him in his position,' said his father, surveying him dispassionately. 'I feel sorry for him, though. I couldn't stand ugly people even when I was five. Lots of the ugly ones are foreign, aren't they?'

We did a speedy tour of the house, Julian panting along behind, clutching a large porcelain Siamese cat. John swept past the objects in which he had lost interest: 'That's Sidney' (a suit of armour); 'That's a hobby I had for a week' (a room full of model racing cars); 'Cyn won't let me get rid of that'(a fruit machine). In the sitting room are eight little green boxes with winking red lights; he bought them as Christmas presents but never got round to giving them away. They wink for a year; one imagines him sitting there till next Christmas, surrounded by the little winking boxes.

He paused over objects he still fancies; a huge altar crucifix of a Roman Catholic nature with IHS on it; a pair of crutches, a present from George; an enormous Bible he bought in Chester; his gorilla suit.

'I thought I might need a gorilla suit,' he said; he seemed sad about it. 'I've only worn it twice. I thought I might pop it on in the summer and drive round in the Ferrari. We were all going to get them and drive round in them but I was the only one who did. I've been thinking about it and if I didn't wear the head it would make an amazing fur coat - with legs, you see. I would like a fur coat but I've never run into any.'

One feels that his possessions - to which he adds daily - have got the upper hand; all the tape recorders, the five television sets, the cars, the telephones of which he knows not a single number. The moment he approaches a switch it fuses; six of the winking boxes, guaranteed to last till next Christmas, have gone funny already. His cars - the Rolls, the Mini-Cooper (black wheels, black windows), the Ferrari (being painted black) - puzzle him. Then there's the swimming pool, the trees sloping away beneath it. 'Nothing like what I ordered,' he said resignedly. He wanted the bottom to be a mirror. 'It's an amazing household,' he said. 'None of my gadgets really work except the gorilla suit - that's the only suit that fits me.'

Also on this day...

Want more? Visit the Beatles history section.

55 responses on “John Lennon: “We’re more popular than Jesus”

    1. Jeffrey Yoder

      “Were” being the key word. Many people have come that were bigger than Jesus, but they never have any staying power. Jesus and true Christianity have stood the test of time and will for eternity.

      1. Rigby

        “Jesus and true Christianity have stood the test of time and will for eternity.”

        Seriously now, it has only been around for about 2000 years in millenia of human history and it’s already diminishing. Most of the world is either secular (W-Europe) or Islamic.

        1. Joe Post author

          I don’t really think this is the place for a discussion on the longevity (projected or otherwise) of Christianity, Islam or any other form of religious belief. The Beatles Bible is for believers in The Beatles.

        2. verbumreale

          “….and it’s already diminishing. ”

          People have been predicting the demise of Christianity ever since it began. And I hate to break it to you but Western Europe does not comprise “most of the world”. Take a look at Africa, Asia and the middle east. Christianity is thriving there. And the growth of Islam has been exaggerated.

      2. Richard Boene

        If the Beatles didn’t have any staying power, why are people still talking about them? Why are people still listening to their music and analyzing their place in history? And why do websites like this one exist?

      3. J Nagarya

        “True” Christianity? Like the “Christians” who kill/murder in the name of “God”? Like the moron who murdered John Lennon because his “Christian” principles were offended by John’s comment?

        “Man is the only animal with the True Religion. Several of them.” — Mark Twain.

        (It never fails that some arrogant, religioimperialist would interject their “superior” but unevidenced belief even when off topic. Substantiate your “for eternity”.)

        This actually has nothing whatever to do with Christ, Christianity, or the US — except for stupid bigots: in the interview, John was talking about BRITISH teenagers. It was the taking of the quote out of context that creating the false “controversy”.

        And the fact is that The Beatles were more popular with teenagers, also in the US, than was Christ. That was especially true for teenagers who were other than “Christian,” such as Jewish.

        And as of 2013, The Beatles were still outselling not only Elvis, who is dead, but also The Rolling Stones, who could be mistaken for being dead.

    2. Tweeze

      Once again a correction must be made – and a very important one – John did NOT say ‘bigger than Jesus’. He said ‘more popular’. And he said ‘more popular than Jesus NOW’. People took this comment and have distorted it.

      John speaks from his own limited perspective. All he is seeing are a generation of youth attending the concerts screaming and idolizing the concept of the Beatles, he is experiencing ‘cripples’ being lead to their dressing room as if the ambience of the Beatles was somehow going to have rejuventating effects on their condition, he is reluctantly hob-nobbing with the elite who by their very daily lives essentially do not adorn their existence with Christian beliefs – etc. John made a bold statement – as he is oft to do. Then a collective of holier-than-thou types suddenly realized the error of their ways – perhaps. Instead of making a minor adjustment in their lifestyles they chose to distort John’s comment, as you have, and react in knee-jerk fashion. How interesting the record burnings to come, eh? Very Nazi-like.

      And yet, it never occurred to these people that when they bought a Beatles album – nobody twisted their arm, you know – that maybe they could have used the money spent on that album – or any album for that matter – and put the cash toward a more Christian oriented endeavor. It probably shocked these people with a sudden self-realization of the possible error of their potentially sinful ways. The next day? Would anyone be surprised that they queued up at the check-out line to spend their expendable dollars on a Johnny Cash album? Bottom line? If you fail to read the phrase properly that is your own fault. If you fail to read the entire article in its proper context that, again, is your fault. But one shouldn’t blame John for ones own shortcomings. That has a tendency to convey that in some personal instances he may have been absolutely correct.

      Whether Christianity shrinks and vanishes – he was probably only half right. The government imposes its will on the people and, as you can clearly see, the government continues to pass laws and Constitutional Admendments appear to fly in the face of staunch Christian belief. The government, you see, is NOT a Christian organization. It tries to attain these ideals but ultimately fails by placing other factors ahead of the Christian ideal. The 1960s seem somehow more Holy than the 2000s in retrospect. Being governed as it were, society itself shrinks from Christianity. Thus, John was correct. Whether Christianity vanishes? Well, the bastion of the faith itself is ones own heart and mind. Perhaps one can prevent it vanishing entirely, but that demands the discipline I mentioned earlier. Even the Pope occasionally makes alterations along the way that severs a constraint once binding in the faith. Once done, the shrinkage simply happens and all that was before quite has simply vanished.

      1. J Nagarya

        John was correct. But he was talking exclusively about BRITISH youth GANGS, and in a context larger than Beatle fans.

        It took US-based racist “Christians” (primarily Southern segregationists who opposed “race-mixing” — which in their minds included whites, such as The Beatles, singing “black” music) to rip the correct comment out of its context and dishonestly distort its actual meaning to their own hateful ends.

      2. J Nagarya

        All well said and correct — except —

        The First Amendment to the US Constitution expressly separates “religion” from gov’t. Gov’t is about facts and fundamentals; “religion” is about unevidenced belief.

        Thus in the US one has the right to hold any religion — or none. The vast majority of those in the US who claim to be religious also claim to be Christians — but at the same time pretend — lie — that they are a persecuted minority, simply because they do not respect the right not to be “Christian”.

        And today we have the Pope, continuing the lie, by “forgiving” John for making a statement of fact against fervently-held fantasy.

  1. robert

    The thing is factually John was wrong. They weren’t more popular that Jesus then they aren’t now. They seemed to be – but were not.

    Pulling all the religious points aside, John was just wrong on the facts. In fact even the comments John made surrounding that comment ‘Christianity will go,’ he said. ‘It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I will be proved right. .. ”

    Well, he has been proved wrong. That’s just the way it is.

    1. josephbrush

      @robert Time will tell. I guess you have never been in an half empty church. In the western world, Catholic churches are reeling from sex scandals. Christianity hasn’t vanished but it is definitely shrinking.

      1. verbumreale

        “Christianity hasn’t vanished but it is definitely shrinking.”

        If you look beyond your western-centric view of the world to places like Africa, Asia and the middle east you will see that you are definitely wrong. And even in the US, the degree to which Christianity is shrinking has largely been exaggerated.

        1. Joseph Brush

          I do not have a “western-centric view of the world”! I have spent months living in Asia. Christians are in the minority in the Middle East and are being massacred there as well as in Africa (Nigeria and Kenya). I have seen half empty churches in the American southwest and on the eastern seaboard (probably due to the molestation scandals).
          Christianity in Asia is in the minority compared with religions such as Hinduism, Islam, and followers of Buddha among others.

          1. J Nagarya

            Correct.

            Christians are also being slaughtered in the Middle East — the birthplace of three major “religions,” and consequently the bloodiest acerage on the globe — by this-and-that faction claiming to be Muslim, which is the second “religion” based upon the so-called “Bible”.

    2. J Nagarya

      FACT: They were more popular with their fans — and youth generally.

      FACT: John’s comments were confined to BRITAIN and were about YOUTH GANGS.

      Meanwhile, in the pull quote from the article — which “Christians” don’t read in their rush to defend their falsely-wounded egos — is this:

      “He paused over objects he still fancies; a huge altar crucifix of a Roman Catholic nature with IHS on it; . . . an enormous Bible he bought in Chester”.

      Unlike 99.99 per cent of “Christians,” John actually READ about “religion”.

    3. J Nagarya

      Yeah: we’ve seen a resurgence of “Christian” hatred of “bible”-based Islam.

      But I wouldn’t call that a resurgence of actual Christianity, the foundation of which is not to hate. “All You Need is Love” is the central message Christ is said to have preached.

  2. JulioCubillo

    John, as EVERYONE of us, had the right of be express what he was thinking, even if was wrong. For me as a Christian he was wrong, but was not saying that the Beatles were BETTER than Jesus, he just said that; at that specific moment, the were more popular for british young people than Jesus; and from that point of view, he was thinking that some day Christianity was going to dissapear. Was just an opinion. John was not a Christian (a least in practice), so he had the right of thinking such way.

    1. J Nagarya

      So, if one is a practicing Christian, one doesn’t get to exercise freedom of thought?

      And, if so, isn’t that totalitarianism?

      John was FACTUALLY correct about The Beatles being more popular than Christ with BRITISH youth. And that certainly included Beatles fans.

      As for Christianity fading away? It never really got off the ground; that which is called “Christianity” is not actually Christianity (which was overtly anti-materialism/capitalism); it is a cultural distortion of texts most “Christians” have never read. That’s why so-called “Christian” nations go to war against others at the drop of a perceived insult to their “religion,” all the while spouting self-justifying slogans.

      It is impossible for that which doesn’t exist to fade away.

  3. robert

    I think everyone is in agreement that John has the right to his opinion. I don’t find any poster here challenging that.

    As for me, I was merely trying to point out, that regardless of his opinion and his right to it, John was just incorrect on the facts. That is just the truth of the matter.

    As John himself sang, “All I want is some truth.”

    Well, that’s the truth.

    1. J Nagarya

      You provide no substantiation for your claims, even while rejecting facts to which you object.

      John was talking about BRITISH youth — Mods and Rockers — with whom, there is no doubt, The Beatles were more popular than ANY “religion”.

      Your faction is not a persecuted minority — and continues to engage in its own pet persecutions of various others.

  4. robert

    Well, I’m not sure how much time will tell. John made those comments 46 years ago. Christianity hasn’t shrunk – globally it has grown (it’s a global world not a western world). and as for the Catholic Church, their passing is akin to loosing Milli Vanilli as far as I am concerned. Bottom line is that Christianity is bigger now than in 1966 globally – look at the MEGA churches all over the world. Do the research.
     
    Then let me know how much time has to pass to declare that John was plain wrong on this one. An ironic point is the famous picture of John in his NYC t-shirt – he’s a got a cross around his neck. Take a look -it’s there.

      1. josephbrush

        I know it’s a global world, I have over 40 different passport entry stamps in my passport. Much of the world does not practice Christianity. There are other religions too.
        I don’t have to declare John to be right or wrong because the controversy doesn’t end today, it goes on.
        John wore a cross around his neck for how long, five minutes?

  5. Jonathan

    Love the fact that Lennon had a gorilla suit (apparently the only suit that still fitted him !!).
    He is disappointed that he was the only one who bought one, he wanted them to drive around in Ferrari`s
    I bet he got the idea from the car chase with men in gorilla suits in the film “The Pink Panther” . It was released in Spring 1964

  6. Adolfo

    There are no facts here, religion just tries to keep people blind, a mere invention for taking advantage on powerless minds, lots of people actually ignore Christianity origin. As many of us once decided on becoming a believer, whoever that decides on not believing is in his/her right. I do trust in God, and I do love Beatles’ music. God doesn’t mean being religious!!

  7. Nick

    Leave it to the American right wing to have whipped themselves into a frenzy over John’s honest remarks. These were the same “Jesus lovers” who used fire hoses and dogs to oppress black Americans. Today, they value guns more than they value human life. Some things never change.

    Horrifically, John may have inadvertently planted the seeds of his own death with his remarks. His killer came from the bible belt and was a “Jesus freak” during his youth. It’s possible that coming from that type of background and being mentally unbalanced made him the kind of person who would eventually react in a heinous way towards someone who made comments that he considered blasphemous. The killer also wanted to be somebody and killing a celebrity would make him famous but there were many celebrities to choose from. Maybe the reason he targeted John goes back to John’s Christ statement, given the killer’s background. It is possible that John inadvertently started a ticking time bomb with the Maureen Cleave interview that exploded years later and resulted in his death.

    What’s vanished and shrunk are true Christian values. John was right about that. Look at how the American right wing considers anyone who is legitimately in need of government assistance a moocher and a freeloader.

  8. passerbuy4

    I fully agree with Tweeze he is the only one to get what John Lennon meant.
    Example – In 1973 Sunderland football club won the FA Cup Final.
    Every body was talking about Sunderland evan the woman,so that mean`s Sunderland where more popular than JESUS,until it wore off for about a month.
    After the Sunderland story wore off then JESUS came back,and people started talking about JESUS again that`s what he meant,John Lennon evan said it at the original interview.

    1. J Nagarya

      You haven’t read the Maureen Cleave interview in which John stated the accurate observation.

      Those who hated — and hate — John Lennon mostly do so because they feel threatened by his honesty. He challenges not only their shaky beliefs, but also their behaviors, which are typically contrary to their professed “religious” values.

      In short, John was — and is — hated by many because he threatens their lies with reality-based truth. But it is children who don’t like their cherished beliefs being challenged — because they aren’t certain and secure in their beliefs to begin with — for fear the beliefs will be shown to be false.

  9. Elskidor

    Jesus has been in a decline for decades, and will be but mere memory as a historical figure or a fictional one, and the things he did to better life and for the repeat genocides and mass murders done in his name, but the Beatles will always remain iconic for their good deeds and influence to music forever.

    I praise the Beatles for many many things, but mostly for inspiring my all time favorite musicians “Queen”. I find no praise to be given for Christianity, unless only to thank them for showing the world just how evil religion can be.

  10. jllove

    i think everyone should honestly leave john be, he is DEAD let it GO gosh, obviously everyone has a right to their own opinion, he had his, and i think he meant this comment in more of a “its the followers that are going to ruin christianity. The beatles were HUGE and anyone who disagrees is not fully aware of their success, they changed music history!

    1. J Nagarya

      They changed much more than music history. That’s why we still talk about them. This topic, as example, has nothing to do with music. It does reflect on the hatred of healthy spirit among, especially, Southern US white racists.

  11. Stacey

    One must remember that Jesus wasn’t very popular in His time, and He told people that they would be hated for following Him. But His influence today is undeniable, and continues growing. Nobody under the age of 20 knows or cares about the Beatles anymore. You have aging hippies who still think they were the greatest, but their popularity decreases each year as those aging hippies die off. Jesus is eternal and people are giving their lives to Him every day.

    1. Joe Post author

      “Nobody under the age of 20 knows or cares about the Beatles anymore.”

      I’m not going to argue about your other points, but on this one you’re flat-out wrong. Pay a visit to this site’s forum if you’re doubtful: we have loads of passionate teenage Beatles fans. Alternatively, go to a Paul McCartney concert and look at the range of ages. The Beatles are universal and people are giving their lives to Them every day.

    2. Jennifer

      Stacey, I think Jesus is bigger and better than the Beatles, too – but I don’t think you need to slag the Beatles down on Jesus’ behalf, and I disagree that no one under the age of 20 knows or cares about the Beatles. I went to a Paul McCartney concert this summer and I saw all ages represented – everyone from “aging hippies” to pre-teens. Jesus is eternal; the Beatles are really, really, really long-lasting.

    3. J Nagarya

      SUBSTANTIATE that it is growing. Or stop making that claim.

      As of 2013, The Beatles were still outselling everyone else — including Elvis, The Rolling Stones, and Bruce Springstein.

      And it isn’t “hippies” (about whom you know nothing, except as an insult) who are buying all those CDs. It’s the younger generations — including under 20 — that are.

      Not yourself being “eternal,” you cannot know the meaning of “eternal,” therefore cannot speak FACTUALLY to the issue.

      Last but not least, in view of the fact that you don’t like The Beatles (because you’re — ahem — Christian, to whom Christ said, “All You Need is Love”), why are you here?

  12. Deb M

    This is interesting. The event happened so long ago, but still people are talking about it, me too.

    When I read the whole remark, I could see that, unfortunately, John was right. In the time period that he made the remark, people were going crazy over the Beatles. Read about it; it was an en masse frenzy, and it was all over the world. I remember it, unbelievable.

    The other point John made about Christianity, it’s happening in our time. There are still those people who are so committed to Jesus Christ that they shine. They depend on him to the point where we see him in them, humble and kind……”Jesus was ok, ” John recognized.

    “But his disciples were thick and ordinary.” Unfortunately, there are increasing numbers of people who name Jesus as their own, but don’t really follow him. The numbers of people who really live to be like him are diminishing.

    John may have been perceptive, but he was not wise. Sometimes one should not blurt out everything he know to a mass audience. Unfortunately, John was shot and killed by one of those disciples he described.

      1. J Nagarya

        She’s saying that most “Christians” are phonies. They ignore the fact that being CHRISTIAN means obeying, in both spirit and action, a set of RULES. John summed up those RULES — as had many before him — in these words:

        “All You Need is Love”.

  13. montion

    The Beatles are bigger than Jesus in the sense that they appeal to atheists and Christians alike, whereas more people have been killed in the Biblical Jesus’ name than can be counted. But leave it to fundamentalist Christians to blow things on t of proportion. The album burnings was not the first time that “curious arts” have been burned in the name of religion.

  14. Alan Berg

    John Lennon havde helt ret de var sku større end Jesus, at der så var nogle tåber i syd staterne der faldt ned af stolen så ændre det ikke at de var meget større end Jesus, men hvad gør det?
    I må da forstå at gud ikke behøver nogen til at fortælle folk hvad der er rigtigt og forkert ellers ville han jo ikke være gud, vel ?
    Sjovt nok står folk i kø for at fortælle hvad der er rigtigt i denne sag.

    1. YS Short Tie Girl

      John Lennon was absolutely right they were so bigger than Jesus, that so were some fools in south states who fell off my chair so changing it is not that they were much bigger than Jesus, but what does it do?
      I must surely understand that God does not need anyone to tell people what is right and wrong otherwise he would not be god, right?
      Oddly enough people stand in line to tell what is right in this case.
      That was your text being translated.

Leave a reply