by James Zimmerman
On November 22nd, the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, reported that the Church has decided to forgive John Lennon for statements he made forty-two years ago. If this seems a long time to hold a grudge, compare this to the 359 years it took the Vatican to make peace with Galileo.
Lennon's offending words were spoken during a March 1966 interview: "Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink... 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." This comment, typical of Lennon for its sarcasm and honesty, touched off a mini-crusade, particularly in (where else?) the bible belt, where piles of Beatles albums and memorabilia were publicly burned and Christian leaders exhorted their flocks to shun Lennon and his blasphemy. Radio stations banned his music, and some concert bookings were cancelled.
This statement appeared on the fortieth anniversary of the release of the Beatles' White Album; fitting, considering the White Album is to the Beatles catalogue as Catholicism is to Christianity: the biggest, most self-indulgent, most violent in the collection.
The Vatican chalked Lennon's statements up to the "boasting of an English working-class lad struggling to cope with unexpected success." This seems to be an attempt to minimize his statements, however, as if they were spoken with no forethought; just the ramblings of a man drunk with fame. Coming from the same man who would later sing "I don't believe in Jesus" and who would invite his listeners to "imagine no religion," his 1966 words appear to be very much in line with his overall beliefs.
Lennon, in fact, never seemed too upset to be out of favor with the Vatican. He later said: "I always remember to thank Jesus for the end of my touring days; if I hadn't said that The Beatles were 'bigger than Jesus' and upset the very Christian Ku Klux Klan, well, Lord, I might still be up there with all the other performing fleas! God bless America. Thank you, Jesus."
Perhaps, in 359 years, Lennon's words will prove as true as Galileo's. In the meantime, I'm sure Lennon's ghost appreciates being let out of Catholic purgatory and into Catholic heaven, even though we all know he's been in Nirvana all along.