There's a new book out by Steve Turner about the Beatles and faith. Beliefnet has an excerpt from the book, and a Chicago Sun-Times piece by Cathleen Falsani describes the book's exploration of the Beatles' religious lives. (Via Thunderstruck.)
Lennon's infamous "We're more popular than Jesus" statement is what springs to mind for most people when the topic of the Beatles and Christianity comes up--for me, at least, that's the extent of my knowledge of their religious beliefs. But it sounds like their beliefs were at least more nuanced than that. From Turner's book:
Although the controversy centered on his opinion of the crowd-pulling power of Christianity in the mid-20th century, [Lennon] was also saying something about the religious function of rock music. For the music he played to be anything like a challenge to Christianity, wouldn’t it have to satisfy some of the same yearning that traditional religion satisfied?
When he became recognized as a leader, he began to empathize with the person Christians referred to as "the Lord." He wondered whether Christ, like the Beatles, had had divinity thrust on him by over-zealous followers. Had Jesus been someone with a gift for storytelling, insight into the human condition, and the ability to foretell the future, who had been turned into a god figure against his will? John admired his central teachings of love, justice, and seeking the kingdom of heaven but felt that Jesus had been co-opted by people with a different agenda.
That's certainly not going to make it into the church catechism, but it's not everyday that a person's spiritual wanderings are so open to public scrutiny. Falsani's article describes the church's backlash against the Beatles following their controversial statement. However silly Lennon's religious statements may have sounded to Christians, it's unfortunate--given the band's obvious soul-searching--that the relationship between the Beatles and the church was so antagonistic. Any Beatles fans care to comment?