Atheist Advent Calendar – Day 8 – John Lennon, The World’s Most Famous Atheist?

John Lennon was murdered 33 years ago today.  He is perhaps the most famous atheist to have ever lived.

While still a member of the Beatles, he caused an enormous controversy by stating a view shared by all of the group’s members:

Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I’m right and I’ll 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 usual, the Vatican was decades late to the party “forgiving” Lennon for his comments in 2008:

 

Lennon never stopped provoking people, especially on the topic of religion.  As The Beatles were nearing the end of their run, Lennon included the chorus: “Christ, you know it ain’t easy/You know how hard it can be/The way things are going/They’re gonna crucify me” in his song “The Ballad of John and Yoko” which became the Beatles’ 17th and final #1 hit.

As a solo artist, Lennon continued expressing his doubts about a deity, most notably in the song “God” which is a litany of things that he doesn’t believe in in which he describes God as “a concept by which we measure our pain” and most famously in the hugely popular anthem, “Imagine”:

Early on, Lennon openly described himself as an atheist but later, he softened his stance to say “God” to him, was more a shared value of humanity:

I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.

Of course, Lennon was also a commercial songwriter and would occasionally include references to God as he knew this would make them more palatable to a wider audience.

One of the last songs he ever wrote, “Grow Old With Me” even had the refrain “God bless our love”.  But Lennon admitted that he was mostly envisioning this song as a wedding standard when he included this line. (And it became exactly that.  In fact, Shea and I used the demo version of “Grow Old With Me” in a slideshow at our wedding – even though we ruled out almost every other religious tradition from having the ceremony performed by a Minister to saying a prayer before the meal.)  

Naturally, the quote above and Lennon’s willingness to include references to God in a song to make it more commercial means that some people take these things as evidence that he was a theist or that he converted later in life or something.

But it’s pretty clear that Lennon wasn’t a believer, definitely in the traditional sense and likely in the broader sense as well.

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