Forty years later, the Beatles are again the subject of a spiritual examination. This one comes in the form of a new book, The Gospel According to the Beatles (Westminster John Knox Press, $19.95). Written by veteran British rock journalist Steve Turner (A Man Called Cash, A Hard Day’s Write), the book addresses the spiritual backgrounds of John, Paul, George and Ringo, and analyzes their music in a religious context. Drawing on a broad array of resources – various books, newspaper and magazine articles, unpublished notes and letters – as well as 80 interviews the author conducted himself, Turner’s book is a comprehensive look at the band that helped to shape the spiritual and cultural outlook of an entire generation.
Turner uses Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” comment as the beginning of his study, and describes it as the turning point for the band. The quote brought widespread attention and new scrutiny to the band. They were no longer a mere pop sensation, but four evangelists to Baby Boomers searching for meaning through music, popular culture and drugs.
The Beatles probably did more than any other cultural figure at the time to introduce Eastern religious practices such as transcendental meditation, Hinduism, Buddhism and the Hare Krishna movement to teenagers in the West. Through their actions, interviews and music, they also promoted the use of mind-expanding drugs and advocated a general sense of consciousness expansion to young people. After Paul McCartney told the press that he and other band members had used LSD – ironically, he was the last Beatle to try the hallucinogen and only did so after yielding to pressure – the band, especially George Harrison, began to advocate TM and other Eastern religious practices as ways to free one’s mind.
While the messages of their music and lifestyle promoted a sense of liberty among youth, they also led to tragedy. The Beatles became messiah figures to millions of young people – and to deranged killers like Charles Manson – who thought the songs on The Beatles (the “White Album”) were messages to him to lead a revolution that was to begin with the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders – and Mark David Chapman, a former Beatles fan-turned-fundamentalist Christian who shot and killed John Lennon in 1980.
On the cover of Turner’s book, Lennon is shown in the forefront. He also takes center stage in the text of the book. The default leader of the group, Lennon also saw himself as a messiah figure, once proclaiming himself to be Christ during an acid trip and famously comparing himself to Jesus in “The Balla