More popular than Jesus  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"More popular than Jesus" was a controversial remark made by musician John Lennon of The Beatles in 1966. Lennon said that Christianity was in decline and the Beatles had become more popular than Jesus Christ. When the quote appeared in the American teen magazine Datebook, angry reactions flared up from Christian communities in August 1966. Lennon had originally made the remark in March 1966 during interviews with Maureen Cleave on the lifestyles of the four individual Beatles. When Lennon's words were first published, in the London Evening Standard in the United Kingdom, they had provoked no public reaction.

When Datebook quoted Lennon's comments five months later, vociferous protests broke out in the southern United States. The Beatles' records were publicly burned, press conferences were cancelled and threats were made. The protest spread to other countries including Mexico, South Africa and Spain; there were anti-Beatles demonstrations and their music was banned on radio stations. The controversy erupted on the eve of the group's US tour, and the anger and scale of the reaction led their manager, Brian Epstein, to consider cancelling the tour.

Two press conferences were held in the US, where both Epstein and then Lennon expressed their regret at words taken out of context and offence taken. Christian spokesmen pointed out that Lennon had only stated what the church was itself saying about Christianity's decline. The US tour went ahead but there was disruption and intimidation, including picketing of concerts by the Ku Klux Klan, and at one concert the group mistakenly believed they were the target of gunfire.

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