That’s the question many of you are asking upon seeing the title of this blog post. It’s a ridiculous title, regardless of what you believe about Jesus or the Beatles. But my friends and family in Walnut Ridge, AR know exactly why I have chosen such a title.
Many members from a local church in town have decided to remind everyone that Jesus, the God of the universe and creator of all things, is in fact more popular than the Beatles.
Now I know what you are thinking. What…..why?
Allow me to explain.
First, some history (for those unfamiliar with The Beatles history in Walnut Ridge).
In September of 1964, The Beatles landed at a small airport in Walnut Ridge. Hands were shaken, photographs taken, and then they boarded a plane to New York City to conclude their first American tour. At that time, the Beatles were undoubtedly the most popular Rock n’ Roll band. The mid sixties was the height of Beatlesmania around the world. For the small, agrarian town of Walnut Ridge, this was a big deal. Although the encounter was brief, many citizens within Walnut Ridge can nostalgically retell the day they got to meet The Beatles, who were not only a popular band back then, but a legendary one today.
In an effort to promote the community, Walnut Ridge has embraced this brief encounter with arguably the worlds greatest rock band. For the past three years the city has held an annual festival celebrating the Beatles, entitled “Beatles at the Ridge.” Store owners decorate their buildings with the faces of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Bright colors and song lyrics are seen on the sidewalks, storefronts, and even faces of the citizens in Walnut Ridge. Bands from all over the United States attend, as well as an imitation Beatles band which caps off the festival. Vendors rent booths selling food and a variety of different knick-knacks, much like you would see at a fair.
It’s a wonderful festival. Now I know the cynical always want to ask: All this because the Beatles landed briefly in Walnut Ridge?
And I understand. I have made that comment myself. But it’s not about the Beatles. It’s about a small community coming together (no pun intended) and having fun. The festival boosts the morale of its citizens as well as its economy. One local business owner told me that having the festival was like having an additional month in the year!
Now, to the sign.
If you are still scratching you head trying to figure out why a church would be concerned about a popularity contest between God and The Beatles, allow me to enlighten you.
In an interview in 1966, John Lennon made the comment that the Beatles had become more popular with the youth of the world than Jesus Christ. John expressed his belief that Christianity was in decline, largely due in part to the conduct of Christians.
When news of this interview reached the Southern United States, The Beatles were banned from many radio stations and their records publicly burned in protest. The Ku-Klux Klan, hardly recognized as a “christian” organization (no matter what they say otherwise), began picketing Beatles concerts by nailing records to burning crosses and delivering threats.
But wait a second, did John blaspheme Jesus’ name? Let’s take a look at the official transcript of what John said in his interview with Maureen Cleave.
‘Christianity will go, ‘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.’
As already noted, John believed that Christianity would “shrink”. He believed that the Christian religion would become less and less popular in the United Kingdom, and the United States. Was he wrong? I don’t think so. Ever since the end of the second World War Christianity has been “shrinking” in the old world. Ironically, many abandoned cathedrals and monasteries are now popular recording studios for musicians. In the U.S. the same can be said, but at a slower rate.
In regards to popularity, Johns statement taken by itself, appears confusing. Was John saying that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus? And if he did, what was the point? What’s the point in saying, “We are more popular than Jesus“?
Was that the point John was trying to make? Because if it was, not only is he wrong, but apparently incredibly arrogant as well. Even atheists would agree that Jesus is by far more popular than the Beatles. But then again, is this a popularity contest?
Like all things, we must examine Johns comments in light of its context. And we must allow John to clarify his comments for us. This calls for reason. Unfortunately I am convinced that many people are incapable of reason, especially when they feel their belief systems threatened. So before we light our torches and grab pitchforks (like the KKK), let’s study this further.
In a television interview months later, John was asked to respond to his previous comment and to the reaction he was receiving from the American press. To which John responded,
“If I said television was more popular than Jesus, I might’ve gotten away with it. I just happened to be talking to a friend and I used the Beatles as a remote thing, not as what I think…I just said they as having more influence on kids and things, than anything else, including Jesus. But I said to this to him in that way, which is the wrong way.”
Were the Beatles more influential to youth during the height of Beatlesmania? Of course they were. Especially in the U.K. Do I believe that this was a good thing? Absolutely not. But that does not mean what John said was false. It’s not mine or the churches job to stick up for the popularity of Jesus. I do not believe that is found within the Great Commission. In fact, did not Jesus teach us to expect the world to hate Him and us? But I guess I read my Bible too much.
“In reference to England, we meant more to kids than Jesus did, and religion. At that time. I wasn’t knocking it or putting it down, I was just saying it. That was a fact. And it’s truth, more for England than here, I’m not saying we are better or greater or comparing us with Jesus Christ as a person or God as a thing. Whatever it is, I said what I said and it was wrong, or it was taken wrong.”
So there ya go. Even if we took Johns original comments by themselves, he did not claim to be greater or even better than Jesus Christ. Should we even care if a secular artist claims to be more popular than Jesus? No. But as already proven, that is not what John was trying to prove.
The television interview cited was one of many apologies Lennon offered after having his comments published. He repeatedly reiterated in the future that he did not claim to be greater than Christ, only that the Beatles were more influential to young people than Christ during that time. I do not understand how anyone, including Jesus, could be offended by that. But honestly, I do not think this has anything to do with offense.
This is fundamentalism, pure and simple. Webster defines Fundamentalism as: a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles. Now fundamentalist churches would claim that the principles adhered to are found in the Bible. However, often times that is not the case. That is why you hear of churches enforcing specific dress codes, condemning certain genres of music, and protesting community events. It’s almost as if these churches have a problem with anything becoming more popular (or populated) than their local church. Here are some characteristics of fundamental churches. http://www.stufffundieslike.com/rules/
At the risk of saying too much (perhaps I already have), the only ones who could possibly be offended by Lennon’s comments (spoken a half a century ago), or the Beatles festival, are those who choose to be offended by it. Or those who have been completely misinformed. Or if you are a member of or support the KKK.
To my neighbors in Walnut Ridge, have fun this year at the Beatles festival. I hear it’s going to be the best one yet! And to my neighbors who are not Christian, please do not lump us all in the same basket! Grace and peace.