John Lennon, Rock Culture, and Eternity

It may have been “twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play,” as the Beatles sang about in their 1967 album “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” but I in fact wish to go back one more decade. Old folks like me will well know what I am talking about here.

Exactly thirty years ago today, ex-Beatle John Lennon was shot to death outside of his New York apartment. It is always a great tragedy when anyone’s life is cut short prematurely. Undoubtedly his worldwide legion of fans will be especially saddened today.

He of course is not the only rock celebrity to die young. On occasion I give a talk on popular music. I point out just how many of these lives have been cut short. Indeed, it is incredible just how many rock stars and pop stars have died young. Here are just a few of the more well known cases:

Brian Jones (Rolling Stones), died July 1969, age 27, drug related
Jimi Hendrix, died September 1970, age 27, drug overdose
Jim Morrison (Doors), died July 1971, age 27, drug overdose
Janis Joplin, died October 1970, age 27, drug overdose
Duane Allman (Allman Brothers Band), died October 1971, age 25, motorcycle accident
Elvis Presley, died August 1977, age 42, drug related
Bon Scott (AC/DC), died February 1980, age 33, alcohol related
Stevie Ray Vaughan, died August 1990, age 35, helicopter crash, but drug and alcohol problems
Freddy Mercury (Queen), died November 1991, age 45, AIDS related
Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), died April 1994, age 27, suicide
Michael Hutchence (INXS), died November 1997, aged 37, drug and alcohol related suicide
Michael Jackson, died June 2009, age 50, drug related

There are in fact many hundreds of other such examples. One can ask just what it is about the rock scene that results in so many premature deaths. But let me get back to John Lennon. He was clearly a colourful figure, as well as part of one of the great pop song-writing teams of all time (Lennon and McCartney).

He certainly caused major waves back in 1966 when he said in an interview, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink … We’re more popular than Jesus now – I don’t know which will go first, rock and roll or Christianity.” Well, he did not quite get that right. Christianity is still here, while he and the Beatles are not.

It seems that he never did come to know the one true God who created him, and the Redeemer who died to save him. Indeed, he is also noted for his rather silly atheist anthem, “Imagine”. It begins this way:

Imagine there’s no Heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

Well sorry, but we don’t have to imagine what life would be like if people were simply “living for today”. It happens all the time. It is what life in the secular West is now all about. So we can see the fruit of all this. And it doesn’t look all that good to me.

The very fact that he longs for a world of peace simply shows that his proposal (a world with no God or religion) is the wrong answer. It is because John Lennon was a moral being, living in a moral universe, created by a personal moral God, that he could even have such longings. They certainly make no sense in a purely materialistic and chance universe. Why long for peace in such a world? Where and how would such longings arise?

So Lennon may have been a seeker, but it seems he never found what he was really looking for. I too was a seeker, trying drugs and eastern religions and radical politics, and so on – indeed, all the things Lennon was into. But thanks be to God, I did eventually find the object of my search. Or more accurately, I was found by Him.

In fact, we can contrast the life and death of Lennon with another former Beatle. Evidently drummer Ringo Starr has found God in his old age. Earlier this year a British newspaper had this headline: “Why I’ve turned to God at 70, by reformed Ringo Starr”.

The article goes on to say this: “The drummer says he has found God – after taking a long and winding road to enlightenment. He admitted he lost his way when he was younger, both as a Beatle experimenting with marijuana and LSD and afterwards when he suffered alcohol and cocaine problems in the late 1970s. But the musician, who has since become teetotal and quit his 60-a-day cigarette habit, says that religion now plays an important role in his life.

“Starr, who turns 70 later this year, said: ‘I feel the older I get, the more I’m learning to handle life. Being on this quest for a long time, it’s all about finding yourself. ‘For me, God is in my life. I don’t hide from that. I think the search has been on since the 1960s. ‘I stepped off the path there for many years and found my way back onto it, thank God.’ Starr was speaking at an event at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles.”

Admittedly there is not enough information here to learn whether he is in fact a born-again Christian, or something else. But it is a good start. Of course he has had thirty more years than Lennon to get his act together. It is hoped that he keeps going until he is fully right with God through Christ.

Wherever he is now at spiritually, there is one thing that I can imagine however. If Starr and the other remaining Beatle, McCartney, do give their lives over to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith, they will indeed find what they have been looking for all along. When George Harrison sang about “My Sweet Lord,” he of course primarily had the gods of the East in mind.

Unfortunately those gods will not save. Only Jesus saves, and he is the only road back to God. Each of the four Beatles has been on various journeys. Two are now dead, and the other two may not be around that much longer – they are getting old.

Let us pray that they find the real deal. Not ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ nor ‘Lady Madonna,’ nor ‘Hey Jude,’ but the living Lord Jesus Christ, who made them, died for them, and will one day judge them – and all of us.

[1123 words]

27 Replies to “John Lennon, Rock Culture, and Eternity”

  1. Who knows whether God in his infinite wisdom was able to forgive John Lennon by judging whether or not, had he lived, he would have become a reformed character and accepted Christ as his saviour before his natural death, as I pray Ringo Starr has done?

    However, when Lennon’s most famous song is used as part of an aggressive, militant atheist crusade to force Christians out of public life then you can be pretty sure what God must be making of it all! Lennon’s soul must accept the consequences, even if that means damnation.

    Then there’s everything that the Beatles stood for back in the day: sexual licentiousness, buying into and even helping to promote the so-called sexual liberation movement of the 1960s; drugs; anti-Christian beliefs; questioning of authority; homosexuality (the band’s manager Brian Epstein was a notorious homosexualist who of course also died young) – all in all it adds up to a terrifying list of sin. Did they live biblical lives, as God has commanded us to do? Did they use their talents to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ?

    No. Their lives were wasted in the here and now, with no regard for the plight of their eternal souls. Harrison, of course, with his new-age mumbo jumbo, was no better.

    I switch off the radio if the Beatles come on. I don’t want my son listening to their drug-pushing, mind-addled filth.

    Of course I can’t say for sure, but I will be very surprised to bump into John Lennon when I get to heaven, God willing. Very, very surprised.

    Barbara Murray-Leach

  2. Yes I thing rock stars can come to think they’re ‘gods’ in their own right – it goes to their heads — all the adulation and worship from adoring fans, the fame etc!

    But I believe God does take into account how people could have behaved differently under different circumstances. “There but for the grace of God go I…”

    John Lennon would have been an Irish Catholic (with that name) – (as would be Paul McCartney and George Harrison), so perhaps could have been rebelling against a strong religious upbringing by going ‘the other way’ – a common scenario, thus the “Imagine there’s no Heaven” etc..

    God is merciful, so I believe that John Lennon could still make it into the Heaven he imagined didn’t exist… (but which deep down he knew did). Being Catholic myself I think that like most of us will, he probably has had to spend time in Purgatory (a place of spiritual cleansing) before he is permitted to be with God eternally, especially for denying his faith!

    A man who sang with such soul, surely could not be condemned by God, who gave him that gift. He just might have got things a bit wrong, but he never murdered or tortured anyone… Sure, he denied God and was a sinner, but aren’t we all in some way or another?

    What John said back in 1966 was arrogant, narcissistic, and heretical actually, and he’s been proven wrong indeed – thank God! I pray that Paul returns to his Catholic faith if he left it – unsure the denomination of Ringo, but sounds like he’s found God…

    Paula Mari Pike

  3. It’s good to see you’re on this Bill – in fact I can hardly keep up with your articles – I’m still way back on 6.12. I’ve always found the anthemic song Imagine vaguely jarring and now in retrospect I see clearly that this is anti-Christian activism. No country, no religion is hardly going to bring a life of peace. Loads of people have been duped by the song.
    Rachel Smith

  4. These premature deaths are very sad, like Buddy Holly whose music I like but who most likely did not know the Lord. And then there was Keith Green who died in a plane crash, but with Keith there is a sense of victory and hope.

    A good friend of mine, his beautiful daughter died a few months ago at the age of about 17. He said of her, “My prayer is that her departure to be with the Lord will be an inspiration to do as much as we can with the time we are given.”

    Tas Walker

  5. Paula, what you say makes no sense.
    We are given the circumstances we are given. In our time on earth we can flaunt his mercy or we can accept it.
    If John didn’t think heaven existed (and presumably God) then he is not saved. One cannot commit their lives to something they don’t believe in.
    One cannot deny their faith and expect to go to heaven. No point bringing up the “we’re all sinners” card because God does look at us differently when he have committed our lives to Him. We are seen through grace.
    John may have a good voice but nothing can save him but an acceptance of the grace of God through Jesus.
    Either you are forgiven or you are not.
    Cameron Spink

  6. A very good article Bill.
    Regarding those attempts by our critics, to blame Christianity for all the troubles in the world, the simple response is to nominate even a few of the countries, in which religion has been banished or had to go underground and then check what level of improvement in life has emerged. We had Russia, East Germany, China, Nth Vietnam, Nth Korea, Burma. Life is or was so wonderful in these nations, there is a constant move by residents to escape, if it’s possible to keep your head down and dodge the bullets.
    Frank Bellet, Petrie Qld

  7. Cameron, If what I say makes no sense to you, maybe you misunderstand the Catholic perspective (which dates back to Christ Himself!) I just found this site below (which confirms much of what I’ve said about John Lennon – life is not all black and white, but complex!)

    John Lennon did wrong, but he also did some good, yet it is not up to us to judge – only God has that right… And at John’s dying moment, how do we know – when he realised God indeed existed, that peace and reconciliation was not made, that John may have pleaded for forgiveness for denying his faith and other sins? How do we know that God didn’t forgive him at the moment of death if Johns remourse had been genuine and intense and Christ’s love and mercy no doubt would have been even more so!? … surely…

    Paula Mari Pike

  8. To Cameron Spink, you are spot on mate, the Roman Catholic ideas of salvation and forgiveness are at odds with the firmly grounded principles found in the Bible and these principles back up your assertions – you are either saved or you are not – and you are either forgiven or you are not.
    Steve Davis

  9. Thanks guys

    It is true that ultimately only God knows our hearts, and only he can ultimately judge who are his. Yet we all must be wary of death bed conversions, and we of course have no evidence whatsoever that Lennon ever repented of his sins and made Christ his Lord and Saviour. And of course Protestants takes passage like Hebrews 9:27 seriously, so they do not believe in doctrines like purgatory.

    Having said all that, I remind people – as I have before – that I do not like to allow this site to degenerate into anti-Catholic or anti-Protestant battles. There are plenty of other places where people can do this to their heart’s content, so I ask that we now end this sectarian blood-letting, and get back on topic. Thanks for respecting my wishes here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  10. Dear Bill, Thank you for the excellent article on John Lennon. I am old enough to remember when Beatlemania broke on the world and as far as I could see just about everybody was swept up in the hysteria. I remember my mother walking in with Beatles memorabilia for my young family. Thankfully, my musical tastes were developed long before they came on the scene so they never made any money out of me. As I got older I began to see all too clearly that for all their popularity they weren’t making the world a better place. I could see their influence on the Christian West which was causing it to abandon Our Lord Jesus Who has everything the human spirit can desire. They helped do it with their ridiculous searches for fulfillment in Eastern mysticism widely publicised by a fawning media. Not once did I hear them use their popularity to speak out against the evils of abortion or feminist ideology which was rapidly gaining ground in the sixties and seventies. They didn’t because it would have damaged their careers and their god was Mammon. Beatlemania was truly spawned by the devil and the world is well rid of it. Unfortunately the devil is wily and never gives up trying to lure people away from Our Lord. At present Australia is in the grip of Oprahmania which also has a false message but none of them can ever match up to the message that will soon be celebrated by Christians all over the world.That is that a Saviour was born in a stable at Bethlehem who died that we might live forever. God Bless everyone.
    Patricia Halligan

  11. Okay, Bill, I shall inform others of your lack of a “fair go”!
    Paula Mari Pike

  12. Thanks Paula

    Sorry but this has nothing to do with a “fair go” or the lack of it. I just got done explaining my concerns here, hoping people would be gracious and understanding. There has been 500 years worth of Catholic-Protestant fighting, and I have simply said go elsewhere for that, so that we can have a united front against some real enemies. And none of these debates are even on topic anyway. And BTW, there have been other Protestants who have come here since my words of caution, also wishing to keep this fight going. Their comments too have been excluded.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  13. I also ran a destructive life of smoking dope on occasion experimenting with other drugs opiates. LSD & alcohol my main choice – at fifty years old Jesus called me I was a member of the Builders Labourers Union radical & destructive.
    Well stated Bill not only was the Beatles & other rock bands confuse our children to adults. The creator of this so called singing & music was chucked out of Heaven this is Satans way of paying God back in his way destruct humans.
    Colin Clifford

  14. The posts on John Lennon are fascinating and somewhat instructive, but among the deaths you listed Bon Scott – also from 1980 – is undoubtedly far more significant.

    Whereas John Lennon and the Beatles tried merely to imagine a utopian socialist society in a manner that was totally naïve, Bon Scott and AC/DC demonstrated how a society devoid absolutely of anything approaching morals would actually work. AC/DC did this from the start of their careers, as seen by:

    “I’m T.N.T., and I’ll win the fight
    T.N.T., I‘m a power load
    T.N.T., watch me explode”

    This is, in essence, demonstrating how a system with no morals would actually work, and was intensified on countless later AC/DC songs like ‘Shoot to Thrill’, ‘Back in Black’, ‘Inject the Venom’, et. al. Although I am not religious, the lyrics of AC/DC songs played on the radio I can only call alarming – and I can see how the attitude I had as a boy that one should get what one wants one hundred percent of the time is exactly what AC/DC consistently preached over their thirty-five years on record, and is totally different from something like ‘Imagine’. AC/DC never “tried” Eastern religions and radical politics, and this I think prevented them distorting the potential message of the most radical nihilism. What makes AC/DC the most historically and culturally important music group of the twentieth century is how they transformed these ideas into what Benjamin Wiker calls “pamphlet form”, so that working classes who had long rejected Christianity had a complete anti-Christian worldview that they could clearly understand.

    Ideas like radical individualism and radical egalitarianism either follow naturally or become necessities in light of the message of AC/DC that there can be no moral laws except one’s own instant desires. I have thought that a Complete Christian’s Guide to AC/DC would be a very valuable tool to understand this most important and influential musical group from a traditional perspective. As with , much apologetics about what AC/DC’s songs actually say occurs, and disposing thereof is eminently worthwhile.

    It’s in fact not as surprising as people think that someone like Ringo Starr would grow suspicious of how the post-AC/DC Enriched World has turned out. Nobody could imagine a society built so much about present-orientation as the Enriched World has today – and its younger generations seem sure to intensify these trends. If you read something like A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland you will gain some clues of how aggressive and noisy Enriched World cities are – I can testify from travelling to England, Germany, Japan and San Francisco that there is little respect for quiet.

  15. One I forgot to note you of is “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott (Pantera), who died on the same day of 2004 as John Lennon did in 1980. He was 38 at the time.

    Unlike any of those you listed, “Dimebag” was murdered, but the circumstances in which this happened suggest that Pantera – immensely influential on the parents of America’s Millennials with songs like the atheist anthem ‘(expletive) Hostile’ – had become a fanatical cult to murdered Nathan Gale, who like many of the working class saw in Pantera a band who would defy the trends and preach the message of individual power that they desired.

  16. Bill, I think for the 50th Anniversary of John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ in 2021, while I am sure you have written on it, I think you could write a nice long article dissecting the song would be good. It amuses me when he writes ‘Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can….’ he is a rich multimillionaire. I think for his rock clip, he sings it with Yoko by his side on what I assume is a very expensive grand piano in a mansion in the English countryside………..

  17. A brilliant article – thanks for the hard work of putting it into the public arena. You can never be over equipped with such relevant, pertinent information that serve as tools for the task of proclaiming truth that sets men free.
    Thank You Bill

  18. Add Amy Winehouse to the “27” club, in 2012, also drug and alcohol related.
    “They said I got to go to rehab, but I said ‘no, no, no.”.
    Also Prince, whose death was drug related from fentanyl, an opioid analgesic.

    I find the music of AC/DC a litmus test, as I will find it hard for a born again Christian to be singing along with it.
    “Highway to Hell”, in context, is about life on the road as a rock band, but we read in Matthew 7:13-14 “Broad is the road that leads to destruction”.
    Other songs include “Hell’s Bells”, & “Hell’s Not A Bad Place to Be”.

    Using a good Aussie expression against the last song, “Like Hell it is!”

  19. Amy Winehouse also died aged 27, a sad life which ended tragically. I believe she was Jewish though not practising.

  20. I don’t realise I had already responded to this post here Bill!

    Also these lyrics from Blood, Sweat and Tears are relevant, from “And When I Die” from their second album.
    “I swear there ain’t no heaven, & I pray there ain’t no hell”.
    A pastor friend used this in a Sunday School lesson – great material here!

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