Religious views of the Beatles

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The religious views of the Beatles evolved over time and differed between members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.


McCartney and Harrison were both baptised as Roman Catholics during childhood, although McCartney was raised non-denominationally; his mother was Roman Catholic and his father was a Protestant turned agnostic.[1] Harrison was raised Roman Catholic.[2]

Lennon attended St. Peter's Anglican church. He sang in the choir, attended Sunday School and joined the Bible Class. He was confirmed at the age of fifteen of his own free will.[3]

Starr attended an Evangelical Anglican church during his childhood.

The Beatles years[edit]

According to the band's press officer, Derek Taylor, all four Beatles had abandoned their religious upbringings by 1964. In an interview for the Saturday Evening Post, in August of that year, he stated that the Beatles were "completely anti-Christ. I mean, I am anti-Christ as well, but they're so anti-Christ they shock me which isn't an easy thing."[4][5]

In February 1965, the band gave an interview to Playboy magazine, in which they defended themselves against claims that they were anti-religious, while at the same time emphatically declaring themselves to be agnostic.[6]

McCartney: "We probably seem antireligious because of the fact that none of us believe in God."

Lennon: "If you say you don't believe in God, everybody assumes you're antireligious, and you probably think that's what we mean by that. We're not quite sure 'what' we are, but I know that we're more agnostic than atheistic."
Playboy: "Are you speaking for the group, or just for yourself?"
Lennon: "For the group."
Harrison: "John's our official religious spokesman."
McCartney: "We all feel roughly the same. We're all agnostics."
Lennon: "Most people are, anyway."

Arguably, Starr then went on to hint that some members of the band were in fact atheist, but felt unable to say so.

McCartney: "In America, they're fanatical about God. I know somebody over there who said he was an atheist. The papers nearly refused to print it because it was such shocking news that somebody could actually be an atheist ... yeah ... and admit it."

Starr: "He speaks for all of us."

It was also in February 1965 that filming for Help! began, on location in the Bahamas. During filming, a Hindu devotee presented each Beatle with a book about reincarnation. The incident is widely regarded as having instigated the band's interest in Indian culture.[7]

In August 1966, on the eve of an American tour, American teen magazine Datebook published Lennon's remark that the Beatles had become "more popular than Jesus". Lennon had, in fact, originally made the remark to a British newspaper and when it was first published in the United Kingdom, in March 1966, his words had provoked no public reaction. After Datebook quoted his comments five months later, however, vociferous protests broke out in the United States. The Beatles' records were publicly burned, threats were made and some radio stations refused to play their music. The protest also spread to other countries including Mexico, South Africa and Spain.[8][9][10]

Two press conferences were held in the US, where both Brian Epstein and Lennon expressed their regret that Lennon's words had been taken out of context and offence taken. At one of the conferences, Lennon described his own belief in God by quoting the Bishop of Woolwich, saying, "... not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us."[11] The US tour went ahead as planned, although there was some disruption and picketing of their concerts.

Harrison's interest in Indian culture expanded to Hinduism and after the 1966 American tour, until the commencement of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, he and his first wife went on a pilgrimage to Mumbai where Harrison studied sitar, visited various holy places and met several gurus, including Maharishi. Two years later, in 1968 all four Beatles travelled to Rishikesh in northern India to study meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although the band later fell out with the Maharishi, Harrison continued his interest in Eastern philosophy. He embraced the Hare Krishna tradition and, in the summer of 1969, produced the single "Hare Krishna Mantra", performed by the devotees of the London Radha Krishna Temple.[12]

Starr probably spoke least of all about his personal beliefs, but he did take part in some religious mockery and parody during his time with the Beatles. In 1969, he co-starred in The Magic Christian, a Peter Sellers movie based on a Terry Southern book.


Three men in their early fifties, one to the left, wearing a white robe and holding a bottle of water with both hands, and two to the right, one in a white robe and one in a pink robe. On the wall behind them is something written in Sanskrit, both in Roman characters and in Sanskrit characters.
George Harrison, Shyamasundara Dasa and Mukunda Goswami in front of Jiva Goswami Samādhi in Vrindavan, India, 1996.

Lennon continued to reject religious teaching and organised religions. His solo single, "Imagine", has been described as an "atheist anthem".[13][14] He sings about his beliefs in the song "God", in which he states, "I don't believe in" magic, I Ching, the Bible, tarot, Jesus, Buddha, mantra, Gita and yoga. In his 1973 song "Out the Blue", he sang to his wife, "Every day I thank the Lord and Lady for the way that you came to me." In his 1980 song "Dear Yoko", he sang: "The goddess really smiled upon our love." (On a demo recording of this song, he had also sung the line as "The gods have really smiled upon our love.")[15] Although he commonly rejected the notion of religion, he did claim to have a spiritual side. In an interview conducted in September 1980, Lennon told Playboy journalist David Sheff "People always got the image I was an anti-Christ or antireligion. I'm not. I'm a most religious fellow."[16] When talking about Bob Dylan's new-found Christianity, John said, "But the whole religion business suffers from the 'Onward, Christian Soldiers' bit. There's too much talk about soldiers and marching and converting. I'm not pushing Buddhism, because I'm no more a Buddhist than I am a Christian, but there's one thing I admire about the religion [Buddhism]: There's no proselytizing."[16] After his death in 1980, his wife, Yoko Ono said "John loved and prayed for the human race. Please pray the same for him."[17]

McCartney pursued a kind of secular spirituality later in life, praying for his wife Linda when she had trouble giving birth to their daughter Stella, and declaring in the 1990s "I'm not religious, but I'm very spiritual." His 2001 song "Freedom", written in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, spoke of freedom as "a right given by God". (He had been waiting on board an airliner at John F. Kennedy Airport, while other airliners were being hijacked during the attacks.)

Harrison continued to embrace the Hare Krishna tradition (particularly japa-yoga chanting with beads) and became a lifelong devotee, being associated with it until his death in 2001.[18] Harrison was also a vegetarian, on religious grounds, from 1968 until his death.[19]

Speaking at the Grammy Museum, Los Angeles, in February 2010, Starr stated that he had recently returned to monotheism, saying "I stepped off the path there for many years and found my way [back] onto it, thank God."[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miles, Barry (1997). Many Years From Now (1 edition, page 4). Henry Holt & Company. ISBN 978-0-8050-5248-0.
  2. ^ Harry, The Beatles' Encyclopedia, p. 492.
  3. ^ "Spiritual journey of John Lennon | realsexrewards". 5 February 2011. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  4. ^ Saturday Evening Post, 8–15 August 1964, p. 25
  5. ^ Donald G. Lett, Jr. Phoenix Rising: The Rise and Fall of the American Republic. 
  6. ^ "Beatles Interview: Playboy, February 1965 (Page 2) - Beatles Interviews Database". Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  7. ^ "George Harrison biography". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  8. ^ Rawlings, Terry (3 October 2002). Then, Now and Rare British Beat 1960–1969. Omnibus Press. Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  9. ^ "The Beatles Are Bigger than WHO?". I Remember JFK. Archived from the original on 13 July 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  10. ^ Chittenden, Maurice (23 November 2008). "John Lennon forgiven for Jesus claim". The Times (London). Retrieved 2 June 2011. 
  11. ^ Gould, Jonathan (2008). Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America. London: Piatkus. pp. 346–347. ISBN 978-0-7499-2988-6. 
  12. ^ Kozinn, Allan (7 February 2008). "Meditation on the man who saved The Beatles". The New York Times. 
  13. ^ Eyre, Hermione (1 November 2006). "Atheists should be louder and prouder". The Independent. Retrieved 23 March 2014. 
  14. ^ Doughty, Chris (28 July 2009). "Kumbaya replaced by John Lennon's Imagine at atheist summer camp for kids". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 30 October 2011. 
  15. ^ Urish, Ben; Bielen, Ken (2007). The Words and Music of John Lennon. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger. p. 80. ISBN 978-0-275-99180-7. Retrieved 26 May 2013. 
  16. ^ a b "1980 Playboy Interview With John Lennon And Yoko Ono". Retrieved 9 February 2014. 
  17. ^ "'Please pray for John' say Yoko and Sean, 5". The Montreal Gazette. 10 December 1980. 
  18. ^ Partridge, Christopher (2005). The Re-enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralisation, Popular Culture, and Occulture, Vol. 1 (illustrated ed.). Continuum. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-567-08408-8. 
  19. ^ "George Harrison". International Vegetarian Union. Retrieved 8 December 2010. 
  20. ^ Hough, Andrew (3 February 2010). "The Beatles' drummer Ringo Starr admits: 'I have found God'". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 30 October 2011. 

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