John Lennon: A New Jesus?
Only after the Beatles started experimenting with drugs did they begin to talk openly about belief in God.
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When he became recognized as a leader, he began to empathize with the person Christians referred to as “the Lord.” He wondered whether Christ, like the Beatles, had had divinity thrust on him by over-zealous followers. Had Jesus been someone with a gift for storytelling, insight into the human condition, and the ability to foretell the future, who had been turned into a god figure against his will? John admired his central teachings of love, justice, and seeking the kingdom of heaven but felt that Jesus had been co-opted by people with a different agenda. He speculated that Jesus’ claim to be the son of God might have been a way of telling us that we’re all divine but that most of us don’t recognize it. When asked to nominate his heroes for the cover of Sgt. Pepper, John included Jesus, but it was eventually decided not to use this image. “It was just too controversial,” says designer Peter Blake. “I’m not even sure that he was actually made into a cut-out.”
In interviews John regularly alluded to biblical events and paraphrased memory verses. When asked by Mersey Beat about the origin of the name “Beatles” in 1961 he wrote: “It came in a vision—a man appeared on a flaming pie and said unto them, ‘From this day on you are Beatles with an A.’ Thank you, Mister Man, they said, thanking him.” This alluded in part to Saint Peter’s vision as recorded in Acts 10: “ And [he] saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth”; in part to the story told in Genesis 17 about the origin of Abraham’s name: “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him . . . Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee”; and (possibly) in part to the story in Isaiah 6: “Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.” In 1973 John referred to his “flaming pie” story as “imitation Bible stuff.”
In 1980, when asked why the Beatles would never reform, his reply alluded to at least three Gospel stories. “Do we have to divide the fish and the loaves for the multitudes again?” he said. “Do we have to get crucified again? Do we have to do the walking on water again because a whole pile of dummies didn’t see it the first time or didn’t believe it when they saw it? That’s what they’re asking. ‘Get off the cross. I didn’t understand it the first time. Can you do it again?’ No way. You can’t do things twice.”
Occasionally this empathy was so consuming that, as he later admitted, when he was under the influence of drugs, “I thought, ‘Oh, I must be Christ.’” His boyhood friend Pete Shotton told of a meeting John called in May 1968 to tell Paul, George, and Ringo that he was Jesus Christ reincarnated. He wanted an authorized statement to that effect put out. Apple’s press officer Derek Taylor, who was also present, listened attentively but wisely ignored the plea, knowing that the drugs would soon wear off and this new Jesus would go back to being John.