The Beatles and Christianity have an intriguing history together. While none of the adult Beatles — John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr — professed faith in God, the young band members had various levels of involvement with Christian faith and beliefs.
Lennon and McCartney both sang in church choirs when they were growing up, Lennon at St Peter’s in Woolton (where, in 1956, he was introduced to McCartney) and McCartney at St Barnabas’ Church near Penny Lane. While both also attended ‘youth club’ — predominantly to meet girls! — neither came from strongly religious families and neither cared much for the moral discipline imposed by the Church.
Harrison and Starr (or, rather, Starkey) did not have a religious upbringing and attended church only rarely. Little Richie Starkey attended St Silas (Church of England) Primary School and would have had to tolerate religious studies lessons, and Harrison’s mother was vaguely Catholic but the whole family showed no real interest in church attendance.
The only other childhood church link that merits a mention is that Lennon would often climb the fence with his mates to gain entry to the spacious grounds of Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children’s home near Lennon’s home on Menlove Avenue. Later in life, this ‘playground’ gave Lennon such idyllic memories that he wrote the classic song ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’.
As Beatles — when fame later came their way — they would often be asked about their religious views at press conferences. They tended to give short, vague answers that were aimed at not causing offence: “Well, we believe there’s a God or something out there but we don’t really think about it too much. But if people want to believe in God or Jesus, well that’s fine. Good luck to them.”
This took a turn for the worse in 1966 when Lennon made a passing comment in an English newspaper interview that, among teens, The Beatles were “more popular than Jesus”. When the article was reprinted in the religiously conservative United States a few months later, it caused uproar. This led to threats on Lennon’s life, burnings of Beatles albums and a major attack on the group by the US media.
Oddly, Lennon’s claim, in its original context, was probably quite true. If you asked a 16-year-old girl in England in 1966 if she’d prefer to spend time with Jesus or Paul McCartney, I’m guessing she would have nominated Macca!
Beyond that, well, there’s almost nothing in The Beatles and Christianity story. In the late 1970s, after watching Christian tele-evangelists, Lennon declared himself a born-again Christian and began writing Christian-themed songs, but Yoko Ono quickly talked him out of it.
The only other noteworthy comment to make is that in 2006, Steve Turner released a well-researched book called The Gospel According to The Beatles, which not only delved into the religious beliefs of each Beatle but also dissected some of their lyrics with Christian links.
Can you find elements of Christian faith in the work of The Beatles? Yes, undoubtedly, but then, for those who want to, you can find Christian references in everything from Winnie the Pooh stories to Disney movies to Harry Potter!
Anytime you sing about love (‘All You Need Is Love’) or forgotten people (‘Eleanor Rigby’) or seeking wisdom (‘The Fool On The Hill’) or the Bible (‘Rocky Raccoon’) or Christ (‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’), then you can have a discussion about Christianity.
For those who think their troubles are “here to stay” and only believe in yesterday, well, Jesus offers us hope and a future. I’m a big fan of Beatles music but I’m a bigger fan of Jesus. In my life, I love him more.
Mal Davies is a Salvation Army officer serving in Geelong