It seemed like a throwaway remark from John Lennon, and these days, it would almost certainly feel that way. But when the Beatles singer-guitarist’s interview with the London Evening Standard was published in March 1966, it led to a firestorm of controversy, effectively making the Fab Four Public Enemy No. 1 in many parts of the world. As any Beatles fan should know, Lennon’s offending comments had him predicting that Christianity “will go” and that he and his bandmates were “more popular than Jesus now,” as quoted by Beatles Bible.
After Lennon’s remarks pretty much went viral by 1966 standards, the Beatles were condemned by several religious groups, with one Ohio pastor even warning that he would excommunicate any member of his congregation whom he caught attending one of the Fab Four’s concerts (via Rolling Stone). Religious leaders and other individuals held record-burning sessions eagerly attended by people who were similarly upset with one of the world’s biggest rock stars insinuating that his group was bigger than Jesus. The Vatican was no exception; in a statement, Pope Paul VI kept it short and not-so-sweet, saying that “some subjects must not be dealt with profanely, even in the world of Beatniks.”
Again, it was 1966. It was slightly past the beatniks’ heyday, and their spiritual successors, the hippies, were about a year away from becoming a huge cultural presence. While the pope may have sounded a bit clueless, it was as official a condemnation as you can get from the most powerful man in the Roman Catholic Church.