Harry's Gang: Christmas means love thy neighbor, and try to stick to it
December 25, 2020
It was an infamous utterance made more than five decades ago. “We’re more popular than Jesus now.” So said Beatles member John Lennon in 1966, during a newspaper interview, where he was discussing his evolving thoughts on the meaning of life and God’s place in his world.
The backlash in the United States was swift and forceful. Once his remarks were published here, riots broke out, albeit not the kind of riots we see today. People gathered at concert entrances to protest. Radio stations refused to play Beatles songs. Threats were made against members of the band — death threats. Religious organizations hosted “burning parties” where Beatles albums and paraphernalia were burned in bonfires. The Beatles never toured again.
It turns out Americans take their Christianity pretty seriously. Curiously, the reaction was anything but Christian. Love your neighbor? Turn the other cheek? Forgiveness? Compassion? No way — people were offended, hurt, angry. Many in 1966 were already confused by the Beatles. Long hair, cult-like adoration, upsetting the norms of that society, urging teens to rebel, according to some. Bringing up religion was the last straw, for many.
But the larger point was lost, I think. Lennon was wrong, of course. Christmas is a pretty good time to remember that Christians celebrate this day that our Savior was born, and that He, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, form the Holy Trinity that is the Supreme Being. John Lennon wasn’t comparing his popularity to the Rolling Stones, or even Perry Como or to other ’60s musical stars. No, he had to make a point. He had to bring up the Big One. Because saying you’re more popular than your competition is normal puffery. Putting yourself in the same category as the Divine was more effective, more shocking. Especially because it simply can’t be true.
Because there is only one Supreme Being. Christians believe there is just one God. In fact, a big part of the following of Christ is to obey the Ten Commandments, and the first commandment spells it out quite succinctly: There is no other God besides me. To state otherwise is blasphemy. So when people like John Lennon compare their popularity to that of Christ, people are upset. Christians worship God, not idols, politicians, musicians, or celebrities. Sometimes it seems like maybe we do, but we don’t.
Of course, that was the point of his comments. Lennon was known for his angst and internal turmoil, a feeling many Christians (and most everyone else) find familiar. But reporters are not following the average Joe around hanging on every word; we reserve that for celebrities. When I question my faith, it’s between me and God (and maybe my pastor). When John Lennon did it, everyone heard about it.
Lennon, in my opinion, was actually questioning the faith of the believers. If his band was attracting the kind of loyal following that should really be reserved for a true savior, isn’t the faith of these people pretty hollow? Shouldn’t they keep this in perspective? Rock ’n’ roll in 1966 was pretty significant, but was it on par with our Savior? Probably not. So why were people worshipping the Beatles? Why do we worship politicians, celebrities, billionaires who are boosting their own egos and sinful pursuits by trying to convince us they are as pure as the Messiah? We were not ready for such a nuanced conversation in 1966. We still aren’t.
Followers of Jesus have believed Christ is King for about 2,000 years now. Many have tried to use His tactic, usually demagogues and dictators. “I am the only one who can save you” is a favorite political tool, used by amoral leaders willing to manipulate the tendency of the faithful to believe the unbelievable. Those of us struggling to follow our Christ’s teachings faithfully are already conditioned to trust that which we can’t comprehend. Those who exploit such vulnerability are evil. But we still seem to worship them, violating Rule No. 1: accept just one God. It’s a constant struggle.
Jesus preached to love your neighbor. On the commemoration of his birthday, I’d like to try. I have some pretty great neighbors. As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, we are reminded that the celebration is about birth and beginnings, with all its connotations and joy and faith. I will try to love my neighbors as myself. I will fail. But I will try.