The scandal that erupted in 1966 after the Beatles’ John Lennon’s claimed that he and his three fellow English pop stars were more popular than Jesus is well known. Less known is the fact that in 1968 Lennon announced to his astounded band mates: “I have something very important to tell you all. I am Jesus Christ. I’m back again.”
I didn’t learn about this episode from a Christian source, but rather from the Friday supplement in the Israeli newspaper Maariv. Unintended as it was, the article was published just as Israel was hit by a major snowstorm, giving Maariv readers plenty of time to pore over the story.
Written by Eyal Regev, head of the Land of Israel and Archeology Department at Bar Ilan University, the feature was titled “The Secret Religion of John Lennon,” and was a summarization of a larger study Regev had done on the subject a year earlier.
Lennon’s well-known fascination with Jesus ended brutally when born-again Christian Mark David Chapman shot him dead in 1980. As a committed Christian, Chapman could no longer tolerate Lennon’s anti-Christian message, and decided to put an end to it once and for all in the most violent way possible.
As Regev suggests, Lennon was put to death for no other reason than preaching his Jewish hero’s message that “love is all you need.” Regev goes on to hint that Lennon even predicted his own death in the 1969 song “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” in which he sings, “Christ you know it ain’t easy, You know how hard it can be. The way things are going they’re gonna crucify me.”
Fascinated with Jesus as he was, Lennon believed that Christianity had twisted the savior’s message. In another famous interview from the same year, which followed up his 1966 remarks in the American teen magazine Datebook, Lennon told London’s Evening Standard, “I believe what Jesus actually said – the basic things he laid down about love and goodness – and not what people say he said.”
These and other such statements have led Regev to the conclusion that Lennon was actually an apostle of a new, secular religion that believes in some kind of cosmic love that will cure the hate that plagues humanity. In “Tomorrow Never Knows” Lennon preaches this new religion: “Turn off your mind relax and float down stream, It is not dying, it is not dying, Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void, It is shining, it is shining. Yet you may see the meaning of within, It is being, it is being, Love is all and love is everyone, It is knowing, it is knowing.”
According to Regev, Lennon’s song “Imagine” is his new religion’s constitution, under which people are saving themselves, instead of waiting on God to save them. Lennon’s ongoing influence, so suggests Regev, is shown in today’s new religion of humanism.