Wednesday, 24 November 2010

John Lennon and the X Factor

Okay I confess. I watch X Factor. Usually it's over the top of my laptop, but I can't resist watching the unfolding drama as the public insist on voting in one of the worst singers in the whole competition each week, usually at the cost of more accomplished performers. But what caught my eye - or rather ear - last time was the perfomance of one of my least favourite songs 'Imagine' by John Lennon. Why don't I like it? It's because of what I have always perceived as it's anti-Christian lyrics:

"Imagine there's no heaven,
it's easy if you try,
no hell below us,
above us only sky".

For years I have struggled with the phenomenon which was John Lennon, and in particular his outspoken views on Christianity. But, as is often the case, I have been rather too quick to judge and I was interested to learn a few things about John Lennon that I did not know before and which have softened my view of him.

For example I learned recently that John, when a teenager, was banned by the local vicar from coming back to the Liverpool church where he had been baptized and confirmed, because he had laughed during a service.

Again John could be outspoken on various subjects, included Christianity. Take this quote originally published in an interview for the London Evening Standard in 1966:

"Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue with that; I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first—rock ’n’ roll or Christianity."

Before judging Lennon harshly—especially those of you who have come across these words for the first time—note that Lennon also said, when asked about this, that he did not approve of that much popularity, and that he could as easily have said that television was more popular than Jesus as that the Beatles were. More importantly, he said repeatedly that he was talking only about his native country, England, and nowhere else.

Moreover, three years later he said, “I’m one of Christ’s biggest fans, and if I can turn the focus on the Beatles on to Christ’s message, then that’s what we’re here to do.” Sadly, Lennon’s understanding of that message may have amounted to little more than his own anti-war message of “peace and love.”

In a recent article from Touchstone magazine, Robert Hart who is rector of St. Benedict’s Anglican Catholic Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, wrote:

"That Lennon was naive, and honest to the point of genuine eccentricity, is also to be weighed among other factors, such as his having, in cognitive terms, an earliest memory of seeing German planes in the sky over Liverpool, and hearing the harsh whistle of falling bombs and ground-shaking explosions while his mother, in a state of panic, rushed him to the nearest bomb shelter. He had been abandoned by his father, and as a young boy was sent to be raised by an aunt even before the death of his mother.

Add to these factors an IQ known to have been above genius level and a lifetime of artistic endeavor, and it is clear that John Lennon was predestined not to be boring. This complicated man died, tragically murdered, on December 8, 1980, having said on the same day that he was, among other “Zen” things, a “Zen Christian.” He left us confused about his meaning, as always.

It was a sadly ironic death. Born during an air raid, having his earliest memory that of an air raid, and dying forty years later from gunshot wounds inflicted by an unprovoked madman, the self-appointed messenger of “peace and love” came into this world in violence and was taken from it in violence. Though his sins were not hidden, neither was his sincerity about what he thought to be the message of Christ, as he said plainly on various occasions."

Actually what John Lennon said in 1966 is not what so many were quick to assume and to decry in a knee-jerk reaction. The real problem is the element of truth in what he said. The Beatles were more popular than the Lord himself among youth in England at the time, as was Frank Sinatra among the older set in America—and as are television, video games, and many other things of this world to very many people today. Lennon, the eccentric artist, poet, and musician, spoke all too accurately."

And what was wrong with the performance? Oddly enough the fact that it was popped-up and not sung in a way that did the song justice. I may not have liked the song - and I am still not a huge fan - but like it or loathe it, it is still a good enough song to be sung properly and in a way that does justice to the words and sentiments. The young lady turned it into a pop song and ripped its heart out. John would not have approved and neither do I.

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