March 4th, 1966: The Beginning of the End for John Lennon?
On March 4th, 1966 nearly thirty-five years ago, John Lennon was quoted as saying a few little misunderstood words that shocked America and infuriated a young man who would take Lennon's life more than a decade later on December 8th, 1980. March 4th 1966 may have been the beginning of the end for John Lennon.
On this day, an interview with John Lennon by reporter Maureen Cleave was published in the London Evening Standard,
"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. Jesus was all right but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me." 
Five months later the American teen magazine Datebook reprinted the quote, leading to bans on radio stations in the south and rallies of teenagers stomping on or burning Beatles albums, and even threats on the Beatles' lives.
On August 11, 1966 John Lennon holds a news conference in Chicago to apologize for the misunderstanding about the March 4th quote during which he says in part,
In fact, John Lennon was probably correct that English youth at the time were more interested in listening to Beatles records than in Christianity if such interest can be measured by church attendance.' In the twentieth century, there was a general decline in English church attendance, especially since 1970. By 1998, eighty-six percent of adults in the U.K. did not attend any church. 
Enter Lennon's Killer
Lennon's apology did not stop many Americans from being angry about the March 4th quote, especially one Mark David Chapman. Much was made about the fact that in a prison interview before his parole hearing Chapman said that when he killed Lennon he had pleaded with the devil for the strength to kill Lennon, but that now he is a "committed Christian". Did Mark David Chapman really "find Jesus" in prison? As it turns out, there is ample evidence that Chapman was a "committed Christian" long before he murdered John Lennon, and that Chapman was enraged by John Lennon's nonconformist attitude towards religion, especially Christianity. Chapman's apparent inconsistency in praying to Satan will be discussed later in this article.
At the age of 14 Chapman started experimenting with LSD and other drugs while becoming fascinated with the Beatles. He said, "The Beatles then were into long hair, beards, meditation, and drugs. The Beatles were into things that fit my life perfectly." About a year later he went to a retreat sponsored by Chapel Woods Presbyterian Church. He has said that he was deeply affected by their film on Jesus and by a lecture and pamphlet about the "spiritual laws" of Christianity. He continued to use drugs for another six months, but decided to turn to these "spiritual laws" after his hippie friends had stolen money from his wallet. He had a "born again" conversion experience, after which he changed his appearance from hippie attire to a suit and tie, and started carrying a Bible and Jesus notebook. In Chapman's own words,
Chapman said he used to witness to other kids and to his neighbors. He gave a salvation message to his class at the end of a school project after showing a film on Jesus. He would also leave religious tracts in school lockers, restaurants and other public places. 
His longtime childhood friend Miles McManus recalls that Chapman's whole personality changed, and that he had started hating John Lennon. McManus said,
Jan Reeves, sister of one of Chapman's best friends, Dana Reeves says that Chapman told her that he would not listen to Beatles' albums anymore because of Lennon's comment about the Beatles being more popular than Jesus.
"He seemed really angry toward John Lennon, and he kept saying he could not understand why John Lennon had said it. According to Mark, there should be nobody more popular than the Lord Jesus Christ. He said it was blasphemy"
In September of 1971, John Lennon's song "Imagine" was released. The next year, at Denmark High School in Green Bay Wisconsin the class had voted to make their class song "Imagine" but the principal rejected it saying it was "anti-religious and anti-American with communist overtones". The students sent a delegation to the principal's office to protest but in vain. Two decades later they made "Imagine" the theme for their 20th reunion.
Chapman also felt angered by the song. Journalist and expert on Lennon's killer, Jack Jones said in an interview,
"After his (Chapman's) conversion to Christ, John Lennon made the unfortunate remark that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus and sang the song, 'Imagine There's No Heaven.' This deeply offended Chapman's Christian identity and subconsciously I'm certain he began plotting John Lennon's death at that time, a full decade before he murdered the rock legend."
Both Lennon's March 4th "bigger than Jesus" quote and the song "Imagine" infuriated Chapman. At prayer meetings and religious rallies he attended several times a week, Chapman and his prayer group even sang a morbid parody of the song, singing, "Imagine, imagine John Lennon is dead". 
Chapman's Continued Interest in Christianity
Chapman's faith in Christianity remained intact throughout his adolescence and into his adulthood, both before and after he shot and killed John Lennon. He even seems to have consistently remained within the denomination of Presbyterianism. Although he indicates that his interest in Christianity waxed and waned, Chapman says:
"To this day, I never again disbelieved in the Lord or Christ or in the fact that I knew Him and could of course talk to Him any time I wanted to and get back into a deeper relationship with Him."
He had extensive involvement with the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). He was a counselor and later became an assistant program director.' With the YMCA, he worked with children, taught guitar and won an award for "counselor of the year". He eventually won a nomination to the YMCA's international program and helped Vietnam refugees at a YMCA run resettlement camp.
After his involvement with the YMCA, Chapman attended Covenant College, a Presbyterian Christian college. After having so much personal recognition with the YMCA, however, being just one among many other ordinary students caused Chapman to become depressed and he eventually dropped out of college.
Chapman has admitted to making phony bomb threats and death threat phone calls to "random" victims. He said he harassed the Hare Krishna for three weeks because he thought they were "phonies" who were "ripping people off". In 1979 when he was employed across the street from the Church of Scientology, the Scientologists were getting phone calls in which someone said, "Bang, Bang! You're dead!" The calls stopped after Chapman moved to New York. 
After a passerby thwarted one of his suicide attempts, Chapman prayed and thanked God for giving him a sign that he was supposed to live. He believed God would prevent him from carrying out any act, no matter how foolish or violent, except those he was destined to carry out. He then checks himself into a Christian hospital called Castle Memorial where he eventually became quite friendly with the staff even after he was released. Eventually he struck up a friendship with Reverend Peter Anderson, a Presbyterian minister. The minister invited Mark to live with him and his wife Martha, after which Chapman appeared to undergo a personality change and avoided friends that the minister criticized. As former therapist and friend of Chapman's George Kaliope recalled "the Christianity thing hounded him so bad, when he got into it that's all he would talk about."
By the time he became not only an ex-patient but also an employee at Castle Memorial Hospital in 1978, Chapman says he felt spiritually and emotionally reborn, believing that God had personally intervened in his life as part of a divine plan. 
Chapman says God gave him two signs in the weeks before the murder to stop his plan to kill John Lennon. First, a cartoon on TV flashed the message "Thou Shalt Not Kill". Also, his wife had hung a religious motto on the wall of their apartment from which the same commandment leaped out at him again. Within two hours of murdering John Lennon, Chapman prayed and begged God to turn back time, promising he wouldn't do it again. 
Chapman's wife, Gloria, received a phone call from Chapman late on the night before the murder.'Gloria recalled,
"'I told him that he should try and work on his problems one by one and that perhaps the first one he should work on was getting back with Christ again. After that, he only need ask for His help with the other problems. He seemed to agree and said his little Bible was on his nightstand'"
After hanging up the phone, Chapman opened his Bible to the Book of John and wrote the name "Lennon" in ink after "The Gospel According to John".
When police searched Chapman after he was arrested for John Lennon's murder, in addition to14 hours of Beatles songs on tape, about $2000 in cash and the gun they also found both Chapman's personal bible and a copy of Catcher in the Rye.
Enter Holden Caulfield
Chapman's motivations for killing John Lennon were certainly not simple, although religious outrage at Lennon's "blasphemy" was among them.' He became obsessed with Catcher in the Rye, a novel by J.D. Salinger in which the lead character, Holden Caulfield, becomes preoccupied with a mission to save the world from "phonies". Chapman appears to have had a similar mission and believed Lennon to be a phony.
Jack Jones suggested in an interview that,
"In many ways, he retraced Holden Caulfield's steps before killing the man that he had made himself believe was the ultimate 'phony'. He believed in some way that by killing Lennon he could stop the rock star from leading astray another generation of innocent youth." 
Although Chapman initially pled insanity, he later changed his plea to guilty because he thought God told him to do so.  At his sentencing, when asked if he wanted to address the court, Chapman read a passage from Catcher in the Rye that describes Holden Caulfield's fantasy of being on the edge of a cliff and having to catch all the little kids from falling. He took a temporary vow of silence afterwards. The chief witness at the sentencing, Dr. Daniel W. Schwartz had also said that Chapman wanted to kill Lennon because he viewed him as a "phony".
Chapman himself said that he thought the murder would turn him into Holden Caulfield, a "quasi-savior" and "guardian angel". He said that his handwritten confession had not revealed his true feelings that Lennon was a phony because he was "frightened of what they would have thought" and "afraid that they would have been angry". Yet he says that when he wrote that he liked John Lennon it "wasn't exactly a lie", because a "part of" him still enjoyed his music and he had been "genuinely excited" about the fact that John Lennon had autographed his copy of the Double Fantasy album just hours before the murder.
Why did Chapman think John Lennon was a phony?
Chapman saw Lennon as a "phony" for a number of reasons, of which Lennon's nonconformity to Chapman's religious values may have been one. Chapman says that after reading the book John Lennon: One Day At a Time by Anthony Fawcett he thought about killing John Lennon. He had told his wife the book was "proof' that John Lennon was a "phony". About this same time he says he became obsessed with Catcher in the Rye after buying a copy and rereading it for the first time since high school. He even told his wife that he wanted to change his name to Holden Caulfield.
Two of the other factors that led Chapman to view Lennon as "phony" may have been Lennon's celebrity status and his wealth. A celebrity's public image may seem larger than life because it is just an image. Those of us who are emotionally balanced know that there is a real human being behind the image, but Chapman has admitted that he had trouble remembering that. While in prison, Chapman had a meeting with Secret Service consultants during which he said in part:
Chapman also thought of Lennon as a "sell out", as someone who was more a businessman than a rock star, because of his wealth and fame. He became enraged as he read John Lennon: One Day At a Time. In his own words:
"He told us to imagine no possessions, and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and farms and country estates, laughing at people like me who had believed the lies and bought the records and built a big part of their lives around his music."
However, there may be an additional reason. Chapman seemed to both idolize and hate John Lennon, perhaps because the real John Lennon did not measure up to Chapman's ideal John Lennon. Christianity was very important to Chapman so of course he might expect any person he idolized to be Christian like him. Perhaps Chapman thought he was "protecting" the world from this "phony" non-Christian John Lennon in much the same way he described becoming the "guardian" of a neighborhood church when he was young:
"We lived on a block where there was a huge church. Somehow or other, I got to know the pastor, and for some reason he made me the guardian of the church. I took the job very seriously'I thought of myself as the guardian of this church and I would walk around it every day to see that everything was all right." --Mark David Chapman
Lennon's statement on March 4th and the lyrics to his song "Imagine" were clearly statements of nonconformity to Chapman's deeply held religious views. This must have been a great disappointment to Chapman, and one that he had still not gotten over by the time he set out to murder John Lennon.
Over a Decade Later, March 4th Anger Was Still There
Chapman's confused love-hate obsession with John Lennon continued into adulthood. In 1979 at about the same time John Lennon married Yoko Ono, Chapman married Gloria Abe, a Japanese-American. While working as a security guard, Chapman decided he'd rather be a househusband like John Lennon was at the time. When he quit he signed his timecard "John Lennon" He also taped that name over his nametag. He has said that he knew then that he was going to kill John Lennon. 
Chapman recalls having listened to the "Imagine" album again in the weeks before the murder. He had said in part:
Gloria Chapman once woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of an old Beatles album and her husband Mark screaming:
"The phony must die, says the Catcher in the Rye.
Prayers to Satan?
So what was this about Chapman praying to Satan? Here is what Chapman had to say about his killing of John Lennon and the prayers that he made:
"It was a little kid that did that act of killing John Lennon'with an insane, irreparable, tragic mission: to put holes through one of the sails of that windmill of phoniness'All that rage came spilling out and I killed the hero of my childhood'The child got confused and angered. And since he's so specially linked to the phony adult that I was, the phony adult that the child had created, something had to happen. An explosion had to happen'"
He continues and makes an analogy suggesting that Lennon was like a toy that had once been his hero, but just wasn't the same anymore.
"So the child and the adult conspired together to kill the phony'Then the child and the adult went to the Dakota on the morning of December 8. The adult, very charming, knows his way around-even invited one of the fans to lunch across the street-the child, frightened, alternately praying to God and the devil to get him out of this. The adult was praying to God. He was a fake adult, but he was scared and he knew that the child was about to do something very evil and wrong. The child was praying to the devil and the adult was praying to the Lord. The spiritual dichotomy: Devil-God. And the inner dichotomy: the child-the man. They're out there in front of the Dakota late one night'"
Some people may argue that Chapman could not have been Christian, since part of him was praying to Satan. Normal Christians don't do that. On the other hand, as Chapman himself said, "Normal kids don't grow up to shoot ex-Beatles." He was also praying to God. Christianity, particularly Chapman's preferred denomination of Presbyterianism, does include a worldview in which forces of good and evil compete for the obedience of humans.
The Presbyterian Church in America , whose doctrines include Biblical inerrancy, predestination, the trinity, and original sin, is based upon the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Chapter XIII of the Confession, titled "Of Sanctification" describes the process of being born again, through which people are released from the "bondage" of sin, (elsewhere referred to as the bondage of Satan) but it also warns that even in the believer, "there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh." The only way to win the "war" is through the "Spirit of Christ". Then in Chapter XVI titled "Of Good Works" it says in part, "Their ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ'but they ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in them."
In this worldview, people are born sinners because Adam and Eve succumbed to Satan's temptation, and only an elect few will be saved. These elect few can only be saved by the Holy Spirit through the "grace of God". Good works can only be done through the "Spirit of Christ" while Satan is the one who tries to tempt people, who after all are sinful by nature, into doing bad things.
This is consistent with Chapman's "spiritual dichotomy". Once Chapman decided to kill John Lennon his good but "phony parent" side would pray to God to keep him from doing it, and the evil "child" would pray to Satan to see that it is carried out. Although in Christianity it is morally wrong to pray to Satan, it is a worldview in which praying to Satan is considered both possible and likely to bring about immoral consequences. If a disturbed Presbyterian or other Christian with a similar worldview wanted to do something wrong, the idea of praying to Satan to make sure it happens does have a certain internal consistency. Any guilt that arises as a consequence would naturally result in such a person wanting to pray to God for the strength to resist the temptation, which is exactly what Chapman did.
I am not suggesting that the act of murder is compatible with the religious faith of most Christians or even most Presbyterians. Indeed, it is more consistent with psychological disturbance. However, the fact that Chapman was very emotionally disturbed does not contradict the fact that he was a Christian at the time that he murdered John Lennon. There is no law of human psychology that dictates that a person cannot be both a Christian and a very psychologically disturbed person. Further, his anger at John Lennon was partly fueled by the fact that instead of accepting that Lennon had unconventional religious views, Chapman chose to view Lennon's outspokenness as a personal insult to Christians that could not be tolerated.
If John Lennon died a martyr, then what sort of martyr was he?
If John Lennon was murdered even in part because of his views on religion, and that does seem to be the case, it is only natural that we should be curious as to what those views were.' However, looking at one quote, song, or interview would be misleading because his views changed over time and because he alternated between criticizing religious ideas and attempting to find the good in religions which were not his own. He seemed to have been always in the process of developing and revising his views towards religion as he went along in life.
John Lennon went through temporary stages of Christianity, Eastern mysticism, and a type of atheism. He was raised Christian, attended Sunday school and sang in the choir as a child, although he did not stay a Christian.' At one time he had been involved in the Maharishi Transcendental Meditation movement, and for a few months in 1968 he stayed at the Maharishi's retreat in India. This did not last either, and his later songs such as "Sexy Sadie" and "I Found Out" from the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album reflected his disillusionment with gurus. In the song "God", from the same album, he sang that God is an abstraction who really resides within humans themselves. Magic, the occult, mysticism, Jesus and Buddha are also dismissed. He later rekindled his interest in tarot, yoga and mantra. John Lennon described the song "God" as a process he used to cleanse his brain and rediscover who he was. As was mentioned earlier, the song "Imagine" in which John Lennon asks us to imagine there is no heaven, no hell, and no religion was released after that in September of 1971.
In early 1980, Bob Dylan announced his conversion to Christianity in the song "Gotta Serve Somebody" on Dylan's Slow Train Coming album. John Lennon wrote a song in response to this called "Serve Yourself", in which he attacked those who claimed to have found the meaning of life in religion. Later that same year, Lennon recorded "You Saved My Soul", part of which described how Yoko Ono saved him from television evangelists.
Lennon talked about his reaction to Bob Dylan's conversion in an interview with Playboy magazine. When asked if he was distressed about it, Lennon said,
"I don't like to comment on it. For whatever reason he's doing it, it is personal for him and he needs to do it. 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: There's no proselytizing."
He goes on to say that,
"'What happens is somebody comes along with a good piece of truth. Instead of the truth's being looked at, the person who brought it is looked at. The messenger is worshiped, instead of the message. So there would be Christianity, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Marxism, Maoism -- everything -- it is always about a person and never about what he says' People always got the image I was an anti-Christ or anti-religion. I'm not. I'm a most religious fellow. I was brought up a Christian and I only now understand some of the things that Christ was saying in those parables. Because people got hooked on the teacher and missed the message.."
He explained that we all need to make our own dreams and not look to religious or other leaders to provide a "sort of a recipe for your life". When asked what he thought keeps people from accepting that message, his rather agnostic sounding reply was,
"It's fear of the unknown. The unknown is what it is. And to be frightened of it is what sends everybody scurrying around chasing dreams, illusions, wars, peace, love, hate, all that... it's all illusion. Unknown is what it is. Accept that it's unknown and it's plain sailing. Everything is unknown... then you're ahead of the game. That's what it is. Right?"
John Lennon had given an interview that was taped on the same day that he died. In reference to the social upheaval of the 1960's he said, "You have to give thanks to God or whatever is up there to the fact that we all survived."  Taken alone, this might sound like Lennon had become a theist of some variety. However, in light of the interview he had done earlier that same year he sounds more like an agnostic and the "or whatever is up there" makes more sense.
It is not entirely clear what John Lennon's religious views were, or whether he really was an agnostic but it was clear that he had learned the hard way that you cannot depend on religious authorities to hand you the answers to all of life's questions. He knew he needed to find his own answers, and to make his own dream. For those reasons, we can call him a Freethinker in the broad sense of the term.
Unfortunately, the combination of John Lennon's fame, wealth and tendencies toward both freethinking and outspokenness began to make him a target on March 4th, 1966 for a deranged, religiously intolerant killer. The end was December 8th, 1980 but the beginning of the end was on March 4th, 1966: the day Lennon dared to suggest that, among the youth in one part of the world, the Beatles were more popular than Jesus.
 "How Does a Beatle Live? John Lennon Lives Like This," Maureen Cleave. London Evening Standard Mar.4 1966, spotted at http://www.netjunk.com/users/beatles/standard.html.
'"Whatever Happened to Religion in Britain?: Studies of region, class and gender explain just who is no longer going to church," Ronald A. Wells, Christianity Today, Books & Culture, Jan/Feb. 1998, spotted at http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/8b1/8b1031.html.
 "Chapman 'pleaded with Devil' for strength to murder Lennon,"'Jojo Moyes, Sept. 26, 2000, spotted at http://www.independent.co.uk/news/World/Americas/200009/lennon260900.shtml.
 Let Me Take You Down: Inside the Mind of Mark David Chapman, the Man Who Killed John Lennon, Villard Books, 1992, pp.102-103,115. Information about Chapman's conversion also found in Sue Hamilton's The Killing of a Rock Star, pp. 18-20, and "Lennon's Alter Ego", Newsweek, Dec. 22, 1980,' scanned copy' available online at http://www.john-lennon.com/. See pages 4 and 5 and also "Police Trace Tangled Path Leading to Lennon's Slaying at the Dakota," Paul L. Montgomery, The New York Times, Wed, Dec. 10, 1980.
 Let Me Take You Down, p.115.
 Ibid., pp.115, 118.
 Ibid., p.117.
 Ibid., p.118.
 Ibid., p.118.
 "Death of a Beatle," Court TV, 1999. Online transcript of interview with journalist Jack Jones, spotted at http://www.courttv.com/talk/chat_transcripts/deathofabeatle.html.
 Let Me Take You Down, 1992, pp.117-118, and also The Killing of a Rock Star, pp.18-20, and "Lennon's Alter Ego", Newsweek, Dec. 22, 1980,' scanned copy available online at http://www.john-lennon.com/, pp 4-5.
 Let Me Take You Down, pp.119-120.
 "Police Trace Tangled Path Leading to Lennon's Slaying at the Dakota" Paul L. Montgomery, The New York Times, Wed, Dec. 10, 1980. Also Let Me Take You Down, pp.123, 125.
 Let Me Take You Down, p.131.
 Ibid., pp.206-207.
 Let Me Take You Down, pp.137, 143, 153.
 Ibid., p. 83.
 Ibid., p.18.
 "John Lennon of Beatles Is Killed; Suspect Held in Shooting at Dakota," Les Ledbetter, The New York Times, Tues., Dec. 9, 1980, p.A1.
 "Death of a Beatle," Court TV, 1999. Online transcript of interview with journalist Jack Jones, spotted at http://www.courttv.com/talk/chat_transcripts/deathofabeatle.html.
 The New York Times,Jan. 7th 1981.
 The New York Times, June 23, 1981.
'"Chapman Given 20 years in Lennon's Slaying," E.R. Shipp, The New York Times, Aug.25, 1981, p. A1.
 Let Me Take You Down, p.22, 37, 49, 66.
 Ibid., pp.174-175, 251.
'Ibid., pp. 250-251. The Dakota was the upscale apartment building in which John Lennon lived with Yoko Ono. Chapman shot Lennon in the lobby of the Dakota.
 Ibid., pp.26, 177.
 Ibid., p. 93.
 Let Me Take You Down, p.167 and also "Police Trace Tangled Path Leading to Lennon's Slaying at the Dakota," Paul L. Montgomery, The New York Times, Wed, Dec. 10, 1980. Also The Killing of a Rock Star, p.21.
 Let Me Take You Down, p.179.
 Ibid., p.188-189.
 Ibid., p.42-44.
 Ibid., p.42-44.
 We All Shine On: The Stories Behind Every John Lennon Song 1970-1980, Du Noyer, Paul, Harper Collins, 1997, pp.28-29, 41. Now out of print, but it has been updated and re-issued as: John Lennon: Whatever Gets You Through the Night by Paul Du Noyer.
 "The Beatles Ultimate Experience," Playboy Interview With John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Playboy Press, 1980, spotted at http://www.geocities.com/~beatleboy1/dbjypb.int1.html.
 "Lennon Gave an Interview on Final Day," The New York Times, Wed. Dec.10, 1980, p. B6.
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