Religious views of the Beatles

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

Although all four Beatles were associated with either Protestantism or Roman Catholicism in their childhood, they had all abandoned their religious upbringings by 1964. In 1965, while filming for Help! in the Bahamas, a Hindu gave each of them a copy of a book on reincarnation. This encounter is widely regarded as having sparked the band's interest in Indian culture.

In March 1966, Lennon remarked to a journalist from the Evening Standard that the Beatles had become "more popular than Jesus". The comment went unnoticed until in August the same year, the American magazine Datebook published it, inciting protests against the Beatles. The band was threatened, their records were publicly burned, and radio stations refused to play their songs.

After the Beatles' 1966 US tour, Harrison broadened his interest of Indian culture to Hinduism. He and his wife Pattie Boyd went on a pilgrimage to Mumbai to meet gurus. In 1968, all four Beatles went to Rishikesh in northern India to study meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although the Beatles did not continue their relationship with the Maharishi, Harrison became involved in the Hare Krishna tradition until his death in 2001.

After the break-up of the Beatles in 1970, Lennon continued to reject religion. His 1971 single "Imagine" is regarded as an "atheist anthem". In 2010, Starr said he had recently returned to monotheism, while McCartney, in 2012, said he has a "personal faith in something good, but it doesn't really go much further than that".


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 in Woolton, South Liverpool, where he was a member of the youth group and sang occasionally in the choir.[3]

Starr attended an evangelical Anglican church during his childhood.[4]

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."[5][6]

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.[7]

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."
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.[8]

In August 1966, on the eve of The Beatles' 1966 US 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 the British newspaper London Evening Standard 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.[9][10][11]

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."[12] The US tour went ahead as planned, although there was some disruption and picketing of their concerts.[13]

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 Pattie Boyd 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.[14]


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 (left) with Hare Krishna devotees Shyamsundar Das and Mukunda Goswami in the Indian holy city of Vrindavan, in 1996

After the break-up of the Beatles, Lennon continued to reject religious teaching and organised religions. His 1971 single "Imagine" has been described as an "atheist anthem".[15] 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. Although he commonly rejected the notion of religion, he did claim to have a spiritual side. In an interview conducted in September 1980, three months before his death, 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, Lennon 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]

Harrison continued to embrace the Hare Krishna tradition (particularly japa-yoga chanting with beads) and became a lifelong devotee.[17] He was also a vegetarian, on religious grounds, from 1968 until his death.[18] Along with his wife Olivia, son Dhani and close friends, members of the Radha Krishna Temple were at his bedside when Harrison died in Los Angeles on 29 November 2001.[19] In her press statement, Olivia referred to the Hindu aspiration of breaking the cycle of rebirth (and so achieving moksha), saying: "The profound beauty of the moment of George's passing – of his awakening from this dream – was no surprise to those of us who knew how he longed to be with God. In that pursuit, he was relentless."[20] In accordance with his wishes, Harrison's ashes were scattered at Varanasi in India, at the confluence of the Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati rivers.[20]

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." He was also reported as saying "For me, God is in my life. I don't hide from that ... I think the search has been on since the '60s."[21] In Olivia Harrison's 2011 book George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Starr describes himself as "a Christian Hindu with Buddhist tendencies". Starr added that, as with his belated admiration for Indian music, this was "Thanks to George, who opened my eyes as much as anyone else's."[22]

In a 2012 interview for The Independent, McCartney said, "I have a kind of personal faith in something good, but it doesn't really go much further than that." He also went on to say, "Jesus I could see, that's a historical character."[23]

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. ^ "St Peter's Church website, the Beatles connection". Retrieved 14 January 2017.
  4. ^ "Ringo Starr attended an Evangelical church in Liverpool". Christian Telegraph. 9 February 2010. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
  5. ^ Saturday Evening Post, 8–15 August 1964, p. 25
  6. ^ Donald G. Lett, Jr. Phoenix Rising: The Rise and Fall of the American Republic.
  7. ^ "Beatles Interview: Playboy, February 1965 (Page 2) - Beatles Interviews Database". Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  8. ^ "George Harrison biography". The Beatles Bible. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  9. ^ Rawlings, Terry (3 October 2002). Then, Now and Rare British Beat 1960–1969. Omnibus Press. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  10. ^ "The Beatles Are Bigger than WHO?". I Remember JFK. Archived from the original on 13 July 2011. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  11. ^ Chittenden, Maurice (23 November 2008). "John Lennon forgiven for Jesus claim". The Times. London. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
  12. ^ Gould, Jonathan (2008). Can't Buy Me Love: The Beatles, Britain and America. London: Piatkus. pp. 346–347. ISBN 978-0-7499-2988-6.
  13. ^ Miles, Barry (2001). The Beatles Diary Volume 1: The Beatles Years. London: Omnibus Press. pp. 241–242. ISBN 0-7119-8308-9.
  14. ^ Kozinn, Allan (7 February 2008). "Meditation on the man who saved The Beatles". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Eyre, Hermione (1 November 2006). "Atheists should be louder and prouder". The Independent. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  16. ^ a b "1980 Playboy Interview With John Lennon And Yoko Ono". Retrieved 9 February 2014.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "George Harrison". International Vegetarian Union. Retrieved 8 December 2010.
  19. ^ Tillery, Gary (2011). Working Class Mystic: A Spiritual Biography of George Harrison. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books. p. 148. ISBN 978-0-8356-0900-5.
  20. ^ a b Doggett, Peter (2011). You Never Give Me Your Money: The Beatles After the Breakup. New York, NY: It Books. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-06-177418-8.
  21. ^ Hough, Andrew (3 February 2010). "The Beatles' drummer Ringo Starr admits: 'I have found God'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 30 October 2011.
  22. ^ Harrison, Olivia (2011). George Harrison: Living in the Material World. New York, NY: Abrams. p. 223. ISBN 978-1-4197-0220-4.
  23. ^ Paul McCartney talks Jimmy Savile and (unusually for him) the real John Lennon,

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